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In the Shadows

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The Estate of Senator Saren Malvec

It is a warm evening, the sun starting to set over the countryside outside Paldred. Saren Melvec owned a large farm growing oliva wheat, tended by several slaves but predominantly members of the lower class, though he only paid minimally. His family had a senatorial seat for last fifty years, making him and two dozen other families part of a small class considered 'new men'. He had just finished strolling through the southern fields when he spotted a car approach the residence. Saren employed ten personal guards alongside an assessor to keep an eye on his workers. The armed men couldn't make out who was coming at them and moved swiftly to stop and surround the vehicle. The individual inside the car was Gathan Darok.

"Get out of my way, I am looking for your master," Darok fumed as he got out of the car. "Do you have any proof that you are meeting with him?" the guard questioned tensely. "Of course not, this is an impromptu visit, now tell Saren I am here to see him." His guards would hear none of it. Saren had just crossed into the main courtyard of the residence when he heard the dispute going on in front. He rushed to see what was going on. "Enough, out of the way!" he commanded, seeing Gathan. "I was not expecting a visit by you today," he said, and then turned angerly to his guards. "Let him go, all of you, check on the last field before letting the freemen leave for the night. Assessor, account for your slaves. Now go." The armed men gave their guest a single stare before following their orders.

"I apologize for their behavior," he remarked, eying them leave. "No matter, we need to talk, in private," Darok responded. "After dinner, Darule has just finished making it. Please join us at the table." The two men would proceed to eat. Night fell over the estate and the two men would stroll around, Kavit wine in their hands. As they walked, the wheat fields waved silently in the distance.

Darok was quiet for a moment before speaking up. "The Republic is at a crossroads," he started, "instability, inaction, corruption, treachery. It could all fall apart at any time." Seren took a sip of his wine. "You know as well as I do that this has been the case since Marrok. He has stood since then, he will continue to do so." Gathan took a bold step. "The Continuing Committee may think Terix was the right choice to appoint because of his military career but he does not know the first thing that involves governing." Malvec stopped. "What are you getting at?"

"We need a stronger Praetor." Malvec interjected, "and who would you suggest?"


Malvec was silent, swirling his glass a few times before responding. "You," putting considerable tension on it before breaking out a chuckle. "You have to be kidding."

"I'm not," he snapped. "I want to be Praetor."

Realizing that Gathan was being serious, Seren grew alarmed. "The Praetor has many friends in the military and quite loved by the people. What you are proposing is political suicide."

"I can make friends. I have the means," he said putting his wine glass on a railing and put his hand into an interior pocket of his elaborate tunic. In his hand was what appeared to be a check, made out to the amount of 200,000 Chaks. "What do you say friend?" he questioned as he extended it to Seren.

Malvec wasn't a particularly notable aristocrat. His individual power didn't concern him. He needed his vote.

"No, we can't." He said. "It is nothing against you. I envy your wealth, as do a great many in the Senate but I am loyal to the Praetor." Gathan's smile turned into a cold stare. "I see," he said tensely.

He finished his glass of wine. "Thank you for the meal and for the glass of wine, Malvec. Seeing as there is nothing else to discuss, I must return to Dartha." Seren nodded and brought Darok back to his car.

Gathan got in and his driver, Prelek handed him his cell phone. "Your phone rang while you were with him," he reported. He eyed the missed call entry. "Ah my wife, Vela," he commented. "Let's go," he instructed him as the car drove away from the estate.

As the car left the driveway and onto the main road, Gathan dialed a number.

"I have a job for you. Now listen carefully..."

Hours would pass. A car slowly approached the compound as Seren and his wife slept in the master bedroom, their two daughters in another. The car came to a halt out front and four men emerged: hired thugs come to solve Darok's dilemma. They knocked out the guards and threatened the assessor. With any opposition out of the way, he snuck into the residence. One pair went to the children's bedroom on the first floor and captured them, bringing them back to the car, to be raised by Darok's family. The other pair ascended to the upper level and assassinated both husband and wife and would dispose of their bodies in the field, making it look like an accident by way of being attacked by one of Rihan's violent nighttime birds. Before they left, they placed two notes on the desk.

The following morning, the estate was surrounded by personnel of the local police (Dyyhti'theirr). There wasn't much evidence to go off of, except for the notes left on the desk during the night. One of them was entitled "Last Will and Testament," the other was a letter addressed to one of the highest governing bodies in the Republic: "To the Continuing Committee."

The deceased Senator Malvec had entrusted all his property to Darok and asked the Continuing Committee to accept his resignation and asked them to find a worthy replacement to take his seat.

Never turn your back.


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In the Markets of Relevek

Gathan Darok was always finding ways to show his extraordinary wealth amongst the rest of the aristocracy. On this day, he brought his wife Vela to peruse the fine wares found at Dartha's, if not Rihan's greatest marketplace. As they wandered the rows upon rows of small stalls, the two of them would see everything from citrus fruits and wines from the interior to lavish gold necklaces, stunning glassware, and fine Tholian silks. Such an array of luxury items were not the only things on sale - loaves of bread and sweet pastries,  satul pottery, and oils. Vela, like many noble women, constantly looked for the latest silks and elaborate fashions from both east and west of the Republic. One such stand had a stunningly gold-embroidered purple silk dress. She pulled her husband to her side.

