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Liu Weiwu shaded his eyes with his hand as the aircraft cannon shells struck home amongst the artillery positions on top of the ridge. A cheer went up from the men as the Anatean pilots finished their attack run, giving a wing-waggle as a farewell before pealing off into the blue sky again. Captain Liao, who had not even deigned to duck from the oncoming fire, waited for only a moment before his tanned arm and gravelly voice once again began to issue orders.

"Shang qilai! Shang qilai! Pan and Liu, get up that slope and clear those dugouts! Don't give 'em time to regroup!"

Once he had made certain that his subordinates had heard him, he took the whistle around his neck and sounded a long piercing note, swinging his arm forward in a chop.

"Company, advance!"

Most of the company had gone to ground in or around the flooded rice paddy, and the men rose dripping with muddy water from the Eurth to give a shaky cry of "Sha!" and begin the advance. Liu Weiwu, his fingers tight around the uncomfortable stamped-metal grip of his pistol, took his position along the company's left flank, opposite Captain Liao on the right. As the other company commanders of the 1st Battalion gathered the initiative, the entire line, previously thrown into disarray by the sudden attack, began to take shape as it marched quickly up the ridge in a wavy formation. As the left wing of the sweeping advance, Liu's company was the first over the ridge.

"Keep at least three meters between you, men, don't clump up!"

Liu took a stick grenade from his belt pouch and gave a tug on the priming cap, lobbing the explosive over a wall of sandbags, where it detonated with a great cloud of dust. This first line of Salvian artillery positions appeared to be abandoned. Beyond the first row of dugouts, Commissar Liu could see scattered groups of crewmen running for cover, many of them being cut down by Fulgistani rifle fire. It appeared that the sudden arrival of air support, coupled with the initiative of the ground forces, had significantly stymied any preparations for a Salvian massed attack. 

"Lieutenant Liu, look out!"

"Na'er ne? What are you talking a-"

Liu managed to catch a good look at the driver of the observer half-track before it ran him down; he was a young man, his brow dripping with sweat and teeth clenched in a rictus grip like that of a dead man walking. His forage cap was askew on a tan face, and his brown hair, overgrown at the sides, was likewise in disarray. It was as if time were standing still in that moment; the  terrified expression of the Salvian non-com in the driver's seat was etched into Liu's mind as the half-track careened over the artillery embankment and into his body, throwing him down as the machine's wheels and tracks threw up gravel and debris around him. As he lay dazed, but very much alive, he could hear the shots ringing out, the half-track shuddering to a halt as its driver bled out, and the calls of his men.

"Corpsman! Get a stretcher over here! Comrade Liu's been wounded!"

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Prologue
Protiva, Centavo in the Republic of Cashar
January 20, 1947

News of the conflict between Seylos and Fulgistan had spread to western Alharu and to the small, frequently corrupt government of the Republic of Cashar. Notably, members of the Board and Bureau had taken the stance that Seylos' cause was just and necessary. Communist Fulgistan, after all, was a struggling country doomed to failure and ruin unless immediate intervention occurred. Only the introduction of capitalism to the poor and, frankly, desperate Fulgistanis could save them from themselves. This was the first official reasoning behind getting involved in the conflict. And while some Cashari quickly got on board with the idea of saving Fulgistan from communism, especially the Cashari poor who had heard deplorable things about the living conditions in Fulgistan ("I couldn't live like a Fulgistani that's for sure," or telling their children, "Eat that up. Don't you know there are kids starving in Fulgistan?" or "Don't you dare skip work today. Kids in Fulgistan wish they had a job like yours!"), others required more incentive.

Why should they care if Fulgistan tumbles to economic ruin? Wouldn't that be better for them in the long run? Would it even really matter? They're on the other side of the continent! Needless to say, the idea of providing charity in the form of introducing a country to capitalism left a bad taste in the mouths of the Cashari people. What didn't leave a bad taste was the potential for upward social mobility through a career in the military or through the Lavishavisk Ordinance Company making weapons for the war effort. Additionally, the Board and Bureau wrote out a public commission allowing the capture of ships or cargo of ships on the high seas of the Adisi Ocean, the Sea of Peace, the Whanganui Sea, Turtle Sea, and Qingming Sea unless such ships are belonging to Seylos or current allies. 

