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Doom of Ceris


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The nighttime sky was a mural of stars, owing largely to the lack of light pollution from Noremburg, Criasia. The small fishing town was the designated landing point for the Batengdeian mission to Criasia to discuss the possibility of aid from Batengdei and ICEB at large.

The fishing boat encroached upon the shoreline of Criasia with a leasurely pace. With a touch of apprehension, Dodem Phou stared out at the nighttime shoreline as the boat approached. It was impossible to tell now, but it would be more than likely this would be the same shore to serve as a launchpoint for much of the aid from Batengdei.

That was the hope, anyway.

In truth, Phou had his doubts about the success of the operation he was undertaking. A mysterious cult, societal collapse in the northern region, a refugee crisis, and a famine. It seemed impossible for so many things to go wrong at once, but then again, it’s the scenario that created the situation at hand. Ultimately, it would more than likely mean the People’s Republic of Criasia would at least be open to foreign assistance.

The country was, after all, in a similar revolutionary spirit of Batengdei, though perhaps a little more pure in their cause. Regardless, it is well known truth that Batengdei would always support socialist nations in the same way a mother helps a child, and Criasia was no exception. The Grand Marshal stated his intentions for Batengdei to be the first in ICEB to offer help, and it was up to Phou and his associates to make sure it happened.

The team itself was more than capable of handling itself. Five members of the group are Kolbang Bedvot specialising in unconventional warfare, another three were political envoys intended for Criasia. Phou was also a member of the special forces team, and would be escorting the envoys before continuing to their Operation Blackboard.

After Criasia had received their envoys, Team Khla would go dark and move to Rusheau under the guise of mercenaries. The plan currently involved meeting an underground Rusheauan revolutionary group, though it was shaky at best. Regardless, reliability was not the issue at hand, subtlety was.

In truth, subtlety was the name of the game.

 As the fishing boat docked beside the seaside port of Noremburg, Phou thought about his purpose, the purpose of the team, the diplomats, about everything.

A harsh female voice came from behind him. 

“Phou! Can you see we’ve landed? Pick up and go, I’m tired of waiting around on this rickety-ass boat!”

The voice belonged to Banlea Chea, another member of Team Khla, and had adopted the role of a sort of leader. She was gruff and anxious, but she cared for everyone on the team, mostly. With a start, Phou realized her shouting may be one of the last times he'd hear Khaymer until after the envoys were dropped off: a disturbing notion. Disturbing mostly in that he had not been in a similar situation for some time. In truth, there had not been much action for much of Batengdeian special forces for years; whether or not this mission was a good change of pace was for Phou to decide later, once the team had entered the borders of Rusheau, Criasia's hostile northern neighbor. For now, they could enjoy the comfort of the small but charming socialist nation.

Realizing he had once again let his mind wander, Phou quickly gathered his scattered equipment. Chea gave him another harsh look before pushing around him to get a chance at an early disembark. She was ever impatient to leave the dinghy, and while not surprising, it put Phou on edge a little.

Phou was the last to leave, and was just able to make it to the rest of the group as a man in full suit walked over to them. He raised out his hands and spoke in a harsh Ceriser:

“Well hello friends! Are you the Batengdeian mission? Please, we have rooms for guests in the Bronze Bell, hah! Our lovely inn! We have many rooms, for.. How many are there, eight? Oh, I think it’s nine… No matter. Please, come with me and I can get you situated.”

The envoys looked nervously around at their escorts before timidly following the man. Suddenly, he made an abrupt stop, his aging face being only barely illuminated in the dull lamplight.

“Did I forget to introduce myself? Hah, I am getting carried away; my name is Alester Amperch, I’m the mayor of Noremburg, and have been since the revolution back in ninety-eight. So I know this ol’ place pretty well… So you alle headed toward Ampleford? The capitol? Have you already arranged transport?”

“Yes.” responded a tired voice from the front: one of the envoys; Dodem Bopha was his name, if Phou could remember correctly.

“Well great. I’ve already been given most of the instructions from the Chairman, he had made the request to me personally. What an honor. You know, that was the first time I had spoken to a chairman, true fact...”

Mayor Amperch rambled on at them in a similar manner for the rest of the trek across town; eventually they arrived at the inn, to the visible relief of the entire team.

“Well, this is where you guys go. I don’t know if I’ll see you again, but good luck. Thanks for coming out here to support our country.”

If Phou was any less tired, he would have chuckled to himself over that one.

The group made their way inside and to their rooms. Phou’s had to be shared with one of the diplomats, but it hardly mattered as he took off his kit and went quickly to sleep.

Edited by Bulgenstaz (see edit history)
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Near the Ganlin border with Rusheau


"He says he was attacked?"

"He and his, ah, his son. They were out working by the border and some men started firing in their direction. He says he's not sure who they were but they didn't chase him or his son when they ran."

"That's troubling. What else does he say?"

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The hesitant, multilingual conversation was not helped by the environment; all around there was the sound, the smell, and the dust of the cavalry column, and Lieutenant Colonel Liang Ping was right in the thick of it. This was the 15th Mounted Rifle Regiment on the march, the unremarkable and obscure Yulang County Silver Clouds. They had arrived in Ganlin at the request of the government, who had been experiencing constant border provocations by neighboring Rusheau, as well as an influx of refugees from greater Ceris. The situation was primed to explode with every passing moment. The same planes that brought the troops brought food and clothing; Ganlin had been eager to accept aide from the ICEB after being informed of the Criasian arrangement, and were also glad to have a few more guns pointed in the other direction, for a change. Under the current plan, the 15th were assigned to patrol the border along the strip of Rusheau land dividing Criasia from Ganlin, in anticipation of more provocations and/or breakout of local hostilities; this farmer's story was not encouraging.

Colonel Liang turned to the interpreter, a short, tan Huang man with thinning hair and a short beard, wearing what passed for a uniform in a Ceriser army: camo fatigues of some ancient vintage, a canvas chest rig, a mismatched forage cap with a faded national crest, and combat boots, Ahranaian Royal Army surplus.

"Ask him if there's been any trouble with cultists lately."

"Yes, he says many problems, but not in his village. He heard about it from his uncle in the next township."

"What's that place called?"

"Frombach."

"Thank you for your time, sir. Have a safe trip home. Someone get him a bag of rice or something off the trucks."

Liang shook the farmer's hand; he was at least not visibly diseased, unlike most of the people on the island he'd seen, so he figured it was safe.

"Let's get going, Mr. Zhao. We're to be in camp at Kearney by 2100."

Tadwick National Airbase, Ganlin
Temporary Headquarters of the 9th Airborne Regiment "Soaring Buddha Palm"

"Major General Dong, sir?"

"Come in, brother."

A young lieutenant stepped over the threshold, wearing a varnished wooden rosary over his uniform. His head was bare and shaven, and his brow marked with the six-spotted sign of his order.

"We believe that the Ganlin claims of Derthaler elements implanted within Rusheau Royal Army units are accurate, based on field reports. The groups which are most active in the Rusheau border region, especially around the Criasian Gap, are immediately identifiable as distinct from the armed bandits active elsewhere in the country."

"Have we made any progress on the Sentists?"

"Not much, I'm afraid. We're still working to discover the link between Sentism and the Imperial Truth, if it exists at all. It's not clear if this is purposeful Derthaler subterfuge or a distinct ideology."

"They're so elusive. Once we come close to seeing its face, the snake slithers away again."

"Quite so, comrade."

"Whoever is behind it, it's clear that Rusheau intends to attack. The depression has hit the feudal economy hard; and that storm tore down the coast on its way to Seylos last year. Rusheau is facing a crisis, and they've got nowhere to turn but looting...or to some sympathetic imperial ear."

"The Derthaler link is undoubtedly troubling. But then again, it may mean nothing. Their armies fight for gold most of all."

"Quite so, brother. That will be all, I think. Thank you, Lieutenant."

