This is Issue #84 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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Jet’s head snapped up; he stood, looking at Secta, and said, “We’ve sent much of our forces to the farmlands, to help rebuild. Plaga’s brother must also have heard rumor of Immanis’s health.” He shook his head, sighing. “Get my allblack ready.”
“…and the mask, sir?” Secta wondered, looking hopeful.
“Yes, yes, and the mask,” Jet said, rolling his eyes.
“You’re terrifying in the mask, sir,” Secta promised.
Jet snorted, looking down over his brother. “Lucida bribed you to say that,” he noted. “Get my things ready, Secta. I have to meet with the erstwhile Lords of Tenebrae. I want more guards posted outside this room, the windows, and all the hallways leading here. Understood?” It was only once Secta made certain he grasped the severity of Jet’s command that he left Immanis’s side, and strode off down the hall to find Lucida. When he reached her room, he braced himself for the scent of sex and a huqqa full of aetheris, and let himself in.
Immediately, the gaiety within subsided, but when Lucida looked from the curtains of her bed, she laughed to see Jet. She stepped from where she had been ensconced with Gemma, and nakedly strode across her room to stand before him, high on aetheris, relaxed as he had not seen her… ever.
“Lucibellamea,” he said, leaning to kiss her nose. “We have uninvited guests. Lords of Tenebrae.”
“So turn them away,” she said, waiving a hand at him imperiously. “Tell them all they are invited to kiss the split of my bottom,” she laughed.
“No,” said Gemma, urgent, getting out of the bed. Though she’d begun as naked, she pulled a robe around herself and tied it shut as she walked over to him. “No, invite them in,” she said, her eyes lighting up.
“What?” Lucida said, one brow quirking up. “Darling girl, these men are vile. We do not wish to see them.”
“You miss a great opportunity,” Gemma said, warning Jet.
“Speak on,” Jet said, looking expectant.
“We’ll get the palace to prepare a feast,” Gemma offered. “You can pretend they are ambassadors,” she explained. “Tenebrians are proud and vain. Play to this pride. Appeal to this vanity. Put sweets in the mouth of the viper — so many that it cannot bite.”
Lucida’s eyes lit up, and she said, “My own darling, you… how brilliant you are.”
“I shall have to keep you around,” Jet said to Gemma, smiling. “As I obviously need all the advisors I can get. Have it done,” he told them both. “I will go to them, invite them, and you will instruct feasts and games.”
“Yes,” Gemma said, pressing her hands together and looking to Lucida. “And you, Princess, will sit high and be watched with hunger and delight. If Tenebrae has any sense in its head, it will recognize this as an opportunity as well. Mactabilis was little more than a thug; his brother could be a far greater ally.”
“And you?” Jet wondered of Gemma.
“I am but a lady’s maid, Guardian. I can pass through rooms and halls with little notice. Unless the lady shows me undue favor, I imagine I will be able to hear many a conversation,” she revealed, grinning almost mischievously.
“Ah, then I shall keep my hands and kisses to myself,” Lucida sighed, mock dramatically.
“When have you ever?” Jet rolled his eyes, laughing. “Dress, then,” he said to Lucy. “And make with the preparations,” he said to them both, fond. “I must see how Secta has fared,” he said, and left them to their own devices.
* * *
Before he managed to get back to his rooms, Jet slipped in to Immanis’s, and knelt at his bedside. He watched him for a long moment, and then began to disrobe. He slid into the bed beside Immanis and curled his body close to that of the sleeping man. “Wake, brother,” Jet whispered mournfully. “Come back to me.” He listened to the quiet, slow heartbeat of the fallen Prince, and was lulled into a brief doze, in the heat of the darkened room. When he woke, he pressed a gentle kiss to Immanis’s cool lips, and then withdrew. Hurrying so as to make sure the soon-to-be guests would not have to wait, he picked up his clothes, re-dressed, and strode back to his rooms, his head cleared.
* * *
“…what is this?” Jet wondered, walking into his rooms to find Secta, a tailor and attendants, and a host of guards.
“Your honor guard,” Secta said. “They need to match,” he explained easily.
“Match what?” Jet asked, looking doubtful.
“You, Lord,” Secta said, trying not to make it seem as though Jet were less than half a dunce.
Jet struggled not to roll his eyes, but instead answered, “Of course,” and let the tailor finish his work, while Secta dressed and groomed him.
The guards allowed themselves to be fitted passively, and put their new clothes and sashes on without complaint. When all was said and done, the twelve were clothed in blade and shadow, their faces sharp, their eyes cold. Jet wondered if perhaps it hadn’t been all silly, to follow Lucy’s suggestion for dramatic flair.
Jet allowed Secta to paint his face; once the lines were dry, he donned the enameled mask that covered his features, tied his hair back, and pulled up his hood. He was unrecognizeable — he was not Jet.
He was the Guardian of Ilona.
Thus prepared, he signaled the guards to follow him — Secta was not playing when he staggered out of the way and pressed himself to the wall, and neither were the rest of the household. The thirteen-guard group strode past Lucida and Gemma as the two women walked out of Lucida’s suites, deep in conversation. Gemma paused to take in the sight, and shared a smile of victory with Lucy — Plaga’s household would not refuse an offer of hospitality by such a fearsome host. It would be both insulting and cowardly — instead, they would be welcomed in and they would have surpass the terror the Guardian would generate, or roll over and present their bellies.
Though Jet did not have the ability to compel as their brother did, his immortality instilled enough fear in his opponents that they were more or less coerced to do as bid.
“Come,” Lucida told Gemma, “There is still much to do. We will need to hurry, to finish in time.”
* * *
Past the palace walls, Jet and his guard walked. The streets cleared for them; people slipped out of the way as they saw their Guardian pass, but turned to offer praises, prayer. Jet gently touched passers-by, fingertips bestowing benediction on those who cried out to him. He had grown to be of legend to the people of Ilona — his heart was proud to protect them, and they loved him in return. Children ran out to greet the marching men; young women threw flowers, and men shouted in cheer. They walked toward the city gates, and the redgold dust that kicked up about their feet whorled forth out onto the road as the gates opened, and revealed what lay beyond.
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