Chapter 6: Order Rules

             The gates opened for the returning Silver truck as it approached the compound. The glowing sky with the hanging sun watched as the silver vehicle passed through the gates and stopped, allowing the four soldiers to jump out sans weapons. The sky continued to watch as the truck drove to the armory.

            Simin instinctively brushed the dust off of her robes once her feet had found the ground. As she was taking in her surroundings, however, her calm demeanor abruptly changed into one of much more urgency. Up in front of her and to the right, smoke was coming in billowing clouds of grey behind the bathhouse. Without a word, she and the other three soldiers broke into a run toward the fire.

            Xena, the most trained, arrived at the scene a few paces before the rest of them. Her stop was so abrupt that Simin almost ran into her; but the scene having just come into view, Simin immediately forgave her trainer.

            “What did you do?” Andries’s voice could be heard by Stratio miles away; he bellowed to the three scrambling figures, two of whom were desperately trying to fan the grease fire with their hands, while the third was just frantically running around.

            The three Gold students were standing—hysterically—around a set of tiny flames that were smoking violently. A few stones had been haphazardly arranged around it in a tiny attempt to control it—and, as was becoming painstakingly obvious, ineffective. The flames were spreading with incredible speed to the surrounding grass, which though green and healthy, was extremely flammable.

            “Help us!” It was the girl who had been desperately running around the fire who first noticed the four Auxiliaries standing twenty yards away. No one, including Simin, moved. The three junior soldiers couldn’t help but exchange smiles between each other while the girl—whose hair, Simin noticed, was singed at the tips—tried to explain their predicament. “We were trying to cook some meat—the General said it was part of the initation—and the oil must have gotten too hot! Please, help!”

            When the soldiers didn’t respond, the girl returned to panicking, more hysterical than ever. After a few more seconds, one of the boys broke away from the group. He ran to the front of the bathhouse and emerged from behind the doors a few second later with his hands cupped, presumably holding water. Simin had to stifle her laughter as she watched the lanky boy attempting to run while the water remained in his hands. He was surprisingly somewhat successful and dumped a good ounce of water on the wandering flames.

            “Aurelio!” The other boy whose hands were still desperately trying to fan the flames screamed as the water splashed into the grease fire. As the second boy had anticipated, the water caused the fire particles to splash outwards, singing the bottom of both of the boy’s feet and setting fire to an additional square foot of grass. The girl, whose hysterics had unluckily brought her to the edge of the fire as the water fell into it, let out a gasp of pain when a particle dropped on her arm.

            “Idiot!” She shrieked. But the pain, it seemed, had brought her to her senses, for mere moments after the tall boy had engaged in his ill-thought out plan, she threw her entire body, chest first, onto the flames. At this, both boys let out their own yells of panic; but they were quickly stifled when she made her way back to her feet to show the fire gone. Her chest was covered in grease but the two boys gaped at her with amazement, nonetheless.

            “You boys don’t remember the Elemental class, don’t you?” Her smug smile was ironic, considering her hysterics moment before.

            “Go get changed.” The excitement done, Simin and the other two Auxiliaries turned to the cloth house and began their march there. The three of them looked at each other, and all of them were barely containing their own hysterical laughter. From behind her, Simin could hear General Fanis’s voice dismissing Andries and talking to the Golds.

            “That—was hilarious.” The other girl and Simin had entered their schism of the cloth house, where neither of them bothered with curtains, instead dropping their outer clothes in front of each other. The girl was giggling with such ferocity as she spoke that Simin was amazed that she herself could understand the words.

            “Seriously! They way the tall one tried to get water—and that he actually got it!” Simin responded in kind, peeling off her robe and grabbing the tunic from her bag.

            “And the shorter guy’s expression when the girl finally dropped onto the fire!”

            “It took her long enough—I wonder how long she was just running around like that.”

            “This was the first time I got to see a Gold initiation. Silvers are funny enough, but none of them are as oblivious as the Gold recruits we get.”