The young monk saluted and left. Major General Dong looked back down at his desk, topographic maps and intelligence reports strewn about. Tadwick Airbase, Ganlin's only air force base (boasting a meagre complement of 8 ancient fighter craft and a pair of dodgy trainers) was the temporary command center for the Fulgistani expeditionary mission in Ganlin. It was here that intelligence reports from around the country's tiny land area were corroborated, compared, and interpreted. This informed another critical element of Tadwick's force complement; one of Fulgistan's finest airborne regiments, a rapid strike force that could land a relatively modest force to accomplish some critical mission behind enemy lines. In a place like Ceris, this mobile warfare could be very effective, especially against a technologically inferior and less disciplined enemy. As a regiment composed almost to the man (excluding specialists and medical personnel) of volunteer Buddhist monks, the Flying Buddha Palm had discipline aplenty.

What is the aim of Derthalen, if they are in Rusheau trying to start a war? What is the aim of the Sentists, if they are not one and the same?

"Comrade Dong?"

He jerked his head up with a start, his eyes locking on another soldier, urgency in his voice.

"What is it?"

"Elements of the 15th Cavalry report being engaged by Rusheau Reichsarmee at the border."

Major General Dong rose, and they hurried out.

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“Of course, Navarkhos, it all comes down to money. It always does, especially with barbaroi.”

Navarkhos Ethelred eyed the man that sat across the table from him with a slight feeling of irritation. He guessed that he was about to be the recipient of a lecture. And on a subject that he knew quite well, too. The surroundings of the admiral's personal quarters on the aircraft carrier BPP Agios Pantaleon did seemingly little to warn the man that he was talking to someone who knew all about the matter at hand. The man, Protologothetes for Wider Wurld Affairs Konstantinian Makarios, was dressed in a sober business suit, swirled the wine glass that he held in one hand and looked intently at the admiral. Something about him reminded the naval officer of a rat, despite him having blond hair and a beard shading towards ginger. Perhaps it was the shifty eyes, or the way he occasionally sniffed at his wine. The wine wasn't of great vintage, Ethelred would be amongst the first to admit. Good wines didn't travel all that well aboard supply ships and the Basilikoploimon, the Tagmatine navy, wasn't about to risk a good wine to the pirates in the area. It had been flavoured with cheese and onion to a classical recipe that was still very popular, which also helped to cover up any injury the wine might have suffered in its travels from Arhomaneia.

“But, money. That's what piracy comes down to, Navarkhos. Most of the little countries around here can't afford to pay their coast guards or buy fish from their fishing fleets. They start eyeing up all the cargo and passenger ships that come through here. It's risky, certainly, but it's a more sure way of getting paid than hoping the teetering bureaucracy or petty warlord will fork out the cash that they're embezzling instead.”

Ethelred pursed his lips together under his beard. He knew that. He'd spent the last few months chasing the buggers up and down the Makhaira Thalassa, the Dolch See. Sometimes they caught them and sank them, sometimes they managed to get away. It had become officially discouraged by the Basilikoploimon to drop anti-shipping missiles on the rickety boats the pirates used. The colourful language the naval commander had used when he'd received that message was still the talk of his bridge crew.

“It's a busy shipping lane, after all. And not all companies that go through here are able to afford armed guards. Or want to pay for them.”

The man sniffed at his wine again and the Navarkhos brought his own glass to his nose and smelled it as well. It was fine, damn it.

“No. Many of them are happy enough to try to hide behind us and the @Seylosians and get any passengers to sign waivers,” sighed Ethelred. “Or just try their luck.”

“Exactly, Navarkhos,” said Makarios. “Exactly. The rest of the wurld is waking up to the threat of pirates, too. In sourthern Europa, the EOS has been carrying out anti-piracy operations for some time. It just a shame that the damned Gharoi mean that we can't put more resources into our own attempts.”

At that, Ethelred shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He, and the rest of his officers and sailors, would have been much happier in supporting the rest of the Basilikoploimon in the worsening situation in the Occident. From the last that he had heard, the Exousiokrateia had reversed its decision to allow Arhomaiki observers and aid in the occupied Glorious Dominate. They were savages, nothing more. It had been a mistake by the ancient Aromans to not do more than just pen them into their frozen wastes. The wurld would be a better place if they had been annihilated like many other barbaroi who had defied the Aroman Empire.

The Navarkhos banished that thought from his mind. “The problem remains, Protologothetes, that the pirates have just too many places to hide. Every time I sink a ship or two, the rest of them go scuttling back into the holes that they came from. Even working with the Royal Navy, we just cannot cover the coastline of both Ceris, the other islands and landmasses surrounding the Makhaira Thalassa. But I suspect that that is why you're here.”

“Yes, Navarkhos,” grinned Makarios. “Obviously, it's not every day that the Basilikoploimon gets a visit from the Logothesion ton Barbaron. After all, it's a very strange thing to happen, isn't it?”

The question was completely rhetorical and the Protologothetes sat back in his chair across the desk from Ethelred. The wine glass was once again lifted up to his face and this time he took a sip of it.

“Chasing pirates around and around, sinking one here or there and sometimes pounding some harbour to rubble and ash is a waste of time and, of course, money.”

Tactless motherf*cker, thought Ethelred but he let it slide.

“No, the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion is starting to realise that these pirates are a direct threat to our increasing interests around the Makhaira Thalassa. And because of the antics of the Exousiokrateia, sending more ships here to increase the coverage isn't really an option at this point.”

The minister paused at that point and looked at the Navarkhos expectantly. He wanted Ethelred to ask the obvious question and Ethelred decided that he was petty enough to let it hang for a moment. The naval officer took a sip of his wine and watched the look on Makarios' face begin to falter. Before the wind left Makarios' sails entirely, the Navarkhos asked the obvious question.

“So what is the option at this point, endoxos?” The naval officer used the courtesy title for Makarios, who seemed pleased by it. The man seemed like a suck-up, which was probably why he was using Ethelred's rank so often.

“Well, it is clear that our current operation is not making the situation much better and might in fact be making it worse. The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion has decided that an entirely new strategic direction is needed – we will begin to work on stabilising the states in Ceris, to try to the opportunities of piracy much less attractive. To make sure that these coast guards and fishermen get paid. To make these petty warlords and teetering bureaucracies less, well, teetering.”

That caused Ethelred to raise an eyebrow. That was pretty much nation building, far beyond what the scope of what Arhomaneia usually tried to carry out.

“That's... very magnanimous of us,” the Navarkhos said.

“Of course. It is our God-given duty, is it not? To spread civilisation into the benighted corners of the wurld? To guide the poor barbaroi into Christ's light and to provide them with the gift of sewers and aqueducts?” Makarios continued with not a little amount of grandiosity. He seemed to think it was two thousand years earlier than it actually was, in the opinion of Ethelred. Pax Aromana and all that. “And it will provide Arhomaneia with opportunities in this part of Eurth that we haven't really had before.”

That sentence was said with distinctly pride and with the shiftiness that seemed to characterise the Protologothetes. It was likely one of the main reasons that the Megas Agios Basileia wanted to involve itself in Ceris, beyond stopping the irritation that were the pirates.

“And has the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion decided where our benevolence will start?” asked the Navarkhos, with a bitter edge of cynicism that was very hard to hide. So he didn't bother.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, they have.” Either Makarios didn't detect the cynicism or he just ignored it. Makarios stood from his chair and walked over to the map that was above the admiral's chair, who had to stand as well to avoid looking up awkwardly. “It has been determined by the Logothesion ton Barbaron and the Arhomaiki Diktyo Pliroforion that the best place to start would be here, a state called 'Secryae'. They seem to be likely to be much more amenable to us than some of the neighbouring states. It's ruled by a caste of nobles and you know how barbaroi like that love things like grand titles, ancient institutions and proud lineages. Everything that we have in spades.”

He stood and pointed at the part of Ceris that was occupied by Secryae. The borders were drawn on to the map, even if Ethelred didn't really care much about what was happening on land.

“They also have a significant shipbuilding industry, which is thought to be a source of the vessels that the pirates are using. The thinking goes that if the pirates were closed off from where they were getting their ships from, then the pirate activity in the region would reduce proportionally.”

“It stands to reason, certainly,” said the Navarkhos cautiously.

“The Logothesion ton Barbaron has already sent a letter of introduction to their government. Both via email and a courier from the AND. I am to negotiate further with them, and discuss the aid that Arhomaneia is prepared to send.” He leant towards the naval officer and continued in a conspiratorial tone. “I have been instructed that this could be very far reaching and potentially include military as well as financial trade. And if they decide to piss about too much, then there is the presence of a carrier battle group of the Basilikoploimon off their northern coast. That could well be the deciding matter in any debate.”

