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Doom of Ceris


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It was quiet at this early hour of the morning, dawn still hours away, a half light starting to rise in the east. Apart from the dawn chorus that was starting up, it was strangely quiet, considering there was an entire taxiarkhon (corps) sitting in the dark. It was the northern most of three corps that was poised to advance into Sentist-controlled Hodrea. They had been sitting there since the day before, when they had slowly assembled along a dirt road that led across the Secryaean border into Hodrea. The road lay along the bottom of a low valley, which was dominated by arable fields. They had been harvested before the onset of the relatively mild Ceriser winter, although the remains of the crops hadn't been ploughed back in. Despite the relatively safety that the Arhomaiki forces had brought to Secryae, the crisis still had driven much of the population that had lived near the border away, to the east. During the day, the defensive works that had been built over the last few months could be seen to the west, if you knew where to look or could guess from how the terrain made certain areas more likely to have some trenches or a strong point. Tagmatine defensive doctrine called for defences in depth rather than a hard border and this had been forced onto the locals as well.

Although before the Arhomaioi had arrived, the borders themselves were very permeable, usually consisting of a bunker and a couple of huts, where the border guards lived in between extorting money from any travellers through made up fees and tariffs. If papers were checked, then it was often by guards who were only semi-literate and enough cash or a portion of whatever goods were being carried meant that travellers could pass through. The border guards stationed on roads or passes had been amongst the very few of the Secryaean military that weren't malnourished or impoverished. Those who had been placed along quieter stretches of the border or in the wilderness tended to disappear, going back home with whatever they could carry with them.

The border guards were one of the first things replaced by the Arhomaiki forces in Ceris. They didn't want any Sentists getting too much of an idea of what was brewing to their east. Now, they were amongst the better paid and better drilled forces that the Noble Republic had, keenly watched by their Europan allies.

During the light of day, beyond the hard-to-see defences, there were the coastal plains of Hodrea. Columns of smoke could be seen rising in places, although whether from air strikes from the forces arrayed against the Sentists or through the actions of the Sentists themselves, it was difficult to tell. Aircraft flew from bases in western Secryae and from the naval forces out to sea almost constantly, guided by drones or through reconnaissance missions undertaken by the Hippakontistai, the scout units of the Tagmatine army. It was a mix of trying to dissuade any Sentists from massing forces to try to launch an attack into Secryae and to keep break down their logistics when the inevitable counter attack came from the east.

Precisely how effective it was remained to be seen. The Sentists didn't seem interested in Secryae, but were determined keep ruining Hodrea. There were even rumours of attempts at mass murder, of indiscriminate killing of civilians in order to thin out the numbers on the island. The Arhomaioi had been denied the chance to stop this happening in Gharon and this would likely be an opportunity to vent their frustrations on the religious fanatics that were determined to take over Ceris.

Akothoulos (lieutentant) Kyprianos Dagalaifos knew most of this, as he had been to all the briefings organised by his regiment and corps. The misery of life under the Sentists was certainly appalling but it was more or less on an academic level. Secryae looked like a grim, backwards shit-hole, certainly nothing like life in the Megas Agios Basileia. At the moment, the tank commander wasn't really thinking about it. He was watching a pair of blackbirds, in the half light, by the side of the road. They chased each other, both of them seemingly vying for a higher position than the other. As soon as one of the pair landed on a fence post or a branch above the other, the second one would fly off further away, trying to put some distance between them. He knew a bit about birds – both of the blackbirds were male, from the black plumage and orange beaks and rings around their eyes. He was idly thinking about what had been about what was causing the problem between the two.

Plus, as he was going to be sitting in the lead tank, he didn't really want to think about that right now. An entire kometon of massive tanks wound its way down the dirt track, topped by armoured cars and behind the tanks, were infantry fighting vehicles from the armoured infantry units. The recce vehicles would scout ahead and the tanks and IFVs would engage any resistance that they found. All of them were from the élite Palationoi. Behind them, the rest of the corps of armoured lorries and more tanks and assorted vehicles. But Dagalaifos couldn't really see much further than the edge of the road in the half-light of the dawn. A moonless night had been chosen by the Epistrategaion for the attack into Hodrea, in the hopes that the technological advantage held by the Arhomaiki armed forces over the Sentists, who would be literally blundering in the dark as the night vision equipment of the Tagmatines could see them almost as clear as day. But something had caused a delay and the armoured column was still sat as dawn edged closer.

The peaceful moment was broken as the loader's hatch thumped open and his loader pulled herself up onto the rim of the hatch. The blackbirds stopped bickering for a moment, startled by the sudden noise before they picked up their argument again.

“Here you go, boss,” she said, waving a mug of tea at him. “I thought this could warm you up.”

The tank commander accepted the metal mug a grunt of thanks. He wished the loader hadn't spoiled that moment. He wrapped his gloved hands around it and rested it on the lip of the hatch. It was too hot to drink from at the moment. The loader, Maioriana, put her own mug on the roof of the turret and stretched, windmilling her arms around but careful not to knock the machine gun that was fixed to the remote mount on the hatch.

“What you doing up here, anyway?” she asked looking around. “It's cold out here.”

A frost was starting to form on the ground and their breath steamed in the air when they spoke. It was no where near as cold as Arhomaneia was at this time of year. The Akothoulos was from up near Dyrrakion, which suffered from winds blowing straight out of the Argic Circle, only mildly slowed down by the Hexanisa, the Six Islands. That nest of traitors. Maioriana, however, was from a small town to the west of Matapon, so didn't have to freeze in Argic winds throughout the winter.

In answer to the loader's question, the Akothoulos shrugged. “Just seeing what I could see, I suppose. There are some blackbirds over there, having an argument.”

Maioriana smirked at him. She knew her commander liked to look at wildlife. “I don't think there will be anything for miles when we all start our engines. It'll scare the shit out of most things. Them Sentists will shit their pants when this thing gets moving.”

To emphasise her point, she slapped her hand against the turret. The commander didn't really disagree. A modern main battle tank was something that most Cerisers had never set eyes on. To have three corps lead by them sweeping into Hodrea was going to send the Sentists scattering. At least, that was the plan of the Tagmatine forces in Ceris. In case it didn't, the Arhomaiki army, air force and navy were going to redouble their bombardment of known and suspected Sentist positions preceding the advance before settling into offering the ground forces dedicated fire support.

“Did you see the pictures of that ancient Ceriser dude giving a speech to Akilios, that rat-faced f*cker from the Logothesion ton Barbaron and that fat f*ck barbariki prince?” she asked the smirk getting broader. “He was on a white horse, silly armour and everything.”

He had seen the pictures and didn't really want to look again but the loader seemed eager. She was waving a PDA at him, although she was trying to shield it with her hand to make sure that the glow from the screen wasn't seen too far away. The elderly Ceriser Republiksoberstmarschall was sat on a giant white charger and dressed in red armour and a towering bearskin, giving a glorious speech about how the combined Secryaean and Aroman forces were going to crush all before them. Another officer, similarly dressed to the Secryaean commander, was standing next to the horse and holding a microphone so that the dry, whispering voice of the commander could be heard by the assembled crowd. It was one of many similar speeches in the last few months, one set of allies trying to confirm to the other that they still had their heart in the plan. There was a rumour that the Secryaeans were getting nervous about the sheer number of foreign soldiers in their country, more than enough to completely conquer it if the fancy took the Arhomaioi.

“They look f*cking mental, don't they?” Maioriana's smirk turned into a full grin. “Completely stupid in their armour and hats and shit.”

The irony of a Tagmatine laughing at someone else's dress uniform was completely lost on her and Dagalaifos.

All barbaroi are mental,” came another voice over the tank's intercom, voicing the typical chauvinistic opinion of the average Arhomaios. That was the gunner, Kouritikos, who was sat in the turret below and between Dagalaifos and the loader. “But hopefully we can do something more than last time we were all sat in a tank, about to advance across a border.”

The three of them fell silent for a moment. They were thinking about the last time the forces of the Megas Agios Basileia was deployed in a similar number, when it looked like its nearest neighbour was about to collapse. The advance was called off at the last minute.

“Instead, all we did was nearly run over a Vigla car,” replied Maioriana.

“That was pretty funny,” said Dagalaifos, despite himself. No one really liked the Vigla, the Tagmatine military police. The rest of the crew could almost hear the driver's furious silence over the intercom whilst they grinned at the shared memory. He didn't find it quite so funny as the rest of them. They had been digging at him about it for months now.

