My One

In the quiet,
in the dark,
your hands on mine,
your mouth on mine.
You taste of cinnamon and fire,
of sandalwood and blood.

Before you,
the world was at my feet.
Since you,
I find it brilliant and jeweled,
ripe for devouring,
as it has never been.

I have never known a hunger
as I do for your touch,
for the companionship you granted me,
when no one else could.

No one completes me as you do,
my beloved,
my only,
my one.

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Through you, into me

Your hand in my hand,
your heart in my heart,
and though other people
point out your riches,
your looks,
all I can see
is how when you laugh,
you shake as you hold me,
and I can feel
the mirth move through you,
into me.

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Friday Flash Fiction

Challenge from Chuck Wendig wherein the story must be told using social media. I haven’t got a damned clue if I did it ‘right’ but I liked it, so.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was supposed to go up before noon, because Chuck Wendig said so, but alas, I forgot about it entirely. Still, I liked it, so I thought I’d share.]

Continue reading

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DeathWatch No. 138 – Give It To Me. It Is Mine Now.

This is Issue #138 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘DeathWatch’ then go to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and read from there, or go find the issue # you remember, and catch up from there!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

“What I want to know is where’s Ki–” Sha began, but a commotion across the room caught her attention.

Coryphaeus was holding Jules, who was struggling, a bloody-looking froth at her lips. She made a low, gagging noise at her throat and reached out a hand to claw at him, writhing in his arms.

Nate turned, and was running before Sha could stop him, shouldering guests out of his way, fear and rage on his face. He ducked past one, two, three guests, leapt over a buffet table, knocked out a guard with a roundhouse and kept running. Nothing was going to stop him — until more guards had their wits about them, and wanted to control the potential panic.

Swords were drawn, but Nate charged at the men without flinching. When the first one swung low, he leapt over it; when the second swung high, he dropped to his knees and slid on the marble tile, leaning back. The very tip of the sword carved a thin line from his jaw over his nose, but Nate didn’t stop. He reached Jules as Coryphaeus flinched back from her strike. Her legs buckled, and she fell into Nate’s arms, while Coryphaeus stumbled back, surprised.

“I’ve got you, Jules,” Nate said, twisting her to her side, keeping her head in his lap.

Einin,” she gasped, her pale eyes wide, looking up at him.

Nate couldn’t tell if she could really see him; her eyes seemed to be looking through him, at something impossibly far in the heavens. “I’ve got you. I’ve got you,” he promised, brushing her hair out of her face, trying to keep his hands from shaking, feeling the hot sear of the cut over his cheek as it bled.

Ilonan guards came to try to wrestle him away, but the Prince stopped them, watching from nearby, dark eyes keen and hungry. He looked from the convulsed Westlander to Coryphaeus, who seemed to vacillate between furious and helpless. He moved to stand beside the Legatus and said, “This is an interesting development, is it not?”

“Majesty,” Coryphaeus said, his cheeks darkening. “I–”

As if to steal the Prince’s attention away in that moment, Jules focused, drawing in a ragged, broken breath, and one hand reached up to grab Nathan’s collar and hold it tight. “Run,” she Jules begged. “Nathan. Oh fuck, my little bird, y’have t’run,” she said. “Don’ let’im hunt you. The sword. Goes right through,” she wheezed, and then her hand fell away, and her back arched as she screamed, thrashing.

Gemma was backing away, slowly, when Secta grabbed hold of her wrist, pulling her close. “What did you do?” he hissed, his eyes narrowed. “If she dies because you’ve poisoned her, Gemma–”

“She won’t die,” Gemma said, her eyes wet with tears. “She’ll only wish she had. I was right, Secta. The woman’s a seer. And I think Coryphaeus knew it. He doesn’t look surprised, just worried.”

“…I think his Majesty knows that, as well,” Secta said, watching Immanis, who was beginning to bare his teeth.

The dinner was quickly becoming scandalous, as those who would be prey defied the guards and the Prince himself confronted the Legatus. “And what is the meaning of this?” Immanis hissed at Coryphaeus. “The creature you suggested I take has not had a single vision, while the one you ungraciously wormed your way into being offered turns out to be a seer, instead? What manner of betrayal!” he growled.

“Majesty,” Coryphaeus began, looking helpless.

“I should take your head for this deception,” Immanis growled.

“Yes,” Coryphaeus wept, kneeling. “Please, Majesty. I am wretched in my dishonesty. I am unfit to serve you. Would that my death may please you,” he said, and drew his own belt knife.

Jules thrashed in Nate’s arms; she uttered low, guttural noises, and finally sagged, going limp, whispering exhaustedly.

Nate leaned down, trying to listen to Jules’s mutterings. He pressed his bloodied cheek to hers, and breathed her in, having no idea when he might see her after these frantic moments. “I love you, Jules,” he whispered. “I love you.”

“He’ll save you,” she murmured. “He promised, Nate. He promised me. You gotta run.”

Guests were shocked by the frankly dramatic and ridiculous display going on in the midst of their gathering; rumors were already flying, and several noble houses were speculating on precisely what had happened to cause such a ferociously uncouth display. Mass murder at their feet by their all-powerful Prince was one thing… but here, the Prince seemed to have lost his own control over the enemy and his army both.

