This is Issue #90 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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Coming back from the visions had always been somewhat painful; it was more so, now, without her lover to hold her. Her head and belly ached; she sat up eventually, and felt the world swim in front of her eyes. Before the nausea struck, she prepared her huqqa, trembling fingers dropping the sticky resin into the burn bowl, reaching for the longmatch case.
Gemma smoked bowl after bowl of aetheric resin to calm her nerves and erase the memory of the taste of blood from her tongue. The numbing feel of the aetheris clung to her, finally, and she drowned in the confined heat of her room. She kept the windows draped, the doors shut, and curled up within the tapestried bed in the center of the room, much as she once used to, with Lucida.
She wondered if the Queen mourned her loss, or if her anger was still too great.
“No matter,” she said aloud. “No matter, Lucibella. When the war comes, you will have need of me,” she whispered. “I know this to be true.”
She summoned her newest servant to her chambers as she lay in isolation within the Ilonan Palace, and said, “Bring me Legatus Faeles.”
The servant bowed and backed away slowly, knowing full well how to handle interactions with a deadly predator.
When the servant returned, she simply gestured to the door, staring at it fearfully. Ferox Faeles rolled her eyes and walked right in, shutting the door behind herself.
“Domina Plaga,” Ferox said, bowing low before the curtained bed. She remained bent until the curtains parted, and Gemma slipped from them, drawing a robe about herself. She rose, then, keeping her eyes low, until spoken to.
“Legatus,” Gemma said. “We had a deal.”
“That we did, Domina,” the Legatus answered, lifting her head. She rested her wide, dark eyes on Gemma, cool and collected. “But you are speaking as though it is the past. I wonder if you are planning on ending that deal?”
“On?” Legatus Faeles didn’t look upset or worried; she stood tall and watched Gemma with an air of calm curiosity.
“Have you plans on attacking Aecus’s Legio?” Gemma’s eyes, sharp, rested on Ferox, unblinking.
“None at the present time, Domina mea. But such a thing could affect your plans for binding your new household with that of the royal line, could it not? The Summus and Legatus Aecus are beloved by the Guardian and the Queen. They would not be attacked unless they showed some measure of disloyalty,” Ferox raised one brow, curious as to Gemma’s line of questioning.
“That they are, but the Aecus line itself has been remade. With Exosus dead, Domina Venustus has renamed her house and submitted to the Guardian and Queen. But they did not come to the coronation. Likely the Summus and the Legatus are already gone to find out why. You will also find out why,” she said to Faeles.
“I, myself, Domina? Or may I delegate?”
“Are you too good to do my work, Legatus?” Gemma wondered, narrowing her eyes, staring Ferox down.
“Not at all, but you do have me working on a number of things. Much as I have tried, I am but one Legatus, and cannot be everywhere at once.” Ferox’s mannerisms were smooth, soothing; she obviously had either great respect for Gemma, or simply knew how to behave so.
Gemma wasn’t certain she cared, so long as Ferox stayed on the right side of her.
“Faeles,” Gemma said quietly. “I cannot always read your intentions, nor your fidelity.”
“Does this trouble you, Domina?”
“Trouble me? That is not the word I might have chosen. Irritates is closer to what I mean.” Gemma watched with some measure of satisfaction the way Ferox’s face shifted from one of calm to one of wariness.
“Have I offended you, Domina?” Faeles wondered, her brows knitting together. “If so, I ask your pardon, and for the chance to atone. I had thought I was as subservient as was required, but I can be taught to bow lower,” she offered.
“I do not want you to be subservient,” Gemma sighed, looking exasperated and put-upon. “I want your blade pointed only where I will it, not because of my orders, but because you know it to be right.”
“What is right is decided by the victors,” Faeles said. “The victor of a war writes history, Domina. My blade cuts what you decree because you have the sight. Tenebrae has always followed prophecy more closely than any other citystate within Intemeratus Posito. Had you been born in Tenebrae–“
“Oh but that’s the joke of it, Faeles. I was,” Gemma said, laughing dryly. “My mother and father went to a venefica before I was born, as was the custom. They asked for my future. Instead of telling them I would be a beautiful noble lady of some station, the witchwoman told them “Ea erit iube exercitus umbra.”
“You would command an army of shadow,” Faeles said, her eyes widening.
“Yes. The shadow army would be mine. My father paid her handsomely for something that would ruin me in my mother’s womb, cast me out.” Gemma relayed the information as though it were about some other, unbeloved child.
“He did not give it to her, of course,” Faeles said, assuming. “He loved you, already.”
“Faugh,” Gemma spat, rolling her eyes. “I did not take you for an addle-minded lovesick fool, Ferox.” She sounded half-disgusted as she looked at the Legatus. “She gave him what he asked for. He went back to her the next morning and said he’d dropped the bottle, and needed another. She gave it to him.”
The Legatus stared at Gemma, waiting for the tale to continue; she looked more than interested. “He threw it away? And then changed his mind?”
Gemma shook her head. “No. My father was not the sort of man to give anything to chance. He gave my mother both bottles-full. When she was wombsick, and asked for tea, he warmed it, and gave it to her with a smile.”
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