“I, Navarkhos am the carrot,” Makarios said in a grand manner, pointing at his own chest. “You are the stick.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

36B, 26, 22, 14

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Doom of Ceris

The TATs Atlafaloko

 

Whanganui Sea, Adlantic Ocean, Last Week.

The rugged blackish waves slammed and sloshed across the hull of the ship, foam spewing, splattering, soaking the ship. The distance echoes of thunder rocked the ink-black sky, a constant ambient noise of rumbling and crackling, like the heavens themselves were twisting and cracking, near snapping. Rain poured down upon the deck of the ocean liner, seeping through parts of the floor and collected as large puddles. The naval jack of Metztli, a striking flag of red, drenched and dullened by the downpour. Only several hundred meters away a bolt of lightning struck the sea, temporarily illuminating the rusty off-white starboard side of the ship, and the more recently painted deck and accommodation. But as quickly as the light came, it faded, with the only traces left was the pungent smell of ozone and metal quickly overpowered by the ocean's own stench.

The ship in question was the Tla'ākatopixiko Atlafaloko, also known as the TATs Atlafaloko. was one of the many ocean liners that were sold to Metztlitlalio by Fulgistan within the past couple years. It already had several nautical miles to it's name when sold, and with the ship near the end of it's lifetime, Archpriestess Tletlaxoxitle Second to hold the name gave up the ship to a group of Priests and their High Priest of the City Temple of Tenamitlepetl of the Kalpollē of Tlalōmitletlō for their project:

To set up a Teōmati community on Ceris.

 

TATs_Atlafaloko.jpg

Picture of TATs Atlafaloko as it sails away from the port city of Kisatli.

 

 

Temple of the Highest, Metztlitlalio, 2 Months Ago.
"--And understand that any bloodshed will be placed upon you, Itisekon."
The Archpriestess stated, she sat on her throne in the centre of the Temple of the Highest, painted stone columns ordained in gold, platinum, and jade surrounded the room, partially obscured by darkness and shadows. With several hundred other lesser thrones in a U shape facing towards the Archpriestess. Standing in front of her was a man of Totasaslo complexion. Short, light brownish gray skin and brown hair. The man wore a long tunic, dress-like, white with a orange rim. Orange and red patterns covered the tunic, a representation of his rank. High Priest. Itisekon held his feathered headdress in his hands, customary when in the presence of the Archpriest.
"O-of course, My Purpose."
Itisekon confirmed, his stern voice tainted with faint apprehension. His eyes glanced past the Archpriestess' eyes towards the murals of other Archpriests of the past, before quickly asserting his eyes back to the Archpriest.
"...And I hope you understand that we are not declaring territory for the Dominion. Any attempts at colonialism will lead to your decapitation."
She stated once more, her voice dominating and harsh.
"Do. You. Understand?"
Itisekon hastily shook his head, cold sweat dribbled down the back of his neck with sweat beads across his forehead. With Itisekon's reaffirming, the Archpriest's composure relaxed, her shoulders lowering and her body falling backwards onto the back of the throne.
"You are dismissed."
The High Priest begun to exit the room, not a moment too late. Leaving the Archpriest alone in the chamber. Sunlight from the evening sun illuminated the room as the faint chanting of the Evening Precession took place on the ground level, within the ninth garden chamber of the temple. Screaming whistles and drums echoing throughout the temple, eventually ending with 8 chimes of the ball at the centre of the temple. The Archpriest let out a wavering sigh, taking out her phone and with muscle memory, pulled up Isayō's number, her Tekilanani. After several seconds, Isayō picked up, and the Archpriestess took a deep breath and spoke to the phone.
"I believe I have just made a grave mistake."

 

 

Swansea, Seylos, Present Day.

The TATs Atlafaloko rocked gently at a pier at the Seylosian port city of Swansea, for the past two days the Ocean Liner had been stocking up on new supplies, with soldiers dispersed across the city. The High Priest Itisekon and the TATs Atlafaloko captain sat on a wooden bench, looking out at the city. The clear blue sky contrasting starkly with the storm five days ago.
"You need more confidence, my friend. We have already done the hard part. We will soon reach the Oclait Territory, and we can finally begin our--"
"--Your"
The captain butted in. A scowl across his face.
"Our intended purpose. Imagine it! A community of converts, no longer consuming the flesh of the young or the intelligent like the yatotlan they are."
The captain sighed, shaking his head slowly, before speaking. His voice deep and gravely.
"The Oclait Territory is a land of tribal warlords and warfare. You brought four hundred and forty priestly soldiers, I give you a month at best before you are forced to flee, or your head sunken atop a wooden spike."
Itisekon turned his head to stare at the captain, shuffling slightly in the tense situation. The captain was clearly Faloki, with Huang characteristic. Black hair, light skin, and epicanthic folds. His scowl made his forehead wrinkles more pronounced. Stubble stretched from one buccal to another with his hair salt and peppered with black and white hairs. Itisekon patted his back and lifted himself off the bench and begun to walk towards the ship, shouting to the captain.
"We will be fine, Liu! We have been through tougher situations together!"
He had reached the ship, the stairs back up to the deck had already been unfolded. As he begun to climb up, he shouted once more to the captain.
"Call for the soldiers! We leave for Oclait in six hours!"

 

 

 

 

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It had been weeks since the envoys had arrived at Rastenstrad, the capitol of Criasia, but to Phou the time could have been months just as easily. It was hard to say whether it was nerves which made him pace the open area of his arranged flat, or whether it was the sheer boredom of being dragged around to countless meetings on the daily. It was no help that each member of ICEB had their own plans for approach. Fulgistan made claims for rapid military deployment, much to Criasia's reluctence. What it led to in the end was a mass of bureaucracy, signing, and standing around. Fortunately, it was all behind him now. Team Khla had departed the moment the discussions had been largely considered finished, bar one decision which was apparently still in the works. It was nice to finally be allowed to do his own thing, away from Rastenstrad. As their transport left the city, however, it gave Phou ample opportunity to admire the place.

It was a modern piece, having seen serious urban development since after the Criasian revolution some twenty years prior. Where Noremburg had maintained its old buildings and styling, Rastenstrad rejected them as a snake shed its skin. It was a marvel that such an urban landscape could have been built so quickly, but such was the way with central planning. It was a prime location for a city, bordering a river which connected to the Qingming but far enough from the northern border to keep out of trouble. Despite the rapid growth, teams of cranes scattering the outskirts gave indication that the recent developments had no intention of stopping anytime soon. In that way, it reminded Phou of Khaokhett, the massive island-capitol of Batengdei.

The transport eventually left Rastenstrad, to Phou's disappointment. Though it had served as his prison for the last few weeks, seeing the city the last time had reminded Phou of home, something which had been growing more and more distant the further the team traveled. They would be moving northeast from Rastenstrad, however, instead of directly north to Rusheau. While it is quicker to cross the northern border, geographically speaking, it was far less appealing than originally intended. Of late, Rusheau has heightened their border security and general military presence, so Team Khla had decided to make a last-minute detour around the Criasia-Rusheau border and instead enter through the Oclait territory. While it was a more unpredictable choice, it had been deemed necessary due to the extreme risk of taking a vehicle through any other channel. Besides, it would provide a more direct approach to the heartland of Rusheau, as well as the location of the supposed revolutionaries.

Suddenly, a head poked from behind a crate of supplies:

"Are we there yet?"

The head belonged to Malai Meido, the youngest member of the team, fond of making jokes, usually at the expense of others. Normally his spiky black hair was in some strange arrangement, but he was wearing his helmet so much of his face was obscured.

"Shut up!" sounded some voice from the cab. It was probably Chea. Actually, it was definitely Chea.

It would take a few days of travel yet to cross the border, and far longer to traverse the hellscape of the Oclait territory, so with a reluctant sigh, Phou rest his head against the side of the cab and watched the scenery roll by.

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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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No power in heaven or hell could save Ceris. This was the hypothesis Phou had come upon as they had been approaching the border of Criasia and the Oclait territories. The first two days had seen some signs of activity, at least, even if much of it was in the form of refugee caravans making their slow journey to the southern region of Criasia. Today, however, there was nothing. The only signs of habitation were the occasional column of smoke from some distant building, but it seemed far more likely that they were indicators of death, not life. The empty shells of buildings littered the landscape like garbage along a highway. The heart of Ceris was a rotted corpse.

