DeathWatch No. 41 – Let Me Ask You Something

This is Issue #41 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

* * *

“Friend,” he growled, spitting the word with venom. “You don’t even try to hide what you’re doing. What kind of woman speaks the way she does to me–” He could feel the bile in his throat, the pounding behind his eyes. His hand burned, and he felt like he could tear a hole in the very fabric of the world with his teeth.

“You don’t even know half of what she’s saying,” Lucida said, rolling her eyes, already looking away.

“I know her tone,” he said angrily.

“Do you?” Lucida snapped. “Do you know your own?”

“I have every right to be angry!” he shouted, red creeping around the edges of his vision as he advanced upon her, turning to look at her, baring his teeth. “You are a liar! You versate, you fucking manipulate everything and everyone! And you let your scorta–”

The slap knocked him two steps back. He could taste his own blood on his tongue, and he put a hand to his mouth. It came away red as he bent double, panting, his head pounding as though she’d slapped him with a hammer, and not her hand.

“Shut your mouth, saprus,” she hissed. “Your loose tongue may insult me all it likes; it is like a castrato’s cock — too soft to do anything to me, but don’t you ever, ever speak of her that way.”

The shock of it seemed to disperse the fury, and it was gone as quickly as it had come. “Please,” Jet said, his voice breaking, feeling his stomach churn, his head pound. It had been over two months since he’d gotten drunk on aetheris and Immanis had cut them both, had put their hands together, but Jet’s hand had not yet healed, and now it burned as though he were pouring fresh aetheris into the wound. “Lucy,” he begged. “Forgive me — my head. I don’t know what came over me.”

“Whatever it was, pray it never comes over you again,” she hisses.

“I’m sorry,” Jet whispered, truly meaning it.

“She is no scorta.”

“No. No she isn’t. I take it back,” he pled, pressing his fingers to his temples, closing his eyes. “Fuck, my head, Lucy, please–”

“Please what, Jet,” and when she said his name that way, it sounded like a curse. “What is it you are asking of me?” she said, and the anger had faded from her voice, replaced with something guarded.

“Please,” he asked. “I’m only asking you to please be …proper. Your brother — he’s still talking of going ahead with his plans.”

“Well of course he is,” Lucida snorted. “Look at me.”

Jet opened his eyes, but did not lift them; he only looked at her bare feet, watched the painted toes as they stood on the marble.

“Up. Look up at me,” she sighed.

His eyes snapped up to a point just above her head, so even his peripheral vision would not encounter her naked body.

She lunged, then, and he was once again startled at how fast she was, how she could move with a viper’s speed. She put a palm on other side of his face and turned his gaze until it rested on hers. “Look. At. Me,” she insisted. “All of me.”

Shivering, Jet looked at Lucida, sliding his eyes from hers, down to her lips, which had grown full from being bitten and kissed, to her throat, where rested a thick collar of jewels, to her bare breasts, which glistened bronze and golden, shimmering from the oil her companion had rubbed into her skin. His eyes traveled lower; she wore the oil down over her belly, and lower — it shimmered from her navel, and glistened in the curls between her legs.

He tore his gaze away, flushed red as he realized he was staring, and when his eyes returned to hers, she was watching him, thoughtful. His head ached, and his hand throbbed, and he felt his knees weaken, as all the blood in his body drained away from his expression, and he reached out a hand to touch her shoulder, and steady himself.

“What is this you are doing, tonight?” Lucy laughed, shaking her head and pulling away to walk over to her dressing table. “You’re not going to get my brother to cancel the wedding by acting like some fainting fool,” she chuckled. She sat down and moved to run a delicate comb through her hair. She preened, watching herself, and used paints on her eyes, her face, deepening the blush of her cheeks, the kohl at her eyes.

“You think there’s any chance he’ll cancel?” Jet asked, sounding not at all hopeful.

“No,” Lucida said bluntly, looking at Jet in the mirror. “Let me ask you something,” she said, turning around and narrowing her newly-made up eyes.

He watched her in the mirror, but when she turned herself toward him, he looked to her, sighing lowly, feeling himself steeled as he looked at her, the longer he looked at her. She was but a person, not a goddess; he would not quail. “Ask.”

“Am I beautiful?” she whispered, getting up, walking to him.

“Very,” he answered, staring straight ahead, swallowing roughly.

“Smart?” she asked.

“Dangerously so,” he answered, the ghost of a smile touching his lips.

She laughed, nodding, amused at his answer. “Wealthy and powerful?” she continued, leaning in close, laying a hand to his bare chest, and sliding it down over his skin, to the sash slung over his hips, the crimson of it a bright slash against the pale silk of his trews, which was most of what he wore, these days, as was the fashion.

When in Ilona…

“Yes; you know this,” he said aloud, his voice trembling.

“Am I not… everything… a man might want in a wife?” she purred, leaning in, and as she said the word ‘everything’, she laid her hand between his legs, and as she said ‘want’ she squeezed hard enough to make Jet groan quietly, shifting how he stood.

