The Banner

“What color is the dress?”

*  *  1  *  *

McDowell leapt forward, narrowly avoiding the knife that had been meant for his head. He instinctually grabbed the knife and hurled back toward its owner whose reflexes were clearly less honed judging by the distinct thunk of blade in bone.

He kept running.

His pursuers were relentless, but amateurs. Passionate, but amateurs nonetheless. McDowell had no trouble hiding from them the moment he hit the ruins. While he hid in the upper rafters, they continued to sweep the ground floor, seemingly oblivious to the idea of a third dimension. He smiled, kissed a grenade, and dropped it on its soon-to-be victims. A second before it hit the ground, one of the soldiers noticed it and dove. McDowell was simultaneously impressed by the woman’s bravery and disgusted at the fact that someone so brave would sacrifice their life for such a worthless cause.

Unfortunately, the soldier’s sacrifice meant that the remaining troops were now aware of his position and more than alive enough to do something about it. No rest for the weary. A barrage of knives, bullets, and rocks followed McDowell out of the second story window.

A gracefully landing and a quick, well-navigated jaunt through a minefield accompanied by a few satisfying pops left him with only a handful of pursuers, and he was confident they would give up soon as well. He passed a pole with a long gold streamer tied to it, billowing in the breeze. He leaned against it to catch his breath as the platoon of soldiers began to catch up with him, their royal blue berets forcing them to stand out against the dull backsplash of the ruins.

One of the lead troops spotted him, pointing and shouting to his comrades. McDowell smiled and pointed to the streamer. The soldiers’ faces melted. They stood there for a moment, mumbling to each other and gesturing back and forth between McDowell and the streamer. Finally, dejected and defeated, they carefully made their way back through the minefield.

McDowell let out a small celebratory whoop, waited until blue soldiers were completely out of sight, and made his way back through the minefield as well.

As he neared the edge of the ruins, he saw in the distance the crumbling remains of a once-proud monument. An enormous, weathered green head lay on its side staring at him, beckoning him to come closer. He took note of her crown and felt the need to reverence her. Even a ruined queen deserves her due respect. He stood at attention, removed his hat, and saluted her for a full minute before continuing on.

When he reached the head, he was greeted by a welcoming party consisting of a half dozen children dressed in rags and brandishing spears. He held his arms straight overhead and turned slowly in a full circle to be sure they were aware that he wore no colors. They accepted his gesture and lead him into the giantess’s head.

“Welcome, stranger,” said an old man at the end of a large, empty room. “What brings you so far out this way?”

“I seek the banner,” McDowell said flatly.

“And what is it you hope to find within its folds?”

“Peace.”

The old man cackled. “Have you seen the world in the last decade or so? The banner cannot bring peace. Only destruction. Now tell me: What color will the banner be if you do find it? Blue or gold?”

“Both. The banner reveals itself differently to different people”

The old man looked very grave. “You speak heresy against both clans. Were you anywhere else, you would be felled where you stand.”

“But I’m not anywhere else. Now show me the damned banner!”

The old man sighed, stood, and lifted the lid of the box upon which he had been seated. McDowell approached reverently. He didn’t believe in the banner, but he had seen its power to destroy. As he stood over the box, staring down into it, he could not believe what stared back at him.

Inside the box lay a single piece of torn fabric. Scarlet fabric.

“Well that complicates things.”

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