It was a grim commute, one which put even Meido in a somber mood. The drive so far had been almost entirely silent, bar the occasional “holy shit” from one person or another. It was a warzone out here, and it could only get worse.

As if to break the silence, Chea called out,

“We are approaching the border of Criasia and the former nation of Oclait.”

Were it not for GPS, it would have been impossible to tell. The road simply continued out without any indication of a gate or security check. The only change was some bombed out building which must have served as the customs gate before the collapse. Pyouh Apuok, a seasoned and grizzled veteran of Team Khla spoke,

“Let’s not forget we’re in a warzone from here on, no one is our friend out there, even if they wear the flag of Criasia or Fulgistan, for that matter. We’re going to move as quickly as we can and avoid anything that looks like trouble. This vehicle is designed to emulate the Rusheauan military transports, but we still can’t risk confrontation with them.”

As he finished, Phou could see everyone looking around nervously. And what reason there was to be nervous: they were sitting ducks out there. Anyone, be it a Rusheauan military group, a band of rebels, even a Criasian force, could attack them in a moments notice. Their vehicle was unmarked and as such was far more likely to be designated “foe” than “friend”. They would be staying away from roads whenever possible here, there was less likelihood for activity in the rolling hills of central Ceris.

“I guess all that matters now is finding a good spot for lunch,” announced Phou, in hopes of lightening the mood. No one bit. This part of the operation was tense for everyone, and being alert and stressed was preferable to being relaxed and dead.

Phou fiddled with his assault rifle, checking for any signs of wear. This was perhaps the thirtieth time he had done so today, and it was only noon. “f*ck,” thought Phou to himself, “I don’t know how we’re going to get through here in one piece.”

Phou should have knocked on wood. As he finished his thought, the transport screeched a sharp turn, punctuated by the sound of rifle fire from the right side.

“f*ck! Someone’s already at us!” shouted Pyough from across the vehicle.

Phou turned quickly in an attempt to make out the aggressors. It was a couple disheveled men: young, and clearly not in the military. They scrambled around awkwardly from within the ruined building, shouting some unintelligible phrases in Ceriser. They looked as though they had been hiding in the building, and whether in ambush or as a deterrent, they had opened fire on the transport. Fortunately, nothing of note had been harmed and their shots had only made a few holes in the canvas cover where light now beamed through.

Phou readjusted his hold on his rifle, and fired a few shots, and the rat-tat-tat-tat of the gun echoed around the landscape. He intended for the rounds to dissuade further combat, not to kill anyone.

“What a warm welcome from our comrades in the Oclait!” joked Meido, who seemed to have regained his sense of humor in the sudden burst of combat. 

“Hopefully the rest of the people we meet are less jumpy,” conceded Chea, who looked frustrated at Meido’s utter lack of conscience about the terrified refugees, “I don’t want to have to kill someone who doesn’t deserve it.”

“So you’d be okay if we got jumped by Rusheau, then?”

“Ughhh!”

“Shut up back there!” shouted Pyough.

How nice it was, seeing the team back at each other’s throats, it added a bit of levity to the situation they were in. Phou considered how much sleep he would be willing to get in the next couple days. Not much, probably. The transport kept moving through the countryside, now maintaining a good distance from any structures.

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“--Let’s not forget we’re entering a warzone once we land, no one is our friend in there, even if they wear the flag of Limonaia or Fulgistan, for that matter. We’re going to move as quickly as we can and avoid anything that looks like trouble."

The Faloki Captain Liu commanded, gritting through his teeth as the ocean foam splattered across the hull.

"This ocean liner is not fitted for one on one combat against a power equal or greater then ourselves. Let's just--"

Faint in the distance, the exchange of rifle fire could be heard from the interior, flashes of light speeding across the dishevelled coastline. Almost immediately the captain and the men on the deck leapt to the safety of the ground. However, no pinging of metal or any signs that they were the target for that matter came. Hesitantly the captain lifted himself from the wooden floor as one of the two Intelligence Officers who had come along poked his head out a side door.

"The gunfire came from the border of the Oclait border, sir."

The Captain nodded to the I.O., turning his head back to the gathering of 'soldiers' in front of himself. As his eyes gazed over the men and women, yes they had training, but he knew that whatever they had gone through before would be nothing like Ceris, and definitely nothing like the Oclait Territory. They were priests first and foremost.

As the Captain begun to open his mouth to speak, the High Priest Itisekon burst out of the control room, with his cellular phone in his right hand, clapping it shut. "Are we ready to land, Captain?"

"Yes, howe--"

"Excellent. The Intelligence Officers have found a nice bay near the Rusheau border." Itisekon stated, pleased with current events and himself. The same Intelligence Officer from before had exit the control room to the High Priest's side, beginning to reiterate the High Priest's words, although with rationalisation.

"The bay's beaches are flat but defensible positions are possible, especially in north due to the headland. The strait leading into the bay would force any incoming ships into a bottle neck, so if we must fight, we have a chance. Shaedal Bay is our best option for success."

The High Priest looked over the starboard side of the ship, giving the Captain ample time to give him a glare behind his back for interrupting him twice, before turning to the crew to finally finish.

"Let's just get this over with. Into the bay we go."

With his commanding voice, the ship begun to turn clockwise by 90 degrees, heading towards the bay's narrow entrance.

 

 

g1.png

Picture of the Shaedal Bay after landing from High Priest Itisekon's camera.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

FF2GAwK.jpg

 

To: His Majesty, King Aidan I of the Kingdom of @Seylos, Eire, Pleinmont, and Sark

From: the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion of the Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion

 

Your majesty,

It will undoubtedly not have escaped your notice that the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion has attempted to start relations with one of the nations on the island of Ceris, the Noble Republic of Secryae. It is believed by the Agios Basileos kai Autokrator, may God guide him, that the partnership between our governments is best served by stating this to you. After all, we have an agreement to help combat piracy in the Makhaira Thalassa, the Dolch See, and reduce this threat that is plaguing the shipping lanes through that area. The path of subterfuge may weaken these attempts and sour the rapport your Kingdom and my nation have.

In the interests of keeping the relations between our nations cordial, and may God keep it so, the Megas Agios Basileia will admit to contacting the government of Secryae. The reason behind this is that Arhomaneia hopes an atmosphere of cooperation can be fostered with that nation, with the aim of trying to prevent it from sinking to the lows of some of the other nations on Ceris. Some of these, as you undoubtedly know, are little more than collections of warlord territories and fiefdoms of cultists, as well as the fact that parts of your neighbours are facing increasingly dire humanitarian situations. Ceris continues to slip into a desperate condition and it appears to be likely that it is beyond the efforts of any one country to try to prevent it from becoming worse than it already is.

The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion is of the thinking that Secryae, at the least, is a good starting point to prevent the complete collapse of civilisation, if it may be called as such, on the island. It still retains a semi-functioning government, one that may be worked with, and is also one of the primary centres of the shipbuilding industry on the island. If this nation is helped back onto a more steady path, with international trading partners and the basic infrastructure that the peoples of our own nations take for granted on a daily basis, then it could be that the source of the pirates' vessels then becomes less accessible to them and that the inhabitants themselves do not feel that piracy and other such acts are a viable livelihood.

Such a policy may not reduce the numbers of pirates in one fell swoop, but combined with our continued policing of the area, it will mean that simple attrition will steadily reduce the numbers of pirate vessels that are active in the Makhaira Thalassa. It could also mean that there is a knock-on affect on the rest of the benighted countries on the island and that they also become much more stable, although that could well be too much of a hope at this stage. Perhaps the best that can be aimed for is that they become less anarchic.

It is also clear that the Kingdom of Seylos has significant interests in making sure that the eastern seaboard of Ceris remains stable, especially since the petty states there have marked Seylosian influences. If your majesty wishes, Seylos and Arhomaneia could continue to work together in the manner that our nations have in the recent past – namely sharing expertise and intelligence, as well as supporting each other military, if you so wish. I do not wish that Ceris should be plunged into a situation of out and out war – that is something that God, the Seylosians and the Arhomaioi would wish to avoid at all cost.

