Chapter 7: Rules Order
With their backs to the conflict, the table group dispersed after a brief break to their troops. Sandra and Simin walked with decisiveness to the same place they had gone that morning. Xena, Thadia, Odysseus, and Polydamas were already there, and as the two woman joined them under the falling sun, Marcelle appeared from hudreds of yards away at the bath house, making her way to them.
The question of where Alekos was hung like the older noon sun in Simin’s mind, demanding attention and painting its realm in its light. She had not seen him since he had stood up from his table, and had not seen Kalan since he had left minutes before. If, she supposed, Kalan had been calling out blasphemy that had already occurred, then Alekos was likely already talking to General Fanis and General Ansel. But if he had simply been about to commit blasphemy, then he should be fine. Right? Right? Simin was working herself distraught. Emotion, as it stood, was keeping her from reality, where she would have noticed Xena waiting.
And as Simin continued her internal tirade, a brown skinned citizen appeared behind her. It was the last tendril she had on reality that allowed her to sense his presence.
“Alekos!” The surprise in her voice was evident, and she suspected him to at least smile at it as she crashed back down to reality. But his face remained quiet, and the next words came not from him, but from Xena.
“We are going to field two.” Her voice was as commanding as ever, and all seven turned to look at her. “We will be specialty dueling, one on one and two on two. One soldier will judge the two on two, but I will be the ultimate decider on who won. Combat will be a minute and a half long. Permanently disarming, slaying, or crippling the other opponent will constitute immediate victory. If no combatant succeeds on any count, then precision, technique, speed, variety, and creativity will be the deciding factors.”
The seven soldiers nodded, sweat beginning to reappear on Simin’s eyebrows from the glowing sun. Without another word, Xena turned to walk on the cement path, leading the militia to an area a hundred yards past the dining hall. As they walked, only Marcelle and Polydamas engaged in conversation, and even it was hushed. Speaking was allowed—but the tension in the air that emenated from the space in between Alekos and Simin was enough to keep the majority of the soldiers quiet.
“Sandra, Oddysseus.” Xena had turned around to watch the soldiers quickly assemble themselves into a line. “Simin e Polydamas, Alekos e Marcelle. Thaddia, judge.”
With the information cocked and ready, Simin and Polydamas stood parallel to each other while Alekos and Marcelle backed up fifty feet. Sandra was about fifteen feet away from Simin, who stood across from an intensely sweating Oddysseus.
“Thirty to start. And let’s remember to turn on practice mode, yes?” Xena made a point to stare at Oddysseus as she spat the words from her vantage point in between the duelers and next to Thaddia.
Polydamas and Simin quickly turned their heads away from their opposers. “Shoot up?” Simin got in the first word. “I’ll run in, you make sure Marcelle doesn’t try.”
“I’ll get on nine o’clock. He does a lousy job of defending his knees; go low.”
“She can’t shoot high at all. Variate?”
“I’ll get her hands; aim for her head if you get to her. If I get her before you get him, I’ll go high.”
“Sounds good. Farce?”
With their call in place, Xena finally yelled out for them to start. Jumping from her spot, Simin leaped in the air as Polydamas shot the first arrow above her head. She hit the ground running at Alekos, who was similarly bolting at her, sword drawn. When the two came within a foot of each other, Simin saw the glint in his eye as he glanced to his right, and she pulled out her left sword—the rapier—to block his hit, holding it in such a way that blocked any side blow.
“Got you.” Simin could have sworn he whispered it under his breath as he, quick as lightning, switched his sword from his right to left hand and brought the hild down with a violent crack onto her head from his six inches of extra height.
“Gah!” Simin yelled as she fell to the earth, knives flailing from her position. She could feel the simulated blood running down her head and onto her face and neck and was appalled—though not surprised—that her clothing held her down despite her attempts to get out. In a single hit, he had both disarmed and crippled her. “Farce!”
“Very nice, Alekos!” Xena yelled from her vantage point. And yet, it was not enough. Before the slower Polydamas could arrive at the scene and begin shooting Alekos, he used his sword to draw a deep line on her neck, virtually killing her. The simulated blood would have been overwhelming at this point, but Simin had had similar experiences in duels before.
From her vantage point on the ground, Simin had a clear view of the other duel happening just a few yards away. The two boys on top of her were clearly having much more difficulty with each other than anticipated, but Simin could only hear their grants and the clang of arrows hitting the sword.
Sandra, meanwhile, was toying with Oddysseus, whose meager potions were breaking open not when he commanded them by squeezing, throwing, or dropping them, but by Sandra’s bullets. She was laughing at his misfortune and lack of skill, for for every potion he brought out, she simply shot at it again. Eventually, she stopped the games and hit his eye with a bullet on the first shot, the only area where the protective suit falled short. He dropped to the ground, glass littered around him and Sandra gave a smile to Thaddia, who called the winner to Xena.
