This actually turned out to be quite a bit of work. A retooling of one of my earlier pieces: Wind and Sky.
Wind and Sky, Part 1 : Disgrace.
Five years of war ended on a handshake. It took place in a room painted half-green in honor of the Republic of the Wind and half-blue for the Kingdom of the Sky. The men were a horrific mismatch. The men and women from the Wind wore their military uniforms, covered in necklaces of strung bullets. Those representing the Sky wore fine pressed suits and dresses, impractical an opulent.
General Hadassah Brine stood tall, watching diplomats and political fat cats trade congratulations. She knew who had done the real work, ending a military deadlock while the important people argued over who got what reward. Her soldiers held formation, laser-bows at the ready and ready to strike if needed.
The Wind soldiers on the other side of the room, lounged with their primitive rifles at their shoulders. They joked and laughed, keeping loose formation. They only stood upright when mocking the real soldiers across the room.
Everyone looked so pleased. The emissaries of the Republic of Wind were quick to step over to the blue half of the room. They were all smiles and boisterous laughter, ready to cast aside the horrors of war for flagons of mead.
“Business as usual then,” Grand Minister of War, Gregor Tolon said. He stood from his seat in the corner of the room, straightening his tidy white suit, trimmed with sky blue, and poked at the blue rose at his lapel. “Please know your sacrifice is appreciated, General.”
The politicians filed out of the conference room, patting each other on the back and keeping the show of peace believable.
Hadassah pulled her cap away from her long blonde hair. Time for the reward for my hard work. She handed her cap over to Tolon.
A heavy built man dressed in black war fatigues, approached. He pulled a stubby cigar from his pocket and gnashed it between his thick brown lips. Like most of the inhabitants of the Republic, Generalissimo Helgo’s had dusty brown skin and thick black hair. Age had turned his moustache and the edges of his hair grey, peppered like the permanent soot stains of his uniform.
On closer inspection, Hadassah realized his uniform used to be green.
He stopped before them, cupping an ancient-looking lighter in his hands. He flicked the primitive flint and steel mechanism, yielding only miserable sparks.
“Generalissimo, if I may.” Hadassah tapped a code into her wrist panel. A small butane flame erupted from her gloved index finger.
He grunted and lit his cigar on the next flick of his lighter.
Hadassah banished the flame with a thought. “There’s no need to be stubborn. Think of the resources you would save with—”
“You can keep your techno-witchcraft, Blue Devil,” Helgo said, in his thick accent. “It is thanks to you I must do such horrible things. I should be covering my man with honors, not this.”
“I share your annoyance, Generalissimo,” Tolon said. “My skin crawls at the premise of Lady Hadassah enduring indignities at the hands of classless vultures. Present company accepted, of course.”
A grin peered out behind Helgo moustache. “Better a vulture than a peacock.”
“Gentlemen, please,” she said. “This is a small price to pay for peace.”
“Yes,” Tolon said. “But what good is peace if it is delivered at the expense of those who brought it? We owe you a great debt, General. Both of you actually.”
Hadassah bowed. “Regardless of the circumstances, it is a pleasure to meet you in person Generalissimo.”
A man walked in, a soldier from the Republic of Wind. He was dark skinned and rugged, but not half stout as Helgo. He approached, rolling away the tension in a broad shoulder and looked over Hadassah with an easy smile. There was a familiar mischief in is golden eyes. His unkempt battle scarred uniform along with a lazily applied golden tie, spoke volumes of his personality. He could only be one person—Tabansi Gemani.
Golden strands linked the left side of his chest to his opposite shoulder. Along the strings, rows of bullets—honors, the Republic called them— were the only adornment to his uniform. He twirled a dusty dark green hat covered with nicks and grazes, patched countless times to retain functionality. His medium length mane of jet-black hair was feathery and freshly tousled.
Tolon gaped at him. “You are the genius general who thwarted us so?”
“Yep,” Tabansi said. The stench of liquor was as thick as his accent. “Pleasure’s all yours.”
Hadassah twisted up her face. “Not surprised in the slightest. His appearance matches his recklessness.”
Tabansi turned to her, letting out a low whistle. He looked her over, settling his gaze on her long stocking covered legs. “No one told me the Blue Devil was so fine lookin!”
