This is Issue #61 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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Much of the dust in the streets had been washed clean with recent rains; gardens overflowed with flowers and thick shrubs, twisting vines and thorny succulents. The capital itself looked clean, for the most part — in the markets closest to the shipyards, however, things were muddied and stinking, more crowded, full of beasts of burden, broken machinery, and the bent backs of those hardest working and least fortunate. To be fair, Jet thought, the poverty of Ilonan people was not like the poverty of those back in Centralis. Here, more people gave of what they had when they could, and the various positions held in the government made sure to care for the people as much as possible, rather than entirely lining their own pockets. Overall, it felt as though there was less greed, less corruption — it still existed, but it did not kill citizens by the thousands.
Jet had not left the palace since he was deposited in front of Immanis so long ago, and no part of him marveled that he would have run, if he’d been given the chance back then. The day he walked out of his own accord, on a mission, he did not wonder at his love for those who had accepted him into their family.
Those who had made him their blood.
That day, he roamed the streets looking for the enemies of his acquired family, looking for those who would rise up against his brother, if they could. If given the chance. He robed himself in black, and got himself lost in the poorest district he could find, until came upon a group of three men harassing a street vendor and her son. They broke her wares and were in the process of taking her purse, knocking her child to the dirt as she fought, furious and unwilling to give in.
What burned Jet’s heart even more, they wore arm bands with signs belonging to the city-state of Shadows, the lands of the people furthest from the Luminora.
“Come now!” one shouted. “How are we to protect you if you don’t pay us?”
“You protect me from nothing! You are thieves!”
“You don’t think you need protection, then, little mother? Don’t you think your little boy deserves to grow up with both his hands?”
That’s quite enough, Jet thought, feeling his fury rise. He stepped from the shadows and called out to them in Ilonan. “You dare to behave this way in Ilona? With the Prince watching over you?”
Startled, the men stopped their assault, and turned to size him up. One of them remained with the woman to menace her, while the other two set upon Jet without delay — blades drawn. “The Prince?” one of them laughed, knocking Jet back into the other’s arms.
Jet felt his heart race, his breathing hitch — he fought, out of instinct and the need to make a show, but the other man was strong, and held him fast.
The attacker sneered, leaning in, baring his teeth as he brought the blade up to point it at Jet’s chest. “He was attacked in his own palace, you sandflea. By our brothers in Tenebrae. People who know we should have surged over the Luminora and set fire to the Westlands, and ruined them all. He is but one man — he has but one life. Just like you.” And with that, he leaned his weight against the long knife, and drove it into Jet’s chest, scraping between his ribs, impaling his heart.
For a moment, Jet panicked, crying out — what if it didn’t work this time?
It was too late to take it back, and his last thoughts in that instant were of Kieron, far and away, safe or dead or what — Jet didn’t know. But then the world went black. Jet sagged in the other man’s arms, his eyes rolling back as he dropped to the dusty alley. The man pulled out his knife, and laughed, kicking Jet’s body over.
Blood spilled, but only briefly; dead men do not bleed.
Jet laid utterly still, that strange fire in his chest scouring him from the inside out.
The men moved away from the body, and returned to the woman and her child; having seen the murder, they opened their purses to the attackers, unwilling to die, even if it meant they had to start with nothing.
“We won’t take it all, woman — but you’d better have more for us, next time,” laughed one of the men.
“There won’t be a next time,” said a voice in the alley behind them.
The men turned, and each of their hearts knew fear as they looked upon the man who had died in front of them, but now walked closer, and closer, pulling a massive sword of gleaming black glass from his side. The theatrics had seemed too much, to Jet, but Lucida had insisted. Give them something to tell stories about. Make it big, she’d said.
“Give her back her money,” Jet hissed, gesturing with the blade.
“How did you not kill him, Luto?” one of the others jeered. “Did you miss the heart?”
Luto looked furious and uncertain as he threw down his knife and drew his own sword. “I’ll find it,” he snarled.
Jet slipped close, and the men cheered, laughing, as Luto thrust his sword beneath Jet’s ribs hard enough that it erupted from his back in a fountain of hot, red wet. He looked down at the sword, and felt his knees nearly buckle, but reached to grab the sword with his off hand, and took a step forward. “You must have missed again,” he hissed, and blood ran from his lips.
“May the heavens have mercy,” the vendor wept.
The blade of black glass cleaved the air so cleanly, it sang; Luto’s head hit the dust, and his body fell to the alleyway. Jet pulled Luto’s own sword from his flesh and dropped it next to the body, sneering as he looked at the other two attackers. “Tell your brothers,” he growled. The hole that had been driven through his body seared shut, burning from the inside out, char falling from his skin, smoke filtering blue into the dusty air. And then it was simply healed, bronzed skin revealed unbroken, untouched.
The men gaped and staggered back, dropping their own weapons. “What–what would you have us tell them?” one of them asked, wide-eyed.
“Tell them something blacker than their shadows comes for them,” he laughed darkly. “Tell them it has a thousand thousand lives, and it will spend all of them to burn out the plague that Tenebrae’s children bring to Ilona. Tell them to stand beside Ilona’s prince, or live in fear of the darkness for generations.”
There, thought Jet. That’s bound to be dramatic enough. Lucy would be proud.
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