DeathWatch No. 55 – It’s Suicide

This is Issue #55 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

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* * *

The sky was fierce in its color, furious washes of lightning seeming to curl around the ship; the aetheris crackled and dripped, consuming chain and canvas, board and flesh alike.

The rear quarter of the Maxima’s port side shimmered in a blaze of silver blue; the shockwave of the explosion rocked the TS Jacob enough to throw people to the ground — the glass of the main window throbbed, shivering, but did not break. Nathan stood there, eyes wide, breath panted, fogging the glass. He watched in horror as guy lines snapped left and right; boards and bulk and airmen alike fell out of the sky toward the very ground they’d been annihilating.

The TS Jacob began to turn, to make its escape, and Nathan turned, looking at Sha in betrayal. His eyes were wet, wide; in them was all manner of heartbreak that could not be spoken, dared not have a voice lest it wail loudly enough to make the world bleed.

She returned the look with one of grim apology; bright eyes fierce. “If the ship goes, and we’re still this close, Nate, we’re all dead,” she said. “I can’t–”

Nat’es own gaze turned hard, staring her down. “Get us up,” he growled. “Higher,” he said. “Let me go over–”

Kieron’s eyes widened. To the Maxima? That ship, if it didn’t tear itself to pieces, was bound to fall out of the sky any minute.

Sha’s expression shut down; her shoulder slumped. “Quartermaster,” she said briskly, and he flinched when she didn’t use his name, “I don’t want to have to relieve you of duty for being completely insane, so I need you to–”

“I’d do it for you, too,” Nate said, his voice breaking. “You know I would.”

“And if Jules were the one you were asking, she’d tell you no, too,” Sha answered stiffly, looking hurt.

“Captain,” Nathan said, and Kieron could see his eyes were a strange mix of agony and determination. “Get us up. I’m going over the side. One way or another. Only way to make sure I maybe hit that ship on my way down is to get us above it.”

Kieron watched Nathan’s expression as he spoke; the shine of his eyes, full of tears that dared not to fall. The look on Nathan’s face was much like that of Jet’s when he had stood before Kieron, shouting at him in anger for signing up to join the scouts.

Jet. How long has it been since I thought of you? Is this what is, to mend a broken heart? With a slow and steady series of forgettings? What an odd thought to have, right then. Kieron shoved it away, blinking back his own tears, and cleared his throat.

Sha and Nate were still talking. She still looked unconvinced. “And then wh–”

“Then you get below, and let him jump again,” Kieron blurted. He couldn’t stand that expression, the hurt that lay behind it, the need to do something but feeling thwarted at every turn.

Nathan’s eyes flicked to Kieron, something like gratitude on his face. He nodded to Kieron, then, the muscles in his jaw working — he was itching to get moving; every second he stood there trying to convince Sha was one more second he stood there not knowing if Jules was already gone.

“It’s suicide,” Sha said.

“Then say your goodbyes. I’ll go over the side, first chance I get, if you make me watch this and do nothing, so it’s suicide with a chance of redemption or it’s just my body on the rocks for no reason,” Nathan said darkly. “Sha, this is Abe and Jules. I don’t even care if he’s murdered all of Ilona in their beds. We need to see this done.”

Kieron watched the exchange, once again silent on the sidelines; the memory of Abe and the man called Immanis shouting at one another gnawed behind his eyes — was Abe repentant at all? And how was Juliana involved? Did she order the aetheris through the engine? Did she sign off on the crew turning from scouts to killers?

Sha looked toward the ship and is destruction, and looked back at Nathan, and pinched the bridge of her nose. “This isn’t for fun, O’Malley,” she said lowly. “And it can’t be in desperation. If you’re off, you’ll hit the main envelope and bounce. If you miss the deck, you’ll end up in the farmlands. If you get near the fire–”

“Yeah,” Nathan said, rubbing his face with his hands and raking his hair back out of his eyes. He stared at Sha for a long moment, as though working out what to say. “I’ll take a comms with me,” he said. “If it goes pear-shaped, run. Go back across the Ridge. Tell the Generals to watch out for Ilonan incursion, because after what we’ve seen here… it’s more than likely.”

“I’ll give you all the time I can,” Sha said. “But if we have to run–”

“–then you have to run,” Nate said. He clasped her hand and leaned in to kiss her mouth, turning to whisper something to her that made her laugh aloud.

