This is Issue #158 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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“No,” Jules said, staring at another screen, at the void where Nathan had been only a moment before. “No, you… no you can’t.” Her knees gave, and she staggered, clawing at the screen, exhaling long and low, feeling her eyes burn as she went under the surface of the well wherein she had been keeping all her despair. “Nathan,” she whispered, “Nathan, come back,” and then crammed a fist against her teeth, curling down small, hiccuping against the panic that threatened to climb up her throat.
There had always been hope. There had always been a promise that he would come back. That she would. That they would be together.
Now that hope had disappeared into the mists covering the inland sea. If the fall alone had not killed him, the sea would dash him back upon the rocks.
She remembered the feel of his cheek on hers. The last moment they were together, when he held her, there at the wedding feast, when she slipped, when it had gone from terrible to even worse. She remembered the scent of him, leather and sweat, and her heart shuddered in her chest, aching as though it had been struck.
It was Secta who spoke next, turning to look over at Gemma and Lucida, who could only stare, dumbstruck with horror. He looked ashen and sick as he reached for Acer and hissed, “Protect the Princess and her handmaid with your life. Get them to her chambers. Lock down the palace. Now.” He stared at one of the screens, his hand touching the glass where Jet lay, still broken, rain spreading steaming red through the mud. It had all happened so fast.
Acer ordered the guards in a rousing shout, dividing them — the bulk for the Princess, the rest for the courtiers.
Guards moved, and quickly; Gemma and Lucida were swept up and separated from the throngs, surrounded by a cadre of heavily armed guards who took them from the Prince’s study in a flurry of near-panicked motion. Acer followed along, hand on the hilt of his sword. He cursed the aetheris he’d drunk, and wished for a clearer head.
The courtiers, those who had come to watch the Hunt, were escorted to their own wings, pulled from the Prince’s rooms, hurried along, out of the way, left to wonder… what would happen, now?
All through the city, the darker, hungrier, greedier parts of humanity seethed — the very creature that had ground them down into the dust was little more than dust, himself. Acer Plaga’s less loyal soldiers sent missives scurrying back to the homeland — his father would soon hear of what happened to Ilona’s Prince, and its Guardian.
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“Time to go, little Krieg,” Secta said quietly, reaching down with an offered hand.
Jules shrank back from it, flinching. She stared at it, then, and then her eyes flicked up to his face, and then to the doors on either sides of the study. She slowly moved to stand up, backing away from Secta, almost baring her teeth. “No,” she said. “No, I won’t go with you. Not back to her. Not to any of them. You’ll have to kill me.”
Secta stilled his hand, knowing the look of a cornered animal when he saw one. “I’m not your enemy,” he said softly.
“Aren’t you?” Jules said, looking terrified, her eyes wide, her cheeks pale. “You served a man who hunted my little bird like a wild beast,” she said, gritting her teeth. “You kneel to a monster.”
“Perhaps, then, we have more in common than you might imagine,” Secta said quietly. He moved his hand closer to her, palm up. “I had family living in the Viridian valley,” he said, without rancor. “Cousins. The littlest would have been six.” He looked back toward the screens.
“That wasn’t me,” Jules said fiercely, baring her teeth, but her fury was salted by tears.
“And this,” Secta said, gesturing toward the screens. “You think this is me? Please, little Krieg, I am nothing here. I control no one. I listen to whispers, and I fetch and carry, and the one I lov–” His voice broke, and he looked away from her, wincing, pained.
“It was my ship,” Jules said. “He was the Captain, but everyone knew it was my ship. I trusted him,” she said, looking anguished. “I trusted that man with my life. I never would have imagined he would have something like that inside him. He told me what he wanted to do, and I could have shot him there. I could have ordered my airmen to mutiny. I could have stopped him,” she said, her voice small, looking up at him, pained. “I should have stopped him,” she whispered.
He nodded to her, reaching out, gently putting one hand on her shoulder, fingers warm and deftly avoiding the wounds on her back.
“But I was angry. He told me about his sons, Valentin and Anatoly. He told me what those butchers did, sending back their ha–” she said, her voice cracking. “Sending back their hands,” she sobbed. “Skrimsli,” she hissed, growing in fury, her fists clenching as she looked up at Secta.
“No decent man would dare,” Secta said softly. “No honorable soldier would do such a thing,” he whispered. “Those men, whatever men did that to your fellow soldiers, little Krieg — those were monsters,” he said, folding her so carefully into his arms. “But my country is made of good people, too.”
Jules looked over Secta’s shoulder, up at the screens, where she watched Coryphaeus pull himself free from the earth, a trembling, awful cry escaping him as he heaved the blade free from the mud, muscles bunching beneath bruised, broken skin. He rolled weakly to the side and sobbed exhaustedly, staring toward the cliff without getting up. “It is,” she admitted. “It is, the same as mine,” she whispered. “But we don’t stay good if we let the monsters have their way.”
“True enough,” Secta whispered. “And so I will set you free, little Krieg, and perhaps the two of us will not become monsters.”
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