“Yes,” he winced. “You are, Lucida.”

“Then… why do you not want me?” she said, and her voice sounded almost as though she were pouting, but her eyes were hard, calculating and curious. She pulled back just enough that when he opened his eyes, he didn’t have to struggle to keep his gaze level, rather than wandering.

“It isn’t that I don’t want you, Lucida,” he said, flushed. “It’s that I don’t love you.”

“I don’t love you, either, but we could make quite a match,” she said easily enough, laying her cheek to his and moving her hand slowly, urging.

His breath caught, and he moved his hand to close over hers, stilling it. He said nothing, but kept her hand from its movement.

She didn’t pull away.

Neither did he.

After a long while, he whispered “I love someone else. Someone far away. Someone I can’t love.”

“As do I, my husband-to-be. I love someone else, but I am not allowed that love. I am the princess of Ilona, and I must one day bear Ilona heirs to rule its golden sands and marble towers,” she said, and though he had heard her sound shrewd, calculating, joyous, amused, feigning terror, and truly angry, this was the first moment he’d heard her sound bitter.

He thought of the woman who had been with her today, the anger on her face, the longing look in Lucy’s eyes as she sent the woman away.

He turned to look at her, and there were unshed tears in her eyes; in that moment, in her vulnerability, he found her more beautiful than in her perfect jewels, with her perfectly painted face.

She saw it, perhaps, because she leaned in, then, and moved to kiss his mouth, saying, “If we cannot have the ones we love, why not love the ones we can have?”

He opened his mouth to speak, but his words were silenced with her lips.

The kiss was dizzying — perhaps it was the lingering aetheris smoke; perhaps it was the headache from which he could not escape — and he dropped to his knees, falling away from her embrace, from her kiss, from the sound of her voice calling his name.

The slash across his palm burned, and he had time for a single, delirious thought —

It is a gift of my blood

— and then all was darkness.

* * *

NEXT

DeathWatch No. 40 – You’re No Princess

This is Issue #40 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

* * *

“The princess is busy,” the woman said, but Jet had waited. He had gone to her that night, and she had laughed and waved away his concern, and sent him off to bed. He’d gone the next night, and the next, and every night for weeks, she had sent him away, while every day, Immanis made plans.

Every day, Immanis spoke to him of politics, of armies and treaties, of the countries within what the Allied Territories called the Blacklands — countries beyond the Ridge of Damnation.

But Ilona and its sister city-states called it Intemeratus Posito, the place of purity, and the ridge itself was the Luminora — the edge of light.

Jet learned of the histories of Ilona and the other city-states ruled by those of Immanis’s bloodline, and how the family truly was gifted, with speed or strength or a commanding aura — how every single child of the line was destined to rule, and how the common people worshipped them as gods.

He sharpened his understanding of the language, and found that rather than being oppressed by their gods, the Ilonans and every other citizen on this side of the Luminora were exalted, beloved, cared for as if by omnipotent parents.

He learned with fascination what Kieron had learned with horror: there was a war, and they were on the losing side — Centralis had lied to its people in a way that had kept them from outright panic. It was the only thing that could be done, considering the state of things.

The city-state of Ilona monitored the Edge of Light; the prince even knew that a scout ship had crossed the border some time ago, but he was not worried at what it would find — he explained to Jet that several other ships had crossed the border, had often gone far into Ilonan lands and returned. “They go back to their little homeland with information, but it won’t save them, my brother. We are unstoppable. We will some day take back the people that ran from us. All of them will be under my family once again, as they should be, and we will return peace to them,” he promised.

What struck Jet, as he left those talks, was not the hubris in the prince’s voice, but the love.

He truly did love his people, all of them.

As for Lucida, she taught him to dance, and then she taught him to fight. He was not as fast as she, but she praised him and his progress, and he grew faster and more graceful with each passing day, and the longer he lived in the palace, the easier it was to wake up unafraid. It helped that they obviously weren’t afraid of him; they gave him knives — they gave him swords. He had thought, at first, that it was because he was so unintimidating, they didn’t think to fear him. He later learned it was that Immanis commanded trust in him, because he had saved Lucida.

He’d been given a part in the household, in the palace of the Prince of the ruling family.

It was almost enough to be a distraction — but at night, he would have dreams of Kieron, dreams of him in scout training, and what that might require, dreams of him in an airship, worked raw and ragged, dreams of him felled by a bullet or a plasma charge or aetheric fire.

Each morning he woke, and felt the throbbing sting of the unhealed wound on his palm, and he would vow to have Lucida speak with Immanis about a wedding he couldn’t let take place. He couldn’t marry the Princess of the people with whom his whole country was warring.

Even if Immanis spoke as though Centralis was no longer his country, as though he had been born within the palace, had been his brother all along.

