This is Issue #54 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 inner gates to the palace were guarded, of course, but there was traffic in and out at all times, from courtiers to craftsman, bondsman to beggars, soldiers to slaves. He watched and watched and watched, sitting in the filth, mud and fuck-knows-what-else smeared in his hair, on his face, in his clothes. He looked wretched, with his torn layers and his hunched frame and shaking hands. He’d poured cheap liquor on himself, rolled in more than one midden heap, and purposefully walked through piles of horse dung. He also chewed up, spat out, and smeared himself with salted fish. In the end, he daubed camphor and motor grease under his nose to cut the smell for himself at least a little.
The end result was that everyone gave him a wide berth; he put out a battered cup, and people tossed him money, or never looked at him, and in some cases, both. Filthsmeared, with a gauze over his eyes, he looked like some blind beggar, and his disguise kept anyone who might give a damn from realizing he was a Westlander.
Several times a day, a well-dressed man or woman with a rather large retinue would make some sort of disgusted remark and walk around him quite dramatically.
It took everything he had not to bother those folks on purpose.
He left the palace gates once he thought he’d learned what he could, and since then he had gone back to public squares and markets, watched the viewscreens and took in as much information as possible. He’d been watching the news bites, listening to the street talk, trying to piece together what had happened after he’d fallen; evidently Garrett and Coryphaeus got out, with Sha and Kieron. His heart leapt at the idea that his Captain lived, still, that she got away.
“Of course you did,” he found himself saying aloud, smiling at the very notion. “Of course you did.”
He found himself smiling at the knowledge that Kieron had been freed, as well.
He caught another section of the replay, and saw Coryphaeus come back over the wall, and kneel to the Guardian, who had managed to rise, healed from the battering Nathan himself had given him. Nathan looked down at the bronze hand that had replaced the one that caved in the Guardian’s skull. He flexed it beneath the glove, frowning slightly, then looked back up to see the Guardian spare Cory’s life.
In that instant, he wondered if Jules was being held in the Palace, still, or if she had been given back to Coryphaeus. He wondered if Coryphaeus would serve Ilona, so he could keep her.
He heard a strange sound — a stressed groaning, creaking, and glanced down, looking for the source of it; he flinched, relaxing, as he realized it was the sound of his mechanical hand as he clenched his fists harder and harder, the longer he thought about it.
He remembered the way she’d gone into convulsions, the last time he saw her. How she’d fallen into his arms. How she begged him to trust Coryphaeus. How she promised he was a good man. Sighing quietly to himself, he left the square and shuffled along main thoroughfares. He occassionally grunted a question to various people in the streets. He made it plain he was looking for the Legatus, he wanted to look at the man the Guardian spared — which was nothing particularly remarkable; plenty of people had wanted to speak with the Legatus now, but he’d been off the streets for the most part, and people told him so, talked about how the Legatus had always been a secretive sort — probably just because the whole family was full of oddities.
Nathan soaked up all the information he could, and kept moving. He hunched and shuffled, shuffled and hunched, and headed for where he’d been told the Legatus lived. “Nothing will ever stop me,” he muttered to himself. “Nothing.”
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“Medic says you’re actually only guy-line from fine,” Sha said. “But I expect you to talk to me, cadet.”
“Talk, Captain?” Kieron looked positively baffled, for a moment.
“About what the blazing fuck is going on in your head, hmm?” Sha’s expression, kind as it could become, was nothing if not serious, in that moment.
Kieron looked resigned, saying, “Pretty sure I’m just losing my mind.”
“If that’s your only worry, Brody, you’re in damn good shape,” Sha sighed, rolling her eyes.
“Captain, are you kidding me? You don’t even know wh–” Kieron paused, frowning slightly.
One eyebrow raised, Sha wondered, “What don’t I know, cadet? What other thing about you do I not know? Considering I know you’ve got the same sight that got my brother killed, you left behind a friend to save him but he died anyway and you feel blisteringly guilty about it, you somehow shared your sight with my first mate’s wife, which you also feel guilty about, you couldn’t catch Nate when he fell, and you feel guilty about that, too — you think you’ve also got more hidden in there? Something worse?”
Kieron felt a rush of tension escape him, a sudden realization making his shoulders drop. “You’re… Trying to tell me I’m being dramatic for no reason.”
“I’m trying to tell you you’re being dramatic and it doesn’t matter the reason. Maybe you got a good reason. Maybe you’ve got the best reason. Maybe you’ve got the only fucking reason in the whole fucking world, but you know what, Brody? You’re the only one who cares about that reason,” Sha said, shrugging. “Won’t save you. Won’t save anyone else. Won’t find Jules, bring back Nathan or Hana or your friend, or get us out of this. So you can hang on to whatever secret shame you got floating around in there, or you can let it the fuck go, hmm?”
“I’m gonna get us all killed,” Kieron said quietly. “I can feel it.”
“Bless your heart, cadet. I’ve been pretty sure I was gonna do the same thing since my brother showed me how to run a ship,” Sha said, shrugging. “What’re you gonna do about it,” she asked, elbowing him in the ribs, “cry?”
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