DeathWatch No. 135 – Your Makeup Is Smeared

This is Issue #135 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!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

“Ready?” Coryphaeus said, standing near the door, adjusting his sash.

“…yes?” Jules answered, brightening her demure smile. Already diminutive, she looked even smaller in her bare feet and light, short robes. She wore sheer silks and a bit of paint, but no jewels; to decorate a slave too lavishly would be scandalous. She crossed the room to him and reached up to fuss at his uniform; fingers deftly tightening the knot of his sash, the medals and other decorations of his rank and accomplishments. She reached up to rub her finger against a bit of his kohl eye liner that had smeared, but it wouldn’t come off cleanly. Frowning, she licked her thumb and went at it again.

Coryphaeus caught her wrist sharply, and raised a brow, his expression obviously warring between faint disgust and strong amusement. “Really?”

“What?” Jules said, looking confused.

“Not even my mother spitwashed my dirty face, Commander,” he said, his lips curving into a teasing smirk.

Blushing hotly, Jules pulled her hand back and retorted, “Your makeup is smeared.”

Rolling his eyes, Coryphaeus pulled away to go to a mirror and adjust the liner, wiping it cleanly away where it had smudged. “There,” he sighed. “Come on, then. Being late would be a terrible idea.”

* * *

Jules walked into the main dining area behind Coryphaeus, keeping her eyes on him, or low, not meeting anyone else’s gaze. She felt all eyes upon her as she made her way closer to where the Prince, the Guardian and the Princess, and all their retinue were standing, and once they stopped, she made a low bow and curtsy, then stood with her eyes cast down, waiting on any instructions.

“It seems your gift is less clumsy now,” Immanis noted with a smirk.

“I’ve taken your advice,” the Legatus said, smiling. “I’ll take good care of such a gift; I imagine it will be quite loyal.”

The hall itself was full of dignitaries, well dressed nobles, other Ilonan officers with whom Coryphaeus was familiar; Jules was shown around to nearly everyone, put through her steps like a prized mare. Almost every Ilonan touched her at some point, to lift her chin, to tentatively put their hands on her pale skin, noses wrinkling in a combination of distaste and amusement.

She was only startled when Nathan and Sha were announced; they walked in, dressed well, their clothing cleaned of blood and grime. Immanis went to them, greeted them warmly, and explained — in the plain tongue, seeming for their benefit — that they were to be the hunt’s greatest prey. They did not act surprised at the announcement, and schooled their own reactions when the crowd burst into applause, and treated them like celebrities, or perhaps like fascinating creatures one might find in a zoo.

Sha looked at Immanis and the other Ilonans with a wary distrust, while Nathan looked at Jules with no small amount of fear and agony.

Coryphaeus noticed Nathan’s gaze, and leaned closer to Jules, saying quietly, “Will he make this difficult?”

Jules fought back tears, clearing her throat, and said with some measure of pride, “Nate makes everything difficult. It’ll be fine.” After a beat, she added, “Dominus,” as though to make certain she kept her addressing right, while in public. She signaled silently to Nathan, caught his attention just enough to communicate her need to him — don’t fight, don’t make a scene — and smiled blankly as she turned away, once she saw the recognition on his features.

“I like the little red one,” Lucida said bluntly, the words rolling from her tongue in sheer delight. “She’d be a darling cupbearer. I’d pour the wine for my husband right between her thighs,” she laughed, looking her up and down from where she stood nearby.

Jules blushed, her skin flushing pink from the roots of her hair past the hems of her robes.

“Oh, caro,” Lucida purred, walking over. She sauntered right up to Jules and walked around and around her, eyeing her, leaning in close, pulling at her robe to look at the way her milkwhite skin had turned a deep pink. “The little thing can turn red all over!” she laughed.

“Yes, bella,” the Guardian said, smiling. “The palest of the Westlanders flush noticeably pink when angry, embarrassed, or aroused,” he said in the plain tongue. “This one looks to be… Celdish?”

“Some Celd,” Jules said quietly.

“And some–?” Jet prodded, looking curious.

“Kriegic,” Jules said, lifting her chin and looking at Lucida. Though she’d worn the woman’s body, she felt little but wariness, to look at her. It wasn’t until she glanced at Gemma that her heart broke all over again; the remnants of the slip still clung to her, wrapped in aether and exhaustion. There had been such love between them, but right now, all she could see in Lucida was a thin sort of meanness, a predatory demeanor.

“So tiny for a Krieg,” Lucida laughed. “They are pale, too, but I have not seen them red. Maybe they are only red on the front, and we only see their backsides, when they run away, hmm?” she teased. “How much of you gets red, little Krieg?” she whispered darkly, pulling Jules’s robes open entirely. She threw them over Jules’s shoulders, and let them drop, leaving the once-quartermaster of the Maxima naked in the midst of the crowd, standing in a puddle of silks.

Jules’s eyes widened, but she made no move to hide herself. She looked at Lucida, and said nothing, then flicked her pale eyes to Coryphaeus, and still said nothing but held his gaze, focusing hers into a look of calm subservience.

Coryphaeus’s eyes narrowed slightly; he pursed his lips, but said nothing, his jaw clenched.

Immanis noted the reaction, and the lack of response, and was moved by Coryphaeus’s polite manner. Poor Legatus, Immanis thought, without cruelty. How your face betrays you so easily. He chuckled, shaking his head as he said, “Sister — you’re being a bit rough with a gift I’d given someone else. A little restraint is in order. If you wanted your own Westlander, you know I’d have kept you one.”

