This is Issue #151 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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The sound of trumpets announced the arrival of the Prince and the Guardian. They were played over loudspeakers placed along the walls and at various fountains and statuettes within the massive city jungle. A herald’s voice penetrated the rainy dimness, proclaiming the impending deaths of all those being hunted.
Garrett hurried up, trying not to make too much noise as he followed the trail he’d found, fairly certain it would lead him to Kieron’s group.
Booted feet went as quickly as possible, over terrain growing more and more slick as the rain came down faster and faster. When he burst out of the undergrowth and revealed himself, a solid dozen of the prey turned, bringing up their weapons immediately. Kieron himself lifted a horrific-looking thing, a snarl peeling back his lips, baring his teeth. He glared at Garrett, who immediately pulled up his goggles and pulled down his scarves, saying, “Brody. Brody, it’s me!”
Nate bared his teeth, not lowering his weapon, and when Kieron began to lower his, Nate stepped in front of him, bringing the muzzle of his own gun up.
Garrett could see the man’s arm had been injured, was being held funny, and so he wasn’t aiming as well with the gun he had, but he was pretty damned sure the gun would compensate for even a modestly poor aim. “Brody?” he pled. “It’s Garrett. From the Academy.”
Kieron’s expression was absolutely bewildered; he stared at Garrett for so long, Sha grew nervous, saying, “C’mon boys. We gotta make good time. Vet the man or let Quarter shoot him.”
“Professor?” Kieron whispered, finally. “Professor Garrett is that… is… is that you?” He looked around, as though to confirm that he hadn’t lost his mind — that everyone else could see the man, and that he wasn’t an illusion.
“It’s me, Brody,” Garrett said, offering out a hand.
How quickly Kieron’s expression could shift from hardened killer to baby-faced student. Tears came to his eyes, sudden and swift; he took two steps forward and took the hand, squeezing it tightly, hanging on to the lifeline as though it were the only real thing left in the world. “I don’t know why you’re here, or how you got here, Professor, but we’re in an awful bind.”
“I know, I have s–” Garrett began.
“Let’s move, gentlemen,” Sha hissed. “In case anyone’s forgotten, they turned loose the lions.”
“I came for you, Brody,” Garrett said, glancing back over his shoulder. “For you and Jet. I’ve come to take you home.”
At the mention of Jet, Kieron flinched, turning white. “Jet.” He hung his head for a moment, his eyes closing. “Jet’s… he’s gone, Professor. I know he was here. I know he was with the Prince. I know it. But I can’t find him. I haven’t seen him. Not even a trace. I think he was–” Kieron’s voice broke, then, and he cleared his throat, struggling with the words. Something dark and icy, far below all rational thought, lifted its melancholy head and wailed, howled, gnashed its teeth and sobbed brokenly, lost to its anguish.
Garrett saw that ugly thing sink its teeth into Kieron’s heart, and tear it in two.
“I think he was killed before I ever came,” Kieron whispered. “I think I s-saw the last of him laying at Venator’s feet,” he said, his voice rough with horror as he clapped a hand over his mouth, struggling to keep it in. Having said it aloud, Kieron felt heavier, more broken than he’d ever known. “I haven’t had a vision of him since,” he whispered.
He’d been without Jet for a year, after what had been a lifetime with him. His first friend. His first love.
Kieron stood a little taller, swallowing back tears, wiping his face on the back of a dirty sleeve. “I didn’t want to believe it, but I think he’s gone,” Kieron said, lost.
Garrett took a step forward, to lay a hand on Kieron’s shoulder, but the man that had been called ‘Quarter’ did it first, and pulled the young man into a quick, rough embrace. “I’ll buy you a bottle to cry into, cadet,” he growled gently, “Once we get out of this fucking shithole. I’ll even help you find the bottom of it. But for right now, swallow it. I know enough about dead men that says if you don’t lay your hands on the body, you don’t have to believe it. If we can get out of this place, we will look for your friend. One way or another, we’ll get you both home.”