The merchant, a man by the name of Ajan, watched her for several seconds inspect the dress before interjecting himself. "Ah," he remarked, "you've eyed this fine piece. Just got it from Tholia yesterday. I will not lie, it's one of the best to have been produced this season." He took it off the hanger and presented it to her to put against herself; meanwhile, Ajan's assistant lifted the nearby mirror and brought it over, putting it in front of her. Ajan nodded. "Yes, yes," noting her reactions as she looked at it in the mirror. "It is absolutely is for," he paused, "there is no one else in the capital who has such an astonishing piece. Not to mention, it's unique. There isn't another such piece in all of Rihan," he said. Darok up to this point was just observing the interaction.

Vela asked her husband, "what do you think?"

"It's beautiful. I'd be ravishing on you." She was convinced enough to buy it.

"How much?" Ajan fiddled with his handheld device for a few seconds. "2,100 Chaks."

"Quite steep," she said but the merchant interjected, "yes but you will find nothing this fine or stunning in the Republic." Gathan then replied, looking at his wife. "Do not worry about it, you deserve the dress my beauty," he said as he began counting out his Chaks, handing him several hundred more than the total. Ajan was stunned for a moment and then gave a smile. "It's a pleasure to doing business. Shall I wrap it up for you?"

"Yes, please," Vela responded. As the merchant began boxing up the dress, Darok spied his friend, Senator Vinok, heading up to the second floor of the market. "My love, I must take care of something upstairs," he said. "I will not be gone long, no more than ten minutes." He proceeded to hand her another 1000 Chaks. "If you see something else you like," he remarked. Vela smiled. "Your dress ma'am," Ajan said, handing her the box. Darok then parted from his wife and walked up the nearest staircase and approached Vinok. He was with two others.

"Jovis," he said. "It is good to see you," shaking his hand. "I just finished a meeting with the Festival Committee and the arena games are coming along nicely."

Darok smiled. Vinok, Levok, and himself had put down over 2.5 million Chaks to fund a substantial portion of the upcoming festival: food, wine, games. A true bread and circus for the masses. It had also made the three men far more noticeable, amongst their colleagues. Many in the chamber were vexed at their involvement in something that had always been the responsibility of the Senate-at-large. Gathan didn't care about their opinions at the moment. What was important to him was the two men who were beside his friend: Senators Vargo Dorek and Clavius Romdar. Both men were well-known members of the militant Jaridan coalition - both with vested interests in the military-industrial complex.

"I am sure Jovis has told you of my intentions," he said. Both nodded, but cautious with their words. "It's not that simple," said Romdar. "You're not exactly the most popular person in the chamber at the moment."

"I do not need popularity. Yet. What I need are friends," he responded. "From what Vinok has said, you may be patriotic men who love the Praetor for his military record but less so for his vague policy positions."

"Yes," said Dorek. Jovis handed Gathan a slip of paper who inspected it quickly and looked up at Jovis who nodded.

"Clavius, I understand you are fond of fine horses."

"Quite," he briefly replied. Darok said "I have come into the possession of a Fulgistani Bozaan horse of unparalleled speed and strength. It's even better than the finest Kerosh I bought for my daughter Sarith last year, it's yours if we're...friends." He handed him a photo of the horse. "My son would love to ride him, he's too old to ride his Fvai...he'd definitely love the horse's addition to our stable."

They had an understanding before he would present his 'offer' to Dovek, he was going to sweeten it with one other gift for Romdar. "A friend of ours is working behind the scenes to procure trading rights from the RTC to import the finest Mauridivian coffee. We gave him the funds to get the effort off the ground but I am not interested in the profits from the venture, just the return on the investment. I want to give you my share of the rolling profits, 20%, to you, as a gift."

Clavius was stunned for a moment but then gave a smile. "Thank you," he responded. Gathan had won over Romdar.

Getting Dorvek was going to be trickier but he had something he knew Vargo would take.

"Assuming I succeed our illustrious Praetor, in due time, Vinok here is going to serve as one of the consuls. I know you've lived in Dartha for years and want an opportunity to spend more time out in the countryside," typically when this was said, it was meant to remove someone from the center of power, which was exactly what Darok had in mind. "How would you feel about being appointed Provincial Governor of Mendrik? We already have two members of the Continuing Committee onboard and they can get another 4 to join in bringing it up to the full Senate."

The province of Mendrik was Rihan's heartland, equally as fertile as the plains of Aihai that lie between the capital and Raxna. It was the center of the Republic's wine industry. Besides that, it would be a massive blow to his political rival, Liviana Charvenek, as she and her entire family lineage hailed from Calanista. They had not only ruled that land prior to the Republic's founding, but possessed one of the most important vineyards. Darok had quietly been supporting their rivals, the Fareldi. 

Vinok nodded to Vargo. "You have my support. We can certainly be...friends."

