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You, of Withered Snapdragons and Yellow Chrysanthemums

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They had made it so far, against all the odds stacked against them. Games from childhood twisted into morbid displays of torture and blood. Night doesn’t think he can ever hear the words “red light” again without flashbacks to that first game. They were all so confident, Night had spoken to the woman just moments before. She had a family, a husband with a gambling problem. This was her chance to send her kids off to college, to get the man she loved out of debt and into professional help. Just moments before they were laughing, the game sounded so silly. The woman was in front of him, and smiled happily just before the game began. How was Night to know he would stand there minutes later, trying desperately to stay still-to ignore the pieces of that same woman sprayed across his face and shirt. To ignore everyone’s quiet sobbing and terror as the little voice sounded out for them to move once more. 

 

Night refused to make more friends after that. He was friendly, made allies and enemies alike. But he refused to hear anyone else’s story, refused to see anyone as anything but another potential corpse to go around. They were all given numbers at the start, he thought it was strange at first but now the monster can’t help but feel comforted by the impersonality of it all. The deaths were still painful of course, the tears never stopped dripping down his face-mingling with the sweat and blood on his bones and uniform. But it helped. At least, it helped with most of them. There was only one other monster in the group, a skeleton elemental hybrid by the name Mare. Despite his best efforts the two ended up bonding, enough to share names and stories. Night kept waiting for the moment to come, where he or his friend would die. But it never came. 

 

Maybe it was the stress of it all. All of the adrenaline and fear makes any positive emotion higher. They barely even knew each other and yet- Night couldn’t help but fall in love with the strange dark monster who entered his life. Small moments like helping one another through games, or sharing food and laughs-rare as those were. Their first kiss, born out of the sheer high of narrowly avoiding death, was rough and uncoordinated. The two pulled apart immediately, staring at one another with wide eyes. Despite the situation, some of the other constants laughed, one patting Mare on the shoulder as they went by-only to grimace at the dark stain now covering their hand. Hesitantly, as if waiting for the moment Night would rip his hand off, Mare came closer. He cupped Night’s cheek with a shaky hand, whispering his name. Night smiled then, wider than he has since this whole game started-since that first death occurred. Their second kiss was softer, more hesitant. Their relationship changed after that, softer and more tentative. They both knew it couldn’t last, that only one person would win. Neither brought it up, content to simply sit together- holding each other through the terrors of the game they signed up for. 

 

The next game had started off simple enough-you even get to pick a partner! Without thinking Night had grabbed Mare-who chuckled and went along with no complaints. They were given some marbles and the rules were explained. Night was horrified, he had to get the marbles from Mare to win?! But that would mean...Night glanced over at Mare, who was trembling slightly. They made eye contact and all at once had Night burst into tears, immediately pulling the other in a hug. Mare wrapped his arms tightly around Night, gently soothing the other. That’s where they stood currently, a couple who was never meant to last, finally facing the consequences of love in a game of death. 

 

“You need to calm down Night, it’s going to be ok.” Mare’s voice was calm, steady as ever despite the tremor in his arms. Night had always appreciated that, how the other could stay so collected in even the worst parts of the games. Even now, in this situation, Night could feel himself starting to calm. Mare continued to hug him, rubbing soothing circles on the other’s back. Eventually Night’s sobs subsided and he stepped back, rubbing the tears from his eyes. Glancing around the monster saw the other contestants playing, the closest of whom were giving Night pitied glances. A few had even won already, sat off to the side watching the rest unfold. One was content looking around at the others but the second one was staring intensely in Night’s direction. Night looked back at Mare and felt himself start to tear up again.

 

“We knew this was going to happen,” he said shakily, watching Mare nod slowly. “I don’t...I don’t want to die Mare. I want to live and see my family again. I want to see my brother again, and give him the help he needs.” The tears were running down his cheeks again, Night didn’t bother to wipe them off. He stood there, staring at Mare’s pecularly blank expression. Not far behind him that winning contestant was still staring. What on earth did they want? Surely this wasn’t more interesting than the other’s actually competing? Night sighed, smiling bitterly. 

 

“But I can’t lose you either Mare. I know you need the money too, for that house right? To take care of those boys you’re raising.” Night let out a laugh, or what would have been one were it not for the sob strangling it. “I guess there’s no getting around it huh? What game shall we play, my love?” 

 

Mare, so silent during his speech, merely shook his head. Taking a step closer, he gently titled Night’s face up and brought them to a soft kiss. Night pressed in closer, sharing one last moment with the monster who had so thoroughly taken his heart. The two pulled away, and Night couldn’t help but furrow his brow, confused by the other’s expression. Mare had always been more indifferent to the death around them, had always been a bit distant emotionally. But he had never looked bored

 

“Oh my dear, I do wish you hadn’t picked me to partner with. I was rather hoping we’d make it to the finals together, your affection would have made you and easy win after all.”

 

Mare stepped back, tossing the bag of marbles he had in the air from hand to hand casually. Night felt something die in his chest at those words, a cold dread suddenly creeping in. “M-Mare? What are you…” Night suddenly looked past the skeletal hybrid, at the winning contestants again. There were more since he last glanced but that first one was still there, still staring at them. No, not at them, at Mare. At something he held...Night gasped, feeling frantically for the bag he had tucked into the pocet of his clothes. 

 

Gone. 

 

Slowly, one of Mare’s tentacles stretched around from his back, placing a small bag into Mare’s free hand. “Oh would you look at that,” he mused. “Looks like I won.” The soldiers were beggining to notice, moving in on Night’s position. 

 

“You said...you loved me,” Night choked out. “You-I loved you with all my heart.”

 

Mare sighed and, despite the sorrowful expression the other wore, Night could feel the coldness radiating from the other, the fake expression unable to hide the cruelty in Mare’s eye. “You understand, don’t you my dear?” Mare turned and started to walk away, leaving Night to the soldiers.

 

“You were just a number to me. How could I possibly come to love something in my way?”

 

Night wanted to rebuttal, to scream profanities and hatred at the other’s retreating back. But it was too late, the guns had fired and Night’s world erupted into pain. With his last fading breath, Night whispered out his brother’s name-silently apologizing for letting him down. Then his world went black. 

 

Mare went back to the winner’s circle, clutching the bags in his hands. The contestants stared as he joined their ranks. One touched his shoulder gently. “You gonna be ok?” she asked sympathetically. None of them had seen what happened, only one knew the actual story. The rest just saw Mare, walking away from a pile of dust with tears in his eyes. Mare gave the woman a shaky smile, sobs racking his body.

 

“I couldn’t stop him,” He whispered in a strangled tone. “Before I could react he shoved the bag into my hands and told me he loved me.” The woman made an upset sound, dragging Mare into a hug. The rest of the contestants murmured words of sympathy, they had all seen the love Mare and Night shared. One contestant, the one who had actually seen what happened, was the only one Mare was currently facing. Slowly, Mare looked up at him and smiled, still pretending to sob. The man nodded and glanced away, no words were shared and yet a message was clearly sent. 

 

No one would ever believe you.