This is Issue #39 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
* * *
After leaving Acer Plaga to joyously retreat with his new prize, Jet went to check on Lucida, but before he ever reached her, he was stopped by runners with messages that had been radioed in. Krieg ships had come over the border, and fired shots against the mountains to the north, causing avalanches and general disturbances to the wildlife.
They hadn’t come any further south, but it was known that there was a small mountain communities, very much within Ilonan territory, that was compromised.
The death toll stood at 347.
Jet’s eyes fairly glowed with fury. “Keep this silenced. I do not want a public panic. We are organizing the defensive,” he said, shaking his head.
The runner knelt before Jet, looking pained. “I wasn’t the only messenger sent, your Excellency. Shortrange messages were relayed, as well. I do not believe this will be silenced. Please forgive me — I will seek out anyone else who knows, and see if it can be restrained?”
Jet shook his head, sighing, saying, “No. Bring me the 1st Legio, the head of my guards. The war council. Have them meet me.”
“Yes,” the runner said, looking distressed. “Paenitent mei, my Guardian, I–”
Jet turned, reaching out a careful hand, and laid it atop the runner’s head. “You did nothing wrong; you have served me well. Rest easy, but first, bring me my men.”
* * *
“Meabella,” Jet called, sitting outside her bathroom. The door wasn’t shut, and Lucida wasn’t modest, still, but Jet was, still, and so he waited, back turned. “The city needs me, I–”
“Perhaps,” Lucida said, striding out, braiding her hair back, “it needs us both, hmm. I will grieve in my own way, my Black Stone, but it will do me good to keep moving. Do not treat me lightly, as though I am fragile. I am not fragile.”
Jet thought of the night she killed a suitor and managed to get Jet engaged to her, and said, “Fragile is most definitely not the word I would use to describe you.”
“Come.” Lucida smirked. “The war council presides over city-wide issues requiring tactics. I assume you sent for them?”
* * *
“It is not reasonable for you to wade through every battle–”
“–absolutely must return the aggression–”
“–danger to the city–”
Jet let the talking wash over him; he listened to each viewpoint, narrowing his eyes now and again as he soaked in the worried words, the points and counterpoints. When it seemed the grouping had begun to work itself into a fever, rather than talk itself out, he finally cried, “Peace! You sound all like barking dogs, I cannot think.”
One of his advisors snapped, “The rioting must be quashed. It is the mark of a sad city state that allows such ill-behaved citizens.”
Jet snapped back, “The riots tell us something. They are in a language of fear and anger, but they have merit. A happy people do not riot, Councillor Insulus.”
“You should not listen to shouting, squabbling children!” the man shouted, shaking a fist.
Jet crossed his arms over his chest and pursed his lips, raising a brow. When the man fell silent, a victim to his own embarrassment, Jet continued, “No doubt there are those who feel this war will cause far more damage than is reasonable to deal with, but we cannot allow our people to be devoured from the inside out. We will go out and quell the riots by recruiting in force. Anyone who wishes to fight the true enemies can come with us. Anyone who is purely taking advantage of the chaos can be put down.”
Lucida smiled at her husband, nodding. “Our people are warriors, all. It’s our purpose to rise and defend our land, our way of life. I, too, will join you in the streets.”
“Your majesty–” began Councillor Insulus, looking hesitant.
“If I may interrupt you, Insulus, and advise you against taking any sort of position involving the words ‘Queen’ and ‘stay at the Palace’?” Jet said, his voice still a low growl. “My Queen is to be obeyed. Is that clear?”
The council looked uneasy, but was no longer willing to squabble, instead, they allowed themselves to grow enthused over the concept of taking the law out to the city, in force.
The grouping overflowed the war room in a sort of excited agreement, and those who’d been originally against Jet or Lucida going out into the fray simply went with the flow of things — he was a guardian of the city, of the people. He would physically stand between his people and the harm that might come to them, however possible, and they found themselves caught up in the sheer passion he and Lucida had for scouring the city of every bit of its filth, its corruption, its darker, less honorable layers.
* * *
Legios and palace guards went out into the night.
The Queen and The Guardian waded into the fray.
The night was bloody, and full of fire.
* * *
Anyone who had not believed in the legend of the Guardian before found themselves confronted with the reality of his existence; during a particularly pitched battle wherein the most recent head of the Thieves’ Guild insisted it was his right to protect the streets in his own way, Secta ordered the palace publicists to commandeer the cameras in the streets and splash the public screens with the breaking news.
Citizens from all over the city tuned in, awed at the fight they were seeing, cheering for their Guardian, for their Queen.
“–a fraud! It is pure trickery meant to instill fear and following for cattle-brained stercore!” the guildhead snarled. “I, too, know how to make myself look larger than life. Coming back to life on a vid screen is a different thing than coming to life in front of someone you haven’t bought!”
Jet laughed, shaking his head.
* * *
Watching him on screen, Secta reached out to lay a trembling hand against the glass, pursing his lips.
* * *
Lowering his own blade, Jet stepped forth, saying, “I have proven myself to your true Prince, may his soul forever reign in your heart, his sister, my wife, many other brilliant men and women, and many other lesser, crawling thieves and bastards. If you believe you deserve proof–”
“I’ll have it,” Ferro snarled. “Deserved, or no.”
Jet dropped his sword of black glass to the street; it rang, a clear and terrible note. “Have it, then.”
Ferro Tenuis darted forward and brought his blade up against Jet’s chest, the point of it pressing to his flesh. He stopped himself, when he wasn’t stopped, and seemed uncertain. He looked at the Guardian’s face, his own heart thundering. “If you do not move, Guardian, I will kill you.”
“I neither move, nor yield,” Jet growled, baring his teeth. “You think you can kill me? Do it. Let’s see if it sticks.”
* * *
Secta stood in the production office, one hand on a display screen, his expression tight with nervous energy.
* * *
Ferro stepped forward and thrust his blade between the Guardian’s ribs. Jet staggered forward one step, and laid a hand against the man’s shoulder, uttering a low snarl of pain. Ferro was startled enough, he caught the man he’d just killed, and for a moment, he was devastated that the trick was indeed a trick.
No soldier came forward to cleave his head from his shoulders, however, and the Guardian’s bride, the Queen of his country simply stood there, holding her own sword, looking all too pleased.
Blood ran from the wound, and from Jet’s lips, dripping against Ferro’s shoulder. The blade itself grew hot, as though it had been thrust into a furnace. Ferro pulled it back out and dropped it to the street, watching it smoke.
The Guardian slumped, and his weight bore Ferro to his knees. He stared into the blank-eyed face of a dead man, but then watched something behind its eyes flicker back to life, screaming like an inferno, bringing consciousness back to the surface of the blaze. The wound Ferro had delivered charred shut, and he glanced back up to see Jet’s lips twist into a grimace, mixed with a grin.
* * *
Secta exhaled quietly, unclenching his jaw, and closed his eyes. Around him, the people within the palace who had been watching, and also holding their breath, gave a raucous cheer, clapping one another on the back.
After instructing them further on how to handle the rest of the evening, he slipped away.
* * *
The Guardian leaned forward and laid his forehead to Ferro’s, laughing darkly, “Indica mihi, Ferro. Id dolus est, vobis videtur?” Tell me, Ferro. Is it a trick, do you think?
* * *