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The Pelican and the Raven


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The Pelican and the Raven

 

Scene 1,
Free Cashari Federation,
On the banks of the Saint Elme River,
23/12/2022, 8h56

Degatana looks across the river with concern. On the other side is Florentia, the land of white men, or the "land under white occupation" as Ms Pacereau, the president, likes to call it. On the other side, behind the barbed wire, the sandbags and the calm waters of the Saint-Elme river, he can see two members of the militia of the Narizonian party, the Free Lysian Action, recognisable by their white armbands with the infamous orange blossom sewn on.

Degatana looks away briefly to replace his weapon properly. He still hasn't got used to the weight of his assault rifle. It is only two weeks since he joined the national militia. Although he is proud to defend his brothers and sisters, standing in the mud and humidity looking strangers in the eye is not the most exciting activity.

- Degatana!

He turns around. Another militiaman is facing him.

- I'll take over.
- Thank you.

The latter taps him on the shoulder. Degatana waves to him and heads for the camp. Hidden in a dense grove, the camp has been set up on a small hill to avoid being flooded by the regular winter rains. The situation, though tense, is calm. Most of the time, the officers, and militiamen just wait for orders from the hierarchy, and spend their time cleaning the equipment on site. Degatana likes to kill time by carving a small wooden flute. He enters one of the tents, the one where his bunk is located. He takes his almost flute, his knife, and goes out to continue his meticulous work. He learned this technique from his father. Then the Cashari remembered his childhood spent running around in the tobacco fields, still full of innocence, before this feeling of happiness was cut short when he had to work in these same fields. They were far from good memories. And yet! He was lucky to be in Yalme, a relatively tolerant state. Degatana had heard of the horrors taking place in Narizonia and Abalavier. There were even public hangings of disobedient slaves, it was said!

 

Scene 2,
Free Cashari Federation,
Dehaze Bridge, on the Saint Elme River,
04/01/2022, 15h24


- For the sake of the Thunderbird, I tell you again: this is madness!
- You are trying my patience, soldier.

Corporal Yona Bedort, an efficient but also austere and stubborn commander, replies curtly. Degatana tries to hold his gaze, but ends up lowering his eyes, pitifully.

- Sorry, Corporal.
- I like that better.

She turns to the rest of the squad.

- We're going ahead with the plan as planned: we cross the bridge, we play it very carefully, and we find the refugee. Then, we leave as fast as possible : remember that it is Lysian territory.

Two-thirds of the squad start to move onto the bridge, while the rest are hidden, covering the explorers. The militiamen arrive at the other side, where there is a village abandoned because of the war. Most of the buildings are dilapidated and made of wood, all built slightly in high because of the frequent flooding in winter. The militiamen keep their eyes open. They have received a report that a Cashari, having tried to reach the border alone, is seriously injured and has taken refuge in this village.

Despite the militia's efforts to be discreet, the mud sticks to their boots, making their efforts almost useless. It was then that Degatana, who had stayed behind, almost panicked when he saw a Narizonian militiaman hiding in a house.

- Corporal, Lysian at 5 o'clock, in the house. He is alone and armed.

She signals the other explorers to stop.

- Do you have a window of opportunity?

- Affirmative.

- Is he holding the refugee ?

- I don't see him.

Yona signals the other militiamen to approach the house slowly.

- You are surrounded! Surrender immediately. There are ten of us, and reinforcements will arrive soon.

Yona lied. There are only six of them, and no reinforcements will arrive. However, she wants to avoid bloodshed, which could have serious diplomatic repercussions. After a long, tense silence, the Narizonian finally answers.

- That's it! I surrender. Don't shoot, please.

Very slowly, the front door opens. A hand comes out, and then a whole body gradually falls out of the frame. The militiaman has both hands up, but the wall hides his right hand.

- Unveil your right hand.

Yona orders with authority, fearing a nasty surprise. The Narizonian does not react, continuing to stare at her fearfully.

- Your right hand! NOW.

Another silence. Yona becomes impatient. So she slowly approaches him, pointing her weapon at him. Barely four meters separate them. Suddenly, he rushes at the corporal, his right hand holding a grenade with the pin pulled.

- FOR THE FATHERL-

The Florentian is interrupted by the explosion, killing him instantly. The militiamen, including Yona, barely had time to react. The corporal, thrown to the ground, has her ears ringing. As she gradually regains her senses, an excruciating pain pierces her lower body. As she tries to stand up, she is unable to do so, barely managing to hold herself up with her arms. Then she realises the problem: she has no legs any more. The pain is such that not even tears come, the corporal can only writhe in the mud like a worm, cut in two, slowly dying. Despite her wet hairs covering her face, she can see the other members of the squad rushing to her side, while the Florentian's body, half-burned by the explosion, lies face down.