Hadassah held her ground. “No one asked.”
“Tabansi. Behave,” Helgo said.
“Behave? Or what? Invoke the wrath of Hadassah Brine? General of the Sky’s forces, master Tactician, graduate with top honors in half the time as her classmates and hot ass bitch.” Tabansi punctuated the last words with a sharp smack on her bottom.
She regained her composure. Better to ignore such behavior than give him the reaction he wants.
Tolos glowered at him. “Sir. I’ll ask you to—”
“To tell the truth, ya?” Tabansi stiffened, turning his expression serious. He straightened out his voice to do a convincing facsimile of the Sky’s dialect. “My apologies my good sir. I am afraid my time amongst the lower class mongrels of the Republic of Wind has left me with hideous manners. I haven’t had time at all to stand around imitating the torment of facilitating a stick up my posterior. I will try and fit it into my agenda along with disdainful air sniffs.”
While the humor in his mockery failed to amuse, it made it abundantly clear he was no idiot.
Helgo and Tabansi broke into laughter. The other Republic soldiers joined in, shattering the room’s dour mood. The laughter proved infectious. Offensive or not, she agreed with Tabansi to a degree. In the Kingdom of Sky, procedure often took a back seat to logic.
Grand Minister Tolon was not amused. “Well I can’t imagine you will be laughing long.”
“I know,” Tabansi said, regaining his composure. “Now is the most important time to laugh. Any idiot knows that.”
Helgo lost his smile. “When did you find out?”
Tabansi hooked a thumb in his belt. “I knew for months, I missed the meeting on purpose. I didn’t want to have the urge to shoot a pig or three.”
“We’re not fools,” Hadassah said. “Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of history knows the value of a scapegoat.”
Tabansi glanced over at her, smiling. “As expected from my rival; why don’t you explain? I bet you been sick of me always making the first move.”
“Quite, there is a great deal of disdain to be held from the public image of this war. The people have come to resent me for my contribution in the conflict. The Kingdom of the Sky has glamourized my image and demonized in yours. The same goes for Mr. Gemani in reverse as well.”
Tabansi nodded. “Truth, everyone loves me.”
“I surmise one method of establishing strife of war, bringing the monsters of the other side to justice.” Hadassah paused to sigh. “I am well aware that your country plans to have me executed Generalissimo.”
Tabansi folded his arms. “Big plans for me too. A date with a chopping block? Or do you Sky people scold people to death?”
Tolos pulled off his glasses and polished them. “You’re only half right.”
Hadassah and Tabansi shared a moment of surprise.
Grand Minister Tolos pointed with his glasses. “They don’t plan to execute you. Only imprison you.”
Hadassah raised a brow. “Imprison us?”
“It is as he says. As of today you are no longer the Blue Devil and the Gold Terror. You are less than dogs,” Helgo said, holding out his hand. “Tabansi. Your honors.”
“What?” Tabansi’s temper flared at his superior. “Impossible, I will accept death gloriously in the name of peace, but this?”
“I’m afraid this is only the beginning, old friend. But my hands are tied.” The Generalissimo shook his hand a second time. “Please, shed it willingly, I do not want to see it taken from you.”
Tabansi’s reached for his pistol, only finding an empty holster. Like her, he had surrendered his weapon at the entrance of the building. Hadassah’s soldiers primed their laser-bows, setting a threatening hum into the air.
On the other side of the room, the soldiers of the Wind cocked their rifle. Dozens of armed men and women kept a bead on him and Hadassah.
Hadassah swallowed back a lump in her throat. “A Captive? What is the meaning of this Minister? This is beneath us.”
“It is out of my control as well. Both countries have spoken. Your King has forsaken you. I need your medals, Miss Brine.”
The very weapons Hadassah had helped develop now pointed at her. They matched the power of the wind’s rifle alongside astonishing accuracy. The familiar hum of energy charged arrow tips filled her ears. Dozens of pale blue dots covered the front of her uniform.
She nodded quietly, reaching to remove her medals one by one. Tabansi’s roared, shaking her from her thoughts.
“This is not how it should end.” Tabansi struck his chest with a balled fist. “I will kill every man in this room if this wrong is not righted. This is not the Way of the Wind. All of you are my brothers, and this is only proof that times must—”
A gunshot silenced Tabansi. A spray of blood erupted from his leg. He faltered to one knee, gritting his teeth, yet he did not scream, nor did he buckle. Blood poured out the wound in his leg. He tightened his hands into fists and stood strong.