Tace!” Immanis demanded of the entire room; his voice cut through the crowd, and everyone was silent and still. The fury on his face was a terribly beautiful thing to behold.

Coryphaeus knelt, still, his own knife at his throat, tears in his eyes.

Nate held Jules close, still, his cheek pressed to hers.

Sha was nearly to them, paused in midstep.

Jet was unaffected, and slowly came to Immanis’s side to put a hand to his shoulder. “Brother,” he said quietly to Immanis, reaching down to take the knife from Coryphaeus’s fingers. “Release your guests. If you are truly betrayed by the Legatus, put him in the hunt, and take the gift you’d given him. You can punish him to your heart’s content.”

Immanis looked to Jet for a moment, as if weighing his words. He sighed, nodding, letting the tension bleed from his frame; he reached up to touch Jet’s hand on his shoulder, and smiled. “Ah, my Guardian. I will not let this ruin anything; if anything, having another thing to be hunted is something to celebrate.” He looked down upon the Legatus, a great and terrible God looming over the officer, who stared up in abject love and misery.

“Majesty,” Coryphaeus whispered, tears glittering in his eyes.

Immanis knelt down in front of Coryphaeus and tilted the man’s head up to meet his gaze. “You have disappointed me, Legatus,” he said quietly, and rubbed a thumb just under Coryphaeus’s eye, wiping the tears from the man’s cheek. “But I shall offer you a chance. You shall join me in the hunt, as prey. If you survive, you shall have forgiveness.” He stood, looking around at the crowd, and said, “Return to the entertainment; I leave you in the care of your Guardian, and my sister.” He looked to Lucida and Jet, who summoned Gemma and Secta to their sides, to stir the guests back into a proper sort of revelry

The crowd immediately complied, happy to, and the only grouping that was left were the three Westlanders, at Immanis’s feet, while the guards took Coryphaeus away to be readied.

Sha laid a hand to Jules’s cheek, and looked up at Immanis, trying hard to hold to her sense of self.

For his part, Nate kissed Jules’s forehead as he held her, while she kept trembling. “Looks like he’ll be busy savin himself,” Nate said apologetically to Jules.

“He’s a good man,” Jules stuttered, her eyes rolling, her limbs jerking. “Einin–” And then she slipped away, and in Nate’s arms, went still.

“Give it to me,” Immanis murmured, and reached down to carefully lift her from Nathan’s arms. “It is mine, now. I will make sure it is cared for.”

“Jules?” Nate whispered, panic touching his face. “Jules?” he begged, and released his hold, watching Immanis in both hope and hatred. His heart raged; begged to disobey, but he let her go. Nate could do no more than watch as the Prince of Ilona left, carrying with him a piece of his soul.

* * *

NEXT

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Opportunity

The day they gave out opportunity,
I imagine I was daydreaming
of some far-off wonderland,
imagining
the crystal waters,
the bluest skies
and greenest meadows,
lush fields
of flower and fruit.
I may have been contemplating you,
and the way your fingers curve,
ferns unfurling
in the warmth of my hand.
I was dreaming so hard
of might’ve-beens
I missed the moment,
missed the mark,
and missed you.

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DeathWatch No. 137 – Would You Like A Taste?

This is Issue #137 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘DeathWatch’ then go to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and read from there, or go find the issue # you remember, and catch up from there!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

Secta gawped, then closed his lips and stood tall, clearing his throat. “We were contemplating the various reasons the Legatus had for choosing that particular Westlander.”

Gemma pursed her lips briefly, but did not contradict the page; she glanced again at Lucida, and smiled faintly.

“It is plain,” Immanis declared. “Coryphaeus bears love in his heart for the paleskinned thing. He will ruin the name of his family if he outright declares it, and so he will be forced to keep the slave as a slave. It will remain close to him, rather than be shepherded out for hard labor or used by the soldiers for whatever purpose. In this fashion, he can have it as he desires, and people will gossip less than if he were to free it and attempt to make it his equal. That would have his family in an uproar. Now, if the two of you would mingle, hm? Make certain the Guardian and his lovely bride are well-escorted, and that our guests have all they desire.”

Secta bowed, and turned to head toward Lucida and Jet — and was somewhat shocked to see Gemma determinedly heading for Jules. “Where are you–” he began, looking for the Prince. Immanis had turned and left them, off to mingle as well; he couldn’t imagine not complying — he followed Gemma and hissed, “What are you doing?”

“Mingling,” Gemma said, looking almost wild with determination. She searched the buffets until she found what she was looking for, pulled a gilded dish of malagranata seeds from the table, looking triumphant. “I have to know,” she said to Secta, and went up to Jules and Coryphaeus, offering them. “Would you like a taste?” she said sweetly to both of them.

Benigne facis,” Coryphaeus said, picking some with his fingers. “Try them,” he instructed Jules. “The pips are almost sour, but the flesh is a burst of sweet juice,” he said, and promptly ate his own, pleased.

Jules nodded, scooping up the ruby jewels of fruit — she put them on her tongue and chewed thoughtfully, her eyes lighting up in surprise and delight at the texture and sweetness. The instant the juice touched her tongue, she realized she’d had them once or twice before — when she was a little girl. Her mother had brought some home from a tour East. Eager, she took another handful, and ate them happily, nodding to Gemma.

