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The room the Holy Imperial Cabinet – known in Laimiaic as the Agios Basilikon Vestiarion – filed into was one of the many meeting rooms in the Basilikon Synkrotima Palation, the Imperial Palace Complex. There always seemed to be a new room for the body to meet in and they were all over the building – or, rather, the network of buildings and annexes that made up the heart of the Great Holy Empire. It was a mystery as to how one was chosen over the others, or it at least seemed a mystery to Honorios Kontarian, the Tagmatine defence minister. He did know he'd been to the same room sometimes but the secret of the method of selection was unknown to him. Perhaps the Mystikos, the Holy Emperor's personal secretariat, chose it. Or perhaps another body that made up the labyrinthine Tagmatine government. The equally-labyrinthine governmental headquarters mirrored that so well.

By now, the spectacle of ritual that started every meeting of the Holy Imperial Cabinet, and even the most informal meetings with the Holy Emperor, had become almost something of an exercise of muscle memory for Honorios Kontarian. Each member of the cabinet was individually to a small cell and led in prayer by a priest for half an hour before they were allowed to enter the meeting room whilst several bodyguards from the Maghlabitai and the Spatharokandidatoi watched on. After that, each minister was allowed to enter the chosen meeting room, in strict order of precedence. Kontarian, as the Megas Logothetes tou Stratiotikou, was the second of the Megas Logothetes allowed to enter the room, after Eugenios Goulielmos, the Megas Logothetes ton Barbaron, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Before them had gone the great officers of state, the Rhaiktor, Mesazon and Kouropalates – usually translated into Anglish as Chancellor, Prime Minister and Chamberlain.

Once all of the members of the Holy Imperial Cabinet had been solemnly proceeded with their own groups of aids into the room, they had to stand behind their appointed seats until the moment when the Holy Emperor entered, followed by a train of bodyguards, attendants and priests. Once in the room, the Tagmatine monarch led all those present in prayer, asking for a productive meeting and for God's guidance in the matters to be discussed. When that had finished, each member of the cabinet was invited to sit, again in strict order of precedence. Only then might any meeting truly begin.

Sometimes Kontarian did feel that the room had been chosen as a statement on the meeting itself. Today was a prime example of that. He knew in advance that what was going to be discussed here would have a significant impact on the future of Europa, one way or another. It was to be hoped that it would mark the end of the recent dominance of Great Anglia, even as the plans of the Anglian monarch seemed to be on the cusp of crumbling across the Eurth. If that – a coming peace, even if it might be one bought at a price – was embodied as a room, then it might be expected that it might be on one of the upper floors of the Imperial Palace Complex. As if the light of the rays of the sun were finally showing and sweeping away the dark times that had come to the whole of the wurld. But, instead, it was in a semi-basement, which might be thought of as typifying the subterfuge that was about to take place. The room itself was austere, although in a modern style. The white walls had few ornaments beyond the occasional crucifix and alcove containing a saint's relic or two. The table that the Holy Imperial Cabinet was gathered around was of simple brushed steel, standing on a parquet flooring with a herringbone pattern in light and dark wood.

At the head of the table sat, of course, Kommodos III, by the Grace of Christ, Agios Basileos kai Autokrator ton Arhomaioi kai Isapostolos, the Holy Emperor and Sole-Ruler of the Aromans and Equal-to-the-Apostles. He was, in Tagmatine political theology, the chief of all of the rulers on Eurth. This wasn't something that was often referenced outside of Arhomaneia and most other nations likely viewed it as nothing more than an annoying quirk.

The meeting had been called to discuss – as if the Holy Imperial Cabinet was anything but a rubber stamp for the Old Tyrant – the possibility of finally coming to the aid to the Republic of Qubdi and, indeed, what form that might take. Kontarian knew what was coming, so he had virtually zoned out.

“Offering aid to the Kyptoi will upset the Gharoi (@Haruspex),” said the Mesazon. Gregorios Traiektonos was the Tagmatine equivalent of a prime minister, although in the autocratic government of Kommodos, he had very little power. “They view themselves as having a deep friendship with the Souberinoi. They might react with hostility.”

The Megas Logothetes ton Ilektrikon, the Minister for Power, was the next to speak. “A deeper friendship than the one they had with us, at any rate.”