It hadn't really been Praeiektos' fault – the sixty-odd tonne Tyfos tank had worked its way up to near enough full speed before the military police car pulled out in front of it in a desperate attempt to halt the advance across the Adapton border. Luckily, the bluecaps had been able to jump out just before the front of their vehicle was squashed almost flat beneath the tank's tracks. And almost an entire army group's worth of vehicles had been banged up in similar accidents as they ground to a halt just short of causing a major war.

“Does anyone want a cuppa? I'm going to make one. Another one,” said Maioriana, disappearing back through her hatch after necking her tea. “I know the boss has got some biscuits somewhere. Go grab them, will you?”

The Akothoulos smiled to himself as he climbed out of his hatch, careful to not knock the handles of the light autocannon on the hatch's pintle mount. He walked over the deck of the turret towards his pack. Opening it up and rooting about in it, he grabbed a tube of oat biscuits, which he'd got from his girlfriend before being sent out to this island beyond the edge of the civilised wurld. He sat back down on the seat in the cupola and tore open the pack. A cup of tea was set down next to the cupola rim and in return he passed the packet into the grasping hand put towards him, but not before he put a couple of biscuits onto his lap.

Thinking, the armour officer bit into a biscuit. His tank was going to be the lead tank into Sentist-held territory in a bit and it was held to be a great honour to be the lead vehicle. It would be one that he could personally do without. It would be a six hour stint before he rotated to the back of the kontoubernion (platoon). Depending, of course, on whatever the Sentists had in store for them. He ran a hand over the prayer inscribed on the inside of the hatch's rim.

“I heard we were meeting up with some Salbeioi,” said Kouritikos and Dagalaifos guessed something a derogatory was about to come forth. “Of course we need to rescue those bloody heretics.”

A Salvian expeditionary force had landed some twenty miles into Hodrean territory and forced a beach head, holding it for the last few months against attempts by the Sentists to dislodge them. Aerial support from both the Basilikoploimon and the Basilikoaeroporia, as well as the foreign naval forces out to sea, had meant that they had been able to hold out. Now part of the Tagmatine force, following in the wake of the advancing forces, was going to link up with them and enable to them to advance alongside them.

“They need our help because they were silly enough to land in the middle of the damn fanatics,” muttered the loader from the hatch. Kouritikos' harsh laugh echoed up from the hatch Dagalaifos was stood in.

Dagalaifos stopped paying attention as the other two turret crew were muttering about Arhomaneia's coalition partner. Very few other countries matched up to their home nation's inflated sense of self-worth. Whilst the tank commander did definitely hold similar opinions, he didn't real feel like listening to them. He look around, trying to see where the two blackbirds had gone.

The loader's voice came over the intercom, muffled by a mouthful of biscuit.

“I'm surprised we haven't seen Akilios walking down the column and shaking everyone's hands. He loves doing that sort of shit. I heard that he handed out wine to a load of skoutatoi when they arrived in this shithole.”

“Really? That sounds like bollocks,” replied the driver. There was a pause, likely the driver considering what Maioriana had said. “Well, it's probably better than drinking the local water.”

“I wouldn't mind on having some of that now, either,” said the gunner. “Not that I don't like tea and biscuits but some booze would be good.”

Again, the crew was silent in agreement. The rest of the them knew what the gunner meant. Advancing into enemy territory, even one that had been being hit by air strikes day and night for months, was always going to be a stressful experience. It sounded easy enough, from when the Komes was explaining it. They were cavalry and they were going to act as one of the main thrusts, clearing the way for the infantry to follow on. All the while, the air force was going to pound any communications hub or areas of resistance. Even now, a half hour before the ground forces were due to advance, Dagalaifos could see the lights of dozens of aircraft overhead, on their way to ruin some poor sod's day.

The armour officer checked the time again. H-hour was nearly upon them and he felt his heart beat harder in his chest. Necking his tea, Dagalaifos put the mug down and put a serious expression on his face.

“Alright, tea break's over for the moment,” he said, causing a chorus of groans from the rest of the crew. “Last checks. Run through it all.”

Despite the informal and close relationship, the crew flipped over onto a professional footing straight away. Kouritikos checked the primary and back-up circuits of the main gun, Maioriana gave a rapid count of the ammunition of the Tyfos's weaponry and Praeiektos gave him the read-outs from the driver's position. All seemed good.

“There are no tinnies in the smoke launchers, Maioriana?”

A surprisingly large problem within the Tagmatine armed forces was that the standard vehicle smoke launchers could happily fit a 500ml can of beer in the tube. Booze was regularly smuggled on exercises that way. There was an apocryphal story of a tank launching beers rather than deploying smoke and giving its own infantry support several cases of concussion. It was a story that Dagalaifos could readily seeing happen.

“Nope, boss. Just Willy Pete.”

“OK. Now we sit and - ”

The latest H-hour ticked over. They'd had several false starts already. As soon as it did so, the higher communication setting on the tank's system blinked on. The Komes's voice broke through what the Akothoulos was going to say.

“Well, get a move on, then.”

A cool feeling washed over Dagalaifos. The advance was on. Still sitting in the open cupola, he hesitated before giving his driver the order. Over head, he could see flights of bombers moving off to start pounding anew anything that might give the Tagmatine advance any trouble. He looked over one final time towards the squabbling blackbirds. One of them had disappeared and the other one, sitting on a fence post, was starting to give an alarm call, as if it had just noticed that it was perched next to the lead elements of an armoured division.

“Driver. Advance.”

The sound of the tank's engine roaring into life and the tracks grinding and squeaking made the remaining blackbird fly to the nearest bush.

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Estaria Falls: A Ceris Episode

| Part 1: Preludes

 

The events leading up to the disastrous loss of Estaria were precluded by what many in Iverica's military intelligentsia would call "damning signs". In an unusual and gross lack of decisiveness, the Armada Iverica would suffer the loss of many brave men and women in the failing defence of the northern Ceris state.

 

Foremost, the Ivericans were never deployed in a combat capacity. Their sole mission was to assist the Prymontian and Russian coalition with logistics, intelligence, and occasional fire support. Thus, little more than 600 Ivericans—mostly in support and auxiliary roles—were supporting the defence of Estaria. In opposition would be an estimated 500,000 Sentist forces, 50,000 of which were attacking the capital city where the coalition was quartered.

 

Further, the events unfolding elsewhere in the region, a coup in the island of Westerpunkt and the infiltration of the Estarian coast by Sentist minelayers had respectively divided the ships of the Iverican group in Estaria and prevented reinforcements from the Armada's Carrier Task Force "Deiargon" (in Variota) from arriving in time. Had 2 of the 3 frigates present not diverted to Westerpunkt, there might have still been a chance at escape. As chance would have it, only a single frigate and the group's sole Amphibious Transport Dock would be left to face the coming onslaught.

 

The most damning factor of all, which was likely the cause of such a casualty figure for a simple non-combat support mission, was the 4th Fleet Admiral's unwillingness to bear the shame of an early withdrawal. All intelligence available and reported by the operation's senior officer—Armada Capitan Ignacio Arnarson, suggested that withdrawal was indeed the best course of action. Nonetheless, all warnings were ignored and the situation was severely underestimated by command. In the end, more than half of the Iverican taskforce deployed on Estaria would be lost, along with the state itself.

 

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Estaria in Ceris

 

---

0530hrs
25th of February, 2021
Oclait-Estaria Border

 

A man sat in a dark room. He had a greying beard, kept short on a face that had gotten to know the touch of age's wrinkles and creases quite well. His fair complexion was illuminated by the clinical cast of a display's cold light. It was the face of a hard man. A Ceriser, accustomed to the decades of strife and hardened by the loss of many brothers and sisters. Many did not live past a half-century and as a fighter, you'd expect far less. But this one, watching in the dark was easily pushing into 50.

 

The man's steely blue eyes traced the objects on the screen, irises twitching and scanning with a predatory focus.

 

Displayed was an Iverican warship, a frigate bristling with armaments was anchored at Estaria City's harbour.

 

Súbic Class, sporting a new Ancile Tiered Defence System—able to shoot down nearly a dozen incoming missile or jet aircraft threats with a magazine of supersonic interceptor missiles and still lay waste to a greater host of slower targets with a rotary 30mm close-in weapon system and several remote 12.7mm turrets. Equipped with a 127mm naval gun that could fire satellite-guided bunker-busting rounds and defended by a host of unknown electronic and physical countermeasures, it was truly ship built for war. However, it was alone. Just as his sources had confirmed, the only combatant in port.

