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Seylos

Doom of Ceris

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"Your Majesty," A voice from behind Aidan said. He glanced behind him to see Minister Tatum.. His office was dark as he had been busy watching various films on an older projector in the room. Aidan stood up and faced the minister.

"Sorry Geoffrey, I've been a bit distracted as of late."

Minister Tatum nodded, "Of course sir, however I do bring news. Both good an bad."

Aidan inhaled lightly before he replied, "The bad then."

"We've had continued reports from Ceris. It's becoming worse faster than we predicted. The government of Stroiyhein has... collapsed. The only reliable government we still have contact with in that area is Zapsa. And if they fall to the Variotan offer..."

"I'm aware, we will have another meeting on this soon," Aidan replied sounding distant. He took a moment to look at the time on his computer screen, "Assembled another emergency session for midnight. And your good news?"

"The governments of Cenia, Seskoaburg, Esnos, and Atrya have approached us for assistance. They wish to express that our common cultural ties could result in some form of assistance for their countries..."

Aidan waved his hand, "Set it up Geoffrey. We'll hear them out."

Minister Tatum nodded, sensing he was no longer wanted in the room, "Yes Your Majesty. I'll get back to you soon on the details."

Aidan simply grunted as the minister left the room. He immediately returned his attention to the films that were on display before another knock on his door, "Come in..."

Dustin slowly opened the door, peeking through as he came in, "I'm sorry, I just wanted to check in -"

Aidan interrupted him, pointing at the films on the projector, "Did you know that we had a hand in all of this."

Dustin walked in gazing at the films on the screen. He could see soldiers, what he assumed were Seylosian, holding their weapons over a group of people. He tried his best to watch as the Seylosian opened fire on them. He had been a soldier, but never in his life had he ever been a participant to such brutality. Aidan stopped the film, lightly hitting a switch on the projector. "We may not have caused this Dustin... but we helped pushed the over the edge"

Dustin, pushing away his feeling went to his partner, "Aidan, what did we do?"

Aidan still seeing far way gestured at the film reels, "My father killed so many people, just to prevent the people of Ceris coming together. To rival us. My grandfather, he recorded it all as a failsafe. He wanted to make sure that he had... a sort of blackmail against Seylos."

They stood in silence for a moment before Dustin spoke up, "Are you him?"

Aidan glanced at him before staring off at the closest wall, "Am I just some monarch? Just another king in a long-"

Suddenly Dustin grabbed his face, forcing Aidan to look at him, "Aidan Redmond, that's who you are. You aren't your father, you aren't your brother, and by god you aren't your damn grandfather. They did terrible things, but you haven't. I love you and you're a better man do you hear me?"

Aidan gazed into his eyes, "I don't want to be like them..."

Dustin with a bit of tears in his eyes made him stand up, and look him face to face, "Then what are you going to do Aidan?"

Aidan gently grabbed Dustin's hands and held them down, straightening his back while standing up, "Save Ceris."

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Kleintje Feelfaaier was a story on his own, even though the lad had only turned 23 a month back. The child of a Lukan mother and a Variotan Reisiger father, he had been shunned by both cultures. The Lukan family of his mother had disowned him and her almost as soon as they had heard of the pregnancy, his mother declared a prostitute for fornicating with gypsies, while his father's clan, the Feelfaaiers, felt nothing for the bastard son of an already married man and a non-Reisiger woman. 

While the irony of being shunned by a group that was generally shunned themselves wasn't lost on Kleintje in his later, adult years, the beginning of his life was thus sealed as difficult, poverty-stricken and centered around ingenious ways to survive. While his father did move both him and his mother into a trailer in one of the Feelfaaier camps, his mother was restricted in what she could do without being thrown out, fulfilling menial tasks for the other residents in order to eek out an existence. 

School wasn't easy either for the young boy, as the Reisiger-led schools only allowed him to take certain classes; classes such as clan traditions and music, required for following higher education within the Reisiger schools, were denied to him. And yet, the last of the two, music, would be the one to lead him to a better life. When one of the music teachers, taking pity on the boy, allowed him to partake in a lesson, it was found that he had a natural talent for singing, a skill highly favoured among the Reisiger clans.

His father, smelling opportunity, had the kid running the local club circuit at ten years old, signing at folk evenings. Not that he was singing Reisiger songs, mind you. The boy was still far too much of a foreigner to teach him the songs of the clan and thus, he was forced to bring Leeffessang songs following Reisiger tunes, tunes that the background band was able to play. His father had arranged for the background band, all mates of his that were able to play some basic tunes.

You see, his father was a crook, like most of the Reisigers. If you asked some unorthodox university professor, they'd probably tell you it's in their blood, a primal part that helped them when they were still sailing around, selling subpar goods to needy villages and double-crossing bosses. And as such, the background band was part of various schemes. If you sing and dance long enough to keep an eye on your band once in a while, you pick up a lot. And when 'uncle' Piet asks you to pass along a package to some shady looking man often enough, you learn even more. At the age of 13, Kleintje struck out on his own.

Having gathered his own background band, or gang depending on who you'd ask, from his school, he started circling the circuits himself. His mother became their manager, moving out of the shabby trailer that they'd lived in for so many years and into a newer, if still well-used one. Things were starting to look up as the gang's side jobs made them all a fair bit of money. Occasionally, they'd even have a small hit which made it so that they could earn their money solely through performances.

Of course, all good things tend to come to an end. In the case of Kleintje, it happened to be when they took up a job that 'was sure to earn them a heap'. One of those types of jobs where questions being asked is a faux pas and answers are rarer than a drug-free Variotan nightclub. Usually given by a man with a vague reputation and a strange nickname like 'Nico No-Nose'. Grab a package, deliver it in the club before you perform. Easily enough, right? Until the package turns out to be four times the size and weight they said, badly concealed and the club you're planned to perform at seems eerily empty.

You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to know that something was up and Kleintje thought the same. As the rest of the band was relaxing near the bar of the club, he went to explore the rest of the club and, thanks to that, probably saved the entire band from being executed by Het Apparath agents. Turns out that that nice man that wanted them to earn a heap had previously worked with Het Apparath, although he didn't know that, but now refused to give them their cut. And while not paying your partners was a bad choice when it came to criminal gangs, it was an even worse choice when your partner turned out to be a well-armed, ruthless, morally-grey intelligence agency.

But what do well-armed, ruthless, morally-grey intelligence agencies love? Well, they love it when the couriers of their enemy offer to lure said enemy out into the open. They even love it more when you offer to work for them, giving them a way to launder their dirty money, smuggle people and perform wet work when needed. The rest of the band would never know how close they'd been to horrible, horrible death. For Kleintje, though, this was a rebirth of sorts.

