This is Issue #38 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!
* * *
“On the ship? Are you mad?”
“Patri — she — ”
“Leave it be, Lorum. Leave it for the soldiers. It’s a terrible omen. We’ve had nothing but ill luck since you brought it home.”
“We’ve survived, father.”
“And no one else has! Have you forgotten the deaths of your mother? Your sisters? Leave. It. Here.”
* * *
“And the body, Ten–navarchus?”
“Sky burial. It’s what he would’ve wanted.”
“We can move your things into the rear quarters.”
“Everything except the cabinet. I’ll move it myself.”
“Are you certain?”
* * *
“Id venio.” It comes.
“From where? Where shall we meet it?”
“Capiet. Reddet.” Catch it. Restore it.
* * *
“How much longer?” Tenuis paced, impatient.
“This is delicate work,” the chiurgeon grunted, fussing with wires, with needles, with switches and tubes. “I told you it was a terrible idea to rush it.”
“He was already in pieces, and you were looking for a body that would work.”
“I was.” The gray-haired man blinked through several sets of magnifying spectacles, checking readings as he thumped about in circles around the table.
“Dearest friend of the cutting persuasion,” Navarchus Lorum Tenuis said, slipping close to the chiurgeon. “You know I will not be swayed.”
“Certe,” the man sighed, looking at the patchwork man laid out on the table in front of him. “I know.”
“Then,” Lorum sighed, laying a hand against pale, tattooed, patchwork skin, “If you please, restart his heart.”
* * *
“What are you doing, Aneen?” Lorum’s voice was curious.
“Remembering,” Aneen said quietly, looking at himself in the mirror, shifting, twisting, trying to look at his back.
“What are you remembering?” Lorum set down his charts and correspondence, and took the spectacles from his face, raking the long, dark waves back from his face.
“Death.” Aneen’s voice was soft, gentle — topside, in the air, the wind, with the orders and busyness, it was not always easy to hear.
Lorum stood, crossing to Aneen, reaching to pat him on the shoulder that was still flesh, saying, “Doesn’t sound like a pleasant thing to spend your time doing, perhaps–”
“Ego sum fide,” Aneen said, turning to look at Lorum. I am loyal. “Navarchus. I–”
“I know you are, boy. I know,” Lorum said, looking away, briefly, uncomfortable.
“Then show it to me.”
“Show me what you keep closing the door to, when you call me in. Show me what is in the cabinet, locked, with the key around your neck. I have killed for you, navarchus mei. I will die for you. Whatever secrets you have, Tenuis, give them up, so that I can protect them for you, and protect you from them,” Aneen said.
The sheer earnest hope on Aneen’s face gave Lorum a strange feeling of both shame and need. Perhaps the man would understand, where his father had not.
* * *
Aneen was uncertain as to what would be in the cabinet; he had a number of thoughts — but nothing prepared him for the sight. The woman was small, slight, with dark skin that had faded to ash, perhaps from dryness, or from lack of sun. Her eyes were entirely white, milky with cataracts, and her mouth and fingers were stained crimson. At first, he thought it was blood, but then he recognized the scent — it was a fruit, wasn’t it?
Lorum watched, not getting between the two, curious, but then he saw the devotion on Aneen’s face falter. He saw the adulation crumble.
Aneen closed his eyes against a flash of something, a woman with fire-hair and blood-froth on her lips, shaking in his arms, staring up at him, breathing his name. Einin.
“Einin,” he said aloud, and memory clawed at the backs of his eyes, at the underside of his heart.
Nothing can stop me.
“Aneen,” the wretched thing in the cabinet echoed. “Ubi sunt alae tua, Aneen?” Where are your wings, little bird? “Quod est ratio vos cecidit?” Is that the reason you fell?
I love you.
“I fell,” the patchwork man said, opening his eyes looking at his mismatched hands. He turned his eyes to Lorum, desperation on his face.
Nothing can stop me.
Lorum’s back stiffened; he watched the two, his heart racing. What was she saying to the man? What was she talking about, wings?
Aneen remembered wild red hair and pale eyes and a laugh like music.
Aneen stood and backed away from the pathetic thing chained up, and stumbled, falling to the floor, scrambling back away from it. “I fell,” he said to Lorum. “Fell when I should’ve flown.”
Lorum carefully moved to lock the cabinet again, worry on his features. “You’re safe, now.” He ushered Aneen out, cautioning him to not speak of what he saw, lest the others be jealous or mutinous.
* * *
The key wasn’t necessary to open the cabinet; Aneen knew how to pick locks, the same way he knew his name, and how to speak.
When Lorum found him, Aneen was kneeling before the red-mouthed thing, studying it intently.
You’re in for a world of adventure.
Aneen looked up at Lorum, saying, “Paenitent mei, Navarchus. I dreamt of her, but not her. Another woman, like her.”
“She hasn’t been a woman in a long time,” Lorum said quietly. “She’s lost to the visions now, Aneen.”
“She’s in pain.”
“She’s always been in pain.”
* * *
“You should not enter my quarters without my permission, Aneen,” Lorum said, sighing.
“She was singing,” Aneen said, breathless.
Lorum stared at the chained thing, little more than animal. He took a handful of seeds from the bowl kept in the cabinet, and pressed them into her mouth. She moaned, teeth and tongue working at the fresh set of malagranata pips, juice running over her chin. She writhed, grunting in her bonds, and uttered low mewls, and then quiet whispers.
A few of the seeds feel from her mouth, and Aneen picked them up, examining the shining, faceted bulbs, frowning at the way they glimmered in his palm. “Like jewels,” he said softly.
“Jules,” the creature mumbled.
“Yes, jewels,” Lorum sighed. “Go, Aneen.”
* * *
“Ego sum grati nunc vos hic,” the seer whispered, reaching out a hand; it did not reach far — shackles at its wrist kept it from leaving the cabinet. I’m so grateful you’re here now.
Aneen wept as he reached for the thing, cupping its face in his hands, breathing in the reek of sweat and fear and the tang of malagranata, of blood, of piss, acknowledging the state of the creature that had at one point been human, before Lorum Tenuis knew it.
“I’m here,” he whispered. “I have you.” He kissed its forehead, gentle and kind and with all compassion.
The thing surrendered into Aneen’s touch, trembling, weeping as well. “Gratias tibi, gratias, gratias, grat–”
It was quick, and then he lowered it, letting go, letting its head loll on its neck, and then sat on the floor, waiting.
* * *
To say Lorum was stunned was an understatement. He tried to get past Aneen, tried to check the thing’s pulse. Frantic, he said, “The chiurgeon can revive it, if you help me. If we hurry. Come — let’s — you’re in the way, Aneen, move. You must move. You cannot do this. Stercore! What have you done?!”
“Set it free,” Aneen said. “I was meant to–”
“What are you saying, you worthless, useless, idio–”
Aneen’s words were muffled by Lorum’s shouts; the captain grabbed his shoulders and shook him, desperate with anguish. “What? WHAT?”
“Paenitent me, navarchus. I had to. Salvatio.”
* * *