This is Issue #117 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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“I am…” Sha paused, looked distinctly pained, and said, “…was Captain of the TS Jacob, your majesty,” Sha said quietly, looking Immanis Venator full in the face. She showed no fear, but wore respect for the man, without trembling from anything further than exhaustion. If she’d been any less composed, any less iron-willed, she might’ve wept — not out of fear, but exhaustion and loss. That ship was the last thing she’d had linking her to her father, and the coat that went down with it was the last thing of her brother’s. She felt more alone in this chamber of hundreds than she had in a long while.
“I was Quartermaster of the same, your majesty,” Nate supplied, following Sha’s example. His jaw was clenched, otherwise, but he kept himself from glaring; he knew damned well they were caught, and there was a high likelihood they weren’t getting out of this. At all.
“And I was Quartermaster of the Maxima, your majesty,” Jules said, her voice gone dull. She looked around for Coryphaeus, wondering if he’d changed, if he’d been invited to the royal wedding where she and her friends were being paraded in as a new set of slaves. She looked down at her feet for some time, but then looked up toward Immanis.
When she did, he responded to her statement, as though waiting for her to acknowledge him. “Ah, the Maxima,” Immanis said softly. “Your Captain attempted to murder me,” he said to her, his voice low, his eyes bright with something that nearly seemed like amusement. “He is dead now. My sister put an end to him, after his violent outburst.”
Jules said nothing in reply, but pressed her lips together until they were a hard line. She looked down, unwilling to meet the Prince’s eyes once more, once his attention was fully on her.
Immanis stepped down off the dais, and walked to stand next to Jules, looking out over the sea of soldiers. He was unwilling to be ignored. “Tell me, what is it that a Quartermaster does?”
“The captain runs the ship. The quartermaster runs the crew,” Jules explained, glancing from the Prince to the soldiers and cadets out on the marble floor. “It was my job to make sure the crew were well-suited to their tasks, got what they needed. I handled placement, sleeping, distribution of supplies,” she said quietly.
“Ship-mother to the soldiers?” Immanis purred.
“You could say that,” Jules said, her voice quieter. She grew more nervous, her heart in her throat; she didn’t like the way Immanis began to pace, stalking around her and looking her up and down. He had the air of a cat playing with its food.
“Are they loyal to you? As children are to their mothers?” Immanis wondered of her.
“Moreso, for some,” Jules said, trying to keep the pride from her voice. “We trust one another,” she said, and tried to leave it at that.
Immanis nodded, looking out over the people in the hall. “Tell your soldiers — those who survived the Maxima, those loyal to you, to rise,” he said.
Jules turned and let her eyes settle on the faces watching her, took a long, deep breath, and called out, “Maxima v’stante!” The sound of them all getting to their booted feet was a brief thunder in the hall.
The Ilonan guests of the wedding watched in awe and excitement; they had not had such a show as this in ages.
“Kriegic,” Immanis chuckled. “You’re a tiny thing for such an angry, ugly language.”
Jules didn’t know how to respond to that, and so she did not; she waited, looking out at the faces she’d known for years now, dirtied, bloodied, exhausted.
Immanis called out to his own soldiers and guards, and had them all walk amongst the crew who were standing.
Jules knew the word he used–knife–but no one was being harmed. Instead, each man and woman waiting down on the chamber floor was unbound, and given something. She couldn’t tell what it was until the Prince’s men left the floor.
Every soldier and cadet standing held a short, sharp knife.
“You know the Ilonan tongue, yes?” Immanis wondered of Jules, turning to look at her.
Jules found herself pinned by the dark eyes of the Ilonan Prince. Something about them was both enveloping and inflaming. She felt her cheeks flushed. “Yes,” she answered. “Yes, your Majesty.”
Immanis said, “What is ‘deploro‘ in your tongue, then?”
Sha watched, breathless, her heart in her throat. It wasn’t like Jules to be docile. Where was the spitfire screamer who wanted to flay the Ilonans alive? Where was her fury?
“Helpless,” Jules said, strangely captivated by Immanis’s gaze. “To be… to be helpless.”
“You do an injustice to the tongue,” Immanis said, stepping close to her. “It is not merely to be helpless. It is to wail, bitterly.” He reached a hand and touched her cheek, gently.
Sha was stunned at the gesture. She trembled as she stood at the foot of the dais, watching Immanis next to Jules, watching his fingertips touch her.
Nathan looked ready to vomit. He clenched his fists and his jaw and struggled to remain still, breathing steadily through his mouth.
Still, Immanis kept talking quietly. “To weep in anguish. To be consumed in grief, while unable to change the situation. You currently feel helpless, do you not?”
Jules was silent, but gave the most subtle nod, fear shining in her eyes.
He nodded to her, approval and praise on his features, as though he loved Jules for that admission. He turned to look toward the sea of soldiers and cadets. “Maxima — ubitsebya!” he commanded them, smiling grimly. The Kriegic word was not known to everyone listening, but its command was understood by those that mattered.
It was certainly known to Jules.
Her eyes widened, and the world felt as though it were in slow motion as she turned to look at Immanis, her expression all shock and horror.
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