This is Issue #34 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!
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Down the hall, Gemma wailed, obviously understanding the truth of her situation, while Jet paced, and Lucida dressed herself, and did her own hair, pinning up her curls, putting jewels about her throat, painting her face.
“We should speak with her,” Jet said. “Figure out why–”
“Let her sit,” Lucida said, pursing her lips. “You and I must speak at length. We must — where is your Secta? Is he well?” She looked worried for him, turning away from the mirror and reaching to take Jet’s hand.
Jet, for his part, blushed, and had the grace to look abashed as he said, “I sent him on an errand, but I hope he has the good sense to not be transparent about it, as I was hastier, earlier, than I had sense to be.”
“Speak plainly, caro.” Lucida crossed her arms, looking suspicious.
“I want to promise her to Acer. He wants her, and I want her gone,” Jet said bluntly.
To her credit, Lucida did not flinch, but instead closed her eyes and breathed in, long and slow, sighing quietly. “Gemma has been at my side for over twenty years, caro. She has held my heart for nearly as long. As angry as I am. As hurt as I am? I do not know how to punish her without punishing myself.”
Jet nodded, saying “I do not want you hurt worse in all of this, it–”
A knock came, at the door, and Secta looked in, saying, “Forgive me, please, for the interruption, but I have sent for Plaga, Master. My Queen, my Guardian, is there anything else I may do for you?”
“Come here,” Lucida ordered, pointing at her feet.
Secta came in immediately, looking wide-eyed and worried. He complied without complaint, and knelt at Lucida’s feet, keeping his head bowed. “Yes, majesty?” he whispered. “How may I serve you?”
In the space of a heartbeat, Lucida had curled herself around Secta, and was pressing a knife to his throat.
Stunned, Jet saw the blood welling at Secta’s flesh, where the black glass bit in, but before he could react, Secta calmly lifted a hand to stay him.
The servant swallowed against the blade, and a thin runnel of blood ran down his neck, over his collarbone, and began to soak into the white of his robes.
“Why should I believe you?” Lucida hissed. “What if you drugged all of us, and made Gemma behave in that way? What if it was someone else entirely and we acted on the thought that it was Gemma who betrayed us?”
“Lucy,” Jet said, his hands clenched, his jaw clenched, his whole body tense as he watched her.
“I would rather die than have you believe I have betrayed you,” Secta said, his voice low, and grave. “If you do not trust me, my Queen,” he whispered, reaching to touch her wrist, and slide his fingers around it, “Strike true.” He did not use his touch to stay her hand, or try to stop her, but instead, he leaned in against the blade, and let it begin to cut his flesh, to slice into him, the blood flowing more quickly.
Lucida held Secta tightly, but it wasn’t necessary; he didn’t even try to escape. “I do not want to trust you,” she whispered. “I want Gemma to not have betrayed me.”
“I will give you my life, my Queen,” Secta said, closing his eyes. “Because I cannot give you that.”
Furious, Lucida flung the knife to the floor, near Secta, and looked at the wound she’d caused. Her dark eyes held to Secta, angry and proud, haunted and miserable. “Listen well to me, famulo. If you should ever betray our Guardian–”
“I would sooner die,” Secta said softly. “If you think I shall ever betray him. Or you, my Queen, I ask you to spare me, spare us all, that indignity, that misery, and end me now. I could not bear it, knowing that such a breaking of promises was bound to happen,” he said, retrieving the knife and handing it right back to her.
Her hand trembled as she watched him press the point of it to his chest, twisting it so that it would pass between the ribs and pierce his heart.
“I will die, I would rather die, I must die, my Queen, than betray him, or betray you,” Secta begged.
Lucida’s eyes narrowed, and she said, “And if this is only a trick? A ploy? Your blood is fire now, too, is it not? What does killing you do, if you will breathe again, hmm?”
“You do not know what it is to die,” Secta said quietly, his eyes flicking to Jet. Something in the dark of his gaze shifted, smoldered quietly, embers only banked and far from cold. He looked back to Lucida, solemn. “You do not know, Majesty, and may you never, or you would not say such a thing. But I say to you, my Queen, kill me. And kill me again, as I breathe again. And again. And again,” he whispered. “Kill me, and know that I am ever your servant, as I am his. I will rise from the floor and kneel at your feet each time.”
Lucida stared Secta down, her heart in her throat, broken and raging. She finally returned the knife to where laid strapped against her skin, and looked to Jet, saying, “May he never do as she has done, caro. May he love you more than that.” She rose, and moved to leave the room in a whorl of skirts and gems.
“Meabella, Lucida, please,” Jet called, reaching her, laying a hand to her shoulder as she put her hand to the doorknob. “You should not speak to her alone. Your body may be safe in her presence, but–”
“–but my heart will never be,” Lucida said, shaking her head, tears in her eyes. “Please, Jet. Please let me go. I do not wish to speak to her alone. I do not wish to speak to her again, at all. Ever. You may do with her as you please, but I do not wish to look upon her face, or be near her, ever again.”
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