It was either a statement that highlighted the bitterness that the Tagmatine government felt over the unilateral dissolving of the alliance between Prathen and Tagmatika or it was a snipe at the fact that it was viewed by many of the more conservative Arhomaioi as a failure in the first place. Kontarian was not sure. The Minister for Power, Frantzeskhos Zemarkhos, was of ancient aristocratic stock and was suspected by Kontarian and others to hold many of the other members of the cabinet, who attained their positions by ability rather than breeding, in contempt.

Others, mainly those who Zemarkhos held in contempt, thought that Zemarkhos was an arrogant, odious turd. Although of ancient aristocratic stock himself, Kontarian held that opinion, too. He was up to something, as the Minister for Power seemed to have developed some nervous tics of late.

“The Gharoi are up to something weird, though,” the foreign minister, Eugenios Goulielmos, said. He punctuated the word 'weird' by waving his fingers, a sign almost universially meaning something spooky or unnatural. Kontarian raised an eyebrow at the gesture, as it was not really befitting the dignity of a full meeting of the Holy Imperial Cabinet. Goulielmos didn't notice it and continued. He leaned forward in his seat, as if talking in a conspiratorial manner to friends. “Odd reports have started to filter through, as I'm sure both Megas Logothetes Kontarian and Kefale Keftedes[/i] could confirm.”

The Megas Logothetes ton Agelon seemingly couldn't resist saying something to Goulielmos' comments. “And considering how weird the Gharoi are, this must be extremely strange indeed.”

Kontarian caught the eye of the minister-priest, who seemed to be grinning to himself beneath his beard. He shook his head slightly, knowing that it probably wasn't a good idea to keep this tangent running.

Endoxotatoi, this is a distraction.”

Kommodos' interrupted the tangent that some of the members of the cabinet seemed to be insisting to go down. Keftedes, the spymaster, looked as if he had been about to say something – either to elaborate on or to brush aside the comments of the Megas Logothetes ton Barbaron. Instead, the spymaster sat back in his seat. The Tagmatine monarch used the courtesy title that all high members of the government were given.

“The reaction of our neighbours to the north is a key concern,” Kommodos continued. “It is one which we have certainly considered. Megas Logothetes Goulielmos, please elaborate further on what it is that we are to discuss, since the Mesazon has brought up a key point.”

The foreign minister sat up straighter in his chair as he was spoken to by his monarch. “As you all are aware, there has been a state of war existing between the Souberinoi and the Kyptoi, one that was precipitated by the latter when they invaded the territories that are disputed between the two countries.”

Goulielmos picked up a remote control and pointed it at the screen behind Kommodos at the end of the room. A series of slides began to show, pictures from international media of the conflict between the two Europan nations and map illustrating the disputed area. Almost imperceptibly, the head bodyguard, Adrianos Belissariotes, shifted slightly. The last Holy Emperor, Theodosios VI, had died to an assassin's bullet, after all.

“Despite our offer to attempt to mediate the conflict, it has continued to this day. It seems to have been partially triggered by the military alliance – the beginnings of the Occidental-Azanian Pact – that took place between Chisinau and Godstone. This is known as the Treaty of Chisinau.”

He paused for a moment, as if in thought, before shrugging and continuing.

“That is, of course, different to the Treaty of Chisinau signed between Tagmatika and Prathen.”

In Kontarian's point of view, that was not something that really needed to be added. The other members of the Holy Imperial Cabinet seemed to agree and he caught the eye of Takitos Khalkeos, the Minister for Trade, who formed something of a clique, alongside both Kontarian and Goulielmos. Khalkeos give a slight shrug. Everyone knew the name of the treaty that had marked over a decade of alliance between the Sovereign Imperium and the Greater Holy Empire.

“Ultimately, Kypton is virtually alone,” Goulielmos carried on. “Their only direct ally is Euandreia, who are currently fighting alongside them in the west. The isolation of Kypton when compared to the Angleiki-supplied weapons – and more – that Souberina is receiving.”

“And obviously the Arhomaioi step in to send aid to the beleaguered Kyptoi?” asked Valentinian Tzimekhes, the minister for finance. The question was clearly rhetorical in nature and no one bothered to answer it. Tzimekhes did well to keep the tone of his question polite in nature but the sarcasm was nonetheless palpable. The finance minister turned in his chair to face the Tagmatine monarch. “Forgive me, your majesty, but I must not be only one to see the folly of this.”

