Chapter 8: Fire Starter
Chrysos had not received a note from Simin since before her two years serving with her. Every three days she made a point to look for a slip of paper in the place they had agreed to meet years before on days that were a multiple of three, but the notes grew less and less frequent as the years passed. By the time Chrysos was there at the complex with Simin, their meetings had been reduced to barely once every three months. Even with the two girls at such easy access to each other, Simin had barely contacted her friend. They met only four times, and each was more awkward than the last.
Simin had always been the one to contact Chrysos. The spot was easily accessible from the Gold Quarters, but took serious effort to reach from the Complex. This, however, made sense; Simin was not only the better runner, but Silvers more often left the confines of their area to travel to other sectors or areas of Kallipolis for defense training. Yet with all of the reasoning in place, Chrysos could not shake the feeling of inferiority. Why does Simin get to contact me, but I do not get to contact her? What fault have I drawn?
The thouhgts echoed in Chrysos’s mind as she stared at the dark sky. It was nine exactly, and she could see a dark figure on the stones in front of her as she walked toward the Ruins. Her gaze was held captive, however, by the stars above them even as she walked. She would risk tripping if there was anything in the vast field on which to trip. Her eyes finally making it to me, Chrysos could not help but let out a smile as she saw her long-lost friend.
“Chrysos.” The word was cold like metal, but Chrysos did not mind Simin’s voice. She had been accustomed to the emotionless way the people of the Silver class spoke.
“Simin.” The girl with the hair that flopped with the slightest movement spoke in sharp contrast to the bald one.
“I miss seeing you every day.” The metallic words hit Chrysos again, these somewhat more insulting. She could not tell if her friend was being sincere—but, Chrysos reminded herself, she had no choice but to tell the truth.
Chrysos decided to make herself clearer, speaking with emotion as well as words. “Me too. I miss the physical training so much. And going to bed at reasonable hours!”
It was the final comment before an icy cool settled on the two. Chrysos could feel in the pit of the stomach Simin would be asking. Her own mind was going crazy thinking of how she could respond—she could not tell her of her own doubts, no? For to do so was to fraternize with a member of an alternate class about matters relating exclusively to her own class—the question was almost blasphemous alone, if it were a statement. Chrysos reminded herself of the early logic classes she had taken alongside her mathematics and harmonics classes, allowing words like sentences and sound to settle with valid. She could not answer—wouldn’t dare—but as she was resolving, Chrysos saw Simin’s expression change slightly and she jumped at the chance to cut the Silver off.
“I—” she stuttered, rushing to get the words she had not yet formed into the night air. “I want you to know that I am glad you reached out today. After the silence, I was afraid you wouldn’t anymore.” It was the first thing that sprang to mind, and so it was.
Chrysos observed Simin, who quickly provided the expected excuse: “We cannot legally do this. You know it.”
The argument was as old as Kallipolis, and its validity had been disproved by Chrysos herself, who spent days reading every bit of code in the Kallipolis Book of Law. “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.” It was frustrating to be cut off—it was banned in the classrooms to interrupt any one for risk of not hearing or understanding their whole argument, and common courtesy every where else in the Quarters. But this was not the first thought to come to mind with Simin’s sentence; the other was much more disturbing.
Chrysos sensed Simin knew she had made a mistake, for she turned her back to the Gold and her Quarters, facing the open, blasphemous Ruins. “Don’t…I think it is misplaced.”
Chrysos’s breath caught in her throat. She was stuck—to leave the word alone was a violation in its own right, but to continue the conversation would be to violate the resolution she had made moments ago. A quick curse to me preceded her rushed “Why?”
Simin did not respond, but Chrysos knew she had no choice but to listen to her answer now. “Simin.” She placed a hand on the Silver’s stiff back, the muscle tone shining through in the darkness of the night. This breach of personal space was enough to bring the Silver back to the Gold. But her face, though pained now and obviously desperately trying to keep her face clear, begged for a simple answer from that. Chrysos sucked in a breath as she provided the words an exasperated Zerrin had finally shot at Chrysos earlier that afternoon.
“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.”
