This is Issue #53 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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In the bed, Jules grew terribly, terribly still. Her breath began to rattle in her lungs.
Coryphaeus grew still as well, feeling his heart seize. “Jules?” he whispered, reaching out to touch her wrist, to take her pulse. The beat of her heart was weak and thready; he leaned over her, reaching to put his fingers to her throat.
Jules’s eyes fluttered open, and her lips parted. The words came in a sudden rush.
“–gratias tibi. Ego volere dices gratias. Volo te dic eam… Sol ortus et cecidit in oculis eais. Dic eam ea est fortis. Gratias tibi. Volo dices. Dic eam scio quod ea non indige mihi, gavise sum autem esse circa ea,” she rasped, blood running from her lips.
Shocked, Coryphaeus reached to touch her face, the slick warm of that blood coating his fingers.
“–et dic eam ego mortuusque bene. Dic eam non metuitus sum. Dic eam ego reverebamur frater eam. Gratias tibi. Volo te dic eam amavi quod coquere non posset. Dic eam amavi quod cantare non posset. Dic eam quod eam amavi ob eam ferociam. Dic eam. Dic eam quod cum mortem audet rapere, erit esse ea expectans. Dic eam sequitavissem eam in terra occassolis. Dic eam totius exercitus sequitarent eam in terra occassolis.”
Coryphaeus felt dread curling cold fingers around his heart, as her eyes widened. He felt them tighten the longer he listened to her speak. “Can’t cook. Can’t sing. The whole army would–” His own breath caught, and he looked back over his shoulder, heartbroken; she was already gone, the door pulled shut. He looked back at Jules, and met her pale eyes.
“Dic eam gratias tibi. Dic eam grati–” The last word broke off, and then there was silence.
Coryphaeus watched in horror as Jules’s expression slackened. “No,” he breathed, as the light in her eyes dulled. “No,” he insisted, as she became still entirely. One beat. Two. “No, Jules — Jules?” He reached to touch her shoulders, to shake her. “Jules!!” He moved to pull Jules to her side; she had been choking, had she not? Perhaps it was that she could not breathe.
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Hand on the door to the courtyard, Nixus heard her brother call to the Westlander. She heard him, urgent, pleading.
Then she heard the fear.
She was not sure if she should have hesitated, if she should have kept going; Cory’s fear pulled her back. She turned on her heel and sprinted back down the hall, bursting into the room where he held Jules. “What is i–” She stopped, staring.
Coryphaeus sat on the floor, kneeling at the bedside, and turned to look over his shoulder at his sister.
“You can tell me to leave some other time,” Nixus said brusquely. “Did you suffer a blow to the head and forget field resuscitation?” she said, pushing him out of the way. “I swear, Coryfrater, your Westlander girl will be the death of my patience.” She immediately climbed atop the bed and moved to straddle Jules, pulling pillows out of the way and tipping her head back.
Coryphaeus looked stunned, but then got up, wiping his eyes and scoffing at himself for his misery and panic. He’d been so willing to give up, even when Jules had shown no fear.
She listened for breathing sounds and checked for a pulse, then said, “Breathe for her, little brother, while I see if her poor little Westlander heart is strong enough to survive a beating.” She clenched her hands together, palm to back, and placed them over Jules’s chest, then thrust down, tempering her aggression with care — it wouldn’t do to crush her damn ribs.
She counted out ten beats and commanded, “Breathe.”
Coryphaeus leaned in, and did as he was told.
Nixus gritted her teeth and did another ten. “Breathe.”
Again, Coryphaeus put his mouth to Jules’s lips — only this time, as he pulled back, Jules made a choked, coughing sound.
Her eyes fluttered open, and Nixus rolled away, while Coryphaeus rolled Jules to her side again.
Nixus turned to drive her fist against Jules’s back, between the shoulder blades.
Finally, Jules spat a mouthful of blood, exhaling what seemed like a long, groaning last breath. She flailed a hand, and it was Nixus that caught it, and pulled her upright, grabbing for her other hand to hold it up as well. “Get it out, milkskin,” Nixus hissed. “Come on, sick it up, you thin-blooded bitch.”
Jules gagged, leaning into Nixus, and promptly vomited blood, hiccuping and spitting.
“Stop staring, stercore!” Nixus snapped at Coryphaeus, who was staring at them both, goggle-eyed until Nixus released Jules’s hands and gave him a shove. “Clean clothes. Wash basin. Move it, Coryfrater.”
Coryphaeus ran off, then, hurrying to get what Nixus ordered; he could be heard banging around and running water, two rooms over.
Nixus caught Jules before she slumped, and moved to strip her, peeling her bloody clothes off, saying “I swear upon the Legio, you frizz-headed canicula, your information had better be worth this dramatic idiocy.”
Jules stared up at Nixus, muddle-headed, coming out of the worst nightmare imaginable. “Don’t give him command,” Jules rasped. “Maybe he wins the war for you, maybe he dies for no reason. Don’t let him,” she insists.
“Tace,” Nixus hissed. “You know nothing.”
“I know what I see!” Jules snapped back, tears in her eye. “I know what I just lived and died through!” she shouted, stomping her foot, naked before Nixus.
Nixus, for her part, grabbed Jules by the shoulders, and gave her another shake. “Shut your mouth or I shall shut it for you!”
“Please,” Jules finally bleats, earnest. “He laid under his horse for four days. I had to go find him myself. I saw my own face, barely two weeks from now,” she begged. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
“I still don’t,” Nixus growled.
Jules reached up a hand and cupped Nixus’s face, saying, “He said to tell you you’re too glorious to wait.”
Nixus’s face turned ashen. She blinked once, twice. “What?” Her voice had grown small.
“He wanted you to know he would’ve followed you into the Westlands,” Jules said. “And when death dares to come for you–”
Nixus looked astonished as she finished the sentence with Jules, saying “–he’ll be waiting with him.” She swallowed, moving to carefully sit Jules down on the bed, saying, “I’ll be damned, Westlander.”
Coryphaeus came in, bringing water and washing clothes and fresh clothes.
“Yeah?” Jules wondered, moving to wash her face, darkening the water bloody red. “Finally believe me?”
Looking for all the world like she’d just eaten a salted lemon, Nixus said, “I think I do — but get that look off your face or I’ll change my mind.”
Jules hid her face with the washing cloth, but Coryphaeus noticed she didn’t stop smirking, triumphant.
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