He'd been lucky, very lucky. Not a lot of Het Apparath operatives would have allowed a 17-year-old to speak about making a deal, let alone accept it. Anton, as the agent in charge called himself, was an old school man, a man that still appreciated the unofficial gentlemanly code that had been devised among agents to keep Het Apparath from becoming completely void of morality and values. And one of those unwritten rules was to respect your opponent and their skill set. In this case, this brat, the wannabe gypsy pop star managed to sneak past all his men, standing in front of him waving a shabby pistol around.

Could he have smacked the gun out of his hands and make the boy regret his decision for the rest of his short life? Sure. But if the kid could do this, get this far, what could he do when properly trained and motivated? These Reisiger bands could get enormous, imagine what you could do with fifty of these men. A hundred, even. And when the kid made a good offer, Anton couldn't do anything but accept his offer. 

Kleintje and his band would work directly for Het Apparath, although only he'd know the true nature of their employers. In return, they were paid handsomely, were given a stipend to make a new CD each year and their side businesses were left alone so long as they didn't push it too far. Kleintje himself had ensured that his mother was well taken care of, getting a luxury apartment in Reierferplattoterp as well as a monthly stipend. His father was also taken care of, but in a totally different manner. He's currently serving twenty-five years in the hardest Werklaagher of Het Huisselant, courtesy of Het Apparath. Every so often, at a random enough pattern to make him constantly wonder when it's going to happen next, he gets a highly invasive cavity search.

And that moment, that deal was what brought him and his band, now indeed numbering one-hundred as Anton had once envisioned, to Zaspa. Standing on the deck of his ship, the Symphony, Kleintje looked at everything surrounding him. Zaspa and it's similarly named capital had been offered a substantial sum to join Het Huisselant. And Het Apparath wanted it to succeed. And what is a better way to secure a small nation surrounded by enemies than by sending an armed gypsy band and an armed merchantman? Please send your answers to Het Apparath HQ.

The Symphony and its crew had been armed to the teeth with the ship itself receiving mounted machineguns and a pair of ship-to-ship missiles disguised as shipping containers. The missiles were a last resort in case the ship ran into any genuine military vessel, not that the Symphony would have lasted long in such a case. His band had been hired to perform at one of Zaspa's larger venues. This would allow them to stay for a week, a short amount of time, before they'd get questions from authorities about their ship not leaving.

The concert was mostly a smokescreen, the organizer being the sole agent of Het Apparath in the entirety of the nation. Not even an agent from an interesting bureau, able to kick ass and murder the anti-Variotan part of the Zaspan parliament while on a cocaine binge. No, an agent from Bureau 68, the Legal Economic Development Department. A LEDD, only the ICD’s of Bureau 30 were worse, often seen and used as passport checkers and sometimes condescendingly called ‘watermark autists’.

The LEDD’s were agents that set up businesses to bring in legal funds. Most of the time, these would partner with an agent from bureau 69, the Economic Tricks and Deception Department, the ones that would arrange cover stories for other agents, launder money and smuggle goods from and through these businesses, the cool agents. The Bureau 68 agent would be kept in the dark to maintain deniability, keep interrogations under control and ensure the business could go on, either by taking the fall or by getting acquitted, depending on the situation unfolding itself.

And in reality, the only reason why there even was an agent in Zaspa was because he had retired there. Similarly to gangs, no one generally left Het Apparath; an agent could retire from active duty but was still able to be activated for certain situations. In this case, the Variotan offer had reached the shores of Zaspa pretty quick and two sides had formed. Obviously, Het Apparath had one side they wanted to win.

The KRB Extravaganza, as they called themselves, were one of the options that Het Apparath had for situations where there were no real operational assets in play. The retired agent had greased enough palms of Pro-Variotan Zaspans to have the authorities wave the Symphony through without making a fuss. Not that this took a lot, piracy and resource shortages meant that the authorities welcomed any chance at commerce and foreign visitors.

One-hundred-and-one men aren’t exactly cheap to maintain and, in a rare stroke of luck, this is where the experience of a Bureau 68 agent helped out. While the concert, their cover story, would most assuredly lose money, any funds made through ticket sales and merchandise were funds that could help mitigate the costs. Posters had been made and distributed and to gain hype, the band was to visit some of the more pro-Variotan establishments.

Of course, the visits served more than one cause. Intelligence gathering, looking for opportunities, getting a feel of where to act. There’d been border conflicts, a famine in a nearby nation, piracy, all things that influenced the nation. Kleintje and the Symphony had met the last problem themselves when four small boats, badly disguised as fishermen, attempted to board them just outside the waters of Nesneubar.

There are a few things that a pirate shouldn’t do and attempting to board an Apparath-staffed and armed vessel is one of them. Out of the four small vessels that attempted to get close, one was disabled by machine gun fire with the crew bailing out, one was sunk when a band member fired an RPG at it and the other two fled. When they fished one of the survivors out of the water, they heard him mumbling some borkbork language, similar to what one would expect from a Derthaler citizen.

The reports would say that the man died shortly after from his wounds and water inhalation and that the Symphony couldn’t find any other survivors. Whether or not that was true, if there ever was a survivor they fished up or if the Symphony murdered any survivors that they saw in the water was a question that only a higher being or one of the band could answer; not that either one would do so.

This too was something that could be used to sway opinion. After all, if a simple merchant vessel could resist, what could a proper warship from Het Huisselant do against these pirates? But for now, Kleintje was simply happy that they had arrived. Solid ground under his feet.

Seeing his contact, the retired agent, walking towards the ship, Kleintje took a packet of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and lit one up. ‘One week, one week and this will all be our soil.’ was his thought as he walked off the ship. Patting his jacket, he felt his high quality, great to conceal Varinco-made PPP-99 pistol. A last resort, the pistol provided him with eight accurate shots, eight chances to save himself. 

Sometimes, Het Apparath would provide them with guns and weapons to use from local sources. Looking around, he was glad that they had to provide their own for this occasion. If he saw it correctly, one of the soldiers guarding the harbor was wearing a misfitting uniform and a rough looking AG-56. If the military was issuing their soldiers with that, nothing on the local market would be worthwhile.

Of course, this also raised a question. With piracy being such a problem, why was the army sending their second-rate troops to the harbor? Because, even with the poverty of Ceris, Kleintje refused to believe that this was the best Zaspa could offer. Were the border issues taking up all the genuinely combat-ready troops? Were the tensions in Zaspa so high that the army had been called in?

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Ganlin Republic State House, January 15th, 2020.

oregon-capitol-gop-fled-1200x800.jpg 

"Welcome, Prime Minister Verbrugen. Please, take a seat."