 

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An Iverican Súbic Class Frigate

 

The man thumbed a control stub beside the screen he was using. The camera, gimbal mounted on a small drone, panned left. The harbour district. Various warehouses filled with Ivericans, Prymontians, and Russians. Interlopers. Hostiles. The camera panned right. An amphibious transport dock. A ramped ship for loading vehicles and with flat topdeck for landing rotorcraft—a threat, but lightly armed.

 

The sound of his door opening broke the train of thought. A single bar of light bisected the dark room.

 

"Kommandant Wolf—", came a younger man's voice.

 

Wolf held up a single finger in reproach. The elder man did not break his gaze from the drone's feed.

 

The younger man promptly fell silent and instead, waited patiently in the darkness as he entered and shut the door.

 

Patience. Patience allowed a fighter in Ceris to grow old while brothers and sisters wandered into minefields as playing children, or crossed into a marksman's kill box as adults. Patience allowed the Wolf of the Oclait to know his enemy, survive his failures, and learn from them.

 

He had sensed that eventually, given enough of a lull, the Iverican ships would be vulnerable at anchor. There was a window approaching. A window that he had been preparing for and would soon be open.

 

Wolf shut the display off. Rising, he regarded the young Sentist officer.

 

"Rouse them. The hour is upon us".

 

The young soldier waiting at the door nodded.

 

The hour was upon them—the hour of the wolf.

 

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Kommandant Wolf

 

 

---

 

0530hrs
25th of February, 2021
Estaria City Harbour District

 

Ignacio Ruis Arnarson, Captain of the Súbic Class frigate, VRI Sant Lazaro, stared through his pair of rangefinders. Reflected in its lenses, he beheld a cheap little drone, presently hovering around the boulevard but loitering unmistakably to get a good view of the Iverican ship.

 

He had noticed it just as the faintest stroke of dawn light hit the Estaria City harbour and had been watching it for a good 5 minutes.

 

The 42-year-old Prymontian-Iverican Capitan had stepped out onto the top-deck promenade after yet another teleconference spent fruitlessly arguing with 4th Fleet Headquarters. He tried once again to get the Almirantasgo [1] to act decisively about some troubling intel gathered on the southern border of Estaria. Previously that night, he had done the same with the commanders of the Estarian defence forces and the Prymontian-Russian task force—much to the same moot effect.

 

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Capitan Arnarson

 

There had been sure signs of mass movement from northern Sentist territory to the Oclait regions near Estaria. The Iverican Armada's satellites had spotted far too much thermal activity on highways and train lines to be normal in a war-torn country. And yet, neither Estarian nor Prymontian could agree on how to respond. There was too much confidence on their side and waning confidence on the Sant Lazaro's—as his collection of lieutenants watched him pace silently about the bridge for the past 3 evenings. Three things weighed on his mind.

 

One: The Sentists were surely coming in vast numbers. Two: The Coalition had its head up its arse. Three: His two other frigates had been called off to respond to an emergency on the other side of Ceris

 

What had the Capitan spooked, had the ship spooked.

 

Nonetheless, the sleep-deprived Arnarson forced himself to take a break that morning and step above deck. But just as the morning breeze began to calm him some, he had noticed the drone... Peculiar. Drones were illegal in Estaria. Not to mention rare throughout the impoverished Ceris. Estarian Defence Force maybe? But why? They'd been taken on board to tour the ship last week.

 

Just as the Capitan was about to shout for a handheld signal jammer, the drone dipped suddenly, landing somewhere in the Estarian capital's sprawl. The Capitan held his tongue then—it would do no good to worry the crew further.

 

There was no shaking the feeling that the enemy was about to try something. The writing was on the wall—to which Arnarson had reported in meticulous, pedantic detail, all that the satellite imagery and drone footage implied; and yet, 4th Fleet HQ had the same response.


Hold your position, maintain service support for the coalition forces and continue intelligence gathering. Make no tactical decisions unless requested by the coalition.

 

When Arnarson pitched a contingency plan—prompt withdrawal—the Almirante accused him of cowardice and threatened to have Arnarson stripped of command.

 

Was he being a coward?

 

Capitan Arnarson grit his teeth. He had done his research. He knew not to underestimate the Sentist threat, especially when there was also word that a new commander had assumed leadership of the northwest Sentists. Educated abroad or something—Arnarson had followed up with foreign intelligence, the SSO, but had not received a file yet.

 

"Capitan", saluted a young Cabinero (ensign) as he jogged past. Ignacio Arnarson took that as his slot of outdoor privacy expiring.

 

The Sentists are attacking, boy, and we're outnumbered 10-to-1.

The Coalition wants to diddle your mother, boy, and not start conscription.

Boy, my fucking Squadron is galivanting in some shithole island miles and miles from here.

 

He relaxed his jaw, returning the salute with a casual touch of his hat and feigned smile.

 

If the coalition wanted to downplay it and get exterminated, fine. If Armada wouldn't intervene and send real troops on the ground, fine. When Estaria fell, Arnarson and his 400 inexperienced Sailors and 200 Tercios would withdraw without shame.

 

Fuck this place.

 

Capitan Arnarson took one look around the city that could be a slaughterhouse in the next week and shook his head. Why were the Ivericans even in this mess?

 

He briefly flipped a bird in the rough direction of the drone's landing and made for the officer's mess for a breakfast he had no appetite for.

 

---

1330hrs
25th of February, 2021
Estaria City Harbour District

 

The last thing a young officer expected upon mustering his work crew was to be very nearly de-jugulared by a Tercio [2], much less one of his subordinates.

 

Nervous, jittery, fresh off academy, Cabinero (Ensign) Manuel Sant'Angelo Garcia dei Leon—Mani for short, looked around the last deserted warehouse in the compund in search of the Tercio assigned as security to his work crew. He was a quartermaster's mate and as a junior officer, was placed in charge of logging and sorting assets they happened to find in the compound of warehouses the Estarians had allowed the Ivericans to use.

 

In the far end of the warehouse, he spied a solitary figure napping atop a shipping container.

 

Tercio Audante (rough equivalent: Sergeant of the Marines) Sergio Hernan was stretched out lazily atop the container, an oddly large and sturdy looking one covered in Cyrillic stencil.

 

"ahem.", Mani cleared his throat. No response.

 

"Audante stand-to!...", Mani's voice cracked a little, sounding close to autotuned.

 

Mani looked around helplessly. Finding no one to aid him, Mani clambered up a staircase-stack of smaller crates until he came upon the other man's napping form.

 

The Audante was shirtless, save for his plate-carrier body armour and sheathed knife. It was all wiry muscle underneath. Mani could make out bulging deltoids in areas of skin not covered by the man's massive Black Dog tattoo [3]. A service rifle lay a few feet away. There was a bottle of Narvic Malt liquor in the man's hand.

 

Drinking on duty was punishable by 20 licks of the whip [4].

 

Mani very gently knelt beside the man. He could smell the alcohol.

 

Mani reached out to rouse the man.

 

A mistake.

 

The sleeping man's eyes burst open, snowglobe-wide. A muscled arm shot out with such speed that Mani was surprised it didn't break the sound barrier.

 

In an instant, Mani's wrist and neck were in the control of the Tercio. Mani's whole world spun as he was reversed onto his back with a load bang of skinny teenager body hitting a shipping container. In two motions, with Mani still pinned by the neck and the Tercio's knees anchoring his arms to the surface, the thickly built man had his Ka-Bar knife out and to his throat. Mani couldn't help but wince.

 

The Tercio paused, his eyes finally returning to focus.

 

"Mér", cursed the old Tercio.

 

He let the young officer go and helped the gasping boy to his feet.

 

"Apologies sir.", muttered Audante Hernan.

 

Mani took a second to catch his breath

 

"Y-you assaulted an officer..."

 

"Yes, sir"

 

"You're drinking on your watch", continued Mani. Taking two cautious steps away from the Tercio Audante.

 

"Yes, sir", Hernan repeated flatly.

 

"God damn your state man! I'll have to report this", spat Mani. He wouldn't realise it then, but the curse was too high a pitch to sound very threatening

 

There was a pause.

 

"No, Sir."

 

"I-I'll have to—what?", said Mani in disbelief



"No, sir you won't report this, sir."

 

Mani was perplexed. Never in his 3 measly months of service had a ranker, and Tercio at that, questioned his authority.

 

"Why not? I-I'll have the skin off your back for this!", Mani's voice cracked again, just slightly.