For that instant, to have seen the honest wonder and gratitude on Jules’s face, Gemma felt terrible for what was soon to happen. She set the dish of seeds back on one of the tables without touching any of them; she herself had not eaten malagranata seeds in years, once she’d learned what happened to a seer who ate them. The juice itself was pleasant, and did not often cause trouble, but chewing the pips released a chemical quite similar to aether dust, something Jules might remember, with no small amount of fear. It, too, induced violent convulsions and left the victim nearly comatose while slipping from vision to vision. The only problem was, the chemical could not be washed off to relieve the effects, leaving the victim stuck in their own hellish torment until the seeds left their body.

Coryphaeus smiled at Jules; they shared a look of warmth that Nate had the unfortunate timing of catching. Lucida and the Guardian had just been pulled away by another set of nobles, and were talking animatedly nearby, paying little to no attention to either he, or Sha for the moment. Because the Guardian and his Princess were no longer talking to them, he watched his wife from across the room. His expression flitted between a mixture of longing and determination, and something darker; the way the Ilonan officer acted with her made a low fire wake behind his eyes.

“Y’makin th’face,” Sha said to Nate, whispering an aside to him.

“What face,” Nate growled, not taking his eyes off the pair. It wasn’t a question, really.

“Y’know damn well what face. Th’face that says y’fists itch,” Sha said, and handed him a glass of something cold and fruited. “Now ain’t th’time,” she said.

“Y’been sayin that. When they grabbed us outside the ship. In the camps. In their ship. In the dungeon,” Nate said irritably, and took the glass, making himself smile at the Ilonans who came over to touch his skin, his clothes, and marvel at him in a language in which he only knew a few trade words.

“Ain’t been the time, Quarter,” Sha said lowly, through her teeth, as she smiled as well.

“S’no ship, Sha,” Nathan said, sounding exhausted, trying not to wince as he watched Jules eat fruit and smile with the enemy. “M’no Quarter.”

“Ship or no ship, I will always be your fucking Captain, O’Malley,” Sha hissed, leaning in, her words sharp. A few Ilonans looked half-surprised at her outburst, and laughed and cooed, talking with one another excitedly; their surety at her helplessness infuriated Sha, but she kept it to herself, letting her own inner fire smolder. Not yet. Not yet. Soon, but not yet.

Nate turned to look at her and his expression softened, to see the hurt and anger on her face. “Aye,” he said, nodding in earnest, his eyes widening. “You got orders for me, Captain? Because we’re dead in the sky’n’without our charts.”

“The hunt,” Sha said. “The hunt’s where we can get out of here. They give us weapons, and they’ll turn us loose in a section of the city that’s dedicated wildlands. They’ve got a gated jungle full of cameras and such. The citystate and everyone on this side of the Ridge… they watch, when their Prince hunts. They’ve been looking forward to this. We don’t need to get him; we need to get to a gate. We get out… we’re free. I’m bettin we’re savvy enough to manage that.”

Nate turned his head subtly and looked at the Prince of Ilona, beast that he was, wild-eyed and covered in tattoos and paint. He marveled at the man’s leonine grace, at the cunning and arrogance he saw on his face and frame, and wondered aloud, “What I want to know is… how many of the hunted bet the same thing?”

* * *

NEXT

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Older Than We Think We Are

Remember I remember I remember I
set my blender to eleven
but I only use pulse
I only use it but a moment;
half the world,
half my world is thinned
to blood
and the rest is tectonic plates,
too huge to
do anything but
fit together and be obvious.
I came all this way —
but I came all this way.
I look into your eyes and I
taste the smoke I know
was on your lips.

Why didn’t you stop me?
Why didn’t you save me?

I don’t want you to save me.
If you walked back into my life
right now
it’s even odds I’d
kiss you or kill you.
I miss you.
I hate you.
The elephant in the room
is me.
Everyone stares.
It’s all right; it’s all right —
I’ve always
been this way, my
insides on the outside,
so I’m used to it.

Why don’t you stop me?
Why don’t you save me?

I came all this way.
Nobody owes me
anything.
Sometimes I close my eyes and I
forget to breathe.
None of these things go
together.
I don’t go
together.
I remember

You can’t stop me.
You can’t save me.

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DeathWatch No. 136 – Did You See That?

This is Issue #136 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘DeathWatch’ then go to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and read from there, or go find the issue # you remember, and catch up from there!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

Immanis rolled his eyes, laughing, and turned to look at Jules, saying, “Cover yourself, servus. I don’t imagine our dear Legatus is interested in that kind of slave.”

Coryphaeus’s skin darkened at that statement; he said nothing, but glanced at Jules as she quickly squatted to grab her robes and cover herself, murmuring, “Yes, your Majesty, of course.”

Jules stood back up, replacing her smile as she re-smoothed her clothes — but the smile faltered as her world greyed out. She held quite still for a moment, keeping her expression as neutral as she could; when she could see again, she moved to be closer to Coryphaeus. She nearly bumped against him, saying something quiet to him as her eyes unfocused again, staring out at nothing and no one.

Sharp-eyed Gemma seized Secta’s wrist, hissing, “Did you see that?”

“No,” Secta said, looking around curiously, watching the gathering of the crowd, everyone talking, laughing, even the prisoners eating, talking with the group, even if wary. “What am I looking for?” he asked her.