Yona faints, overwhelmed by too much pain for one person. The operation is a disaster.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Pelican and the Raven

 

Scene 3,
Free Cashari Federation,
Near the Saint Elme river,
05/01/2023, 20h02

- "…militiamen, lured into a trap by the Florentian army, were victims of a suicide mission. Another proof that the Lysian leaders know no ethics, sacrificing their own soldiers. This is why, faced with the Florentian Empire's declaration of war and by virtue of the powers conferred upon me, I declare total mobilization…"

- But she is wrong!

Degatana exclaims, covering Ms. Pacereau's speech on the radio. The other militiamen glare at him, not having been able to hear a sentence of the speech correctly because of Degatana. When the speech is finished, a militiaman turns off the radio. Degatana continues:

- Do we agree that there is no proof that the soldier's suicide action was planned? In fact, it is clearly an act of desperation.
- We also have no proof of the opposite, retorts a militiaman named Waya. And I remind you that you joined the militia less than a month ago: you have almost no experience.

Another militiaman, named Unaduti, nods in agreement. His first name, meaning "woolly head", fits him well because of his grey hair whose curls are unusual among the Casharis. He adds:

- I myself participated in the war of independence, and the Lysians will do anything to steal our land, even to sacrifice their own brothers. I am not surprised by such methods as the suicide operation, although this is their first time.
- But there is a big difference between being determined and explicitly ordering your soldiers to commit suicide. Sure, they treat us like livestock, but they don't do the same to each other. I don't see wh-
- Silence!" orders Unaduti. You know nothing about their methods. I fought them. I know the reality of things. Do I have to remind you that you owe respect to the elders?
- Sorry, Unaduti.

He said, lowering his head, revealing his neck as a sign of deference. Unaduti pats the back of Degatana's neck, signifying his forgiveness. This is a common tradition among Cashari tribes when a young person disrespects an elder. The elder beckons him to raise his head.

- That's fine for this time.
- Thank you, Unaduti.


Tomorrow, the local squad will be sent to the Gila refugee camp on the northeast border to evacuate them to camps further inland.

 


Even after the armistice ended, neither side dared to attack first. The Federation adopted a defensive strategy, relying on the many wetlands to slow down the Florentian army. For its part, the Florentian army was still struggling to adapt to the newly arrived Haru equipment. This had the effect of delaying the plan that had been carefully prepared for two years already. The plan in question consisted of a surgical strike: artillery fire to disrupt enemy lines and supplies, a sprint to urban centers and supply points, and the capture of the capital and the Cashari government. It aims to avoid as much as possible civilian and material losses, as well as to limit the negative impact on the international scene. This is what it says on paper.

In reality, the Florentian army having been accustomed to equipment at least twenty years older than that delivered from Haruspex, and incompetence being widespread in the General Staff - officers being chosen for their name more than for their skills - shots are often imprecise. Nevertheless, the infantry was sent to the front. Most of the imperial army was sent to the south-western front, closest to the Cashari capital, in order to capture it as soon as possible. Although it was better defended, the numerical inferiority of the Casharis and their lack of equipment quickly made them retreat. In the first few days, the Florentian soldiers advanced several dozen kilometers. In spite of the problems of organization, in spite of the new material, in spite of the dissidences of the local armies, all seemed to proceed as well as possible.

A few days was enough time for a resistance to be organized in the Florentian controlled Casharis territories. The Florentians were harassed by the local population, their supply lines were sabotaged, which slowed down their advance considerably and sometimes forced them to retreat. Finally, after a week of intense fighting, the situation stabilized around December 16. No major city had been captured, and several dozen Florentians had already been killed. Moreover, the conquered territories were unstable and required a military presence, which the imperial army took care of, fearing that the local militias and armies would "pacify" the situation in their own way. The Florentian reconquest was going to be tough.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The Pelican and the Raven

 

Scene 4,
Confederate States of Florenia,
Colonial Governorate of Sademi-Mikura,

20 August 2022, 16h03,

Ceded in the 19th century by the Esonian government in response to Florentian pressure, the port of Sademi has now become a popular seaside resort among the middle class of Belleville. Crouching on the beach, a three-quarter empty soda bottle in his hand, Daiki looks out at the ocean. The skyline is broken by an oversized liner passing behind the local torii. It is slowly making its way towards the harbour, belching out huge wisps of smoke, to drop off many Florentians who have come to enjoy the 'local exoticism'. The beach is covered with a thick layer of tourists lying nonchalantly on their towels, sheltered under their umbrellas, while in between them hawkers skilfully make their way, shouting their wares. Most of them sell ice cream, sodas, alcohol, sandwiches, but also Esonian snacks redesigned to please the Lysians.

The young man gets up to sit at the beach bar, the " Rayon Ensoleillé ", a small wooden shanty set directly on the sand. To his left, a man slumped against the zinc starts his third glass of bourbon. To his right, a child pesters his mother for a second ice cream. On the counter, next to the soda menu, a radio plays " Sous le soleil Sademian ", the latest summer song in vogue. The barman sighs: this is the sixth time since the beginning of the day that the radio station has played the song. It's a good thing the Florentian tourists like it, otherwise the radio would have been turned off already. Back to Daiki, huge concrete hotels and flats stand along the beach. Most of them were built in the 1950s and the owners are reluctant to invest heavily in renovating them. These buildings would probably be in ruins if the colonial government did not force certain standards to be respected in order to preserve local tourism.