The poor man looked rattled. His face was ruddy behind a long red beard, and his brow was beaded with sweat. He had good reason to look so poorly; he was, at present, the captain of Ceris' worst-ranked ball team, the failing republic of Edrela, which in recent weeks had seen several prominent local officials kidnapped and assassinated by Rusheau-sponsored militias. And now, the nation's primary water treatment plant had been hijacked and a hostage crisis only ended in the hours before the prime minister's arrival.

"Thank you, ambassador."

The Ceriser clasped Zhuang Wei's hand before settling down at the conference table. He was the second foreign representative to arrive;  Qi Shaoying, the President of Ganlin, had been here when Zhuang Wei had arrived by convoy from the embassy that morning. She looked up from the conference table, and put her third cigarette in the ashtray.

"Prime Minister, I'm glad you're well."

"Thank you, Madame President. It's good to see you too."

The door creaked open again; a gaunt older woman entered the conference room, flanked by a Fulgistani soldier.

"Vice President Maria Geller, of Ubraioria."

"We were expecting President Wohl, is everything alright?"

The woman blinked once, twice, and began.

"The president is dead. His car was destroyed last night by an explosive. The Sentists claimed responsibility, and the government has stopped working altogether. It was...difficult to arrange transportation to this meeting. I will do my best to represent the people of Ubraoria nonetheless."

"I'm so sorry, Madame Vice President. Please, rest assured than in my capacity as ambassador, I will do everything I can to secure the assistance of my government in relieving the situation in Ubraoria and in all of Ceris. Please, have a seat. Sergeant Zhao, please tell General O'Malley we're ready."

The delegates waited nervously at the long, mostly empty table in the hot, bright windowless room. A single TV hung on the wall, tuned to static. Before long, more figures appeared at the door. A trio of men in Criasian dress uniform, a garb more reflective of the early 20th century than the early 21st. One man wore stars and braid on his shoulders, and a neat red moustache on his face. The two other were majors, in the same baggy cavalry trousers and peaked red-star cap. One carried a clipboard, the other a submachine gun. The general took a seat near the delegates, while his subordinates stood on either side.

"Good morning, President Qi, Prime Minister Verbrugen, Vice President Geller and Ambassador Zhuang. Thank you all for attending this summit, which has been called in response to the ongoing Sentist crisis in Western Ceris as well as the ongoing hostilities perpetrated by Rusheaun actors in the nations of Ganlin, Criasia, Ubraoria, and Edrela. I am pleased to announce that, in cooperation with the Fulgistani Revolutionary Guard, the Republic of Criasia has developed a comprehensive plan to combat both of these threats and exterminate the presence of terrorism in Ceris, and for redeveloping and restoring the economic landscape of the Western Ceris region. With your help and cooperation, we will win this war, and emerge united, prosperous, and establish a longstanding peace."

There was a silence; there was no opportunity to refuse, implicitly or explicitly. The Fulgistanis, with the help of the Criasians and the Ganlinese, were offering peace and security on their terms, with no time to negotiate. Rusheau was in bad shape, but the smaller countries of the West coast were even worse off, and they would not hold out without help. And there was no one else coming. Verbrugen cleared his throat.

"What will you need of us?"

"You will retain your positions of leadership and ensure the continuation of civic order. Your nations' military assets and personnel will be temporarily reassigned to Fulgistani formations in order to coordinate the war effort against Rusheau and the swift liberation of the territory. You will nationalize major industry as much as you are able, and coordinate production in accordance with the demands of the war effort in whatever capacity you are able. After the cessation of hostilities, a token force shall remain in Western Ceris to ensure the peaceful demobilization of the enemy and the resettlement of refugees. In return, the ICEB will provide Western Ceris with as much material aid for civilian relief as you require, and ensure the safety and sovereignty of your respective governments."

"Can you win, General? Will you win against the Sentists and the imperials?"

O'Malley locked eyes with Vice President Geller.

"Yes, ma'am, I believe we can. With the help of the Worker's Republic, we are increasingly in a position to launch a strategic attack deep into southern Rusheau. The armored units of the Fulgistani Demonstration Army have proven highly effective against the infantry that makes up the bulk of Rusheau Reichsarmee personnel, and we're continuing to muster Criasian soldiers to support a large-scale action. Rusheau is large, but it is ultimately a paper tiger, on its last legs."

"Fulgistan has fought the Sentists in the past," Ambassador Zhuang interjected. "We have experience in the deescalation and pacification of terrorist threats."

There was silence around the table.

"I've prepared a copy of the Western Ceris Treaty for you all, which you're free to examine at your leisure. If there's no further questions, shall we proceed with the formalities?"

An antique fountain pen was passed between the delegates, and five signatures went numbly onto the paper.

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Phou and his company had traversed Rusheau for a twelve days now. If he did not have Ankwer writing daily journal entries, he knew he would have lost track of which day it was. It was a Monday. A few days prior the transport had imploded on itself, in typical Batengdeian fashion. Fortunately Meido was useful for more than the occasional quip, and took to repairing it. That had left them stuck for a day, and not in friendly territory.

As to be expected, the military presence was low, but not unsubstantial, especially for the jingoistic regime that was the Holy Empire of Rusheau. There was not a city to be passed without some few armored vehicles and troops in it. Though the quality of these patrols were shoddy, it was a testament to the fanatical militancy of Rusheau. It was no wonder the Fulgistani were having issues with direct military involvement.

There was a sudden shout,

"There it is! The bunker, just saw it!"

Phou looked over. It was Pyough, eagle-eyed as ever. They had finally made it to their comrades in Rusheau.

The bunker itself was no easy find; had they not been given the coordinates by the Rusheauan People's Liberation Front, they would almost certainly have missed it. It was set within a hill which looked as though people hadn't been in it for fifty years. There was no real signs of human habitation, bar a few rusted-out cars which looked at least fifty years old from the design. In the bunker itself was a small grate, it looked almost like a manhole. Apparently it was an old bombing shelter from some old Rusheauan war.

bunker.jpg

Banlea Chea strode forward into the booth, up to the circular entrance to the bunker. Everyone else, including Phou, came after her. They had put their weapons away, but there was still a level of tension: this whole operation could easily have been a Rusheauan trap for Batengdei, but it seemed unlikely that the country would ever encourage espionage of any kind, even to stage an ambush. Chea took the butt of her rifle, and pounded out a series of knocks to emulate the theme of the Rusheauan march.

Chea backed away hesitantly, but there was no response.

As Chea approached the hole again, however, there suddenly came a sound from the bunker. A sort of muffled cry which echoed awkwardly out from the grate. A few moments later, the grate was pushed open and a grinning man appeared. His beard looked scruffy and unkempt, and there was a maddened look in his eyes, but he shouted out in some poor attempt at Khaymer:

"Hello comrades! We am so happiness to be seeing us!"