“The girl’s a seer,” Gemma whispered, shifting to have Secta turn and look at Jules, who still looked slightly unsteady.

While they watched, Coryphaeus touched her gently, fingertips brushing her lower back.

Jules’s face mostly wore an expression of tight control, and when it wavered, it looked faintly nauseated.

“I’m certain of it. That look on her face,” Gemma said, talking lowly so only Secta could hear her.

“She looked dizzy from standing quickly,” Secta dismissed. “Or possibly nauseated from the spectacle her life’s become.”

“No. No, I know it,” Gemma murmured. “I know it.”

Secta was quiet for a time, watching both Coryphaeus and Jules. “The Prince is half-pleased with Coryphaeus because the Legatus pointed out that the boy was a seer,” Secta said. “I never did figure out why he hadn’t conscripted you. You’ve been living in the palace for how long? He knows your gift.”

“Lucida forbade it quite some time ago,” Gemma said. “She told him if he used me in that way, if he profited from my pain, she would never forgive him. This was back before we knew how to use the aetheris to ease the pain of it,” she said, and her face grew grave, serious. “When I was younger, when the visions came, they were a terror. The pain and fear were…” She stopped talking, clearing her throat, and looked around, as though coming back to herself, realizing where she was. “Nevermind,” she said tightly. “Look at her face. Look at her eyes, Secta. Can’t you see it?”

Secta focused, watching the interaction between Coryphaeus and Jules; his expression grew shrewd, and he said, “What I’m seeing is the Legatus, and how he protects her. The Prince has instructed Coryphaeus to care for the gift as though she is a precious thing. Any other master might revere the servus as an object. Legatus Aecus is deliberately behaving as though the servus is not a precious thing, but a precious someone.”

“A scandal, certainly,” Gemma agreed. “But I’m speaking of proditio, Secta. Impietas.”

Secta’s eyes widened, and he glanced at Gemma sidelong. “You believe the brother of two of Ilona’s most celebrated generals, a ranking officer in his own right, who facilitated the wedding gift from the Guardian to the Prince of three hundred enemy soldiers… is plotting treason?”

“I heard there was doubt of his lineage; there are whispers Mirus never had a brother,” Gemma said, shrugging.

“But Summus Nixus claims him proudly,” Secta returned. “The missives from the battlefield proclaim him proudly, almost to the point of taking credit for the entirety of the victories.”

“So you think he’s merely guilty of thinking with his cock,” Gemma snorted. Her dark eyes moved over both Coryphaeus and Jules, and she frowned, pursing her lips. She did not watch them long; eventually, her gaze drifted to where Lucida leaned against Jet, talking boldly with the Captain and Quartermaster of a ship the Ilonans had named the Eburneis Dea, the Ivory Goddess.

“It’s what drives everything, from the politics of nations to the tiniest valued life,” Secta said simply, following her gaze, watching the way she looked upon Lucida, the way Gemma’s eyes softened, the way her lips parted, the way something about her shone, simply to gaze upon the woman she loved. “Desire. It’s what makes us get up, and it’s what makes us fall down,” he sighed, shrugging, and while he imagined she was no longer looking at him, he dared spare a glance toward Jet, and felt the strange pang of his own heart leap.

“Oh, sweet Secta,” Gemma whispered, putting an arm around him, leaning her cheek to his. “He was chosen even before you knew him.”

“And yet,” Secta said, smiling faintly, sadly. “And yet.”

“It is good that you love him well,” Gemma said. “It will make it easier for him.”

“Are you certain, Gemma, on what you’ve seen?” Secta wondered. “And if so… why do you not tell His Majesty?”

“Do you not remember the morning the Guardian threatened your life? Might’ve killed you, if Lucida hadn’t run for her brother?” Gemma said.

“I remember,” Secta said quietly, his cheeks darkening in shame. He knew he failed his master in those moments; he would have given anything to go back and make it right. “I would have let him,” he said miserably. “I would have let him.”

“Thank goodness you didn’t,” Gemma said. “He needs you. He’ll need you even moreso, when–”

Just then, Immanis’s lordly presence could be felt, right behind them. He stood tall and beautiful, dark eyes flashing; his bronze skin gleamed in the light of the palaces torches and chandeliers. His expression was somewhere between predatory and amused, like some great cat ready to toy with its prey. He looked at both Secta and Gemma, his full lips curving, hinting at a smile, somewhat conspiratorial. “And just what are you two gossiping about?”

* * *

NEXT

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The Drop

She looks like she might cry, and that seems to make her more angry than anything else. Thin hands, gloved except for fingertips, curled into whiteknuckled fists. “You… You’re just trying to –” Gritted teeth and pale face except for two flushed cheeks. Tears stinging such dark eyes. “You just–” You’re just trying to make me angry. Don’t you want me to trust you? Are you pushing me away? “Fuck you.” Except she doesn’t mean it. In any of the ways she could.

“I’m not leaving,” she says finally, decisively. “You can be as much of a shit as you want,” she grits. “You’ll have to burn me up to make me disappear,” she tells him, stalking across the room, all six and a half feet of her in those crazy boots. She moves to stand in front of him, her sharp features angry, dark eyes hiding her worry.

Barely.

“It’s already six,” she tells him, shifting to pull out a smoke and a lighter. “We don’t have much longer.”