"Good," responded Gathan. He handed both men a small parting gift of 200 Chaks each, a final confirmation of the political contract the four of them had just concluded. He peered away and looked down to the ground level where his Vela had passed his vision, inspecting a fine gold necklace with precious gemstones. "Now," he paused, "I must return to my wife, it appears that she has something else she fancies." The men shake hands and part. Gathan returned to his wife who had just put the necklace on. "It's beautiful," she remarked. "Ravishing my darling. It suits you."

The merchant was asked how much. "1,950 Chaks." Darok handed him 2,000. "Keep the change." He furiously counted the currency as the couple left his vision. A few minutes would pass before both their servant Prelek caught up with them. "A man by the name of Joltair said he has someone who is interested in forming an application with the RTC about Cashari spice."

"I will speak with him tomorrow. Where is Sarith?" Prelek pointed to a young man, a year older than her. "Make sure she gets home, we'll have Karon take us back to the villa."

"Daie," responded their servant who took them to their car where his colleague was waiting. As they were leaving, Liviana Charvanek was just entering the Marketplace herself, in a gold dress. She looked at Vela's gown and eyed the box.

"Gathan," she said coldly.

"Liviana," he responded with equal tone. "You are a woman of fashion. I believe there is something merchant Ajan has from amongst his fine clothing that you'd love to wear." She bit her tongue as she didn't want to cause a scene. She politely thanked him for the suggestion and continued on her way, and immediately went to her trusted clothing merchant, Ruketh.

Edited by Rihan
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Praetorians were banging their pikes upon the floor of the Senate chamber to bring the room to order. There had been a fury of debate for two long weeks on the Praetor's 'Economic Revitalization' Act and it had remained in a complete deadlock between the hardened militants of the Jaridan and the conservative elements of Nej'ahar with even a few Jol Tan extremists - all together in one bloc arguing that such liberalization would put the Republic at risk and the military in a state of resource deprivation. On the other side was Suketh with more 'willing' elements of Jaridan to open the economy up as long as there were certain protections in place. Most of Nej'ahar were against the motion but there were a few individuals of that coalition who remained silent through the entire debate so far: Gathan Darok and his closest associates.

The Praetor stood up from the Eagle Chair and the room quieted down to hear what he had to say. "I know this is an intense issue and marks a tremendous shift in the very fabric of the Rihannsu marketplace and the core of our social structures," there was some grumbling from members. "But we must move forward, in our own way," he paused. "I am not proposing a complete free-for-all and the complete destruction of our businesses. I am asking for you to pass this so, we, the Rihannsu, can be better connected to the global economy. We cannot continue to live in the belief that economic protectionism that we've maintained for hundreds of years will keep working..." there was anger building in the chamber. It was becoming clear that his bill was slowly going towards defeat.

"Several of our ambassadors met with me at the Palace at the end of the last week and they informed me that there were nearly a 500 billion Chaks worth of foreign investment and export opportunities that could flow into Rihan if we took the steps outlined in the bill before you all..." Five Jol Tan members stood up and shouted at the Praetor that he was planning to sell out the Rihannsu for those who would insult their people and their way of life. Shouting between the three sides of the chamber soon erupted into another chaotic shouting match. The Praetorians then banged their pikes again, demanding order. Then Gathan Darok stood up. The members stopped shouting as they all wanted to hear what he had to say.

"May I speak?" he requested. The Praetor acknowledged him and gave him the floor. "It is no doubt that there are a diversity of viewpoints in the room - some for complete protection, some for economic openness, or liberalization, or whatever term you want to call it. It is equally noticeable that given the lively debates we've had in this chamber for the last week that no really likes this bill. We are the Senate. We must find a compromise - we find it far more often and we cannot let this one piece of legislation paint a black mark on our ability to converse civilly on a matter that does play a distinct role in the day-to-day lives of all Rihannsu. Yes, I personally would be affected by this legislation - as would many Nej'ahar who have invested their lives and personal fortune to build the robust economy we have today. But the world is changing. We must recognize that. It is the first time in thirty years that the outside world has taken such a fascination in our proud people. Rihan has stood because of our dedication to duty and honor but we do not honor ourselves if we do not take a moment to look at it from beyond the edge of the looking glass. I and Senator Vinok have come up with a compromise that should ease the fears of our ever supported militarists and proud patriots while providing a reasonable degree of progression to our moderate brothers and sisters opposite. Praetor," he paused. "I would like to call a two-hour recess so that Senator Vinok and I may speak with you and the coalition consuls about our proposed changes? With that, I yield for the Praetor."