The darkness was slowly intensifying as clouds began to cover the stars’ light, and so Chrysos could not tell the exact moment when Simin’s face re-hardened. But at the end of her memorized, frozen speech, Chrysos had turned the Silver to stone once again. Her eyes were far away, her face back to stoicism, and her limbs to petrified dust.
“Thank you, Chrysos.” Though all of Chrysos’s words had been metallic, these hit Chrysos deep in the gut. They were not metal—no, they were stone.
“Simin, I am none to thank. You and I are Kallipolis. Let live.” Chrysos was horrified to hear her own words echo in her mind, mouth, and air.
“I have to go now.”
Chrysos was left to smother in Simin’s dust as she ran away.
“Earth.” She gasped, folding in on herself. It felt as though she had held her breath for years, though it could not have been more than a couple of minutes since Simin had first spoken to her. As she turned away from the ruins, where to the left a running Simin had disappeared, her eyes fell upon the field in front of her and a memory came like thunder.
It was life flashing before her eyes as Chrysos walked with trying steps back to the Quarters. They had been eleven, and though they had been trained, it was eleven empty years. The two girls were lying on their backs, the soft grass tickling Chrysos’s back. The sky was a deep grey, clouds covering its normal beauty.
“Why isn’t it raining?” The old Simin’s voice echoed in the new Chrysos’s mind, high and mighty and dipping like a voice should.
“It might, soon.” Chrysos turned onto her side to face her friend, who remained staring at the sky. Simin had been so much softer then. Her hair was a pitch black and, when standing, flowed around her waist, unregarded curl after unregarded curl. Her profile, a clear image in Chrysos’s mind, showed off her fuller cheeks and button nose and kind, soft eyes. “Look at the ground, Simin.”
Simin turned to face Chrysos, her face half buried in the grass. At the sight of the bug in front of her, Simin’s kind eyes glowed with immediate excitement. “It’s Akrasia!” she laughed as a roly-poly desperately tried to inch itself away before inevitably being gently scooped into Simin’s hand.
“You know, not all roly-polies are called that.” Chrysos giggled at her enthralled friend, who was now leading the bug in an endless loop from hand to hand.
“Roly-polies are my favorite bugs. I call my favorite bugs ‘Akrasia.’ This is simple logic, Chrysos!” Simin said to the other Gold, her eyes still fixiated on the tiny black bug.
“I name all of the things I find differently.” Chrysos turned back to face the sky while Simin turned the opposite way, getting on her elbows while keeping the bug in her grasp.
It was here where the current Chrysos was brought back into reality—she had been so enthralled by her mind that she had not noticed the cobblestone path coming up in front of her, and nearly tripped on it. She caught herself before she met the ground, retrieving her balance from the jaws of defeat.
“Out to the Ruins?” A familiar voice from Chrysos’s right appeared after emerging from the last classroom on the row. Chrysos nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Gah!” Twice in a row! “Y—yeah. Yes, Zlota.” Her face emerging from the darkness of the doorway, a tall figure in disarrayed grey robes—nearly white—walked confidently in front of Chrysos, who was still on the outskirts of the cobble path. Zlota was mere years away from becoming a Councillor, and thus always addressed by her name. She had tutored Chrysos when she was fifteen; she had been stern and steady, and certainly one of Chrysos’s favorite tutors. Still, she was casually feared by many, and Chrysos was no exception. At this moment, her fear was only exacerbated by the recent memory of her rather unconventional meeting. The longer the two stood in silence, the faster Chrysos’s heart beat and the greater the urgency to speak became.
“So!” She finally exploded after the clock in the middle of courtyard beat two seconds. “In class so late?”
“No.” Her words were vipers, and Chrysos cringed at the thought of her terrible question. Before she could gather the courage to try again, another tall figure emerged from the same room with similarly disarranged clothing.
“Ah! Chrysos!” Kohinoor’s voice was as cheerful as ever. “My star student, out to the Ruins when she should be studying, no?”
“I was about to do so, Councillor.” The pieces merged together like lightning in Chrysos’s mind, and she knew she had to stumble out of there as quickly as she had stumbled in. “I’m actually going…now.” With barely a glance to the seniors, Chrysos briskly walked away in as straight and strong a fashion as she could fathom to the library. Earth. In a class room? Mm, no, not going to think about that. Study.