* * *

Six fifteen, and right now, she should be meeting that ‘redheaded bitch’. Six thirty, and she should have what she needs, and be on her way back. Six forty three and the mostly-contained bomb should only force that single car off the highway, the woman in the back murderous with fury. Or, if they were lucky, her face blown off, and most everyone else in the car half-blind. Either way, the stuff is destroyed, and she should be done. Six-fifty, and there is no call. Just as he’s walking out the door, she comes running up the stairs, looking nauseated and pale, holding a slim briefcase clutched to her chest, one glove missing.

She shoves the briefcase at him and runs past. Right for the john. Still, no TK. None. Shouldn’t it be crawling all over him? What else has he forgotten? She drops to her knees right in front of the toilet bowl, and vomits noisily. Painfully.

She kneels there, and her shoulders hunch as he holds her hair back, hunch as she leans forward to purge herself of… whatever. For whatever reason. When it’s over and she spits, one hand fumbling, the naked one, thin fingers reaching for a washcloth, she rasps, “Never have to worry about her again.” She hunches again, making a strange hiccuping noise, and then shakes her head. “Wanted me to show,” she murmurs, resting that hand up on the back of the toilet, the webbing between the thumb and forefinger bruised as hell, the skin broken and bloody. “I opened the cases, let her see. She shut my hand in the one with the bomb. I thought she knew and was gonna let me lose it. I had–I had to wait. She was mad you weren’t there. Got fucking chatty. Six forty two and thirty seconds, and I undid the snap on the back of the glove and just pulled free. Already had my case. I ran. I looked back — case popped open in her face ’cause of my glove. Six forty three. You ever see that comedian Gallagher?” she wonders, and her shoulders hunch again as she vomits from the soles of her feet, getting rid of lunch from six years ago last Tuesday.

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Bite

I take the morning
in my teeth
and bite down
to tear it
from the rest of the day.
I spit it out
and stomp it down
before it bursts into flame
and catches me
and the world on fire.
I want another taste,
but today’s gone stale.

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DeathWatch No. 135 – Your Makeup Is Smeared

This is Issue #135 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘DeathWatch’ then go to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and read from there, or go find the issue # you remember, and catch up from there!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

“Ready?” Coryphaeus said, standing near the door, adjusting his sash.

“…yes?” Jules answered, brightening her demure smile. Already diminutive, she looked even smaller in her bare feet and light, short robes. She wore sheer silks and a bit of paint, but no jewels; to decorate a slave too lavishly would be scandalous. She crossed the room to him and reached up to fuss at his uniform; fingers deftly tightening the knot of his sash, the medals and other decorations of his rank and accomplishments. She reached up to rub her finger against a bit of his kohl eye liner that had smeared, but it wouldn’t come off cleanly. Frowning, she licked her thumb and went at it again.

Coryphaeus caught her wrist sharply, and raised a brow, his expression obviously warring between faint disgust and strong amusement. “Really?”

“What?” Jules said, looking confused.

“Not even my mother spitwashed my dirty face, Commander,” he said, his lips curving into a teasing smirk.

Blushing hotly, Jules pulled her hand back and retorted, “Your makeup is smeared.”

Rolling his eyes, Coryphaeus pulled away to go to a mirror and adjust the liner, wiping it cleanly away where it had smudged. “There,” he sighed. “Come on, then. Being late would be a terrible idea.”

* * *

Jules walked into the main dining area behind Coryphaeus, keeping her eyes on him, or low, not meeting anyone else’s gaze. She felt all eyes upon her as she made her way closer to where the Prince, the Guardian and the Princess, and all their retinue were standing, and once they stopped, she made a low bow and curtsy, then stood with her eyes cast down, waiting on any instructions.

“It seems your gift is less clumsy now,” Immanis noted with a smirk.

“I’ve taken your advice,” the Legatus said, smiling. “I’ll take good care of such a gift; I imagine it will be quite loyal.”

The hall itself was full of dignitaries, well dressed nobles, other Ilonan officers with whom Coryphaeus was familiar; Jules was shown around to nearly everyone, put through her steps like a prized mare. Almost every Ilonan touched her at some point, to lift her chin, to tentatively put their hands on her pale skin, noses wrinkling in a combination of distaste and amusement.

She was only startled when Nathan and Sha were announced; they walked in, dressed well, their clothing cleaned of blood and grime. Immanis went to them, greeted them warmly, and explained — in the plain tongue, seeming for their benefit — that they were to be the hunt’s greatest prey. They did not act surprised at the announcement, and schooled their own reactions when the crowd burst into applause, and treated them like celebrities, or perhaps like fascinating creatures one might find in a zoo.

Sha looked at Immanis and the other Ilonans with a wary distrust, while Nathan looked at Jules with no small amount of fear and agony.

Coryphaeus noticed Nathan’s gaze, and leaned closer to Jules, saying quietly, “Will he make this difficult?”

Jules fought back tears, clearing her throat, and said with some measure of pride, “Nate makes everything difficult. It’ll be fine.” After a beat, she added, “Dominus,” as though to make certain she kept her addressing right, while in public. She signaled silently to Nathan, caught his attention just enough to communicate her need to him — don’t fight, don’t make a scene — and smiled blankly as she turned away, once she saw the recognition on his features.

