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!

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* * *

“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.”

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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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NEXT

You Are Distant

I remember you,
hot feverskin
against cold shiversnow.
I remember you,
iceblond and magnificient,

and you would hold
ice cubes in your mouth
before you put your tongue
against me,
and laugh around me

as I shook,
as I writhed,
as I reached for you.

You are distant
and lost to time,

and perhaps it is best that way,
my Danival,
that I will remember you
and never reach for you again;

this way you can remain perfect,
and I can pretend
I did not
have my heart broken by someone
even more frightened of love
than I.

Some Moments

Some moments we wake up
filled with a glory we must share.
Some moments, we hide away
our every thought, in fear and pain.
Some moments, we settle further
into slots we’ve worn,
grooves we’ve made
of patterns we should fix,

but won’t,

because the stone of our lives
has been polished enough
that we are fooled
into thinking it beautiful,
when it’s only heavy, solid.

Just because it is strong
doesn’t mean it is safe;
just because it is old
doesn’t mean it is good.

All of our moments should be fire

and if those fires burn us,
we must remember:

we are the ones
who gave them fuel,
and we asked to be warmed —

and in wanting to be illuminated,
we must expect
that we will sometimes be burned —

so we should be delighted by it,
and thank them for it,
and blaze as brightly
as we possibly can.

DeathWatch No. 52 – It Felt Like Time Was Slowing

This is Issue #52 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

* * *

“Aye-aye, Captain,” Kieron said, nodding. This was happening. This was truly happening. The people he’d met and made family with only weeks ago had decided to add wholesale murder to their resupplying missions.

“Pilot, bring us about. I need us nose to side with the Maxima. We need to watch what they’re doing more clearly. Gunnar, give me the signal when you’re ready. Someone find out if Hana has–”

“Captain!” came the cry. “Captain Onaya! I have Captain Abramov on the line!”

Sha turned and ran back for the comms room, where Nate handed her the mic. “Abe! Abe, are you all right?”

“Get off signal, Captain,” came the thickly accented growl. “Very busy.”

“No shit!” Sha said, laughing nervously. “Was there a mutiny? What–what’s happened? Give me a status.”

“Is okay, Sha. Is no mutiny,” he said. “Now get off signal.”

Sha looked hurt, confused, and then mostly furious as she snarled, “Captain Abramov — you’d better give me some fucking explanation for what you’re doing; you’re not supposed to engage the enemy.”

Kieron watched, listened, silent as he stood near Nate, who looked calm, but grim. This would get sorted. This would get handled. It was fucked up, and it was frightening, but they would handle it.

“Not engaging enemy, Captain,” the man replied, sounding disinterested in the conversation. “Cleaning up vermin.”

“Abe,” Sha said. “What the fuck is going on?”

“Have waited too long for Centralis government to do what has promised us since we signed up as children for old man’s war,” came the answer. Abramov’s voice sounded cold and angry, far and away. “Tired of waiting, Captain. Tired of enemy lies, enemy attacks, enemy always ahead of us. Months ago, we stop in Borderlands. For years has been stable for trade. This time, we are harassed by Ilonan scum. They hurt Yana–”

Nate’s expression changed from calm to sickened in an instant. His eyes narrowed, and he looked at Sha, curious.

“–wait, what?” Sha said, going pale. She had just seen Jules. Barely weeks ago, they had seen one another again — why had she not mentioned it? “Why didn’t she–”

“Same reason you would not,” Abe said darkly.

Nate’s eyes glittered; there was murder on his expression, and then he shook his head, and cleared his throat. His hands clenched into fists, and released, clenched into fists, and released.

Hana, who was listening on a headset, fiddling with knobs, making sure the connection held, lifted her head up as though scenting the air. She glanced toward the Captain, as though seeking assurance.

Sha had none. She closed her eyes and bowed her head, and it took great effort for her to lift it again, to look at Nate as she said, “That doesn’t justify–”

“—this week we receive word two other scout ships went down. The Pioneer,” he said darkly. “And Isabella.” Abramov’s voice cracked as he said the second one. A few of the older crew aboard the Jacob bowed their heads.

Nathan winced, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Sha put a hand to her chest as though she’d suffered a physical blow. “Abe,” she began. “I’m so–”

“Fuck your sorry,” Abramov said lowly. “My little ones, Valentin and Anatoly, they were grown men now. Valentin had wife. Anatoly had port-sons. Ilonans shot ships out of sky. Sent back Captain’s hands, holding crew tags. Sent back Quartermaster’s hands, holding crew ears. Ilonans are not people, Sha. Ilonans are filthy vermin.”

Sha’s voice — to her credit — did not shake as she said, “I have to ask you to stand down, Captain. I’m going to send over Nate to relieve you of duty. You understand, Abe? You have to stand down.”

“Get off channel, Captain Onaya,” Abramov returned. “Having work to do.”

“I can’t let you, Abe. I can’t. Abe, you’re killing children,” Sha said.

“THEY ARE KILLING CHILDREN!” Abe shouted in return. “GET OFF SIGNAL, CAPTAIN. OR I–”

Sha turned down the channel and looked back through the doorway, at the Master Gunner. She nodded to him, and he turned to give his own orders to his group.

“What are you–” Nate began, looking pained. “Captain?”

By then, the TS Jacob was facing down the broad side of The Maxima. Those within the front deck could see out the huge window, could watch the destruction. The auxiliary soundcannon fired, and the report was soft thunder. The TS Jacob rocked, ever so faintly. When the first tracer shot streaked across the bow, Nathan’s shoulders sagged in relief. Only a warning shot. Abe would understand they had to mean it. He would back down. He had to.

They waited. They watched. More than one person held their breath.

“Captain?” the Master Gunner called.

Another round of aetheris rushed out of the Maxima’s engines, spilling brightly to the ground, carving through houses, farms, bodies and anything else it touched.

“Oh,” Hana said, staring out the window at the horror happening not too far away. Kieron stood near her, his expression echoing her own. He turned to tell the Captain to wait a moment, to give the engines a chance to clear the fuel. Before he had a chance, she gave her order.

“Fire,” said Sha, and there were no tears, not yet, because there couldn’t be.

The Master Gunner gave the order, but this time, the report was louder. The main soundcannon was used, and the TS Jacob rocked in the air. The shockwave struck the Maxima in the rear port aether engine, and for a moment, it seemed as though the engine’s spindown was a perfect success.

Until the blowback from the ignited aetheris, no longer being forced down from the engine, traveled back up through the engine.

Kieron saw the glitter of the bluesilver flame stop falling, and instead fold back in upon itself.

His eyes widened.

It felt like time was slowing.

“ENGINES FULL REVERSE!” shouted Kieron, backing away from the window. “Captain! The Maxima! It’s–” He’d read a dozen-dozen different schematics about the way the fuel pumps and combustion chambers worked, and he remembered warnings upon warnings for working with aether engines. What could happen, under certain circumstances. If they overheated, or if an engine fire took one, all of the various consequences, from shutdown to full on destruction. “We have to move back!” he cried.

“You heard him!” Sha shouted. “Get us the fuck out of here! Everybody move! Get to your emergency stations!”

The TS Jacob began to go into yaw while Nathan stood at the window and put his left hand to the glass, heart in his throat. “No,” he whispered, staring across the sky. “Oh please no.”

The sound seemed to come almost before the fury — there was a roar as if a great beast had been awakened.

The entire left rear quarter of The Maxima folded in for one brief, surreal moment —

— and then it exploded.

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