Jules blushed even darker, but made no move to pull away. She gritted her teeth as she smiled, and kept her eyes on Coryphaeus for reassurance.

“From her brows to her belly, front and back!” Lucida said delightedly, and stepped aside to show Immanis. “You chide me for examining a slave?” she said, rolling her eyes. “Surely you’re joking. Just look at it! I can’t imagine–”

“Luci–” began Immanis, his tone almost warning.

“Lucida,” Jet called from where he’d purposefully slipped away to talk with Sha and Nate, “Come meet my opponents!” He navigated the waters of politics carefully, based on Secta’s advice, and he knew to keep brother and sister from playfully squabbling too much, especially in the midst of a celebratory gathering.

Lucida laughed, cupped Immanis’s cheek with her hand, patting it gently and walked off to talk to Jet, leaving her brother behind.

* * *

NEXT

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Nobody Likes The Honest Questions

If I asked you
to accept the fact that my heart
is too small
to love you as you deserve,
and asked you
to care for me
despite the black dog that follows me around,
and asked you
to be happy with my inattention,
my neglect,
my inconstant fawning,
my inconsistent adulation…
If I asked you
to give up your skin for me,
pull out your nails for me,
break your teeth for me,
peel out your eyes for me…
If I asked you
to breathe life back into me
when I went so deep
I died again and again
and left you to revive me on my own…
If I was nothing good for you,
do you think you could love me anyway?

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DeathWatch No. 134 – Does It Hurt?

This is Issue #134 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial.

Click that link to go find DeathWatch, then browse to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and start from there, if you need to, or look for the last issue # you remember, and get caught up!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

“Please,” Kieron breathed, looking up at Immanis in desperation. He knelt before his new Master, looking both terrified and miserable. “Please, I swear it. I have seen thousands of deaths in my lifetime. I have seen them since I was only a little boy. I saw them all through school.” His face lit up and he blurted out, “My best fr–”

“Silence,” Immanis murmured.

Immediately, Kieron closed his mouth and bowed his head. When he wept, his wincing and salty tears stung the line of stitches that had begun to heal. Jet. Jet, his name is Jet. I have to remember. I have to find him. Is he dead? This palace is huge. I haven’t seen him die… but I don’t watch everyone die. What if he’s already gone? He slumped further and shook his head, uttering a low moan of distress.

“Cease that immediately,” Immanis sighed, sounding irritable. “Sit up.”

Kieron stopped crying instantly. He sat up and looked at the Prince, expectant, watchful, waiting. When Immanis’s fist swung against his cheek, he did not flinch or pull away. His eyes tracked the movement, and at the last minute, closed in anticipation. He went sprawling across the tiles, hitting his head against the floor. His skull bounced; his teeth clacked together, and he went still, stunned.

Immanis stood over him, fists clenched; furious — he drew back his foot, ready to level a kick at Kieron’s ribs when he saw the brands at his shoulder, and instead, got a better idea.

* * *

Kieron roused to the scent of burning flesh. He tried to pull away from the feeling of tightness, of sharp heat, but he heard Immanis say, “Hold. Still.”

And so he did.

He was opening his eyes to see what had happened, but the world was out of focus, and no matter how he blinked or shook his head, it would not resolve. He moaned lowly, thickly, tasting blood.

“Does it hurt?” Immanis wondered, sounding curious and pleased.

“Yes,” Kieron whimpered. “Very much.”

“Good,” Immanis growled.

* * *

In another wing, Jet slept amidst warm tangled sheets that smelled of Immanis’s skin; he buried his face in his lover’s pillow and dozed with a half-smile on his face. If the boy of the Academy could have seen the man he had become… he would not have been recognizable.

In dreams, he was back there, at the Academy, running up and down the halls, searching for Kieron, looking for him after one of his episodes, knowing he would find the boy holed up in some out-of-the-way place, unable to get back to their dorms, and so riding out the waves of agony and nausea that came post-slip.

* * *

Kieron held still, while his skin blackened and sizzled under the brand, and blood ran down his back, but he was not silent. He cried out, remembering the way it felt when the soldiers of the Tropaeum had branded him aboard the ship; those wounds had yet to heal, and his abused body protested the rough treatment. “Please,” he wept, not quite knowing why he begged, or what he hoped to gain from it — every piece of him struggled to please. He wanted to do whatever it was Immanis wanted; when the Prince looked at him in fury, it wounded nearly as much as the brand.

“Please what?” Immanis whispered. “Another? Shall I mark you again?”

“My Lord,” Kieron wept. “Would it please you?” he asked, shaking, holding himself, struggling to remain conscious and not humiliate himself in front of his master. “Mark me any way you wish if it so suits you.”

“It suits me,” Immanis hissed, and he pressed the red brand against Kieron’s shoulder once more.

Kieron’s scream lifted high and inhuman, a wordless shriek of pain that echoed throughout the Palace. Everyone who could hear it felt a shiver crawl up their spine.

* * *

In a large suite of rooms with a cool cloth over her eyes and the increasingly familiar taste of aetheris on her tongue, Jules wept, angrily refusing Coryphaeus’s ministrations when he tried to ease her. She had heard Kieron cry like that before, aboard the Tropaeum, because she refused to answer the Captain’s questions.

* * *

Alone in their respective rooms, Sha and Nate paced, looked at books left on the bookshelves, ate the food they were served, lived like caged animals and hated every minute of it.

More and more, Sha fell into a deeper depression; her ship was gone, her crew had been sold into slavery or killed outright, and the idea that she might live through any given day was both tenuous and repulsive, all at once.