It was a good effort, but fortunately Chea began in Ceriser,

"Thank you comrade, but do not worry, we all speak your tongue. We have equipment for you, and fuel as you requested, but not as much as we originally indicated. I hope you do not mind..."

"Pah! My proletarian friend, when you are an 'enemy to the public' you learn to make do with what you can get. Please come inside quickly."

And at that they slowly climbed down into the lower bunker. The climb itself was very tense, what little natural light came through was mostly obscured by whoever had decided to go in after Phou, and the person after them.

"f*ck!" came a cry from below them. It was in Khaymer and sounded like Meido. Everyone stopped momentarily before he shouted, this time in Ceriser, "Be careful there's a rung down here which is not very secure in the wall!"

After some fifteen minutes of intense climbing, everyone was down in the bunker. The industrial lights on the walls illuminated cold concrete walls. Some of those lights were damaged or missing, which created a terrible inconsistency in the lighting of the passageway ahead of them. Various pipes led to and fro from the ceiling and walls, like a tangle of vines, with no real direction.

"Down this hall here, we will take a right at the third door." came the Ceriser in the front.

Finally, they entered a cramped little room. The walls were draped with banners of the Rusheauan flag, converted into a simple red-and-yellow socialistic banner. The centerpiece of the room was a large table which had a large map of Rusheau, illuminated by floodlights so as to ensure legibility. In the center was a woman wearing Rusheauan military fatigues enhanced with various stitchings of roses and traces of red.

"Welcome to our humble home, comrades." said the woman, "I am comrade Gabriela Stein, but you may call me just Gabriela, if you like."

She continued, "We of the Rusheauan People's Liberation Front seek to end the terrible state of Rusheau's long shadow of tyranny. You said you will help us, yes? You have brought the supplies we need to begin our war, but the battle is not yet won. We need your help and guidance in our battle to liberate the proletariat of this country."

Chea strode over to the table, and looked at the map before smiling at the woman, "We can help you, Gabriela. Our motives are one and the same. Tell me, how do you intend to incite a revolution?"

For a moment, Gabriela Stein looked ready to burst with joy, but she quickly composed herself and responded, "We have eyes across the nation; it's maybe the only benefit of living in a country everyone hates. We have some, ah, friends, who are currently stationed in Karkamann, a Rusheauan military supply depot. Recently there have been reports of them diverting a great many troops from there to the front lines to wage war against our Fulgistani friends. We can't get in with the forces we have, we only have thirty people with weaponry we managed to take from the Rusheauan military. You all, however, can coordinate and plan out strategy much better than us, not to mention you can all shoot straight. Can you help get the means of revolution to the people of Rusheau?"

"I believe so, yes. I have means of contacting comrades in the Fulgistani Army, and I am sure they would be willing to coordinate with our cause. While we do that, I will have Pyough working at a raid strategy with Phou. We will all be there for fire support, too. I assure you we have this quite under control."

Gabriela Stein grinned, "Let's liberate Rusheau."

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Cardinal Sean McKinley had rarely visited the Papal Palace and had to be guided to the office of the man he was looking for.  The winding corridors, brightly lit even in the evening hours, were filled with Baroque art and their floors covered by ornate rugs.  A couple thousand housekeepers took care of the expansive palace that resembled more of an imperial palace than the home of the administration of the Church.  The place was spotless; McKinley could not spot a speck of dust on even the oldest of tapestries and pieces of art as the nun guided him. Weaving through the palace, they made it to the office of the head of the Magnissimum Comitium Cardinalicium, Cardinal Mark D’Angelo.  Here the nun stopped at a large and decorative wooden door. A small golden plaque that hung left to the door at head height read ‘D’Angelo Cardinalis’- they had reached their destination.   The nun knocked on the door and bowed towards McKinley before walking away the way they had come. The cardinal heard a tired, soft voice replying wearily, “Per favore entra*.”

McKinley opened the door gently as he peered in.  D’Angelo sat behind a large desk that was covered with papers and letters, his glasses at the bridge of his nose and his face buried in a letter.  His zucchetto was on top of a pile on the corner of his desk, revealing his mostly bald, spotted head. D’Angelo looked up from his letter and smiled wearily as he stood up.  “Salve, frater**.”  D’Angelo walked around his desk to embrace the cardinal before inviting McKinley to take a seat and went back to his seat.  

“I appreciate your graciousness in hosting me, brother.”  D’Angelo just continued smiling as he waved his hand and started in Anglish, “The pleasure is mine.  Anything to distract me from this crisis.” His smile disappeared from his face as he said the last sentence and looked at all his papers on his desk.  He shook his head gently before looking back up at McKinley, pushed up his glasses, and inquired, “So, what can I help you with, frater?  Could I help you to some tea?”  McKinley at first had trouble deciphering D’Angelo’s heavy Salvian accent but was soon able to understand him.  

“Yes, that would be nice.”  D’Angelo rang a small bell that was placed on his desk.  Maybe ten seconds had passed before a nun entered the room and bowed.  “Maria, potresti portarci del tè? Grazi.”   The nun nodded and left.  D’Angelo waved his hand towards McKinley, indicating to him to speak.

“Well, I come to you from my post, Occidentalis Cerisae.  You’ve no doubt heard the crisis unfolding on my island?”  D’Angelo nodded, “Yes, I have. The Concilio Clerici was in fact the driving force behind the state’s commitment to aid.”  McKinley nodded and continued, “Yes, and the Church has also committed aid, the funds and supplies have helped my priests in their mission.”  D’Angelo nodded back, “So what are you to ask of me?" 

“Well, brother, it is seen by both me and the other bishop on the island, Bishop James Flynn, that more aid must be committed to Ceris.  The forces opposing our ministry only grow stronger as the days passed and I fear the Church on the island only grows weaker. The scourge of communism threatens my dioceses and we do not have the resources necessary to both deal with them and continue our ministry.

D’Angelo sighed wearily while rubbing his eyes under his glasses.  “I was hoping for good news, but yes, the situation is most certainly dire.”  McKinley looked at D’Angelo intently, waiting for him to continue. “You must understand, frater, our resources are spread thin since our involvement in Cussia and the investigations.  And now with Ceris… we are taking on too much. I’ll tell you this: you will be given more.  As to the time it is delivered, only God knows, but I will try to get it to you speedily.” A knock on the door interrupted the conversation as the nun entered with two cups of tea.  Handing one to each of them, she bowed before hurrying out once again.

“Brother, I am afraid that money might not be the way to solve this issue, especially any that shows up months too late.  Is there nothing your Concilio can do?  Money will mean nothing to the communists when they take power- men are needed.”

