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5th December 2018 - 14 days before the fire.

Musty carpets, musty walls, musty air, Xiying thought to himself as he budged his metal cart through the archaic and near-abandoned hallways of the South Palu Foreign Affairs Department. Outside thunder rumbled, rain pattering against the ruined rooftops above. The grim yellow lighting keeping the room in a perpetual sickly glow flickering every so often. The cart was filled with dusty books and piles of crumpled stained papers, the weight causing the cart's wheels to squeak. The beige walls were lined with towering rusting cabinets threatening fall and crash upon Xiying and the cart. Nevertheless he pushed forward. The halls felt endless, the only distinction between where he was going and where he came from were the occasional intersections of hallways, collapsed white wooden doors, and already torn down walls exposing the department's insides to the harsh tropical winds of the night. As far as he was aware there was only himself and three others shovelling the documents to the vans outside. Vans that would take them to new undisclosed locations. Where exactly he didn't know nor care to know, he wasn't being paid to be nosey, he was paid to move the documents, stay quiet, and not tell a soul about anything he's seen inside the rotting corpse of a building.

Suddenly the cart lurched backwards, its front wheels hit against an unseen fallen cabinet. The sudden stop snapped Xiying back to reality, stepping around the cart to inspect the cabinet. It had fallen on its side, the drawers hung open with papers and small A6 diaries spilled out upon the damp carpet. Xiying grimaced before beginning to slowly lift the cabinet up from its end, bending his knees and using all of his strength to lift and push it back. Just as the cabinet thudding back upright one of the drawers slipped out completely and thudded against the floor causing hundreds of papers to scatter including several sealed mail.
"Damnit.." He muttered, swiping several of the papers and mail and shoving them into his pockets to free up his hands, continuing do so for several minutes before he had collected them all, yanking them out of his front and back pockets and tossing them crumpled back into the cabinets. He had only been instructed to take documents from certain rooms, and not to deal with anything in the hallways or side rooms. Xiying dusted off his hands on his trousers and rubbed the dust off from his nose ending with a deep breath and a cough.
Outside a car horn began to be played repeatedly. Xiying went back to the cart hastily and begun to quickly push it down the hallway.

He'd made it to the exit of the building, the glass double doors already smashed and swung open. The department was surrounded by dense white-bark savanna trees, dry shrubs and bushes, and cracked orange dirt. The only light came from the building itself and the light from a distance rural village downhill, the campsites like fireflies. Xiying knew the difficulty the local government had to endure to gain the rights to recover lost data from the building, tribal monarchs rarely gave an inch unless the federal government got involved or there were enough bribes to buy a new fancy house. They had to drive the vans around the villages on what few dirt roads that existed, taking them the entire day from sunrise to sunset to get from Pomodoria City to the building. He was not looking forward to the back trip. Xiying exhaled, speeding up and began to run with the cart through the rain around the side of the building towards four white unmarked vans, and towards the only one without its headlights on. With haste he swung its back doors open and tipped the cart's contents into an already full back and slammed the van's backdoors shut. He made is way to the side and hopped into the front, where another man, burly and clearly of Lysian descent, was already starting up the engine, the headlights buzzing to life. No sooner had he jumped in did the van begin to move, the other three vehicles doing the same as they moved into a single file line, down the unmarked dirt roads. The occasional dip in the mud causing the whole van to jostle and turn causing Xiying's stomach to churn. He'd already became acquainted with the driver, Yaotel, a silent man who only wanted to do his job. Seeing as he wasn't going to get any small talk of the man Xiying drooped his head onto the window and slowly went to sleep.

The sudden jostle of the vehicle woke Xiying from his sleep. The rattling noise of something loose within the van was only complimented by the continued rainfall, the rolling sludge of the mud beneath the wheels, and the faint echoes hidden within the savanna forests. Suddenly a walkie talkie next to the gear shift crackled to life, a lady speaking in an unrecognisable accent of Nawātl was being said was breathless and on high alert. The accent was too heavy for Xiying to understand, only hearing some lone words from Anglish such as 'banmāh' (vans), 'aleconiz' (electronics), and Yaotel's name. He'd turned his gaze briefly towards Yaotel, who leaned back in his chair, eyes dead set on the road. But before Xiying could turn back towards the window, the burly driver spoke up.
"You were asleep for four hours. Sunrise is in an hour, we'll be stopping at a nearby village for rest in half an hour."
Xiying's eyebrow rose. "I thought the contract stated we were not to dist-"
"We'll be stopping at a nearby village for rest in half an hour." Yaotel cut him off, his tone of voice monotonous. Not once did Yaotel take his eyes off the road. Once it was clear to Xiying the conversation was over, he twisted himself to look out the door window towards the endless dense trees and the occasional landmark. The three other vans remained behind them, all four going at a snails pace to prevent slipping off the roads. The contract specifically stated to not disturb the local villages, the last thing the local tribal monarchs want are unmarked government vans parading themselves down their roads and disturbing the local balances of power casually buying out entire local hostels or purchasing the most expensive meals at the only restaurant in the village. Nevertheless Xiying could sympathise with the drivers, Yaotel himself with heavy bags under his eyes.
"If they didn't want us to stay in a village, they'd have packed us with camping equipment." Xiying muttered to himself, crossing his arms. Yaotel in the back nodded and the van suddenly began to speed up. Distant twinkling of lights told him they were close. Xiying twisted his body, itchy from being in the same posture for hours on end, only to hear crumpling from his behind. He'd frown and shuffled forward, pulling out a crumpled unsealed letter from his back pocket. Yaotel's eyes finally dislodged themselves from the road, a frown creasing across his face. "You took a document from the department?"
"Hm, oh-" Xiying glanced at the partly folded letter, a broken red wax seal partly crumbled to dust and smeared on the envelope and most definitely on his trousers.
"-no. I must've forgotten I put it there. It's from the hallways so, nothing that could get us in trouble. I think." Xiying remarked, his voice tense. Yaotel's eyes turned back to the road.
"They're planning to burn the building down in a fortnight. I'd reckon it's important enough to be burned. What's inside?" Yaotel said, causing Xiying to squirm in his seat. He'd pull back the letter's envelope to pull out an ancient piece of paper. Scrawled across the paper were old Crescent Empire syllabic script and, surprisingly, old Esonyan script. It's distinct style even noticeable to a common man like Xiying.
"It's... Something. Esonyan and the Crescent Empire? How old is this document.." Xinying muttered in confusion, squinting his eyes and pursing his lips. At the bottom were two black lines, on the first was more Esonyan text, but the other black line was empty. Xinying pushed the paper back into the envelope and examined its back, revealing the date and context.

"1563, Chocolate Wars Treaty.." Xinying read out, causing Yaotel's eyebrows to raise higher than before.
"1563? That's bloody old. Don't know what the Chocolate Wars are though." He responded, the burly man quickly flicking his eyes from the road to the letter then back. The village lights now brighter with the individual shanty homes of the rural village now visible, light from the sun peeping out from behind the horizon.
"Chocolate Wars. Chocolate Wars." Xinying repeated in a loud whisper, looking up with eyes tightly closed. "Can't think of anything."
"We can always check when we finally arrive back in Pomodoria City." Yaotel said, slowing down the van.
"Sound's dumb." He'd remark with a scoff, still holding the envelope, finally looking up to see the village ahead.

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