After a minute and a half of lying on the ground, Simin felt the practice gear begin to let her free from its grasp. Though Marcelle was standing up as well, Polydamas and Alekos were already lined up in front of Xena, having obviously ended their duel in a tie. Sandra helped Oddysseus up, and the two of them and Thaddia lined up next to Simin.
“Congratulations, Sandra.” Again, a respectful baring of teeth was let out from Sandra. “Oddysseus, Marcelle, and Simin: that was pathetic. Oddysseus, block your potions and improve your reaction time. Marcelle, take notes from Sandra’s aiming ability. And Simin—don’t charge in like that, not when your opposition is half a foot taller than you and can run that much faster. Alekos and Polydamas: both of you were not as good as you could have been. I expect faster reaction time, Polydamas, but your aim was good and your strategy legitimate. Alekos, you’re simply not bold enough. You took out Simin well, but that fire left you when Polydamas approached you.
“Neither of you were as good as you could have been. But if I had to choose a winner—and I do—I will choose Alekos.”
If he was excited about the fact, Simin couldn’t tell. Still, she assumed her friend was glad to have beaten the older, more experienced boy.
“Alekos, Sandra. Marcelle e Simin, Thaddia e Polydamas. Oddysseus, judge two.” This was a surprise—the student judge was supposed to judge the more determined of the two combats, the one with a greater chance of their being a clear victor. But Alekos and Sandra are always at each other’s throats.
Simin battled valiantly, but she met a similar fate at the hands of Polydamas’s bow. With her head on the ground facing away from the duelers, all she could see was Oddysseus’s furrowed brow as he attempted to judge the three remaining competitors.
“Time!” Xena called from behind Simin, who immediately threw herself from the ground to her feet. She turned around to see Sandra and Alekos panting at each other, both of their weapons held with white knuckles.
As the seven soldiers made their way to Xena, Sandra and Alekos, Simin noticed, made a point to stand next to each other. Simin stood beside Sandra, whose full attention was on the leader.
“Simin. Pathetic. Charging is not your only form of combat. Polydamas, Marcelle, I expect more creativity; both of you will be advancing in the next few years and trainers are supposed to command and strategize well. Thaddia, winner. Good job on using your size to your advantage, but stick yourself to the floor more.” Oddysseus, whose mouth was hanging open, shut it as she finished her speech.
“Sandra. Good job on using your weapon as both long-range and short-range. Still, be careful when using it as a clobbering weapon. You would have busted it if not for the practice mode. Alekos. Your strides and balance were all good, but you focused too much on blocking rather than attacking. You are a good four inches taller than her; use it.
“The winner, between the both of you, is Sandra.”
Simin felt the girl beside her shiver, just enough to feel the wind on her skin shift but not, Simin suspected, enough to be noticeable.
“Alekos, it was close. Do not be discouraged.” Xena rarely offered comforting words; but these, it seemed, were offered as a form of praise.
“Next round will be Marcelle e Sandra, Thaddia e Oddysseus. Alekos e Polydamas. Simin, judge.”
Clashing and grunting resounded out from the field until the sun hid itself behind hills and painted me in darkness. Simin, bruised and lightly cut left by the tiny defects in the training gear. She would have to report that to the Iron and Bronze engineers—she snapped photos of the defects she could see with her photographic memory and resolved to report them to Xena.
As the eight soldiers made their way to the dining room for their last meal, Simin finally approached Alekos to converse with him.
“Good job on the duels. You won nearly every time.” Simin had little more to say to her friend; her true motivation was to see if he would speak back to her.
“Sandra beat me every time we went head to head.” This, at least, was normal sulking. Alekos’s voice was somewhat strangled, as if the word Kalan had uttered was still hanging on his throat, but his voice had returned mostly to its cheery self.
“It was close every single time. You’ll beat her soon.” Simin responded with equal cheer, relieved that Alekos was not harboring any anger toward her.
“I don’t think so.” Sandra, appearing from behind, playfully punched Alekos’s shoulder and caught up so she walked parallel with them toward the hall. “Your counters are not very good.”
Breaking into a smile, Alekos slowed slightly to allow Sandra to join the two walkers. “I could say the same thing about your blocks!”
“I have a gun!” Sandra rolled her eyes. “What do you want me to do? Shoot at your blade?”
“Honestly, that would be a pretty funny defense.” Simin interjected her own thoughts into the conversation, but it seemed like the comment was ignored.
“Anything either than using it as a bludgeon would be better—in my opinion.” Alekos’s comment was the last one before the three entered the mess hall, which was full of soldiers talking with their mouths full of food, the sound reverberating off the metal. It was not nearly deafening, but conversation halted as the three took their plates and made their way to the table where Achilles and Kalan were sitting.
Slightly to Simin’s surprise, Alekos took a seat right next to Kalan and resumed his conversation with Sandra without a hiccup. Kalan did not seem to notice; he continued to scarf down his food as Achilles excitedly spoke to him.
“Hey guys!” Achilles looked away from Kalan as the chairs around the table scraped across the floor. Enyo and Alexio, who were part of the same troop, arrived just as Simin was sitting down next to Achilles and their table was complete.