May God grant the poor people of Ceris a respite from their woes,

Eugenios Goulielmos,

Megas Logothetes

of the

Logothesion of Foreign Affairs

of the

Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion

 


 

It was a clear winter's day. A heavy frost had laid across the ground for most of the morning and it was still cold enough to send plumes of breath into the air. The horses' hooves crushed frozen leaves as they picked their way through the woodland. The weather didn't bode all that well, considering the severe winter storms that the Exousiokrateia was suffering under, especially this early in winter. However, in the carefully managed parklands of a villa to the east of the ancient fortress-city of Skouton, the cold weather made for some very pretty days. It hadn't come this far eastwards yet. It was often cold in the Occident – people just wore a few more layers than normal. Mist still lay in the bottom of the valley that the horse trail wound along and it was early enough in the morning that the weak winter sun still had not burned it off, and still cast long shadows across it. Two members of the Agios Basilikon Vestiarion, the Holy Imperial Cabinet, rode through the valley, along with a smattering of aides and gold armoured, white robed bodyguards.

The horse that Valentinian Tzimekhes was sat on was gently walking, keeping pace alongside that of Eugenios Goulielmos. The former was a much bigger animal – although the Genikos Logothetes was not a fat man, he was certainly heavyset, breaking a stereotype of the weedy accountant. He didn't follow the ancient art of wrestling like other Arhomaioi or the modern, New Wurld boxing. Cruel rumour said that it was because he personally liked lifting the sacks of gold that his ministry extorted from the populace to increase his physique, but that wasn't true. Perhaps it was an unconscious defying of what people thought an accountant should be like – weak, hunched and cowardly. The Civil War of 2005 had shown his nerve and he didn't feel like he needed to prove it to others.

Instead, Tzimekhes rode his horse with a better posture than his host, Goulielmos, who tended to sit like a sack of grain. Horse riding was still expected to be a skill of the Arhomaiki aristocracy, and those who aspired towards it from the middle classes, even in these modern times. After all, it was the quick reaction forces that had kept Arhomaneia from falling when the rich western provinces had broken away and the road system had collapsed through anarchy and lack of money. It was the latter that always kept Tzimekhes concerned. It was his job, after all, to make sure that the heart of civilisation didn't collapse through lack of money.

Which is why he hated this latest scheme.

A wooden target crept into view through the trees and both men knocked an arrow to their bows. Hunting actual animals had been banned many years before, during the reign of Theodosios VI, and hunting with guns was considered to be something that the lower classes did, anyway. It was thought that hitting something with a bullet required less skill than an arrow. It was also that the less well off wouldn't have the leisure time to practice with a recurve bow, and certainly not from horseback, which added to the expense even more. Goulielmos motioned at one of the servants following the Logothetai, who pressed a control that hung around their neck. The target juddered into life and shot off along a rail through the undergrowth, disappearing behind trees and bushes as it went. Both men quickly stilled their horses and released their arrows at their target.

“Good shot, Endoxotatos! You must have hit it right in its heart!”

Goulielmos started forwards and cantered his horse towards where the target sat at the end of its rail, seemingly excited that his fellow 'hunter' had hit the fake so well. Sure enough, Tzimekhes' yellow-fletched arrow was sunk in a good kill-shot in the wooden deer's chest. Tzimekhes couldn't fail to notice that the Megas Logethetes ton Barbaron's green-feathered arrow was right in the deer's arse. Even though Tzimekhes thought that Goulielmos might have shot before the target had even started moving. The man used the formal title of member of the Vestiarion. If they had been true friends, carrying out horse-back target shooting for fun, then the formality wouldn't have been necessary. But they weren't, and would likely never be. Although, in fairness, there were numerous people in the party who did not come close to their exalted rank, so the impressions had to be maintained. Tzimekhes guessed as soon as he had received the invitation that his fellow Megas Logethetes had formulated this visit to the country estate in an attempt to woo him towards this Ceris venture.

The Autokrator ton Gharoi was more likely to accept Christ into his life and perform the full proskynesis before Kommodos on the Leopard Throne before that was going to happen.

The two Megas Logethetai had known and worked alongside each other for years, so Goulielmos would also know that Tzimekhes would not be open to mere bribery, especially with something that was well within his own power and wealth. Clearly something else was planned, then. He urged his horse closer to that of Goulielmos. It likely didn't matter if anyone else in the party heard them. Likely some of them were spies from another ministry or the monarch of Tagmatium. Either way, others would have guessed what this meeting between the two ministers was about.

Goulielmos turned towards the finance minister and motioned him onwards. “It opens into a meadow in a bit. A target has been set up so that we can try to hit it whilst we're moving.”

There was something of childlike enthusiasm from the minister of foreign affairs. For a moment, Tzimekhes felt like he should wait until later to get to the point of this trip to Goulielmos' country house. Perhaps over a glass of wine or brandy after dinner, as seemed to often be traditions in conspiracies. He put that idea out of his mind. It would be best to ask now, rather than faff about in the meantime.

“This is about Ceris, isn't it?”

The smile on Goulielmos' face wavered and became fixed. He looked over at the rest of the party, especially the bodyguards from the Spatharokandidatoi. They were the emperor's men and women, after all.

“Of course it is,” hissed the foreign minister. The rest of the party weren't out of earshot, so he was trying to keep his voice down.“What else could it have been?”

A witty retort framed itself in Valentinian's mouth for a moment but he knew that would be mean.

“That is the only thing that I could imagine that the Logothesion ton Barbaron might be asking the Logothesion tou Genikou about. And wanting it to be kept out of formal channels.”

And asking for money was the unsaid part of that statement and both men knew it.

“I wanted a nice day out before bringing it up,” said Goulielmos, sounding slightly hurt. He rallied a bit, however. “After all, how often do you see scenery like this?”

The Megas Logothetes ton Barbaron gestured with his arm to take in the meadow that they had come to. It was certainly very pretty and Tzimekhes knew that he didn't get out into the countryside as often as he ought to. He always seemed busy.

“I wanted to keep business until after dinner. Perhaps over a good vintage.”

Ha.

Tzimekhes pressed on. “I have seen what you are proposing when it came through to my office several weeks ago. You have no idea whether these nobles of Secryae would even accept the offer. And it seems like a roundabout way to stop pirates – blowing them out of the water could be cheaper and it would give the Basilikoploimon a source of live-fire exercises for about as long as they wanted.”

He shook his head. “Nation-building...”

“It isn't as if there aren't other nations already trying to get themselves involved in Ceris.” Goulielmos shrugged. “It would be foolish to not try to get our foot in the door. All we wish to do is make the Noble Republic look favourably on Arhomaneia and it seems like the easiest way would be to send out plumbers, masons and ground workers, rather than spend the rest of eternity making widows and orphans. And it isn't like we'd be doing it for free.”

It was the turn of Tzimekhes to remain quiet for a moment. There could certainly be possibilities there. He didn't know what sort of mineral wealth Ceris had on it, let alone Secryae itself. They might even be happy for Arhomaiki companies to help them extract it and to provide a market for it. It would likely take some time for them to be completely comfortable with the presence of Arhomaioi within their nation and working in concert with them, but it wasn't as if the Megas Agios Basileia didn't like playing the long game.

“We'd probably spending more than we got out on bribes and greasing the wheels in this barbarian country,” pointed out the Genikos Logothetes, trying to get back to his oppositions to involvement in Ceris. “Any returns may take years to justify the initial cost. We cannot throw around bribes like we did a thousand years ago. We are still recovering from the Great Europan Collapse, like the rest of the continent. This foolishness on the part of the Gharoi makes that process all the harder.”

“Of course,” nodded Goulielmos. The other man seemed to be unusually calm and contented, even though his 'nice day out' had been ruined and he was supposed to be trying to turn Tzimekhes over to his way of thinking. He found himself getting annoyed at the man's calmness.

“You cannot just expect me to just go along with this, Endoxotatos.” Tzimekhes urged his horse forward, so that it blocked Goulielmos' path. “The Gerenians as well, may God aid them. Setting up camps, transporting them across our nation, making sure that they don't freeze to death... Now throwing money at some small group of savages in the hopes that it'll make that cesspool of an island less, well, cesspool-like is an expense that we just don't need.”

