This is Issue #156 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!
* * *
Jules’s whole world came to a standstill; she stared up at the screen as she knelt before it, a supplicant pleading in absolute prayer. She watched the events unfold, tears in her eyes, nails digging in to her hands, leaving bloody halfmoons in her palms.
She watched as Immanis returned from the forest, bloodied, looking just as savage as the Guardian. He ran for the grouping, and saw Nate and Kieron standing over the body of The Guardian, and Jules could see for a moment the vengeance in his eyes, burning like the heart of the sun.
“Run,” she begged again. “Ye just have to run.”
* * *
Nate twisted to see what had brought fear to Kieron’s eyes, and in doing so, narrowly missed the blade. He danced away from Kieron, pushing him so that the strike Immanis had been aiming for his back missed them both. The thrust brought Immanis so close that Nathan was able to come around and shove hard against the Prince, but the Ilonan was strong, and fast — he brought up his weapon and slashed at Nate. The blade cut through the air with a ringing whistle, and sliced cleanly a long red streak against his opponent’s arm. Nathan staggered back, cursing, and dropped to the ground, skittering back in a furious panic.
Immanis gave chase, and swung the blade again. “You are a dead man. That you dare to touch my Guardian! That you spill his blood! I will end you!”
* * *
A loud cry went up in the Prince’s lounge; Jules flinched, but then turned her attention back to the screen, her shoulders tense, her eyes wide, watchful. The strike hadn’t come. The sword hadn’t gone through him. The vision didn’t happen.
A strange sort of elation washed over Jules just then — she stared at Nate, and Immanis chasing after him, and a giddiness crept up her throat and escaped in a bray of laughter. “He didn’t die,” she said, to no one in particular. “He didn’t die,” she laughed, her voice mostly lost amidst the men and women exchanging money again, some shouting at and some cheering on the show. Jules beamed, radiant, and turned to look back over her shoulder at Gemma and Lucida. “He didn’t! It didn’t happen! It doesn’t have to happen!” she crowed.
Gemma looked away, an expression like nausea passing over her features.
Lucida looked confused, and then awed, and then gripped Gemma’s shoulder, leaning down to whisper urgently. “Have you ever been wrong?”
“Meabella–” Gemma began quietly.
“No!” Lucida hissed, shaking. “No, you must answer me. Gemma, have you ever been wrong? Could you be wrong?” she said, and in her eyes, in her heart, was a plea that Gemma could not answer.
The handmaiden wept, shaking her head, looking helpless. “Majesty,” she whispered. “Fate is–”
* * *
Nate twisted, shielding his face as he tried to get out of the way — the sound of metal on metal made him look up, his dark eyes wide. Bare inches from his face, the notched back of Coryphaeus’s machete held the blade of Immanis’s sword. The men strained over him, Immanis snarling, Coryphaeus gritting his teeth, clenching his jaw.
“Run,” Coryphaeus hissed down at Nathan. “Just fucking run you fool,” he snarled, throwing himself at Immanis.
Nate didn’t need to be told twice. He scrambled back up, panting, and ran for Sha, trying to shake her awake. “Come on,” he pled. “Come on, Captain. Wake up. We gotta fucking go.” When he touched her cheek, brushing black and bronze curls from her face, he streaked her cheek with blood, and could no longer quite tell if it was his, or her own. It didn’t matter; he refused to slow down, refused to stop.
Immanis looked furious and impressed all at once, staggering back as Coryphaeus shifted from defense to assault. “So, Legatus,” the Prince growled. “You have joined the side of the criminals?”
“Only because Your Majesty put me there,” Coryphaeus said, looking pained. “I would’ve served you with my life, with my death, my Lord. I would’ve given you anything.” His dark curls were pasted to his cheeks and forehead as he danced about in frantic swordplay.
“But not the woman, ah?” Immanis laughed darkly, his eyes shining in determination, in mischief, in a playful joy that Coryphaeus could not understand as having a place on the battlefield. “What our hearts make us do, yes?” he said, lunging forward to score a line across Cory’s chest. “How love can consume us.”
“I am a loyal soldier!” Coryphaeus insisted, baring his teeth against the pain. “I did not know the boy would fail to please you, highness! Yes, it’s true, I kept the redhead. I did! She warned me against betrayal, and I feared more would come.”
Kieron, for his part, had disengaged long ago, and knelt over Garrett, struggling to wake him. “Professor,” he pled. “Garrett. Garrett, please,” he begged, slapping the man’s face. “You have to get up. Come on — come–”
Dazed, Garrett opened his eyes, blinking rapidly. When he realized where he was, he sat up quickly, and then clutched at his head, feeling the sudden wave of nausea that came from having been knocked out. The back of his head felt cold, wet, and ten times too huge for his own skull. “Brody,” he rasped, moving to get up, staggering. “I’m here. I’m up. Let’s go. Is the Prince–” He turned and saw Coryphaeus and Immanis dueling; his eyes were wide as he saw the prone body of the Guardian across the way, his mask and face shattered beyond recognition. He looked up at Kieron, saying, “I put half a dozen bullets in that monster. They say he can’t die. I thought it was an exaggeration–”
“Nate crushed its skull. It isn’t moving anymore,” Kieron said dully, glancing at it and then looking away, shuddering in disgust, something in his stomach knotting for the way the Guardian had so tenderly touched his face.
“Do you still think yourself loyal?” Immanis wondered of Coryphaeus as the two of them clashed swords, came together, drew back, and slipped about in the mud, rain and thunder pounding down all around them. They spun and stepped and danced and moved through the meadow, toward the wall, toward the forest, toward the edge of the grounds before the fall down to the inland sea and its rocky beach, dodging and slashing, back and forth and turning again and again. “Do you still follow my orders, Legatus?” Immanis shouted above the rain, pausing in his advance.
“Majesty?” Coryphaeus said, warily lowering his hand and blinking rainwater from his face.
Immanis turned, looking back at the Guardian as it lay steaming in the mud, fallen, and his expression faltered, anguish and rage twisting his beautiful features. He could not tell if the savage heart of his brother would recover from such a blow. He could not tell if the soul of the Guardian was reforging itself yet again, burning itself clean and whole from the inside out. He could not tell, and in his grief, he wanted only vengeance. He looked at the remaining prey. He turned and looked back at Cory, and his expression was conspiratorial. “Would you still die for your Prince, Coryphaeus?”
* * *