This is Issue #33 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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Jet stared at himself in the mirror, inspecting the line of his jaw. The razor had been unfathomably sharp; he ran fingertips over the smooth skin of his cheek and chin, and finally shrugged, content with the outcome. The armoire had been stocked with clothing of various sizes; after a shave and two baths — one had not been enough to deal with his filth or the ache in his muscles — he ate the cold food off his tray, drank several cups of tea, then dressed himself carefully, in comfortable clothes he hoped were appropriate to whatever dinner he would be attending.
He kept getting up and looking at himself in the mirror, raking his hair back from his face, plucking at the collar of his shirt, staring at the boots. Everything fit well enough. He was clean and presentable.
He simply felt like a cheat, like he was betraying himself, and Kieron.
I should be fighting. I should have run.
He looked at the clock for the thousandth time, sighing that it was only a quarter of an hour until six bells, and decided that was time enough; he had no idea how to find the dining room, and he did not want to be late. Taking the folding knife from the nightstand, Jet tucked it into his pocket, and tried the door.
It was still unlocked.
He took a deep breath, and let himself out into the hall.
Though it was undoubtedly beautiful, the foreignness and emptiness of it set his skin to crawling — no one else was in the hall; he could have been the last person alive on the planet. Quickly, he strode off to the right, imagining he would find a person at some point who could direct him to the dining room. He wandered for some time, but saw no one in the first five minutes. After a little while longer, he grew worried; he did not want to be late purely because he’d gotten himself lost.
He hurried, glancing down crossing hallways and into empty rooms, and finally he strode around a corner and right into a servant who looked both startled and then terrified. He lifted his hands up palms out, and said, “I won’t hurt you. I’m just looking for the dining room!”
The servant’s eyes darted this way and that; she did not answer, but stared at Jet in fear.
“The dining room, that’s all, you know, where… where you eat?” he asked, miming the motion of eating, and rubbing his stomach.
That got the servant to take a step back, shaking her head.
“Please,” Jet said, frantic. “Can you find Lucy? Lucida?” he wondered. “Is Lucida here?”
The servant paused, still somewhat distrustful. She asked him a question in Ilonan, but all he could make out was the word “Lucida” and so he simply repeated himself. “Is Lucida here?”
The woman gestured nervously for him to follow her, and she turned and hurried down the hall, up a staircase, down another hall, until he was easily lost; she stopped in front of a large set of doors and knocked on them with the massive doorpulls. Another servant opened the door to receive him, and looked slightly startled. “You are Jet,” she said, her accent thick, but understandable.
“I am! Do you speak my language? I’m not yet schooled in Ilonan,” he said, looking hopeful, trying to glance past her — he wondered if those grand doors were to another wing of the palace where Lucy was working.
“Know enough rough tongue, yes,” the woman said.
“Excellent, yes, I am looking for Lucy so she can help me find the dining room?” Jet said, trying not to laugh at himself.
“Is busy. I take you to dining room,” the woman said bluntly.
“Oh. That’s… well thank you,” he said, quite pleased for her assistance, no matter how brusque. He followed along in her wake, and after a time, found himself in a long chamber with a rather huge table in the midst of it. It was filled with all manner of food and drink, tall candelabras, exotic floral arrangements — and people.
Venator stood at one end, while all the guests sat, talking and gesturing, waving drinks about. When he noticed Jet, his lips twisted into a rather amused smirk — something about it was familiar, and it made Jet flinch — and he said something to his guests, gesturing toward Jet.
Almost as one, the party turned to look at Jet, and the talking stopped. People set down their drinks and rose from the table to approach him. That, too, made Jet’s heart race; he struggled not to run from the people as they approached him, wide-eyed and curious. They began to talk to one another in whispers, but Jet could only understand a word here and there, mostly ‘savage’ and ‘animal’ and so he simply looked to Immanis, standing still, waiting.
Immanis himself strode to Jet’s side, carving away people right and left, letting them step back and watch. The tall, copperskinned man offered him a hand. “I see you have decided to join us,” he murmured quietly. “And you are quite on time.”
Jet stared at the hand for longer than a moment, without reaching out his own.
“I am certain I have the custom correct,” Immanis said softly. “A grasping of hands for mutual assurances of safety?”
“Yes, I…” Jet flushed, offering out his hand; when Venator took it, the young man schooled his trembling, but only barely. “I hope not to offend; the situation is… not what I am used to.” He stared, for a moment, at the way his pale skin laid against the darker tones of his captor.
“I should imagine not,” Immanis murmured. “And yet it is what you shall be used to, now. You will join me for dinner,” he intoned. “Come, sit by my side — across from my sister.”
Jet shivered, nodding, and followed Immanis back to the table, letting himself be seated. When he looked up, he flinched again, staring dumbly across the table at the dark-haired beauty.
Her smirk was precisely like her brother’s, and she had a way of looking through her lashes that made Jet’s breath catch.
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