“Go,” she said, shaking her head, the mirth in her eyes dead before the laughter.

Then Nathan turned to Kieron, swallowing roughly. “Brody — ” he began, but then simply squeezed his shoulder. “Come help me rig up and send me off.”

* * *

As Kieron tightened the buckles on Nathan’s harness, the Quartermaster said, “Brody — listen to Sha. She knows what she’s doing. Best Captain I’ve ever known. Ten times her brother.”

“Don’t say goodbye,” Kieron said, looking up at him. “I expect you and Jules on the deck of the Jacob. You’re not jumping ship just to die. You’re crazy — not stupid.”

Nate laughed, then, and said, “Then I’ll see you soon.”

Kieron nodded, and they waited as the Jacob climbed, soaring to get over the top of the mangled goliath ship.

Once they were circling in position, Nate got a running start, and Kieron watched him as he ran up, boots thumping on the deck, then up, up, up — box, crate, barrel, rail — and flung himself up and over, out into the open air. Kieron felt his heart in his throat as he saw the Quartermaster drop like a stone — and then the gearbox on the harness snapped into action, and the collapsible pistons expanded, and the set of billowing canvas wings arched out from Nate’s backpack. When the wings extended, Nate wheeled up, catching an eddy of wind, gliding high until he oriented himself. He ducked one shoulder and swung around toward the ship, disappearing from Kieron’s view.

As the great sky swallowed him, Kieron closed his eyes and whispered, “Goodbye.”

* * *

NEXT

On The First Night

The rituals of our love
have grown tiresome —
you wake me every day with a kiss,
and put me to bed every night
with the same lullabye.

You bite into my heart every day
as though it will never run out,
and will be able to feed you for millenia,

as though the moon that watched us
on the first night
will return as our escort on the last,
and carry us away to a place
where the same kiss every day
will not dull
but seem ever freshed,
youthful and given to whims,
full of song,
of light,
and us.

Its Broken Tattoo

If I had known
that you would be so cold,
I would not have held the door
for Death.
I would not have invited Him in
and asked you to meet him.

If I had known your radiance would turn
to blue and ash,
I would have been
a far worse host,
and even turned away my guests
at the door.

I loved you first,
and I will love you last;

long after the Sun is gone
to blood and dust,
no matter if I am little more than bones,
this ruined heart of mine
will forever beat
its broken tattoo
in remembrance of your love.

DeathWatch No. 54 – Brother

This is Issue #54 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

“No–” Jet’s realization of the situation allowed him to move the fraction of a second sooner that it took to save his brother’s life. He drew his blade and threw himself forward just as Plaga pulled his blade away from own his neck and lunged forward and up. “The aetheris!”

Metal on metal, and the fighters went sprawling, bare skin and sashes and swords tangled on the marble. “Too late,” Plaga snarled, struggling with Jet, reaching to slash at him, taking an elbow to the face. “He has already been poisoned. His commands will not work,” he laughed.

“Betrayer! Treason!” Immanis, who stood near a brazier, flipped it at one of Plaga’s men; they fought — he did not need his gift to be good with the sword.

Neither did Lucy. She was faster, but even with her aetheris-dimmed speed, she dispatched three men in quick succession, before one took the empty aetheris bottle to the back of her head. She staggered and fell, slurring her curses, then went still.

The guards outside began to ram the door, to break down the barrier keeping them from protecting their Prince, shouting to bring even more guards. The massive thing boomed from the sounds of the men battering it.

Immanis took out two of the three that were left, but the third managed to wrestle him to the ground. While Immanis fell as he impaled the man, the fighter used the guard of his own sword to crack his fist against the Prince’s head until Immanis’s eyes glassed over. They both slumped against the floor, one dead as though he was pinned like some insect, and one only dazed.

Jet shoved the other fighter, getting back to his feet, but his opponent was not kept down for long. Steel on steel again as they fought, and Jet was never more grateful for Lucy’s patience in tutoring his sword skills than the moment he fought for his life against Mactabilis Plaga. He was grateful for every little thing she taught him, and used it all to stay alive.

“Fool,” Plaga snarled. “I will dispatch you, and then I will kill Immanis Venator and his sister, and take Ilona as a warrior should. And then we will crest the Luminora, and wipe out every last one of you worm-pale weaklings — they are a plague on this world.”

