This is Issue #120 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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The light in Hana’s eyes went out, and she hung from Immanis’s hands like so much dead weight.
He dropped her like refuse, shaking his hands off briefly, as though they had been contaminated in touching her, and she collapsed to the floor, sprawling, limbs splayed. When her head hit the tile, tilting at a grotesque angle, her glasses skittered off, one of the lenses popping out. She did not move; she did not twitch; there was no life left within her to be shown.
Immanis turned his back on the soldiers, those still alive from the Jacob’s crew, as though they were inconsequential, and addressed his guests vehemently. He spoke in what they called the vulgar tongue, so the soldiers would understand him as he condemned them. “This is the mercy we will show the Westlanders, if they cross our borders ever again. We shall not wait for more atrocities to be visited upon us! Even now we rebuild, and our armies grow. We are strong enough now, we could reclaim them — if they will not retreat, if they will not leave us be, we will destroy them!”
Nathan winced, turning his face away, gritting his teeth. His shoulders slumped, and he choked down his sobs as he turned, looking for Jules, who also lay on the floor like a broken doll. He had been under Immanis’s orders, under his control — it was only just now he seemed to see her for the first time. “Jules,” he breathed, and without thinking, he began to walk for her. “OhJules. Get up,” he whispered, unashamed tears on his face.
Sha’s shoulders shook; she dared not bow her head, dared not show defeat. The rest of her crew looked to her — these people were alive, still — she gritted her teeth and called out to distract Immanis, “What of us, your majesty? Have you spared us? Or only delayed our execution?”
Standing next to Secta, Gemma said softly, “Escort me from this place, would you?”
He nodded, offering out his hand. “If you please,” he said, and he deftly slipped through the crowds, leaving the murderous celebrations behind. “Are you well?” he wondered of Gemma, glancing back at her as they retreated.
Nodding, Gemma smiled sadly, “I have seen all that I wish to. I know our Guardian is the future of Ilona. Not for the Prince’s lack of strength, but–”
“Hold your tongue,” Secta said softly. “I believe with all my heart in your prophecy, Gemma, but there are too many about for you to give it voice here, now.”
* * *
Not noticing Gemma or Secta leaving, Immanis turned back to the soldiers, and looked Sha up and down, “What of you? What of you, indeed.” He glanced to the side and saw Nathan crouch over Jules and pull her up into his arms. He did not stop the man, but his lips curved in a cruel smile.
Kieron watched Nathan rock, holding Jules in his arms, his cheek pressed to hers. He murmured to her, but Kieron couldn’t hear it over the sound of Immanis addressing his guards.
The Prince gestured to Nathan and Jules, saying, “The man.” He gestured to Sha and said, “The captain.” He sighed, looking around, and dismissively said, “A handful of others. Get them arranged.
“And the rest?” asked a guard quietly.
“Deal with them,” Immanis shrugged. “Make them field slaves. Use them as target practice. Skin them and send them back to the Westlanders. I don’t care what you do to them. They were a delightful party gift, and now I’m done with them.”
The guard nodded, bowing as he left Immanis’s presence.
From the guests came a tentative query. “Majesty?” Coryphaeus straightened his uniform and asked quietly, “If you are disposing of the rest of them, I should like to choose one.”
“Legatus, is it?” the Prince said, looking Coryphaeus up and down. “You’re familiar looking.”
“My sister, Nixus, is Summus of one of your cavalry legios, majesty.”
“You’re Mirus, then?” Immanis watched Coryphaeus, one brow lifting.
“Coryphaeus, sir. Our brother was Mirus, sir,” Coryphaeus explained.
“The family’s done well for itself,” Immanis said, smiling faintly. He narrowed his eyes and stepped closer to Coryphaeus, quietly saying, “You’re welcome to as many of the filthy beasts as you like. I’ve had my pick.”
“I also wanted to let your majesty know — one of your soldiers…” Coryphaeus paused, watching how Immanis looked him over with keen interest. “Has the sight,” he finished.
“I did not know Mirus had a brother,” Immanis noted quietly. “I knew of two sisters.”
“My apologies, your majesty, but you are mistaken,” Coryphaeus said.
“That’s quite a thing to say to your Prince.” Immanis sounded amused, rather than angry. “Still, you are beautiful. And as long as you are a loyal citizen, Legatus, I am pleased. Which one?”
The change of topic confused Coryphaeus, he frowned, saying, “Excu–Oh. The–” He looked at the Prince, then out at the soldiers being ordered about by the guards. He looked back at the Prince, who smiled at him knowingly. I am pleased, he had said. Was it as simple as that? Coryphaeus chose. “The boy with the scar around his eye. He has the sight.”
“Which one do you pick, Legatus?”
“Ah. The redheaded one.”
“She may yet need breaking, Legatus,” the Prince noted. “Do have a care.”
Coryphaeus nodded, and retrieved Jules, throwing her over his shoulder, and walking out; he headed for his rooms in the guest wing, and once he was clear of being seen, he held her more carefully in his arms, the better to watch her face for any sign of waking.
* * *
Immanis called out to the wedding guests, saying, “Please let us now retire to the gardens. We’ll continue to celebrate, to drink to my darling sister’s good health and fortune.”
The prince guided the wedding guests from the hall, and the revelry continued, with blood staining the hems of nearly every noble Ilonan.
* * *
“Where shall I take you?” Secta wondered aloud, though mostly to himself.
“My lady’s chambers, if you please,” Gemma said, sounding mournful. “I should like to be alone, for now. Though if you think you may be needed elsewhere, I could–”
“I am needed in all places,” Secta sighed dramatically, rolling his eyes. “Truly, though, my master has what I believe to be a better idea. Come with me, Gemma, and perhaps the evening will not be all lost.”
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