This is Issue #48 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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Far in the distance, to the north, he saw what looked like storm clouds on the distant horizon; he knew better. He remembered hearing from Danival about how the Kriegic war machine was simply far more advanced than what Centralis had organized. He had envisioned skies so darkened with ships the sun would be blotted — he could see now, he wasn’t far off.
He shook his head, clearing his mind, and glanced back up toward the ship he was escaping.
Lorem Tenuis hadn’t been a man who paid attention to Immanis’s hunts; the ship’s crew hardly cared — they saved their bets for less fatal fight matches, as well as bird and dog fighting. Nate didn’t remember the ship receiving word that Immanis had died. He wondered if the navarchus would try to reach the Prince, and when he learned Immanis was dead, if he would instead speak to the Princess, to tell them of the Kriegic invasion.
He wondered if that would make any difference.
The sun glinted off the wings he’d been given, and far below, one or two Ilonans marveling at the beautiful sky happened to notice something glittering in the heavens, but it was there and gone again, like so many other moments.
The beauty of Ilona was easy to see, from so far up; he stared out over swaths of lush farmland and forest, lazy, crawling rivers, outlying villages, and the sprawl of the magnificent city that curled around the bottom tip of the inland sea. The outer wall was only a formality in places, while an inner jungle was contained on three sides by a massive wall, and on the fourth by the very cliff he’d fallen from.
Shoulda seen it; boy FLEW.
He remembered rolling, tumbling. The knife went in at his shoulder; Immanis stabbed him again and again.
It all happened so fast.
In his last moment before the drop, he remembered seeing Kieron tear away from Garrett and run for him.
He remembered thinking how terrible he felt for the boy, how he knew he couldn’t be saved, how Kieron would blame himself. He grabbed for the grass, the rocks, even as he felt himself tipping over that ledge, and he cursed the mud, the rain, cursed Immanis, cursed himself, and–
Is that why you fell?
It was that cliff he soared to, not quite a mark on any screen, too small, even with his massive wings, to be noticed by the machines that scanned the skies looking for Kriegic invaders.
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He touched down in the clearing near the cliff’s edge, booted feet landing where the ground was scored and scuffed from the battle. The dead had been taken, but he could still see the spot where Daya had fallen. He wondered if, after he’d gone over the edge, they’d managed to escape.
He ran into the jungle itself, sticking to larger paths, considering his wings, trying to keep them from being tangled. He realized after awhile he needn’t have worried; the feathers were sharp; he sliced through underbrush and vine if it resisted him. He thundered back through the trees, circling, looking for a sign. For anything.
He remembered now that Immanis had gone over with him — that he’d killed the Guardian to save Kieron, and might’ve saved Coryphaeus by taking Immanis down. Now, however, he had no idea of where to begin. Had Coryphaeus gotten them out? Had anyone survived? Had they gone to get Jules from the palace?
Was she locked up in a cabinet, like Lorem’s seer had been?
That thought seized Nate’s heart; he clenched his fists so hard his ring bit into his finger, and he felt his jaw tighten. He ran back for the clearing, teeth bared, tears in his eyes, only one thought in his mind.
Nothing will stop me.
His wings flared out, and beat down once, twice; he felt the muscles in his back and shoulders protest, but he ran for the cliff, determination on his face, and without a heartbeat of hesitation, he leapt out over the edge. Rather than plunge down into the water, he caught an updraft and swung out over the bay, then circled back toward the city; he was low enough now that he would be below the radar anyway, but people would be more likely to see him.
There was no way he would be forgettable, now — not like this.
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He landed on a flat rooftop as the last of the sun was dying. He stretched, cracking his neck, and looked around in an attempt to get his bearings. There was the Palace, not far. It seemed the most likely place to begin. Dropping down into an alleyway, he pulled a shirt from someone’s laundry line, and pulled it carefully over his shoulders, tearing it to let the wings free. A cloak went over the whole mess, and he pulled the mechanical things in as tightly as possible, trying to hide himself. He caught sight of his profile in a reflection on a broken public viewscreen, and decided to pull the hood up and add a pack to the outfit.
When he bent and moved slowly, he simply looked like some sort of hunchback, not like any kind of threat at all.
Once he felt he was less visible, he sat in a public area and watched screens for awhile, trying to get a sense of how the city was feeling; he saw wanted posters, advertisements, endorsements, news about schools and temples and public events.
Every hour there was a moment of silence for the Prince.
He wondered if the viewing of the event had been well-filmed enough that he would be recognizable to the general public, and decided to pull his hood a little higher, letting his face be entirely hidden in shadow.
He strode toward the palace, trying to stick to the shadows, one foot in front of the other, determined to get back to Jules, no matter what stood in his way.
“Tá mé ag teacht, mo ghrá,” he said softly.
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