Panting, sweating, bruised, Jet thought of his fellow students at the Academy, of Hoyt, and the two who had beaten him after ‘Contemplation’, and he gasped, laughing and said, “Do people even talk like that? Or is it just a bad translation into rough tongue? You sound like a child reading stories, Plaga. You sound like a child playing at soldier.”

Furious, Mactabilis drove forward and came at Jet so quickly, the younger man fell back, on the defensive immediately. Jet regretted his mouthy retort as he tripped over a spilled cushion, and fell to the marble floor, smacking his head.

“Fuck,” he hissed, shaking his head, moving to get back up, but he simply wasn’t fast enough.

He only got as far as his hands and knees.

He watched the point of a sword erupt from his chest, hot and cold all at once, and Plaga was at the other end of it, his eyes alight with victory. He leaned in over Jet’s shoulder, hissing, “Who’s playing at soldier now, boy?”

Blood foamed at Jet’s lips; he struggled to speak.

His eyes widened.

Plaga put his foot to Jet’s back and pulled the sword out, kicking the boy to the floor. He spat on his back, staring for a moment to make sure he was no longer moving, and then he went to Immanis, pulling the other fighter off him, moving to slap the Prince’s face, to rouse him, wanting him alert so he knew who was killing him, and why. “Volo tuam me videre, antequam moriaris,” he hissed. I want you to see me, before you die.

Jet lay on the floor, the cool marble against his cheek, blood hot against his back and belly, running from his mouth. He saw Plaga straddle Immanis, watched the limp form of his prince, his brother, supine beneath the assassin, and something within him surged, rushed, flooded him with a black heat so violent, the very wound in his chest seemed to burn shut from the inside out.

Immanis woke to the sight of Plaga over him, about to bring a knife down against his bare throat. He brought his own hands up, trying to roll to the side, when Jet appeared behind Plaga and pressed his cheek to that of the attacker as he took hold of his hands. Plaga struggled as Jet pulled the stroke short, bringing it back, up, and under Plaga’s breastbone. It sank to the hilt with ease, and Immanis could feel the sudden flood of heat wash over his belly as he lay beneath them both.

“Sed,” Plaga choked, his eyes wide, rolling wild as he half turned in Jet’s arms, trying to look at who held him so tightly. “Sed mortuus es,” he wheezed. You’re dead.

Non,” Jet whispered, blood on his lips. He drove the knife in further, twisting it until Plaga went limp in his arms, hissing “Sum Mortem.”  I am Death.

He threw the body to the side, letting the knife go with him, and offered out a bloody hand to Immanis, to pull him up. Once he was sure Immanis was steady, he went to Lucida, and helped her up as well. He got her set in a chair before he walked to the door where the guards were still trying to force their way in, and pulled out the bar holding it shut.

The guards spilled in, and Jet turned to Immanis, his chest heaving with ragged breath. He looked down as he wiped the blood from it to show his flawless skin, bronzed and smooth. His words were quiet, wry, as he turned his eyes back up to Immanis.

“Brother,” he said, looking pained, “I think I found out what your gift did to me.”

* * *

NEXT

DeathWatch No. 53 – You Insult My House, Plaga

This is Issue #53 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

Plaga sneered at Immanis as the man drew closer. The look of naked hatred on his face was startling to Jet, who had grown used to the expressive warmth of his brother’s smile, and the way people responded to him with respect, and genuine love. It was not so, with these outsiders, these men who were not from Ilona, but somewhere far away. Plaga and his men had their weapons half drawn, but Immanis didn’t look worried in the slightest, lifting up his hands as he said aloud in words most easily understandable to Jet, “Peace. You’re in my home. Let us sit and drink; there is much to discuss, would you agree?.”

Jet thought it a reasonable suggestion, but assumed the visitors wouldn’t go for it — they were so fantastically angry-seeming, but Plaga’s expression, twisted as it was, dissolved into ease. He nodded, snapping his fingers, and one of his men stepped forward, offering out a stoppered carafe. “Aetheris,” he said. “We use the vulgar tongue now?” he wondered amiably enough.

“My brother,” Immanis said, gesturing to Jet, “is most comfortable with that tongue. To honor him, you will use it.”

“To honor him,” Plaga returned, narrowing his eyes briefly, as though straining against some unseen thing.

“To honor him,” Immanis stared down the visitors, a half-sneer curving his lips as he took the bottle.