Nate tried to talk to or charm anyone who might listen, begged for information, but the Ilonans weren’t interested in anything he had or could do. They regarded him like something of a wild beast, too stupid to rationalize, too worthless to bargain with. They told him little to nothing, but encouraged him to keep up his strength for the coming hunt.

* * *

Gemma and Lucida broke from their tangle of kisses, and Lucida cocked an eyebrow, looking to Gemma curiously. “Was that a man?” she wondered of the handmaiden.

“I believe so, my love,” Gemma answered. “Secta tells me your brother thought he had found yet another seer, but it turns out the boy may have been a fraud. That is likely the sound of the fraud being punished.”

Lucida chuckled lowly, sighing. “It is a good thing that our Guardian is indestructable. Whatever appetites my brother may have for pain may finally be appeased.”

“Indeed,” Gemma laughed.

* * *

Alone with Immanis, Kieron dug his nails into his palms hard enough to leave them bloody as he screamed, and yet did not pull away. He allowed himself to be marked, burned, brutalized, and his voice wavered and trembled, and finally broke.

* * *

“KEY!”

Alone in his bed, Jet woke with a start, his heart thundering in his chest, one hand stretched out, reaching. He struggled to catch his breath, tears rushing to his eyes. In his dreams, he’d only just found Kieron; he’d opened the last door and found him huddling on the floor, alone and broken.

In the waking world, he had only the memory of Kieron’s eyes, beautiful and wide and begging.

* * *

NEXT

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Everything Hurt

Her hands curled around the broken bits of things; she sifted through the wreckage with her limbs like a child doing a snow angel, occasionally, wiping bloody tears from her cheeks, coughing out brickdust and wallboard from the bottom of her lungs.

Everything hurt.

When the world stopped spinning and she imagined she could hear the world around her rather than some throbbing echo, some aftershock of deafening that manifested as a white-noise ringing, she sat up and dared to look around.

She spit blood and took in the devastation, watching dust and snow and furniture foam fluff and down and other whatnot dance around in eddys created by everything collapsing on itself.

This is as good a beginning as any, she thought. Might as well start now.

She got up, nodding to herself, and was both surprised and frightened that she couldn’t see any bodies.

She knew, somewhere in a more broken part of herself that no longer wept for loss, that it was only a matter of time.

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DeathWatch No. 133 – She Was So Scared

This is Issue #133 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial.

Click that link to go find DeathWatch, then browse to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and begin from there, if you need to, or look for the last issue # you remember, and get caught up!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

Jules’s first breath back on the other side was ragged, startling. She opened her eyes as she sat up, clutching at her belly, putting a hand between her legs in frantic searching, tearing the blankets away in a panic, looking for what, her companion didn’t know. She turned toward Coryphaeus, looking around in wild terror, and he watched as her face crumpled up, as her pretty features were disfigured by sorrow. She put her hands to her face, and covered her mouth, but it was a pointless gesture — even as she screamed, no sound came. Voiceless, she sobbed, curling up tighter and tighter, trying harder and harder to howl out the awful horror of what she’d just seen, just felt.

The Legatus dropped the cup of tea he’d been drinking, and ran for Jules, pulling her into his arms and rocking her. He looked shaken, to see her so distressed, and he tried to rub her back and pet her hair from her face, shushing her calmly. “You’re safe. It’s all right. You’re safe,” he promised, though he had no idea if she was, or wasn’t — it simply seemed the thing to say.

Jules gagged, writhing, uttering a cry of pain as the finality of her return crashed over her. “The baby,” she sobbed. “I don’t know if the baby lives,” she said, clutching at Coryphaeus. Blood ran from her lips as she twisted to bend double, hunching over. Coryphaeus reached over to pull her hair out of her face as she spat, coughing, the thick, wet sounds from her throat making it seem as though she were trying to cough up the last of the life she’d just felt end.

There was a basin on the floor; he’d already set it there, waiting — he was a quick learner. “What baby?” Coryphaeus said, shivering, reaching over with a cool, wet cloth, wiping her face, her mouth. His hand never trembled; he touched her with gentleness, with a manner Jules found oddly reassuring. He offered her a glass of aetheris, which she drank greedily, coughing against the burn of it, grateful for the way it eased the sick swimming behind her eyes.

“She was so scared,” Jules wept, closing her eyes and then opening them again, unable to unsee the look on Gemma’s face, the heartbreak, the grief there. Jules had no idea what Gemma could know or see — only that to hear Luci raving and screaming must have been terrifying for the woman. “It hurt. It hurt so much,” she cried, laying against Coryphaeus.

“I’m… I’m so sorry,” he said, finishing wiping her off, and letting her lay against him, infinitely gentle. “It looks like it hurts, still,” he said, rubbing her back.

“No, not… slipping. That hurts too,” she notes. “But… birth. She was giving birth. She had the fire of Ilona inside her. And she died,” Jules breathed.

Coryphaeus flinched, carefully pulling back. “Are you… are you certain, J–Commander? The fire of Ilona?” he asked, looking worried, holding to Jules, but keeping her back so he could watch her face. His own face had gone ashen in worry; his deep bronze skin had paled to an almost sickly tone.

“That’s what the other woman… Gemmma, said. Ignus Ilona, ” Jules whispered. “She called me Lucibella,” Jules said, and upon seeing Coryphaeus’s worried expression, she began to look terrified.

