Her Lost Grip ~ Prologue
A Journey In Succession
“Some weeks ago, our leader of almost 20 years attended what our government has hailed as a successful party in Galahinda. It did show that we could and should be taken seriously despite being pipsqueak and fun size. However, that success comes without any sign of succession. In her walk in and out of the party, her excellency was alone. How does she expect us to ignore our future?”
--Excerpt from an Op-Ed in the Yulaa Spectator
Kera Eka Lam has been in power for almost twenty years. In a historic moment, she took over from one of Oyus’ most prominent figures in its history, Kera Yulaa. She had large shoes to fill. Lam since her ascension worked to see that the country would be taken seriously when the time came. Thus far, there was plenty of success seen despite some minor hiccups. Just this past year, the results were rather clear: Oyus had gotten its act together. There was an increasing wave of optimism. A positive outlook of the country as a more active participant in the international community. Faith in the government had never been higher since taking over from her predecessor. Yet, nothing is ever perfect, even in the idyllic paradise. There still came criticism. Criticism that was held high, too.
Merseca Square was the heart of the government. Many of the government’s principal high level offices lined the plaza, including Acona Palace. Lam wandered through the quiet halls of the executive residence. It had been her home, where she lived for much of her life. The structure was quite large, comparable in size to Eurth’s grandest of royal palaces. In contrast, it was much more modest: no elegant marble floors, no ornate light fixtures, not even walls with intricate designs. “It is a palace even a pauper could approve of, dear Eka.” Her predecessor, her mother, would tell her. At ascension, she honored this idea by committing to relegating herself in the residence to a small area just slightly larger than a 2 bedroom 2 bathroom middle-class apartment so that it could be toured by tourists and citizens alike.
Lam dipped herself into a warm bathtub, reclining against it her head staring up at the ceiling. The room was lit only by candlelight as she closed her eyes, sitting in silence. In times of great stress, bathing in welcoming warm waters were a go-to for the resilient leader. Now, more than ever, did she need one. Even though there had been plenty she had done in her tenure as Kera that required great strength and weighed heavily on her. Eka would try to begin to lose herself in her thoughts… Never have I ever needed this-”until now?” her thoughts went from her voice to a different familiar voice. Eka inhaled before opening her eyes and exhaling, her gaze finding a lit screen with a close aide on the other side of the call.
“Your Excellency, I have not seen you so weighed by something like this before. The last time you were noticeably-” Eka held up her hand nodding knowing where her aide was going to go, her hand making a gesture like that of a mouth talking. She had not been this noticeably bothered by circumstances since having to take on post relief efforts of one of the biggest tropical disturbances Oyus had ever seen. It was rare for her to be bothered even in the rougher stretches of her reign. Kera Yulaa had taught her well, “Oyus’ people are only as calm as their leader, young Eka.”
Eka faced the screen with dread, arms crossed. “I have done plenty for this country. My life is all about fighting for my countrywomen and countrymen. Can we not be pleased by that?” Kol Tala, her aide on the other side nodded. Tala was a break from her typical choice to tradition: female-personal assistants. In fact, Tala was the first man to ever take the position, out of pure luck he had gained it. Eka enjoyed how bold he was to apply for the post in the first place, growing fond of someone who would be a close adviser of sorts to her.
“Your work hasn’t gone unnoticed, they just don’t want it to go to waste over what will be an inevitable election to come if you decide to step down like your mother did. Besides, it would be an excuse to take time for yourself.” Eka couldn’t hold in her laughter at the suggestion that securing the future leadership of her country could be used as an excuse to get time for herself. She would question her assistant, and friend, how that could be.
“How? Why should I? Every woman here has the right to choose except me, because I have to?” Kol wouldn’t let her continue, interrupting as if he anticipated she would go down this route.
“Eka, nothing in the Constitution says you have to marry the opposite sex or even bear children. There is always another way. It can be your choice with no pain involved. Unless who you decide to adopt has a painful backstory.” Kol Tala would know what he was talking about as a former student of law, specializing in the Oyusard Constitution. It kept her silent as she truly considered that this matter could be quickly answered and alleviated. Indeed, she also had the right to choose, and there are no formal instructions of how or when. Leaving the handling of the process of lining up Oyus’ next leader to her own devices. It was without a doubt the best time to do it, too, with all the success beginning to show for itself.
Lam slipped back into the tub, more relaxed at the thought. “Ask Lili to meet in the morning. We have an important communique for the wurld.” Tala could be seen nodding as the screen flipped off while the Kera rested.
