It was late, the darkness of late evening already spreading to cover the city. Torches lit the practice fields in a bath of orange light, sending shadows flying across the ground.
"Are you ready?" Maradalel shouted at Andarada—el, the only other person there.
Andarada—el didn't answer and merely raised his sword, his skin appearing to turn yellow, though it was hard to tell with the poor lighting.
Maradalel charged, sword swinging.
Clack went his blade against the block he had known would be awaiting him. Smiling to himself, Maradalel twisted his blade around the other, forcing it to either move out of the way or be flung out his friend's grip.
The blade got out of the way and Maradalel struck his pommel into his friend's chest, knocking him over, and then placing his sword against his neck.
Andarada—el groaned, small blobs of blue shifting across his skin. "You're too good!"
Maradalel grinned down at his friend. "Do you want another rematch?"
Andarada—el got to his feet, turning a vibrant yellow. "Of course I do!"
Maradalel walked back to his starting spot, sword raised in front of him.
Pain laced up Maradalel's spine, the runic crest hidden under his binding activating, burning like cold spines. Dropping his sword, he fell to his knees, unable to breathe for a long horrible moment.
"M-Mara? Are you okay?" Andarada—el asked.
Maradalel panted. "I-, I'm fine! It's just my father… checking where I am."
Andarada—el turned a variety of colours. "He tracks you with magic?"
"He-, he finds it more e-efficient than checking in physically, despite the wor-work involved, and the number of b-beacons he has to maintain."
Andarada—el frowned as Maradalel stood back up, legs slightly shaky. "You should probably head home then, right?"
Maradalel took a deep breath in. "Yeah, yeah I really should."
Andarada—el was silent for a moment, mouth pressed into a tight line. "I-, um, there's something I wanna do first…"
Maradalel blinked slowly as his friend stepped closer. "W-what?"
Andarada—el smiled at him. "Can I kiss you? Like, a proper kiss?"
Maradalel felt himself turn orange, purple, cyan, magenta. "Uhhhhh, y-y-y-yeah, sure!"
Purple and cerise washed over Andarada—el's face. "Sweet." He then reached out with one hand, cupping Maradalel's jaw and cheek as he leaned forward and pressed pale and dry lips against his own.
Maradalel barely breathed, eyes closed in enjoyment as he felt so many different emotions flow through him. It was beautiful, and even though it wasn't over yet, he couldn't wait for the next time he got to do it.
"Andarada—el Ilikama! Just what are you doing!?" Yelled a vaguely familiar voice.
Maradalel's friend pulled away with a gasp, turning towards the doorway where his father was standing.
"N-n-nothing, Father! Just saying goodbye to my f-friend here."
Maradalel flinched internally. Even he could see right through that.
Visistale—el stepped forward. "Do you expect me to believe that you're just 'friends' with Maradalel Iridam, the boy I just caught you kissing!? I told you to stay away from his entire family! I was sure General Iridam had lied to me, no son of mine would go against me, but, well… he wasn't, and now… now I'm going to have to arrest you both."
Maradalel's world shattered. "No…" he breathed, tears caught in his eyes.
Visistale—el raised a glowing hand over his head, over his antlers, and formed spherical barriers around both Maradalel and Andarada—el.
"I'm afraid…" he said with barely held contempt in his voice. "…That you both are coming with me. I hope the city council will be merciful and grant you both a quick death, but I'm quite sure you two will be left to rot in the compost pit, where you will die a slow hot death."
Andarada—el choked out a sob. "F-father!"
"Silence!" Visistale—el shouted. "You've said and done enough, boy. I can barely look at you!" Visistale—el narrowed his eyes. "After this great betrayal, you are already quite dead to me. No words can save you now."
Maradalel stared at the metal walls of the cell with disdain and disbelief, wondering just when his life sunk to this level. He'd been arrested, with his best friend, and was to be brought before the city council for judgement.
It was a little obvious what the council would choose, especially when both of his parents were on it.
With a scream, he kicked the wall, which only made him yelp in pain as his toes crunched against the hard metal.
Arms wrapped around him tightly. "Don't do that! You're just hurting yourself."
"I know!" Maradalel exclaimed. "I want it to hurt!"
"And I don't like it when you're in pain."
Maradalel glared at the floor, angry tears in his eyes, though none fell. He said nothing.
Andarada—el rocked him left and right a few times, perhaps testing is he would escape. "You calm now?"
Maradalel huffed. "No, but you can let go."
The arms didn't let go. In fact, they pulled him back into Andarada—el's lap as he sat down on the small bed. "I'm not letting you go," he said. "Not until you're calm."
Maradalel growled under his breath. "I'm fine," he said.
Andarada—el sighed. "No, you aren't. You're mad because you failed."
Maradalel tried to twist his way out of his friend's grip. "Exactly!" He yelled. "I failed you!"