“Oh, merciful light,” Coryphaeus said, rubbing his face, shaking his head. “That is the Princess and her Handmaiden. The Princess has only just married the Guardian — she has yet to become with child, but the city, the Prince, no doubt… everyone hopes for her to be soon. But…”

“It’ll kill her,” Jules breathed. “That baby will kill her. I don’t know if that baby will live, but Luci won’t,” she said, looking lost. She turned her pale eyes up to Coryphaeus, and shuddered again, allowing him to fold her into his arms. “It… she was birthing. They were alone. Gemma wasn’t worried, but then something–” Jules paused, putting a hand over her belly, sliding her fingers just past her navel, pressing in. She sucked her breath in against her teeth and felt fresh tears come. “Something… wasn’t right. It… I felt it. It burned,” she whispered. “It burned, and then it t-tore–” Jules said, and the echo of her own howling scream rose up around her, and she flinched, hiccuping, her eyes going wide with panic.

“Commander,” the Legatus murmured, stroking her back, tucking her under his chin, feeling his heart thunder, his whole self tremble with the strange desire to protect Jules, to ease the terror she displayed — she had displayed such strength, such determination, to see her so frightened shook him. He had known fear in his life, but he wasn’t sure he’d known anything to make him display horror and grief as she had. “Stay with me. You’re here. You’re safe. The vision is over,” he promised her.

“It’s no vision,” Jules whispered. “I live these prophesies. I was the Princess. I felt the life inside her burn its way out. I felt it tear her, split her in two,” she sobbed. “I saw Gemma realize she was dying. And then the dark comes. The dark comes, and it swallows you,” she said, trying to calm her breathing.

“I’m so sorry,” he said to her, holding her until she managed to even herself out, finally breathing long and slow. When she no longer seemed to shake, he carefully detangled to tuck her into the bed once more, and bring her another glass of cool aetheris. “Rest, all right? Rest now; we have another hour or two.”

“An hour or two?” Jules said, her eyes opening wide. “Is that all? I feel like I’ve been dragged on my wakeboard over Damnation Ridge,” she groaned.

“We’re invited to dine with the Prince, and you’re expected,” Coryphaeus explained, his dark eyes resting on Jules. He reached out a gentle hand and tucked a wild curl behind her ear. “Hush now. Just rest,” he murmured. “You’re my good luck charm, Commander. Help me help you.”

Jules tried to protest, but she passed out from the exhaustion, and the void that came after the rise and fall of so much pain. She drifted in and out of broken sleep for long moments, while the Legatus sat at her bedside, holding her hand. The last thing she felt was Coryphaeus’s lips brushing her forehead, his breath warm against her skin.

“Rest, Jules.”

* * *

NEXT

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DeathWatch is ONE YEAR OLD today!

Aren’t you excited? I’m excited.

I can’t believe this story’s come so far in just a year — I can’t believe how much further it has to go.

Thank you for joining me, Kieron, and Jet on this adventure — I hope you stick around for another year, and see what’s coming next!

Stay tuned — Deathwatch #133 loads in ONE hour!

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And She

This is pain with purpose,
this waiting thing
to see what may come from a budding need,
this crawling feeling
over broken glass
and he stands back in scorn
because what has he created
what has he ever done alone
what has he ever birthed
besides resentment,
what has he ever done
except sow discord
and so she bows her head
and she laughs the broken-glass laugh,
and she lets blood feed the roots of her mighty fears,
and she knows someday
all her mistakes
will bear delicious fruit.

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Let Go

I’ve never been who you think
or what you think of me;
I’m somewhere in oblivion
somewhere riding free.
I’ve never worn the face you think I should
the way you want me to
I’m somewhere in oblivion
running fast from you.

I’m not the broken bitch you want
I’m not the one; I’m not your cunt
I’m not the broken bitch you want
I’m not the one; I’m not your cunt

Let go, or I’ll cut your hand off
Let go, or I’ll bite those fingers clean
Let go, or I’ll take you apart limb from fucking limb
you want to call me names, baby, you wanna see what I’m like when I’m mean?

I’ve never answered to the name you gave me,
not the way you call;
I’m somewhere in oblivion
somewhere standing tall.

I’m not the bitter taste you spit
You’re the one who can’t handle it
I’m not the bitter taste you spit
You’re the one who can’t handle it

Let go, or I’ll cut your hand off
Let go, or I’ll bite those fingers clean
Let go, or I’ll take you apart limb from fucking limb
you want to call me names, baby, you wanna see what I’m like when I’m mean?

Well aren’t you the clever one
Well aren’t you the funny one
Aren’t you the clever one
Aren’t you the funny one

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What We Do At Chez Jones Around Midnight…

Is screw with the website design and all that fun stuff.

Pardon my dust; the links may take you all over hell and creation for a little bit, while I get this sorted — but you should see, up in that top bar, the ‘CatastropheJones.com’ website, rather than a generic WordPress one, now.

We’re getting fancy, now.

Also, resubscribe — the form should be over there on the side, like.

Yeah, that thing.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Done?

Excellent.

I look forward to spamming your inbox with my thoughtjuice.

That probably won’t sound half as clever when it isn’t seven til midnight after a long damn day.

Goodnight, everyone.

Sweet Dreams!

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DeathWatch No. 132 – She Is Her Father’s Daughter

This is Issue #132 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

Beauty.

Jules stared up at a beautiful, beautiful woman whose face was full of both joy and strength. She saw her, and she knew love, in an instant. Love between the woman she looked at, and the body she wore.

Heat.