D’Angelo answered incredulously, “My Concilio?  Absolutely not- no, it’s not possible.  With the investigations? The Salvian people- devout as they are- would not even buy that at this time.  If funds are not good enough for this cause, I can’t do anything else for you. Armed force or intervention of any kind wouldn’t be allowed by any sane politician and to even suggest anything like that to the public sphere would draw instant criticism.”

“Please, brother, do you not understand the direness of the situation?  Ceris is not stable, we’ve been attacked countless time over these years.  And now communism! What will happen?”

“God’s will.” D’Angelo said nothing for a moment.  He took a sip from his tea before replying, calmly, “I will do all that I can.  But I tell you this: Salvia will not get involved in a sphere of influence it does not belong to or have any interest in.  We’ll see if the situation of the Church gets any worse- more drastic action might be taken then. At this time, however, I will give you 100 members of the Papal Guard to protect yourself and any church that is under attack.  I will finalize the details in the coming days with the Guard.”

McKinley sat there, silent and unhappy, but nodded.  D’Angelo breathed deeply before ringing the bell once more.  He stood up when the nun entered. “It is getting late, frater.  Maria will show you to your room.  I will see you tomorrow at breakfast.”  McKinley stood up as D’Angelo walked around the desk to embrace the other cardinal.  McKinley walked towards the door that the nun held open and exited, himself now tired and worried.

 

__________

*: “Come in please”

**: “Hello, brother”

Edited by Salvia
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''You know, Mister Feelfaaier, your government's offer is generous but you see..."
''Yes?"
''We've had other offers, better offers."
"Haha, no you haven't. Let's not kid ourselves. Zaspa is the armpit of Ceris, a backwater that only holds value because we've given it value. Your value right now is three-hundred-seventy million Waarttemun because that's what we've offered. Without that offer, your value drops to whatever small amounts of trade you can get past the Nesneubar and pirate vessels. But I like your balls and if you ask me, that needs to be rewarded. Too little people with genuine balls in the world. I'll contact my employer, see if we can throw in a little extra.''
''Your employer? I was under the impression you were a simple band leader.''
''Again, let's not kid ourselves. If I were a simple band leader, you would not have called me to you. My government offers a generous solution and suddenly a large band arrives with their own ship, passing through without issues. If I haven't shown up on your radar ever since I've set foot on your soil, your intelligence agency needs work.''
"Yes, well... Now, your employer. Who is it? The government? Het Apparath? Varinco?''
"Let's not worry about that. All you need to know is that my employer is Variota."
"You're not giving me much."
"Nor should I. Not until you sign our offer. After that, my employer has been very clear on myself and many others providing our full support.''
''Yes, about that support..."
''Nesneubar? No longer an issue. They try something, we fire our missiles right into their parliament. Pirates? Don't make me laugh. Have you seen Varinco Security's forces? Those guys pack more heat and lack more morals than any other. Give them a month and those pirates will be coming here, begging you on their knees to please stop your forces from attacking them. Other incursions? Same deal. Let them run towards our machineguns and anti-armor weaponry, the hardest thing to do will be clearing off the bodies fast enough to keep the area from stinking of death."
''It's not the PMC forces I'm worries about. Can we trust your Folke Milisies?"
"I've seen what you guys have guarding the docks. Trust me when I say that the Folke Milisies, the ones that are coming here, will be personally selected by Ret-Gen fan Gillofan-Lantboer. And from what I've heard, the man doesn't play around.''
''How many numbers can I expect though? We need a lot of men."
''How many men can Zaspa muster?"
''Four-thousand, five-hundred men. Divided into two-thousand men in the army, fifteen-hundred in the air force and one-thousand in the navy.''
''My employers can get twice that number of men into the nation on a short term. Hardened contractors, well-trained Folke Milisie. Build up your forces, train them, get them on a level that's better than anything the surrounding places can offer.''
''Fine, let me talk to my cabinet. See what's needed to pass it by the Parliament.''
''You do that. I think you'll find that it'll be easy to pass, I'm in the business of pleasing people, Prime Minister, and business has been good since I've arrived. See you at the festivities.''

<hr>

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Zaspan government accepts Variotan offer: Our best chances are with Het Huisselant!

In a special parliamentary session, the Zaspan government has voted on and passed a resolution to accept the offer that our great government has offered them. Prime Minister Wilhelmsson of the Zaspan Republic made this statement:

''We're looking at a Ceris that is slowly crawling towards its own demise, an island that is looking into the abyss and we need to prevent that from happening here in Zaspa. While there are some naysayers within the nation that feel that we are selling our souls, we've been stuck between a rock and a hard place for a long time and now we're given a hand to pull us out. In five years, I think the general population will have turned around as we'll have ushered in a new era of prosperity for Zaspa. I've already discussed some of the basics with my new colleague, mister Loopentlant, and I cannot be more confident in the future.''

Similarly, Heere fan'es Oferheit Loopentland has sent out a statement:

''I'm proud of the Zaspan people for making this great choice. Zaspa needs a protector and it has that now, Het Huisselant is extremely glad that it is able to embrace the Zaspan people and ensure that atleast some part of Ceris sees the wealth that the area deserves. Too long has it suffered under the influence of infighting and foreign governments that proclaim to act in the best interest of everyone. Het Huisselant does not do that. We don't seek to applaud ourselves, we simply seek to provide stability and growth to the Zaspans. From this day forward, any act against the Zaspan people is an act against the Variotan people. United together as one. Prime Minister Wilhelmsson and his government have shown themselves to be more than willing to work with us in order to get things in place and that's exactly what we will do. No empty promises, just fulfilled needs.''

The Zaspan government has proclaimed a national holiday in three days, to celebrate the new status as part of Het Huisselant. Kleintje Feelfaaier and his band, the KRB Experience, have been mentioned as primary Variotan part of the celebrations, to be supplemented with local Zaspan artists. Everyone within Het Huisselant knows Kleintje Feelfaaier and his Reisigers band as the artists behind various small hits throughout the years including 'Sij' and 'Fissa, Fissa, Fissa heel het tag'. It appears that the band was already touring the Zaspan republic during the offer by our government and has now decided to extend that tour indefinitely. Tickets for those that seek to be part of this one-of-a-kind celebration can buy them online at www.zaspaninclusionparty.vr or www.nationalcelebration.zpn. 

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Kleintje Feelfaaier in one of his more recent videos

Vooters Air and Air Reierfer have announced special flights to the sole airport in Zaspa for those seeking to visit Het Huisselant's newest territory. Naval travel remains discouraged by both Het Huisselant and the Zaspan Republic until a time when naval forces have properly established themselves in the area.

