This is Issue #119 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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“This — this is a cheap price you’re paying. One for every ten or twenty,” Immanis growled. “You did not try hard enough.”
“You lying dog,” Nathan cried. “We killed him. He went down with his ship. Take these fucking shackles off me and I’ll–“
“Stop,” Immanis commanded.
Nathan went silent, but looked baffled, panting, staring at Immanis in fury and terror, both.
Immanis laughed aloud, and said to Nathan, “Dog, hmm? Perhaps you are the dog.” He bared sharp white teeth in a feral grin, stalking closer to him. His every movement was followed by the Ilonan wedding guests; they watched him as they watched a predator. Immanis watched Nathan with something more like hunger, looking down, smirking. “Kneel, dog.”
All of the Jacob‘s crew watched in horror as Nathan dropped to his knees and bowed his head. After a moment, he looked up at Immanis, adoration on his face. “Your Majesty,” he said softly.
“Fuck me,” Sha breathed. She shuddered, but then stopped struggling against the guards who held her, the knife still against her skin. “What is going on here?” she wondered, fear touching her voice. Nathan knelt to no one. He wouldn’t even do it for her in play; he made a show of it, a game of it. Was the Prince so terrifying? Was Nathan planning something stupid?
“Tell me the truth, dog,” Immanis said, staring down at him, reaching to touch his cheek with gentle fingertips. He had the kindest touch, the gentlest expression. And then he crouched in front of Nathan and slid his hand over the quartermaster’s ruined arm, digging his fingers in and twisting it at the joint. “Do you wish to fight me?”
Nathan’s expression shifted to agony, and tears spilled over his cheeks as he shuddered with the pain. The muscles in his shoulder twisted; he panted as he tried to stay still. “Yes,” he begged, gritting his teeth.
“Nathan, NO!” Sha shouted, struggling against the Ilonan guards that held her yet again. She could see the pain, the misery on Nathan’s face. This was no game. Whatever this was, it was true, and it was terrible. “NO! Nathan — No NO!” Her eyes were wild; she was not yet as panicked as Jules had been, but she was getting damn near close.
The laughter and delight of the wedding guests was replaced with quiet murmuring. They looked at one another as if gauging whether each neighbor would show mercy, in the face of this pain.
Another cry split the quiet, then.
“Mercy!” shouted Kieron, tears on his cheeks. “Mercy, your majesty!” He could feel his heart thundering, his head swimming. How had it gone so wrong, so quickly?
Soon, all the Centralites joined in. “Mercy!” came the cry from all the soldiers kneeling in the blood of their comrades.
“What is that I hear?” Immanis said, releasing Nathan. He stepped away and strode amongst the fallen soldiers, bare feet stepping with surety in the puddles of blood. His robes trailed in the gore and painted the marble tiles in whorling crimson. He did not seem to mind it. “Is it ‘mercy’ you cry for?” he wondered of the soldiers. “Do you beg me for ‘mercy’?” he asked, looking at each of them in turn.
The marble hall of the Ilonan Prince sang of blood, reeked of copper and salt. The guests of his majesty watched the display in both fascination and terror.
“Yes!” the soldiers begged, nearly as one. “Mercy!” Their voices lifted in a strange song, and for a moment, Immanis looked almost radiant as he walked through the groupings, touching individual soldiers, watching their eyes. He took their measure as he passed by them. He touched Kieron’s chin, turning him so he could see his face, the stitched scar around his eye. He ran his thumb over the stitches, and cocked his head to the side while looking at Kieron for a long moment. He finally released the boy, and moved on to others.
Immanis stopped next to Jules, and leaned down low. “Mercy, hmm?” he wondered, pursing his lips. He reached down to put his hand around her throat. He lifted her, and she did not resist. He had her on her tiptoes, and she hung limp in his grasp, her eyes glassy. He began to squeeze, a sneer of hate curling his lips, and Jules’s face darkened, her lips growing purple. “You melted the flesh off infants while you sat high and safe in your ship. You didn’t kill the monster responsible, and you should have,” he growled at her. The blood of the airman who’d died in her arms still ran from her body. She didn’t fight Immanis as he choked the life from her. She didn’t seem to know it was happening at all. “What kind of mercy were my people shown? What kind of mercy fell upon them from the sky at the hands of your Captain? He could not have done it himself — but you could have stopped him yourself. You should have thrown him from the rail,” he hissed, lifting her high, so the entire chamber could see Jules’ eyes roll back in her head.
Just then, Kieron saw a swift movement.
Hana darted past him, a knife in her hand. She must have picked it up from a dead soldier near her. “Let her go!” she demanded, determination hardening her features. She managed to stab Immanis, but the blade glanced off his spine and only barely bit into his back.
Nathan finally shook himself free of his reverie, shouting, “Hana! Hana, NO!”
Immanis dropped Jules, cursing in Ilonan, and she fell to the floor, boneless, staring off at nothing. He whirled around to pull the knife from his flesh, as guards ran up to grab Hana. Immanis waved them off, and dropped the bloodied knife to the floor. Immanis laughed at Hana, who took a step back, then slipped and fell in the darkening puddles of blood on the floor. “This is you, begging for mercy?” he asked of her, laughing aloud and shaking his head, as though it were the funniest thing in the world.
The chorus of soldiers begging grew louder, until Immanis leaned down over Hana, offering a hand out to her, to help her up. They went silent, as Hana moved to stand to her feet, staring up at Immanis in bewilderment. The whole hall went silent; even the whispering of the wedding guests tapered to nothing.
“I shall give you mercy,” Immanis said, his voice almost kind, reassuring. He smiled, and reached to cup Hana’s face in his hands.
The sound of her neck breaking echoed in the nearly silent chamber.
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