 

"Because sir...", Hernan began, stepping closer to Mani.

 

"If you report me and you whip me—I myself, or my bo'crew will find a time when the others aren't looking and drown you in the harbour with your shrivelled little cockn'balls as a gag."

 

There was a tone in the Tercio's voice that somehow made Mani think he had actually drowned young idiot Cabineros before.

 

Mani's mouth had gone dry as he again remembered that they were alone in this warehouse. Mani swallowed.

 

Not pausing to wait for the young officer's affirmation, the Audante (still shirtless) stood up straight and at attention.

 

"Audante Sergio Hernan, awaiting your word sir."

 BlQurm5m.png      RqihcDKm.jpg

(Left) Cabinero Manuel "Mani" Dei Leon. (Right) Audante Sergio Hernan

 

---

 

[1] Almirantasgo- (Iverican) Anglish: Admiralty

[2] Tercio- a member of the Iverican marine regiments. Historically, the oldest maintaining military institution in the Iberosphere.

[3] The Black DogSeirios (Iverican), Sirius (Anglish). Constellation, a figure in Aroman myth, depicted as a Lucifer-like spirit in the Iverican folk epic "Faethon", the mascot of Tercios; and infamous as an omen of war or misfortune.

[4] Corporal Punishment- despite being illegal in Iverica, corporal punishment is still perfectly legitimate in an Iverican military setting. In the Iverican judicial system, military personnel are judged and prosecuted by a different, harsher standard. In the Armada, lashing with a multi-tailed whip is still practised (albeit much less commonly than in the age of sail).

 

---

 

Summary

Day 0: Preludes

  • The Sentists have set up means of observing the coalition's movement. Wolf is planning something more.
  • The majority of Iverican ships in Estaria have departed for Westerpunkt some days before.
    • Leaving 1 Frigate and the ATD in Estaria's coast for support.
  • Forces in Estaria are warned of Sentists massing in the south. The Coalition is unable to coordinate a good plan.
  • The inexperienced Cabinero/Ensign Mani and the jaded veteran Audante/Sergeant Hernan are forced into the same team.
    • What's in the Container.

Dramatis Perso-Fine fine, The People in this story:

  • Kommandante Wolf- "The Wolf of the Oclait", officer in the Northern Sentist forces. Experienced and pragmatic, patient and observant. Allegedly, had trained with insurgents abroad.
  • Capitan Ignacio Arnarson- Prymontian-Iverican, in command of the VRI Sant Lazaro, a Guided-Missile Frigate one generation out of date.
  • Cabinero Mani- A young ensign of 18 years with barely 3-months of actual experience.
  • Audante Hernan- an old Tercio. Formerly of the 1st Tercio Regiment "Seirios".

 

OOC: I couldn't help myself. I did it again. Its another fucking novella. Goddamn me. This is gonna be like 5 parts. I don't even know how many edits I'm going to put this through KIIIILLL MEEEE. Shooty bangs and pew pews but this time--THE IVERICANS LOSE? Oh no, we're not all OP and shit man. I DEPLOYED for an AUXILIARY MISSION MAN. 600 Ivericans + like 3000 foreigners plus some indigenous conscripts are gonna get fucked up by like 500,000 terrorists. Whoppee.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

It was safe to say that PRUSPET had been a disaster.

The mission had started with a dream, imagined by a Foreign Minister whose aspirational eyes were larger than his stomach. Julian Nordeng had seen the success of Prymont’s involvement in the Hellenic Rus and the subsequent turnaround of a crumbling nation, if mass poverty, political corruption, dangerously high substance abuse rates, and a whole host of other failings could be deemed a success. The United States’ standing in the wurld had been significantly boosted by the introduction and revitalisation of the Prymontian Rus, and Estaria was seen as an opportunity to do it again.

Fabian Thorvaldsen, a military veteran and the incumbent Defence Minister, had been the poor soul that’d fallen for Nordeng’s trap. There was surplus in the foreign aid budget, there was a precedent in Prymont making things right with the Hellenic Rus, and now there were thousands of additional troops to employ across the Canamo. It was deemed a risky maneuver, but surely it was a risk worth taking? Thorvaldsen had earned himself a stable career through logical, thoughtful decisions based on facts and certainties. It was about time he did something out of the ordinary, and perhaps made a name for himself.

The Prymontian Rus - United States of Prymont Estaria Taskforce was soon formed, and the help of the Ivericans had been enlisted in a surveillance, reconnaissance, and off-shore support role. Nordeng and Thorvaldsen happily sent 1500 Prymontians and 500 Russians on their merry way to Estaria, oblivious to the dark fate to which they were doomed.

PRUSPET had planned on providing humanitarian aid and rebuilding infrastructure while securing the nation’s borders against the Sentists and arranging meetings with the fleeing dictatorship to hand over power. Upon making landfall in Estaria, the organisation immediately recognised that they’d underestimated the depth of the struggles that the Estarian people had been forced to endure. Mass starvation ran rampant amongst the overcrowded state. Public infrastructure had been completely dissolved as the dictatorship sought to rid the country of any wealth before they made their escape. The populace had been without clean water for months; gas and electricity prices were soaring as demand rose while utility companies declared bankruptcy; companies were scarpering the ever-worsening mess, resulting in astronomical unemployment rates. The government’s response to people having no money was to print more money, further adding to the heap of shit that was the foundation of Estaria. The Sentists were just another problem to deal with, and no solution presented itself. PRUSPET was overwhelmed and struggled to make a difference.

As the months dragged on, millions of Prynds were sent to extinguish the fire, but only added to the flames. That number soon grew to billions as the threat of the Sentists worsened. PRUSPET were unable to make contact with the dictatorship, and even a visit from Julian Nordeng was unsuccessful in bringing them out of their hiding holes. It was also the first time that Nordeng had experienced firsthand how much of a lost cause Estaria was. No amount of money could save that country. It would be best to let it burn to the ground, and come back to try and make something out of the ashes. But that wouldn’t do. They’d spent too much and made too many promises - leaving without a result would guarantee Nordeng and Thorvaldsen facing the firing line upon their return home.

As the situation worsened, the domestic press clamped down hard on the government. Nordeng couldn’t go through an interview without being asked what he was doing in Estaria, when things would change for the better, and how much money was being spent. Prime Minister Felix Frey even tried to distance himself from the subject, claiming that his party had nothing to do with the mess, leaving his coalition partners to finish what they’d started on their own. Meanwhile, Iskander Yegerov and his cronies in the Prymontian Rus were also demanding answers. When would his Sarov boys come back home? How many had died? Would there be reparations? Why had they trusted the Prymontians in the first place?

At present, the outlook was worsening day by day. The PRUSPET coalition had suffered heavy losses, and despite having already sent 100 soldiers home, less than 1000 would be returning. Even the Ivericans were struggling against the Sentists. Similarities could be drawn between them and the Circle of Death with their ruthlessness and unpredictability, and PRUSPET had been naive to believe this would be a similar battle. Back in the Hellenic Rus they had everything going their way; they were close to home, they had covert intelligence networks deeply embedded throughout the country, they had a seemingly ever-growing money tree to shake, and a considerably weaker enemy. Estaria had been a different story; thousands of miles away from Prymont, unfamiliar territory, and a larger, fiercer opponent. 

Thorvaldsen knew that the end was near. Not only was it time to pull PRUSPET out of Estaria, but it would likely be the end of his political career. He’d made the fatal error of trusting Julian Nordeng and had paid the price. Even then, it was proving near impossible to withdraw his forces. The Sentists had all but surrounded the PRUSPET-Iverica alliance, forcing them to their knees and laying them across the guillotine. All that remained was to unleash the blade and end their suffering, but before that happened, those pesky Ivericans had one last trick up their sleeve.