“I like the little red one,” Lucida said bluntly, the words rolling from her tongue in sheer delight. “She’d be a darling cupbearer. I’d pour the wine for my husband right between her thighs,” she laughed, looking her up and down from where she stood nearby.

Jules blushed, her skin flushing pink from the roots of her hair past the hems of her robes.

“Oh, caro,” Lucida purred, walking over. She sauntered right up to Jules and walked around and around her, eyeing her, leaning in close, pulling at her robe to look at the way her milkwhite skin had turned a deep pink. “The little thing can turn red all over!” she laughed.

“Yes, bella,” the Guardian said, smiling. “The palest of the Westlanders flush noticeably pink when angry, embarrassed, or aroused,” he said in the plain tongue. “This one looks to be… Celdish?”

“Some Celd,” Jules said quietly.

“And some–?” Jet prodded, looking curious.

“Kriegic,” Jules said, lifting her chin and looking at Lucida. Though she’d worn the woman’s body, she felt little but wariness, to look at her. It wasn’t until she glanced at Gemma that her heart broke all over again; the remnants of the slip still clung to her, wrapped in aether and exhaustion. There had been such love between them, but right now, all she could see in Lucida was a thin sort of meanness, a predatory demeanor.

“So tiny for a Krieg,” Lucida laughed. “They are pale, too, but I have not seen them red. Maybe they are only red on the front, and we only see their backsides, when they run away, hmm?” she teased. “How much of you gets red, little Krieg?” she whispered darkly, pulling Jules’s robes open entirely. She threw them over Jules’s shoulders, and let them drop, leaving the once-quartermaster of the Maxima naked in the midst of the crowd, standing in a puddle of silks.

Jules’s eyes widened, but she made no move to hide herself. She looked at Lucida, and said nothing, then flicked her pale eyes to Coryphaeus, and still said nothing but held his gaze, focusing hers into a look of calm subservience.

Coryphaeus’s eyes narrowed slightly; he pursed his lips, but said nothing, his jaw clenched.

Immanis noted the reaction, and the lack of response, and was moved by Coryphaeus’s polite manner. Poor Legatus, Immanis thought, without cruelty. How your face betrays you so easily. He chuckled, shaking his head as he said, “Sister — you’re being a bit rough with a gift I’d given someone else. A little restraint is in order. If you wanted your own Westlander, you know I’d have kept you one.”

Jules blushed even darker, but made no move to pull away. She gritted her teeth as she smiled, and kept her eyes on Coryphaeus for reassurance.

“From her brows to her belly, front and back!” Lucida said delightedly, and stepped aside to show Immanis. “You chide me for examining a slave?” she said, rolling her eyes. “Surely you’re joking. Just look at it! I can’t imagine–”

“Luci–” began Immanis, his tone almost warning.

“Lucida,” Jet called from where he’d purposefully slipped away to talk with Sha and Nate, “Come meet my opponents!” He navigated the waters of politics carefully, based on Secta’s advice, and he knew to keep brother and sister from playfully squabbling too much, especially in the midst of a celebratory gathering.

Lucida laughed, cupped Immanis’s cheek with her hand, patting it gently and walked off to talk to Jet, leaving her brother behind.

* * *

NEXT

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Nobody Likes The Honest Questions

If I asked you
to accept the fact that my heart
is too small
to love you as you deserve,
and asked you
to care for me
despite the black dog that follows me around,
and asked you
to be happy with my inattention,
my neglect,
my inconstant fawning,
my inconsistent adulation…
If I asked you
to give up your skin for me,
pull out your nails for me,
break your teeth for me,
peel out your eyes for me…
If I asked you
to breathe life back into me
when I went so deep
I died again and again
and left you to revive me on my own…
If I was nothing good for you,
do you think you could love me anyway?

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DeathWatch No. 134 – Does It Hurt?

This is Issue #134 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial.

Click that link to go find DeathWatch, then browse to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and start from there, if you need to, or look for the last issue # you remember, and get caught up!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

“Please,” Kieron breathed, looking up at Immanis in desperation. He knelt before his new Master, looking both terrified and miserable. “Please, I swear it. I have seen thousands of deaths in my lifetime. I have seen them since I was only a little boy. I saw them all through school.” His face lit up and he blurted out, “My best fr–”

“Silence,” Immanis murmured.

Immediately, Kieron closed his mouth and bowed his head. When he wept, his wincing and salty tears stung the line of stitches that had begun to heal. Jet. Jet, his name is Jet. I have to remember. I have to find him. Is he dead? This palace is huge. I haven’t seen him die… but I don’t watch everyone die. What if he’s already gone? He slumped further and shook his head, uttering a low moan of distress.

“Cease that immediately,” Immanis sighed, sounding irritable. “Sit up.”

Kieron stopped crying instantly. He sat up and looked at the Prince, expectant, watchful, waiting. When Immanis’s fist swung against his cheek, he did not flinch or pull away. His eyes tracked the movement, and at the last minute, closed in anticipation. He went sprawling across the tiles, hitting his head against the floor. His skull bounced; his teeth clacked together, and he went still, stunned.

Immanis stood over him, fists clenched; furious — he drew back his foot, ready to level a kick at Kieron’s ribs when he saw the brands at his shoulder, and instead, got a better idea.

* * *

Kieron roused to the scent of burning flesh. He tried to pull away from the feeling of tightness, of sharp heat, but he heard Immanis say, “Hold. Still.”