Variotan businesses have also released statements in favor of the Zaspan inclusion. Varinco Chairman J.D. Karrewasser had this to say:

''It's great to see that another group of people is willing to accept our influence in return for the gifts that we can offer. Already, I've been in contact with both our own government and the Zaspan government to provide security to the area. I have obviously accepted their gracious offer to allow Varinco Security to take part in securing the nation and the area. I've always said that the reason why Varinco Security was expanded and upgraded into a proper military force was to provide peace of mind, to provide security and protect those that cannot protect themselves adequately against the hostile forces that they're up against. I, for one, look forward to working together with my Zaspan equivalents. No longer will their people need to anguish, no longer will they need to suffer because some megalomaniac decides they want to mess with Zaspa.''

Another notable business, the TEAAAM Institute, released a statement as well:

''The Zaspan Republic has made the right decision and the TEAAAM Institute is at the ready to provide the Zaspan people with the funding and knowledge that they need to move towards the future. Our coffers are ready to be spent towards good, durable projects within Zaspa. Projects where the local knowledge and the local expertise are used, where the strength of the people is used to fuel the future. Once the Ministry of Zaspan Integration gives us the thumbs up, we'll be moving offices into the nation.''

<hr>

Message to the Brigades 'Koos Karrewasser', 'Amalberga' and 'Silfer Fos'

Some of you have wondered why you were not able to take time off, nor were you allowed to leave the base beyond short visits. I hope that the recent news story about the joining of Zaspa into Het Huisselant has answered those questions. Your brigades will be shipped out to the Zaspan Republic by aircraft and ship to serve as the first Variotan forces in the nation. Local forces and Folke Milisie troops will supplement you. The task before you is a large one but not an impossible one.

The Amalberga brigade will work together with Folke Milisie forces to train local forces. Silfer Fos and Koos Karrewasser brigades will aid against current pressure to Zaspan borders. You will be better armed and better trained than your enemy but do not let this make it so that you underestimate your enemy. They will outnumber you. And a bullet, any bullet, just needs to hit to put you out of the running. I expect everyone to work towards the same goal, safety for the area. Bonuses will be made available to those that do their best. Don't disappoint me.

Your commanders have been given their orders, please refer to them if you have any questions.

- J.D. Karrewasser,
Chairman of Varinco

<hr>

From: Kleintje Feelfaaier
To: atoirav@varmail.vr
Regarding: Success

Dear friend,

By now, the success of my task has been widespread. For now, we will stay and provide protection to the government against those that might try something. Some say that the Seylosians may try to raise ruckus by the deal. I assume that Mother has thought long and hard about this, although I genuinely wonder if they're even able to provide anything in that regard; they seem too spread-out over Ceris trying to act like my father. Absent until you're interesting enough for them to put time in it. Wilhelmsson is a brave one, for a lowly politician in a backwater. Mother should think about rewarding that, I feel like it would go a long way. Although I'd obviously never tell Mother what to do. Send her my regards.

Your friend,
Kleintje.

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‘No!” Kieron shouted. He couldn’t believe what his aunt was trying to suggest. Leave her behind? That has to be out of the question.

"Junge, it has to be this way, I can’t make it through the gas. I made a promise a long time ago to your parents, I can’t abandon it now. Du bist jetzt wie mein Kind. You leave.”

Kieron was furious, and he was about to argue when he was interrupted by the leader of the Seylosian fireteam that had come through, “Miss… Nicole. We have to move now.”

Major Arran had taken off his mask temporarily though he kept glancing upstairs at the door. Beyond it the group could hear the gunfire and screams as the city was being sacked. Nicole ran quickly to her desk picking up a laptop and an external hard drive and shoving it into Kieron’s hands.

“This is how you leave here Kieron. It’s everything the Seylosians want. It’s how we save our people. You keep it safe and you help them alright?” Nicole turned to Arran while also addressing the rest of the group, “I’ve already arranged it with the ambassador, you take Kieron back to Seylos with you, away from this. You get the information in exchange.”

Arran took a second looking over the two and then nodded, “I suppose that mask isn’t in working order.”

Nicole just shook her head. Arran took a second moving his hand through his vest and produced a hand grenade. He offered it to Nicole, who looked at it a second before taking it. “Keep him safe.”

Arran had usually become hardened to the plight of most people during his stint in the special forces, a trait not shared by Corporal Oswin and only somewhat embraced by the other. But in this moment he felt something for this woman, at least that she was giving her life in a somewhat grandiose way. “Good luck”

“Wait no why aren’t you coming!?” Kieron yelled lurching towards Nicole. Oswin grabbed him holding him back.

Arran quickly ran over to the dead soldier he had shot, and to his surprise his aim had been exceptional or possibly awful. The man hadn’t taken any shots to the chest and he  quicky ripped off the bulletproof vest he had been wearing. He held up up for a second taking a look over it. Varinco of course, what other manufacturer would we see in Ceris, he thought to himself. He tossed the vest at Oswin, “Get it on him we move now”

Oswin quickly threw the vest on Kieron, who seemed to shocked to move. He turned him back towards him after he had finished and looked him straight in the eyes, “Sorry about him, but we have to be quick. Follow me and listen to everything I say. Keep your mask on no matter what.”
Kieron nodded through his tears and slid his gas mask on, awkwardly securing it into place. By this point the rest of the team had gathered near the basement doors ready to move out.

“Maura, Oswin you’re together. Claire you’re with me for covering fire. You two keep going until you’re out and safe. Do you understand?”

Both nodded, “Alright then… Move!”

The team bust out of the door into the fog of the city. Much of it was smoke mixed with the gas attack. Oswin grasped onto the back of the vest near Kieron’s neck and dragged him with them as they sprinted out.

Kieron could barely see through his mask as he was yanked up through the basement door. The sounds he was hearing, the rush of movement he was feeling confused him. For a moment he noticed that Major Arran and Sergeant Claire had split off from the group.

Suddenly he stopped, the haze and mask obscuring his gaze all he heard was Oswin, “Hold… hold.”

He heard the crack of rifles around him. Suddenly a loud shot as he assumed Oswin had started shooting, then for a second silence.

“Move!”

He felt the back of his vest pulled and suddenly he was running. He tried to look around at the streets he had known his whole life but it was flashing before his eyes. Bullets flew passed, snapping before hitting walls near him. More cracks from the gun that Oswin had then a sudden stop. Kieron glanced to his side seeing a body near him. He froze up instantly, overwhelmed. His best friend was lying in front of him, his body curled up and still. He didn’t know what to do. He tried to wrench away from Oswin but he felt his arms pull him back and suddenly both were face to face. “Don’t move Kieron. I know, it’s the worst thing but you have to trust me. Don’t. Move.”

Kierono stopped, crouching behind a short wall next to some former rich person’s courtyard. He could hear the crackling of weapons around him, but nothing near. Suddenly he heard the cracking of more weapons nearby and shouting from what he thought was Maura. Then his vest was grabbed again. He couldn’t help but steal a look one last time at this friend's face. He didn’t understand.

