This is Issue #157 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!
* * *
“Don’t. You. Dare.” Jules’s voice was low but deadly. She held one hand up; it pointed at Coryphaeus on the screen. Her skin paled, save for two spots of feverish flush, and she trembled, staring up, begging. “Don’t.”
* * *
“Majesty, I–” Coryphaeus’s expression was terror. He stared at the sword Immanis still held, and his voice was caught in his throat.
Disgusted, Immanis turned away, and moved to go after Nathan, snarling.
“Venator!” Coryphaeus called, his cry a plea, his voice broken. The men and women responsible for airing the telecast of the Hunt focused all the cameras they could on Legatus Aecus. He had grabbed hold of the Prince and stopped him; the shock on Immanis’s face–that he should be touched–was enough to cause a frisson of fear through the hearts of everyone watching.
From across the small clearing, Nate looked up, panting, lifting his nose as though scenting the air, knowing there was precious little time left. Coryphaeus was trying to make good on his promise in the only way he could. Nate looked to Garrett, and to Kieron, and jerked his head toward the wall, silently communicating. Let’s go!
“Me. Dimitte.” Immanis growled, looking to Coryphaeus with a murderous glare. Release me. “Or you will lose that hand.”
Immediately, Coryphaeus released his grip, but moved to stand in front of Immanis, shaking. “My Lord,” he begged. There were tears in his eyes. “You asked if I would still die for you.” His voice was raw, his expression pleading. “I am dying for you, my Prince. Here and now,” he said, lifting his arms up and out, dropping his sword in the mud. “Do you not see?” Coryphaeus asked, pained. “You condemned me to this, and I fight at your demand. At your pleasure.” He ran the fingers of one hand against the wide wound on his chest, then offered them out, red and shining. “I bleed at your whim, Majesty.”
* * *
“Oh, please, no,” Jules said softly, her eyes widening. “Pick up your sword. He is not merciful. He will not love you,” she whispered to herself, as though the Legatus could hear her. “Don’t do this. Don’t. Just run. Y’could run with them. You could best him, you stupid man — they just needed more time. Pick it up. Pick your sword back up! Pick it up!” she shouted, forgetting herself, clenching her fists. “Please,” she breathed, tears on her face, her heart breaking. “Please, Cory.”
* * *
The cameras watched as Nate struggled to wake Sha, as he watched Immanis and Cory face off. It would be hard getting dead weight up the wall, but he wouldn’t leave her behind. He just didn’t know how much time he had left.
“You do bleed at my whim,” the Prince said, and the flicker of his sword was swift and terrible.
The flash of its blade was followed by Coryphaeus’s soft cry. A line of blood opened against his cheek; it gleamed in the flashing thunderstorm, and then the red ran in the falling rain, in the dark that came between lightning flashes.
Kieron stopped trying to climb up the wall; his eyes kept traveling to Djara, where she lay, open-eyed, open-throated, on the ground. Cory’s cry pulled Kieron’s gaze; he watched, pained.
Garrett stopped trying to push Kieron up the wall; his eyes kept traveling to the Guardian. He stopped wondering to himself if the man’s skull looked less broken than it had thirty seconds ago, and lifted his gaze to the Ilonan who struggled to keep the Prince occupied.
Coryphaeus took a step toward the Prince.
There was another flash of Immanis’s sword.
Another cut–a matching one–appeared on the other cheek.
* * *
“Stop!” Jules begged the man who could not hear her. The man who stood before his own Prince, defiant and surrendering all at once, to keep the promise he made to her.
* * *
Coryphaeus Aecus did not falter as he took a knee, but turned his face up to Immanis. “My Lord,” he whispered. “I am but a servant. If it is your will–“
Immanis Venator took half a step toward Coryphaeus, who watched him the whole time, eyes full of doubt and shame and hope and fear. The Prince reached out one hand as if in benediction, and laid it upon the Legatus’s head.
Coryphaeus closed his eyes, and tears of relief spilled over his cheeks. “My Prince,” he breathed, his lips curving into the faintest of smiles.
Venator then shifted the grip on his sword, and lunged forward to thrust it into his loyal soldier’s chest.
Luck was with Coryphaeus in that singular moment, then — Immanis’s stance in the mud was precarious. He slid just enough, and the Legatus twisted just enough, flinching in pain as the blade touched his skin. The motion carried them both down, and Immanis threw Coryphaeus to the mud, bearing his weight down against the sword.
It carved alongside Coryphaeus’s ribs, laying him open, and the crosspiece of the hilt held against him, pinning him to the sodden earth. They stared at one another, one in agony, the other in rage.
“Majesty,” Coryphaeus gasped, his eyes wide. “Et dimittam te.”
Immanis pulled a smaller knife from the plentiful wealth of them he kept strapped against his tattooed skin, and braced himself against the sword, lifting the smaller blade. He gripped it tightly, and moved to bring it down against the Legatus’s throat, saying, “But I do not forgive you.”
* * *
“No,” mouthed Jules, one hand reaching up to lay against the screen. “No, no–“
* * *
The knife only nicked Coryphaeus’s skin, but suddenly Immanis was borne away in strong arms, and the running tackle left the Prince and his attacker rolling in the mud. The Prince’s knife found flesh again, causing a roar of pain, and the Prince could be heard to hiss, “You will not stop me, Westlander! I will send you to oblivion!”
A defiant voice snarled, “You can fucking try, Ilonan — I’ll take you with me!”
Cameras swung to keep up, to capture the moment.
One of them caught Kieron wrenching free from Garrett, charging past Sha alone on the ground, running towards the scuffle, a look of panic on his features. He slid in the mud, not even wasting breath for hope, diving for the rolling, sliding, struggling pair, stretched out in a desperate reach–
(–you did this for me you did this for me —
Shoulda seen it. Boy FLEW.
— you did this for me, let me be able to do this for you oh please–)
–and felt the tips of his fingers brush a frantic, bloodied hand as it lost its grip on the muddied ledge. He could not grab hold fast enough, even as he began to slide, himself, his bare toes scraping against rocks and mud. He could not get his hand around that wrist, and the last thing he saw before Garrett hauled him back–kicking and screaming–from the ledge, was that hand, still reaching for his.
Some camera angles caught it close up, caught the expressions on their faces, the set of their jaws, the gleam of determination in their eyes. Some cameras caught only the bloody tangle of body and blade.
What they all caught, however, left an entire nation staring in stunned silence.
With startling swiftness, the Prince of Ilona and the Quartermaster of the Jacob tumbled from that ledge, and dropped into the nothing of the night’s dark — still locked in their last embrace, plunging through the mists toward the rocky inland sea below.
* * *