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U N I T E D   S T A T E S   O F   P R Y M O N T
Nation of the Month, October 2017 & November 2018
Prymont News NetworkProject Canamo
TCSI / ATARA / TRIDENT

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THE SKY, REWHAIN

A cargo plane barrels across the sky above Rewhain, evidently originating from Sayf as the marking on its side indicates. Two men sit in the cockpit, at the controls of this aircraft, wearing the uniforms of the Sayfi Air Corps and pairs of green headsets used to communicate with each other and the ground. A voice suddenly comes on, speaking to the pilots of the aircraft- "Khasida niner-sierra-papa, turn left heading two-seven-zero to intercept the localizer, cleared ILS runway one-four into Rewhain, maintain two-thousand-five-hundred feet until established.", the pilot sitting on the right side of the cockpit relays back to the air traffic controller, "Turn left heading two-seven-zero, cleared ILS runway one-four into Rewhain, maintain two-thousand-five-hundred feet until established. Khasida niner-sierra-papa.", indicating that he had received the controller's message. They had just been granted approach clearance to Rewhain International Airport. The pilots follow the controller’s instructions, and now have the runway in sight when the controller speaks again, “Khasida niner-sierra-papa, cleared to land runway one-four.”, and the pilot on the right relays back to the controller, “Cleared to land runway one-four, Khasida niner-sierra-papa.” The pilot deploys the landing gear and begins the descent towards the runway, landing with relative ease. They taxi the plane off to the side, near some aircraft hangers. One of the pilots flicks a switch, causing the rear door to lower, exposing the cargo bay filled with crates with Sayfi markings. The two pilots exit the aircraft, standing beside the cargo door, one of them holding a clipboard. In the distance, a green military jeep is seen racing across the tarmac, towards the cargo plane. As the jeep approaches, all of it’s passengers exit, three men bearing the uniform of the Rewhainian military, wearing red berets and pistols at their hip. One of the pilots speaks up as they are approached, “Pleasure meeting you all, I am Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Khanaqin, and my colleague here is Technical Sergeant Abidi, of the Sayfi Air Corps.”, the man at the center of the group of Rewhainians responds, “Likewise, Mr. Khanaqin. We were told by command we would be receiving some cargo.”, Khanaqin responds, “Yes, this is the first shipment. Here’s the manifest”, before handing the man the clipboard. The Rewhainian takes the clipboard, it reads that half of the plane is filled with military aid, and the rest would be humanitarian aid. “Very good, we will send our crew to unload the cargo. My man here will show you to hotel, we will call you when your plane is ready to leave.”

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 “So at least we finally get a payoff for camping out here for so long.”  Oswin said as he nestled into some bushes. He brought up his rangefinder that included the laser guiding attachment. Command had finally signalled their moment would come, and from their commanding viewpoint they had a perfect sight for miles. From their observations the Sentists had made the disastrous decision to position their limited anti-air assets in almost clear view and sometimes clustered together.

Maura crept up beside him, taking up a position to get the best view of their targets, “To think they are giving it to all of us on a silver platter.”

“Easier it is, less people gotta die. I’ll take the platter.” Oswin replied looking down the rangefinder, “I’m ready if you are.”

Maura nodded and grabbed at the radio on her shoulder, “Badger Actual this is Sierra Foxtrot One Three Actual requesting status in AO over.”

A moment passed and her radio crackled, “Copy Sierra Foxtrot One Three this is Badger Actual confirm approaching AO. Paint targets over.

“Copy Badger, wilco over.” Maura took her hand off her shoulder and nodded towards Oswin, “Get started.”

As they both gazed down the sights of their targeting rangefinders, missiles began to fall from the sky towards the anti-air emplacements on the ground. Beginning the final push into Northern Sentist held territory, and hopefully ending the war. It wasn't long though before SF13 got new orders from on high.

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

Aidan stood up in front of the massive meeting room. He had taken the trip to Cenia to attend what he would hope to be the final conference on his proposal. For a Union that would unite the various disparate eastern Ceris states and Seylos and build a some sort of sense of economic and military security for the region. Of course while he may have proposed it, he wasn’t very much of a diplomat at all and had mainly left the discussion to Foreign Minister Tatum while he had tended to the war in Ceris. Of course now Geoffrey was in Corinium making sure that the North Adlantic didn’t fall to the Haru and the only appropriate person to represent Seylos in this time was the monarch themselves.

For the most part, almost every state had agreed to his proposition. Astaria, Ashington, Seksoaburg, Cenia, Esnos, and Atria had almost jumped on the proposal. The tallest leap to overcome was the hesitance of Ostros and Egris to join the group. They had spent the last eighty years as an independent set of nations, with their ties not being exclusive to Seylos like the others had. Not to mention their populations were much higher than the other states, and most definitely unlike the others, Ostros had sustained the brunt of the Sentist assault. The two states had entered into their own semi formal pact supporting each other during the crisis, and while Seylos had done its best to put its own forces on the front lines, it was hard to deny that it wasn’t Seylosian troops on their front lines doing the most dying.

“For the past year the war has been difficult on every nation here, and for some far worse than others. I understand the hesitance of any state walking into these negotiations. It can be a terrifying prospect. But I want to emphasize that-”

“King Aidan may I interrupt you?”

Every head in the room turned towards the speaker. Gladwyn Borchardt, the Queen of Ostros, had stood up to address Aidan. Aidan was honestly unprepared for this, and as much as Minister Tatum had had some sort of faith in him to lead these negotiations he had been terrified for this exact moment.

“Yes Your Majesty, please say what you need.”

Queen Borchardt gave a brief nod, “It goes without saying the suffering my people have had to endure with the Sentist hordes knocking at our gates. We of course recognize Seylos and their allies that have contributed greatly to the destruction of this plague upon our island. It is still difficult for us move beyond that the Seylosian invasion in the nineteen forties contributed greatly to the situation we are all presently in.”

A dead silence permeated the room as all eyes turned to Aidan for response.

“I won’t deny what the Mandate did,” Aidan replied, “I can’t do much more than take responsibility as a nation, and continue to pledge ourselves to making Ceris a better place for everyone.”

The Queen stood in place, and gave a few nods in return to Aidan, “King Aidan, I’m ninety years old. It’s been a long time since that had happened. I was twelve when the Seylosian tanks were crossing through our borders, driving through our cities. I remember how cold the Mandate was. But throughout all these years I’ve had respect for two Seylosian monarchs most out of the rest. After my father had passed I had pleasure to meet King Fitzroy a decade later. He was a strong man, hardened by all his years fighting to retake Seylos. But most importantly he was still kind and gentle, something I didn’t expect from a man who spent almost a decade at war.”

“Who was the other?” Aidan asked, still nervous from all the eyes on both him and the queen.

“Well you of course young man. You remind me of Fitzroy, so very dedicated to your causes. Still too naive I think, “She chuckled to herself for a moment, “You know I hated your father. Thank god you were raised by your mother. Let’s be honest, he was a real cunt. I don’t think anyone would disagree here, yes?”

There were silent half nods around the room, and Aidan very much overwhelmed actually nodded along with her. His father was actually quite terrible.

“We had our doubts though, but we had a change of heart with Corinium. Ceris is but a straightforward war, but your government managed to peacefully solve your crisis with the Haru, the brutes they are. Our reservations still exist as a nation, but I’m the Queen. I’ve decided to join this Union, don’t prove me wrong Aidan.”

The room again fell silent as the President of Ostros, Roswell Meinhardt, stood as well, “After careful consideration, the Republic of Egris agrees with the opinions laid forth by the Queen of Ostros.”

Queen Borchardt gave a laugh heard by the rest of the room, which in turn became a spread of smiles from the rest of the attendees.

“Well then,” Aidan said, “I guess it’s our birthday.”
 

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13 August, 0252

The base was located on the apex of the hill, the only one for miles. It was the most defensible position next to the strategically valuable location they now held - the entire reason for the salient formed by the Salvian Expeditionary Force was to seize and hold a road and rail crossroads that would otherwise be used by Sentist forces to penetrate into Secryae. As their Tagmatine allies amassed their forces on the border, the brigade of Salvian infantry had been tasked with holding this crossroads. Already three months into this mission and the going had been relatively easy. The Sentists had not yet arrived in the area in force and there was much to distract them. To the west and north lay territory which lay undefended and unconquered, notably Hodrea and Estaria, the former of which there were reports they were in the midst of invading. Besides that, no doubt the Sentis armies, large as they were, were also slow and unwieldy, and Coalition air forces continued to harass them. All of this is to say that only 15 casualties had been reported, of which only 6 were deaths and most were caused by snipers, which were quickly spotted and exterminated.

The squad of Salvian infantry, some dozen members of 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, Second Battalion, were wrapping up their night patrol when the first flares shot high into the sky, illuminating the entire face of the hill. They were on a dirt trail on the west side of the hill, shrubby overgrowth edging towards the trail which appeared to have not been used in a while. Truthfully, it was a newly forming path, created by the Salvian infantry on their night moves. The staff sergeant leading the patrol, who had earned the nickname “Pup-pup” within the squad after an unfortunate encounter with a Cerisan Terrier puppy, signalled for the patrol to crouch down and remain silent. They shifted over towards the edge of the path near the undergrowth. One of the sergeants who was at the end shuffled over to Pup-pup. He said no words, only listened with him for any movement. 5 minutes passed with no movement and long after the light from the flare dissipated the squad resumed their movement back towards the base. 