As Achilles blabbered on about something—Sandra correcting him every time he made a mistake that violated the declaration—Simin concentrated on eating her food as quickly as she could. It took less than ten minutes, and it was eight forty according to the large clock above the hooded kitchen where some soldiers were clattering away at making the final rounds of pasta and carrots. That’s just enough time to make it.
Without a word, Simin exited the table and made her way back to the entrance, where she dropped off her plate and took her feet into the starry night. Like the day, the night was brightly clear, stars glittering in a sky made of black moss. Simin had little time to enjoy the beauty, however, instead artfully pacing to the gate. She made sure to check her surroundings for any passerby or other soldiers who were lagging behind the dinner crowd. Her finely tuned senses would have permitted her to have heard any foot steps, and she found the area clear. At the gate, she took a final look before ducking underneath the metal bars. Making a quick left, she began running over the grass, her training serving her well.
Every time Simin ducked under that gate, her heart rate would reach fever pitch. Being nervous was one of the worst qualities in a solider—acting cooly under all types of pressure was the ultimate goal of any militia—but when it came to leaving the Silver complex, Simin’s trained brain betrayed her. It was not expressly prohibited to leave, but doing so without a Superior’s permission was highly frowned upon. No one had ever been caught doing it—which gave Simin some relief, for it could mean that no one was looking for it—but it also mean that she had no idea what a punishment could look like. Her dizzy thoughts were redirected to her legs, which carried her the few miles it took to get to the Golden Ruins.
With the sky shining above her, Simin finally stopped her run. The remnants of Oddysseus’s potion still lingered in the air, and Simin wrinkled her nose at the foul odor, taking a few steps back until she could not smell it any more. She took a seat on the rocks, finding one large enough to accomadate her, and waited. Though she did not have a watch, she assumed it was around nine. Chrysos would be arriving any minute.
Sure enough, seconds after Simin had taken her seat, a jogging figure appeared coming from the Gold quarters in the distance. Simin waited patiently on her seat, knowing her friend was not nearly as fast as she was.
It was a few minutes before Chrysos, jiggling hair and all, finally came into Simin’s field of view. Her purple robes were tied off at the bottom, and her sleeves were rolled up to her elbows. Sweat dotted her forehead and her breaths were gasps as she stopped in front of Simin, unable to speak. Despite her apparent exhaustion, her eyes were as kind as ever.
“Chrysos.” Simin stood up, the star’s light illuminating her own face.
“Simin.” Her breath finally caught, Chrysos herself greeted the bald girl.
“I miss seeing you every day.” Simin’s voice, despite the emotional words, remained stoic.
“Me too. I miss the physical training so much. And going to bed at reasonable hours!” Chrysos was very much the opposite, her voice twirling with the emotion of a ballerina.
After this, the pair lapsed into awkward silence. Simin bit her tongue as she tried thinking of something to say other than what was on the tip of her tongue. Chrysos seemed similarly uncomfortable.
“I—” she began, “I want you to know that I am glad you reached out today. After the silence, I was afraid you wouldn’t anymore.”
“We cannot legally do this. You know it.”
“It is not codified that a single Silver of Gold background cannot—”
“I know that, Chrysos. But you and I both know the Guardians want complete separation, and this declaration is an obvious misplaced example of that.”
A piercing silence followed. “Misplaced?” Chrysos’s voice quivered like a quill at the arm of the writer at a loss for words.
“Don’t—” The Freudian slip was not lost on Simin, who turned around to hide her suddenly emotional face. “I think it is misplaced.” Her voice was low, her back to the Gold, hiding.
“Why?” Simin knew it was the natural way of a Gold to ask questions, but she could not answer—not with the declaration. After a minute or two of silence, Chrysos seemed to remember this. “Simin.” Putting her hand on the Silver’s shoulder, she encouraged her to turn back to her.
Simin turned around, fighting to keep her face emotionless. She hoped Chrysos didn’t notice.
“I can understand why you think that. But Simin—believe me, I am far enough along in my training to understand why this declaration was put into action. It is simply the next measure in making Kallipolis perfect. It is progress, Simin! It is beautiful, wonderful discovery on our Council’s part.”
It was the word “discovery” that froze Simin. An end…it could only be an end. Though she did not let her face betray it, some breath she had been holding since the morning was released from her chest and into the sky as a symbol of her relief. No longer did she have to doubt the Council—she had no reason. The words echoed like ecstasy: No reason, no reason, no reason no reason…
“Thank you, Chrysos.”
“Simin, I am none to thank. You and I are Kallipolis. Let live.” Simin could barely hear the words while her own occupied her head.
“I have to go now.”
“Ok.” It was Chrysos’s only response as Simin floated away on a cloud flittering above reality.
“Ok.” She whispered to herself as Simin ran at breakneck speed back to the Silver complex.
Simin ran like her life depended on it. Gold Gold. Gold Gold. Gold Gold. Her stomach was settled but her brain felt the tendrils Chrysos had left despite Simin’s active effort to force them out. The sky was black with envy as my green grass was preserved.