This is Issue #77 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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Battlefield tents had been brought; it was not yet fall — they would suffice for temporary shelters, even in the worst of the summer storms through the farmlands. They would be given to the survivors while the village was rebuilt, before new settlers were brought out. It was in one of these that Immanis held temporary court. Though it was but a thin chair upon a pallet, with thin torches instead of massive braziers, with beaten mud and rushes instead of marble, it was regal. The man who waited was a pacing lion, hungry and furious, all at once.
When the guards brought forth their prisoner, he sat, quietly folding his hands in his lap, waiting patiently once more, while Jet and Lucida stood one step behind him, watchful.
“Kneel,” said one of the guards.
The man did not kneel. “You are Prince, hmm?” The man’s voice was a guttural rasp.
The guard drove a booted foot against the side of the man’s knee, wearing a triumphant sneer.
The joint gave a groaning creak, but it did not break. The man turned to look at the guard, and spat at him, swearing darkly.
The guard raised his weapon, but Immanis lifted a hand, and the guard froze.
“You have the look of a Kriegsman,” Immanis said softly.
“Family is Kriegic,” snapped Abramov. Tongue is Kriegic. Heart is free,” he growled. He had been a massive man in his prime, no doubt, but the last few months had seen him overwrought with grief, and the last few weeks had seen him destroyed. His clothing — a uniform, was in tatters. He had been reduced to eating char and filth, but he had survived. He had fallen out of the sky and survived in the midst of the devastation he had wrought. Though it appeared as though he were coming down with wet-lung, he still looked formidable. “You have the look of a monster,” he growled.
Jet was half-impressed, and half-disgusted. His hand tightened on his sword.
Immanis nodded at the comment, but did not otherwise speak to it. Instead, he said, “They tell me you were the Captain of the ship that–”
“The Maxima,” Abramov interrupted proudly. “It is my ship.”
“It was your ship,” Immanis countered. “It is nothing more than kindling and scrap, now.”
Abramov sneered. “As is this village. Nothing more than scrap and kindling and bones. So many little bones, Ilonan.”
Immanis’s hands tightened on the armrests of the chair in which he sat. “Do you provoke me with intent, Kriegsman?”
“Could be true,” Abramov growled. “Do you? You sitting there, in fine robes. You drink children’s blood. You do this, so I paying you back in measure. I hating you, and every other of your countrymen. I kill every one I see. I burn them. I burn their fields. I burn their children. Your children. Every one of them. To make you pay for mine,” he snarled, taking a step forward.
Immanis’s eyes flicked up to meet Abramov’s, and he said, quite clearly, “No further.”
Abramov stopped where he stood, and his expression grew baffled, briefly. “I do not wanting to be closer to you, monster,” he snapped, coming up with his own reason for why he stopped.
Immanis rose, then, and shed the robes he’d been wearing. He stepped off the pallet and walked to Abramov, and stood before him, proud, without fear. The glimmering tattoos whorling over his flesh caught the torchlight, and made his skin shine. He took a knife from his hip and held it carefully, delicately twirling it with dextrous fingers.
Jet trembled, only steps away, ready to carve the Kriegsman’s into pieces, while Lucida watched, sleepy lioness eyes taking in everything, simply biding her time.
Abramov leaned back from Immanis, almost baring his teeth, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
“I ask you again, Kriegsman. Do you provoke me with intent?” Immanis wondered, conversational, blinking slowly.
“Yes,” Abramov growled.
Hate shone in his eyes, but Jet saw, for a moment, a flicker of something that was more akin to love. Oh, Eisen, he thought, remembering the way the Kriegsman’s eyes had shone with adoration. And then he looked down at his own hands, and then over at Lucida, who caught his gaze, and looked solemn. He questioned himself, then — what am I doing? — and felt his heart rise in his throat as he looked back to the exchange.
