This is Issue #87 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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Garrett didn’t relish the feeling of going back to the place he’d managed to escape from, especially not dragging Kieron along with him.
Sha touched the ground where Djara had been killed. She put her hands to the soil where Kieron told her Nathan went over the edge, and stared for longer than she meant to, wondering what it would feel like if she leapt out over the inland sea, and let herself fall.
“Would be shorter,” Danival said to her, putting a hand on her shoulder, answering aloud her unspoken wondering.
“Don’t mind him,” Garrett said, walking by. He pulled off his face mask in time for Sha to see him roll his eyes. His expression was oddly warm as he looked at Dani, shaking his head. “He thinks suggesting suicide is a sign of affection.”
“Is thinking he is funny,” Danival snorted, shaking his head.
She looked up at him, chuckling darkly. “Yeah.” She didn’t know how else to signify her acceptance without signifying her acquiescence. I believe all of this happened. I accept that it all happened. I do not condone it. I am not happy with it. I do not like it. I do not want it.
Once their feet touched the city streets, once their boots hit the cobblestones, Kieron gestured, “Palace is that way. She was there, when I was taken away. But she might be with the Legatus, since Garrett says he went back. He carried me over the wall. He kept saying her name.”
Sha looked half-disgusted by the idea, her lips curling in a faint sneer. “He’s an Ilonan.”
“He helped get us up over the wall,” Garrett said. “And he had someone on the other side who got us up North. Just as we wish not to be lumped in with all other Westlanders — I imagine there are singular Ilonans who–”
“Have some measure of dignity,” Kieron said lowly, his eyes burning.
Garrett looked at him, uncertain as to whether he should be concerned.
“We’ll split up,” Sha said, wanting to get moving. “You have comms. We have comms. Whoever finds her, shout, and we get back out, over the wall, any way possible. Head north. They’ll have dropped supplies and or a bike or three. We can get north if we can’t get back on a ship right away.”
“You want to take the Palace?” Kieron offered her. “Garrett and I can go south?”
“Done,” Sha said, nodding. “It took us a long time to get into the city proper. You’ve got less than an hour before sunrise. Once that happens, we’re gonna have trouble staying as hidden as we want.” She looked at Kieron, grave. “Be safe. We’re getting her back, but not at the cost of losing anyone else without cause.”
Kieron nodded, solemn.
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Garrett followed Kieron as he moved with unerring ease toward the place in the south where Jules might be; Kieron clung to shadows, hurrying with such speed, Garrett began to worry the boy’s singular focus would land him in the arms of patrolling watchmen.
Instead, they ended up in the back garden as the sun began to come up, the sky turning a vivid blue along one horizon that was quickly swallowed by thick, roiling clouds.
“Is this the Legatus’s house?” Garrett wondered, looking around at the architecture, catching his breath.
“No,” Kieron said, standing tall. He still wore his mask, and his voice was muffled for a moment as he pulled it off. “This is the home of Dominus Aecus. Exosus,” he murmured. He was watching something around a corner, his words hushed, hidden.
“What?” Garrett reached out to touch Kieron’s shoulder. “Brody, listen to me. Is this about Jules?”
Kieron looked back over his shoulder, frowning slightly. “What? No.”
Exasperated, Garrett said, “Then what the fuck is your reasoning for dragging us over here?”
Kieron turned around, his expression half mischievous, almost excited. “Look, Professor–”
Garrett leaned in, his eyes widening. He wondered what could be so important. He didn’t see the knife until it was far, far too late.
The blade bit deep, drawn across his throat. He tried to drag in a breath, and then coughed, blood spraying against Kieron, who closed his eyes and let it bathe him as he pushed Garrett down to the grass.
Garrett stared up at Kieron in shock and betrayal, feeling a chill come over him, wash over him, quick and merciless. He lay, weltering, trying to gasp, to swallow, and could not help the panic that left his limbs trembling.
A life of quiet — that’s all he’d wanted. Was it too much to ask?
Perhaps instead, this is what he deserved?
There were too many questions unanswered, too many things left undone.
He thought of Danival, of the conversation they might’ve had, when all of this was over.
He felt delirious and stupid, for never having honestly imagined he would not have made it out alive.
Kieron simply knelt over him, taking a swath of Garrett’s sleeve and wiping his own face clean.
He moved with a deliberate care that marked him not at all as the innocent schoolboy he’d been, and not even as the hardened soldier he’d been becoming — but as something else entirely.
Garrett stared up at Kieron’s face, even as the light in his eyes faded, as the blood surging from his throat finally slowed, pooling on the grass, turning to red from shadowed black in the growing dawn.
Kieron stared back down, waiting. “He’s in here, Westlander,” he said, tapping his temple. “Kieron, that is. I know what he knows. And he knows what you did. What you were trying to do. But I’m here to tell you you failed. The boy you tried to save is long gone, professor,” he said, spitting the word out as a mockery. “He was weak. He was filth. As were you. As is the vermin infesting my house.”
Exosus Aecus stood, wearing someone else’s body, someone else’s blood, and pulled his mask back on.
He tucked his knife away, and walked into his house, leaving Alec Garrett to stare, blindly up at the brightening sky.
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