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.
* * *
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.”
* * *