This is Issue #135 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘DeathWatch’ then go to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and read from there, or go find the issue # you remember, and catch up from there!
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“Ready?” Coryphaeus said, standing near the door, adjusting his sash.
“…yes?” Jules answered, brightening her demure smile. Already diminutive, she looked even smaller in her bare feet and light, short robes. She wore sheer silks and a bit of paint, but no jewels; to decorate a slave too lavishly would be scandalous. She crossed the room to him and reached up to fuss at his uniform; fingers deftly tightening the knot of his sash, the medals and other decorations of his rank and accomplishments. She reached up to rub her finger against a bit of his kohl eye liner that had smeared, but it wouldn’t come off cleanly. Frowning, she licked her thumb and went at it again.
Coryphaeus caught her wrist sharply, and raised a brow, his expression obviously warring between faint disgust and strong amusement. “Really?”
“What?” Jules said, looking confused.
“Not even my mother spitwashed my dirty face, Commander,” he said, his lips curving into a teasing smirk.
Blushing hotly, Jules pulled her hand back and retorted, “Your makeup is smeared.”
Rolling his eyes, Coryphaeus pulled away to go to a mirror and adjust the liner, wiping it cleanly away where it had smudged. “There,” he sighed. “Come on, then. Being late would be a terrible idea.”
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Jules walked into the main dining area behind Coryphaeus, keeping her eyes on him, or low, not meeting anyone else’s gaze. She felt all eyes upon her as she made her way closer to where the Prince, the Guardian and the Princess, and all their retinue were standing, and once they stopped, she made a low bow and curtsy, then stood with her eyes cast down, waiting on any instructions.
“It seems your gift is less clumsy now,” Immanis noted with a smirk.
“I’ve taken your advice,” the Legatus said, smiling. “I’ll take good care of such a gift; I imagine it will be quite loyal.”
The hall itself was full of dignitaries, well dressed nobles, other Ilonan officers with whom Coryphaeus was familiar; Jules was shown around to nearly everyone, put through her steps like a prized mare. Almost every Ilonan touched her at some point, to lift her chin, to tentatively put their hands on her pale skin, noses wrinkling in a combination of distaste and amusement.
She was only startled when Nathan and Sha were announced; they walked in, dressed well, their clothing cleaned of blood and grime. Immanis went to them, greeted them warmly, and explained — in the plain tongue, seeming for their benefit — that they were to be the hunt’s greatest prey. They did not act surprised at the announcement, and schooled their own reactions when the crowd burst into applause, and treated them like celebrities, or perhaps like fascinating creatures one might find in a zoo.
Sha looked at Immanis and the other Ilonans with a wary distrust, while Nathan looked at Jules with no small amount of fear and agony.
Coryphaeus noticed Nathan’s gaze, and leaned closer to Jules, saying quietly, “Will he make this difficult?”
Jules fought back tears, clearing her throat, and said with some measure of pride, “Nate makes everything difficult. It’ll be fine.” After a beat, she added, “Dominus,” as though to make certain she kept her addressing right, while in public. She signaled silently to Nathan, caught his attention just enough to communicate her need to him — don’t fight, don’t make a scene — and smiled blankly as she turned away, once she saw the recognition on his features.
“I like the little red one,” Lucida said bluntly, the words rolling from her tongue in sheer delight. “She’d be a darling cupbearer. I’d pour the wine for my husband right between her thighs,” she laughed, looking her up and down from where she stood nearby.
Jules blushed, her skin flushing pink from the roots of her hair past the hems of her robes.
“Oh, caro,” Lucida purred, walking over. She sauntered right up to Jules and walked around and around her, eyeing her, leaning in close, pulling at her robe to look at the way her milkwhite skin had turned a deep pink. “The little thing can turn red all over!” she laughed.
“Yes, bella,” the Guardian said, smiling. “The palest of the Westlanders flush noticeably pink when angry, embarrassed, or aroused,” he said in the plain tongue. “This one looks to be… Celdish?”
“Some Celd,” Jules said quietly.
“And some–?” Jet prodded, looking curious.
“Kriegic,” Jules said, lifting her chin and looking at Lucida. Though she’d worn the woman’s body, she felt little but wariness, to look at her. It wasn’t until she glanced at Gemma that her heart broke all over again; the remnants of the slip still clung to her, wrapped in aether and exhaustion. There had been such love between them, but right now, all she could see in Lucida was a thin sort of meanness, a predatory demeanor.
“So tiny for a Krieg,” Lucida laughed. “They are pale, too, but I have not seen them red. Maybe they are only red on the front, and we only see their backsides, when they run away, hmm?” she teased. “How much of you gets red, little Krieg?” she whispered darkly, pulling Jules’s robes open entirely. She threw them over Jules’s shoulders, and let them drop, leaving the once-quartermaster of the Maxima naked in the midst of the crowd, standing in a puddle of silks.
Jules’s eyes widened, but she made no move to hide herself. She looked at Lucida, and said nothing, then flicked her pale eyes to Coryphaeus, and still said nothing but held his gaze, focusing hers into a look of calm subservience.
Coryphaeus’s eyes narrowed slightly; he pursed his lips, but said nothing, his jaw clenched.
Immanis noted the reaction, and the lack of response, and was moved by Coryphaeus’s polite manner. Poor Legatus, Immanis thought, without cruelty. How your face betrays you so easily. He chuckled, shaking his head as he said, “Sister — you’re being a bit rough with a gift I’d given someone else. A little restraint is in order. If you wanted your own Westlander, you know I’d have kept you one.”
Jules blushed even darker, but made no move to pull away. She gritted her teeth as she smiled, and kept her eyes on Coryphaeus for reassurance.
“From her brows to her belly, front and back!” Lucida said delightedly, and stepped aside to show Immanis. “You chide me for examining a slave?” she said, rolling her eyes. “Surely you’re joking. Just look at it! I can’t imagine–”
“Luci–” began Immanis, his tone almost warning.
“Lucida,” Jet called from where he’d purposefully slipped away to talk with Sha and Nate, “Come meet my opponents!” He navigated the waters of politics carefully, based on Secta’s advice, and he knew to keep brother and sister from playfully squabbling too much, especially in the midst of a celebratory gathering.
Lucida laughed, cupped Immanis’s cheek with her hand, patting it gently and walked off to talk to Jet, leaving her brother behind.
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