Each night he blew out the lantern at his bedside, and quietly said a prayer to Kieron as he closed his eyes.

I miss you. I hope you’re all right.

Each day, the promise.

Each night, the prayer.

Each day, the promise.

Each night, the prayer.

And then it was nearly two months later, and the wedding was still being planned; regardless of promises and prayers, Ilona’s princess would soon have a consort. Within the year.

“You must come later,” said the serving woman outside the door.

“It cannot wait,” Jet said, frustrated and insistent, he reached for the handle, and the woman was swept aside, muttering lowly in Ilonan. He was now able to understand enough to be insulted when he caught her words, and he shot her an irritated glare — she at least had the shame to look surprised and guilty when she realized he could understand her.

When the massive door swung inward, Jet was all but assaulted with the scents of aetheris and smoke. He could hear furtive whispers and quiet laughter; it infuriated him beyond measure.

He stalked into the room, and slowly clenched his hands into fists. As the right one curled shut, the slice across his palm split open, and he uttered a low curse, feeling the room swim.

He stood before her massive bed, the canopy veiling the finer details of her and her lady’s maid from his eyes, but he could hear them — and as the candles on their side of the sheer tapestries burned, and his eyes adjusted to the darkness of her chamber, he could see them more clearly.

Lucida lay on her bed, smoking from a huqqa filled with aetheris resin. She favored the smoke, rather than the drink, as her brother did. Either way, to Jet, it tasted like a lightning strike behind the eyes.

Her eyes were half-lidded as she drew from the pipe and then kissed her companion, passing her the smoke from her lips. Her breasts were bared, and the other woman oiled and caressed them slowly, occasionally sliding her hand down lower, over and past Lucida’s belly, doing something Jet couldn’t see, but could envision as he closed his eyes and turned away.

“Lucida!” he snapped, grinding his teeth, and he heard the tinkling laughter stop suddenly.

Her voice was calm but blunt as she ordered her companion to leave. The woman slipped out from the bed, naked and unashamed. She stood between Jet and Lucida, and spoke lowly, but angrily, her words too rapid for Jet to quite understand. Lucida turned the woman away, gently, and reiterated her command to leave; when the woman did, Lucy watched her go, watched her take her robe and leave, then moved to stand next to Jet. “Yes?”

He turned to speak with her, but she was only wearing a filmy, flimsy robe, entirely open in the front, and so he spun away again. “Damnit, Lucida, would you please dress in something appropriate? I’ve been trying to talk to you for weeks, months, even,” he said.

“You barge into my room uninvited, unannounced, and have the nerve to make demands of me? I think not, pale little man,” she said, smirking. “I’ll wear what I please, and you will look upon me and praise and curse your manhood all at once.”

“Wear what you damn well want to,” he snapped. “But you’re no princess, not when you… when you–” and here, his fury moved him to speak in Ilonan, searching for the right word “–pervulgate with your–”

“Careful,” Lucida interrupted, her eyes flashing. “Be careful, caro, what you say to me.”

* * *

NEXT

There Would Be More

We are not
as I had originally
imagined us to be.
I thought somehow
there would be more Stardust
and less spray paint,
more Yahtzee
and less tears.
I thought you would like
my homemade moonshine;
I had not imagined
you would want me
to like your homemade taxidermy.

Nothing Like It Used To

They don’t write ’em like they used to,
the epic songs, the twice-told tales;
they don’t spin them like they used to,
the stories you could stay up
all night to listen to.
They don’t play them like they used to,
the long golden notes
ringing out in every throat,
echoed like nothing else,
like nothin, like nobody else.
There is nothing like there once was,
ain’t nothin like it used to —
nothing like it once was,
nothing like it used to.

*

I remember a time
when a man had to have a voice,
had to sound like he was meant to sing
not like he was killin time.

I remember back when
the music had to matter,
but it’s all given way to chatter —

I suppose all it means
is I’ve been getting old without noticing,
going gray without noticing,
til all I am is reminiscing
’bout how —

they don’t write ’em like they used to…

*

I remember a time
when the world was still all shining,
when all the clouds had silver linings

I remember when we didn’t
have to love so hard to keep on giving,
to give so hard to keep on living
to get back so damn little,
when the world wasn’t cruel to anyone
who was feeling sentimental
’bout how

they don’t write ’em like they used to…

*

I don’t know if it’s so much the times that changed,
or if it’s me not changing at all…
I don’t know if it’s so much the times that changed,
or if it’s just that I haven’t changed at all,
but I’ve been thinkin ’bout how

they don’t write ’em like they used to…

As Perfect As I’d Hoped, Except

Flush with the heat of remembering
your hand at my hip.

It was one kiss.

Just the once.

I re-live it every waking moment,
that pure, perfect instant
where I asked for something,
and got it,
without pretense.
I was terrified,
but I made myself do it,
and there it was,
and it was as perfect as I’d hoped, except

 

 

you only gave me
what I asked for,

and nothing else.