His brief speech had intrigued many in the chamber, including Liviana Charvanek, his rival. She knew she had to deal with Gathan and took extensive notes on what he had said. She was already scheming how to cut him down to a more manageable size and spoke softly to a political ally next to her. Terix had also listened attentively to this brazened man. He didn't particularly like Darok but he also he also didn't want the debate on the matter to continue stalling any longer. He stood up. "Very well Senator Darok, we will be in recess until the fourth hour..." The chamber began to empty as Darok and his colleague made their way to the front of the room. The consuls of the four coalitions waited with the Proconsul and Vice-Proconsul as the Praetor descended from the rostrum where the Eagle Chair was placed. The nine members left the chamber and descended the main staircase to meet in a conference room in the basement. Charvanek eyed Darok as he walked out of the room and they both looked at each other coldly. Darok would win this round, getting an eye with the Praetor over a key piece of legislation that he could use to his advantage when the time came. The meeting would last nearly the entire two hours until the coalitions had come to an agreement, largely based off of Darok's proposed changes. The bill wouldn't be as nearly 'liberal' as he had hoped but it would stave off any thoughts of political antics for the time being. Terix gave it his blessing and copies of the revised bill were distributed to the members who were returning to the chamber by now. Aides to the various consuls sent word to their respective members through their aides that they were to vote for the legislation. Liviana Charvanek was furious over the new language as she thought the revised bill would just invite more corruption - in the pockets of Darok and his Nej'ahar supporters. Alidar Jarok, the Jaridan consul, ordered her and the rest to approve the bill.

Pikes banged by the Praetorians began once more as the Senate returned to order. The Praetor returned to his seat on the Eagle Chair and turned over the presiding of the session to the Proconsul. "In front of you is a copy of the revised Economic Revitalization Act. As you see there have not been too many changes..." this fact was not entirely true as there were whole sections completely reworded to make it look like they hadn't been revised but they had. "You will see that the significant change involve ownership rights, regulations pertaining to foreign entities, and other matters in that sphere..." Liviana would swallow her pride for the time being and get back at Darok. She already had a plan in motion that she would execute on soon enough. "Are there any speakers on the motion?" The chamber was silent. "Seeing none, the Senate will be in recess for one hour and voting will begin at the fifth hour."

The bill would pass 255-45, the minority made up of Jol Tan nationalists and hardened militarists of the Jaridan who outright refused to comply with their consul's instructions. Alidar Jarok had taken their names down and had already spoken to several to meet with him in his office later that. The biggest loser was Terix as this key legislation was heavily watered down and could ultimately do major damage to the stability of the Republic down the road. He watched Darok leave the chamber, smiling. Avelik, the Praetor's aide approached him. "The Guard is ready to escort you back to the Palace..." He nodded and took his leave.

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Beneath Var'Theldun

No person wanted to be in Var'Theldun: the dreaded headquarters of the Rihannsu Intelligence service, the Phi'Tlaru. The agency had been spending the last few days interrogating every witness who had been near both bombings that had occurred in Dinalla. A final death toll had come in: 82 dead with over 212 injured. After they had gone through most of the witnesses, they came upon the identity of an Enolian trader who had been supposedly selling wine in the Forum at the same time as the first attack. The agents on duty were confident they had their man. He was brought into the capital for questioning.

"...I told you already, I was in Dinalla to sell my wine and see relatives in town."

"...you are not licensed to sell in Dinalla, let alone the Republic. The passport and subsequent visa you gave us is a clear forgery."

The other agent spoke up, "and don't try and tell us you really have family in Dinalla. We ran a check on you and you have no such relations."

"They're not close and we haven't spoken to each other in years."

"A likely story...stop lying." The Enolian was smacked in the face. His partner responded.

"Five witnesses claimed to see you checking your watch constantly. In fact, one of our cameras can confirm the validity of their claims. As you can see here," he said, showing him a footage over three minutes long, with him checking ever ten seconds. Thirty seconds after the clip, the forum bomb went off.

The Enolian was getting very nervous. "Why check your watch?"

"I am horrible with time." The two agents shook their heads. "Nonsense. You clearly were waiting for something to happen..." He rewound the tape. "One of the five witnesses identified that another Enolian was speaking with you five minutes before the attack. Who is he?"

"I don't talk about my clients."

"No matter, we have other ways of getting you to talk," one of the agents began to flat the seat he was in. It was not comfortable. The other had a stun baton in his hand. "If you won't tell us without pain, then I suppose we'll have to take more...unsavory approaches." He turned it on and whacked him in the chest. "I will not tell you who it is..." Another whack. He was in considerable pain by the fourth strike.

"I can keep doing this but I am pretty sure you will not survive a long attack with this device, especially if I turn up the degree of pain. Like to see it happen again?" Still resistance from the Enolian. A fifth strike. He was wincing.

The agent with the baton stopped and decided far more pain was needed with quicker results and took out a metal pipe and thrashed it upon his leg. He was certainly in pain this time. "Tell me the name of the person you spoke with."

He gave up, "I don't know who they specifically but they introduced themselves on behalf of the Ambassador's office."

The agents nodded. They were making progress, but it wasn't enough information. Another thrash of the pipe. "And what did he say to you,"

"I don't remember..." he was cut off. "Lies. You are a horrible liar. He told you something." He was about to hit his other leg when he spat out a response, "he said something was going to happen and that I should keep an eye on the time."

There was a knock on the door. "We've checked his clothing and discovered this in one of the pockets," said the subordinate. "Thank you," he said The agents glanced at it closely, with both bombing locations stated, and their timings."