“I know.” The man was now looking down at his bow, making a show of looking at his bowstring. He ran a thumb along it, as if inspecting it for any wear and tear.

“You know as well as I that we have had to cut back on things like the modernisation programme for carrier aircraft. And sell two of the things. The Epistrategaion was most unhappy about that.” The High Command had argued long and hard about that. They felt that they needed the two idle Despotes class carriers to build up the strength of the navy, especially as Arhomaneia's northern neighbour was starting to throw its weight around again.

“This is much more of an investment than that. For Arhomaneia and for us,” said Goulielmos. The way he said it made Tzimekhes look at him sharply.

“So, what was it you wanted to do? Try to bribe me?”

Goulielmos didn't look offended. He merely raised an eyebrow. “It strikes me that attempting to bribe a man in charge of an entire country's finances is rather foolish. After all, you could be skimming enough off that you have entire villas made of gold. Could being the operative word there, Endoxotatos.”

This time, he paused whilst making a show of picking some fluff out of his horse's mane. Tzimekhes looked on at him in anger, fighting the urge to knock Goulielmos out of his saddle. He didn't know this, as he hadn't looked, but the group of aides were hanging back, somewhat embarrassed at the brewing argument between the two Logothetai.

“But I know that you are not,” the foreign minister finally stated. “No. As I said, I wanted a nice day out before I raised this. I know that I cannot bribe you, a man who could be lining his pockets from the wealth of one of the most powerful countries on Eurth. If you were bribable or corrupt, you would not be where you are and I would be talking to someone else entirely. So, instead, I was going to ask you. Nicely. I thought that you might be more inclined to listen to me after spending a pleasant day doing pleasant things.”

Tzimekhes' anger hadn't subsided but he had had the wind knocked out of his sails. “Really?”

“Yes.” For the first time in a few minutes, Goulielmos looked into his eyes. “You have Kommodos' ear, more so than myself or others. He trusts you more, in his way. If you are on board, then anything that we do with Secryae will be less of a half-measure. It seems like it is rapidly becoming something of a scramble for Ceris, and I do not believe it will do Arhomaneia any good to be sat on the sidelines.”

He nudged his heels into his horse's flanks and walked it around Valentinian's animal. “Now, do you want to try for the next target?”

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  • 2 weeks later...

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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“Your Majesty… are you sure this is the right response? Coming across too aggressive could mean significant souring of relations between @Variota and Seylos.”

Aidan leaned forward in  his chair looking at Minister Tatum, “I understand the diplomatic implications. But we can’t allow the Variotan’s to threaten our backyard. Ceris isn’t a slice of territory to carve up and be split amongst the powers of Eurth. If Seylos is too keep her standing, we make our stand with Zapsa.”

“And what of @Gallambria?” Tatum asked. A question he knew Aidan would have trouble responding to.

“What about them Geoffrey?”

“We might be an observer in Trident, but Gallambria is treaty bound to stand with her allies. Seylos and Gallambria might have a strong connection but do you think they will drop their standing in Trident to stand with us over this dispute?”

Aidan glanced down, taking a moment to think, “I don’t think Gallambria will do anything. They don’t want to lose us, but they won’t want to lose Trident. The rest of the Trident nations know what a provocation this is. This is almost tantamount to an offensive.”

Geoffrey stood up, “Is it Your Majesty? Do we see Variotan armed forces crossing our waters to occupy Zaspa?”

Aidan stood as well but caught himself. He was momentarily outraged that Tatum would approach him like this, but he had grown to know better. “We don’t. But we have to act now to make sure they don’t. But we have an out.”

Minister Tatum sat down again, looking ashamed of himself, “I apologize Your Majesty. I assume you mean Hodrea.”

Aidan nodded, “The ambassador has called for assistance.”

Tatum nodded, “So we send something in response, and in turn we have sizeable forces near Zaspa?”

“I’ve already ordered the Defiant and her escorts to the area. I’m sorry Geoffrey, I meant to tell you but… I feel this time it needs to be done. Ceris needs a guardian.”

Tatum took a moment, moving past his initial anger, “Just tell me Your Majesty, are we their saviors?”

------------------------
Outside Kassel, Hodrea

“So… they’ve fortified themselves?” High Priest Wetzel Carran said.

The captain in front of him nodded giving a slight bow, “Yes, they detected our approach. The scattering of militia have rallied around the city hiding behind the walls.”

Carran brushed his chin, somewhat comically almost like a super villain. Of course he didn’t think of himself that way at all, what he needed was the city to submit. Their way north towards the capital needed to be cleared.

“The artillery?”

His captain shook his head, “The Hodrean artillery… liberated from their reserves will take time to get here. Several days.”

“Well,” Carran said, “I suppose the Speaker won’t mind if we move more quickly than anticipated.”

He walked out of his tent, followed by the almost cowering captain. He took a look across the river, seeing the old concrete walls in the distance through the night fog. Lights occasionally flickered across them as the militia patrolled them.

“The shipment from the rebels on Eire… is it here?”

The captain’s eyes widened, “Would the speaker…?”

“Is it here?” Carran asked, his voice harsher still staring off at the city.

“It is Your Eminence.”

Carran turned around facing the captain with a smile, “Well then… Kill them all and be done with it. It must be sent.”

Edited by Seylos (see edit history)
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  • 3 weeks later...

Abu Hajaar, alone in the War Department office, flips open his laptop while enjoying his hookah:

 

SYS:\SAYF-SECURE-DATA-SYSTEM\\...

LANGUAGE SELECT:

ANGLISH ARABIC

...

INPUT LOGIN INFORMATION:

USERNAME: abuhajaar69420

PASSWORD: ***************************

ACCESS GRANTED

WELCOME, GENERAL HAJAAR, TYPE A COMMAND TO CONTINUE

SYS:\USERS\ABUHAJAAR69420>"open SYS\CONFIDENTIAL-FILES\CERIS-OPS\"

....

CERIS OPERATION FILES:

Astaria: A small country on Ceris which has suffered through strife and conflict. We have allocated 5,000,000ع.د to the Astarian government and several Sayfi manufacturing companies have begun construction of factories in the nation to help boost the economy.

Ashein: The largest democracy on Ceris, and a very fragile one at that. We have allocated 15,000,000ع.د to Ashein's government, and manufacturers have already begun employing Ashein's citizens in factories in an attempt to boost the economy and provide Sayf and other countries with cheap goods. Proposals to move troops into the nation have been swiftly denied.

Rewhain: A small country on Ceris which split away from Hodrea, which is a democracy. We have allocated 30,000,000ع.د to the Rewhainian government and have sold a large amount of our surplus arms to the nation. There is currently a small detachment of 500 peacekeepers in the nation's capital, and Sayfi manufacturers refuse to open factories in the area due to high tensions and potential of conflict. 

Uthington: A relatively small monarchy, our interests are currently rooted in removing power from the monarchy and helping Uthington transition to democracy, Currently we've several undercover agents working towards this. We have agreed to lease a naval base/port recently, which is going to temporarily house the 5th fleet, which is currently used from anti-piracy operations in the area. 

Secyrae: The biggest threat to our interests in the area due to the high flow of oil shipments nearby. Piracy is a large issue in the area, and the 5th fleet has been designated to take care of it. We are currently working on getting some of our spy planes over the country to locate pirate hot-spots and intervene in those areas.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"What are you looking at?" says a uniformed man staring at the screen from behind Abu Hajaar. Abu Hajaar promplty slams the laptop shut and spins around his officer chair before shouting "AH! Ahmed! You scared me. I was reviewing our current operations in Ceris." "Ah, okay, any updates?" "None as of yet, but I predict the area will be heating up soon."

 

p9T26fY.png

Sayfi Peacekeepers patrolling in southern Rewhain

 

 

 

Edited by Sayf (see edit history)
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Kieron grabbed the helmet on his head and hid behind the top of the wall, dropping his gun in the process. For the first time in days the people outside the walls were making a decisive push.  He was terrified. He fumbled for a bit trying to pick up his old rifle but glanced over to the top of the decaying concrete fortifications that held the city. There were constant flashes from across the tree line obscured in the light early morning fog. He would feel the bullets as they impacted across the old concrete around him, and from inside the city he could see the mortars hitting the streets and buildings.

