This is Issue #35 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 wailing mostly stopped as the doors were thrown open.
“Where is she? What have you done with my Princess?” Gemma’s voice was plaintive, and not at all her usual commanding, insistent tone. The guards had opened the door to let Secta in, but she was occupied with trying to get back out, trying to plead with them. She paid no notice to him at first, as he began to open cupboards and drawers, looking through her things. Once she realized her room was being searched, she followed after him, trying to get between him and what he was looking at.
He did not wear what he had worn, as Jet’s servant; instead, he wore a hooded black robe, voluminous and flowing, that hid him from her.
She did not recognize him at all.
Guards followed her in and mostly got in her way, though they had been instructed not to harm her, and so they mostly proved a nuisance to her, keeping her from fully seeing what her investigator was up to.
He kept his hooded face turned from hers, his black robes covering him from her eyes, even as she stood as close to him as the guards would allow, begging for information.
Secta looked around for the poison she kept, and anything else that might be used to prove her deception. Jet may let it alone with Lucida’s acceptance, but Secta knew better than to let any information go undiscovered.
Even his voice had changed, as he answered her, brash and without compassion. “Her majesty the Queen is quite well and not of your concern.”
The room she was in was nearly identical to his own, in construction, and he spent much of his time looking at every nook and cranny he knew was a hiding place in his own room. His hands slid over the books on her walls, the bowls of spice, the bottles, the knives, the small devices, the strangely taken-apart-and-put-back-together comms units, the figurines, the candles.
He saw many herbs that were easily poison, and many concoctions that would have had ill effects, but none of them contained sonoria radices, and he redoubled his efforts, determined to find the answer.
When he realized her shelves were shallower than his for no reason, he realized where she must be hiding her treachery much more skillfully. He changed from looking at the obvious objects to looking for hidden hinges and latches, and when his fingers finally found one, and the door swung open, Gemma cursed under her breath.
Secta found the roots almost immediately, but what was more interesting were the rows and rows and rows of books and parchments and scrolls on paper, on papyrus, on vellum, on byssus. He pulled open a book and read the lines, frowning. On some level, a part of him realized immediately what the ink was made of–
“Blood and malagranata juice,” he muttered.
–and a shiver of worry moved through him. The book read like a religious text written by a madman, or in this case, a madwoman. He set it down and picked up another, and it was more of the same. Line after line of prophecy, death, destruction. Another book, another book, and another, and another. Some of them were merely names, places, dates, and causes of death.
He looked up at the shelves, floor to ceiling, and they were crammed full of these books on this one shelf. His eyes cast around the rest of the room, and realized that all her shelves had been constructed this way, hidden behind false fronts. He opened the next set, and the next, and the next, until he had come around, near to her, and opened it as well.
“They are full,” he said, his eyes widening in shock and wonder.
“They are destiny,” Gemma said. “They are fate. They told me of His coming. They told me Immanis would fall. They told me the Black Stone would rise.” She sounded almost rapturous. “Those visions are truth. If they are thwarted, terrible, terrible things happen. The threads of fate must not be changed. I have seen the deaths that must occur,” she said, her voice rising, sounding somewhere between frightened and furious. “You cannot stop what must become. The Princess must bear the Fire of Ilona. I must prove we are willing. It is the only way to save her. ”
Secta’s fist clenched; he crushed an old, brittle parchment, rendering it into so much crumbling scraps. It fluttered out of his fingers, dropping to the floor, while the dust of it whorled through sunbeams falling lazily through the window, to puddle on the floor. He did not know quite what he had expected, when searching for the answer, but it certainly had not been this. While Jet and Lucida had grown close, he and Gemma had been friends, had they not? How had she concealed something with this level of pure and perfect lunacy?
“Send for Him,” he breathed, disgust warring with fear as he waved his attending guards out of the room, dusting his hand off.
That moment was one Gemma had been waiting for, hoping for.
He paid little attention to her as she leaned in, reaching for him.
When Gemma’s hand touched Secta’s shoulder, he shifted, and his hood fell away. Secta whirled on her, throwing her to the floor. He was stronger now, though he had taken pains to make sure he didn’t look it. He stood over her, snarling, and leaned down, saying, “Numquam me tangere iterum.” Never touch me again.
Her eyes were huge as she stared up at him, terrified. “No,” she whispered. “You bled on me. She cracked open your skull. You watched our Guardian and our Princess from a pool of your own blood on the floor. I saw you. No, you are dead. You are dead, little famulo. ”
“I am not dead, scratia,” Secta said, and his eyes burned as he stared down at her, agonized fury on his face.
“But you must be,” Gemma said, looking lost. “The Guardian — his fire –”
“I am His fire, tu canicula rabidus,” Secta hissed, “and I shall live forever.”
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