She felt a searing horror tear through the inside of her, pulling at her from behind her navel, tearing at her between her legs. She began to scream, to kick, to fight, but her body was both weak and half-immobilized. A terrible weight pressed against her, and she tried to crawl out from under whatever thing was driving knives into her belly.

Her belly.

She looked down to see her skin taut, bronze, and sweating. Her belly rippled, tensed, convulsed. Something wet covered her thighs.

She screamed again.

The woman at her side patted her brow, with a cool cloth, and held her fingers in one hand, caressed her face with the other. “Lucibella,” the woman whispered. “It’s all right — don’t panic. Don’t fight it. Welcome it. This pain means you’ll meet your daughter soon,” she promised.

The heat and fear subsided, leaving a strange euphoria in its wake. My daughter. I’ll meet my daughter soon. Jules felt her eyes rush with hot tears, and her hand tightened around Gemma’s. The abject adoration in the woman’s voice — Gemma. This is my Gemma, Jules knew — was heartbreaking. Could she tell that it was Jules inside? Watching? Living it? Would it matter? A fresh wave of pain broke over her, and she screamed again, writhing up off the bed. “I have to get up,” she whimpered. “I have to.”

“Of course, my darling,” Gemma promised, easing Jules from the bed. “Let’s walk. You’re nearly there. If you move, it’ll help her settle.”

Jules wept as her feet touched the floor, and she leaned heavily on Gemma, allowing herself to be walked around the room, bare feet hot against cold marble tile. She stared down at her massive belly, and rested a hand against the round of it, but flinched back to feel the feverheat of it, gasping aloud. “It’s so hot,” Jules said.

“She is her father’s daughter. The fire of Ilona runs in her,” Gemma said, petting Jules’s hair back from her face.

“It hurts,” Jules whimpered. “I didn’t know it hurt this much,” she said, pausing to lean against a bureau and make a low, aching moan, letting her belly hang, and her back stretch, her legs stretch. “Yebat allt vis hamri molot,” she growled.

At that, Gemma looked startled, saying, “I know. I know it hurts. But it will end. The pain will end.”

Jules muttered, “Bol zhizni zakanchivayetsya kogda ty umresh.” Her grandfather used to say it, when she was little, before his death — whenever she complained about pain. Heartache or a skinned knee, or even a minor indignity. They were all met with this seemingly pitiless reply: The pain of life only ends when you die. Jules found it freeing, especially after Dedi’s passing. Life would mean pain. But it was a reminder that life was still ongoing. There was still hope. A chance. Life left to live.

“Kriegic,” Gemma marveled. “It is the best language for cursing. Bear it, my darling. It will be over soon. We will meet your daughter,” she said, smiling, offering cool water to Jules to drink.

“My daughter,” Jules whispered, nodding, the cool water doing little to ease the burning within her.

The pain came again, and Jules fell to her knees, in Gemma’s arms, grateful for the loving embrace, wondering just how long a birth and a death could take. She had just gotten used to the feeling, the roaring wave, the coming terror, the tension and rippling heat, when she began to feel the need to bear down. She grabbed hold of Gemma’s arm and whispered. “It’s time. I have to. I have to push,” she said, unable to focus on Gemma’s face for a moment. “I have to.”

“Okay. All right, love. Come up to the chair. Here, that’s it, here we go,” Gemma said, carefully helping Jules up, lifting her back to her feet, walking her to a small padded stool. “Here,” Gemma murmured. “Come sit. Put your feet here. There you go,” she cooed.

Jules settled her naked, sweating, round-bellied body into the chair, put her feet where Gemma directed, and laid her head back, looking at Gemma in delirious wonder. She had a moment to look upon the woman, hair curled in damp, sweaty ringlets, her eyes shining in feverbright adulation, her voice kind and soothing, and then the agony overtook her again.

The pain came in waves, then, without ceasing, and Jules felt a pressure within her unlike any she’d ever known. Everything from her breastbone to her knees felt as though it were on fire — she pushed, gritting her teeth and holding Gemma’s hand as though she might break her fingers. Something felt so very close, so terribly close, and she drew a deep breath and pushed again — and felt something below and behind her navel move. For a moment, the agony of the birthing stopped.

Jules felt nearly triumphant — and then the pain returned with a vengeance. She writhed in the chair and began to scream for her own mother, shrieking in Kriegic, and finally bawling for Nathan, keening as she felt her body splitting open, tearing asunder.

Gemma, who had been avidly watching for the child, looked up at Jules as she howled in anguish, a worried look on her face. “Lucibella?” she whispered, her eyes going wide. “My Luci?”

“No,” Jules sobbed, convulsed in tremors of torturous agony. “No–” She pushed again, struggling, and felt the fire between her legs simply envelop her as something within her came free. She spasmed, her legs going numb, and suddenly she found she could no longer breathe.

Gemma’s own cry lifted, high and wailing, and the last thing Jules heard were the doors to the outside world opening, and guards rushing in. Gemma’s heartbroken face was the last thing Jules saw as the world around her simply fell to black.

* * *

NEXT

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Lindsey Hates Group

The ring of people seated in folding chairs is a familiar enough scene, evoking not collaboration and group comfort but instead a sense of both persecution and loathing.

Lindsey hates Group.

The dull-eyed men and women sitting in the chairs around him pick at their skin and twist their hair, obsessed in tiny details to keep from focusing on a bigger picture. They talk about their petty problems, about their moronic concerns, and it makes him feel like his time is being wasted, and he’ll grow old and die in this place before they ever fix him and he’s allowed to go home and have his life back.