There are few things more important in Aurelia, both politically and otherwise, than the railroad. An essential tool of transportation for the continent's millions of inhabitants, it holds a uniquely pivotal role. While elsewhere, the slow establishment of freeways and the dominance of the personal automobile have long eclipsed trains, Aurelia is different. Its nature as a land of civilized areas separated by vast seas of disorganized frontier, oftentimes the possession of myriad tribes or insurgencies, alongside downright oppressive weather conditions, render cars ghastly inefficient. What's more, since the days of the Shffahkian Empire, the vast pre-existing network of railroads criss-crossing Aurelia, the best developed on Eurth for their time, were too central to all continental infrastructure to replace. Thus, a combination of necessity, lethargy, and reactionary tendency has created a state of train primacy, for better or worse. Certainly, carbon emissions are low, but maintaining and protecting the railroads as well as manipulating tribal politics to create a series of dependent so-called railroad states has long been an ulcer on the finances of the civilized states of Aurelia, especially Kirvina and Shffahkia, who as the two first-adopters of the technology also have the largest corporate stake (and the most to lose in the event of mass banditry).
Often quite comical to foreign travelers who enter the region for the first time, and a good tone-setter for the continent, are Aurelian railroad maps. Pockmarked with green, yellow and red ticks indicating the safety of different routes and the chance of encountering a piratical assault on your journey through them, as well as with different track symbols for when one must board an armored train, or dark X's marking branch routes which have been shut down due to ongoing military operations, they paint a poverty-stricken, violent, and dystopian picture. That said, to the average Aurelian, the system is anything but. As a simple reality of life that in truth yields few to no casualties, mostly being a trouble for politicians, corporations, and the nobility, the prevailing opinion in Kirvina is that such things simply must be dealt with, as they have always been dealt with, and that there is nothing abnormal about them. In fact, Pan-Aurelian politicians throughout the continent's history have harped on the railroad system as an example of continental unity and brotherhood, conveniently ignoring the millions of disadvantaged native peoples subjected to economic destitution through the unnatural propping up of banana republics, or on Eurth railroad states, that can barely be called countries. So it is that under the auspices of "unity" and "brotherhood", a young Shffahkian politician by the name of Marcel journeyed to seek the patronage of a Duchess Chrysanthe of Taurapetra in expanding one of the many sub-routes of the Trans-Aurelian Railway, one which tunnels through the Paranne Mountains and into an oft overlooked sector of Shffahkia.
While perhaps Marcel could have hoped to secure money from the central government, or from the reigning Grand Duke Liuvros of Achilleia, it was clear through his corporate liaisons that all the funds of these regions were already tied up with a stout increase in banditry, as well as deploying various arms of the nation's light infantry special operations force (the Rangers, Tasanthai plural, Tasanthes singular) as well as its regulars in the area (the Border Guard, Acranthai plural, Acranthes singular) to deal with an unnerving increase in partnerships between hostile tribes. While the situation around the railroads themselves was more stable than it had been in quite a long time, this was due to an unsustainable policy of promoting the welfare of the citizens of the railroad states, at the expense of the next layer of surrounding federations, which was creating more enemies the longer it dragged on. Tribes which had gone over a century without any Kirvinsét or Shffahkian meddling were now suddenly introduced to the front line of guntrain diplomacy, with not a one happy about the notion. Chrysanthe, though the possessor of a modest fortune and a cadre of family-loyal mercenaries and quasi-feudal bannermen hailing from the district she ruled over which functioned as a portion of the federal army in all but name, had committed little to nothing to the railroad-effort, calling it "a damnable waste of time" and "an endless cycle of vapid paternalism best left to foolish men with deep pockets." Despite her raging antipathy, as the only noble or bureaucrat in the entire country who was not already committed to something, she was the only one who could be approached for this route.
With these thoughts in mind, Marcel emerged from the train taking him into Taurapetra, smoothing down his suit. Having foregone a diplomatic escort, choosing instead to travel incognito, he took the quickest route through the old quarter of the ancient city towards the diplomatic offices and ruler's compound, standing under the small umbrella he had bought at the train station and doing his best to avoid the bad weather. It was geographically arranged in a way that the highest section of the city, whereupon sat his destination, was always held in view, and that no matter how he pivoted across the stone boulevards, it was always visible somewhere at the corner of his eye. Likely a tool wielded in the medieval era to inspire lofty grandeur on the part of the city-state's rulers, he mused, crossing under the alcoves which would take him to his scheduled meeting after around thirty minutes of walking. Saluted by a pair of guards, he snapped his umbrella closed and passed it off to a waiting valet, fashionably two to three minutes late in normal Shffahkian fashion. Once, twice, he rolled out each shoulder, flattening his breathing, and then crossed into the door. Sat across the room, waiting at the other side of an oaken table, was the Duchess he was hoping to meet. Gesturing for him to sit, she took his measure with an imperious, self-assured expression, dark brown eyes boring a hole through his face and out the back of his head. "We are most pleased to receive you," she said with an expression that spoke more of murderous intent than pleasure, " and hope that your journey has not been too taxing. Please. Speak of your purpose in journeying to the other end of the continent, that it might be heard and known." Despite her decorum, she struck a rather militaristic figure, with short-cropped light hair and clothing close in style to an army officer's parade jacket.