Plaga looked at the bottle, and nodded; it wasn’t long before all the men were seated in Immanis’s receiving room. The guards were dismissed as was often the case in visits Immanis declared ‘safe enough’, and the doors were shut. The newly-brought bottle of aetheris was poured into glasses and shared between them, and when Lucida arrived, well-slept but unamused at being left neglected, Jet made sure to pour her a glass.

She sniffed it and made a face, but drank it down, shaking her head briefly. “Tastes of the Dead River,” she said, setting the glass down.

Jet gave her a secret smile and nodded to his glass, still full, set aside on the bookshelf. Even the scent of aetheris made his teeth ache.

She smirked in return and threw herself on a chaise, lounging, cat-like.

“Forgive my sister,” Immanis chuckled, and Jet smirked at the sound of it, the low rumble, the leonine purr that was the Prince’s laugh. “She prefers the huqqa; she’s always loved the fire.”

Lucida rolled her eyes and said, “Yes, forgive me, what a terrible slight I have made.” She laughed aloud then, and stretched languidly, still exhausted from the time watching over Jet’s rebirth.

“And if I do not wish to forgive?” Plaga wondered, smirking. “If I prefer to challenge such a slight?”

Immanis sighed heavily. “I would have to stand for my sister, and if you were in fact, so petty, when I bested you, I might command you to slit your own throat, hmm?”

Sneering, Plaga stood, and said, “Best me then, Princeling. Ilona’s gone soft, mothering little milkskins, speaking the vulgar tongue, and I think it might be because of you.”

Immanis laughed aloud, as did Lucida and Jet — it was an absurd thing that Plaga said, it had to have been a joike, but then there Plaga was, getting up, standing, pulling a blade from his sash, and gesturing to Ilona’s prince. “Get up, Venator.”

Immanis lifted a brow and raked his hair back from his face, narrowing his eyes through the thinning haze of aetheris, and got up, his lips tightening into an expression of distaste. “You insult my house, Plaga.”

“You are challenged, Venator. Are you weak that you do not accept?” Plaga’s words were needling, he kept his blade out.

Raising his brow, Immanis said, “Weak? Plaga — are you prepared to cede your citystate to my house? That is what will happen when this is done. Your men will be mine and will pledge their blood to my house, or die shortly after you.”

“Get. Up!” Plaga spat at Immanis’s feet.

That was enough — Immanis rose to his feet with easy grace, and took a blade that Lucy offered him from her pillowed spot near Jet.

Jet, for his part, watched without worry — Immanis and Lucy were amongst the best fighters he’d ever seen. He was right to not worry — at least for that. It took all of thirty seconds for Immanis to best Plaga; the victor stood over the loser, shaking his head, and then stepped back. Plaga looked furious, but didn’t move, merely stared up at Immanis for some time, watchful. “Kneel,” Immanis finally snapped at the other fighter.

Plaga rolled over and knelt before Immanis, his blade on his knees, grinding his teeth, his shoulders hunched.

“Look at me.” The command was sharp, angry. Immanis glared down at Plaga, shaking his head.

Plaga lifted his head, and his expression was half digust, half blank obeisance.

Jet remembered, for one moment, Essen kneeling across from him, and the shining look of adoration on his face as he submitted entirely, the desire to follow Immanis’s command somehow embedded in his blood. Essen had watched Immanis as though he were the sun and stars, the reason for being. He smiled, even as he slit his own throat. There had been no anger there — only a strange sort of joy, a hungry sort of love. Jet blinked away the memory, and watched Plaga, frowning, studying his face.

Something wasn’t right.

Immanis looked down at Plaga and was silent for some time, until the other man grew impatient.

“Well?” Plaga said, his voice almost a snarl. “Get on with it!”

Lucida, feeling the faintest tingle from the aetheris, was watching Jet, whose eyes were only on Plaga, and she saw the recognition slide over his face. Everything felt as though it were moving too fast around her, as though she were too slow. She turned to look at the men talking, tension mounting, and saw Plaga’s men setting the bar through the doors of the lounge. She frowned — why would they shut themselves in for an execution?

Sighing, Immanis said, “As you are inexplicably eager to die: End yourself, Plaga.”

Plaga lifted the blade against his throat, his lips half parted in a sneer.

Immanis stepped forward then, leaning down close, as though to drive the point home. “Be done with it.”

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