"Now this is interesting...an Enolian seal with instructions concerning the bombing, with your name on the top..."

"It's a forgery."

"Their seal is very easy to recognize...this piece of paper seems to imply you were complicit in the attack along with someone in high status in the Enolian Government..."

The Enolian attempted to attack back but was unable to due to his restraints attached to the chair. "You are absolutely guilty and we'll get to the bottom of this lead...it is only a matter of time until we implicate the precise individual. He knocked on the door and two other agents entered the room. "Take him away, the Chairman will take care of him," he said. "The two of us must prepare our findings for Chairman Koval so he can inform the Praetor.

The Enolian was in agony, but he had become bitter by the end of their time in the room, "the Rihannsu are vile, you should all die." The agent showed no reaction, he just said, "your conspirators have probably just killed all of you. We're done here." He was dragged out of the room, legs, and chest in considerable pain, with visible signs of punishment.

Never turn your back on the Republic. You will not survive the fall.

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In Search of Coin

"...the 3rd, 6th, 12th, and 18th Legions have been mobilized and beginning to take up positions along the border with Enolia," reported General Korel Rendak. He was a veteran of the first conflict with the Enolians. While nearly 80,000 men were being committed, he knew it wasn't going to be nearly enough. "All four should be in their staging areas within twenty-four hours but I again urge you once more to consider the Central Command's recommendation of adding three legions. The amount committed at present is the bare minimum to achieve victory and that is assuming there are no surprises waiting for us once we enter the country," before he could continue, he is cut off by Mathon. "The Senate may want victory, but we are not going to send every able-bodied man. The four legions will suffice. What is the condition of naval and aerial support?" the Praetor questioned.

"A naval flotilla is being rallied as we speak in Mirek and will sail along the coast to blockade the Enolian port of Duronom, however, they will not in the general area for three days. The air force has 12 squadrons consisting of Mogai multi-purpose fighters ready to provide cover for the Draao." Terix nodded. He was a military man but he hadn't served in the army during his mandatory service, but rather, the navy (rising through the ranks to the rank of admiral) - which for all intents and purposes, had seen better days. "Anything else to report at this time?" he inquired of Rendak. "Dhat Fvillhu (no Praetor)." Mathon acknowledged and allowed him to leave his office. Rendak turned around to look at the leader of the Republic one last time before he exited, walking quickly. Korel would pass Ihlyyudæsnen (Finance Minister) Tarkis Jorek, Lakhræmdæsnen (Defense Minister) Livius Valdran, and several senators including Gathan Darok, Morror Kassus, and Chatak Tela.

"Thank you for joining me, please, all of you, a take a seat over there," he gestured to the set of curule chairs and couches surrounding an ornate urukan coffee table. He got up from his curule chair in front of his fine desk and walked over to them, taking his own seat at the crest of the arrangement. "As you all just saw as you entered, General Rendak and I conversed about the status of our mobilization efforts, all eighty-thousand will be ready to act in less than a day," Morror cringed when he heard the number. He could tell Rendak was unhappy with the Praetor's decision and he could sympathize. Mathon was making a calculation on the assumption that the Enolians would be pushovers and could be defeated in a rapid assault. History proved that mindset to be incorrect. He was about to make the same mistake again. But he also remembered, the Praetor had very little army training. He kept his frustration to himself and continued listening.

Mathon then brought up the purpose of their meeting. "Fighting a war will cost money, Tarkis, what is the estimated expense?"

Jorek opened his portfolio and glanced through several pages before coming across the one with the figures he and his staff at the Finance Ministry had tabulated earlier in the morning. "With the current level of deployment and material requirements given to us by the Defense Ministry and the Central Command, it will cost 400 billion Chaks." There was silence in the room for a few minutes. "You can see this is more than the entire national output on a yearly basis and financing this war is going to be...challenging. We could raise taxes to..." he was cut off by Mathon. "The People are already on edge about the impending conflict. Though public support is in favor of punishing the Enolians, they are not prepared to pay for it." Tela also interjected, "the landowners are already paying taxes on their holdings and profits. Even considering such a motion of raising those rates in the Senate is dead on arrival," he said looking at Gathan and Terix. The Praetor knew such a motion was politically suicidal.

Tarkis continued, "a final option would be further open the economy to foreign investment, attracting Kirvinska investors. This might be more beneficial in the long run now that we are in an enlargened market through the Aurelian League. I recommend that this is undertaken. It would at least provide some immediate cash infusion to help pay off some expenses." Senator Tela was nudged by Darok. "It seems we have few true options but Senator Darok and I had a conversation about this very matter before we arrived here," Terix motioned to let him speak.

"Firstly, I want to thank Tarkis for his frank analysis of the situation but after speaking with Senator Tela, I think we have an option that will work for everyone. "In exchange for our support, and that of the vast majority of major landholders and by extension, holders of vast wealth to help pay a reasonable component of the expenses related to the war, we want assurances that we will get first opportunity to take advantage of post-war Enolia from government construction contracts and industrial opportunities to land acquisition and resource extraction. The Nej'ahar as you are aware Praetor were not enthusiastic about the opening of markets both in the form of the bill you pushed through the Senate or now through the League but we are willing to stay our tongues for the assurance that Rihannsu interests in the land will be considered before Kirvinska, not to mention we'll not even protest Kirvinska or other foreign 'intervention' in the marketplace so that they may provide their own contributions to the war effort."