Kieron nodded, clearing his throat. The panicked, broken look in his eyes was shoved back and behind anything and everything else he could hide it behind.
As the last of the trumpeting echoes faded away, Nate re-shouldered his gun and said, “All that stupid noise means our time of being ahead is gone.”
“Then it’s time to just run,” Sha said. “Everyone stick together and run for the northeast.”
Garrett looked at the group and said, “You’ve got enough people here — it’s only him and his Guardian, right? Two against… how many?”
Nate looked at Garrett grimly and said, “Twenty-six. It’s not enough.”
“You’re telling me that twenty-six people can’t take down two? You all are airmen, right? Allied airmen?” Garrett said, somewhat incredulous. “There’s no way he can–”
“He kills with words.” Sha’s voice was sharp, and brooked no argument. “He killed the Maxima’s survivors. Nearly a hundred men and women. Right in front of us. To prove that he could. That our lives were worth so little, because of one man’s revenge. He simply ordered the Maxima’s crew–”
Garrett saw, played back in his head, the bloody retelling of the wedding day celebration — the gift that had been presented to the Prince. He saw the people drop to the ground bloodied at their own hands. He watched the actors and actresses do it again and again for the plaza inhabitants. People cheered and threw coins; he listened to the retelling over and over, but had refused to believe it was literal. He assumed the men and women died because of the Prince — but could not fully accept it was merely because the Prince insisted it happened that way.
“–and then he snapped Hana’s neck with his bare hands.” Djara’s voice was low, angry.
“And took Jules,” Nate said quietly.
“We’ll get her,” Kieron said, and Garrett was surprised to see how fierce the boy looked. “We’ll get out of here, and go back for her. I know where the Prince is keeping her.”
They trudged through the rain, clambering over logs, hurrying along through the growing gloom, silent for awhile, until finally Kieron turned to look at Garrett, marveling. “Professor, I still don’t understand why you’re here. Or… or how, even.”
“I’m here because I should have throttled you instead of letting you leave,” Garrett said. “I believe your gift. I understand what you can do. But I don’t think it means you should hide yourself away. I know you loved Jet. And I know you’d have done anything to keep him safe. But I also know he loved you, and he would rather have been loved than safe. It’s a message I’ve been listening to for years, Brody. Long before I ever knew you. I only just started to listen.”
“But how did you get here?” Kieron said. “You’re a… you’re a professor, Professor. Are you taking us to meet an infantry team, or an airship or something? Have the Allied forces invaded”
“No, Brody,” Garrett said, wearing a tired smile. “I got dropped this side of the Ridge just inside the blighted zone. I’ve come to extract you myself. I didn’t know I’d have more than two of you to handle, but since it looks like you all can fight, I feel like we could stand a chance.”
“Blighted zone? Extracting?” Djara said, piping up, looking interested. “Are you an IT man?”
“I am,” Garrett said. “I ran with an Invasive Tactical unit awhile back.”
“Bullshit,” Nate snorted. “IT Units fight until they’re dead; they don’t retire. And no pilot’s crazy enough to fly any airship through that area.” He shook his head and rolled his eyes, dismissive, then headed toward the front of their group as they hurried through the jungle.
Garrett watched the man walk away, shrugging slightly. “Dani’s… crazier than he lets on, I think.”
“Wait a second. Wait,” Sha murmured. “What unit?”
“…Fifty-seventh,” Garrett said, frowning.
“Holy shit,” Sha said, firing off a quick salute as her eyes went wide. “You’re him? You’re Alec Garrett? The Alec Garrett? Shit, maybe we could make a stand.” Many of the crew, turned and looked at the newcomer with astonished eyes, smiling in near worship.
Kieron looked lost, glancing back and forth from Garrett to Sha, and back again, saying, “I… I don’t understand.”
“Kieron, your, uh, professor here’s not just a bookworm,” Sha explained, looking impressed.
Kieron’s eyes went wide, looking at a faintly uncomfortable Garrett as Sha continued, “He’s one of the Alliance’s top assassins.”
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