“The next one will not be so kind, friend.” The Generalissimo aimed his pistol at his crotch. “Your honors, now.”
Tabansi reached up and pulled on the golden strands at his chest. His hand bled before the strand gave out. The cords popped one by one as row after row of bullets spilled to the floor below him.
The loose ammunition clattered around the feet of the men with rifles. Helgo lowered his pistol and holstered it. “Men, each of you take one of his honors. I am afraid you will have to carry them on for him. On this day, Tabani Gemani is a soldier no more.”
One by one, the men stooped and plucked bullets from the ground.
Tolos looked at Hadassah expectantly. She transfixed on the wound on his leg. She had been shot before, but thanks to the medical technology in the Kingdom of Sky she could hardly remember the pain. Her arm worked as good as new in a matter of days. The poor and primitive nation of the Wind had no such luxuries.
“Of course.” She gestured. “We should treat his wounds. Dog or not, he is a prisoner of the Kingdom of Sky.”
“We will tend to him,” Tolos said.
Hadassah fixed her gaze on Tabansi. His eyes held fast to a low boil of rage. She resumed removing her medals and placed them in a neat pile in Tolos’ outstretched hand.
Tolos cleared his throat. “It is a crime for one not of the military to wear the uniform of an officer.”
“W-what?” Hadassah flushed a hand to the center of her chest.
“You are pigs.” Tabansi spat. “What does that have to do with this?”
“Everything I’m afraid,” Tolos said. “Now if you please. Do not make this difficult.”
Hadassah set her jaw. She unbuttoned her uniform and silently cursed the warm weather of the borderlands. Typically,she would wear a turtleneck body suit to find comfort in the bitter cold of the Kingdom of Sky. Now she only wore modest undergarments.
She followed protocol. Hadassah folded the jacket calmly and offered it to her Minister. She retained her air of dignity despite her state of undress. She hoped it hurt Tolos more than it did her.
Tabansi growled and stripped off his jacket leaving him with a black sleeveless shirt underneath. He kicked off the fatigue pants, revealing a pair of black silk boxers.
Hadassah complied calmly removing the skirt in one fluid motion. She stooped over to fold the skirt into a neat pile and felt keenly aware of the leering eyes of the men in the room. The lady soldiers, at least the ones from the Kingdom of Sky, averted their gaze. Her men did not share the courtesy.
Tabansi peeled off his black shirt, offering it to her. She accepted it, slipping her arms through it and thankful for the small gift. Removing his clothes with a bullet wound must have been extremely painful. The uniform of a soldier in the Nation of Wind did not house his pride and soul. His trophies marked countless battles, against her people.
The last bullet is for you, shall you fail.
The shirt fit loose and comfortable, but stunk of smoke, sweat and booze. He looked younger than her, at least by five years, but scars and blemishes across his skin made her feel like a child. Medical science brushed away any wound she had endured. His skin read like a road map of war. The bullet wound looked like a scratch compared to the hideous scars covering his back and chest.
“Thank you.” Tolos said. “I do not approve of this treatment, we said what we could but the final word does not fall to the department of war. We both argued for execution, but it was not our final say.” The Minister handed over the uniform to a nearby soldier.
“So what exactly do they have planned for us?” Tabansi straightened. Blood from his wound slowed to a trickle against flexed muscles of his leg.
“You will be released to the custody of the Science council,” Tolos said. “You will need to use your imagination, I have no idea what their plans are for you.”
Helgo grunted. “I know well what will become of you, Hadassah. Our ‘Science division’ is not so subtle.”
Hadassah stayed resolute. “I’m afraid no matter what you do to me I will not disclose my country’s secrets.”
Helgo folded his arms. “We are aware. That is why we will not waste our time. Tolos, let us leave them, as agreed.”
“Of course, Generalissimo,” Tolos said, moving to wait by the door.
The soldiers filed out of the room. The Generalissimo himself scooped up Tabansi’s fatigues and took position on the other side of the door. His men filed out, offering wary glances to Tabansi as they passed.
Tolos cleared his throat. “This room is your prison for now.”