Mathon had no choice but to accept the Nej'ahar's offer. Without their expansive wealth, the war effort would come to a standstill in less time than the Central Command envisioned it would take to defeat the Enolians. Morror had listened to Gathan's proposal carefully and knew that something was going on but it was clear to him that Mathon could not see the scheme right in front of his eyes. Kassus knew that he would have to deal with the greedy Darok down the road but decided that he would at least jab his rival ever so slightly. "The generosity of the landholders is not without merit but I think it is important to stress that this is nothing more than the landowners dictating terms, threatening the lives of brave men in the interest of precious coin. The Praetor could get a majority in the Senate if he wanted to place further taxation on your precious coin. In fact, the best way to protect your own economic interests is to give your own wealth without conditions!" Kassus was a Senator and possessed an estate of his own and would have pressed his point further except that the Praetor cut him off bluntly. "Morror. Enough." The decorated general stopped. "Of course, Praetor." Terix looked around the room, the other participants silent having witnessed Kassus' outburst. Darok eyed him closely. Both men had never really had a working relationship and this experience was one more event to prove that there was clearly a game being played between the two men.

"Chatak," began the Praetor, "please begin to have those deliberations with your coalition members and others throughout the chamber. I want to see a vote on this by the end of the week. I shall instruct the Proconsul to meet with you to get this over the finish line," he said. Tela nodded and then to Darok. "Concerning the Kirvinska, Likel tr'Sorus, our newly-appointed Ambassador should meet with his counterpart in Bílehora as soon as possible." Takris nodded. He turned to the Defense Minister who had been listening to the entire conversation, "Livius, you can convey to the Central Command that they should have the financial resources they'll need to pay for the strategy Rendak and I conversed about both today and yesterday." Seeing that he shared his motives to the individuals in the room. "If there is nothing else, then we are done here. Thank you, everyone," he said and the group got up from their seats and made for the double doors. Kassus was to be the last to leave the office. "Morror," Terix said. Kassus stopped moving. "Yes Praetor?" he asked. "I appreciate your candor and your opinion. But when you are in my office, you only speak when asked. Is that understood?" Kassus was stunned by Mathon's sternness and did not respond. "I'll take your silence as an acknowledgment. You may leave now," said Mathon. The Praetor's speaker chimed. "Your wife is on Line 1," said his office secretary. "Very well," and began walking back to his desk. Morror looked at the Praetor and the cogs in his own brain began to turn rapidly - many thoughts flashing by, processing, scheming. Kassus opened the doors and proceeded to walk through the lobby and to the elevators.

