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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?"

"Me."

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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Free Labor

A ship's horn could be heard on the horizon. "There she is now," said the harbormaster, peering through his binoculars. He turned to his subordinate and instructed him to hand him the radio. Grasping it in one hand, he said "the cargo from Southern Alharu is here. Inform Senator Darok." Mirek's harbormaster was on the up with a highly questionable business arrangement Gathan had brokered with the Faramountian Economy Minister when he had last been in Rihan sorting out some oil and natural gas investments with their counterparts. The cargo ship got closer and closer and docked on the quay.

Rihannsu border guards were brought aboard to inspect the cargo but their procedure was hastened by the harbormaster who gave each of them a small contribution for their service. The criminal and the desperate of Faramount had been given a 'second chance' in Rihan to wash away their records back home, all for fifteen years service to the Republic. It would not be pleasant. As the first individuals had begun to disembark for processing, Darok arrived in his car. Prelek, his aide and driver opened the car door and he proceeded to watch them make landfall. "They're late," he muttered to the harbormaster, "they were supposed to be here last week." He contemplated taking action upon his bribed sea captain but realized he needed him and was not prepared to spend precious time and money getting a new one, let alone the bribes it would take to circumvent the RTC.

Darok stood on the quayside for over an hour until the first fifty had been appropriately documented. He approached the group and stood on a box his servant Prelek had placed down. A microphone was set up and the speakers turned on. "Welcome to Rihan," he began, "you have been brought here by your Government to be given an opportunity to redeem yourselves. You are all wayward, lost. I have arranged with the authorities in New Limone to have tens of thousands of you - the criminal and misguided - to work hard, become productive, and skilled citizens. You will work here until your terms are up and then you will either be given the choice of becoming protected residents here or be given the ability to return home to Faramount..."

More Rihannsu individuals arrived on the quayside - many of whom owned massive farms in the Aihai or deep mines in the D'Kalla. Unbeknownst to the Faramountese, the several thousand on this ship were already 'sold' to these aristocrats - no so much for hard currency (something Darok didn't need more of) but for political influence both now and in the future. Etom Sedhri, one of the largest owners of agricultural land in the Plains (and was always in need of additional hands in the fields), was present. In exchange for his support on critical votes in the Senate down the road, he was asked to "support" upwards of a fifth of the total new arrivals which would number 75,000 a year per Darok's agreement with Terrone.

Bribed members of Mirek's police force had been observing everything from the sidelines, waiting for their role in this gathering - corralling the arrivals with their respective groups by 'supporter.' They began slowly filtering into their position on the far side of the large loading area. Darok was still speaking, "now that you have been accounted for, each of you has been given a card with a number. You will first see the medics behind me for a prompt examination and then you will go to the area marked with your number," he could see some members in the crowd starting to get very nervous. "There is nothing to fear. We are here to help you. Form up. Now." Beside the policemen were a small group of grim, tough men. The Assessors, the individuals charged with their new arrivals 'discipline' to the same level they too applied to those still enslaved people.

At first, the process was calm, but then there was trouble. One man decided he did not want to follow instructions and instead charged straight for the Senator. The man was armed with nothing more than a piece of shattered glass he had hidden in his pants to protect himself and his meager belongings from his other shipmates on the voyage south. Gathan's personal Zelvorian bodyguards shot him and died before hitting the ground.

There was complete silence in the loading area. Darok picked up the microphone again, "let that be a warning to you all, obey or face the consequences. Your supporters will remind you of this until it is second nature. Do not forget this moment."

Everything else went without a problem after that. The processing and ordering took all day but by the time began to set, the aristocrats drove away with their gifted workforce. Darok smiled knowing that he had gained several new friends both within and outside the chamber with this simple exchange. The harbormaster approached him, "the next shipment is expected to arrive by the weekend." Gathan nodded silently and let his complicit mariner leave him. He pulled out his cellphone and dialed Senator Tela. "...wanted to let you know that your extra hands will be in the next few days...of course...thank you, Consul, good night" and hung up. His deliverance had gotten him very close to being put in line for becoming the next Nej'ahar consul when the time came. And one step closer to the Praetorship. His personal aide Prelek opened the car door and he got in, back to Dartha.

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Regaining Momentum

The war in Enolia had started off so well - the deployed legions had made remarkable progress in the Vrekess River delta and along the front, seizing small border towns without any resistance from the Enolian Guard. For two weeks, the offensive was moving like clockwork but then it all went downhill with the Siege of Rinum, a critical medium-sized city halfway on the road to Duronom, the major port. General Socan Ocala's 8th Legion had lost a third of its regiments in the fight, while the 3rd and 6th Legions that lent support to the assault saw nearly a regiment's loss each. The news of terrible mortality rate on the front lines made their way back to Dartha to a grim General Rendak and a furious Praetor. Korel was silent, not wanting to be the one who told his superior he told him so. The Central Command was in a fury of activity as strategies were reexamined and unit deployments were adjusted. The Praetor and the General gathered with the rest of the high-ranking leadership to debrief from the costly victory at Rinum. They conveyed to him that unless circumstances changed before the legions reached Duronom, the chances for total victory would be severely reduced. Terix was drumming his fingers on the table. Eventually, it was Korel who made his recommendation to the assembled.