The silence that followed was enough of a cue for Tzimekhes to continue. He leant forward in his chair and rested his elbows on the table. The minister turned his gaze from the Holy Emperor to the ministers of war and foreign affairs. Kontarian and Goulielmos were the ones that usually supported or were the mouthpieces for Kommodos' militaristic or at least expensive schemes. And it was on Tzimekhes, as the finance minister, to try to rein any expenditure back in. In his own mind, at least.

“I will point out, imperial majesty, that the embargoes have had as significant an impact on Arhomaneia as the members of the OCA. Two of our biggest trading partners were Megas Angleia and Souberina.” The minister for finance didn't really need to point that out. The embargo had initially been greeted by most Arhomaioi with enthusiasm, as it felt like they were striking a blow against the warmongering states to the south. Now, its impact was beginning to be felt. Unemployment was on the rise and everyday commodities like cheaper, Europan-grown chocolate was increasing in price. “Continuation and, indeed, escalation, of conflict would hamper any plans for economic growth. As it is, with things like the disruption of aluminium and lithium from Shioeia and Zaxareia, the wurld economy is severely disrupted. My logothesion's own estimates put Arhomaneia's growth this last year at just over 1%. If this were were to continue at the same level that it is, I would expect to see less than that next year. If further conflict were to break out in the Occident...”

If further conflict were to break out in the Occident, then economic woes were probably going to be the least of their worries, thought Kontarian. He resisted the urge to shuffle awkwardly in his chair. He knew what was coming next and glanced towards his monarch. Kommodos had sat up in his chair and steepled his fingers.

“It is clear that we are on the cusp of it anyway, Endoxotatos,” said Goulielmos, sounding much more serious than he had earlier. His glasses had slipped down his nose slightly and pushed them back up his nose with his thumb. “The declaration of war by the Ghallamvrioi (@Gallambria) and Iberikeia (@Iverica) against Megas Angleia means that open conflict in Europa is about to break out. As it is, the Kyptoi have been fighting this conflict alone for over almost two years. We had attempted to alleviate some of this by withdrawing the sanctions that we placed against all of those involved in the conflict.”

Tzimekhes, for his part, knew – or at least could guess accurately – what was coming next. There was a hint of resignation in his voice as he was well versed in the performance that these cabinet meetings were. The burly minister of finance reached forward and poured himself a glass of water. He didn't bother to look over at Goulielmos as he replied. “How much, your imperial majesty?”

“The plan is to give the Kyptoi a combination of both humanitarian and military aid,” continued Goulielmos, as if he hadn't been interrupted. “We have remained in contact with the Kyptiki government, of course. Especially my opposite number, Thaodoros Kalb. At his majesty's request, we have reached out to propose that aid is to be sent to the Demokrateia tou Kyptou. Both humanitarian and military. The aid would be of a similar size to that offered to the Aurelian nations that are fighting against the Angleiki threat.”

“So, somewhere in the realms of Ħ1,000,000,000?” Again, the minister for finance directed his question at Kommodos, rather than the foreign minister. By this point, Goulielmos had lapsed into silence and Kontarian guessed that he was feeling a bit superfluous.

“Indeed, Genikos Logothetes,” replied the Holy Emperor. He used the formal, Aroman title for the minister of finance. Kommodos was still sat in the same position that he had been when Goulielmos had begun speaking. “It is felt that it is necessary to help the Kyptoi by passing them military aid, so that they might continue resisting the advances of the OCA. However, due to the fact that the Kyptiki people themselves have also been suffering due to the fact their nation has been at war, without respite, for almost two years. It is our Christian duty to help these people.”

“Of course, your imperial majesty,” said Tzimekhes, slowly. He didn't sound entirely convinced by the comments of the Tagmatine head of state, although he did know that it seemed like everything had already been decided. He sat back in his chair and quietly patted his hands on the brushed steel tabletop in front of him.

“That's not all, though, is it, your imperial majesty?” asked Paulos Narses, the minister-priest of the environment. The priest sat in his chair and slowly stroked his beard, a shrewd light glittering in his eyes. “Giving military aid will rub the Souberinoi up the wrong way – to put it mildly – even if there are attempts to keep it secret. This will sour the relationship between our nation and theirs. If not edge us closer to open conflict.”

And what do you plan to do about that? was the unspoken question that followed the minister-priest's comments.

