This is Issue #152 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!
* * *
Moving through the jungle, Jet felt light on his feet, impossibly quick. He ran beside Immanis, shrouded in black, his painted face and mask bearing sigils to invoke fear. His golden eyes gleamed in the gathering dark, while his bare feet danced through the wet night. He felt the damp air in his lungs, felt the rain come down harder and faster. He could almost smell the prisoners; both he and Immanis ran for the northeast like lions giving chase.
Immanis smiled in the dark; he could feel Jet’s blood singing to him, his brother, his lover, his parapraelium — his battle mate. He felt high on a rush of aetheris, delighted to be giving chase to the prey, and his howls and laughter rose, and seemed to call down the storm.
Out in the city, people watched the screens as the technics who worked for the palace displayed the best angles of both the Prince and the city’s Guardian — as well as showed the running fear of the prisoners, most of whom, for the moment, had banded together.
* * *
“We should stick together,” Garrett said. “Regardless of–”
“You don’t get it,” Nate growled. “We’re all liabilities if we–”
“Shut. Up. And Run,” snarled a voice no one recognized.
The group spun about, each of them looking into the night, panting.
There stood a figure in the rain, covered in mud and bloody slashes, holding a machete in one hand, shoulders heaving in panted breaths.
“Legatus?” Kieron asked, carefully lowering his gun yet again. The last he’d seen of the man, he was leaving with Jules, as Kieron was taken to his own gilded cage — before his visions betrayed him.
“Was wondering when you’d turn up,” Sha said, looking distrustful. “The Prince seems to turn quickly — I thought you’d had his favor, the last time I saw you. But if he was going to send you here, why separate us? Why didn’t you show up in the bus that brought us here?”
“I was brought here around the same time as you. In a different bus,” Coryphaeus said, still panting, gesturing that everyone should follow him further into the wet forest. “They had to… debrief me, first.” He cleared his thraot, looking away, momentarily. He shifted, letting the rain wash over him, sluice away the mud, the blood, revealing old wounds, things beginning to bruise.
“Are you lost? Why didn’t you run for the wall?” Nate said, looking skeptical.
“I made a promise to get you out of here.” Coryphaeus’s voice was quiet, earnest.
Sha snorted, rolling her eyes. “To who?” She looked disbelieving, perhaps even angry at the waste of time.
“Jules,” Nate said, lifting his chin. He didn’t seem surprised, or irritated, but somewhere between touched and dismissive. “I gotta say, Legatus — I’m surprised.”
“Are you?” Coryphaeus said, watching Nate. “She’s the kind of woman you keep a promise to.”
“It’s not her end of the bargain I was struggling with,” Nate returned dryly.
“I ended up here because of my own pride. I can lead us out, but only if you hurry. The Commander would never forgive me if I didn’t get you out of here,” Coryphaeus said, looking grimly at the others. “You cannot make a stand. Even without his powers, the Prince’s swordplay is legendary,” he explained. “Now everyone keep what weapons they can use quickly, and run. The Prince comes in from the west. The Northeast corner has one of the least difficult ways of escaping. Now, for the love of all you hold dear — run.”
* * *
The Hunt itself had officially begun, and now it was only a matter of days before blood was spilled, before the city had trophies to string over the gates, before another festival would break out — though truly, already people had begun the preparations. Banners were hung, flowers were cut, foods were being made, streets were swept.
Not just the city state, but nearly everyone on the eastern side of the Luminora was tuning in to watch their glorious leaders match wit and skill against such a large group of prey.
Jet hadn’t drawn a weapon yet; all his knives were laid against his body; his largest sword was carefully strapped to his back — he could feel the cold of the glass against his skin. His breath came in quick, short pants, almost misting clouds in the thickening rain. More than once he slid in the mud, but kept running, laughing aloud.
He and Immanis stared up at the storm, beasts baring their teeth, laughing at the rain, hands clutching trunk and vine as they thundered through the jungle without a care for the smaller prey they terrified on the way. Rabbit and fox and vole and martin and pheasant all crashed out of their way in any direction possible — nothing wanted to be caught in their path.
Far above the city, stormclouds gathered, roiled, grew bruised and grey and then began to shudder with rolling lightning. The citizens of Ilona prayed to their Guardian, to their Prince, to the old gods, and delighted in the downpour, taking shelter under street canopies, gathering at public telescreens. Families watched at home; men, women, and children staring eyes-wide at their leader, their protector, as they raced, fearless toward their quarry.
Jet paused at one point, not to catch his breath, but to howl at the sky, his voice lifting in an eerie, otherworldly cry — a note of challenge to every other living thing in the walled space. The Hunting Grounds were his, tonight.
Immanis felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end; he stopped, tense, watching his lover, and could not help but lift his voice in harmony.
* * *
Cory switched direction at that sound, shouting for everyone to follow him and push further north — he wanted them to reach the wall as quickly as possible. Even if the wall was a little higher than he’d hoped, directly north, it was still preferable to being caught in the green by the Prince and his Guardian. “Run!” he urged, trying to keep the panic from his face, his voice. “RUN!”
* * *
Fly you fools! Jet has become so inhumane. So other. Immanis is a virus!