            The two fell back into communal laughter as they pulled their pants up. But just as the pale Auxiliary was finishing her chastisement, the door crept open, revealing the grease covered Gold recruit. She was carrying a set of the common tunic and trousers, which replaced where her books had been carried when she first arrived.

            Neither Silver curbed their laughter, but it naturally died down as the girl stared at them, the door swining shut behind her. Simin pulled her boots on and sat down to tie them, while the other one laced up her final boot and stepped out, walking past the Gold to exit. Before she left, however, she turned around and gave Simin a smile, which she returned. The door swung shut behind her, leaving the standing Gold and Simin alone.

            “Who are you?” The girl’s voice was tall and authoritative, much like her stature. Simin felt herself shrink in the girl’s gaze, and stood up, boot untied, to try and reverse the feeling. She was at least an inch above the blonde head—but she still felt diminutive under her gaze.

            “Simin, Silver.” Her voice, at least, was steady.

            “Jodha, Gold.” The automatic response was eloquent coming out of her mouth, even when she was covered in grease.

            “I have to find my troop. I am sure I am missing out on some training.” Simin’s mouth was quickly drying, and this conversation was technically illegal. She tried to convince herself that was the reason for her hurried departure, but the cold brown eyes staring her down were starting to run shivers down her spine.

            “Simin.” The girl’s word was the only thing Simin heard as the door shut close behind her. Her heart was beating inexplicably fast, like she had just escaped a lion who had cornered her, sans knives. My knives...Shoot!

            Simin broke into a run until she arrived at the bath house, where she had last put her knives. She checked each and every stall, desperately looking for the familiar blades. At last, she found them under a toilet; after grabbing them and reattaching them to her belt. As she exited however, a familiar blonde head met her directly in front of the door. Simin almost ran into it, and a flash of panic must have appeared on her face before she danced out of the Gold’s grasp. She didn’t turn back to see Jodha move.

            Simin felt blinded, dazed and had no sense of where she was going until she heard Xena’s familiar voice calling from a field. Regaining her senses, she ran past the sleeping house and onto a sunny field, where the afternoon was blazing the grass dry.

            Her troop was there, each individual running from red to blue cone. There were seven of each, lined up parallel to their own color and a hundred yards from the opposite color. The rest of the team, Simin could tell, had been at it for a while. She didn’t need Xena’s harsh words of chastisement for taking more than a couple minutes to get dressed to immediately join her comrades.

            “Glad you're back!” Despite the sweat dripping off his face, Alekos sounded hardly out of breath. His cones were right next to the empty ones, where Simin began her run. The sun shining in her eyses, she focused on looking at the ground as she sprinted the first five laps, then ran the next four, and jogged the last five.

            “How was it?” Alekos was significantly faster than Simin, and her runs were much like his jogs. Still, neither of them were particularly wanting for breath, and they were able to hold onto a conversation.

            “It was interesting. It has been years since I’ve seen the Iron sector—not since I was six or seven.”

            “I’ve never seen it. Once, I went to a lecture at the theory school where an Emeritus professor was presenting on the invention and development of weaponry, and he showed some pictures of the Sector. That’s all I know.” The pair rounded a red cone.

            “Pictures cannot fully explain how I felt in it. The people there were tunics, not robes, and trousers. And the colors! I didn’t know one could make orange clothing, much less orange shoes. But the buildings are what amaze me. They are taller than a hundred meal halls stacked on top of eachother.”

            “Wow.” With Alekos’s response, Simin’s speech took her to the end of her last running lap and began to jog, falling behind him. Though over the next hour they met quite a few times, few words were spoken between them—even though Simin desperately wanted to tell him about her experience with Jodha and question if her demeanor was that which had put Kalan and him in such an unwelcoming mood.

            After the hour was up, Xena called out. “That’s it! Supper!” She had been dueling with another sergeant, and both were drenched in sweat. With relief, the seven corporals broke from their running into a walk. Though they were all out of breath, Odysseus had obviously suffered the worst.