Advertisements in television and in the papers were not quite so formal as the public commission itself.
 

"GET RICH ON THE HIGH SEAS!"
"EARN A LUCRATIVE LIVING AS AN OFFICIALLY CONDONED PIRATE!"

"A SEA OF TREASURE AWAITS!"

 

privateercaptain2.JPG
Privateer Captain Bartom Arketvo of the $.$. Didon
South the Tip of Aurelia
February 21st, 1947

 

The auxiliary cruiser, the $.$. Didon, had been a merchant ship turned battleship turned merchant ship turned armed merchant ship. It had been passed down to Bartom Arketvo from his eccentric rich grandmother, an heiress herself, who spoiled him rotten. Of course, Bartom himself did not think he was spoiled in the slightest. In fact, he considered himself very deserving. Most of the men, women, bigender, and nonbinary, would've disagreed with that statement, but at the very least, they couldn't say he was content with resting on his laurels and spending his riches when there were more riches to be had. And wasn't that just the Cashari way?

Captain Bartom Arketvo breathed into his hands and shivered. He had in no way prepared himself for the cold in the waters near Antargis. He was still wearing loose, flowing garments designed specifically for the climate of the Cashari Desert. It provided little warmth to him as he tried to huddle up in his clothes. 

"Why in gold's name is it colder than my ex-wife's shoulder down here?"

His first mate, Farla Mintokvol, raised their eyebrow at him. "You had a wife? Was she enamored with charity?"

Bartom shot a glare at Farla. "Hey! As a matter of fact, I was the charitable one."

"Right," Farla said, slowly, skeptical. "Anyway, it shouldn't be too long now. The Adisi Ocean is much warmer."

Bartom frowned. "Yeah? Let's go over the map one more time. I don't want to miss any opportunities!"

He gave a dramatic flourish of his hand, then began the move below deck where it would be warmer. 

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Privateer Captain Dekta Partonviska of the $.$. Advantage
Near the Southern Tip of Aurelia
February 21st, 1947


Captain Dekta Partonviska had, in fact, prepared for the colder weather because unlike the captain of the ship ahead of her, Dekta wasn't an idiot. Wrapped comfortably in a blue, silver, and black camel's wool cloak with decorative motifs involving her family name, the name of her ship and a brooch that had been in family for generations, and the names of three companies she had worked for including the Lavishavisk Ordinance Company - she overlooked documents about their provisions, weaponry, and the crew. She had worked three jobs just to afford the run-down merchant's ship, and she'd had to accrue debt in order to fix it up and to outfit it with arms. Most of her crew consisted of friends, co-workers, and her cousins (of which she had many). She took in a deep breath and shook her head.

"I'm nervous," she admitted aloud.

"Me too. I've never shot anyone before," Mikda, her second cousin on her mother's side and first mate, said.

"It'll be fine. Just follow Rajor's lead. He's had plenty of practice when he was smuggling drugs across the Paran Desert," Dekta said, trying to smile. She wasn't entirely convinced her third cousin was that capable.

"So he says. Rajor lies a lot, you know," Mikda told her.

Dekta sighed and rubbed her temples. "Well, Selda hunts."

"Hunting wild animals is different," Mikda pointed out.

"You really aren't helping, you know that?" Dekta said, shaking her head. "Look, we can't turn back now. We've come too far. We have to make this work. We just have to. I can't go back empty-handed; the debt will drown me."

Mikda put a hand on Dekta's shoulder. "I'm with you, dear cousin. Well, I mean, I can't turn back, either, if you don't turn back. But regardless, I'm with you. Share an Actus Drink with me?"

"Sure, yes."

 

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