This is Issue #95 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 crowd went quiet, shocked into silence.
Sha stared, her heart in her throat. He was what? He what?
“But before that inhuman, horrifying act, I had already been transformed. Because of Immanis, I had experienced my novo. Now I, too, bear the blood of an Ilonan. I fight for you. I end the lives of those who would harm you. I fought at the Prince’s side in the Hunt. I killed Westlanders. I will kill every last one of them associated with the Valley,” he shouted. “I will kill any who dare to come to our lands and touch even one of you! I am a Westlander no longer! Ilona is in my blood! I am Ilona!”
Then, he took the hand of the one closest to him, and pulled her close.
The crowd held its breath as he held her wrist; she looked almost terrified, but tried to hide it. “If I were a Westlander, would I die for you?” he asked her.
“If I were your enemy, child, would I bleed for you?” Jet asked, holding her as she held the knife. He slid closer, moved to wrap himself around her as though he would lead her on a dance.
She stiffened in his arms, tense, but the knife remained high — up and out of the way as he watched her, waited for her answer. “…no?” She looked at the blade, and watched as he brought it slowly down, and guided her to cut into him with the glass knife, scoring a line above his heart.
She watched the line of red well, and then begin to spill.
“I bleed for you, child,” he said. “I bleed for you, and if you ask it of me, I will die for you, again and again.”
The woman lifted her chin, saying, “I am no child.” She pressed the knife against his flesh, let the point begin to dig into his chest.
A slow smile curved his painted lips, and the rest of the courtyard watched.
“Does it hurt?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.
“It does. Would it not hurt you, if you were cut?”
“Are you so like me?”
Jet nodded. “I am exactly like you.”
“How many times will they do this?” Acer wondered of Lucida, having come down to stand near her.
Lucida watched her husband and the young woman who held a knife to his chest. “You did it, yourself, at our gates,” she said dryly. “He is making a point.”
“I think not. You are more powerful than I. But you bleed for me,” the woman said quietly. “You would die for me?”
Jet nodded, solemn.
The woman thrust the glass knife into his chest, and as his knees buckled, she dropped with him, astonished at herself, pulling the knife out, reaching to try to stop the blood.
Jet leaned into her, and then sat back, gasping briefly, his eyes opening wide, his wound searing closed. He panted, smiling up at her, and pressed his fingertips to the blood. He then drew a line with it, across her brow. “Meum est,” he said quietly, his golden eyes holding hers. “Tu es ad mea.” You’re mine. You’re with me.
The young woman stared up at him with wide, awestruck eyes. She nodded, and answered him in a voice that sounded earnest and hopeful and promising. “Ego sum apud te. Semper apud te.” I’m with you. Always with you.
He smiled and released her, and as she stepped back, the crowd cried out, seeing him as unmarked.
He painted the brows of each of the rest who had been given to him, drawing his blood over their skin — none of the rest sought to cut him, after they’d seen it happen; the first woman couldn’t take her eyes off of him.
Next to Acer, Gemma watched them all, half-trembling in jealous rage, furious and miserable to no longer be a part of those moments. A low-burning fire remained within her. She would have Lucida back, and she would make certain the Guardian fulfilled the fate she knew to be true. She would let the armies tear one another apart until Kriegsland was scattered and weak, and then she would command her shadow army up over the ridge — not to take back the lost children of Ilona who had spurned their advancements and achievements, but to eradicate them forever.
When it was over, and the last young man was looking at the blood that remained on the woman’s knife from where it had bitten into the Guardian’s flesh, he announced “Pledge your lives, your hearts, your blood, to the Queen, my children.”
Those who had been painted by Jet knelt immediately, pressing their foreheads to the flagstones, the knives they held offered out toward Lucida, whose eyes gleamed.
“Citizens!” Jet cried out. “I have taken the children of your masters! I have marked them as mine! They kneel to me. They are mine, and now you are mine. There are no more shadows, no more city states, no more borders. We are one land — Ilona!”
A murmur of astonishment went through the crowd. Ilonan, Seplasian, Tenebrian, Chalybite, and all the rest — pilgrims and soldiers from armies all across the lands east of the Luminora.
Sha looked to Dani, angry and afraid. The Guardian stood there, bloody but entirely unwounded, surrounded by seas of adoring followers.
Her guns weren’t going to do a fucking thing — and even if they could? She was no longer certain she should. He’d been in the Corps? Who was he?
“We are wanting to find a quieter place than this. Important people are in the courtyard, Captain — perhaps that will mean the palace itself is being less secure,” Danival offered.
Was he on one of the other ships? Who was he? Sha couldn’t figure it out, and the puzzle of it settled a cold fist around her heart.
“We are one land!” Jet shouted, fire in his eyes. “We are Ilona!”
“Ilona!” Someone in the crowd cried, and others began to take up the cheer. “One land! Ilona!”
Jet laughed, pleased, and told them all “Serve the Queen, and Ilona will live forever.”
Caught up in the shock and revelry, the rest of the crowd, save for Gemma, who knew nothing could rid Ilona of its shadows, roared back “Vivat Ilona!”
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