 

Just 5 meters from the gate that the man on duty had opened for the squad, several distant booms were heard, but instead of being Salvian artillery to the east, it came from the west. Before Pup-pup could yell to find cover, the shells landed directly inside the tent city where most of the First Battalion was, to the north of the base. The base was instantly alive as men scrambled for cover or defensive positions. The distant booms were heard a second time as Pup-pup yelled at the squad to follow him. They had entered the base from the south side as it lay closer to Second Battalion’s tents and Pup-pup decided to bring his squad to the west in case of an assault. They broke out into a run as others scrambled around them, putting on gear and grabbing weapons. A third set of booms were heard and a few moments passed before they too found their marks, this time much closer to the western edge. By the time a fourth barrage could be heard they had reached the HESCO walls where an observation post housed two Salvian troops who were now frantically searching with thermal binoculars for signs of movement. Apparently spotting some, one of them began radioing in their sightings when the other hopped down and, seeing the squad and other troops who had now mustered to the walls, relayed with widened eyes.

“Base of the hill, an absolute f*ck-ton of them.” He then ran off. The men that had mustered around the man, around 20 of them not counting the squad, began moving briskly towards defensive positions. A mortar crew nearby began setting up the mortar as a fifth barrage sounded off, the explosions closer once more. The staff sergeant was directing his two fireteams when an explosion rocked the wall not 10 meters from their position, sending most of the squad flying onto their backs and sides.

 

“f*ck, f*ck, f*ck!”

 

Automatic gun fire began pouring out of the base while the mortar crew’s sergeant frantically called out orders. One of the privates of Pup-pup’s squad scrambled over to a body that lay nearby, its arm torn away from the body. Expecting to find the identity of the soldier, the face was completely unrecognizable. The private shook his head, vomited, reached for his gun and picked himself up. He felt a vice grip on his shoulder as Pup-pup yanked him back, his back now to the wall. The staff sergeant began yelling something at him but he couldn’t make it out. Another artillery barrage shook the base before another artillery barrage, this time Salvian, rocked the base of the hill. A flare rose high into the sky, bathing the side of the hill once more in a deep red. Pup-pup stole a look over the wall before ducking back down. A number of Sentist squads were rapidly approaching up the hill. Two platoons worth, maybe three. He shook his head as more Salvian squads arrived on the scene and set up their guns on the walls. More fire poured out of the base, but the Sentists still got closer. A sergeant turned towards him but before he could speak a loud dink! noise was heard. The man fell back, dead before he hit the ground. The light then dissipated, and the hill was once more complete darkness.

Sentist voices could now be heard as they began to remove concertina wire that had been set up some 25 or 30 meters from the walls. Pup-pup called out to his squad to fire on them and standing up to see over the walls he emptied his clip into the shapes that were near the barbed wire. Some slouched forward over the wire while others were blasted back. A sixth barrage boomed, whistled, then landed, this time almost on top of them. Dirt was blasted into their faces. The private looked back from his sights to see where the mortar crew had once been, the position now thoroughly destroyed and the bodies unrecognizable. Before he could turn back to fire, a bullet caught him in the throat. The private fell backwards and gripped his throat as he made gurgling sounds, trying to breath through his own blood. A Sentist hurdled over the chest high wall where the private once was, screaming as he charged, bayonet fixed, towards the nearest man, Pup-pup. Three bullets to the chest stopped the man as the staff sergeant rushed over to the wall. 

A seventh artillery barrage fell on the base as another Salvian one landed at the base of the hill. More and more gunfire now began to hit the sides of the wall, some finding their marks on Salvian targets, but as more men rallied to the western edge and the defense became more organized the Sentist offensive stalled. Grenade launchers and mortars began firing on those taking cover while those who moved upwards were cut down. No more Sentist artillery fell as the combat continued for the next 15 minutes, with the cries of “Medic!” growing in frequency and combat chatter continuously going on. Finally, a jet was heard overheard from the south and the base of the hill and most of the bottom half erupted in fire and smoke. The Sentists were now seen pulling away from the hill, and Pup-pup finally slid down to a seat, his back against the wall.

 

The fierce fight had only lasted for some 25 minutes but still claimed around 150 Salvian casualties. Salvian intelligence having completely failed, the brigade now knew that the Sentists were here and in force.

 

21 February, 0905

The Salvian troops whooped and cheered as the Tagmatine M-87 E Aisalones jet fighters screeched and thundered through the air above them. Flying low, the jets continued on before dropping their payload, the bombs landing and forming a cloud of fire and smoke some 4 klicks out, which drew further celebratory hollers from the Salvian troops.

“Falcon six-three, this is Missionary zero-one, target hit. Good work. Over.”

A heavily accented voice picked up on the other end.

Missionary zero-one from Falcon, roger. Good luck down there. Over and out.

 

Manahia hung up the radio and pulled the binoculars to his eyes to observe the scene, his breath visible due to the chilly February morning. A convoy of Sentist trucks and troops were spotted heading west alongside a road that ran perpendicular to the forward operating base the Salvians had set themselves up on, the Sentists now withdrawing from the area. They had conducted several more assaults against the base, but each time the Salvian defense was more prepared for the assaults and inflicted much more Sentist casualties than they took. Manahia had requested a quick strike from Tagmatine jets - they happily obliged. He now saw the convoy in total disarray, the strike landing somewhere between the front and middle of the line. Manahia turned back towards the radio and picked it up.

“White Snake five-zero, this is Missionary zero-one, clearance for fire mission on the same mark. Four barrages from five-one and five-two. Fire in T-minus 30 seconds. Over.”

Manahia didn’t bother to stick around for the reply and walked over to a nearby table where men on their break were playing cards to pass the time. One offered the general a cup of coffee, which he accepted. One of those sitting, a sergeant, offered him milk without looking up from his cards, to which Manahia shook his head. He took a sip, the warmth fighting back the cold. A moment later the boom of artillery sounded out, the soldiers failing to even look up from the cards. Manahia once more put the binoculars to his eyes and saw more explosions at the position of the convoy. He nodded. f*ck them. 

An officer from HQ walked over to the general.

 

Brigo! A communiqué from the Tagmatines. They ask if we are prepared to move out tomorrow, 0437.”

 

The general nodded before taking another sip of his coffee, the officer saluting before walking away. While he had expected some form of reinforcements that were promised to him by his higher-up would arrive before they began their advance, he accepted that he would probably not be seeing anything close to concrete plans before mid-March. His casualties, now numbering somewhere near 350, would go unreplenished for now. It was just the way life went. Still the brigade was ready to move out. And when Tagmatine tanks rolled towards the west, for some their march would be greeted by the Salvians.

The Sanctum Imperium Catholicum
Through the Trinity, We Flourish

Factbook National Salvian Broadcasting Network Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The team had arrived where the intelligence coordinates had specified. It was just ten miles west of where the heart of the Sentist beast lay, and the factory complex could be seen from miles around. Surrounding the factory was something best described as a thick shanty town where the workers had gathered as there was no proper settlement nearby. They had parked their vehicle just a kilometer from the sprawl and began the approach on foot, wading through the tall unkempt grass that was growing out of control outside the shanty town. The entire landscape felt eerie, an imposing calm permeating the world around them.

Oswin brought up his binoculars while the others crouched in the tall grass. He slowly brought them down and crouched back down with them, “There’s something wrong, I don’t see any guards. The people in there are just… wandering.”

Both Maura and Kieron exchanged a worrying glance. From what they had been told this had been a high security facility for chemical manufacturing.On of the biggest industrial efforts the northern Sentists had made as the war drew down.  Why would they just abandon it like this? Certainly the front hadn’t advanced far enough to warrant an evacuation just yet.

“Alright then,” Maura replied, “We keep going, and stay alert. We don’t know what might be in there waiting for us.”

Kieron and Oswin silently nodded and the trio continued their slow advance. After a few minutes they arrived on the outskirts of the town, walking cautiously towards the first cluster of shacks. Now they could hear music, a soft melody which came from loudspeakers placed haphazardly around. The three of them stacked up behind a shack, and Maura peered out from behind the building to look at the small street ahead of them. Several people were milling about aimlessly, with many of them simply sat in the middle of the street staring up at the sky. However what concerned Maura more were several bodies laying still in odd positions.

