This is Issue #83 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 morning of the coronation, Secta paced in his new rooms, his heart in his throat. He had been privy to many plans leading up to the day, but once he’d been given over to House Venustus, he was left out at the last minute.
He was supposed to be at his Master’s side. He was supposed to be there for him, for the coronation, for all of it.
He closed the books he’d had out in his chambers, books thick with dust from languishing in the personal library of Exosus Aecus, books on politics, on family lines, on the supposed gifts of House Venator, succession, prophecies as relating to the Guardian, various religious texts, and half a dozen other assorted encyclopedias of knowledge. He’d also requested several books from the palace, which had shown up from his room, and now lay open as well. He shuffled the notes he’d taken into a reasonable order, and wiped sleep from his eyes, yawning. How had it been so little time? It felt like weeks, and yet it had been only hours.
Exosus was dead, Coryphaeus would be head of one of the most powerful houses within Ilona, Nixus was poised to be Summus Maximus, Acer had returned with Gemma and thousands upon thousands of soldiers. Every other city state and province within Intemeritus Posito had sent ships and ships, over land and sea, the false pilgrims flooded in with the real ones, transports moving through forest and jungle, terra formed farmscapes and cities of plenty.
They came bearing gifts.
They came bearing aetheric fire.
They came because soon the skies would be full of terror.
They came because they were called, and even those who had been imagining revolt against the crown from far away in the shadows did not want to lose their lands or their lives to the Kriegs.
The Princess would formally be Queen, and the Guardian… Well.
He would be her consort. He would be her Defender. He would be the Law, the Light, Ilona’s Fire.
Secta flushed, feeling his heart race as he thought of his Master, the man who had so easily given him up to the hand of another. He admonished himself for the thought as soon as it came. It was not easy for him to give you up, he told himself. It was not easy for him to set you aside. Do not be foolish. Do not be selfish. Could it be true, he wondered. Could it be true that he gave me up that I might be made free, and perhaps he might love me, freely? Could I be so lucky as to have captured his heart?
Before he could let himself get lost in the spiral of overwhelming hope and feelings such an idea brought to him, he heard the stirrings of the household, and immediately readied himself for the day. He was not expected to serve at the hand of the Domina; he had a servant of his own, even. He was, instead, kept for legal knowledge, for political purposes.
He was a raven amongst raptors, and his keen mind would keep the house strong. He had been chosen because he was brilliant; that much he could accept.
He stared at himself in the mirror, at the rings around his eyes, the tightness at his lips. Did his exhaustion show? Is that why his Master had sent him away?
He shook his head, sighing. “Tace, Secta,” he told himself. “You act like a heartsick maid. It is not becoming of a young man who hopes for recognition. It is not becoming of someone favored by the Guardian.”
He looked at himself in the mirror and mouthed the word. Favored. “Delectus,” he said quietly, tasting the Ilonan word and matching it against the vulgar tongue. He preferred the way Jet spoke, a mix of both — the whole palace had become accustomed to it within days of Immanus’s declaration that the vulgar tongue would be used to honor the Guardian who had come to them a slave and been reborn as more than a man.
“Favored,” he said, touching his own lips and closing his eyes, feeling tears sting the lids. Was he, truly? He hoped.
He also hoped he was worthy of the label.
As he went about his workings in the earliest of the hours, a headache he had attempted to ignore for far too long began to return, with a vengeance. He could feel his pulse in his skull, and he paused at the door on his way to the main chambers, his breath caught from the absolute pain of it.
It throbbed mercilessly at the back and side of his head, where the blinding pain of his own rebirth had been centered. He reached a hand up and touched the back of his head tentatively, half-expecting his fingers to come away wet with blood.
When they didn’t, he rolled his eyes at himself and returned to pacing about the room. In too short a time, they would be headed to the coronation; the papers that were drafted once Jet had left were given to Venustus to review and then immediately courier to the palace, legitimizing the will and testament of Exosus, wherein Coryphaeus would be made head of the household. Lucida, once she was ready, would proclaim them. If she did it before the coronation, the house could formally kneel before her and the Guardian without worry another house would object.
“Perhaps I am brilliant,” Secta said, sighing. “Ah but if you are so brilliant, famulo, why can you not finish this damned translation?”
He returned to the books at his table and flipped one back open, scanning the page. The prophecy had not been written in Ilonan, instead, it had been written in the high tongue of the Church of Light, which had foretold the Guardian’s coming thousands of years ago. Translations existed in some cases, for some of the books in the series, but not the one Secta pulled from Exosus’s personal library.
Quietly, Secta read aloud, scanning the words and chewing on his lower lip. He translated them aloud as he went, dragging his finger over the fine, thin-papered page.
“…And it will come to pass that the land will have no True Guardian. The Place of Purity will cry out to the heavens. Its ruler will fall, and in his wake, a slave reborn will take up the mantle. In His blood only–”
He paused, frowning. “In only his blood? Only in his blood,” he sighed. “Damn the high speech,” he groused. “Prophecy is hard enough to interpret without priests and their ridiculous syntax.”
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