This is Issue #118 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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Sha, Nathan, and Jules barely had time to look confused before the nearly-one-hundred surviving members of the Maxima moved as one. None of the soldiers flinched as they did as they were commanded — the only differences were the ‘how’. Knives went for hearts, throats, bellies, eyes.
Every last man and woman (and in some cases, cadets who were little more than children) who had been serving under Julianna Vernon O’Malley staggered and fell to the floor, bleeding.
For some it was nearly instant. Strong men could slice open their own throat, ear to ear, and bleed out in a matter of seconds.
The Ilonans, at first shocked, began to applaud. They cheered in their own tongue. Here was a spectacle worthy of their Prince, worthy of their having to deal with these wretched enemies being in their presence.
Gemma, half lost within the guards and crowd, grabbed Secta’s hand and squeezed it tightly.
He looked to her, raising a brow.
“There are ninety-four,” Gemma said quietly.
“You counted?” he wondered, giving her hand a gentle squeeze back.
“I felt them all,” she said. “It is as though I am cursed to know the Westlanders’ miseries,” she murmured. “As though their hearts can equal ours.”
“Be careful,” Secta said. “Our Guardian was once a Westlander.” His eyes wandered over the horrific scene, unflinching, seemingly unmoved.
“Once. But he’s died again and again and burned that part away,” Gemma said. “Now he’s ours. Only ours.”
Secta swallowed dryly; in his mind’s eye he could see the crimson water, taste the copper tang in the air, feel the dead weight of his master’s body in his arms. He shuddered, squeezing Gemma’s hand in his, and turned to watch the outsiders coming undone within their misery.
“No. No! NO!” Jules screamed, panicking, and ran for the closest one as he struggled to jam the knife into his own chest. She slipped in the blood of those who were already dead, and reached for the knife, fighting with the soldier. “No — stop! Stop this! No, NO!” Her voice was high; she could not contain her own distress, and she was desperate to save at least one life, stop at least one senseless death.
It was futile; no matter how she blocked him, he kept trying. “Pavel,” she pled, one hand grabbing for the knife, the other touching his cheek, turning his face to hers. “Don’t do this. Don’t let him do this to you — no no, stop, stop pozhaluysta, please please no, no,” she begged, her tongue slipping to Kriegic as she struggled. “You have a wife. You have a son. They love you, Pavel. They love you. Please don’t do this,” she said to him. For all her determination, however, Pavel was simply stronger. He finally wrested the knife from her and slashed it over his own throat, frantic. The spray of blood washed over Jules; she couldn’t even turn her face in time, and was bathed in it. He dropped the knife and collapsed in her arms as she put her hands over the wound, struggling, wild-eyed. She looked around at all the dead, all the dying — a quarter of the people in the room, while the rest knelt in terror, in blood, watching their comrades do the unspeakable, or stood close by, looking avidly fascinated, pleased even. She then looked back to Immanis in horror, and though she tried to speak, instead all that came was a rough keening noise, from somewhere low in her throat.
“This,” Immanis said triumphantly, his lips pulled back in a faint sneer. “This is what the Ilonans felt, while your ship sailed into the Valley. This is what mothers and fathers knew, as you rained fire down from the sky, over their farms, their families, their flesh. This is deploro.”
“I am almost sad my Mistress has missed this,” Gemma whispered to Secta as they remained watching from out of the way. “She enjoys watching the pain of those who have wrong us.”
“I am glad my Guardian is not here,” Secta said, frowning slightly. “I have a terrible feeling about what is to come.”
“Bastard!” came the cry from Sha’s left. She looked shocked, flinching, and turned to see Nate, seething.
“My prophecy has yet to unfold,” Gemma noted, looking at Nathan with worried eyes, watching him after his outburst.
“This is the act of a coward!” Nathan roared, rage and loss in his eyes. “This is the sick cruelty of a man punishing many for the actions of one. We tried to stop Abramov!” Nathan said, stalking toward Immanis, his hands curling into fists. “We blew up his fucking ship! We aren’t the ones who did this to your people!”
“Nate — no,” Sha began, reaching for him, her eyes widening. She tried to get a hand around his wrist, tried to stop him, tried to anything — she would have grabbed him by his dislocated shoulder, but guards grabbed her and pulled her back. She struggled with them, even as Nate stood before Immanis, his dark eyes raging. “Let go,” she hissed at them. “Let me stop him! Let me go!” One of them drove his fist into her stomach hard enough to make her bend double, gagging. She drew breath back in with a whoop and a cough, shook off one of the Ilonans, and landed a blow on the other that broke his nose.
Ilonans tried to draw nearer, to watch; wedding guests slowly closed in around the groupings of Centralites — Sha’s fistfight against the small group of guards piqued their interest. Several of them even began to place bets on whether she would best the guards.
Sha drove her heel down onto the instep of the one that went to grab her again, snarling. She finally stopped when a third guard fisted his fingers in her wild curls and pulled her head back to expose her throat. He held the point of a blade to it, and dug it against her voicebox, hissing quietly, “Be. Still.”
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