And so he did.

He was opening his eyes to see what had happened, but the world was out of focus, and no matter how he blinked or shook his head, it would not resolve. He moaned lowly, thickly, tasting blood.

“Does it hurt?” Immanis wondered, sounding curious and pleased.

“Yes,” Kieron whimpered. “Very much.”

“Good,” Immanis growled.

* * *

In another wing, Jet slept amidst warm tangled sheets that smelled of Immanis’s skin; he buried his face in his lover’s pillow and dozed with a half-smile on his face. If the boy of the Academy could have seen the man he had become… he would not have been recognizable.

In dreams, he was back there, at the Academy, running up and down the halls, searching for Kieron, looking for him after one of his episodes, knowing he would find the boy holed up in some out-of-the-way place, unable to get back to their dorms, and so riding out the waves of agony and nausea that came post-slip.

* * *

Kieron held still, while his skin blackened and sizzled under the brand, and blood ran down his back, but he was not silent. He cried out, remembering the way it felt when the soldiers of the Tropaeum had branded him aboard the ship; those wounds had yet to heal, and his abused body protested the rough treatment. “Please,” he wept, not quite knowing why he begged, or what he hoped to gain from it — every piece of him struggled to please. He wanted to do whatever it was Immanis wanted; when the Prince looked at him in fury, it wounded nearly as much as the brand.

“Please what?” Immanis whispered. “Another? Shall I mark you again?”

“My Lord,” Kieron wept. “Would it please you?” he asked, shaking, holding himself, struggling to remain conscious and not humiliate himself in front of his master. “Mark me any way you wish if it so suits you.”

“It suits me,” Immanis hissed, and he pressed the red brand against Kieron’s shoulder once more.

Kieron’s scream lifted high and inhuman, a wordless shriek of pain that echoed throughout the Palace. Everyone who could hear it felt a shiver crawl up their spine.

* * *

In a large suite of rooms with a cool cloth over her eyes and the increasingly familiar taste of aetheris on her tongue, Jules wept, angrily refusing Coryphaeus’s ministrations when he tried to ease her. She had heard Kieron cry like that before, aboard the Tropaeum, because she refused to answer the Captain’s questions.

* * *

Alone in their respective rooms, Sha and Nate paced, looked at books left on the bookshelves, ate the food they were served, lived like caged animals and hated every minute of it.

More and more, Sha fell into a deeper depression; her ship was gone, her crew had been sold into slavery or killed outright, and the idea that she might live through any given day was both tenuous and repulsive, all at once.

Nate tried to talk to or charm anyone who might listen, begged for information, but the Ilonans weren’t interested in anything he had or could do. They regarded him like something of a wild beast, too stupid to rationalize, too worthless to bargain with. They told him little to nothing, but encouraged him to keep up his strength for the coming hunt.

* * *

Gemma and Lucida broke from their tangle of kisses, and Lucida cocked an eyebrow, looking to Gemma curiously. “Was that a man?” she wondered of the handmaiden.

“I believe so, my love,” Gemma answered. “Secta tells me your brother thought he had found yet another seer, but it turns out the boy may have been a fraud. That is likely the sound of the fraud being punished.”

Lucida chuckled lowly, sighing. “It is a good thing that our Guardian is indestructable. Whatever appetites my brother may have for pain may finally be appeased.”

“Indeed,” Gemma laughed.

* * *

Alone with Immanis, Kieron dug his nails into his palms hard enough to leave them bloody as he screamed, and yet did not pull away. He allowed himself to be marked, burned, brutalized, and his voice wavered and trembled, and finally broke.

* * *

“KEY!”

Alone in his bed, Jet woke with a start, his heart thundering in his chest, one hand stretched out, reaching. He struggled to catch his breath, tears rushing to his eyes. In his dreams, he’d only just found Kieron; he’d opened the last door and found him huddling on the floor, alone and broken.

In the waking world, he had only the memory of Kieron’s eyes, beautiful and wide and begging.

* * *

NEXT

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Everything Hurt

Her hands curled around the broken bits of things; she sifted through the wreckage with her limbs like a child doing a snow angel, occasionally, wiping bloody tears from her cheeks, coughing out brickdust and wallboard from the bottom of her lungs.

Everything hurt.

When the world stopped spinning and she imagined she could hear the world around her rather than some throbbing echo, some aftershock of deafening that manifested as a white-noise ringing, she sat up and dared to look around.

She spit blood and took in the devastation, watching dust and snow and furniture foam fluff and down and other whatnot dance around in eddys created by everything collapsing on itself.

This is as good a beginning as any, she thought. Might as well start now.

She got up, nodding to herself, and was both surprised and frightened that she couldn’t see any bodies.

She knew, somewhere in a more broken part of herself that no longer wept for loss, that it was only a matter of time.

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DeathWatch No. 133 – She Was So Scared

This is Issue #133 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial.

Click that link to go find DeathWatch, then browse to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and begin from there, if you need to, or look for the last issue # you remember, and get caught up!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

Jules’s first breath back on the other side was ragged, startling. She opened her eyes as she sat up, clutching at her belly, putting a hand between her legs in frantic searching, tearing the blankets away in a panic, looking for what, her companion didn’t know. She turned toward Coryphaeus, looking around in wild terror, and he watched as her face crumpled up, as her pretty features were disfigured by sorrow. She put her hands to her face, and covered her mouth, but it was a pointless gesture — even as she screamed, no sound came. Voiceless, she sobbed, curling up tighter and tighter, trying harder and harder to howl out the awful horror of what she’d just seen, just felt.

