This is Issue #139 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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Kieron knelt on the floor of his rooms, wretched and waiting. When the door burst open, he looked all at once petrified and hopeful. He saw Jules in Immanis’s arms, and his eyes went wide. “What happened?” he wondered. Without any commands, he was his own man, and he ran for her, tears stinging the freshly re-opened cut around his eye.
He had barely gotten to her, and only just reached out for her when he was brushed away by guards who followed, who sought to put distance between Kieron and Jules, while Immanis was in the room.
“She is having too many visions,” Immanis said tersely, putting her down on the bed. “They pain her.” He was neither cruel nor gentle, but treated Jules as though she were merely a piece of furniture.
“It’s like the explosion,” Kieron said, remembering the aether dust, looking at Jules as she lay limply on the coverlet, one hand half outstretched, as if pleading.
Jules didn’t move, save for her shallow breath; her eyes were closed, but even the lids didn’t flutter — as though she weren’t asleep, but gone further. Dead. Her stillness frightened Kieron.
“I wasn’t–” his voice broke with emotion as he says, “I wasn’t lying, majesty. I swear I have visions. I see death. I see what’s coming.” He looks lost, staring at Jules, unable to pull his eyes away. He gave a low cry, without resistance, and found himself picked up by the guards. “What’s– what–”
“You will rejoin your friends. I am no longer waiting, Westlander,” Immanis growled. “I have had too much denied me, and I have missed the hunt. The guardian and I will prepare, and you and your companions will be taken to the grounds. You will be given your weapons, and released inside the walls. It will be time.”
“What… what’ll happen to Jules?” Kieron whispered, shivering, feeling unnaturally cold.
“She will remain with me. She’ll take the place you’d have had,” Immanis said. “If she proves useful, I shall keep her there. You have not proven useful, and so you will be in the hunt. But take heart. Your friends will be there with you. You can all die together.”
Kieron sagged in the arms of the guards, closing his eyes. He wept helplessly, and let himself be carried off, looking back one last time to see Jules, still and pale, alone on the bed.
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“Wait, now?” Sha said, looking startled. They’d only just finished eating a massive dinner; it was a surreal experience to be fed and comforted by the very people who intended to kill you soon.
“Yes,” Jet answered, nodding. “You’ll have the advantage of a head start. The Prince and I will come to the killing grounds in another twelve hours. Not before. That will give you time to make preparations, and then get rest, if you believe you can somehow rest.”
“Where…. where did the Prince take Jules?” Nathan wondered, his voice returning boldly after an initial crack.
“Likely to a special set of chambers,” Jet said, shrugging. “A place for her to be safe, from which she can have her prophecies for the Prince.” Jet gestured to another hallway, saying, “Now, follow the guards, if you will.”
Lucida was ushering the other guests to their various lounges and smiling warmly. “You’ll be notified when it is time to gather for the hunt. We’ll watch in comfort and style; you can place bets if you desire, on which prey will be killed when and by whom.”
A noble in the crowd called out a question, and Lucida laughed merrily, saying, “My brother and my husband will not be harmed in the hunt; the prey could never hope to best either of them. If you wish to bet against the Prince, you’re welcome to, but no one has ever escaped the arena,” she said. “The odds would make you wealthy, but the Prince might not be pleased to know one of his allies bet against him,” she laughed.
And with that, Sha and Nathan found themselves marched directly from the palace to a motorcarriage; they weren’t handled roughly, but there was no stopping, now. They were ushered into the back, where a small handful of others sat against the walls, hands in their laps. They look like dull-eyed sheep, Sha thought, and she moved to find a place to stand.
Nathan did the same, reaching to clasp hands with the people he recognized.
A murmur went up amongst the dozen or so prisoners, most of whom were her crew. Some of them managed to look heartened. Some had obviously been much abused. They all held various rucksacks or boxes of supplies; some had weapons, but seemed to have no idea what to do with them. The motorcarriage gave a rumbling shudder, and left the palace, rolling over cobbles, avoiding foot traffic.
The back swayed, much like a ship on the sea, or in the air — Sha didn’t bother to sit; she welcomed the feel. For a moment, if she closed her eyes and fought hard, it was nearly like being home.
“Captain,” greeted a voice from further within the vehicle.
Sha opened her eyes on Djara, who was sitting in the back, leaning against the carriage’s wall.
A wide cut ran alongside Djara’s jaw, healing, but a blade had obviously cut her, and taken the bottom third of her ear. It was still healing. She smiled grimly. “Fancy meeting you here. Had hoped you’d managed to get your way out of this.” She was absently stroking the hair of a prisoner who’d laid his head in her lap, and was seemingly managing to sleep, if fitfully.
Sha opened her mouth to say something, when the motorcarriage lurched, briefly, and the young man in Djara’s lap was revealed as she smoothed his hair back from his wounded face. His cheek had been split wide, right around his eye, and the scar would be pink and silver and longlasting.
Sha’s mostly-broken heart gave another awful shudder — it was Kieron.
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