This is Issue #74 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 knock at Nixus’s apartment door was insistent; she couldn’t imagine who would dare to be there at such an hour — Sollerti would’ve commanded everyone to handle their own shit for the night. Tomorrow was the coronation — Kriegic intelligence would believe that everyone was busy celebrating, and wouldn’t realize that all the passenger ships were armed. They wouldn’t know that the parading pilgrims were soldiers.
They would not know that it is impossible to surprise Ilona.
Until then, however, Nixus had to keep her brother sleeping — she’d finally gotten him to drop off; enough wine and aetheris and promises that all would be well had finally seen him into dreams.
That knocking might make it all for naught, though.
She flung the door open, growling, “–had better have a good reason, or I’ll–” She stared.
“Oh, you’re here. Thank fuck you’re here. Nix, you have to help me find hi–” Jules didn’t finish her sentence, because she found herself on her hands and knees, her ears ringing, her head spinning. She blinked, staring down at the ground, tasting pennies, seeing stars. “How did–” She felt herself hauled up from where she’d suddenly found herself on the ground. “What?”
“Non invenerunt corpus tuum,” Nixus grunted, throwing another roundhouse punch that clocked Jules in the cheek and dropped her right to the ground again. They’ll never find your body.
A kick to Jules’s stomach had her gasping — she doubled up, rolling, and put her arms up, tears in her eyes. “Summus–” she begged. “Please. Please, is he all right?”
“Te nunquam teneo.” Nixus did not shout. You will never know. She didn’t want Coryphaeus to wake up. She grabbed hold of the woman by her hair and lifted her to her feet, twisting her until Jules was up on her toes. She pulled a small, but useful blade from her belt, and brought it up to Jules’s throat.
Juliana Vernon O’Malley stood there, throat bared, gagging from the pain, from dust in her throat, from the kick in her stomach. She didn’t fight, she only lifted her hands up, pleading.
“Nixus!” Jules begged. “Please. Please!”
“Did he beg? Did you make him beg?” Nixus wondered. “Did you make my beautiful, perfect brother weep? Did you think of all he has sacrificed, simply to be allowed to live inside his own skin? Did you think of anyone but yourself when you broke his heart?”
“Nixus, I love him!”
Nixus looked incredulous, giving Jules a rough shake. “And I say — Dico vobis mendax! I say you are a liar! I call you a liar! A liar of the worst kind!”
“It’s true,” Jules said, reaching to touch Nixus, trying to steady herself. “I love–”
“Te claude os meretricis tuum,” Nixus hissed, digging the point of the knife against Jules’s skin. You shut your whore mouth. “Love is not a feeling, you stupid child. Love is an action. Love is doing. And what you have done — what you have done, you spurcus, ineptus…” Nixus chewed on the words, spitting them out as though they were vile, themselves. Nixus paused, grinding her teeth.
Jules fell silent as well, and mostly still. She panted, staring at Nixus. They stared one another down for a long moment until Jules hung her head, shamefaced, trying to get her breathing under control.
“He loves you.” Furious, Nixus threw Jules to the ground and put away the knife. “You ruined someone beautiful. Congratulations, you wretched beast. You tore his heart out more savagely than our own father did. Our father scarred Coryphaeus. You? You shattered him. And he loves you still. Still!”
Jules looked up at Nixus, wild eyes wide with hope. He loves me, still? “Where is he?” She slowly moved to get to her feet.
“If you know what is good for you, Westlander, go.”
Jules looked at Nixus for a long moment, and then carefully wiped her tears away. Her eye was swelling shut, and her lip was split. A nick at her throat welled blood. “I can’t, because he is what’s good for me,” Jules said softly.
“Go. Go back to your freedom. Go back to your life. Go back to your maritus.” At the last word, Nixus all but spat in Jules’s face.
Jules didn’t flinch, but looked up at Nixus, saying, “Have you never loved more than one person at a time? D’y’not ken what it is t’feel–”
“Words!” Nixus shouted, stomping forward, leaning over Jules’s small frame. “You speak of feelings! Of words! Damn your words and damn your feelings, Westlander — love is not a feeling! Love is something you do. Love is a way you behave. You did not give my brother love. You took what he gave and you left him with nothing. I should gut you where you stand and give your heart to him.”
“If it would make him happy–”
Nixus shouted in wordless fury, bringing her fist around to drive it into Jules’s face.
This time, Jules ducked, and shoved Nixus to the flagstones. “Don’t,” she pled. “I do not want to fight you.”
Nixus rolled and got up, looking well-pleased. “Then you should’ve gone, like I told you before.” She charged Jules, lowering her shoulder at the last minute, and the two of them went rolling into the small plaza.
It was dark, and their fight was mostly silent, but it did not end quickly. Nixus tried to break Jules, tried to get her to stay down, and expected that Jules would fight back as furiously. Instead, she found Jules attempting to stop her at any given turn, trying to neutralize the fight, rather than get caught up in it.
For every blow she did land, there were ten that Jules ducked out of, and at least a handful of times she could have fought back, fought harder, fought more viciously.
But she didn’t.
They rolled on the ground, scuffling, tangled, snarling, until finally, Nixus shoved Jules away, hard, and laid back on the ground, panting. “What are you doing, Westlander. What.” There was hardly a question in it; she was furious and exhausted.
“Tryin t’not kill the sister’f th’man I love,” Jules rasped, also panting.
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