This is Issue #153 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!
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“Get up,” Lucida wept. “Oh, Gemma. Amare. Please. Please?” She knelt to put her hand to Gemma’s cheek, and leaned down to kiss her forehead.
When Gemma’s eyes fluttered open, Lucida thought she might expire purely from relief. She threw her arms around the woman and sobbed openly, kissing her face, saying, “My love, mylove, my Gemma, don’t you ever dare leave me.”
Gemma leaned against Lucida, dazed but all right, finally reaching up a hand to pet Lucy’s head. “Shhh, meabella, I am fine. I am,” she promised. “Shaken, but fine,” she said, sitting up a little further. She looked over to the crumpled form at her feet and wondered, “Your pet — does it live?”
Lucy nudged Jules with her foot, and the woman gave a low, awful groan.
Jules slowly curled up, sobbing, the circles on her back running with blood.
Lucy lashed out with a sharp kick to Jules’s ribs, hissing, “On your knees, milkskin. Get up!” She pushed fury back into her voice, to keep it strong, to keep herself from betraying her weakness, her love for Gemma, her worry for her brother. “Gemma,” she said quietly, “The collar. We do not want to miss our Prince’s finest hour.”
Soon, Jules found herself prodded down the hall, in soiled, bloody robes, her hands and feet shackled, a collar and leash at her throat. She walked with as straight and even a gait as she could muster. She did not want any more encouragement or punishment in the form of an aether taser, or hard kicks. Her head felt muzzy and stuffed, her tongue thick, and she could hardly think straight — she only knew there was terror along the edges of all her thoughts.
Awful things were coming.
The trio were welcomed into the Prince’s study, to sit before a giant telescreen. Other screens were placed about the room at other angles, showing off dozes of other locations in the jungle. Lucida made Jules sit, front and center, watching the show. Whenever she turned her face away, her collar was given a sharp jerk.
Jules kept her face turned up toward the screens, and the fog in her head slowly began to lift.
She began to remember.
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The night grew darker, thicker. Lightning sizzled and arced across the sky, throbbing blue-silver against the purpleblack of the clouds.
As they went further north, the terrain grew harder to navigate, until it was straight up climbing over rock formations, following an ever-widening stream.
The group clung together, helping one another — if the best way out was somewhere in the northeast, no one wanted to be running alone, or in a different direction.
Ilonan, Westlander, criminal, soldier — they were all prey.
Nevertheless, as they made their way further, faster — some of the group began to lag behind.
The people of Ilona and all their sister-city-states watched with wide eyes as the gap between predator and prey began to close. Quickly. The cameras within the walled jungle showed side by side the beasts giving chase, and the prisoners running like hell for leather.
It was Jet who drew first blood — he pulled knives from where they were strapped and hurled them through the dark, letting fly his weapons, golden eyes bright as the black blades found their mark.
The first to fall was an Ilonan criminal, a man who had been jailed for repeated violent crimes. He was running beside Djara when he uttered a cry and fell. She saw him go down, three knives embedded to the hilt in his back, blood welling up, spreading quickly over his torn wet shirt.
“FASTER!” she screamed, “FASTER–THEY ARE HERE!” Djara’s eyes were wide and white in the dark as she veered left, ducking around a stand of trees to try to get some cover.
“Dividare!” one of the other men shouted, turning on his heel. He pulled a pistol he’d had tucked in his waistband, and began to fire into the night, behind the group, blindly, hoping for a hit. A bullet grazed Immanis’s left bicep, but then the man was cut down only moments later. He screamed until he hit the jungle floor, and then Immanis took out his throat, and kept running.
The grouping split, running so that both the Prince and the Guardian would have to choose who to chase, and perhaps that would allow some to escape.
Kieron could hear the sounds of his comrades-in-arms falling. Some of them screamed, high and shrill, and some of them simply fell, the grunting effort of their breath suddenly cut out, silenced. He darted around trees, leapt over logs, and then he burst into a clearing, and saw ahead of him, the wall. It wasn’t too high, but it might as well have been Damnation Ridge — his pursuers were close behind, and he had weapons, but no climbing gear.
And then off to the right, the terrain went up, and then dropped away. The river became a waterfall spilling into the inland sea, and the fall was hundreds of feet into a small pool surrounded by mossy rocks below.
Cameras could not quite grasp the look of profound despair that touched the faces of the hunted — nor the way it gave to desperation.
More than one Westlander turned to face their end with a weapon in hand, while the rest ran for the wall, and began to scramble at the vine-covered stones.
Coryphaeus turned to run back to the trees, shouting at the Ilonans to draw the Prince and the Guardian with him. The Prince gave chase, gleeful, but the Guardian waited, turning back toward the few left who struggled their way toward freedom.
Garrett pulled free his own guns and began to fire on the Guardian, to distract and wound him as much as possible; he was astonished at the man’s speed, worried at his skill. He dropped his shoulder when the Guardian simply ran at him, painted mask snarling in animalistic delight, and even as he felt his head connect with a rock on the ground, and the world go black around him, he knew he managed to send several bullets into the Guardian’s body.
He felt the warmth of the Guardian’s blood rush over his hands, felt the body grow heavy, fall lifeless against him. He managed a triumphant exhalation, almost laughter, and let his eyes flutter shut as dizziness overtook him, and sent him into the dark.
One down, he thought. One to go.
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