An explosion, a sudden stop, rushing again, more gunfire, it didn’t stop. Suddenly he fell to the ground and he looked around. Maura was firing at some distance target, but there was Oswin, puching, kick fighting for his life with some other person. Oswin pinned him to the ground trying to fight him, but another man appeared his gun raised. Kieron lurched forward, grabbed Oswin’s sidearm of his pocket and tried his best to aim squeezing the trigger. He sat there for a second unsure of what he did and then the whirlwind started again. His vest from the back grabbed by Oswin and more sprinting. And then… it was over. Outside the city walls he looked up and saw the smoke billowing from the inside. He fell down, but this time Oswin didn’t pick him up, instead standing next to him frantically yelling through his radio. Maura was next to him and waved at him to stop. Oswin huffed but came over to Kieron holding a large phone in his hand.

“Kieron, I need you to talk to someone. It’s going to be hard but we are going to protect you alright? They need to know what is going on, but we need to do this as we run. You can run right?”

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When other children had wanted to grow up to become firemen, polo players or soldiers to defend God's chosen nation on Eurth, Andronikos Keftedes had wanted to become a monk. It was considered a virtuous aim amongst many Arhomaiki families but life often steered one in directions that one did not expect. One of the main distractions from the holy life, given to the worship of Christ, that he had planned for himself were the Iakoumos Georgios novels and films. They were escapist fantasy, of course, but they made the young Andronikos see that there might be other ways to serve God and Arhomaneia than a life devoted to prayer. The dashing secret agent foiling Communist, barbarian and heretical plots (often all three at the same time) and getting the girl, if in a manner suitable for good Christian people, was eye-opening. Although many of his peers laughed at the scrawny, pale youth wanting to be a secret agent, Keftedes found that he had an aptitude for cryptography, foreign languages and organisation. After university, Andronikos applied to join what was then the Magistrianoi, the internal intelligence agency of the Megas Agios Basileia.

Now, Andronikos headed what was likely one of the most powerful organisations in Arhomaneia. The armed forces and the Logothesia for Internal and Foreign Affairs had their own intelligence branches, but only the AND, the Arhomaiki Noimosyni Dykton, could claim an almost universal reach. In part, that was due to his close support of Kommodos. The aftermath of the EK7513 Civil War had seen a purge that had been long overdue after the Navarkhokratia, but Theodosios VI had been unwilling to carry it out, despite warnings from certain parts of the intelligence community. Kommodos had learned from his predecessor's mistakes and the intelligence service was not the only thing that was purged.

In days past, the room would have been smoke-filled and ill-lit – it seemed to be an almost-universal trait. The Kefale had no idea whether it was fiction that had mimicked real life or the other way around. Dark wood would have predominated and the chairs would likely have been dark green or red leather. Now, since it was in the main office of the AND, the room was brightly lit and light colours were favoured. There was no point hiding in the dark, not when it was God's work that they were doing. Each setting on the table had a screen in front of it, so that all who were there would be able to see any files that were needed. Arhomaneia might seem backward to some, but it was keen to embrace any new technology. Against usual Tagmatine convention, only a couple of those in the room were dressed in austere suits – some were even dressed quite casually. The spymaster didn't see the need to enforce a dress code on his people, even though he was one of those who favoured suits.

Keftedes led those assembled in a brief prayer before the meeting started, asking for God's guidance in their mission to safeguard His realm and to defeat the enemies that might stand against His people. It didn't need to be long, as safeguarding Arhomaneia was the same as defending Christendom.

“Friends, Arhomaioi, countrymen, lend me your ears,” the Kefale's voice rasped out again after the silence that followed the prayer. All the others in the room were already leaning forwards in their chairs so that they could hear the quiet voice of the spymaster. “We have four main objectives for our work in Ceris; God's work that it is. The first is that we monitor the activities of the Sentists. The second, we should identify the other foreign governments operating within Ceris. Thirdly, we need to support our government's work in Secryae.”

“For the first, we are working closely with the Basilikoploimon in the area, making use of the information picked up from the Prognostikatores, as well as three foreign-flagged vessels that are monitoring the activity in the Makhaira Thalassa and Foteini Thalassa.” He used his country's names for the Dolche See and the Qingming Sea respectively.

There was a slight noise as Demetrios Sonimiros rustled the papers in front of him. Sonimiros was the the Hypokefale, the Under-Head, for Foreign Assets of the Aggeliaforoi, the foreign intelligence service, and he caught the eye of Andronikos. “Three vessels, Kappa. Another ship has been despatched and is in the area under the cover of a deep-sea prospecting survey.”

“Three vessels, then.” Keftedes shuffled the papers in front of him for a moment, caught slightly off-guard by the correction. It was a sign of the informal working relationship in the upper echelons of the intelligence service that Kappa or “K” was used. It was a contraction of the title of Kefale and, coincidentally, the first letter of Andronikos' surname. “All information will be forwarded on to the Logothesion tou Stratiotikou and the Epistrategaion, of course. The Logothesion ton Barbaron, too. It is imperative that the Sentists do not spread further and begin to threaten the more civilised lands in the east of Ceris.”

Well, at least less barbarous, but he put that thought from his mind. He was somewhat sceptical about the need to meddle in Ceris, at least in the beginning. Secryae seemed like just another barbarian failed state, slowly but quietly collapsing in on itself. At first, it didn't necessarily seem like it needed any outside help but charity was, of course, a virtue. But it was becoming increasingly likely that the Sentists might wash over the entire island and it didn't seem like they would stop there.

He was a strong believer in Kommodos' policy umbrella of Strong State, Strong Church. The spymaster had forged a close affiliation with the Agios Basileos. This had originated from when Kommodos had been merely the Mesazon under Theodosios VI and Keftedes had merely been the head of the internal intelligence service. The Mesazon and the to-be spymaster had worked together to keep the then-emperor's numerous extramarital affairs out of the public eye, as both of them thought that the Leader of the Free Wurld needed to live up to the expectations of his people and his God. The bullet that had made a martyr of Theodosios had solved a good many problems, although that was not a Christian thought, as the man had been God's Representative on Eurth.

“At the moment, we are Arhomaneia's eyes and ears in the west of the country. And it seems, to be blunt, grim,” Andronikos said, looking around the room. “It seems that these Sentists, this band of religious fanatics, is washing across the rest of the island. They have been helped by the fact that the place has been allowed to rot for years. No one has cared about Ceris. Even Seylos, despite them being relatively altruistic, has only really focussed on the countries across the strait from itself.”

Not that altruism really had a place in international politics. Those countries were merely a toehold for the Kingdom on Ceris, a collection of vassal states to be utilised for the Seylosians' gain. If anyone said any different, they were either a fool or a liar.

