This is Issue #33 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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The amount of drink Jet had been given was far more than what Lucida had taken, but all the same, her body did not purge it, as his had; she was out like a light, somewhere between dreaming and awake, her body limp and still. Instead of moving her, he detangled the still-drunk, still-high handmaidens who had been coerced by Gemma to do her bidding. He sent them on their way, gently; he didn’t know how many of them had behaved this way out of love or fear or simple stupidity, but he would punish Gemma for now, and worry about the rest for later.
When he got to Gemma, laid against the bed, he was careful with her, as well. He lifted her up and took her to her chamber down the hall. On the way, he spoke to one of the guards, saying, “She isn’t to leave her room. Not for any reason. If you let her, I will end your life without question. Do not harm her, but do not let her leave.”
The man nodded firmly, and gave orders to his men, who immediately moved to post guards both inside and outside her room, at all windows and doors. They had no idea why the Guardian would give such a command, but neither did they care. They obeyed with love and honor.
When Jet returned to Lucida, she was still sprawled on the bed, the sheet stuck to her, her hair in disarray. He swallowed back the hate he felt for Gemma, and went to draw his wife a bath.
As he laid her in the tub, and began to carefully wash the sweat and oil from her, he wept.
It was to this strange circumstance that Lucida woke fully, groggy and confused. “Caro?” At first, she half-smiled at him, though her brows knitted as she looked him over. What he was doing felt pleasant enough — she did love a hot bath — but he was obviously upset. She rubbed her eyes and pulled back, pulling her knees up to her chest. “Jet, what has happened?” She reached out to touch his hand, and her expression was somewhere between frightened and concerned.
“Gemma drugged us, Lucida,” Jet said quietly, looking to her, pained.
“We were drugged, and coerced into bedding one another. It was Gemma who did it. This… This is not the first time, I think,” he said. Though his voice was low, and golden eyes glanced away, the words came out in a tumbled rush, spilling over one another, in an effort to escape.
“Caro, you must not say such things,” Lucida said, moving to get up, to get out of the water. “It is not funny,” she hissed, staggering, still not quite herself as she nearly fell out of the tub. Tears came to her eyes as she pointed an angry finger at him. “I do not mock you for Secta. I did not rage when it was clear you had been hiding your love with my brother,” she said, breathless with fury. “You must stop this unreasona–“
“I woke up in this bed with you,” Jet said, closing his eyes against the memory. “Still …inside you, meabella. Gemma and a half dozen of your handmaids were with us. I sent them out. I put Gemma in her room, under guard. The guards could tell you who left, but not why. No one knows but myself and Secta.”
“Secta?” Lucida hissed, looking betrayed further.
“He saved us. He found out. He tried to stop it, but Gemma tried to silence him. It was only–” Jet’s voice caught, and he shook his head.
“What? What is it?” Lucida wondered, her eyes narrowed as she stared at Jet. “You will tell me the whole thing and spare me the worry for my poor reaction, yes?”
“The blood, Lucida. His novo. What I did to him — it changed him like Immanis did, to me. Gemma had one of the maids strike Secta down. She killed him.”
Lucida stared at Jet in absolute disbelief.
“He returned, as I return,” Jet said softly. “He couldn’t stop it — he was slain before it began, and only woke after. But then he came and found us, and he woke me, just a short time ago. I crawled out, and he explained to me what happened. The drink you’d given to me, from Gemma. It isn’t something to help us sleep. It was something to make us do what she wanted,” he explained.
“She’s been wanting you to get me with your child for some time now,” Lucida said after a moment, her expression gone blank. Her eyes flicked back up to Jet, and she swallowed as though she might be gagging. “Did she really do this, my Black Stone? Was it… Was it really my Gemma?”
“I’m so sorry, Lucy,” Jet whispered, sitting back, looking at her, apologetic, hopeless.
Lucida put her hands over her mouth and bowed her head. The mass of her dark curls spilled over her shoulders, covering her face, obscuring her, their ends dipping in to the warm water in which she sat, small and miserable. Her shoulders began to shake, and finally, the tears came, great sobs — but only for a moment. She bit them back and moved to stand up, wiping her eyes and struggling to keep herself calm.
Jet sat there for a moment, his eyes wide, his heart beating painfully in his chest. He offered out his arms tentatively, and when she laid herself against him, he held her tightly, cradling her against his body, letting her return to sobbing.
“How could she?” Lucida wondered bitterly. “How could she?” In his arms, his wife, Lucida Venator, Sister to Immanis, Daughter of A Thousand Suns, Queen Venator, wept for some time — until she suddenly stopped, freezing.
Jet pulled back, carefully, watching her with his golden eyes. “What is it, Lucibella?”
“Let me speak to her.” Lucida’s expression held a mixture of white-hot rage and agony.
“Lucida, I’m not certain–“
“Let me speak to her, now, caro, or I will flay you as you will wish my brother had, when I am done with you. In this, do not defy me. Do not,” Lucida panted, clenching her fists.
“I am your loyal servant, Lucy,” Jet whispered, cupping her face in his hands. “It is only that I do not wish you to be alone with her — if she was willing to do such a thing, and claim love of you, of us both, how much more terrible might she be? I wish for your safety, not to defy you. Please, my love,” he said quietly, leaning to kiss her lips. “Please. Let us think together on how best to handle this.”
Furious, frustrated, Lucida looked up at Jet, her eyes still shining with tears; when she opened her mouth to argue, a wailing sound came from down the hall, and gave them both pause.
Gemma had awakened, and knew she had been discovered.
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