This is Issue #134 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial.
Click that link to go find DeathWatch, then browse to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and start from there, if you need to, or look for the last issue # you remember, and get caught up!
* * *
“Please,” Kieron breathed, looking up at Immanis in desperation. He knelt before his new Master, looking both terrified and miserable. “Please, I swear it. I have seen thousands of deaths in my lifetime. I have seen them since I was only a little boy. I saw them all through school.” His face lit up and he blurted out, “My best fr–”
“Silence,” Immanis murmured.
Immediately, Kieron closed his mouth and bowed his head. When he wept, his wincing and salty tears stung the line of stitches that had begun to heal. Jet. Jet, his name is Jet. I have to remember. I have to find him. Is he dead? This palace is huge. I haven’t seen him die… but I don’t watch everyone die. What if he’s already gone? He slumped further and shook his head, uttering a low moan of distress.
“Cease that immediately,” Immanis sighed, sounding irritable. “Sit up.”
Kieron stopped crying instantly. He sat up and looked at the Prince, expectant, watchful, waiting. When Immanis’s fist swung against his cheek, he did not flinch or pull away. His eyes tracked the movement, and at the last minute, closed in anticipation. He went sprawling across the tiles, hitting his head against the floor. His skull bounced; his teeth clacked together, and he went still, stunned.
Immanis stood over him, fists clenched; furious — he drew back his foot, ready to level a kick at Kieron’s ribs when he saw the brands at his shoulder, and instead, got a better idea.
* * *
Kieron roused to the scent of burning flesh. He tried to pull away from the feeling of tightness, of sharp heat, but he heard Immanis say, “Hold. Still.”
And so he did.
He was opening his eyes to see what had happened, but the world was out of focus, and no matter how he blinked or shook his head, it would not resolve. He moaned lowly, thickly, tasting blood.
“Does it hurt?” Immanis wondered, sounding curious and pleased.
“Yes,” Kieron whimpered. “Very much.”
“Good,” Immanis growled.
* * *
In another wing, Jet slept amidst warm tangled sheets that smelled of Immanis’s skin; he buried his face in his lover’s pillow and dozed with a half-smile on his face. If the boy of the Academy could have seen the man he had become… he would not have been recognizable.
In dreams, he was back there, at the Academy, running up and down the halls, searching for Kieron, looking for him after one of his episodes, knowing he would find the boy holed up in some out-of-the-way place, unable to get back to their dorms, and so riding out the waves of agony and nausea that came post-slip.
* * *
Kieron held still, while his skin blackened and sizzled under the brand, and blood ran down his back, but he was not silent. He cried out, remembering the way it felt when the soldiers of the Tropaeum had branded him aboard the ship; those wounds had yet to heal, and his abused body protested the rough treatment. “Please,” he wept, not quite knowing why he begged, or what he hoped to gain from it — every piece of him struggled to please. He wanted to do whatever it was Immanis wanted; when the Prince looked at him in fury, it wounded nearly as much as the brand.
“Please what?” Immanis whispered. “Another? Shall I mark you again?”
“My Lord,” Kieron wept. “Would it please you?” he asked, shaking, holding himself, struggling to remain conscious and not humiliate himself in front of his master. “Mark me any way you wish if it so suits you.”
“It suits me,” Immanis hissed, and he pressed the red brand against Kieron’s shoulder once more.
Kieron’s scream lifted high and inhuman, a wordless shriek of pain that echoed throughout the Palace. Everyone who could hear it felt a shiver crawl up their spine.
* * *
In a large suite of rooms with a cool cloth over her eyes and the increasingly familiar taste of aetheris on her tongue, Jules wept, angrily refusing Coryphaeus’s ministrations when he tried to ease her. She had heard Kieron cry like that before, aboard the Tropaeum, because she refused to answer the Captain’s questions.
* * *
Alone in their respective rooms, Sha and Nate paced, looked at books left on the bookshelves, ate the food they were served, lived like caged animals and hated every minute of it.
More and more, Sha fell into a deeper depression; her ship was gone, her crew had been sold into slavery or killed outright, and the idea that she might live through any given day was both tenuous and repulsive, all at once.
Nate tried to talk to or charm anyone who might listen, begged for information, but the Ilonans weren’t interested in anything he had or could do. They regarded him like something of a wild beast, too stupid to rationalize, too worthless to bargain with. They told him little to nothing, but encouraged him to keep up his strength for the coming hunt.
* * *
Gemma and Lucida broke from their tangle of kisses, and Lucida cocked an eyebrow, looking to Gemma curiously. “Was that a man?” she wondered of the handmaiden.
“I believe so, my love,” Gemma answered. “Secta tells me your brother thought he had found yet another seer, but it turns out the boy may have been a fraud. That is likely the sound of the fraud being punished.”
Lucida chuckled lowly, sighing. “It is a good thing that our Guardian is indestructable. Whatever appetites my brother may have for pain may finally be appeased.”
“Indeed,” Gemma laughed.
* * *
Alone with Immanis, Kieron dug his nails into his palms hard enough to leave them bloody as he screamed, and yet did not pull away. He allowed himself to be marked, burned, brutalized, and his voice wavered and trembled, and finally broke.
* * *
Alone in his bed, Jet woke with a start, his heart thundering in his chest, one hand stretched out, reaching. He struggled to catch his breath, tears rushing to his eyes. In his dreams, he’d only just found Kieron; he’d opened the last door and found him huddling on the floor, alone and broken.
In the waking world, he had only the memory of Kieron’s eyes, beautiful and wide and begging.
* * *