Khaokhett, Kngaok District
It was late in the night, and Kalama Gian was drafting up her acceptance speech.
She had been finally elected to the Minister’s Throne in Saphea Wat, the seat of power in Batengdei, or at least the seat of power the rest of Eurth saw. In truth, the whole system was designed around a bunch of ruthless, lazy oligarchs who monopolized a little too much of the economy to relinquish any real control. It was a sickening notion, even if she was considered harmless enough to be the Prime Minister.
Kalama had hopes to change that, however, and what she needed now was the goodwill of the people.
Almost as if in anticipation of her plans, there had been a laughably poor attempt at winning the election from the Bateng Rouge. They had ignored the notion of campaigning on anything other than maintaining a status quo, which was a terrible way to energize voters. It landed the Rouge in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, of all parties, which was just salt in the wound.
It left a dirty taste in her mouth just thinking about it, so Kalama didn’t. Instead, she thought about how she would subvert the expectations of her position.
In truth, answer was simple, populism. More specifically, anti-corruption. If there was a cesspool worthy of being purged in Eurth, it was Batengdei. @Tagmatium Rules was another that came to mind, but that was beside the point. Voter turnouts had been declining, faith in the government was near nonexistent, and overall, the biggest reform in the last decade was Krusken’s RDI Act, which was laughably useless. No, Batengdei needed a stronger ruler capable of tackling the people’s problems like they had back in the founding days.
The current Batengdei was far too self-absorbed in itself to be of relevance, despite being so close to the spotlight. The means of victory in her hand, but Batengdei preferred to sit contently as the world moved by, horrendous. Kalama knew it was the destiny of Batengdei to lead the nations of Eurth, where they had been neglected for far too long. Now that she had the Minister’s Throne, the ancient ceremonial throne of the old dynasties of Batengdei, now she could lead her people.
Gian had known her destiny for a long time, to re-forge Batengdei in the shape of its former glory. To purge the oligarchs who stunted them for their own profits. A new revolution, perhaps? No, not yet, anyway.
The computer screen of her rough draft slowly burned into her eyes with a pure, white glow. It made the rest of the room seem darker by contrast. Regardless, she forced herself to step away from her desk and walk around the room to relax a bit. The duties of the Batengdeian Prime Minister were numerous, and she had been beset by a hundred bureaucrats with a hundred petty problems from the onset of her taking office. She just needed a little time to remind herself of the importance of her position.
It would take time to win over the population in Batengdei. Fortunately, she had enough control over the media to work unopposed. It would take a coalition of disgruntled workers to create the change necessary to transform Batengdei, this much Kalama knew.
Kalama Gian, Prime Minister Gian, spent the next ten minutes pacing anxiously around the room.
Sang Pithu, Tonle Khlang
It had been a terrible month for Hoja Korig, the leader of the Batengdei National Agricultural Company. The election coalition had been felled by a disgusting abomination of an electoral jape. The Bateng Rouge and Liberal Democratic Party? To make matters worse, the coalition began by passing a bill which flopped on its head and sank the economy with it. Production had slowed as workers suddenly were shifted around between foreign countries vying for a spot of the cheap land available. It was a nightmare. To make matters worse, the Khsaamer National Party jumped ship at the defeat, leaving the National Sovereign Party all alone in a sea of corruption.
They’d called twice for a recount, twice… or, three times? They would have kept going until the next election had they not been silenced by Kalama Gian herself. Who did she think she was, a dictator?
The radio on his desk which had been announcing the most recent rugby game now began playing some song. In Anglish, no less.
Hoja lurched forward and attempted to adjust the station, however he couldn’t quite convince his fingers to cooperate, so he instead he swept the damnable machine off his desk, then made for his case of wines.
Korig uncorked a new bottle of rice-wine and poured himself a glass. If his company was going to go under, he would race them to it. This would be the third bottle, and he had built up quite a tolerance. Admittedly, the company would likely survive. It was too much of an integral part of feeding the people. Korig’s ownership, however, that could change should the government rule his leadership as “unsatisfactory.” Krusken had been smart to leave him alone, Kalama on the other hand… she had a history of going after company owners who crossed her. Still, they couldn’t touch the mighty Hoja Korig if he wasn’t doing anything wrong, and as if he was… he was simply checking the quality of the rice-wine…
“Well, I had better check again, in case this bottle is not up to standard.”
Hoja raised the glass and cheered to the ceiling, “To us!”.
The wine tasted really quite great, especially with the numbness of inebriation. “How could I lose my position, when I mae’ the best damn wine in the country. Hell, I mae’ the only wine in the country. Who wans to go buy wine … anywhrer elsse…”
Hoja Korig was suddenly quite delighted to find the room was gently rocking; rocking him to sleep, most likely. So long as the rice-wine was good, there was nothing to worry about, really. . .
“Thanksh… mishter room. . .”
And with that, Korig fell into a pleasant stupor.