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Daiki finishes his can in one gulp. The overly sweet taste and the throat-wrenching bubbles don't take away the bitterness he feels inside. His aunt Rini, who lives in Belleville with her nine-year-old son Yogi, broke her leg in an accident at work. In order to take care of her, Daiki and his parents are forced to move into Rini's flat to look after her. Daiki will have to leave all his friends behind! Fortunately, they will be able to keep in touch through social networks, but it won't be the same. The young man gets up, carefully throws his can in a bin and walks with a determined step towards his flat.

 

~~~~~

 

O Belleville! Home of industrialists, financers and intellectuals. A city full of opportunities and dynamism, priding itself on being the lungs of Florentia, the "Star of the South".
O Belleville! Home of mafiosos, drunks and prostitutes. A city bloated with corruption and misery, blaming itself for being the Florentian brothel, "the Sodom and Gomorrah of the South".

Indeed, the "fantastic Belleville" is a place of contrasts. The city centre is full of art deco skyscrapers, with a chic and modern - at least by Florantian aesthetic standards - marina, with a nearby Lysian colonial-style district where the Javiosian parliament and palace are located. These areas are very touristy, so expensive souvenir shops, hotels and luxury cabarets abound. Apart from fancy flats, most of the buildings are office buildings where the local middle class works hard.

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However, as you move away to the suburbs, you come across neighbourhoods that mix colonial architecture with small mid-19th century flats. These districts are inhabited by the average Bellevillian who drinks his bourbon at the corner bistro and takes the tram every morning to work in the downtown offices. Far from the big cabarets of the city centre, it is also where you can find many concert cafés where small R'n'B and jazz bands perform. In this close suburb lies 'Little Esonice', a neighbourhood in which the majority of Esonian immigrants, mostly from the Florentian colonies, are concentrated. While the architectural style is broadly similar, there is the occasional temple, some Esonian-inspired buildings, and many shops that would normally be found in Esonice.

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If you go further away, you reach the working-class neighbourhoods. They are organic, dilapidated and scattered with small slums. These are often clustered around industrial sites, in the hope of getting a job there. It is risky to venture into such areas. Indeed, the police work almost openly with the Esonian and Cashari mafias and prefer to leave these areas to them. Thus, drug trafficking and prostitution are commonplace. An aimless youth hangs out there, and the only future offered to them by the fantastic Belleville is the factory or crime. Sometimes, in the evening, if you listen carefully, you can hear some musician wailing a blues, with despair on his trumpet.

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This is Belleville, a multifaceted metropolis that eight million souls call home.

 

~~~~~

 

29 January 2023

Dear parents,

It has been a while since I last wrote to you and I apologise. I haven't had time to write to you because of the January offensive and, for obvious security reasons, the use of smartphones is forbidden even at rest.

I hope you are well and that health is on your side. How is Auntie Rini's rehabilitation going? Apparently soldiers are given priority in hospitals but, Belleville being far from the front, I suppose Rini can continue her rehabilitation without being disturbed. I received the letter about your raise, Dad. Congrats! I told you they would realise that you are very competent.

From my side, it could be better. The equipment is very heavy, I'm not used to it. But I feel like I'm getting better little by little, so that's reassuring. The rations always contain the same thing, to the point where I know the contents by heart. The advantage is that if I am missing something, I know it. I'm getting seriously fed up with their cassoulet and I miss your curry, Mum. But I don't have a say in the rations.

The sergeant - de Lavoin, as he is called - is quite an idiot, not to say an insult. It is said that he has been promoted because his father is an officer. And then they wonder why we're having trouble winning the war. Fortunately, I made a friend. He is another soldier, also a conscript. His name is Alphonse Haimeud and he comes from Tyronia. Did you know that in Tyronia they eat boiled peanuts? I learned it from him and, according to what he says, it is simple but good. I promised him to try it when it's all over.

(The passages in brackets are for adults only, Yogi must not know about them. The soil in Narizonia is swampy as can be, you're always walking in the mud and it rains almost every day. Moisture seeps in everywhere. It damages the equipment, numbs the body, freezes the blood. It's very rough. And still it's nothing compared to what I did. Seeing someone being killed is one thing, but killing someone is another. In the moment it's okay because I have adrenaline, I'm afraid to die first. It's just a survival reflex. However, it's when I'm on a break that I think about it, telling myself that I've taken someone's life, and I can't even remember their face. With the bombing, you can also see pieces of dead guys. The first time I vomited.)

(I know for a fact that we are the bad guys in the story. This war is wearing me down.)

All in all, I'm doing pretty well. Take care of yourselves. Love to you, Rini and Yogi.

See you soon,
Daiki

 

(OOC : I heavely thank @Esonice for helping me with Sademi and Mikura despite being last of the priority list.)

Edited by Florentia (see edit history)
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