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Roman & Xylos: Beginning

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Xylos’s stomach was filled with icy dread as he sat on the bench in the front row, a low barrier separating him from the main part of the chamber. His muscles were so stiff with tension he didn’t dare move for fear he would crack; and yet at the same time he feared he would faint. It will be alright, it will be alright, he tried to tell himself, and that was oddly comforting, except when he added, no it won’t, there’s no way it will be alright…

Raven squeezed his arm, her grip as tight as his own hands were, clenched into fists on his lap, and he looked over at her sharply. She seemed vaguely nauseous, and he felt suddenly guilty for neglecting her own distress. He wanted to say his comforting words—the first part, not the addition—but his mouth was too dry, his tongue sticking to the inside. Instead he put his arm around her and clasped her now-free hand.

Past Raven was Jane, face even paler than usual, posture ramrod straight. Xylos touched her shoulder and she turned to him suddenly, as if she’d been lost in her own world. Then she gave him a quick nod. Jane kept her own counsel in most things, but anyone who thought her reserved exterior meant she didn’t feel things deeply, obviously didn’t know her well. Xylos had no doubt she was just as terrified as he and Raven. And the one person who might have given all of them confidence, was the person they were most worried about right now.

The room had filled around them, the crowd vanishing into the darkness around the edges, but the buzz of indistinct conversation was soothing, at least for a few moments. Then they began to quiet down, anticipation rising. From the side appeared the Judges, striding solemnly to their seats behind the high bench. Then from another door Roman was led in, and Xylos’s heart began to pound so hard he feared he might not survive.

Roman glanced over at the three of them, and Xylos felt Raven jerk in his arms, like she was going to leap over the barrier to him. He gave them a little smirk, as if scoffing at this nonsense he had to go through, then turned back to face the Judges.

The High Judge looked slightly bored to be there, or perhaps he just knew how this was going to end. “Roman,” he began, and the crowd silenced instantly. “You are charged with the murder of humans, deliberately and without provocation. What say you?”

“I say not guilty,” Roman replied, in a clear, confident tone.

“Explain,” the judge allowed, utterly unsurprised.

“I was provoked,” Roman told them. “The humans kidnapped my partner, assaulted and detained him, and treated him with the vilest disrespect.” Xylos felt his face flush hot; everyone said it wasn’t his fault, but over and over the scenario ran through his head, as he wondered, what if he’d done something different here, or here—could they all be safely at home now?

The High Judge was nodding at Roman’s words, but more like he’d expected them, rather than that he agreed. “Please explain how this specific human provoked you,” he requested, and the image of a young girl appeared in mid-air, visible to everyone in the room. She was just a child, and she was dead. Xylos felt sick.

Roman was prepared, however. “Her death was not deliberate,” he clarified. Both conditions were necessary for the charge to carry.

The judge was unimpressed. “You deliberately threw the vehicle she was in through the air and smashed it against a wall,” he pointed out dryly. “It was reasonable to assume this would damage her. So I ask again, how did she provoke you?”

Roman’s jaw tightened. The conclusion, Xylos felt, was foregone; there was no way to argue around it. What the punishment would be, that was the mystery. “The humans kidnapped—“ Roman started to repeat, but the High Judge cut him off.

“You said that already. Some of the humans were responsible for that, but not all,” the judge stated. “Not most, even.” The hall began to fill with more faces, the slight spin of the images making them sparkle like stars. There were so many—children, the elderly, people who had just been minding their own business that day, not realizing what chaos and destruction was about to end their lives.

Xylos could not sit still another second and sprang to his feet. “Please, I tried to tell them they needed to let me go, but they wouldn’t listen!” he begged the judges. Was he trying to blame the law enforcement officers for the deaths of everyone else, for what they had brought down on their town? Maybe he was. “They didn’t realize—“ You couldn’t explain Roman to someone who didn’t know him, it was like trying to explain a hurricane. “They wouldn’t listen—“ Roman was looking at him with a little smile that so clearly said You’re worth it, Xylos thought he might cry.

The High Judge tactfully ignored Xylos’s emotional outburst. “Have you anything else to say, Roman?” he asked.

Roman did, unfortunately. “Humans are nothing,” he proclaimed coldly, and Raven pulled Xylos back down to his seat. “Too insignificant even to be called an infestation.” Xylos leaned heavily on the barrier between them, as if hoping he could stop Roman’s words by not seeing him. “To protect my family, I would wipe out scores of them.” He raised his chin a notch, defiant.

The High Judge lifted an eyebrow, hardly shocked but perhaps not expecting such a clear statement of contempt. The hovering faces vanished. “Will anyone stand for you?” he asked.

Xylos was pushing himself up on shaky legs even before the question was finished. “I will stand for him,” he announced, desperation obvious in his tone.

“I will stand for him also,” Raven repeated immediately, jumping to her feet and clutching Xylos’s arm.

Roman looked at them both in approval. Then his eyes moved to Jane, expecting her to be next. However, Jane met his gaze firmly, but did not rise. Xylos hadn’t known what she would do until the moment came—maybe she hadn’t, either—but he well knew she thought Roman had gone too far, and she could not lend her support to that.

Roman’s gaze hardened on her, and the High Judge let them stew for a long moment. Then he instructed, “You may sit,” and Xylos and Raven collapsed back onto the bench. The High Judge glanced at his fellows, who nodded—they had discussed punishments beforehand, and apparently all knew which option the others preferred.

“Roman, you are found guilty,” the judge pronounced. “Your sentence is banishment on Earth, where you will live among humans, as one of them, with limited powers.”

Xylos felt his heart stop.

“For how long?” Roman demanded, his disgust with the idea obvious.

“Until you learn compassion for them,” the High Judge shot back, a hint of impatience finally in his tone. “So a very long time, I would imagine.”

“Let me go with him!” Xylos insisted, on his feet once more. They could not be separated for that long, neither of them could bear it.

“I’ll go, too!” Raven echoed, joining him.

Now, surprisingly, Jane stood as well. “I will also,” she pledged. She didn’t believe he was right but she would not be parted from him even so—it was the kind of mad devotion Roman appreciated, and he graced them all with the tiniest smile.

“Very well,” the High Judge allowed, which was such a relief to Xylos he could almost forget about the whole ‘banishment’ part. “The sentence begins now.”