This is Issue #96 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!
* * *
The house was quiet, when he let himself in. He knew where to walk, where to hide. He knew how to carry himself. There were no guards outside his study; there was nothing there anymore. When he let himself in, he locked the door behind himself and only when he was confronted by the bloodstain that was simply left on the floor did his composure waver.
When it did, Kieron raged to the surface, clawing for control, his eyes going wide. He turned himself around and ran for the door again, clawing at the handle, struggling to escape. Once in the hallway, however, not knowing where to go brought just enough hesitation that the dead man in his head came forward again, and Kieron promptly found himself back in the study. He screamed, but silently, only inside himself, maddened at being caught, at being a prisoner within himself.
“Silence,” Exosus said quietly, firmly. “I am dead, and have nothing to lose by cutting out your tongue or gouging out your eye.” Kieron stilled, furious, and faded further, shrinking from the man who so expertly hated. He realized in a way how wrong he’d been about his father — Ellison Brody was protective and arrogant, frightened of vulnerability and love, and demanded obedience in a way that wasn’t healthy — but he did not hate like Exosus did.
It made Kieron question enough that he disappeared within the recesses of his mind, of his heart, and left Exosus to do his own will.
When the young man left the study hours later, cleaned up, dressed and hooded like a servant to hide the shag of his blonde hair, he scuttled into the hallway, clinging to the sides and shadows, as though he knew precisely where he belonged.
He had, in a way, as little as days ago.
Exosus Aecus made his way through his home toward the wing where his wife had made her own home within a home. On his way, he did not bother to avoid anyone — he scurried like the rest of the rats in his vermin-infested house, and when he finally managed to slip into her bedchambers, he changed his gait entirely, and strode toward her, pulling off his hood.
Venustus stared down the youth who approached her; she was sitting at her mirror, braiding and rebraiding the long, thick waves of dark hair. Her eyes watched him, in the mirror. She looked wary, but unafraid. “How did you get in?” she asked, moving to stand, to step away from the mirror. She was a glory to see, a risen matriarch, with her kohl lined eyes and her jewels.
Exosus saw nothing of her beauty, only the vast and horrific misery he wished to inflict on her and everything that had ever been her issue. His children from her were nothing but failures or monsters or both.
“What do you want? she said. “What are you doing here?”
“Stultus cunnus,” he hissed. “I want my home. I’m taking back my home.” He drew the knife that had already been wet with Garrett’s blood, and closed the distance between them.
Her eyes flared wide. She stepped back, shocked. “What did you say to me?” she whispered, narrowing her eyes then, staring at the man before her. “What did you just call me?”
“Stultus. Cunnus,” he repeated, and stepped forward again, his eyes lighting up. “It’s what I’ve always called you, isn’t it?”
Venustus took a step forward, herself, gritting her teeth as she insisted “He is dead.”
“No,” he snarled, stepping forward, lifting the knife. “No, he is not.”
In an instant, he found himself on the ground, staring up at her, a booted foot on his wrist. Her booted foot, on his wrist.
Exosus stared up in shock.
“He is DEAD,” Venustus insisted, leaning down over him. “He is as dead as if I had killed him myself.” Her eyes were bright, and her voice a fierce whisper. “And I did, by raising a daughter and a son who refused to let him rule them.”
Furious, Exosus rolled to one side, then the other, yanking his hand out from under her. He stood, holding the knife, and tried to stare down the woman that had claimed his home out from under him. “He is not dead. He lives in this body. I am he. I am Exosus. The murderous filth you bore me couldn’t kill me. I am still here.”
Venustus stared at the young man before her, listening to his rasping, hate-filled voice, and found it easy to see her wretched husband’s face reflected in his furious expression. It wasn’t hard at all to believe that somehow, her husband had found a way to return, even if in the body of a Westlander. “That may be,” she said, refusing to give ground. “But no one will accept it. No one will bow to that milk skin. No one will fear you. I do not fear you. Your son and daughter do not fear you, any longer,” she pronounced, lifting her chin.
“If they will not fear me,” Exosus growled, “it matters not. They will not live to regret it. I will take back what is mine.”
“It was never yours!” Venustus shouted back, leaning close. “I was never yours, and this home was never yours! That you think you could own something as glorious as my love,” she hissed.
Exosus moved to strike again, but Venustus was faster, older, more experienced. He found himself on the ground once more, dazed and addled, breathless. “No,” he growled, struggling to regain his feet. He slumped back down, blinking until things came back into focus, and he managed to find the world sharpening just about the time he could see her getting away.
Furious, he stood, managing a few quick steps after her, gnashing his teeth in frustration as he watched her back away into a further chamber, locking the door behind herself.
She could fight?
He had underestimated how much she had kept from him, in their estrangement.
He would not do so, again.
* * *