He wasn't strong enough to escape, or maybe he just didn't want to. Angry, pissed off, upset, sad. His emotions were weighing him down.
Maradalel yelled one last time and then collapsed back into Andarada—el's lap, curling into his embrace.
"I'm sorry," he whispered into his friend's throat.
"I know you are," Andarada—el whispered back, voice wet. "But you're not the one who should be apologizing. If I hadn't have asked you to kiss me this wouldn't have happened."
Maradalel shook his head. "I could have said no, but I didn't."
Lips touched his forehead, warm and slow and sad. "And that's why I asked, because I knew you would say yes."
Maradalel shuddered, trying his hardest not to cry.
The two of them stood on a slightly raised slab of stone, placing them in the view of all in the room as they faced the table where the seven members of the council of the city sat. To Maradalel it felt like being placed on an altar for sacrifice. For slaughter.
A crowd of people was behind him, watching, judging, waiting. Talking about him. He couldn't help the orange that coloured his skin.
"Maradalel Iridam and Andarada—el Ilikama!" The Council-Head shouted, her voice ringing over the murmurs of the crowd. "You stand before this council as criminals of the city of Dammaga. For the crime of forming a relationship with another male how do you plead?"
Maradalel grabbed Andarada—el's hand and squeezed it, whispering out the side of his mouth "let me do the talking".
He looked into the faces of each council member one by one. The Money-keeper; the Law-keeper; his father, the General, the Head of the army; his mother, the Head of agriculture; the Head of the church; the Head of construction; and finally the Council-Head. They all looked either passive or pissed off in some vague way, as if they deemed it below them to preside over this event.
Really, it shouldn't be left up to them, Maradalel thought, but he was vaguely glad that it was. He was a very important child, he had to be tried by important people.
"For kissing a boy?" Maradalel asked loud and clear as he let go of his friend's hand. "I plead guilty. But I'm not a boy, so good luck trying to punish either of us!"
Andarada—el gasped. "Mara, no, you can't!" He whispered.
The Law-Keeper raised her left eyebrow, the twin bars pierced through it shining light into Maradalel's eyes. Her skin was cyan and chartreuse.
"What does your son mean by that, Modara, Danda—el?" The Law-Keeper asked.
His parent's faces were red, angry and hateful. "You can't do that, Maradalel," Danda—el said, teeth clenched. "You'll only get into a different kind of trouble."
Maradalel smiled, mouth wide, showing off his teeth. "You'll get in trouble too."
He then took off his binding, revealing to all the people gathered there that he was not as they had assumed.
"I have more proof," Maradalel announced, voice filled with fake confidence. "If you wish to question what you see!"
The Law-Keeper stood, white robe of a council member fluttering around her, making it almost seem like she glided over towards Maradalel.
"What other… proof do you have that you are not a boy?" She asked, voice calm and placid, but somehow threatening.
Maradalel flushed orange, feeling his heart shudder. With shaky hands he pushed down his leggings, his parent's faces falling along with the garment. Slowly, he then took off his loincloth and stood, naked before the city he wished was not his home. He could see Andarada—el standing tense beside him, cerise and orange fists clenched.
The Law-Keeper turned cyan, but no expression crossed her face. "Interesting," she said. She then crouched down and inspected closer, her white eyes scanning over him in a way that put him on edge.
He could feel the very weight of her eyes on him, on his genitals, on the secret he had so long held close to him. The warped lips and minuscule shaft that sat between his legs felt heavy as shame and fear coursed through his entire body.
"I have verified the claim," the Law-Keeper called when she finally stood once more. "This child is not a boy… and not a girl either."
The Council-Head leapt to her feet as the crowd erupted into whispers. "They will rot just the same! Arrange for him and his amali—el to be sent to the compost pit by the end of the day!"
Terror shot through Maradalel and he burst into tears, his pointed ears burning as his magic escaped him. He couldn't hear the gasps of surprise and horror over the sound of his sobs.
It was his face that did him in, the sight of Andarada—el just as dejected and broken as him that drove him down farther than he ever had been.
It was really going to happen, they were going to die today. Together.
They'd wait here for a bit, in this prison, be taken to be pierced as outcasts, and then led to their deaths.
The cell door slammed shut and Maradalel just collapsed, gave up, stopped. He flopped to the floor, sitting on his knees, barely thinking beyond the wall of death that permeated his every thought. He couldn't decide whether to be angry or sad, couldn't decide anything. He wasn't in control anymore.
And then he felt it, the slight change in his magic, a twinge of difference in its feeling.
Looking at his hands revealed a scarily familiar aura of black smudginess, like black smoke surrounding him.
"Maradalel, what's going on!? What are you doing!?" Andarada—el cried.
Maradalel looked at his best friend, at the boy he loved. "We're going to die," he said slowly. "We're going to die today."
He then touched the cell door and watched it fade into dust, disappear from existence.
He smiled shakily at Andarada—el. "Let's see if I can't fix that, eh, amali?"