He slumps in his chair, trying not to just fall asleep while other people talk, when suddenly he realizes everything and everyone’s gotten silent.

He looks around, greengold eyes focusing on the here and now, to find everyone staring at him, and the group leader looking expectant.

“What?” he wonders, drawing himself in, trying to make himself smaller. It doesn’t work — there’s no way to make himself small enough that he won’t be noticeable.

“You’ve been silent for two weeks now, in group. You were making excellent progress, Lindsey. I was just wondering what’s changed,” the counselor says, his expression both mild and curious.

“I’ve passed my idealization phase,” Lindsey says dryly. “I’m on to the devaluation phase: I think this is a waste of my time.”

“Excellent,” the counselor says, smiling warmly, his eyes lighting up. “It’s good to be honest about these things, Lindsey.”

“Since we’re being honest, Carl,” Lindsey says, a look of barely restrained disgust touching his lips, “you remind me of a man who lived down the street from where my best friend grew up.”

“Oh?” Carl answers, ever so slightly hesitant, but still smiling. Trusting.

It makes Lindsey’s stomach turn. “Turns out he was a transvestite with a bad coke habit,” Lindsey murmurs. “Do you like to wear frilly pink panties while you get high, Carl?”

Flushing red, Carl says, “I’m afraid you’ve taken your honesty and are using it to hurt the people around you because you’re uncomfortable. You can’t progress without group, and you can’t stay in group if you’re going to be hostile.”

“Guess I’m not making progress today,” Lindsey says, and gets up out of his chair. “Lemme know if you miss it, Carl. I know a guy.”

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DeathWatch No. 131 – I Have To Fight

This is Issue #131 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!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

Once he’d shut and locked the door, Coryphaeus turned to look at Jules, saying, “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” she sighed. “I don’t… it’s coming, but not right now.”

“You’d better hope it comes before dinner,” Coryphaeus sighed, as well.

“I’d better hope?” Jules snorted. “What does that mean? You’re the one he’ll be furious with, that you kept me for yourself.” She paused, putting one hand down on the edge of a tall chest of polished mahogany, her pale fingers stark against the black wood.

Coryphaeus gritted his teeth and looked at Jules irritably, “While it’s true I’ve kept you to save myself, I am working to save your friends.”

“Well I humbly beg your lordship’s most perfect pardon for not hitting my knees in gratitude!” Jules returned. “Perhaps if you had decided to be humane earlier, I wouldn’t have had to watch a hundred of my crewmates kill themselves!” Her voice was shrill, tight, and she snarled at him through bared teeth. “I am not the monster here!”

“Your crewmates did not die because of me,” Coryphaeus said angrily.

Yebat sebya they didn’t,” Jules hissed. “I begged for your help. I said I’d stay with you. I’d use this curse to save your life. To bring you power. And you spurned it and you let them die!”

“You threatened me,” Coryphaeus said, his hands clenching into fists. “You didn’t like my answer — that I wouldn’t be able to save your crew from the Prince’s judgement, and you took it upon yourself to threaten me with something base and humiliating, assuming that leverage would get you what you wanted. I didn’t tell you I didn’t want to save them, you insufferable wretch — I said I could not! All I would have accomplished is being accused of insubordination at best. Treason at worst! I wouldn’t have been able to do anything except damn myself. And let us not forget — while you shout in judgment of monsters –”

“Don’t you dare–” Jules began, looking furious.

“–I was not aboard a supply ship that scoured a valley with aetheric fire!” Coryphaeus hissed. “I was not a member of a crew that burned families and farms. Entire villages! Children!” The cords on his neck stood out; the Ilonan Officer was enraged as he stared down at Jules.

“We’re at war!” Jules said, standing toe to toe. She stared up at him, five feet of impotent rage.

“We are at war, Commander, and soldiers will die, as you and I should be prepared to die, and that is a fact,” Coryphaeus shouted down at her. “Soldiers, not children! Do you have any idea–” He paused, his voice tight as his eyes flinched shut. “–the stink of sloughed skin, melted and burned, piles of bodies, husbands attempting to shelter their wives, mothers attempting to shelter their sons and daughters–”

“–don’t–” Jules said, looking startled, her eyes widening.

“I saw what was left of a boy, perhaps ten, who in his last act, was attempting to cover his younger sister. To keep her from the flames. He managed it,” Coryphaeus said, his voice breaking. “But the little girl died anyway, poisoned by the air, choking on the smoke. Couldn’t have been more than six,” he spat.

“–please–” Jules said, her eyes welling with tears. She staggered back, looking sick.

“And every. Home. Full of death. The streets… hills of bone,” the legatus continued, reaching out to grab hold of Jules’s shoulders, to keep her close. “Your soldiers did not die because of my pride, you hateful wretch–”

“–I’m sorry–” she said, breathless, her eyes wide.

“–those monsters died because my great and terrible Prince declared it so. Because he felt he could not allow such an atrocity to go unpunished,” Coryphaeus said, just as breathless, looking down at her.

“Cory–” Jules pled, her face paling out, twisting in helpless anger. “Legatus–You said it was childish and–”

“It was childish. And horrific. And perhaps necessary,” Coryphaeus sighed, releasing her, wiping his own angry tears from his face. “Just… please, Commander. Stop fighting me. I am doing what I can. I… My Prince has the unenviable position of being the man who must make the decisions. He has the power to make them fierce, and to make them horrifying, and perhaps I would have made a different decision, but perhaps not. The point is, you and I must stand back and not draw his ire. For the love of harmony, Commander, will you please, please, please just… stop? You make it difficult for me to help you.”

