This is Issue #155 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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Lightning snarled overhead, painting the bloody jungle in silverblue on black; the rain that poured down sluiced mud and blood away from skin, leaving bodies on the ground pale and cold — looking almost like they were writhing in the flickering light.
Kieron threw himself against the Guardian, scrabbling to get ahold of him, muscles strengthened by working on the airship bunching as he curled fists and struck his opponent without holding back.
Wanting to meet his rival on equal terms, the Guardian did not pull out his knives, but instead wrapped his arms around the young man and twisted to bring them both to the ground. They fought like wild things, punching, kicking, clawing, spitting mud, rolling about in the thunder.
At last, the Guardian came out on top, pinning Kieron to the ground. He grabbed Kieron’s head, one hand on either side, and snapped it back against the packed earth, dazing him.
Kieron’s eyes rolled, and he went slack, stunned, coughing against the rain. Then he reached up feeble hands to wipe his hair from his eyes. The rain washed mud and blood away, revealing the pale of his skin, the sharp jut of his cheekbones, the line of his jaw. He looked up, his gaze blind, wild, and he bared his teeth, reaching to claw at his opponent’s throat.
The Guardian put his hands around Kieron’s neck; he leaned in, snarling, excited to see the light go out. He stared down, panting, growling, “Vos odisse me? Non refert. Morieris eadem.” His hands tightened around Kieron’s throat, intending to finish it. You hate me? It doesn’t matter. You’ll die anyway. He spoke in Ilonan, and his voice was lower, rougher than it had been before, even only a year ago.
Kieron arched his body beneath the Guardian, his eyes going wide, panic settling in. He writhed, uttering a low, choked sob. And then suddenly — the hands around his throat were gone. He looked up to see the Guardian had pulled back, as if touching Kieron were painful. He stared up at the beast that had been throttling him to death, and struggled to breathe again.
“Hoc esse non potest,” the Guardian breathed. This can’t be.
Kieron stared up at the masked man, not knowing what he said, not understanding the Ilonan tongue.
“Hoc est dolus aut fraus aliqua,” Jet said. This must be some kind of trick. One hand reached down to cup Kieron’s cheek in his hand, his thumb sliding so very carefully against the raw wound that circled his left eye. “Tibi fieri non potest. Quomodo hoc tibi? Tu mortuus est, Key… Non vos?” Behind the mask, his eyes were so wide, so white. He sat back on his heels, Kieron pinned beneath him, and felt a rising horror. It clawed up the back of his mind, and a film of red began to descend. It can’t be you. How could it be you?
You died, Key… didn’t you?
Kieron froze, staring up at the Guardian, his heart in his throat. What happened? Why was he being touched like that? Did that monster call him by name? “Get your hands off me,” he hissed.
Jet reached his other hand up to remove the mask, saying, “Kie–”
Before the Guardian revealed his face, before the mask had been removed entirely, Nathan was there. He brought a heavy, sharp rock against the side of the warrior’s skull, knocking him to the mud. He knelt over the fallen foe and drove the rock down again and again, shattering the mask, shattering the face beneath it, leaving them both in an unrecognizable horror, until he could turn to look at Kieron, panting, tasting blood and tears.
Kieron looked up at Nathan in a mixture of shock and gratitude.
* * *
The camera angles were catching things perfectly. Julianna Vernon O’Malley had seen that look. When she slipped, held against the airship wall, listening to Kieron be branded, she had seen that face.
She knew what was coming next.
“No–” she begged. “No, no please.” Her voice was ragged, and she nearly gagged on her own tears as she moved to get up, jerking herself away from an Ilonan who’d taken a liking to her, who wanted to talk to her in lines of terrible poetry about her pale skin and spread thighs. At any other time, she’d have felt sick, and started a brawl — but at the moment, her heart was breaking, and she couldn’t look away. “Einin,” she sobbed. “You stupid arse. Why didn’t ye run?”
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Nathan looked down at the heavy, bloody rock in his hand and dropped it, still panting. Moonlight glinted off the bluegold band circling on one of his fingers; he looked at it and smiled, turning it with his thumb. He felt rain on his face as he sat back on his heels and offered a hand to Kieron, standing up, helping him stand up. He put a hand to his own face, wiping away the rain, the mud, scratching at his unshaven stubble.
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“No!” Jules shouted. “No! Behind you! He comes from behind you!” Jules screamed, rattling her shackles, her leash. “Look behind you, mac fraochan!” she shouted in the middle of the Prince’s study, where the air reeked of aetheris, where money was being traded by the moment, while the Ilonans looked at her curiously. They watched the Hunt with trepidation; the Prince had gone into the forest to chase the fallen Legatus, but neither had returned. The Guardian had fallen, but they were sure it was only a matter of time until he rose again.
In the mean time, the crazy redhead was shrieking and running and shaking her fists at the telescreen, howling madly.
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Kieron looked up at Nate, shivering, rain pasting his hair to his forehead. “I think he knew my name–” he began, his lips half blue in the chill.
Nathan nodded, reaching out a hand to cup Kieron’s cheek as though he weren’t quite listening, much like the Guardian had just done, to examine the scar, the ragged stitches. He ran a gentle thumb just outside Kieron’s scar line, saying, “It’ll make a fine memory, Brody.”
Kieron reached up to put a hand on Nathan’s wrist, squeezing gently. All at once, his expression changed; his eyes flared wide in terror. “Nate, I–LOOK OUT!”
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