Maura pulled back and turned to the other two, “Something’s really off here. Follow me and stay sharp, we aren’t going to be able to get past all these people without getting noticed.”

The team rounded the corner and advanced slowly down the street, Maura and Oswin training their weapons on the people in front of them. However none of them seemed to care about the heavily armed group of travelers headed their way, most content to not even give them a glance. They got close to one man in particular, dressed in filthy clothes and staring straight into the sky murmuring to himself.

“Kieron,” Maura said pointing at the man, “Get us some answers.”

Kieron nodded and cautiously walked up to the dazed man while the other two did their best to keep an eye out. “Können Sie mich hören? What’s going on here?”

The man’s head slowly tilted down to stare at Kieron, “Elkatoth und Selvios ... ich kann sie sehen …”
“What’s he saying?” Oswin asked.

“He said he can see Elkatoth and Selvios.” Kieron replied, not taking his eyes off the man.

“We kann nicht prepare irgendein longer, es ist all gehen to sein over. The Hoch Priest… he can stop them?”

“And that?” Maura asked, “I’m not very good with anything Ceriser but that didn’t sound right.”

“No no, he’s alternating between Dolch and Anglish give me a moment to figure it out,” Kieron closed his eyes for a second sorting out the words, “I think he’s saying they’ve run out of time to prepare for something. He’s wondering if the High Priest can save them?”

“Save them from what?”

“Elkatoth and Selvios are… portents of doom for the Sentists. Cosmic beings that only arrive to warn of the arrival of another more powerful deity they call Xelnitorath. The whole point of Sentism is to prepare Eurth for the arrival of these beings so Xelnitorath can be fought and pushed from Eurth to make way… It.”

“Aside from crazy Sentist nonsense, why in god’s name is he spouting off about them. I’m taking a wild guess that whatever is going on with him is the same thing that’s happening to these people?”

Kieron shrugged, “Ich weiß es nicht. Your guess is as good as mine.”

Oswin looked around the small street intently, he had gotten a feeling the moment he had seen them from his binoculars. He knew people didn’t didn’t act this way normally, and unless he was willing to believe the Sentists had been right all along something else had been acting on them. He noticed a series of pipes when he had first came in that ran the length of the shanties, which he just assumed was part of the normal infrastructure for the town. He turned his attention to one of the unmoving men lying on the ground and hurriedly walked up to the body.

“Oswin?” Maura called out to him.

“One moment LT, I think I might know what’s going on here. Get your masks on” Oswin replied holding up his hand. He placed his fingers on the neck of the man before looking back up at her, “The body has no visible wounds on the torso. There’s no blood near him. I’m thinking this is some sort of chemical weapon they were producing here, I just didn’t think they’d use it on their own people. It definitely explains why these people are acting this way. Certain chemical hallucinogens at high enough doses can cause total organ failure. We’ve got no way of knowing right now if it was pumped through the air or delivered to these people through some other means.”

“You got all that from looking at that body?” Maura asked while finishing securing her mask.

“We’ve got a alot of people walking around in a daze seeing cosmic beings and a bunch of people who’ve apparently dropped dead from nothing. I can’t think of a better explanation myself.”

From nearby they heard the sounds of hard footsteps approaching with both Maura and Oswin swinging their weapons towards the oncoming noise. A woman wearing an old gas mask ran around the corner and came to a sudden halt when she saw the pair point their guns at her. She threw her hands up and started yelling, “Bitte! Don’t shoot! Are you Seylosian? We need your help!”

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

The team followed the woman to a nearby shack, inside being almost a dozen people all of whom were wearing gas masks. The woman turned to face them after they had all come inside, “I’m sorry, Ich wollte dich nicht erschrecken. But when we noticed people coming in I had to take the chance. My name is Isadore Heintze.”

Maura exchanged glances with the rest of her team, luckily her worry was hidden behind her mask, “What the hell is going on here?”

“We work here, at the chemical factory. Us and our families, we’ve been wanting to escape for sometime but the soldiers still have so many of us closer to the factory itself. There was some sort of accident, the chemicals started coming out faster than they ever had.”

“Those pipes running through the town? Those are designed to carry what’s processed at the plant?” Oswin chimed in.

Isadore nodded, “Ja, they had them installed not that long ago. They kept talking more and more about how the end was coming and our preparations weren’t enough. Pretty soon people started seeing things, especially at night. Most of us worked directly in the factory, I guess they purposefully didn’t release it there.”

“Ich kann das nicht glauben… Why do any of this?” Kieron asked.

Isadore sat down taking off her mask, revealing her tired eyes and dirty face. She put her hands on her face for a moment before running them through her matted hair looking up at the three, “They wanted us to see. To see their… kosmisch terrors. They’ve been trying it all over the south for months. People have lost total faith in the movement, especially after Liechnenfax. All the faithful who weren’t radical have already fled to the lands of The Speaker. So what was left for them? They wanted to force us to believe, to see it with our own eyes. We need to escape!”

Maura brought her hand to her forehead exasperated and groaned, “Fucking Christ just when they couldn’t get worse. Look Isadore I want to help your people but we are only three, and only two of us are combat ready as it is. If those soldiers are still at the factory I don’t think we can take them on by ourselves.”

Kieron ripped off his mask and got close to Maura, “Wir werden ihnen nicht helfen!? Why?”


Maura glared at him while raising her finger up, “A lot less Dolch and a lot more Anglish.”

“We can’t just leave them here! What are we even here for?”

“We were here to scout the facility, not to pull an action movie rescue attempt Kieron. I know these are your people but I can’t risk our lives taking on potentially dozens of enemy fighters even if they do have those people hostage. We can take the people here with us back to the front lines-”

“Nos viem invenient. What does that mean?”

Maura crossed her arms and closed her eyes for a second, annoyed because she knew he would bring that up. He was referring to the unit patch both she and Oswin had on their uniforms, “We’ll find a way.”

“Then please,” Kieron pleaded, his desperation taking over his voice, “Just help me find a way.”

Oswin took a step forward, raising his hand with the satellite phone in it, “If you two don’t mind, I think we’ve got some other options. Command told us there was an Iverican special forces unit nearby? I’m sure they’d be just as interested in a chemical weapons refinery as we are.”

Maura gave a deep sigh, “Alright fine. Oswin just get them here anyway you can. We will… find a way I guess. Isadore we’re going to need your help to pull this off.”

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

The team stayed for several hours with the beleaguered group of Cerisers awaiting the arrival of the Iverican team. The plan, they hoped, would consist of Maura, Oswin, and the Iverican team attempting to breach the defenses of the factory and rescue whatever civilians remained in the vicinity. The hope was that whatever soldiers they had remaining would be plagued with the same issues as the factory workers they had encountered. Kieron would remain with Isadore and her group and help gather as many people as they could and lead them outside the town. Afterwards hopefully Seylosian airstrikes could level the complex.

A harsh knock came from the door and Isadore got up to answer it, putting her mask back on. She cracked it open for a second and then opened it all the way. Four masked soldiers walked into the shack. Maura got up and walked over to them.

“So you’re our Ivericans then?”

The soldier in the lead turned his head to look back at the rest of his team and looked back at Maura, “I suppose in a sense.”

This Maura by surprise. She had expected someone with an Iverican accent to be the one talking back to her, instead what she heard was a clear cut Seylosian one. “I’m sorry but are you Seylosian?”

The man let out a huff of air from underneath his mask, “Contractors, Monarch. I’m Millard, these two are Mission Specialists Gardner and Tiradates. He’s Cussian. This one’s our Iverican liaison, Lieutenant Castell.”

“Cool name,” Kieron interjected, getting a scowl from Maura.

Tiradates nodded at Kieron, no emotion showing from behind his mask, “Thanks.”

“Alright… we can swap fun names later. We need to get a move on. You ready Oswin?”

Oswin looked up at from tending to his rifle, giving a thumbs up, “Always ready ma’am”

“Alright, let’s go shoot some Sentists.”

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

The group had made its way up the outskirts of the factory. They had been followed by ten of Isadore’s people who were taking the opportunity to grab as many of the confused residents as they could while they could get the cover. The team made its way to the perimeter of the factory, who’s gate was left wide open. A covered truck sat halfway through it abandoned, it’s drivers side door left open. Maura signaled for everyone to advance, each of them cautiously stepping forward wary of any potential ambush. As they approached the truck Tiradates took the back of it while Oswin moved up on the drivers side. Both of them reported nothing of note and the team carried forward into the facility.

