This is Issue #64 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!
* * *
“Am I mistaken, caro, or have several of the hosts of this gathering simply left their guests to fend for themselves, without announcement?” Lucida wondered, lingering near Jet.
“They are not the only ones who have wandered off,” Jet said irritably. He was angry with Secta, but he hardly knew why anymore. All he knew was the young man wasn’t near him, and it made his skin feel hot, tight, and like he couldn’t concentrate.
At that moment, Venustus and Coryphaeus returned, re-engaging their guests, talking warmly. Plied with honey wine and Venustus’s effusive charm, even Jet’s near-sour mood returned to joy.
* * *
“Here.” Nixus handed Jules a cool washrag, and put a large bucket between her knees.
Secta sighed, moving to stand. “I’m sorry, little Krieg, but I should return to my Lord.”
“I’m sorry, Summus,” Jules said to Nixus. “I thank you for the assistance, but I know you would prefer to be with your mother and your guests. It’s possible the worst has passed. It does not always come as a vision immediately. I have had dizzy spells.”
“You do look more settled. I’m not convinced, however,” Nixus said, pursing her lips. “Remain here. I will bring you food.”
“Aetheris has been known to help.” Secta noted.
“I may be a bit, while I handle guests. I should not remain long from the gathering,” Nixus said. “In truth, I would rather be in here.”
“With the vomit?” Jules snorted.
Nixus’s expression made Jules pale.
“Paenitent mea, Summus,” Jules whispered, bowing her head. She trembled, furious with herself for slipping. Regardless of Secta’s acceptance of her, and the unlikeliness of him somehow trying to use her un-slave-like demeanor against her, she knew she should not be so cavalier. “I forget my place,” she breathed, slipping from the floor to her knees, setting aside the bucket and washcloth. “I’m so sorry.”
Nixus nodded curtly, and moved to leave.
Immediately, Secta crouched to help Jules back up. There was such fury in his face, she shrank from him as she stood. “Did he do this to you?”
“What?” Jules said, looking frustrated. “Did who do– Yes. Yes, he– He is the Master he should be. I am as any other slave.” Shaken, Jules tried to clear her throat and pull away from Secta.
“I had thought him a more honorable man than this.” His voice was dark; his jaw worked as he clenched his teeth.
Jules looked up at Secta, flinching back from his fury — and then stared at his hand as it curled tightly about her arm. She looked from it, to his face again, and then whispered, “It was Nixus, friend. It was Nixus who did this. Not the Legatus. He could not bear to. She did it so he would not have to; I cannot be seen as anything but a slave, or I would face worse terrors from those who hate people like me. And for good reason.”
The fear on her face made Secta drop his hold on her; he worried for the way Jet’s blood seemed to be changing him. “You think we hate Westlanders for good reason?” he wondered.
“Not Westlanders, little Ilonan,” Jules said, her voice so very low. “Kriegs.”
“Why should we hate Kriegs any more than any other?” Secta said, his expression shifting from rage to pure bewilderment. He frowned, cocking his head to the side.
Jules kept her voice quiet; all the same, the answer was thunderous. “Because of what they are about to do.”
* * *
Jet was pleasantly cheered with with food and wine, and had found himself a comfortable seat while the vigil-turned-celebration had grown. It was a grand honor to host the Queen and the Guardian in her home, and Venustus was well-pleased to keep them close. She shone with pride when Jet spoke of Coryphaeus’s bravery, saying aloud, “There are some who believed he was a traitor, I–“
“I forgave him myself,” Lucida said, without hesitation. “He, Nixus, and Plaga of Tenebrae are our Guardian’s foremost advisors. They will see Ilona become the jewel our beloved Prince had meant it to be. They will defend the heart of Ilona with their lives. They are a treasure to our people.”
Coryphaeus had the happy accident of rejoining the conversation to hear those words, and he made appropriate exchanges of gratitude and loyalty to both the Queen and the Guardian, attempting to hold to the pride in his heart without crushing it into arrogance. He still had a rather ridiculously pleased expression on his face when he saw Nixus at last. “You’re missing the festivities,” he said to her, dark eyes watching her carefully. “Where’ve you been?”
“I’m on my way to fetch your favorite toy a bit of food and aetheris,” Nixus said, trying not to roll her eyes.
Coryphaeus barely kept his expression in check. “Aetheris? Is she well?”
“Well enough, Coryfrater. If she keeps this down, I imagine she’ll be able to rejoin the group without worry. At least for a bit, hm?”
Coryphaeus was not soothed by his sister’s dismissiveness. “What has she seen?”
“Nothing since your house, that I know of,” Nixus answered. “Peace, brother. You’ll cause a commotion. Many eyes are on you now.”
“Well get them off me. I’ll take it to her. You go sit with mother a bit and regale them all with your glorious tales of conquest,” Coryphaeus offered. “I’d prefer you bask in the light of their praise. After all, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”
“What?” Nixus felt her heart seize as she nearly dropped the small plate of food.
“You convinced me it would be for the best to return home, to speak with mother, to see that I was no longer an outcast. I had assumed father’s words spoke for the whole of the family, but I have received nothing but the kindest of welcomes,” Coryphaeus said, reaching to take the food with one hand, and touch Nixus’s shoulder with his other. He leaned in and embraced her warmly, beaming. “Don’t look so startled, Nixus. Am I not a man who knows how to give thanks?”
When he drew back, Nixus saw the barest glittering in his eyes, and was startled when he reached up and brushed her own cheeks, saying, “Tears, soror?”
“Joy, frater. Now go, before you ruin it with an insistence on noticing my weaker moments,” she said.
He leaned in and kissed her between her brows, then leaned his forehead against hers. “Truly, Nixus, from this day forward, I owe you all my happiness.”
* * *