“Yes, monster. I provoking you,” Abramov snarled. “You deserving it. Killed my boys. Killed our people. Killing everything I love,” he hissed. “You are animals. Worse than animals. You are beasts. Monsters. All of you. I provoking you, monster, to finish it. All of this, all of your dead farmers. All of your land poisoned. All your dead children! ALL OF THEM! I do all of this, and now there is nothing more for me to do. Maxima is gone. My Yana is gone. Everything is gone. You taking nothing more from me. Nothing!”
“Oh,” Immanis said, and his eyes lit up, though the smile at his lips did not touch that wrathful gaze. “Oh, how little you comprehend, Kriegsman. You think there is nothing more I can take?”
Abramov snarled, spitting at Immanis’s feet, and shouted “I having nothing left! You already taking everything! You–”
Both Jet and Lucy came to stand beside Immanis, to watch. They knew what was coming.
“Silence,” Immanis hissed.
The sound of it sent a cold chill up Jet’s spine. He knew he could speak if he wished, but he saw Abramov close his mouth so suddenly, he bit his tongue. Blood ran from his lips in a slow line, and Abramov’s eyes went wide in shock.
“I will take from you one last thing, Kriegsman,” Immanis murmured. He lifted a hand, and gestured for Abramov to kneel. At the same time, he said, “Sit,” as one might speak to a dog.
When Abramov knelt before Immanis, Jet found himself smiling with pride. Here was the monster, brought to heel.
“I could keep you as a dog,” Immanis whispered, leaning over Abramov. “Would you like that, Kriegsman?”
There were tears in Abramov’s eyes as he nodded, and they ran with the blood, and dripped from his chin.
Immanis reached down to touch Abramov’s chin, to make the Kriegsman look up at him. He ran his thumb over the blood and tears on the man’s cheek, and then painted his own cheek from the temple to the corner of his mouth. He licked the last trace clean from the pad of his thumb, and said “I have no need of a dog. I have hounds aplenty.” He turned away and walked back to his chair
Abramov’s shoulders slumped. He looked defeated. “No,” he begged. “No, please. You cannot sending me away, my Prince. I will be hound. I will be hound! Let me be hound!”
Lucida laughed darkly, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. “It is a pity he does not truly know what you have taken.”
Jet thought it a mercy, one the massive man did not deserve. “All those innocent people,” he said, shaking his head. “It would be a more perfect punishment for the man if he knew how he was being degraded, yes, but I would rather him dead. I would rather kill him a hundred thousand times,” he said. “Brother,” he called, staring down at Abramov, who knelt, looking pleading. “What shall we do with him now, get him a collar? Have him docked?”
When there was no answer, Jet turned, half-smiling. What he saw put fear into the pit of his belly, nearly quenching the fire that lived there now.
Immanis lay within reach of his pallet, grey-lipped and trembling, one hand reaching out as he frothed, choking, legs kicking at nothing.
Jet flew to his side, turning him over, holding him. Kieron’s episodes had sometimes come with seizures — the only thing to do had been to wait them out.
“No,” Lucida cried. “No, NO!” Whirling on Abramov, she howled, “WHAT DID YOU DO?”
“Poison. I poisoning my blood when you catch me,” he told her piteously, howling to see Immanis convulse. “Is only poison for blood-eaters. Monstrous beauty. Oh, no, my Prince!”
Senseless with rage, Lucida drew her own sword and in an instant, wrapped herself around the Kriegsman and drew the blade tight from ear to ear. She sawed it close, and the edge caught in the cartilage of his spine. When she jerked it free, the head fell back, and she kicked him over, dancing neatly out of the way of his falling body, and its outrush of blood.
“Get him to the airship,” she cried. “We have brought a physician. She will save him!”
Jet picked Immanis up and held him close, tears in his eyes to feel the lifeless body of his brother. His heart ached; this was no monster. The man in his arms was his blood. He ran past the guards, snarling, “Burn the tent. Burn the body.”
“What of the other ship, Guardian?” one of the soldiers asked. “The Ivory Goddess?”
Jet’s eyes lit up; the inferno within him roared as he declared, “Find it. And burn it, as well.”
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