“It will not be kept quiet, Megas Logothetes-Presbyteros,” stated Kommodos. The elderly monarch looked over his steepled fingers towards the minister of the environment. “I intend that the wurld knows this. A press statement will be released quite soon.”

Kontarian himself finally spoke, answering Narses. “The Exerkitos Arhomanos will be undertaking several large exercises in the south of the Aeireskollai, Megale Agrotikon and Tegouneia regeonai, as well as the Gulf of Dymafos. We feel – this includes the Epistrategaion – that this would be enough to dissuade the OCA from doing anything that they would regret for the time being.”

And to put a significant force in place so that it might strike. Any Tagmatine would know that the regions mentioned were along the border of the Great Queendom of Suverina.

“How large scale?” asked Tzimekhes, likely seeing the situation purely in terms of the expenditure that any military exercise might incur. Let alone any costs that might happen if war was actually fought. Many people considered Tzimekhes to obsessed by money alone – Kontarian knew that that wasn't true. The man did not relish any cost of a conflict with another Occidental nation, let alone the possibility of bringing the whole of the OCA into one.

“Enough to invade a country, Genikos Logothetes, if I may read between the lines that both the Endoxotatoi and our holy monarch were skirting around,” said Narses, with an expression on his face that was hidden behind his beard. “I pray to God that it will not come to that.”

“I feel that that is a prayer that is worth saying, for all of us.” Kommodos bowed his head and the rest of the Holy Imperial Cabinet repeated the gesture. Picking up on the silent prompt, the attendant priests, bodyguards and other hangers-on followed suit.

The Holy Emperor a prayer in Fragran, the second language of Tagmatium.

“Da pacem Domine...”

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To: Their Excellency, Thaodoros Kalb, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Demokrateia tou Kyptou (Republic of Qubdi)

From: the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion of the Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion

 

Your Excellency,

It is perhaps time that the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion admits that the policy that it has been maintaining towards Regaseion tes Megas Angleias and the Occidental-Azanian Pact in Europa has failed. Indeed, it is clear that this policy has not worked for some time. Although it has not yet been a year since Arhomaneia removed its sanctions against your nation – however just they might have been, considering the aggressive action that Kypton took – it is also clear that perhaps actual help is needed for your nation. The brave Kyptiki people have been resisting the Angleia-led assault in a manner that no other nation on Eurth has been able to. Every other nation that has been forced to resist them has broken long before they have approached even half the amount of time that the people of Kypton have been able to weather.

In light of this, and the danger that Regas Kreitonos III and his minions have proven to be to the rest of Eurth, it is obvious that it is time the Arhomaioi support your people, your nation and your armies in a manner that is not just through words or re-opening avenues of trade. Instead, it is time that the Arhomaioi recognise the fact that Kypton has been instrumental in spoiling the Angleiki schemes by holding up the advance of their armies – and those of their minions – for so long.

In order to help your nation continue to resist the Angleioi, I have been requested by his Aroman Majesty, Kommodos III, by the Grace of Christ, Agios Basileos kai Autokrator ton Arhomaioi kai Isapostolos to offer your government aid. This will, should your government choose to accept it, come in two forms.

The first will be military aid. With this, your nation should be able to weather the storm that is battering it and, in time, push your enemy back further, to beyond the borders of your ancient nation. It will consist primarily of anti-armour, anti-aircraft and flame-thrower rocket launchers, as these will not be too burdensome on your nation's logistics. Personnel will also be sent to train your nation's armed forces in their use. It is projected that the total cost of this military aid will be somewhere in the realm of A$1,000,000,000. It will not be considered a loan but given and – hopefully – received freely.

Secondly, his Aroman Majesty has directed me to offer your government humanitarian aid, to a similar sized sum as the military aid package. The struggles and suffering of the Kyptoi are known to the Arhomaioi and the trials that your people have borne without complaint are beyond that of almost every other people on Eurth. This aid should go some way towards helping to alleviate that suffering and to undo the damage done by Megas Angleia and its lackeys. It is realised that, at this stage, it is unknown how much longer this conflict will drag on for and how much more damage it may do. It may be that it is necessary to continue to give your nation aid to help with your people's continuing suffering.

May God see to it that the peoples of Eurth regain their senses and start back on the path towards peace.