Finally making it to the solace of a closed door separating her from the two Golds, Chrysos took an abrupt left to get to the library. It was truly dazzling at night; the glass ceiling seemed to hold all of the stars in ready grasp of the students, while soft lighting lit the shelves and desks on the southern side.
Making her way to one of such desks, Chrysos could not help but be struck with the perfect silence of the vast room. Pencil scratches and page flips dotted the room here and there, and some students were even approaching the desk where a girl no older than seven stood and requesting books; but to Chrysos, this noise did not mean the room was not in silence. The only real sounds, it had been determined, were those of intellectual rigor. Debate, discussion, lecture. Chrysos took her seat at one of the desks where she had left her things.
Pyrrhus, who had been hard at work taking notes from his own copy of Metaphysics, looked up to see Chrysos take her seat across from him.
“Long bathroom break.” He muttered at her.
“I decided to go to the Ruins.” She muttered back as she flipped open her lecture notes.
“Earth, why? They’re incredibly depressing.”
“They are my favorite place—it’s always good to remember from where Kallipolis came. How else are we to ascertain we do not fall back into who we once were?” The room was beginning to deviate from its silence, and the surrounding tables took notice, turning around to give the speakers silencing looks. Pyrrhus’s response was thus just above a whisper.
“Yeah!” it was a tiny scoff. “And is that happening? In the fifth classroom, there was apparent debate about the valididity of the Declaration. To be honest, I have questions about it.”
At this, Chrysos froze. I am not the only one with doubts? There was a debate? She was about to open her mouth to agree with the red haid across from her, but a single thought kept her back. I don’t have questions. I have serious doubts. I need to talk with Kohinoor. “We should study. I am assuming there will be some sort of test tomorrow.” She hoped her voice wasn’t stilted.
And so, they did. Chrysos had been in the library since two that afternoon, when her and Pyrrhus’s last class ended. She had already taken notes on the necessary reading and written an essay on the Declaration that argued it to be valid (others had been assigned to write one that proved it invalid). She still had another two essays to write and some more reading she wanted to do. Beginning with the lecture notes was a good place to start, she decided, because it would allow her to simultaneously sketch the outline for the next essay.
An hour later, and the outline was done. It should have only taken thirty minutes, but Chrysos’s valuable mind was taken with what she would have to say to Kohinoor. Realizing the stress was going to affect her productivity—and knowing she had at least another four hours of work to go, if she worked at her normal pace—she decided to find Kohinoor. Closing up her things, she stood up only with a notebook and pencil—one should always take notes when speaking with a Councilor.
Walking out of the library, Chrysos decided to first check the other two work rooms. Pacing the hall, she half hoped not to find him—though she knew the academic question in mind, she was afraid that her witnessing of he and Zlota emerging from the class room would not cause any awkwardness. Just don’t make it awkward, Chrysos.
The first work room revealed a few yellow robes—the youngest class—in light conversation.
“No, I couldn’t believe it—I mean, I thought I was Bronze for sure, but I guess—”One of them excitedly chattered to the other three. Though their notebooks were open, none were looking at them.
“Gold—be quiet. You have work to do. You might be new here, but I am not. You have a test tomorrow.” Chrysos interrupted them, her voice having turned stern from its usual lightness.
“How do you know? I just got here today!” The original yellow-robed teen sneered at Chrysos, triggering his friend to lightly slap his wrist.
“Exactly. You do not know how it works around here, and I would take all of the advice you can get from the elders offering it. Show that disrespect to anyone higher than me, and you’ll receive a lot more than a slap on the wrist from your friend.” Chrysos left the room in silence, with all but the Bronze Gold studying vigilantly. Truth be told, she couldn’t be sure he had a test tomorrow, but knowing the older converts, it would be best if he did. She, of course, had never experienced being placed somewhere besides her place of origin, but she had distinct memories of the times others had been placed in her class. The first batch came when she was five, the second at seven, and the third at twelve. The first two easily adjusted to the life of a Gold, but the twelve year olds always experienced some amount of culture shock. Many who came from the working sectors were displeased at the quality of the Gold’s sleeping arrangments—Chrysos had a distinct memory of Pyrrhus crying to sleep his first night after complaining for twenty minutes about the coarseness of his pillow, though he adamantly denies this now—and the Silver Golds they received were usually quite displeased at the lack of physical exercise. Thought there were no recruits from the Silver ranks in her class, Chrysos knew of one two years beneath her. Jodha? I belive that’s her name. Whatever her name was, she spent most of her free time running and doing other sort of acrobatics. Chrysos would still see her regularly during breaks keeping up her physique. It’s good she’s deployed.
