This is Issue #73 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
Bloody footprints were easy enough to follow; they were spaced out wide as Lucy had run from the shattered huqqa to her room. Jet didn’t bother to knock, but let himself in, and found her bedroom looking empty. Confused, it took him awhile to think to look down at the bloody footprints once more, to follow them. He walked back to her bed, and around to the other side of it, where he could see the footprints disappear. He crouched, lifting the bedskirt, and saw her beneath the bed, curled into a tight ball, one fist stuffed against her teeth. Her shoulders shook, but her sobs were silent.
The sight of her so heartbroken almost frightened Jet; he moved to crawl under the bed with her, and fold her into his arms.
The instant his hands touched her, she shifted to squirm into his arms and press her cheek to his neck.
He could feel how her skin was wet with tears. “Sister,” he began, “I–“
“Don’t,” she whispered. “Don’t talk, caro. Just… don’t push me away. Not now.” She shifted closer, wrapping herself around him. “Immanis will do as he must,” she said, her voice ragged. “And so will I.”
Jet shivered; he felt the threat in her words. He laid there with her for hours, letting the marble leech the heat out of his body, until he felt nearly as cold as the marble floor. “Perhaps he can be made to see reason,” he offered, his voice low and gentle.
She did not answer, but Jet held her, until finally he wondered, “Where is she?”
“Visiting her sisters,” Lucida said quietly.
“Why… why don’t you tell him the real reason you do not want him to marry her?” Jet wondered.
“Why don’t you tell him the real reason you do not want to marry me?” she countered.
Rather than answer her, he simply held her, and rubbed her back.
* * *
It was the middle of the night when the banging on the door came. Jet woke with a start, sitting up, and promptly smacked his head on something. Cursing aloud, he tried to shift, to sit up slowly, but his left arm was numb, everything was pitch black, and he had the sense of being surrounded, suffocated. Panic crept in, and his breathing quickened as he struggled to reach around, to squirm left and right, to look for a way out of wherever he was — even as he had no idea where that was.
Someone, somewhere, was shouting his name.
He felt tears in his eyes as his throat tightened — it was hard to breathe; his chest felt tight, and he uttered a low sob as he struggled to curl up, still not feeling his left side respond.
He struggled so much, he felt the dead weight of his left side shift — and then suddenly, Lucida’s voice could be heard. “What are you doing, caro?”
Memories rushed back in a flood. Relief and embarrassment overwhelmed Jet; for a moment, he wrapped himself around Lucida and gave a sob. He laughed, as well, and then uncurled himself, saying shakily, “I thought I died. I thought I was dead and buried.”
Snorting with laugher, Lucida shifted to crawl out from under the bed, and move to light her candles, and ignore the shouting and banging at the door.
Once Jet got himself free, he stood beside her, and looked to the door half-expectantly. “Do you… want me to let him in?”
Lucida shrugged, dismissive. “If you like. I don’t know why he’s howling around in the middle of the night.”
“Perhaps he’s drunk and apologetic.” Jet’s voice wasn’t optimistic so much as pathetically hopeful.
Lucy was equally dry, saying “Perhaps he’s drunk and has decided to make us do even more ridiculous things.”
Jet watched the door; it rattled as Immanis banged on it, and finally, he simply could not just stand there; he crossed the floor and opened the massive carved wooden door, revealing Immanis — dressed in his traveling regalia, looking gloriously furious.
“…what is this?” Lucida wondered, frowning, looking irritable.
“Westerners have crossed the line,” Immanis snarled. “The Viridian Valley has been destroyed.”
“What?” Lucida hissed, covering her mouth with her hands. “What? No! The farmlands? All those villages? All those people?”
Jet felt his heart sink, felt his gorge rise. He had grown into somewhat of a mercenary, but mass murder wasn’t something he could condone. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “Brother — sister, I’m so–“
“This was not you. They aren’t your people,” Immanis growled. “You are my blood. This is as much tragedy for you as it is for us,” he said, his expression shifting to sadness. “Reports came in of at least two ships, a scout and a supplier. The supplier was pouring an aetheris extraction down through their engines–“
Lucida put her hands over her mouth.
“–it rained down on the valley as they flew over each village; they burned nearly every last villager and beast of burden. Thousands of people,” Immanis hissed, hands whiteknuckled with rage. “When our ships came to figure out what was going on, their scout evacuated and destroyed the supplier and all the evidence — along with it two of our ships.”
“Oh,” she breathed, tears welling in her eyes, making them glitter.
Jet could barely draw breath enough to think, much less respond; the news had been like a heavy fist punching him in the stomach.
“I am going to travel to the farmlands, to visit those who survived, the few there were,” Immanis proclaimed.
Lucy immediately said, “We’ll come with you.”
Jet could feel his own rage — a fury he directed without care toward the ship responsible for so much death — rising up within him, burning hungrily from somewhere deep within his belly up through his throat, as though he could breathe fire. Hatred for the merciless slaughter of peaceful farmers and their families. Hatred for the ignorant fools who thought Ilona and its sister citystates were full of barbarian monsters. Hatred for the ship, and everyone on it.
He found himself breathing tightly, clenching his fists tightly enough that his palms ached. When he unclenched them and looked down, his hands were full of blood. He trembled, saying, “They should be found. They should be hunted down, found, and brought to justice.”
He looked up at both Lucida and Immanis, and in his eyes they saw only a desperately hungry fire. “We’ll most assuredly come with you, brother,” he said, “and if the monsters are anywhere near — the guardian of Ilona will make them pay for what they’ve done.”
* * *