This is Issue #1 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!
Welcome back, and Happy Reading!
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The knife of black glass sang through the morning sky, a ringing note of judgment.
Coryphaeus kept himself still, his chin lifted to allow the Guardian’s blade to slit his throat cleanly. He drew a long, slow breath, and exhaled, the thought of Jules’ red curls resting behind his eyes. He felt a sigh of air as the blade cut through it — but there was neither pain, nor oblivion.
He opened his eyes, looked up into the golden gaze of the Guardian, and saw an immeasurable amount of grief there — the sharpness of it cut into him deeper than any blade ever could.
“Surgite,” the Guardian whispered, his eyes drifting away from the spared man, looking back in the direction of the palace. “Come, Legatus. There is much to do, for our ruined lands. I fear my failure to save the Prince will have left a void that only the unworthy will be trying to fill.”
“You did not fail t–” Coryphaeus began.
“Immanis Venator, blood of my blood, brother of my heart, my own Prince, my own…” The Guardian’s voice broke as he searched for the word. His eyes were nearly wild as he turned back to Coryphaeus, the gold of them wide, wet, shining with tears. “…love,” he finished, grinding the words through his teeth, tasting the bitterness of them, “is dead. I failed him, Aecus.”
Jet could not comprehend the heartsick misery within him. While it threatened to darken everything he saw; it also mixed with a giddy rising of hope and awe that Kieron was alive. That he had survived. That he had escaped the murderous hunt that Jet himself had orchestrated for his Prince. The joy of it surfaced at odd moments and then was swallowed, drowned in the knowing that he had been so close, but was now gone again.
Having lost half his heart to Kieron — having given the rest to Immanis, Jet could think of nothing left to do, and so he looked to Coryphaeus and said, with all gravity, “I have failed my heart. I have failed my city. If I must, I will pay for it with every remaining moment of my eternal life.”
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“That handles the matter of the rioting, and gives the soldiers and guards a way to keep the populace calm,” Gemma said, frowning in thought, looking through piles of paperwork and screens of data as she sat with Secta, in the War Room. “Next, we will want to send messages to the other provinces; the princess cannot be seen as–”
“As what?” rang the throaty, languid voice from the door.
Gemma looked stunned, while Secta got up from the table to bow lowly. “Your majesty,” he murmured, casting his eyes to her toes, waiting for her to acknowledge or dismiss him as she chose.
Lucida Venator crossed from the doorway to Secta, and placed a hand on his shoulder, then slid it to his neck, his cheek, guiding him to rise. She met his eyes, and hers were bright with determination as she said, “Do I look broken, Secta? Do you think I look weak, or incapable?”
“No, majesty,” Secta said truthfully, keeping his eyes on hers, not daring to look at Gemma, who had gone pale. “If I have in any way caused off–”
Lucida placed one finger over Secta’s lips, hushing him, and leaned in to kiss his forehead. He blushed hotly, watching her in silence.
She turned and looked over her shoulder at Gemma, saying simply, “If you think I am weak, my darling, you should have stayed with me. I do not like waking alone.”
“Lucibella,” Gemma said, looking apologetic. “Please forgive me,” she whispered, rising from her chair to kneel before the princess. “I know you have never been weak. I only wish to protect you and your rule, you know this.”
“Of course I do. You are forgiven. I merely do not like it when choices are made for me — you know this,” Lucida said quietly. She went to sit herself at the table, and Secta immediately left the room to get her tea and something to eat, while Gemma looked loving, but worried, nevertheless, and more than a little uneasy.
“Meabella–” Gemma began.
“Where is my caro, Gemma?” Lucida wondered.
Flushed, looking pained, Gemma said, “He was — he was defeated, Lucy. He was killed.”
“No,” Lucida said, shaking her head. “No, my Black Stone was not killed. He cannot be killed. He cannot,” she said, clutching a fist over her heart. “You know he cannot. He will return.”
“We saw–” Gemma began, but again was interrupted, this time by a commotion in the hall.
Lucida rose from her place at the table, saying, “What is this?”
It was then that the doors to the War Room were opened by Secta who staggered in, bloodied and clutching one arm, not panicked, but pained. “Take shelter,” he hissed to Gemma. “Acer is fighti–”
Gemma tried to back away from the doors, one hand reaching for her temple, her whole body struggling against a sudden tide of seizures.
Lucida could tell from the way her eyes glassed over how Gemma was assaulted by visions of death — the princess wondered briefly if they would be their own.
Shouts of defiance could be heard; weapons clashed and clanged down the hall past Secta, past the half open door. Secta turned to shut it, but was driven into the room by men with swords.
Acer Plaga managed to shove and stab his way past the clutch of guards, past traitors who snarled, “Vivat Tenebrae!”
Acer turned and roared, “I AM TENEBRAE!” There was fury etched all over his face.
“Down with the usurper! Down with the sympathizer! Down with the weakling! Plaga’s eldest rules us even in death!” came the return.
Raging, red-faced, murderous, Acer beat back many of the men, felled them with his sword, but the tide of them was too strong, and they began to force their way into the room. He grew bloodied with the assault, staggered under the weight of the traitors.
Seeing this, Lucida commanded Secta to care for Gemma. She took a knife from within her robes, and went to stand beside Acer, putting her shoulder to his, baring her teeth as she cried, “VIVAT VENATOR! VIVAT ILONA!”
His shock at her ferocity, her willingness to fight was briefly replaced by worry that he would have to protect her, which was in turn replaced with the sudden realization that she was one hundred times moreover than he the faster fighter. The better fighter. Even with only a knife, she dispatched traitor after traitor, bloodying herself without care–in theirs; she took not one wound–until she had gotten to the door and was screaming for him to shut and bar it.
Acer did as he was bid, panting, leaning against the door once it was secured. He looked to Lucida, his eyes wide. “You… You are more than merely a princess,” he said, swallowing roughly.
Proud, unashamed, Lucida nodded to Acer, saying, “I always have been.”
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