Walking now to the second work room, Chrysos made a point to up her speed. She was already losing valuable study time by questioning the Councilor; she need not lose more in the process of finding him. Unfortunately, the second work room lacked the Councilor, a few dark grey and rust colored robes the only inhabitants. Making her way back outside, Chrysos decided to check the Council Room. Though it was the meeting place for Councilors during the day, after night fall, any Gold was allowed to go.
The stone and wooden building was all the way at the end of the road, a good quarter-mile. Deciding to run—she looked behind her to see the clock already at ten fifteen—Chrysos hitched up her robes and ran off the cobble and onto the grass. She quickly made her way past the additional sleeping quarters and the dining hall. Arriving at the modest construction, she was relieved to see the light still on. Composing herself and wiping off the particles of sweat that had appeared on her forehead, she calmly knocked on the door, attempting to disguise her urgency.
“Yes?” It was a familiar—thought obviously perturbed—voice that greeted her.
“Councilor Talal? This is Chrysos, second class. I was hoping to speak with Councilor Kohinoor. Is he there?” Chrysos calmed her voice so to convey the utmost respect for the Councilor.
“Yes, Chrysos. I will be right out.” Much to her relief, Kohinoor’s voice echoed from inside the room. She backed away from the door, hearing the scrape of a chair being pushed out from the table and footsteps following it. The door creaked open to reveal the Councilor’s face.
Stepping out from the threshold, he closed the door behind him with a gentle pull. Though smiling as he always did, his face was gaunt and the old man was clearly tired.
“With what may I help you, Chrysos?” Even his voice stifled a yawn.
“I—I had a question about the Declaration, sir.” Chrysos, realizing how tired her mentor must be, began yet another internal debate with herself about whether to ask him about it.
“Yes, I suspected as much. You seemed quiet during the Seminar today, when you are usually so engaged.”
“Well,” she began, deciding to question him if he did already suspect her. “It seemed to me…well….” Trailing off, she realized she had forgotten her exact wording. No! What was it? Fretting at the ground, she desperately tried to remember the next word in her script.
“I know many in the Quarters are potentially doubtful.” Perhaps realizing his student had drifted away, Kohinoor began speaking as a respite for her to find her words. “It is a very specific type of legislation, I know. Even many of the other Councilors were against it when I presented it last month for consideration. Talal was especially doubtful; I am actually speaking to him right now about it. He is beginning to have doubts about his positive vote, and I am hoping to assuage them.”
These last words were lost to Chrysos. It was Kohinoor’s? Frozen with the newly remembered words at the tip of her tongue, she suddenly bit it. I can’t challenge Kohinoor—I can’t. Not when he will be grading my essay on it tomorrow! What if he thinks I am not thinking independently enough? What if he finds my concerns ridiculous? What if--? Before she could think of another reason not to ask him, the words came spilling out of her mouth without her permission.
“Actually—I think I only have a question. Not a doubt. I can speak with my classmates about it.”
“Are you sure?” Obviously surpirised, Kohinoor seemed to question the validity of the statement itself.
“Yes.” Chrysos barely breathed. She realized what she had done, but could not take back the lie now. Not in front of the man who banned it.
“Good night, then.” Chrysos didn’t get a chance to see her mentor’s face before he turned his back to her and closed the door behind him.
She slowly made her way back to the library, where work that would likely take five hours awaited her. How could she do this? How could she lie in front of Kohinoor, of all people? How could she break a law with such blatant disregard for the Councilors? I could feel each and every heavy step as she made it, even through the cobblestone. Her mind struggled and came to me, pleading for the inability to lie with the ability to live. I granted nothing of the kind. The sky wouldn't let me.