This is Issue #116 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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Immanis’s eyes fluttered shut, and he leaned back against Jet, briefly, a low, pleased laugh in his throat. He turned to breathe in the scent of his chosen brother, sighing just loudly enough that only Jet could hear. “Oh, perfection, my Black Stone,” he purred. “Go. Go and deliver unto my sister the wedding night of her dreams,” he murmured. “Give to her what I know no one else can,” he said quietly. “I will examine these precious gifts to decide who will become prey and who will become prisoner, and who will become the briefest flash of entertainment. I must of course show gratitude to all the wedding guests who remain to keep me company while my most favorite people abandon me,” he chuckled.
“You are far from abandoned,” Jet murmured quietly. “But do you not wish me to wait here with you, while you choose your toys?” He turned his painted face out toward the audience chamber, where he remembered kneeling before Immanis so long ago, watching Eisen’s blood spill. He looked out over the sea of faces, watched their expressions shift from exhaustion to fear to fury and back to fear as they stood, hungry, miserable, wounded, waiting, not knowing their fate. Some of them looked up. Some of them were either too afraid, angry, or exhausted to do so. He could not find it in himself to see their humanity; to him, they were beasts of the vilest sort — supplicants to some awful death-machine that fed on the destruction of innocent lives.
Those soldiers destroyed thousands of civilians, and he felt no regret in giving them to his Prince.
They were soldiers — they would pay the price for their part in the slaughter.
“Go,” Immanis said, his voice low yet urgent. “My resolve to send you along cannot possibly last. This gift is far greater than you know. I must savor it while you are away from me,” he murmured, and he laid his bare hand against Jet’s wrist.
The sudden humanness of the contact made Jet’s cheeks burn beneath the facepaint. He shivered, staring to Immanis, silent but yearning.
“My Prince,” Jet said just as softly, obeying as he chose to.
Immanis glanced over at Jet and nodded to him; what was left unspoken hung between them heavily, leaving a not-unpleasant ache that settled low in Jet’s belly as he turned away, and moved to take Lucida’s hand.
Lucida curled her fingers in his, coquettishly batting her long, dark lashes. She laughed aloud at Jet’s raised brows, saying, “Come and away with me, caro. It is time you and I had nothing to focus on but one another.”
Both Secta and Gemma watched the two of them with nothing short of pure adulation, staying near to one another as though in comfort.
Lucida and Jet looked out over the sea of wedding guests and their offering to Immanis, smiling. Lucida could see the whites of Jet’s eyes past his painted mask; she wanted little more than to take it off him, and see how he had handled the exhausting day of pomp and ceremony. She gave his hand a squeeze, and smiled a real smile, only for him.
The multitudes of Ilonans cheered for both Lucida and Jet as they strode down from the dais and out of the room, through the throng of prisoners who were made to kneel and press their foreheads to the floor, hands bound behind their backs. Each step they took echoed against the mosaic stone floor, and the resultant outcry of love and celebration filled the hall, reverberating against the stone
Though neither of them knew it, when Lucida’s trailing skirts brushed past the branded shoulder of a kneeling soldier, it was the closest Jet had been to Kieron in over a year.
Jet didn’t look down, and Kieron did not look up, and once again, they were apart.
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“Centralites and other citizens of the Allied territories!” one of the criers called. “Lift your heads and look upon him, Prince of Ilona. He is ruler of the free lands, and father to all the child-countries you call home. He is Immanis Venator.”
The remaining crew of the Jacob and the Maxima looked toward Immanis, lifting their heads from the floor. They remained kneeling, sitting back on their heels. They all stared up toward the dais, toward the man in body paint, tattoos, knives, and fine silks.
“Who speaks for you?” Immanis wondered of the group. “Where are your leaders?” His voice was low but loud, powerful and yet somehow oddly, smooth, like a strange honey that sweetened his words, even as they were threatening.
Sha sighed, clearing her throat, and carefully moved to stand. Nate did as well, as did Jules.
Kieron watched them, trembling, and swallowed roughly, wincing when any movement pulled at his stitches. He turned, looking toward the door where the Guardian and the Princess had left, feeling his heart in his throat. He had nearly cried out when the train of her wedding gown slid against his wounds, and now his mouth was full of blood for how he’d bitten his tongue to silence himself. He swallowed it back with a grimace, and turned back to see what was happening at the dais.
“Come and stand before me,” Immanis directed, gesturing to the foot of the dais. He stood, magnificent before them, all radiant presence and determined power. Up on the dais, he was taller than everyone, even in his bare feet.
Sha walked slowly, carefully, picking her way past the kneeling bodies of her crewmembers. Now and then, she let her fingers trail over someone’ shoulder, someone’s neck. We’ll be all right. This we’ll be fine. We’ll get out of this one; we’ve been in worse scrapes. It’ll all be okay.”
Nate and Jules joined her, without hesitation, standing shoulder to shoulder with her, their chins high, eyes focused.
“One ship. Three captains?” Immanis wondered of them, one brow raising, an almost smug look on his face.
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