This is Issue #76 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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It was the smell that turned Jet’s stomach; it had an air of spit-roasted meat, but it was overlaid with the stink of a seized engine, and an electrical fire. Something of burned rubber and hair suffused everything, and clung to the bank of the tongue. He stood with Immanis and Lucida on the gangplank, looking out over the valley; the farmlands that had become nothing more than charnel-house.
The three and their retinue walked down into the streets, which had been somewhat cleared of bones. Buildings were rubble; some were still smoking. There were husks of the ship that had fallen; whatever came from it that could be used was being gathered up and sorted out.
The survivors were a hard lot, angry and tough, a small group of men and women, disconnected, without children, without families; Immanis took each of them into his arms and kissed their cheeks. Some of them had lost everyone — everyone of them had lost someone. Homes and cattle, usable fields and other property.
Not a single child survived the slaughter.
After meeting with everyone Immanis walked back to the ship, sobbing openly; that the westerners had come and done this was well-known, but the level of destruction could not be appreciated without seeing the scorched earth, the crumbled houses, the bodies that had become little more than blackened bone and rendered blood.
Those few who had lived were being given the choice of staying to rebuild, or coming to the capital, to try to make their fortunes. As they talked with one another and thought of their decisions — each could come alone, if they chose, or any number of them could stay. If they stayed, Immanis would send them a great deal of aid, and he would begin sponsoring other families to go to the farmlands to reclaim them — the rest of the city-states east of the Edge of Light would need the farmlands to survive.
Inside their airship, he poured himself a glass of aetheris and quietly seethed; both Jet and Lucida were too stunned to think about what had happened — they sat and drank with him, undisturbed until a runner begged for audience.
“Most venerable Lord,” the woman began, gasping for breath, waving away those who would bring her water and delay her from speaking. “One of the airships that did this — it has been spotted.”
Immanis stood, teeth bared. He looked every bit the hunter, his dark eyes gleaming, his body tensed as though ready to spring. He was nearly like a great desert cat, ready to strike, ready to bite. “It’s here?” he asked, as though he would go meet it on a challenge-field. As though he would tear it apart like some human opponent.
“No, my Lord, forgive me; it is north west of here, near the Pass of the Dead. But it is no longer headed away from here,” the runner explained. “Our own scouting forces on the ground were doing maneuvers. They have sent word through relays. The ship was leaving the territories, but then it… it stopped.”
“It is so low as to be recognizeable? Is it burning more land?” Lucida wondered, her eyes still shining from tears shed for so many lost souls.
“No – they say it is keeping well within cloud cover when possible; it’s simply that it stopped moving with them, and as the fronts have moved, it has been revealed. The underbelly of the ship is painted white, to match the clouds, but it has the figure of a woman on it. They recognize the icon as an old depiction of Eburneis Dea,” the runner explained.
Immanis sneered, furious. “They stole our lands, they stole our people — what, now they come back to murder thousands of innocents, to steal and corrupt our gods?” he hissed. “They take the face of our divinity and they corrupt it — use it for their own?” He looked up at the runner, and in a fit of pique might have ordered her to do something horrifying, were it not for Lucida’s hand at his shoulder.
“We will find them,” she said gravely.
Jet reached, and put his hand on Immanis’s other shoulder. His dark eyes burned hot; his touch was feverish, and Lucida thought perhaps it was not purely her imagination to hear the low roar of an inferno behind his words as he quietly whispered, “And kill them.”
The runner looked petrified, and trembled as she offered up, “There is one more piece of news.” She looked down at her feet, and then looked up once more, wringing her hands. Being in the presence of Immanis himself was excruciating and wondrous all at once.
Immanis, in all his glory, looked upon the runner with expectation — she nearly fainted on the spot in her desire to please.
Once she gathered her courage, she cleared her throat, and spoke. “Your men, while exploring the ruins, found another survivor.”
“This is wonderful,” Immanis said, his face brightening, echoing the ease of his heart. Each survivor was to be treasured; that so many had been lost was a shocking thing, gruesome and horrifying. “Bring them to me immediately. I have physicians I have brought. We will nurse him to health. Is he family or friend to any of the others?”
“No, sir,” the runner said, looking grave. She had the look of someone with desperately important news that did not wish to state it, in fear of retribution. Given the look on her Lord’s face, it was not an unfounded one.
“What is it?” Immanis hissed, looking impatient.
Jet and Lucida leaned in, watching the runner; neither of them were ready for her next words.
She wrung her hands and shrank back from the lot of them, licking her lips as she tried to find her voice again. When at last she spoke, it came in a rush, a sudden outpouring of information that was only a trickle of a message, but was a flood of meaning:
“…he is a survivor of the ship that fell. He… he says he was its Captain.”
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