“I can’t–” Jules said, putting her face in her hands. “I have to fight. I have to get out of here. I have to get what’s left of my crew out of here,” she said. “I can’t let them all die, as well,” she said, gritting her teeth. “I can’t watch it. I can’t–” she hiccuped, shaking her head in frustration. She looked up at Coryphaeus, and one of her pupils was wide, yawning, while the other was a pinprick. “I can’t do it alone.”

“And I have told you I will help you,” Coryphaeus repeated, clenching his jaw. “But at some point, you will have to trust me, in order for me to do so.”

“You want me to believe that you would help me, even though you have told me that you believe the Princes’s decision to be both childish and horrific… and right?” Jules said, gritting her teeth.

“Not right. Not at all right. But perhaps necessary,” Coryphaeus sighed, looking exhausted. He backed away from her and sat heavily on the plush bed that lay centered in the room.

“Necessary,” Jules said, looking at Coryphaeus, desperate to understand, to be understood. “Abramov did what he felt was necessary.”

He nodded, looking saddened. “In truth, Commander, we will all do what we feel is necessary.” He sighed, shaking his head, saying, “And I… I am not fit to judge the Prince. Nor your captain. Nor you. I do not know if I could have saved your crew, Commander. Perhaps it is fair that those who acted monstrously would be punished monstrously. Perhaps they only acted monstrously because they felt they, too, needed to punish monstrously. I am not able to choose who should live, and who should die.” His voice, already low, went rough with an unexpected grief. “Until your losses caused me to question my Prince, question myself — I have simply followed the orders of those folk who do. I am only a soldier, after all,” he said softly, and there were tears on his cheeks. His shoulders hung heavy with the weight of dozens upon dozens of useless deaths. “I do not ask your forgiveness — perhaps I am a monster, as well.”

Jules reached out, laying a hand on Coryphaeus’s head, a benediction of sorts, saying, “Perhaps we all are.”

Coryphaeus turned to look up at Jules, half-broken, and began to speak again, when instead, he stood up quickly, and reached for her once more. He cupped her face in his hands, looking at her eyes, studying the pale of them intently.

“What — what are you doing?” Jules said, shrugging out of his touch and taking a step back. That familiar, unfamiliar swimming, choking feeling was rising, and all she could see of him was a killer, hungry and reaching. She misread his concern as malice, as predatory, a swift and awful paranoia rolling over her. “Don’t–” she began, feeling like water was closing over her head. “Don’t–” she begged, lifting her hands to shield her face. She flinched from him with a high keen that cut off suddenly in her throat, leaving her trembling. Her eyes were wild in terror, in pain, but then blank and unfocused — as though she couldn’t see at all. “…Cory?” she whispered, reaching out for him, and then her eyes rolled back in her head and her knees buckled, and Julianna Vernon O’Malley slipped.

Coryphaeus lunged for her, pulling her against his chest as she fell, cradling her head from striking anything, and then twisting her to the side as she writhed, gagging. “Shhh,” he whispered, feeling her body shudder and convulse. “I’ve got you,” he promised, worry etched over his features. “I’ve got you, Jules.”

* * *

NEXT

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Bless

Bless this
our love
in its infancy,
this pink and newly-squalling thing
that brings joy
merely for its existence.
Bless it
so that we may love it
even when
it squalls in the middle of the night,
even when
we are tired,
even when
it requires so much of us
we are certain there is nothing left.
Bless us
so that we will
always know forgiveness,
always know peace,
always know truth,
even when these things seem so far away
as to be unrecognizeable.
Most of all,
bless me and my lover both,
to always remember
who we are to one another,
even as our love grows
as many wrinkles and stretchmarks as we do,
in evidence of a life well-lived.

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DeathWatch No. 130 – It Doesn’t Have A Name

This is Issue #130 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!

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

“Welcome, again, Legatus,” the Prince crooned, welcoming Coryphaeus with open arms.

The Ilonan officer smiled faintly, and accepted the embrace.

“And what is this?” Immanis asked of Coryphaeus, looking past him toward Jules, who kept her eyes down, and her hands clasped behind her.

Dressed as a servant and not simply a slave, Jules stood so very still, and let her quiet lack of response answer the Prince. Her simple robes ended above the knees, to keep her legs and feet bare, so that she could hurry with ease, and her milkwhite skin was a source of fascination for many who saw her.

“This is the Westlander you so graciously allowed me,” Coryphaeus said. “It cleans up nicely, as they say.”

Jules found it remarkably easy to not roll her eyes; she trained herself to listen to only the Legatus and the Prince, and only for orders or questions from the latter.

Immanis stepped down from his dais and approached Jules, walking around her slowly. Jules could feel the heat of Immanis’s skin as the Prince reached out a hand, and put his fingertips to her chin, to turn her gaze up to him. “What do you call it?” Immanis wondered, watching her face, but not addressing her.

“It doesn’t have a name,” Coryphaeus said. “If I must address it, if it is too stupid to know it is being addressed without being called upon, I will call it ‘servus,’ your majesty.”

“Ah,” Immanis chuckled, rubbing his thumb over Jules’s lower lip. “What a freakish thing it is, all pale skinned even in the sun. Hair all wiry and bushy like desert weed,” he remarked, without any evidence of dislike in his voice — simply curiosity.

Jules didn’t blush, and was grateful for it. She looked to Immanis without fear; she had been given away to Coryphaeus — there was no interest in her besides potentially making Coryphaeus nervous or feel very much indebted.

