This is Issue #137 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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Secta gawped, then closed his lips and stood tall, clearing his throat. “We were contemplating the various reasons the Legatus had for choosing that particular Westlander.”
Gemma pursed her lips briefly, but did not contradict the page; she glanced again at Lucida, and smiled faintly.
“It is plain,” Immanis declared. “Coryphaeus bears love in his heart for the paleskinned thing. He will ruin the name of his family if he outright declares it, and so he will be forced to keep the slave as a slave. It will remain close to him, rather than be shepherded out for hard labor or used by the soldiers for whatever purpose. In this fashion, he can have it as he desires, and people will gossip less than if he were to free it and attempt to make it his equal. That would have his family in an uproar. Now, if the two of you would mingle, hm? Make certain the Guardian and his lovely bride are well-escorted, and that our guests have all they desire.”
Secta bowed, and turned to head toward Lucida and Jet — and was somewhat shocked to see Gemma determinedly heading for Jules. “Where are you–” he began, looking for the Prince. Immanis had turned and left them, off to mingle as well; he couldn’t imagine not complying — he followed Gemma and hissed, “What are you doing?”
“Mingling,” Gemma said, looking almost wild with determination. She searched the buffets until she found what she was looking for, pulled a gilded dish of malagranata seeds from the table, looking triumphant. “I have to know,” she said to Secta, and went up to Jules and Coryphaeus, offering them. “Would you like a taste?” she said sweetly to both of them.
“Benigne facis,” Coryphaeus said, picking some with his fingers. “Try them,” he instructed Jules. “The pips are almost sour, but the flesh is a burst of sweet juice,” he said, and promptly ate his own, pleased.
Jules nodded, scooping up the ruby jewels of fruit — she put them on her tongue and chewed thoughtfully, her eyes lighting up in surprise and delight at the texture and sweetness. The instant the juice touched her tongue, she realized she’d had them once or twice before — when she was a little girl. Her mother had brought some home from a tour East. Eager, she took another handful, and ate them happily, nodding to Gemma.
For that instant, to have seen the honest wonder and gratitude on Jules’s face, Gemma felt terrible for what was soon to happen. She set the dish of seeds back on one of the tables without touching any of them; she herself had not eaten malagranata seeds in years, once she’d learned what happened to a seer who ate them. The juice itself was pleasant, and did not often cause trouble, but chewing the pips released a chemical quite similar to aether dust, something Jules might remember, with no small amount of fear. It, too, induced violent convulsions and left the victim nearly comatose while slipping from vision to vision. The only problem was, the chemical could not be washed off to relieve the effects, leaving the victim stuck in their own hellish torment until the seeds left their body.
Coryphaeus smiled at Jules; they shared a look of warmth that Nate had the unfortunate timing of catching. Lucida and the Guardian had just been pulled away by another set of nobles, and were talking animatedly nearby, paying little to no attention to either he, or Sha for the moment. Because the Guardian and his Princess were no longer talking to them, he watched his wife from across the room. His expression flitted between a mixture of longing and determination, and something darker; the way the Ilonan officer acted with her made a low fire wake behind his eyes.
“Y’makin th’face,” Sha said to Nate, whispering an aside to him.
“What face,” Nate growled, not taking his eyes off the pair. It wasn’t a question, really.
“Y’know damn well what face. Th’face that says y’fists itch,” Sha said, and handed him a glass of something cold and fruited. “Now ain’t th’time,” she said.
“Y’been sayin that. When they grabbed us outside the ship. In the camps. In their ship. In the dungeon,” Nate said irritably, and took the glass, making himself smile at the Ilonans who came over to touch his skin, his clothes, and marvel at him in a language in which he only knew a few trade words.
“Ain’t been the time, Quarter,” Sha said lowly, through her teeth, as she smiled as well.
“S’no ship, Sha,” Nathan said, sounding exhausted, trying not to wince as he watched Jules eat fruit and smile with the enemy. “M’no Quarter.”
“Ship or no ship, I will always be your fucking Captain, O’Malley,” Sha hissed, leaning in, her words sharp. A few Ilonans looked half-surprised at her outburst, and laughed and cooed, talking with one another excitedly; their surety at her helplessness infuriated Sha, but she kept it to herself, letting her own inner fire smolder. Not yet. Not yet. Soon, but not yet.
Nate turned to look at her and his expression softened, to see the hurt and anger on her face. “Aye,” he said, nodding in earnest, his eyes widening. “You got orders for me, Captain? Because we’re dead in the sky’n’without our charts.”
“The hunt,” Sha said. “The hunt’s where we can get out of here. They give us weapons, and they’ll turn us loose in a section of the city that’s dedicated wildlands. They’ve got a gated jungle full of cameras and such. The citystate and everyone on this side of the Ridge… they watch, when their Prince hunts. They’ve been looking forward to this. We don’t need to get him; we need to get to a gate. We get out… we’re free. I’m bettin we’re savvy enough to manage that.”
Nate turned his head subtly and looked at the Prince of Ilona, beast that he was, wild-eyed and covered in tattoos and paint. He marveled at the man’s leonine grace, at the cunning and arrogance he saw on his face and frame, and wondered aloud, “What I want to know is… how many of the hunted bet the same thing?”
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