“How much longer do you think?” Kieron said, looking over to his aunt.

She looked at him solemnly, just trying to think of something to say but nothing reassuring could come to her mind, “I’m sorry junge, I know these people. Es wird eine lange nacht.”

“You know them…?” Kieron started before more shouts began across the walls. He took a peek over and didn’t understand what he saw at first. The fog was moving toward them, how was that possible, he thought to himself.

Nicole glanced over, her eyes widening, “Now come on junge, we don’t have any time!”

------

It had been a day since they had passed Homburg. Each member of the squad had been horrified by what they had seen. Major Arran and Lieutenant Maura had kept a cool demeanor, but Claire and Oswin hadn’t been able to shake what they had seen. Homburg has been nothing but a grave, not a battleground as they had assumed when first approaching the pillars of smoke from afar. In Fulgistan it had never been murdered villagers and torched cities, just a war. A bloody war, but something with some sense of rules. Every man, woman, child had been slaughtered in Homburg and they were afraid of what was next.

In this distance a familiar sight greeted them, smoke columns. They drove for a small while longer and then stopped, Arran simply saying, “We don’t leave here without her or her intel.”

-------

Nicole dragged Kieron into their home as the fog began to envelope the city. She shut the door, stuffing rags in every cranny she could fine.

“Tante, what’s going on? Why are we leaving? The wall can’t hold…”

Nicole rand up to up grabbing Kieron by the face, “Shut up. I have to find what I’m looking for.”

She turned her attention through rummaging through the piles of things all over the home. Eventually she came up holding two masks. She spent a moment looking at them, a look of dread, then acceptance coming over her face. She unscrewed the front of one replacing it with another and handed it to Kieron.

“Quickly put this on,” she said, glancing up in paranoia. The gunshots from outside were coming closer as well as the screams. “We have friends coming, and I have something you need to know.”

Suddenly the door to the basement burst open, a man with a rifle and gas mask ready to fire.

----------------

They wormed their way through the city, a thick cloud obscuring their vision. All of them had donned their hazard gear before entering the main walls. Nobody on the team had seen this before, but luckily they had a map of exactly where this ‘Nicole’ woman would be living. All around them gunshots and screams could be heard. Occasionally Claire and Oswin would stop for a moment trying to get it out of their heads, they had been trained to run towards the suffering of others, but they knew their mission. Each of them advanced slowly through the fog, their protective gear on knowing the probability of what they were walking into.

“The map says twenty more meters, ready up,” Arran said, gunshots ringing out close to them. His mask was obscuring his vision but he could still see the dead lining the streets, some still alive writhing in pain. He knew what the rest of his team would think but he was positive they understood the importance of the mission.

Arran came up on a door, marked with the address number he had memorized. The rest of the squad came to a half behind him, their arms on each others shoulders.

“Ketzerin! Stop!”  he heard. He didn’t wait for the others, he rounded the corner of the doorway and quickly fired two rounds into the man he found. Arran waited for a moment before he heard a woman call out from the stairwell that led down.

“Seylosi!?”

Arran suddenly remember they hadn’t had any callsign or password to establish who they were. He glanced back at the others, all of whom gave some form of shrug.

“Ambassador Finaley sent us!?” He yelled out, sounding more like a question than a statement. He hoped she would listen, hearing the storming of the city outside.

“Hurry quickly, inside!”

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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 (see edit history)
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 “Half.”

Makarios shifted slightly in his chair. It was a well padded green leather armchair and so made little noise as the Arhomaios moved about in it. The man sat opposite still caught the slight movement and what seemed to be a smile crept up under his walrus-like moustache. He was as well padded as the chairs the pair of them were sitting on and wore a similar suit to the Protologothetes. Despite Makarios' perception of Ceris as a poor backwater, the nobles of Secryae didn't seem to stint on the finer things in life. The delicate cups of Mauridivian coffee that sat on a mahogany table between them spoke of that.

“Your excellency, due to the skilled nature of the work that is to be carried out, it would be better if at least two thirds of those involved in it were Arhomaioi, rather than half locals and half Arhomaioi.” Makarios gestured towards the sheaves of paper on the table. It was the treaty that had been outlined by the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion and handed over to the government of Secryae a week before by Makarios himself. He had thought them overawed by the magnificence and power of a visiting official from the heart of civilisation. But, it seemed the stereotype of the greedy ignorant barbarian was true. The damned Cerisers didn't know a good thing when they got it.

The fat man, the head of the council of nobles that ran this benighted nation, the Erzkanzler, babbled something in the guttural tongue of the natives. The young, skinny man standing behind his chair listened and then repeated it in a truly civilised language.

“Your excellency, that may be so.” The young man speaking remained impassive and neutral but there was a gleeful twinkle in the eyes of the Erzkanzler. It had become quite quickly clear that the fat man knew the language of Arhomaneia and the translator was some strange affectation, probably an attempt to keep the balance of power on the side of the Cerisers. “However, it is necessary that the people of our fine country familiarise themselves with what you will be building here. And you have emphasised that we are equal partners, no? It would look poorly if the start of your great nation's involvement in Ceris seemed to be nothing than an unequal treaty.”

And it would look poorly for Makarios if he allowed himself to be manipulated by a bunch of backward yokels. He looked out of the window towards the sea. Somewhere out there, the BPP Agios Pantaleon patrolled the waters off of Secryae. When they were about to start the negotiations, the Protologothetes had to think hard about the suggestion of Navarkhos Ethelred to have the aircraft carrier closer to shore, as a visible reminder of the power of the greatest nation on Eurth. However, the foreign minister had turned it down – he was sure that his dignity and ability alone would turn the discussion in his favour and Makarios didn't want it to look like the nobles had signed any treaty at the barrel of a gun.

And he would never have had the fat f*ck smirking at him if he had done that.

“I feel two thirds would be a more reasonable number,” said Makarios. “After all, it will be the Arhomaioi who will start off doing the bulk of the work, as your countrymen would need to learn the ropes, so to speak, before they can handle the same sort of technical tasks.”

The walrus murmured again and the translator leaned closer. Although the room had a high ceiling and was furnished in a tasteful, fashionable manner that spoke of the expense of it, Makarios found it suddenly quite cramped.

“Half, your excellency. Although we do accept that it would also be reasonable for a larger number of Arhomaioi remain in supervisory and management roles as the projects progress.”

Makarios nodded. That did not seem entirely unreasonable and would allow better oversight of the way any project went. And especially where any funds were going. Undoubtedly, the nobles were used to creaming off any and all business that was going on in Secryae. It was probably one of the reasons that the country was in such a poor state to begin with, as most attempts to repair the degrading infrastructure withered up as corruption took its toll. “The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion does not find that unreasonable, your excellency.”

The Erzkanzler gargled again and the young translator leaned in over his shoulder. When the noises had stopped, he stood up again.

“Your excellency, it is also the view of the Republic that any of our citizens that work alongside the Arhomaioi ought to get the same pay. After all, it is the Republic that will be footing the bill for the work. How could we justify it to our citizens if all the money was to flow out of Secryae?”

Makarios' eyes darted down towards the papers again. He wondered if he should have even bothered getting them printed out in the first place. Just sending it as an email would have been more suitable since the buggers were just tearing it to pieces anyway. And the idea that those living in this hellhole warranted the same amount of money as an Arhomaiki worker was verging upon the ridiculous.

“In return for that money, you are going to get the infrastructure that the rest of Ceris could be dream of,” replied the Protologothetes, an element of scorn creeping into his voice. “After all, there is no one on this side of the Adlantic with my nation's expertise in roads, sewers and the rest. Your republic would prosper and your people would find their lives immeasurably improved. Arhomaneia is taking all of the risk on this venture.”

More grunts and gurgles.

“This proposed venture, your excellency.”

The Protologothetes sat up in his chair with an intake of breath. He narrowed his eyes at the Erzkanzler but kept his voice level and even.

“Your excellency, my government is offering yours generous loans with much better interest rates than you would get from any other nation or bank. We are offering to carry out infrastructure work at the same cost as we would in our own country. I cannot see where else you might get similar terms.”

The walrus narrowed his own eyes but Makarios continued.

