Madame Secretary Ponagar stepped out of her office, taking a deep breath of fresh air. That moment quickly passed as the scent of fuel and gas entered her nose. She loved the city of Hai Bọt Biển. The fresh ocean breeze, and sound of the sea grass in the wind, and the beautiful mountains looming over the city. She did not like the reason she was here.
"Madame Secretary, the senator is right outside." Ponagar slid open the balcony door and entered the office, which has ceiling high windows, and pale white walls, with one desk in the middle.
"So what are you waiting for, let him in" the Madame Secretary exclaimed. The aid quickly rushed to the door, to welcome the young representative to the room. His name was Ametung Hidayat, and he was the representative from the state of Sambal Bokur present in the senate.
"Tôtl'rí Naam Ponagar. Tôtl Mầy Tôtl?" asked the representative, as they both sat down.
"Spare me the pleasantries. Let’s skip the bull and get on to your point. What do you want this time" the madame secretary said as she sat down. "And while we're at it, aid, get me some tea. I'm not getting any younger." The aid ran out of the room to fetch hot jasmine tea from down the hallway.
"If you insist. I'd like to ask for permission to go to Yeosan." Ponagar sighed, and slid her chair closer to the death, releasing a noise as the chair inched closer.
"You know I cannot keep doing this, while I am sympathetic to all ethnic groups in Rhava, there just isn't a lot I can do while still helping you from office. It's only a matter of time before the head of state snitches on me to the council." The aid reentered the office, spilling some tea. "Oh, so now you are in a hurry. I am one of the most goddamn powerful people in the country, show some urgency. Leave us." The aid bowed, and ran out the door again, this time for his job. "Now why do you need to leave Rhava." This time, it was Ametung's time to sigh.
"The government has one of our lead scientist. We know they are using her for something, we just don't know what." Ametung frowned.
"You know as well as I that we can't send a Rhavanese citizen to Yeosan, much less a helpless one."
"Hey!" Ametung exclaimed, slightly offended."
"Perhaps I can find someone though, hmm." Ponagar opened her laptop, and scanned her email. The representative slid closer, and Pongar slammed the laptop closed. "Did I say you could look at my stuff, no. Get out of my sight." The representative shuffled out of the room leaving Ponagar alone in her office. She once again went to her balcony, and stood there for a while. Change was in the air, she could sense it.
By San Castellino
Hotel Juenèz - seat of the Council of the Republic,
March 1, 1878,
11 h 49
Manuel Velledito, the Prime Minister, storms into the office of the President of the Council.
"Presidente, we have a problem. "
The President of the Council Ninio Picion - a small, thin man with a constantly despaired expression - stands up from his chair. His stunted physique contrasted with the slender, shapely appearance of the Prime Minister. The latter, visibly extremely worried, was pacing the office.
- It's terrible, Presidente. Terrible! "
- What's going on? I beg you, speak! "
- "We just received this from the Neo-Lyrian anarchist party. "
Velledito holds out a letter to the President of the Council. It is addressed to the San Castellinos government in general, proclaims the independence of New Lyria as well as the establishment of a provisional New Lyrian government. Picion almost fainted when he read it. The poor man had been overworked since the beginning of his mandate. The country had been in crisis ever since it gained independence from Lysia and annexed the colony of New Lyria. Picion had to deal with the demands of the socialists, the ambitions of the monteplutillas - the private army of general Monteplutos - and the tensions with the New Lyrians. And the latter now wanted their independence!
- "President, we're not going to let them have it, are we? "
Picion had propped himself up on his desk so as not to fall to the floor and was thinking intensely. From the beginning, he had been strongly criticized by his opponents, and even by the Christian Democrats, his brothers, for his decisions, which were always considered too weak. The President of the Council had always wanted to play the card of appeasement and moderation. But this time, Picion had decided to really take things in hand. From now on, he wanted to prove to those b#stards that he was a strong man, and the Neo-Lyrian revolution was the perfect opportunity. So, as if suddenly won by an unsatiable energy, he stood up and said in a firm tone.
- Repress them. Send the army and have all the independentists arrested. "
- But, Presidente, that will be difficult. The majority of the army is still disloyal to us, under the control of the socialists. And they are not likely to want to help us. "
- "Sweet Jesus! "
Picion sat down in his chair but immediately stood up, obviously having found a solution.
- "Send a telegraph to General Monteplutos, I want it in my office as soon as possible. We don't have an army anymore, so we might as well get one. "
"Even if it means making a pact with the devil," he added in his mind. Velledito, although surprised, approved the decision with a nod and left the office.
A few hours later, a fat and coarse man with as much military distinction as arrogance entered the office. General Monteplutos, because it was him, sits down heavily on a chair, in front of Picion. Then he takes a cigar from the mahogany box placed on the desk like if it belonged to him and starts to smoke.
- "Monteplutos, what an hon-"
Monteplutos cuts Picion off.
- "General Monteplutos. "
- "Yes, my apologies, General Monteplutos. It is truly an honor to receive you, General Monteplutos. I have humbly asked you to come O great General Monteplutos in order to amiably ask you if your so great person-"
Monteplutos interrupts the President of the Council a second time.
- "Come to the facts. "
- "Yes, of course, General Monteplutos. How about making a deal? "
- "What do you mean? "
- "I suppose you must have heard about the Neo-Lyrian declaration of independence through your contacts. "
The general nods.
- "So here's the deal. You'll have to take care of suppressing the neo-lyrian independence fighters with your monteplutillas. In exchange, I promise you a place in Parliament. "
- "More. I want more. "
Picion looks down, both sheepish and intimidated by the general. Still, he raises his head after a brief moment and proposes.
- "A seat on the Council of the Republic and state-supplied equipment for the monteplutillas. "
- "It sould be enough, for the moment. "
- "Perfect! I'll let you take your departure from me then. "
Monteplutos crushed his cigar in the middle of the President of the Council's desk, got up and left the office. Picion took a deep breath and began to pray inwardly to God that this so-called revolution would be nothing more than a passing rebellion.
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.