“No, trust me, you do it this way. Open your robe a bit.”
Darmas gave his best friend a long skeptical look. He was not up for something like that right now, even less up for it outside where passing city Arkans could easily stumble upon them at any moment. The shadow of the Mezem was dark but it was still public, after all!
Then Fentzan produced the pail filled with liquid far too red to be blood, although that was where his mind went immediately.
In the other hand his best friend held a large horsehair brush. Darmas’s hesitation did not move him, did not temper his giddy enthusiasm, did not stop him from dipping the curled tip of the brush into the paint.
“Come on, open,” he said.
“Why isn’t there anyone else here?”
“We’re early. A full bead,” Fentzas explained.
The arcade around the arena was quiet, completely unlike the noisy revelry that would pour into the arena gates just before the match began. They were way too early and Darmas didn’t understand why Fen was looking at him like he was a package of Niah-lur-anan chocolates.
He flinched as the brush moved across his skin. “It’s cold.”
“It’s a guarantee,” Fen insisted. “Ancient ritual from before the Fire. Can’t fail.”
“How would you know?”
“It was covered in lectures this week. If you hadn’t been asleep you would know that.”
Darmas flinched again, a short hiss sucking into his throat as the paintbrush left shimmering bright red trails down his pale and pasty skin.
“Watch the nipple. The paint is cold.”
“When the Fighting Anoseth Fessas crush their rivals it will be worth it.” Since the sack, the Grass League Faib teams had become Sand teams, in the Mezem.
Fen’s strange snake-like pattern ran down his chest. It was impaled by two red slashes and was not even reminiscent of any identifiable character Darmas could think of. “What are you drawing anyway?”
“Ancient symbol of power.” Fentzas bit his lip, his tongue poking out from between his pale pucker. “Adds to the effect.”
Darmas was not convinced that Fen wasn’t just making this all up as he went along. “You’re full of shen. No one knows what civilizations were like before the Fire.”
Apparently finished, Fen straightened up and admired his work. He paid almost no attention to Dar’s accusation. And why would he? He had already successfully marred his smooth skin with a blood red mark.
“I told you, pay attention in lectures and you’d know this stuff too. Now...” He pushed the brush handle first in Darmas’s direction. “You do me.”
“What should I draw?”
“The same. It’s not hard. It’s just a squiggle with two lines through it. After you’re done we’re supposed to make a fire and cook sausage meat over it.”
“Is that part of the ritual too?” Darmas asked.
Still skeptical, Darmas nevertheless bent down to dip the brush back into the pail of paint Fen had brought with them. This was ridiculous, but he didn’t dare say that out loud for fear some ancient god would strike him down on the spot. After all, the Fire had destroyed practically everything of that time. Who was to say those people had not angered their god by mocking the sacred paint-chests-eat-sausage-meat rites.
“What is this ritual called anyway?”
“Its name. What did they call this?”
Fentzas had to think about this for a second. “I think it was called … tailgating.”
HAPPY APRIL FOOL'S DAY!
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