What met them was a mess, with supplies and storage containers strewn all over the ground and of course the occasional body. While passing one Oswin held up his fist calling on the group to stop, who all knelt down covering him.

“Looks like this one has bullet wounds.” Oswin said.

“Civilian?” Millard asked, taking up a position closer to Oswin.

Oswin shook his head, “Looks like a soldier. I imagine the chemicals somehow got them to fight each other.”
Further ahead of them Gardner squinted trying to get a better look. He suddenly grabbed his radio and started talking softly, “Contact one oclock. Multiple hostiles.”

The team scattered taking cover behind whatever they could. Coming into view a group of soldiers were dragging two of the facilities workers out into the open. They tossed both the workers on the ground, yelling at them in Dolch before raising their rifles.

“Shit, take them!” Maura nearly yelled over her radio. She squeezed the trigger on her rifle hitting one of the soldiers square in the chest knocking them down. The rest of the group scattered firing wildly in their direction. The rest of the team opened fire taking down several of the enemy before they could even get into cover. The remaining Sentists stood little chance and were quickly cut down when they got out of cover to return fire. There was silence for a few moments until Maura signaled the group to advance again, getting into positions around the civilians. After a few moments each one of them reported the area clear.

Millard and Castell broke the formation and went to the civilians, helping both of them up. Strangely each of them was still wearing the same style of gas masks they had seen Isadore’s people wearing.

“Danke! Danke! They had just told us we were… surplus. They were going to kill us-” One of them started, their crying heard behind the gas mask.

“How many more of you are in there?” Millard asked.

“Maybe a dozen. I think?”

“They are still letting you wear the masks?” Castell asked, “Are they still making the chemicals?”

The civilian nodded, “Yes, they told us to keep wearing the masks because we weren’t worthy to see… whatever it was they thought they were seeing.”

Millard looked up to see Maura stealing a glance at them, “Alright good, they should be easy to extract. You two follow the main road out of here, there’s a group of your people who should be able to help you near the outskirts of town.”

They helped the civilians up who thanked them again and ran off towards the gate.

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

The group breached the interior of the facility through a utility door and made as fast progress as they could. They had been told where the control room for the factory was in their talks with the civilian workers from earlier, and had been told any information they could possibly find could be located within. It was obvious from their previous engagement that whatever armed forces lay within the factory were affected by the chemicals in the air. Strange as it seemed, they hadn’t seem to have been detected yet, which was probably due to both the state of mind they enemy was in and the loudness of the factory itself. After a few minutes they found themselves close to the control room, which was on a raised platform above the factory floor. While most of the machines were still active, it was obvious the factory itself was mostly abandoned. The group crept up the metal stairway heading up to the control room and stepped through the open door, which had for some reason been left ajar. After everyone had gotten inside, Oswin carefully resealed the door to prevent any intruders.

“Alright fan out, gather any intel you can find.” Maura said. Each of them started quickly combing through as much as they could to find out anything on the plant. There were piles of paper strewn around, and various blank security monitors which were clearly no longer recording anything.

It didn’t take long before Oswin called back to them, “LT you’ll want to take a look at this.”

Both Millard and Maura joined him in front of an old CRT style monitor. The other three were still rooting around the place searching for more information. Oswin took a video tape and pushed it into the VCR that was hooked up into the monitor. The screen crackled to like showing a group of people standing and having a discussion on the factory floor. Oswin looked back at both of them, “Label says this was recorded only two days ago.”

The video played, showing three different groups having a conversation with each other. There was no audio, and the video wasn’t in high enough resolution to make out exactly what each of them were saying to each other. What was clear though is what each of the group of people looked like. One was obviously a group of Cerisers, most likely the people in control of the plant. Maura leaned in and pointed at the screen.

“Wait are these people Azlo?”

Oswin squinted at it for a second, “Definitely looks like it.”

Maura turned to Millard to see his reaction but she could already see him staring hard at the screen, his real emotions hidden behind the mask.

“It can’t be… not the Mandate…” He said to himself.

“I’m sorry, who?” Knowing exactly who was talking about, at least in the past.

Millard straightened up about to respond when he was interrupted by Tiradates, “Found something. Looks like they are manufacturing 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate. And they’ve been shipping it out too.”

Oswin stood up from where he was sitting in front of the monitor, “That’s a pretty potent hallucinogen in high enough quantities. And lethal too if people are left exposed long enough.”

Gardner waved at them and pointed out the window of the control room, “Contact. Large group of hostiles, looks like they have our group we are looking for.”

Maura gave a look of concern at Millard, though they both knew it wasn’t about the Sentists below, “Let’s go.”

Each of them filed out of the room when suddenly the door slammed behind them, sealing shut. They all spun around, with Gardner who was the closest accidently yelling out, “Castell! What the fuck!?”

Castell appeared at the window of the door only saying, “I’ve been paid to get more than this. I wish you had given me more time. I have my own way out.”

They knew the mistake immediately and sprinted down from the catwalk behind cover. Soon the entire Sentist force had gathered outside the control room stairs pointing their weapons at them. A man, disheveled but confident stepped forward addressing them, “Agents of Xelnitorath, reveal yourselves. Oder du wirst sterben.”

Millard glanced over his cover to assess what they had gotten into. There were at least two dozen armed fighters, and behind them the masked factory workers they had come into the factory for. He dropped his head down again and turned to Oswin, “This Benzilate stuff, does it make them more suggestible?”

Oswin nodded, “They’ve been exposed for a long time, they are highly susceptible and are most certainly hallucinating.”

“Give me something they’d respect… anything.” Millard replied, again glancing over the cover.

Maura snapped her finger, “Wait Kieron was talking about their… doom things or something right?”

“Elkatoth and Selvios. Wait..” Oswin stood up holding his hands up. Maura tried to grab him before he did it but he forced himself up. “Elkatoth sent me! He wishes to warn you!”

The soldiers standing before them stopped pointing their weapons directly at them and looked back to their leader, a man Oswin recognized from the tapes they saw earlier.

The man stepped forward, “Elkatoth sent you? Was sagt er zu uns?”

Millard stood up as well, holding his hands up, “There’s a threat here. Elkatoth sent us to show you. Look, up there! Don’t you see him? Elkatoth doesn’t want you to bother with these factory workers, he wants you to stop that man in the control room now! Don’t you see him!?”

Maura looked up at him in shock from where she was in cover. She couldn’t believe she was hearing a former Seylosian soldier say something like that. The Sentist leader looked up towards the control room staring through the windows. Millard pressed forward, “Xelnitorath sent him. You have to stop him.”

The Sentist leader looked at Millard, his wild eyes going back and forth, “Yes we have to. We have to!”

He charged up the stairs, followed by his soldiers screaming as they slammed themselves on the control room door. Oswin seeing the opportunity, pointed at the scared factory workers and waved them to come over, and they were more than happy to oblige, sprinting as fast as they could over to the team. Maura gave Millard a cross look and motioned for everyone to run. The team and the factory workers sprinted for the exit, hearing the banging on the control room door as they ran away, followed by explosions. As they ran, Maura could see Oswin speaking into his satellite phone.

The group burst out of the complex sprinting for the edge of the compound. Oswin turned his head towards Maura as they ran, “I’ve called in the strike, we can’t stop. They were already in the AO!”

The group ran as fast as they could from the factory. Within a few minutes a series of bombs slammed into the factory causing it to collapse and releasing a violent explosion as all the chemicals within ignited.

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

All in all, they had managed to gather almost three hundred people from the shanty town surrounding the factory. Mostly women and children that had hidden away during the ordeal. Some of the factory workers that had escaped were guarding the group using weapons scrounged from the Sentists that had fallen in the skirmishes before the factory was destroyed. The large group was pushing north towards the front lines, when Millard stopped Maura.

“We’ll be parting ways here,” he said, looking upset.

“Are you sure?” She replied, “Look I need more about what you said with this Mandate-”

“I can’t talk more about it,” Millard said, “But I’m glad we could help, even though I know you didn’t like my methods. Shame about Castell though.”

Maura raised an eyebrow, “Will the Ivericans come after you for it?”

“I doubt it,” he said, “We had our orders, and whoever was paying him got him wasn’t who was paying us.”

“You’ve got to tell me more Millard,” Moira said, a sense of urgency in her voice.

“Just be careful out there. Whoever hired Castell was inconsequential. Whoever got those shipped weapons is the one you need to care about.”

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