            “I…can’t believe…we had to do that…for an hour… and a half!” With gasping breaths every two words or so, the boy stumbled from his cones and placed his hands on his knees, desperately trying to force more air into his exhausted lungs.

            “No one should be complaining.” Thaddia chuckled slightly at her fellow soldier’s gasps, but took his arm and supported him as the seven made their way to the dining room.

            “How the heck was the Iron sector!” Though the sentence was phrased like a question, the excitement with which Polydams spoke made it sound more like a statement. Looking around at her sweating friends, Simin could tell that all of them wanted to hear about it.

            “It was interesting.” She began with the same response she had given Alekos. “I met a metallurgist—Stratio, the man mentioned in the announcements this morning—though he was closer to boy—and he proposed…well, nothing I can speak plaintitvely of. The buildings were ginormous, and the people dressed in colors, in shorts and trousers and boots cut off at the ankle.”

            The short paragraph seemed to have sated the curious minds around her, who asked no follow-up questions. But this was perhaps instead due to the activity of soldiers on the pavement, where dozens had gathered in front of the meal hall. As was customary, each and every soldier was completely silent.

            The doors burst open, and the military flooded inside. It was unusual for Simin and her troop to be part of the early crowd—for Xena usually held them for as many minutes as she could over the time—and so it was a rare experience of relative inorder for Simin. The plates clattered as hands reached to grab them, while the floor, slick from an earlier waxing, encouraged people to move slowly despite their apparent hunger. Still, some could not take a cue, and several nearly fell. The smell was horrific—most soldiers came from training directly to meals, and so the sweat that encased them created an aura when so many were jammed together.

            Suppressing the urge to gag, Simin made her way to the line and out to the tables, where she spotted Sandra sitting down at one twenty feet in front of Simin. The two women sat together in silence, though they exchanged looks of greeting, and both of them looked toward the door for the rest of their table to arrive.

            Alekos joined them shortly after Simin sat down, and it was only a few minutes before Alexio, Enyo, and Kalan joined them. The space between Kalan and Alekos was bare and continued to be so; the question of where Achilles was was a potent one in everyone’s mind. Simin had noticed the girl and the shorter, gruffer boy enter, so she expected Achilles to have been relived of his welcoming duties. The tables around them, having filled up with their soldiers, were beginning to eat and converse, and Simin’s table was growing hungrier and more frustrated.

            Just as Achilles entered the hall, however, a familiar face plopped onto the empty seat. The blonde hair had yet to be cut short, and the eyes’ intenze yet to be cut as well, much to Simin’s dismay.

            The Gold began eating without a word, but the Silver gave each other wary looks. Simin pointed to the table in the right corner of the hall where the two boys were scarfing down their own food. The table looked at it, and Enyo shrugged. This was not supposed to happen—never had Simin seen or heard of a Gold sitting with Silvers. Not knowing what to do—and sharing that sentiment with her friends—she instead chose to look down at her food and wait for the girl to leave.

            Simin could not help but notice the tension in Alekos’s and Kalan’s shoulders. Their eyes had been frozen to their plates since the blonde hair swished by them, and neither of them had given any indication of life beyond their obvious rigor mortis.

            Achilles, plate in hand, arrived at the scene where a few surrounding tables were beginning to take notice. He stood there without a word, and Simin could tell his internal panic was going off as well.

            As the seconds wore on, dumping their years into the ocean, more and more eyes were drawn to the improbable sight of a Gold eating with Silver. Or, perhaps more accurately, a Gold eating at Silver, for none of the soldiers took a bite of food while the future ruler ate.

            A few minutes of intense awkwardness saw the conversation in the meal hall die completely, every eye—except the two other Golds—drawn to the sight. It was only at this point that her plate floated up with herhand, standing with more authority than Xena. Her face was twisted into a scowl as she excaped the confines of her metal chair.

            “Gold Silver.” The words were spat out like a crack of thunder that marked the end of the storm. Simin could swear the blonde had been staring right at her as she said it.