“Seylos is the most likely prospect. But they are a young, keen people and led by a young, keen monarch. They would be much more interested in making sure the money ended up wear it was supposed to. Arhomaneia is an ancient nation and much more aware of the ways of the wurld than to monitor where all the money goes.” It was obvious what the Arhomaios was hinting at and that the fat man didn't bat an eyelid meant that he was right on the mark. The buggers were going to cream off as much as they could and the best anyone else could do was to make sure it remained at manageable levels. “The Seylosians would also take a much more pressing involvement within your government's affairs as well. You may end up with them trying to exert the same manner of influence as they do on the countries in the east. And although you may think me some ignorant outsider, it is clear to the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion that they will end up just like Eire, sooner or later. Swallowed up by the rising power of eastern Argis.”

Now it was time for the Erzkanzler to shift in his chair. Clearly he was also aware of the influence that the Seylosians had on the countries in Ceris that were across the strait from the Kingdom. And he also guessed that Seylos intended to draw them even closer into its orbit.

“Instead, I offer the guidance of a power that is much further away and much less likely to meddle in your affairs,” carried on the Protologothetes, spreading his hands in what he imagined to be a gesture invoking the generosity of Arhomaneia. “And one that will also keep out the interference of any more foreign nations on top of that. You know that the increasing piracy in the Makhaira Thalassa is turning the eyes of the wurld towards Ceris. Some nations, especially those of a more... radical slant, might even see your Republic as a good target for their wild ideologies, with their ideas of wealth redistribution and classless societies.”

The foreign minister leant forward in his seat and picked up the fragile coffee cup and took a sip. It was bitter and stale, likely from having been stored for far too long. As much as the Republic and its nobles wanted go demonstrate their wealth, they were still not in the same league as the great Old Wurld power Makarios represented. He masked his distaste with what he felt was a benign smile.

“In fact, perhaps any Arhomaiki-backed projects could help with that. It would give your population a chance to better themselves and see their country stride into the 21st century. They would be less willing to listen to demagogues once they see the benefits that our two countries working together can bring them. After all, work now is more likely to put food on their plates or their children through school than any promises of bloody struggle in the future.”

He sat back in his chair and watched the occupant of its counterpart. The great moustache slowly shook from side to side, as if the Erzkanzler was literally chewing over what Makarios had said. The nobility of Secryae had likely spent generations leeching off of the masses of their country. They would be keenly aware that it might not take much for such dangerous ideas to take root amongst the working classes. Whilst trying to wring what they could from the development projects would definitely be something they were aiming to do, the fact that it could even reduce the chance of the nobles being overthrown was going to be a key selling point.

“I can also, if you so wish, discuss with my government the possibility of training the armed forces of the Republic, bringing them in line with the famous military of Arhomaneia. And perhaps offering military equipment, at a reduced cost.”

The walrus' eyes flicked from a point out of one of the room's windows and back onto Makarios. The movement of the moustache stopped. The translator leaned in again but a pudgy hand came up and stopped him.

“Your excellency,” said the Erzkanzler. His voice was surprisingly high pitched but otherwise spoke the tongue of Arhomaneia perfectly, with no hint of an accent. “I, and the Republic of Secryae, are willing to accept your terms. I would like you to discuss the potential for military training with your government.”

The Protologothetes nodded, feeling smug with himself. He lifted the small cup to his lips and took a sip of the coffee again.

“Secryae is certainly glad that the Megas Agios Basileia was able to agree to half the workforce and equal pay.”

The walrus stood up to shake Makarios' hand and the Protologothetes realised he had been played quite well.

F*ck.

 


 

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To: the Government the Arab Democratic Republic of @Sayf; His Majesty, King Aidan I of the Kingdom of @Seylos, Eire, Pleinmont, and Sark

From: the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion of the Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion

Honoured friends,

It has come to the attention of the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion that it is not just the the Royal Navy of Seylos and the Basilikoploimon that are operating in the Makhaira Thalassa, the Dolch See, and attempting to combat the scourge of piracy that has arisen within those waters. The navy of the Arab Democratic Republic has also been sighted within the Makhaira Thalassa and has been observed to have been attacking suspected pirate vessels. This is certainly laudable and will certainly help to reduce the threat to shipping and the lives of civilians that are under threat because of the actions of these vile predators.

However, that there are three naval forces operating within the Makhaira Thalassa poses certain problems. At the moment, the Basilikoploimon and the Royal Navy are closely cooperating in the efforts against the pirates and defending civilian shipping regardless of nation. The presence of a third force that is not working with the other two could very well mean that accidents might happen, and this would be a needless, tragic waste of life.

To this end, the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion suggests that our governments act in concert against the piratic threat. This will mean that the Makhaira Thalassa is swept clean of pirates all the sooner and no unfortunate incidents happen between our various naval forces.

United, God will surely grant us victory,

Eugenios Goulielmos,

Megas Logothetes

of the

Logothesion of Foreign Affairs

of the

Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion

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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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  • 3 weeks later...

‘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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  • 2 months later...

Selbourne, Seylos


General Pàdraig had just sat down at the conference table when the king entered. Everyone quickly stood up and saluted before Aidan waved signaling them all to be at ease. When they all sat down, the general quickly spoke up.

“Your Majesty, we’ve finally been able to receive an update from our advance team in Hodrea, the situation is much worse than we could have ever imagined.”

Aidan sighed, slowly putting his face into his palm, “Just tell me General.”

“The informant we had in place in Hodrea was able to pass along a massive amount of intelligence, far more than we were expecting. With it though… is only bad news. It appears the Sentists are far more organized and capable of a sustained military campaigned than we ever imagined.”

“We know they’ve made inroads in several countries…”

The general cut him off, “Inroads in many of them perhaps, but Hodrea has always been in a fragile position. They’ve swept through the country, and the last city that had any sort of military presence to hold them off has been defeated. Not just defeated Your Majesty… destroyed. As far as we know the city of Kassel has been razed, and most of its people killed. It was a miracle out team was able to escape alive with the information in tow.”

“How?” Aidan replied, in shock.

“It appears the Sentists had access to chemical weapons. Before the arrival of those weapons the inhabitants of Kassel were holding them off, but once deployed, the Kassel militia had little defense.”

“I’m sensing there’s more General.”

“From her reports.. The Sentists have amassed a sizeable force. One more than capable of taking over Hodrea and expanding far beyond. From her first hand accounts… they have in excess of a hundred thousand soldiers at their disposal.”

“A… hundred thousand…” Aidan gasped. He couldn’t believe that this movement could have acquired so many troops in such a short period of time.

“There is some good news Your Majesty, as far as we can tell the Sentists have little in the way of home manufacturing ability and any weapon they are getting are most likely being smuggled in as to avoid raising the suspicion of Seylos and other nations involved in the island. I highly doubt it’s possible they can sufficiently arm a hundred thousand troops on a regular basis. However the Hodrean militia has all but collapsed and its remaining forces are located solely around Liechnenfax. We believe the Sentists are making haste to the city.”

Aidan leaned back in his chair for a moment, taking it all in. He looked over to Admiral Forrest, who had been able to join them for this briefing, “Admiral how many marines are with the Defiant’s fleet?”

The admiral gave a frown, “Only about five hundred Your Majesty, but with the Defiant’s air support, enough to make a fight of it to wait for reinforcement.”

“Admiral, deploy the Defiant and her support fleet to Hodrea. We need to keep Liechnenfax from the Sentists… or to protect anyone fleeing the city. Minister Tatum, I need to have direct meetings with the ambassadors from @Fulgistan, @Tagmatium Rules, and @Gallambria. We won’t be able to hold the city on its own and they are our best chances for backup.”

Both and Admiral and Minister Tatum nodded in agreement. Aidan turned to the rest of the general staff present, “This is most likely the biggest military event most of us have had to fight through in our time. Call up all reserves and prepare the current active duty service members for deployment. We can’t lose Ceris.”

Edited by Seylos (see edit history)
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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 ADP, the Arhomaiki Diktyo Pliroforion, 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 ADP, 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 three 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 Dolch 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 Rhaiktor under Theodosios VI and Keftedes had merely been the head of the internal intelligence service. The Rhaiktor 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 BPP 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 ADP'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 ADP 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 ADP 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 ADP. “I think that concludes this meeting. May God bless our work.”

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