This is Issue #4 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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Coryphaeus stood, quickly — but it was the wrong thing to do. His eyes rolled back into his head and he dropped, boneless, bloody and only getting bloodier, to the hall floor.
Lucida stiffened in her chair, looking to the fallen man; she moved to get up, but a guard stepped in front of her, bowing. “Apologies — keep a safe distance, Majesty.”
The wound Immanis had dealt Coryphaeus just before he’d gone over the edge had come open again, and bled to the marble, spreading.
“Master,” Secta said, hurrying to kneel beside the Legatus. “I know of a stitcher who can work quickly. Bring him to his rooms; I will fetch help–”
Jet picked up Coryphaeus easily, and looked to the guards, and to Lucida, saying, “I am not certain when I shall return, but when I do–”
“I will wait for you. If I am resting, I will make certain the handmaidens admit you,” Lucida said. “Hurry. Save him; I have a feeling he will prove of value to our house.”
Jet didn’t need to be told twice.
* * *
When Coryphaeus was laid out on a table in his rooms, he had already begun to drift back in and out of consciousness. “Don’t tell him,” he said. “Don’t — don’t tell father,” he rasped. “He would not understand,” he begged, panting.
“What wouldn’t he understand?” Jet wondered, looking bewildered.
“I can’t face him as–as–as that,” he begged, gripping Jet’s hand. “Nixus understood,” he whispered. “You understand, don’t you? Please, Mirus. Brother, please. I can’t go back. I can’t be who he remembers. It’s over; this is who I am now. This is who I always was. This is who I have to be.”
“Legatus,” Jet whispered, twisting his hand to hold Coryphaeus’s. “You must rest,” Jet said, trying to pull back. “The chiurgeon is coming. Just breathe. You will be all right.”
Secta burst in, just then, with a red-robed woman carrying a heavy leather bag. Wizened, narrow-eyed, she looked at the Guardian and then at her charge, and said, “Bring me clean water. Basins. Aetheris. Now.”
Jet nodded, and turned away, moving to leave, to hurry to do the woman’s bidding.
Before he managed to go, however, Cory’s hand reached, grabbing his. “Guardian,” he rasped, his eyes wide — but not wild. Coryphaeus was no longer dreaming, no longer out of his mind. Instead, he was focused. Clear. “Hear me, Guardian,” he murmured. “You must promise me one thing. Just this one thing, Guardian, I am begging you.”
Jet kept his hand in Cory’s, frowning slightly, watching. “What promise do you ask of me?”
“Just this one thing,” he rasped. “If I die — if I die, Guardian…” he said, “I’m not who I was. I’m not who I was anymore. I’m this man,” he said, tears welling up in his eyes. “And I need you to bury me as this man. Legatus Coryphaeus Aecus. That’s who I am, now.”
Jet nodded, holding his hand, without having a clue as to what the gasping man truly meant.
I’m — I’m Coryphaeus. Bury me… as you know me. Coryphaeus Aecus. This man. Please. Don’t let — don’t let my brother — don’t let my brother take that away from me,” the Legatus said, writhing in pain on the table as his senses were once again overwhelmed with the weight of his body’s agony.
“Basins. Water. Now!” the woman snapped, reaching to grab Jet’s hand away from Cory’s. “Unless you want those words to be his final ones?”
Secta hurried, happy to be of use, working best in an emergency, to take Jet to where they could get basins of hot, clean water.
They returned to the woman, giving her over the washbasins, and then went to get bottles of aetheris, and other things the crone asked for, such as various herbs and bandages.
“What… What do you suppose he meant,” Jet began, standing within a store room, with Secta, who carefully began to pull down a number of items and lay them in Jet’s arms, “by this is who he is, now?”
Secta turned and looked at Jet over his shoulder, his expression unreadable. “Do not let the bottles tip, Master; they cannot be capped tightly, and so they should not be allowed to fall to the side, Master,” he said, after a moment, his servile smile tight, trembling.
Too caught up in his own thoughts, Jet did not contradict Secta’s blatant avoidance of the topic. Instead, his brow furrowed as he kept thinking on it, and he held to the items Secta piled into his arms, careful to make certain the aetheris bottles didn’t tip.
They were on their way back when they heard the screams.
Jet handed off to Secta the stack of things they’d gotten and drew his sword, barreling off down the hall. When he burst back into the room, the crone was busy strapping Coryphaeus down, and Jet was able to get a good look at the Legatus’s wounds.
Cleaned of old blood and filth from the hunt, Coryphaeus’s body was a network of scars and fresh cuts — Jet could see where Immanis had carved open the man’s ribs, could see plenty of other cuts, shallow and deep, from the sword fights, bruises from climbing, from falling. A set of deep scars ran in crescents from under his arms to nearly his breastbone, while another went from his navel over his lower belly, disappearing into the dark curls that disappeared into the sheet draped over his hips. Each of the fresh wounds ran freely with blood, and the Legatus’s skin was going more ashen by the moment.
He strained, screaming, his eyes glassy as he thrashed and shook, his back arching. He gagged, lifting himself off the table, panting, and howled in agony.
Jet put his sword away, feeling sheepish, and looked to the crone. “Can you — can you give him anything for the pain?”
“No,” she said simply. “He’s lost too much blood. It would slow his heart too much,” she explained. “Hold him while I work.”
And so Jet did — steeling himself against the way the fevered body beneath him screamed. Coryphaeus strained, howling, until he finally passed out, limp and pale.
Secta came in, carrying the things Jet had handed him, while running off, and helped the woman finish off her stitches.
The woman finally stepped back, pouring aetheris over the closed wounds, covering them in a vile-looking poultice. He was wrapped in clean bandages, then, and carefully laid out in his bed.
“He is in fate’s hands now,” the woman said, looking exhausted.
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