            As she returned to her fellow Golds, the hall began to speak again and Achilles took his place.

            “What was that?” He questioned as he shoved the sandwich he had taken into his mouth.

            “Jodha.” The word was dry coming from Alekos, who retained his position of staring at his food, though the tension in his shoulders was obviously gone.

            “It seems to me that the rules don’t apply to Jodha—or Jodha doesn’t think so.” Kalan, at least, returned to eating with these words.

            A few seconds passed, and the soldiers, sensing resolve, went to their food. Just as Simin was about to take a bite, however, Alekos’s voice began speaking. His gaze stayed on his food, but his mouth was much more concerned with the words that came tumbling out of it. “She trained with us until she was twelve. The final testing took her to Gold. She was our friend and in our troop. She was amazing.

            “She fought like a tiger. She could jump higher than most of the boys, run faster and for longer than all of us. We had a practice battle—just the one—and the younger kids were figting against us. She was twelve, and she was still better than any of the fourteen-year-olds on my team. She singlehandedly killed all of us, slashing and dicing and throwing like no one else. She made a point to use all of her weapons too—no one specializes until fourteen, but she didn’t need to. She had nearly mastered everything. She could shoot from a hundred yards away, throw daggers onto their target every time, dodge and attack with her sword with perfect agility.

            “Fanis met with her, once. Kalan and I were twelve, and we were the only ones who talked to her. Everyone in her age class pretended to be proud of her—but at ten years old, who has that virture yet? But Kalan and I had it. We liked her, sat with her. It was the day of our final testing, and she pretended not to care if we were moved, but—her saying it would not have passed today’s declaration. That morning, as we were leaving for the testing grounds, she had come out to wave goodbye. And as we drove, I looked back and saw Fanis talking to her. She was so short, and he was so tall, it almost looked comical how bent he was. But he took a knee, and was staring her dead-on, talking with his mouth. But we rounded the wall after that, and we were too far away to hear anything.

            “When Kalan and I came back, having tested back into silver, we asked her about it. She said nothing—as in, no words came out of her mouth. She wouldn’t say a word about what happened to her. But from then on, she would disappear for a meal every other week or so. Every time we asked why she had been absent, her mouth would purse and she would turn around and leave us.

            “But that’s not what happened. She—”

            “Hésuchazó.” Kalan’s voice, already so deep and gruff, had dropped to the level of oceans. The word rumbled the table like wine, a command so deep that I felt it shake through even me. Though speech continued beyond the round table, all that was felt by the living soldiers in the circle was silence. Alekos’s voice was cut short, as though some hand had grabbed his throat and twisted it away from him. The entire table was shorn into silence, sheep to the word.

            Kalan’s eyes were back to his plate, his mouth emptying as Alekos had spoken. Simin carefully tore her eyes from the place of their fixation when Kalan’s command had come to look at him; she sensed that all others—with the exception of Alekos—were doing the same.

            A minute passed as the sun withered away at the unseen metal above them. Only after this did Kalan begin to eat, and all others did as well. Still, silence was all that was left. Alekos did not move.

            The spell, it seemed, was broken when Kalan stood up, his hawk eyes having softened into rocks. With his absence came the presence of all others, who ate with their sudden recovering livelihood once again. Enyo let out a whisper of a word to Achilles, who responded in kind.

            There were few language rules made by the Council before the one of today. The most important one, however, was one that commanded all citeznes to stop any citizen engaging in blasphemy or about to engage in blasphemy with a single word—"Hésuchazó.” Whatever it meant, its invokement was one of the rarest things in Kallipolis; Simin had only heard its use once before, when a stray Bronze had attempted to enter the Silver compound. To use it was to accuse another of betraying—or being about to betray—the city of Kallipolis itself.

            Simin stood up with her fellow Auxiliaries, leaving Alekos at the table with his head and empty food. The group made its way to the door, where the sole Simin turned around to glance at the numb military.

            With wings of fire, Alekos stood. The world chattered around him.