This is Issue #154 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!
* * *
Garrett knew, but didn’t know, didn’t believe, couldn’t, didn’t want to. He laid on the ground, the dead body of the Guardian pinning him as he slipped into unconsciousness. He was unaware when the blood against his skin seemed lit aflame. He was still lost in his own black nothingness when Jet pushed himself up off the ground, off Garrett’s body, one hand laid to Garrett’s scarf-and-goggles-covered face, pressing it further into the mud as he regained his balance.
Jet snarled, shaking his head, shaking off the brief out-of-focus his revival sometimes gave him, and ran for the grouping trying to get up the wall. His knives were fierce, were sharp and unforgiving, and the sword at his back sang as it whistled through the air, severing spines, dropping men and women left and right.
The black mud ran red; what was already slippery terrain grew slick and treacherous.
* * *
Watchers howled and laughed; money traded hands as Ilonan and Westlander alike fell to the Guardian’s killing blows. Lucida and Gemma smoked, drank, gambled, watched, and did nothing to fend off the various interested parties who pestered Jules to the point that the woman had curled into a shivering ball, staring up at the screen in both horror and hope.
Jules watched Nathan run, watched him check on the fallen, watched him push Sha and Kieron to the wall, watched him look off to the jungle, where Coryphaeus disappeared. She looked at the wedding ring she still had on her hand and marveled, for a moment, forgetting the party, the hunt, the thick tang of aetheris that hung in the room, that no one had taken it from her.
* * *
“Climb!” Nathan shouted at Sha and Kieron. “MOVE!” He hung from the wall, one arm still faintly useless as he struggled to climb up. The Ilonans had done a remarkable job of patching him up after the crash, but considering the number of times that arm had been dislocated or all but torn off, the fact that he could hold the vines in that hand was nothing short of remarkable. He worked hard to scale the wall, shouting encouragement at his compatriots.
The last surviving crew of the Jacob were on the wall and were pulling themselves up, vulnerable to any weapon the Ilonans had at their disposal. For Djara, it was the Guardian’s sword of black glass. He ran it through her back, letting it come out her belly, pinning her to the bed of green vines the others clung to and climbed.
“DJARA!” Kieron cried, seeing the pilot’s eyes go wide as her body spasmed, blood painting the wall. He watched the Guardian pull back and let the woman fall at his feet. “No — NO!” he begged, moving to climb back down — as if there were anything he could do.
“Sha! SHA! STOP HIM!” Nathan’s voice was a panic as he reached down to try to grab Brody.
Jet lifted Djara’s head up into his lap, letting her look up at the wall. She flailed at him weakly, blood running from her mouth. He looked up from his pose to see the Westlanders pause in their escape. Even animals had some sense of pack loyalty, he mused, moving to hold Djara’s head back by putting a hand to her chin.
“NO!” Kieron cried, tears on his face, rage in his heart. He remembered being dragged from the palace by guards, being told what awaited him in the Hunting Grounds. He remembered being thrown into the back of the transport, at Djara’s feet, and how she’d picked him up and looked over his wounds and sat down with him.
A sharp glass knife was in the Guardian’s fist; he pressed it to Djara’s throat and watched the blood well sluggishly. She was close, already. He could simply let her slip away — but the panic on the faces of his prey was worth it.
Kieron’s heart broke. Djara, who let him lay his head in her lap. Djara, who was likely just as frightened as he. Djara, who had been a damned fine pilot. Djara, who had turned around the ship. Djara, who had loved Penny. Djara, who had grieved for Penny’s loss enough to fight Ilonans as though she had nothing left to fight for.
The Guardian’s masked face turned up to them as he opened Djara’s throat to the night and rain, discarding the knife to put his fingers in her blood and paint the mask’s smiling face with it.
Djara, who was no more. “NO! NO, you BASTARD! I hate you! I’ll kill you!” Kieron’s voice was raw, wounded. He shouted down from where he clung to the wall, his hair in his face, obscuring the red hot rage that choked him.
“Venit pugnare, caro!” The Guardian laughed, rising, painting a bloody X over his chest, opening his arms wide. Come and get me, you piece of meat.
* * *
“No,” Jules pled quietly. “No, just run. Oh just run,” she begged, watching Nate, Sha, and Kieron climb back down. “Please,” she begged, wringing her hands, tears running down her face.
* * *
It was Sha that hit the ground first; fierce with determination, she launched into an attack, a knife in her hand shredding the Guardian’s skin to ribbons. She bared her teeth as she bowled him over, and was astonished at how easily he fell — right up until he used her momentum to keep rolling, driving a fist into her chest.
Breathless, she struggled to free herself from his embrace, and was rewarded with a knife against her ribs for her efforts. The fire of it was excruciating; it kept her from being able to get a full breath, for the pain.
The Guardian kept rolling, bringing a foot up between them, and threw her off — she hit the base of the wall, her head hitting the stones with enough force to make her teeth clack together. She dropped, boneless, unmoving.
When Kieron dropped down, savage, desperate, furious, Jet was ready to meet him. In the rain, in the dark, scarred, muddied face to savage, masked face, the boys did not recognize one another, but met hand to hand, Jet playing, Kieron murderous.
* * *