This is Issue #28 of DeathWatch, the ongoing serial.
Go to the Serials page if you need to start at the beginning, or to find the rest.
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Still in the fading throes of the taser, Jet could only watch as Eisen lifted his head and brought the knife up to his throat with his left hand, beneath the line of his jaw. He tipped the handle of the blade down and out, so the keen edge dug up and in, and then dragged the handle all the way to the right, without flinching. Eisen opened his own throat, staring up at the Ilonan all the while, dropping the knife only in the end, as he fell forward, hitting the stone floor. His body jerked as his heart beat furiously, and a tide of crimson rushed, spreading to touch the Ilonan’s toes, the pool widening toward Jet.
Jet managed to scream, finally, as the effects of the taser wore off, and he stared in horror at Eisen, as Eisen watched him, the light in his eyes dimming. His lips worked as though he tried to speak, but then he was simply still, his cheek against the stone, his blood hot and spreading quickly. Jet struggled to squirm away from it, panicking, panting, moving to sit up.
The Ilonan turned, then, and kept his eyes on Jet. He didn’t watch the man who had killed himself at his orders, but instead stepped deliberately into the warm puddle, reaching down to drag two fingers through it, and bring them up to trace Jet’s cheek, painting him. “You asked what I am,” the Ilonan whispered.
Jet said nothing, just stared, tears cutting pale tracks against the blood on his cheek.
“I am Immanis Venator,” the Ilonan purred, putting the tips of his fingers against Jet’s lips.
Jet closed his eyes rather than stare into those pale depths, trembling. The Ilonan tongue had enough familiar words matching those Jet had learned in wargames and history, words thought to have been lost to the Before Time. Misery and fear settled further into his heart, and his voice cracked as he spoke, “You’re the h-hunter. The monstrous hunter.”
“Well done,” Immanis whispered. “You will make a fine prize.”
Jet cringed away from the Ilonan, trying to rid himself of the memory of Eisen’s face, his hollow eyes, the rush of blood.
Immanis sighed, looking bored, and waved a hand at Jet and the trader. “Take it to be cleaned up.”
Jet found himself dragged back up to his feet. The trader led him, then, prodding him with the aether taser to keep him moving, and when Jet turned to look back at the fallen Kriegsman, he received nothing but pain for his troubles, and was pushed ahead, further into the palace, further from anything familiar.
* * *
“Go here,” the trader informed him Jet, pushing him into a room, pulling the door shut behind him, and closing it.
The instant the door shut, Jet heard the lock click, and for a moment, he was back in Contemplation, in the small concrete room, alone with the smell of fear — this time, he had the addition of the memory of Eisen’s face. He turned, his heart in his throat, and scrabbled at the door, keening, fingers digging at the wood near the jamb. He banged at the heavy wood with his shackled wrists until they were bruised, until he he was bleeding, until he was dizzied from exhaustion and fear.
He slid down beside the door and wrapped his arms around himself and fell into a restless sleep where he drowned again and again in waves of red, looking up to see Kieron right above him, within arm’s reach, watching him disappear under the surface. He would scream to his friend, but the sound of it was lost in the roar of the waves.
* * *
When Jet next woke, he got to his feet, heart pounding as he put his back to a corner and took in his surroundings. It wasn’t a dungeon at all, but well-lit, well-appointed, with a bed, an armoire, and plenty of other details he’d never noticed in the dark, in his panic. The windows in the room were tall and bright, covered in thin shades — when Jet pulled them open, he was thrilled to see outside, but disappointed when he realized the windows themselves were covered in bars too thin for him to get through. He tried the door that had been locked last night, and it was still locked. There was another door, which was open, but led only to a toileting room. Jet stood there, staring at the porcelain bowl for a long moment, his mind thoroughly attempting to unpack the absurdity of the situation. He ran water from the taps, relieved himself, drank thirstily, and dared to look in the washing room mirror.
His dark eyes were ringed in deep hollows; he looked half-starved, and his skin was scraped and filthy, his hair matted, his jaw covered in an uneven growth of unwanted beard.
There were two wide streaks of dried blood along his left cheek, from his temple, toward his lips, and then two slashes of blood across his mouth: the places where Immanis had touched him, after Eisen’s death.
Jet bowed his head, feeling his eyes burn, his heart ache. He breathed through his nose, slowly, struggling to calm himself, to center himself, when he heard the door to the room being unlocked. He grabbed the nearest thing at hand — a hairbrush — and ran from the bathroom toward the sound, teeth bared, his makeshift weapon raised. As he barreled into the main room, he was about to charge into the figure that had let themselves in when he realized it was but some sort of servant, carrying a tray.
He skidded to a halt, and the woman gave a cry of startlement and threw the tray at him, running for the door, pulling it shut and locking it yet again, leaving Jet alone in his tatters, holding the hairbrush, staring at the remnants of what might’ve been breakfast.
He tried the door, just in case, but found it locked, and instead, set about cleaning up the breakfast, to see if any of it remained edible. It looked remarkably like a breakfast from home, though the bread itself was different, as was the tea. The egg looked like an egg, but had smashed upon the tile, shell and yolk and porcelain cup all mingled.
He washed his hands after picking it all up, and set it near the door, and waited.
He got up and paced, sat down again, used the toilet, paced more. The waiting was interminable — he didn’t even know what he was waiting for, anymore. Another tray? The door to open? The Ilonan, Immanis himself, with a knife?
When at last the door was tried again, he stepped back and lifted his hands into view, as if to tell whoever it was that entered that he was no threat.
The same woman who’d come in, as before, entered, holding a tray. She looked ashen, worried, and carried a key on a tassel at her wrist, panting as she looked about the room, her eyes alighting on Jet. Immediately she began speaking in Ilonan, trembling so that the things on the tray rattled.
Jet could smell the egg, the toast and tea. His stomach growled as he put his hands palm up, saying, “Safe — I’m sorry. I’m so terribly sorry. I won’t hurt you.” Saying it aloud made him want to laugh, or vomit, or both. He’d been kidnapped by slave traders and had watched his companion kill himself at the behest of the man who currently owned him. He had been imprisoned, and he was the one making apologizes, promising safety.
The woman immediately looked baffled, staring at Jet. “You speak the Rough Tongue?” she said, blinking her wide eyes.
Jet echoed the look, and said, “If… that’s… what we’re speaking right now? Then… yes?”
“They told me you were a savage. That you didn’t speak at all,” she said, still trembling.
“I’m not a savage.”
“You certainly look a savage.”
“I just don’t speak Ilonan,” he said, exasperated.
“Oh,” the young woman murmured. “Well. I speak your tongue well enough.” She looked him up and down and said, “I’ve… brought you breakfast. I’m to take the old tray, and leave you with this one. Immanis said you were to wash and dress and come to dinner this eve if you were able.”
Jet paused, and then shook his head, certain he must have hit it. “I’m sorry?”
“You’re to come to dinner? Tonight?” the woman tried again, setting the tray down, and picking up the other one.
“You’re the guest of honor, I’m told. It’s why I said I’d bring you your tea. I never get to meet the game,” she explained, going back to the door, letting herself out.
“The game?” Jet said, walking to the door as she moved to pull it shut.
“Game, yes. What is the word,” she said, running through a list, “In Ilona we say venata, ferina, caro— yes. It is Caro.” And with that, she shut the door.
Jet leaned hard against the bed, feeling his knees buckle. Caro, he thought. Caro means meat.
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