Eugenios Goulielmos,

Megas Logothetes

of the

Logothesion ton Barbaron

of the

Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion

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As had become Eugenios Goulielmos' habit when he was thinking, he stared out of the window of his office. Rather than use the suite of rooms that were set aside for his ministry in the Basilikon Synkrotima Palation, the Imperial Palace Complex, he had chosen to go to the collection of buildings that were the headquarters of the Logoethesion ton Barbaron. The main building, after which the entire group was known, was the Grafeion Pittigaudeion. It was named for a famous foreign minister, Methodianos Pittigaudes. The man had been sent by Khristoforos III in AD803 – EK6311 according to the Tagmatine calendar – to broker a peace with the Kyptoi after decades of war. He had gone on to create more peace deals with the proto-Adaptiki states and even conduct an embassy to the Orhionioi (@Orioni). At this moment, the name of Pittigaudes felt almost symbolic to Eugenios of the peace that was being lost. The man had been known as a bringer of peace and of being able to find ground with even the most outrageous of the barbaroi that surrounded Arhomaneia. Through Pittigaudes' abilities, he had secured the borders of the empire at a time when both internal and external pressures threatened it with collapse.

Now what Goulielmos had been asked to do by his monarch felt almost like an act that would fly in the face of the legacy of a man such as Pittigaudes.

Goulielmos stood and looked down at the skyscape of Tagmatika. He turned slightly and picked up a cup of tea from its saucer and picked it up. He felt the warmth of it spreading through his hands. The building itself was a sleek, modern office block. All glass, steel and angles, something that wouldn't often be what foreigners thought of the Megas Agios Basileia. But there were only so many ancient buildings to go around, after all. The views all of the glass windows were spectacular, especially at night, but it might not have been the best material for a building in the north of Europa. Combined with Kommodos' drive to reduce energy use for environmental reasons, the office of the Megas Logothetes was colder than he would have liked. Snow flurries occasionally obscured the view of the lights of Tagmatika as they started to come on as the sun set. The city itself was relatively flat, with the looming shape of the Basilikon Synkrotima Palation to the right of Goulielmos' view and the skyscrapers of the financial district to his right. Between them, low-rise office blocks, residential streets and the tall shapes of blocks of flats – known as insoulai in Laimiaic – made up the rest of the view, with the domes of churches scattered amongst them. Low winter clouds, threatening more than just snow flurries, reflected the glow of streetlights and made the night much brighter than it would otherwise have been.

The Megas Logothetes took a sip of his tea and sighed to himself.

He wasn't alone in his office. It was rare that such a great personage as a Megas Logothetes was alone, as protocol dictated that it would be an insult to their dignity. Several attendants lurked in the corners of the room, as well as at least one priest. It was a Tagmatine office block, after all, and the smell of incense and the murmur of prayer was almost all-pervasive. The Megas Logothetes knew that there were several members of both the white-robed Spatharokandidatoi and the red-robed Maghlabitai stood outside of the door to the office. It wasn't as if he needed protecting from anyone, not this deep in the heart of Arhomaneia, but it was something that was done for the sake of appearances.

Goulielmos turned slightly and placed the cup back on its saucer. It was empty. One of the attendants detached themselves from the sides of the room and came forward, ready to get it refiled. The Megas Logothetes waved them off before changing his mind.

“A glass of water, if you please,” he said. The attendant offered the Megas Logothetes a half-bow in recognition.

It was probably too late in the day to keep drinking tea, although it felt like something to do to waste time. The one he had spoken to moved back towards their own side of the room and another detached themselves from the opposite side, deposited a glass of water before moving backward again.

Another voice broke the silence that had fallen after the request for water. “I think his Aroman Majesty wanted the release sent promptly, Endoxotatos.”

Flavios Aristainetos, Goulielmos' Protoasekretis – chief civil servant – sat on the other side of the desk. The man wore the dark business suit in conservative style that was the virtual uniform of the government of Tagmatium. In his lapel he wore a small pin of the Tagmatine flag. The main difference between the clothes of the minister and the civil servant was that Goulielmos wore a tie in a dark green, as historically a dark green in was used by ministers to sign off official documents, whilst the civil servant wore a dark grey one.

“I know, Flavios.” The Megas Logothetes' reply was almost hesitant.