"We need to deploy more men immediately, use them to strike directly at the stronghold at Duronom and break the back of the Enolian defensive posture. Taking out the port will choke the capital of resources and will make assaulting Canamar significantly easier. The 8th Legion is in no position to fulfill its objective until it is resupplied and its men reassembled."

Terix eyed the General and responded, "and which legion do you suggest we mobilize?"

"The 10th at Garenah." Mathon was not pleased.

"You are proposing to bring Morror into this," he questioned. Korel knew both men had a quarrel weeks earlier concerning paying for the war.

"Yes," he said, "he and his men are no more than a three days march from the border and you know as well as I do that they are some of the most experienced men in the entire army."

His remarks did not put the Praetor at ease. Morror had been a lifelong military man, only elevated to the Senate following his stunning victory at the Battle of T'vant in the previous Enolian War. Traditionally, generals and high-ranking military officials who had been appointed to the Senate were supposed to separate themselves from their soldiers. Alas, due to Kassus' military lineage and the powerful Jaridan senators in the chamber at the time, he was able to retain control of his legion. Though this had occurred before Terix had been conferred the Praetorship, he made tremendous efforts to separate legislators from maintaining private armies. The 10th, while a state legion, was in effect, Kassus' private army.

"Is there any other units we could use instead," he asked. Korel knew the Praetor was restraining himself from bursting into a rage concerning Morror. "If there were any others within close proximity, I would have recommended but only the 10th is in range of dramatically shifting the situation on the front."

 

Mathon grumbled some more. He capitulated. "Fine, inform Kassus that he's now in it and he's to advance at once and without delay." Rendak was already picking up the phone and keying to Morror's headquarters.

In Garenah...

"...yes...yes...we'll move out at once...vr'na rheilhhu! (for the republic!)"

Colonel Varak was in the same room as Morror as he got off the phone. She commented, "it took them long enough to engage us and if they had only listened to you before the conflict started, we'd be almost close to total victory by now..." Kassus responded, "the Praetor has learned from his mistake and he won't make it again. As I told you, the men will get their chance, and that time is now, we have our orders."

"Where are we going?"

"Duronom." Two of his servants began to dress him in his general's marching attire. "Kalenna, inform the colonels that the legion will move out at once. We must rendezvous with Ocala's 8th Legion in three days," he instructed. Avor, the weaponsmaster, was walking past the general's office when he was stopped.

"Nerik, we're moving out. Coordinate with the Talat to immediately transport a week's worth of supplies to Rinum for the 8th. They need it more than we do at the moment. Avor nodded and hurried to the armory and storerooms.

The senior centurion had just entered the general's headquarters as Morror was leaving, his bodyguards in tow. "Sir," he questioned. "Where are you going," he asked. Kassus was almost into his armored car. "Duronom. Get in."

Men got into formation and began moving out, others got into trucks, artillery in tow. And at the front, Morror stood erect, saluting his men. He shouted "Enolia mnæri seiyya" and the men responded in the affirmative.

As Morror moved out, back in Dartha, all Mathon could do was show a grim expression on his face. He was in the Praetorian Palace in a room with a chessboard upon a wooden table. He looked out the window - rain began to fall. He moved away and walked over to the table, sliding the carved knight, a metaphor for Kassus, forward and to the right. He stared at the board, waiting to see which next move to make.

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You Are Being Watched

Far from the battlefields of Enolia, where men and women were fighting in the name of the Republic, life remained relatively normal in the capital and the communities on the fertile Aihai. Trade continued, children went to school, and nobles indulged in luxury. At the Charvanek villa in the well-to-do part of the city, Liviana kissed her husband farewell. He was returning to Calanistra to oversee their vineyard. As he drove away, she opened the gate, walked through and looked both ways onto the main street before closing it.

In the alley across the street, an agent of the Phi'Tlaru - the dreaded intelligence service: Kaya, who was also working on behalf of Morror Kassus. She was silent, lying in the shadows, waiting for something to happen.

Night fell. Kaya was still watching Charvanek's gate. She looked to the left and saw a car approach. The street Livana lived on was usually quiet. Only the wealthy lived here and whichever commoner so happened to find themselves walking in this part of the capital would be summarily removed by the police. But no such officers were in the area. The car pulled up in front of the villa and the man stepped out on the passenger side. He was wearing the uniform of a senatorial bodyguard.

She looked closely and spotted the noble emblem embossed on his robes. "Kamemor." She took some photos. She spotted him looking her way and she moved further back into the alley and took as many shots of his face as she could. The man walked around the car and stood in front of the gates and knocked on it several times. A moment later, it opened. One of Livana's guards looked out a portal and then unlocked the gate. The man entered and the gate closed behind him.

Kaya was satisfied. She put away her camera and snuck out of the neighborhood and returned to headquarters to file her report and clandestinely transmit it to Kassus.

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