This is Issue #63 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!
* * *
I write these lines, the last of my hand, after drink enough to believe I am strong enough to do the right thing.
I am no hero. I am not honorable.
I am not even certain how to apologize.
I do not know how to be proud of what I do not understand.
That is my failing.
I do not suffer failure kindly.
I am aetheric, I confess. I would not know the courage to tell you otherwise.
I love you, my son. All that was mine is yours.
Care for your mother.
Coryphaeus stared at the paper in his hands through eyes blurred with hot tears. “What is this?” he hissed, looking up at his mother, shaking his hand. “What is this?” he wondered, his heart somewhere between elated and crushed. He didn’t know what to think.
“This was discovered with your father’s body. There had also been a note left for whoever had found him, dictating his wishes,” Venustus murmured. “It was important you receive it. I did not allow the city guard to see it. It was for your eyes only. When you are ready, we can speak of the family money. Of his belongings. Of anything of his that you might wish to keep. Of the responsibility of running the house.” Her voice was low, but not secretive — simply quiet, gentle in these vulnerable moments. “Until then, I imagine you will keep this to yourself.”
“I will,” Coryphaeus whispered, his heart heavy and light, all at once. He kissed the paper, and then folded it up and carefully tucked it away. He embraced his mother again, breathing in the smell of her, and said, “I love you, mother of mine.”
“And I you, son of mine,” Venustus promised. “Let us be joyous. He was a shadow on our lives for too long. We were meant to live in the sun.”
Coryphaeus nodded, a smile breaking over his features. “Let us return to the gathering; it is most generous of the Queen and the Guardian to visit our house. We must give them as much attention as we can spare.”
* * *
Someone banged on the door. “Four hours to drop, cadet!”
Scrambling to get himself up, Kieron swayed on his feet, dizzied. He could taste blood in his mouth. When he rinsed it out, the copper and iron of it was thick and made him queasy. The dream terrified him; he did not know what to think of having experienced such a thing, and once he was dressed, his rucksack packed, he hurried out to join the crew, hoping to banish the thoughts from his mind.
He arrived in the enlisted mess, marveling at the size of the room — the Hellebarde was so massive, it could’ve fit the Jacob in its hold alone — got himself a tray, and moved to get food. When he sat down, he noticed a few of the Kriegic crewmembers were staring at him and whispering amongst themselves. He’d eaten with them before, more than once, and knew a few by name, but for whatever reason, they were keeping their distance, this morning.
It didn’t matter; he didn’t want to stay. He couldn’t eat — his stomach roiled as he thought of food. He didn’t think he was nervous before the jump, even though everything was soon to change, all over again. He’d been in plenty of crazy situations before, obviously, and he knew fear, but this was a giddy, nervous, shaking kind of almost excitement.
He got up, binned his food, dropped his tray at the washing station, and left to go back to his rooms.
On the way, he bumped into Sha, who put a hand on his shoulder, saying, “You all right, cadet? You left the briefing room and I didn’t see you until just now.”
“M’fine, Captain,” Kieron said, swallowing roughly. “Just, uh. A lot on my mind.” Kieron stood still, trying to keep himself from fidgeting, watching Sha look him over for long moments. He resisted the urge to simply walk off or hurry her along, knowing all it would do is make her more inclined to try to figure out what was ‘wrong’ with him. All he knew was that he wanted to avoid the scrutiny as much as possible. He wanted to get to the ground, and find Jules, and get back out.
All I have to do is get on the ground, he thought.
That’s right, the serpent in his mind agreed. That’s all we need to do.
Kieron smiled faintly at Sha and said, “I’m going to go repack my kit.”
“Ugh, cadets.” Sha laughed. “You’re so exhausting. Go. Do your thing, See you at the hatch in three.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
* * *
Back in his room, Kieron paced, back and forth, back and forth.
“I don’t know what you’re planning,” he said. “But I won’t let you ruin this. We’re going to save her.”
He turned and looked at himself in the mirror, and wondered if he knew the man staring back at him. Crossing the room, he felt an uprising of dread — it felt nauseating, as though he were about to be airsick. He lifted one hand and laid it on the cold glass of the mirror that had been replaced in his room. Kieron stared at his fingertips, then let his eyes travel over his uniform and back over his face. His gaze lingered on the crescent scar that cupped his left eye, and then slid over that eye and its wide pupil. He looked at his whole face, panting as he pressed that hand against the mirror, fingertips turning pink then white as he pressed so hard and began to curl them inward. As his fist clenched, he pulled it back from the glass, and then smashed it forward again. His lips curled to bare his teeth in a snarling grin as silvery shards spilled down. His knuckles split open from the ground bits under his flesh, pressed to the mirror’s backing.
He glared at himself, commanding, demanding.
“Just get on the ground, cadet. That’s all we need to do.”
* * *