Edited by Rihan
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      “Friends and neighbors, I welcome you on this auspicious day to Bílehora, to the White Mountain, to enjoy the finest my nation has to offer in honor of the diplomatic efforts of your own.” He glanced around again, far quicker this time. “It is with much joy that I announce this meeting. For in this meeting, centuries of Aurelian heartache are finally being put aside. We are all working, together, for a better continent. More than anything else, that is what those who have come here today should take home with them. No matter the resolutions that are reached, by secret counsel of a dance partner, or by the fireside, remember at least that.” He gave a short smile. “Remember that we have come here, for the first time in hundreds of years, in brotherhood. The Aurelian nations, united for a day, if only in dance. With that in mind, I must move on to, of course, welcoming our guests. That is, those who have taken it upon themselves to arrive for this promising first day. You have my profound and sincere thanks.” He shifted, moving a page on the lectern. “I must welcome first the Rihannsu- our ancient allies on this continent. Surely these halls are no stranger to them, and surely neither is their longing for the richness of their home.” He smiled again, just a moment. Perhaps it was a little bit of a smirk. “However, what makes this day quite special is the fact that a new generation of Rihannsu are making their first trip to the Cape. Such ambitious men and women as their Praetor of recent years, the honorable Terix, and his administration- I can not resist naming a few notables. Allow me to extend an extra mention to the far-traveled Senator Charvanek, and her husband, Senator Darok, and his wife- and as well, the General Morror Kassus, and his adjutant, one Seranne Varak. General, I am afraid that you will find us a nation of seafarers- but I hope that whatever you came here to seek, you will find.” 
      He shifted a little bit again, swapping pages. “With the Rihannsu welcome concluded, I may now greet the Shffahkians. There is no reconcilation more historic and profound than our own. No meeting of enemies, become friends, that has left such a mark on our continent. So I welcome you, too, under these lights, to the White Mountain. It is my hope that conversations here are made which further solidify and expand on our nascent friendship, and that the opportunity to prove our bond comes soon.” He switched pages again. “From Shffahkia I will extend a personal welcome solely to their President, Sera Adélaïde Larue, who has taken a great political risk by travelling here to greet us as a friend.” He looked around. “We could all learn a little bit from this willingness to take chances for the betterment of our nation, could we not? And, of course, I must also welcome our island friends, the Oyusards- there will be no lengthy mention of reconciliation for them, however, since we have enjoyed cordial relations for four hundred years now.” He now set aside the papers, done with the pre-planned opening. “Ladies and gentlemen, there are all forms of entertainment- there is drink, there is food, there is plenty of space to dance should you wish- and, of course, there will soon be fights for your entertainment. The finest brothers and sisters of the sword will duel for gold and for their honor on the hallowed sand, as my ancestors spoke many years ago when establishing this hall for the first time. It is on that note that I bid you all a good evening- and great joy during these festivities!” He backed off from the lectern, retreating into the shadows of the raised room set behind him. 
      Each guest began to mill about, most with a pre-planned destination in mind, some without. It was the Praetor who found himself with the most prominent goal, making his way decidedly through the crowd and brushing aside requests for conversation. He arrived rather quickly at the foot of the hall’s grand stairwell, leading up. The two guards at the bottom wheeled, one to either side, to allow him passage, and he was able to travel to the second story with little difficulty. Once there, he found a curious sight- three long couches, arranged in Tagmatine fashion, so that the one who sat could recline. In the center of the three, there was a grand map of the Aurelian continent on a spinning table, as well as other important documents slated to be discussed. The room was remarkably empty of a guard or servant presence, simply one of the former and one of the latter. The Grand Duke, as expected, sat, reclining at the far side of the room. He acknowledged his important guest with a simply nod, and motioned to either one of the other two seats. “The Shffahkian is late! So you may have your pick, not that it especially matters which you prefer.” He demonstrated this by spinning the table gently. “I am sure there is much for us to speak of, but it would be best if we waited just a minute for her to come… I am sure it will not take too long, what with the layout of the hall. Perhaps she has made the mistake of being willing to answer to the press on the way up here.” He mused a moment. “No matter. She will be along, I assure you. Make yourself comfortable, food will be on the way shortly- and then we may begin to speak of the heart of the matters which assail us.” The Duke seemed oddly tired, considering the considerable expense and worry that had gone into the design of these festivities. Even moreso, considering he could not see them from his seat, and had to content himself with just the thought that they were proceeding properly.
      The Senator Charvanek smiled slightly, content with the fact that she had been introduced specially, though chafing under the idea that her name had come -after- Terix’s, as always. Her expression stiffened into a frown, and she decidedly wheeled about to find her way into an important crowd, her husband stumbling to keep up with her. She quickly stepped her way to what seemed like a group of middle-aged men of some wealth standing in a circle, chattering quite quickly in Kirvinska. Though she could not easily make out the words, her approach caused them to slow down in their discussion and part to make a space in the circle for her. Motioning her in, the most senior among them took it upon himself to greet her personally- “My most sincere greetings, Sera Charvanek. I hope your trip has been quite alright, hm?” The jovial-looking old man smiled a little bit. “I welcome you to the White Mountain! My friends and I are a lot of romantics, we are, we’re simply discussing the root and legend of our people, our nation. And our destiny, to take back the Batreasca and create once again a unified Kirvina. A country for all Kirvinska people. A beautiful legend, isn’t it? Come- come! Drink.” He filled a cup of wine, almost pressing it into the slightly stunned woman’s hand. “Your people are no stranger to expansion either, haha!” He belted a laugh, looking to one of his compatriots, who nodded in agreement. The same man cut in, bearing himself a much more subtle and quiet voice, which stung slightly of a soft distaste. “We would love to hear what you have to say, Sera Charvanek. Do make a little room for your husband … the night is long, and I am sure there is a lot to speak of.” He chuckled, quietly. “Forgive my friend. But we are all a little ambitious on this day, as I am sure you could understand, being as you are.”