The Legatus dropped the cup of tea he’d been drinking, and ran for Jules, pulling her into his arms and rocking her. He looked shaken, to see her so distressed, and he tried to rub her back and pet her hair from her face, shushing her calmly. “You’re safe. It’s all right. You’re safe,” he promised, though he had no idea if she was, or wasn’t — it simply seemed the thing to say.

Jules gagged, writhing, uttering a cry of pain as the finality of her return crashed over her. “The baby,” she sobbed. “I don’t know if the baby lives,” she said, clutching at Coryphaeus. Blood ran from her lips as she twisted to bend double, hunching over. Coryphaeus reached over to pull her hair out of her face as she spat, coughing, the thick, wet sounds from her throat making it seem as though she were trying to cough up the last of the life she’d just felt end.

There was a basin on the floor; he’d already set it there, waiting — he was a quick learner. “What baby?” Coryphaeus said, shivering, reaching over with a cool, wet cloth, wiping her face, her mouth. His hand never trembled; he touched her with gentleness, with a manner Jules found oddly reassuring. He offered her a glass of aetheris, which she drank greedily, coughing against the burn of it, grateful for the way it eased the sick swimming behind her eyes.

“She was so scared,” Jules wept, closing her eyes and then opening them again, unable to unsee the look on Gemma’s face, the heartbreak, the grief there. Jules had no idea what Gemma could know or see — only that to hear Luci raving and screaming must have been terrifying for the woman. “It hurt. It hurt so much,” she cried, laying against Coryphaeus.

“I’m… I’m so sorry,” he said, finishing wiping her off, and letting her lay against him, infinitely gentle. “It looks like it hurts, still,” he said, rubbing her back.

“No, not… slipping. That hurts too,” she notes. “But… birth. She was giving birth. She had the fire of Ilona inside her. And she died,” Jules breathed.

Coryphaeus flinched, carefully pulling back. “Are you… are you certain, J–Commander? The fire of Ilona?” he asked, looking worried, holding to Jules, but keeping her back so he could watch her face. His own face had gone ashen in worry; his deep bronze skin had paled to an almost sickly tone.

“That’s what the other woman… Gemmma, said. Ignus Ilona, ” Jules whispered. “She called me Lucibella,” Jules said, and upon seeing Coryphaeus’s worried expression, she began to look terrified.

“Oh, merciful light,” Coryphaeus said, rubbing his face, shaking his head. “That is the Princess and her Handmaiden. The Princess has only just married the Guardian — she has yet to become with child, but the city, the Prince, no doubt… everyone hopes for her to be soon. But…”

“It’ll kill her,” Jules breathed. “That baby will kill her. I don’t know if that baby will live, but Luci won’t,” she said, looking lost. She turned her pale eyes up to Coryphaeus, and shuddered again, allowing him to fold her into his arms. “It… she was birthing. They were alone. Gemma wasn’t worried, but then something–” Jules paused, putting a hand over her belly, sliding her fingers just past her navel, pressing in. She sucked her breath in against her teeth and felt fresh tears come. “Something… wasn’t right. It… I felt it. It burned,” she whispered. “It burned, and then it t-tore–” Jules said, and the echo of her own howling scream rose up around her, and she flinched, hiccuping, her eyes going wide with panic.

“Commander,” the Legatus murmured, stroking her back, tucking her under his chin, feeling his heart thunder, his whole self tremble with the strange desire to protect Jules, to ease the terror she displayed — she had displayed such strength, such determination, to see her so frightened shook him. He had known fear in his life, but he wasn’t sure he’d known anything to make him display horror and grief as she had. “Stay with me. You’re here. You’re safe. The vision is over,” he promised her.

“It’s no vision,” Jules whispered. “I live these prophesies. I was the Princess. I felt the life inside her burn its way out. I felt it tear her, split her in two,” she sobbed. “I saw Gemma realize she was dying. And then the dark comes. The dark comes, and it swallows you,” she said, trying to calm her breathing.

“I’m so sorry,” he said to her, holding her until she managed to even herself out, finally breathing long and slow. When she no longer seemed to shake, he carefully detangled to tuck her into the bed once more, and bring her another glass of cool aetheris. “Rest, all right? Rest now; we have another hour or two.”

“An hour or two?” Jules said, her eyes opening wide. “Is that all? I feel like I’ve been dragged on my wakeboard over Damnation Ridge,” she groaned.

“We’re invited to dine with the Prince, and you’re expected,” Coryphaeus explained, his dark eyes resting on Jules. He reached out a gentle hand and tucked a wild curl behind her ear. “Hush now. Just rest,” he murmured. “You’re my good luck charm, Commander. Help me help you.”

Jules tried to protest, but she passed out from the exhaustion, and the void that came after the rise and fall of so much pain. She drifted in and out of broken sleep for long moments, while the Legatus sat at her bedside, holding her hand. The last thing she felt was Coryphaeus’s lips brushing her forehead, his breath warm against her skin.

“Rest, Jules.”

* * *

NEXT

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