This is Issue #112 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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The Ilonan officer looked stunned at Jules’s offer. He drank directly from the flask, emptying it, and then screwed the top back on and tucked it away, watching Jules drink what she’d been given. “You would use this gift of prophecy to keep me alive?” he wondered of her directly.
“Yes,” Jules said, without hesitation. “But only if you free every one of my crew.”
It took a long time for Coryphaeus to answer, but when he did, he said, “I can’t.” When Jules’s expression began to darken, he stammered, “Please, you must understand, it isn’t that I spurn the offer — I admire you for what is clearly a great sacrifice. You would give up your own life for that of your crew. It is honorable. It is precisely something too many of my fellow soldiers do not believe you capable of.”
“And so, what, I’ll never disabuse them of the notion, thanks to you,” Jules growled.
“I cannot freely let so many enemy agents go. The Prince will wish to make these decisions himself. It is not up to me,” he said, looking pained.
“It could be,” Jules said, shifting her posture, reaching to put a hand on Aecus’s knee.
He stiffened, his eyes widening, and he reached to lay his hand on hers. “Commander–”
“I offered it already — you took me instead of Hana, and you asked me what I could bargain with, and I didn’t think I had anything, but I’ve got that,” Jules said confidently. She leaned in, moving to slide her hand further up the Ilonan’s leg, toward his inner thigh. “I think you’ll find, Coryphaeus, I can be remarkably persuasive.”
“Commander–” Aecus tried again, sliding his hand up to her wrist and tightening his grip.
“Call me Jules–” she said, and with that, she put her mouth on his.
The kiss didn’t last long — Aecus closed his eyes and pulled back, a distinctly uncomfortable look on his face.
Jules froze, but then pulled back, and moved to pull her hand away, uncertain.
Aecus released her wrist, and cleared his throat, saying, “Commander, I never had any intention of abusing you in such a fashion. I cannot release your crew. I can, however, petition the Prince. I will bring my word that you were not involved in the destruction of the valley, and instead attempted to halt what had happened. You must understand… thousands upon thousands of Ilonan civilians died. The Prince will not desire peace as much as he will desire revenge for such a blatantly evil act, and all your machinations, overt or delicate as they may be–”
Jules swallowed roughly, her cheeks flaming scarlet.
“–cannot make me go against my duty. I have a purpose as a soldier, and I will not stray,” Coryphaeus said quietly. “Tempting as it is.”
Jules barked a low, angry laugh. “Of course I would be at the tender mercies of the singular Ilonan that would not accept the currency the rest of them demand!” she hissed, shoving the mug back at Aecus.
“I beg your pardon, Commander, but the Ilonan martial forces are not simply a collection of thugs and murderers as you seem to–”
“Yebat sebya they aren’t!” Jules snapped. “They’re that and worse. Skrimsli. Naudgari. What,” she panted, her hands curling into whiteknuckled fists. “You can’t understand that language? Let me put it into your tongue. Perhaps it will taste better that way. Belua. Raptorem–”
“NO!” Aecus said, horrified. “The actions of a few–”
“It was an entire legio!” Jules raged, her face pale save for two spots of high color, her ringlets tangled and come loose in a dizzied halo of copper. “They all wore the same uniform,” she hissed. “They all had the same crest — the black serpent surrounding the golden sun of Ilona. Ilonan soldiers. Legio 909.” She felt a tightening in her throat, and tried to calm her breathing. Dizziness slowly crept up.
Aecus stared at her for a long moment, comprehension and disgust dawning on his features. “Tenebrae,” he said. “It is the House of Tenebrae. The same soldiers you are telling me my sister has allied with? The only House that vies for control over the capital, to take the lands closest to the Luminora.”
“I don’t care who they are to you,” Jules said darkly. “I’m telling you what they did.” She clenched her fists even tighter, and struggled to keep the world from spinning. It felt like blood was rushing in her ears again; she could nearly hear the ocean.
“And still you were willing to–”
“Let. Them. Go,” Jules said. “All of them. last one, Legatus, please. I will die for them. I will stay for them. I will give you anything you desire. I just want hi–” her voice broke, and she shook her head, coughing. She bowed her head, recovering her breath, keeping her gaze away from the Ilonan. “I just want them to get home,” she said after she recovered.
Aecus’s expression softened further. The tiniest of slips, and he bowed his head, undone. “I will do everything within my power, Commander. Including seek reparations for what was done to you by–”
“No–” Jules said quickly, lifting her head. The world spun and throbbed. “Absolutely not. That will not come up. Ever.”
“Commander O’Malley, I do not understand why y–”
“Of course you don’t, you ignorant prick,” Jules hissed, clenching her teeth. “I would rather burn in aetheric fire than have it be public.”
Taken aback, Aecus swallowed roughly, and said, “As you like it, Commander. I will not pretend to understand, but I know enough to let it lie.”
“Have we an agreement, then?” Jules wondered of him airily, her eyes alternately hard and vulnerable. “I will remain here. With you. I will do everything I can to keep you alive. You will find a way to let my crew get home.” She held herself as straight as she could, even as she felt herself tipping, even as she knew in only a moment or two, she would fall over. Again? Already? she wondered.
Aecus closed his eyes again, pained, and said, “I–”
The door banged open, then, and the navarchus of the Tropaeum barged in, a bandage over part of his forehead, a ring of raw bruising around his throat, and a glassy, desperate look on his face.
Jules’s eyes widened in recognition; caught up in the aching throb of her swimming head, she couldn’t move fast enough to plead her case.
The navarchus pulled a pistol from his belt, leveled it at Jules, and pulled the trigger.
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