      Darok, the other powerful Rihannsu senator present, had kept an eye out and stayed in place for around a minute. Spying the fate of his compatriot, to be consigned to a discussion on the destinies of nations with a gaggle of moderately alcoholic Counts, he determined to wheel out of the way of such an end to his evening and instead make his way to a more… sober crowd. After several minutes of strategic listening- strategic listening that made him seem quite the fool, head softly bowed by gatherings of other people without daring to join in- he found a group that he could stand to join, and roughly sidled his way into their circle without being called in. Here, too, there seemed a leader, and he cleared his throat. “Good evening, Serem Darok… I see that you have made yourself quite… amused, and that the festivities have had quite an… effect. On you… no matter.” This man was quite young, seeming twenty-something, with straight brown hair and sideburns. He seemed better suited to be an actor or a singer than- whatever he was, judging from appearance, but his deep and quietly tired voice did not suit such a role at all. “Janos H. Kalevaitis… I am the Duke of Ceara, and the man in charge of expansion of our government’s… naval and military industries, in preparation for… various actions, in light of our promising league and certain obligations that our dear Istvan bears… whatever you are here to discuss, I should hope that I prove, ah… helpful, yes.” He cleared his throat. “And no, I am not War Minister… but I am Minister for the Expansion of the War Ministry, and thus subordinate to him… I create new departments and… manufactories and such.” The man nodded. “You, Darok… I do not take you for a military man. You are a bureaucrat. That is fine, so am I… in a way. Make yourself known, I am sure we may speak of… matters in which our two nations may… aid each other, yes? I am listening…”
      The General Morror Kassus felt far more at home than either of the two scheming senators, the medals dangling off of his burly chest earning him many looks of admiration from the throng. It seemed almost to direct him, effortlessly and with many waves and raises of drinks, to the group of generals and admirals seated around a large table, drinking and speaking of their old tours of duty. Here there was no apparent leader, but several people spoke out to welcome him. “Come sit, fellow!” “There’s plenty’a space for ya’!” “Get this man a drink!” A similar hearty welcome was given to his second-in-command, who was sat quite comfortably right next to him. The two of them had full plates and drink slid in front of them, at which point a man bereft of his coat and vest but not his admiral’s cap raised his glass in toast. “To the Rihannsu!” The table raised their glasses in turn and belted out the same cheer. He turned to the pair with a smile. “Ah! So you’ve come to escape the papers and legalese of that crowd as well, I hope. Well, there are more military matters than we can count to speak of, so make yourself right at home. Including how our League is going to manage any shared military business.” He chuckled. “Word’s goin’ round that the Kirvinska navy’s boutta’ double, right boys?” The table gave another chuckle, though quite soft and reserved… but the man’s grin stayed. “Anything the Rihannsu are looking for, any aid you need, any advisors you need, allow me to proffer my services first by saying that we will almost certainly be ready to provide. A storm’s brewing on your eastern border, friend- who knows what lies In the Shadows?”
      The Shffahkian President had about as easy a time as Terix had, simply stalled for a few moments by the relentless barrage of the press, hungry for any information they could get about the gathering. They were only allowed in in limited numbers, but even this limited number congregated into a small blob, traveling around the dinner to interview those who signaled the okay. Even so, they were not especially welcome, gettng distasteful looks from all those who were not in the camera’s eye. Having escaped them, she found herself at the grand foot of the same marble stairwell, and a short number of steps later at its head. The other two leaders already reclining, she could scarcely mumble an apology before the Grand Duke waved his hand. “There is no need for that- I know how they are. Come, dear woman, and let us speak- there is much to be done tonight, and quickly, if we wish to catch even a hint of the festivities outside.” As she made her way to recline alongside the other two, the idea of what they were doing must have passed her mind- the three were reclined around a grand map of their continent, taking into purview all that lay before them the same way the Tagmatines had shown the first Kirvinska Duke more than a millennia and a half ago. The fate of the Aurelian continent was to hang in the balance, a continent that Adélaïde Larue loved dearly, and she would have to fight quite hard to pass any of her major (socialist) policies by the two reactionaries seated so closely across from her. She settled in, subtly, for a long knight of debate.
      The young Oyusard lady was not a major functionary, not a major diplomat, and not a military officer. Her name was Pania, and she was simply there to meet some people and enjoy the company of Aurelia’s most distinguished elite in the name of her nation. She padded softly towards the gathering of young fencers, their helmets in their laps, ready to spring into the fray. Their amicable chatting continued even as she came right in front of them, and they waved, collectively. They even made a spot for her, pulling her up further into the crowd, and putting her in between a dashing young soldier and another young, noble-seeming lady of similar age with her hair pulled up into an elaborate crown of braids. They both wore the dark armor of duelists, and seemed rather good-natured. The man on the left bowed, first, and then the lady to his right- they introduced themselves as “Palemon, Victor of Spars” (appended with ‘by that logic, you’re also Eater of Chickens, aren’t you, Pale’ by one of the other fencers) and “Anne vár Attre.” The man spoke up first. “We’re to be the first two to fight, you know? Annie here’s really got it out for me, I beat her a few w- “ He was interrupted by the blaring of the horn to announce the first fight, at which the two of them slided rapidly down through their companions, tugging on their helmets and buckling them. 
      It took several moments for them to get down and clamber over to the right part of the hall, Anne running faster to reach the opposite side of the fighting area. They came onto the sand from opposing sides, bowing slowly to each others as their names were announced by the presiding referee. A small crowd had gathered to watch the battle, mostly Kirvinska, as it was their sport, and a soft wave of commentary began to wash through them. Certainly an interesting group of people to speak to, should any wish to join them. They paused for a few moments, facing each other, and their hands dropped to the hilts of their swords. When the order was given, they drew and approached each other, hands coming out so that their curved sabers crossed. On the count of ‘one-two-three’, they circled their wrists so that they crossed each others’ swords three times, and then began to back up, each one taking a moderate crouch. The man struck first, his elbow wheeling the weapon back in a curved and elaborate moulinet over his shoulder to barrel right for his opponent’s head. She shifted to one side, bringing her own weapon up to parry his away from her, and then rushed in for a slash across his chest. The two of them danced this way for upwards of a minute, prompting the crowd watching them to enlarge significantly now that the match was known to be even.
      The quiet violin music,
      the song of sword-fighting,
      and the soft chattering of a crowd with all to gain and all to lose.
      It would be a grand evening.