“And now the situation has reached boiling point,” he continued. “The Sentists have overrun Hodrea, apparently subjecting its citizens to a host of war crimes, including razing a major city and even using chemical weapons. Without discriminating between soldiers and civilians.”

It was quite a grim litany. Despite what had been going on in Ceris and the knowledge that the Sentists were a rising force, Arhomaneia had become distracted with events closer to home and the antics of its northern neighbour. The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion was beginning to fear that the ball had been dropped, and catastrophically so.

“Besides the Prognostikatores and the other ships, what other options do we have?” asked Keftedes.

“The other options, Kefale, are drone overflights and trying to infiltrate the Sentists,” suggested Sonimiros. “The first is easy enough, after all – the BPK Agios Pantaleon is close by and we can operate from Secryae. Adrotiri could be another option, although that might be a more difficult one.”

It wasn't like Arhomaneia was operating secretly within Secryae, after all. They would just have to do it clandestinely and that was par for the course for an intelligence agency. And, with the country having significant work being carried out by Arhomaioi, cover stories wouldn't be hard to formulate. Drones could be being used for survey or monitoring works and any new faces could be doing almost anything, from civil engineering to providing modern education to the benighted barbarians.

“Drone overflights is an option we will pursue, although possibly not one we can do immediately,” mused Keftedes, sitting back in his chair and rubbing at his clean-shaven chin. The way the light fell on him emphasised his skull-like visage. “The Basilikoaeroporia have been a bit fussy about letting us use their carriers in the past and I imagine that deck space will be at a premium if they start to run ground strikes from the Agios Pantaleon. Getting the drones to Secryae will be a priority.”

“Getting boots on the ground is important, too,” said Sonimiros. “Although risky. The Ceriser languages aren't ones that many people learn and, at the moment, our people would stick out like a sore thumb. We can use native assets but they're always risky. It isn't like there are many adherents to the Aroman Church there, either, that we could utilise.”

Keftedes shook his head. “We do not have the blessing of the Church to act under their umbrella and we will make sure that what we do does not harm the standing of the faithful within across the rest of the Wurld.”

There was a pause as the agents assembled scribbled or typed down notes for themselves. It galled Keftedes to be denied what could be a perfect cover but he would never do anything that might reflect badly on the Aroman Church. Using them as a cover could well backfire considerably.

“There are other avenues that we must follow as well,” pointed out another agent and the spymaster looked over at her. The only other person in the room dressed in a suit and her hair drawn up in a severe bun, Viviana Akominata was the newly-appointed officer in charge of the AND's CYBINT division. Keftedes had high hopes of her. “We're going to have to step up our information- and cyber-warfare presences, which will be aided by the Prognostikatores. One of the problems will be that Ceris is not all that well integrated with the internet, due to backward nature of the island.”

“Now for the second objective,” the Kefale said, once everyone had finished taking notes. “It does lead in from the first and is twofold. Preventing any Sentists from trying to worm their way in to Secryae is key, and we will have to work alongside our military presence and the locals in order to prevent this. It will require nuance but that is something that I expect from you all anyway. The other part is to try to portray our support of the local government and our involvement in the country in a positive light.”

One of the more controversial actions that the AND was undertaking was dabbling into the realms of social media manipulation. The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion on the whole had been leery about the idea but it had been pointed out that this was exactly something that almost every nation was doing anyway. Indeed, it was one of the things Logothesion ton Deeseon, the Ministry for Information, had been set up to handle. Alongside them and the Logothesion ton Barbaron, the AND had set up a working group to begin to use social media to their advantage, although both the ministries were trying to push in their own directions. “How does that go, Hypokefale Akominata?”

“It is still in its infancy, Kappa,” Akominata replied. “We have to remain subtle in order to not become a source of ridicule or to make sure that Arhomaneia is not clearly the source of these attempts. On top of that, we need to recruit more people who are fluent in quite a variety of languages, as well as a good working knowledge of popular culture in the countries that we're targeting. Our main priorities are the bigger players in the New Wurld – Prymont, Iverica, Variota. But we are targeting nations in other parts of the wurld as well, such as Salvia and Gallambria. At the moment, some of these have as few as a single person attempting to work on several different platforms and manage anywhere upwards of dozens of accounts.”

“Good,” nodded Keftedes. “I want regular updates and I do not doubt that we might start to see fruit there, God willing.”

“Of course, Kappa,” answered Akominata. Keftedes couldn't be sure whether she looked nervous or pleased that he had praised her efforts. “I am sure that it will be so.”

“And onto the third and final point. We know at least some of the nations that are also dabbling in Ceris. Variota seemingly bought one of the states on the island. How long that state of affairs will last isn't completely known right now.” The room nodded along with Keftedes, as this was not new information to any of them. “Seylos, of course, has the eastern coast under its influence. This has been the case for years. The Workers' Republic of Fulgistan is active in the west, as well as Batengdai.”

There was a slight ripple of movement from around the table. Fearing the Communist had gone out of fashion in Arhomaneia in the last decade or so – the Megas Agios Basileia had outlasted the Communist regime in Ide Jima and defeated the Communist Party of Tagmatium. There was little reason to expect that the same wouldn't happen with the the other deluded regimes, although the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion viewed at least Fulgistan significantly more favourably. It was true that such regimes seemed to last less than a lifetime and there was little reason to think that they could match up to the thousands of years of history of Heart of Christendom. Some of the higher-ups in the AND thought it was because Keftedes had read too many Georgios novels. Others, however, pointed out that there were suspicions of the Fulgistanis meddling in many conflicts in the New Wurld and there were whispers across the intelligence community that the Workers' Republic had its fingers in many pies – including Ceris.

Keftedes did, admittedly, view these rumours with an element of scepticism, although he had not worked his way up to the apex of the Tagmatine intelligence community without a healthy degree of paranoia. “You know as well as I that the Joint Revolutionary Task Force has been confirmed to have been active in Faramount and we suspect that they've been active elsewhere across the New Wurld. However, they are but one of the nations, even if they are likely going to be one of the ones that profits the most out of the mess. Communism feeds on misery, after all.”

“Beyond identifying the other nations, Kappa, what else can we do?” asked an agent, one from the Magistrianoi. “Presumably doing much more than keeping an eye on their activities could risk reprisals.”

“Yes, that is correct,” said Keftedes. “At the moment, without further authorisation from the Agios Basileos for anything else, the nations identified will become a focus of the programme being run by Hypokefale Akominata. In time, we may be forced down other routes but not as yet.”

He looked at his watch. Arhomaneia needed to catch up on its use of social media to influence foreign populations and he was going to have to suggest to Kommodos that the Ministries of Information and Foreign Affairs had to stop trying to take resources away from the AND. “I think that concludes this meeting. May God bless our work.”

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