Finally, Immanis tapped Jules’s cheek and said, “Look at me, servus.” The word on his tongue felt obscene in her ears, and Jules felt as though her eyelids were heavy as she lifted them to look upon the Prince of Ilona, the pale of her eyes settling onto the dark of his. Something in her wanted to look away, cried out in fear. Something in her couldn’t resist, didn’t want to.

“Yes, your majesty?” Jules whispered, staring up at Immanis. She could not blink but instead stared at the Prince until her eyes began to water.

Immanis asked, “Tell me the truth — are you frightened?”

“Yes,” Jules breathed. “Terrifi–” Her breath caught, and she felt the dizzying, wrenching, wrong feeling that signaled slipping. So far, she was still there. So far. But it was coming. “Terrified,” she breathed, and for one instant, she glanced away, trying to meet Coryphaeus’s eyes, pleading.

The Legatus’s brows lifted, and he cleared his throat, saying, “Your Majesty — I was hoping that this invitation would allow us to view at least a part of the hunt?”

“The entirety will be televisored,” Immanis said. “They’ve been preparing for it for some time now. I have a number of prey. The Guardian will be joining me. I expect it shall be glorious,” he murmured, turning away from Jules, releasing her from his attentions.

The tension bled from Jules, and she shivered, taking a step back, trying to catch her breath.

“Of course you are invited to watch the hunt from the comfort of my personal study. There will be refreshment and likely gambling based on which prey you think will last the longest. I may make it a friendly competition between myself and our Guardian,” he laughed. “Though I may have to ask him to go easy on me.”

“Your swordsmanship is legendary, Majesty,” Coryphaeus said. “The Guardian’s protection is, of course, without parallel, but your skill, my Prince, has been heralded since your coming of age.”

Jules felt her head spin; she shifted to step closer to Coryphaeus, and stumbled, swooning.

He caught her, with no small amount of grace, and it was only the Prince who noticed, with no small amount of amusement, the look of concern on the Legatus’s face. “Servus,” Coryphaeus hissed. “What has come over you?”

“Forgive me, dominus,” Jules said, her voice low, her pale eyes lifted to him, pleading. “I am so clumsy,” she whispered tightly, squeezing his hand hard enough his knuckles ground together.

“Your Majesty,” Coryphaeus sighed dramatically, tearing his eyes away from Jules. “If I may be excused, before it embarrasses itself further.”

“Absolutely,” Immanis said, looking desperately amused. He gestured an easy dismissal, wearing no concern, but instead a mischievous sort of expression. Oh, Legatus, how easily your pretty face betrays your heart. What a ridiculous fool you are to think I don’t know your feelings. “Though I believe it will be my pleasure if you will join us for the evening meal tonight?”

“Your majesty is most kind,” Coryphaeus said, bowing low. “I am honored.”

“Bring the thing. See that it is not clumsy, yes?” Immanis said. “Care for it well, Legatus. Freakish or not, it was an unexpected gift,” he said, clarifying his earlier discarding of the leftover crew as generosity, rather than a lack of interest, “I imagine if you do, it may cause your life to be most interesting, when you least expect it.”

Coryphaeus found himself standing a bit taller, nodding sharply, ready to do whatever was necessary to impress the Prince with his command over and care of the red-headed gift he’d been so generously given. “Yes, your Majesty,” he whispered, and he turned and immediately took Jules’s arm, and walked her out of the audience chamber. He held her up, but rather than let it seem too kindly, he made a show of dominance, purely to keep the servants from whispering.

Attendants took them to the suites in which he would be staying, and gestured to Jules as they asked, “Shall we rest and feed it for you, Legatus?”

He eyed Jules for a long moment, pretending to consider it, and then said, “It is not used to this life yet and may not know how to behave for you; I would prefer it not embarrass me. I will keep it, for now.”

“Of course, Legatus,” the servants said, bowing, and left him to his devices.

* * *
NEXT

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Playing

She’s playing and she sways and rocks and coaxes music from the living, breathing animal that sings in her lap, her dark eyes lifting to focus on his face, a brilliant smile curving her lips.

It’s always been a key –

(a cigarette-scented woman in a thin shirt and what was once one of his ties, too-thin hands earnestly rewrapping ribs, shaking hands petting the broken body of a mangy cat, hands within the ritual of lighting a cigarette, hands opening a paper bag unwrapping a bottle of very old scotch)

– that opened up a place in her, in him, where there might’ve been the
smallest connect, but it was there.

She plays, occasionally singing to the crowd, la la las and yeah yeahs and actual lyrics and laughter, and she plays as though she’s tireless, because she’s got that key –

(little black rectangle and it just felt wrong and the way she danced for him and the smell of peaches and constellation eyes and the purple green spotted towel and singing roses and a castle inside a forest on the edge of a waterfall of souls all inside a drawing on a wall where a girl with invisible wings tries to remember what it was like to fly)

– that seems to open it up inside the passers by: that woman with the tangles of dark, curly hair, and a single, bright white sneaker, walking a little black mop of a scottydog, an older man with a shock of white hair and the spectacles and demeanor of an stern, fatherly doctor, a younger man, tall, with indigo tattoos and storm-purple eyes, and a look that goes right through you, and a scrap of a thing, too tall, too thin, ducking by, avoiding touch and hiding her face, the faded ribbon tangle of her hair fitting with her tattered clothes and the look of honest longing on her face as she steals one last glance at the guitar, broken hands dangling uselessly at her sides.

…and life’s worth loving, anyhow.

And she’s playing.

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