Goulielmos had volunteered to draft the release for the announcement that Arhomaneia was sending military aid to Kypton personally, although the Old Tyrant would read over it before it was released. Drafting the document might have been more properly done by a more junior member of his ministry or perhaps someone from the Mystikon, the personal bureaucracy of the Holy Emperor. The foreign minister had requested to do it, as he felt that he needed some modicum of control over where fate seemed to be sending Arhomaneia. As well as the wurld. And himself. Over the last several months, Kommodos had been ramping up the involvement of his nation in the war against Megas Angleia and the OCA. It seemed to all observers that war between the two Occidental nations would break out before long.

“Might I suggest that the Megas Logothetes at least turns his computer on?” said the Protoasekretis.

The Megas Logothetes made no move to do so. He took off his glasses and ran a hand over his black – although greying – closely-cut hair, over his face and to his short beard instead.

How would the rest of the wurld react? Perhaps more importantly, how would the Gharoi (@Haruspex) react? The response of the Exousiokrateia was at the forefront of the minds of the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion, the Holy Imperial Government. Sending arms to the Kyptoi was everything but actually declaring war. But then Prathen hadn't reacted when Arhomaneia had placed sanctions against Chisinau or withdrawn the ones put against the Kyptoi. Supplying arms might be a step too far for the Gharoi but it seemed to be a risk that the Old Tyrant was willing to take. Although covertly supplying arms was one thing, certainly if there were attempts to put in place layers of plausible deniability. Even quietly sending armaments, without loudly announcing to the wurld that Arhomaneia was giving the Kyptoi weapons to kill Souberiniki soldiers, might be more palatable to the Gharoi. Kommodos had said that the announcement was to emphasise the fact that it was Megas Angleia that was the target, it would be clear that the Souberinoi would be the ones to bear the brunt of it.

There was a shuffling on the other side of the desk that made Goulielmos place his glasses back on and look over. The Protoasekretis was getting concerned that the deadline imposed by Kommodos was approaching and clearly wanted the Megas Logothetes to act but protocol prevented him from pressing the matter any further. At least verbally or directly.

The rest of northern Europa was quiet, too. The Gaillikoi (@Gaellicia) and the Volskoi had not shown their hands yet, if they ever would. No one in the Logothetes ton Barbaron, nor the other parts of the Arhomaiki government, doubted that the latter was doing anything other than biding its time. They had been the ancient enemy of Arhomaneia for far too long and were always thought to be waiting to strike. It was judged that they were staying out of the affairs of the Occident, Amutia and Azania, waiting until the rest of Europa was in the midst of war to act. So far, intelligence gathered by the Arhomaiki Diktyo Pliroforion, the Tagmatine Intelligence Network, seemed to point towards the Volskoi waiting until one side had the upper hand and then moving in to declare war against the other. This would then allow them the spoils of victory without being forced to do any of the heavy lifting to win it. There were rumours that they were eyeing up the Hexanesa again. Those rumours always persisted and had done so since the campaigns of Konstantinos III that had originally won the islands.

Arhomaneia's other close neighbour, Gaillikeia, just across the Rhankes Thalassa could be a thorn in the side if they decided to join the Angleioi. The relations between the two nations had ebbed and flowed over the years and, if Goulielmos were to admit to himself, Tagmatika had the tendency to act with little regard to the impact it might have on Gaillikeia. This meant that there was often little love in the archipelago nation for their western neighbour. But, so far, it seemed that there was little intent on the part of the islanders to join in with Regas Kreitonos' schemes. They were undergoing their own political turmoil. They had even barely reacted when the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion had increased its grip over the areas rightly judged to be in its exclusive economic zone. Perhaps they would sit out the ever-growing wurld crisis. There had been word that the Gaillikoi were chafing under the fact that, for once, having the same rules applied to them as other nations. It may be the source of future tensions.

Finally, Goulielmos turned away from the window. He pulled out the chair behind the glass desk and leant forward to turn the computer on. There was a audible sigh of relief from Aristainetos.

 


 

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The Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion supports all those nations that resist the urge to fall to the warmongering and exploitative ways and schemes of the Occidental-Azanian Pact (OCA). That organisation has done nothing but spread conflict and misery across Eurth, from our own Europa to distant Aurelia. The OCA has stirred up hatreds between nations in order to profit from the chaos that it has provoked, turning neighbour against neighbour. The aim that the OCA and its puppetmaster, Regas Kreitonos III, has in mind is to use its minions across Eurth to gain itself captive markets and economic relationships that are amenable to itself and its lackeys. They have stoked discord and old enmities to get for themselves what other nations and peoples were able to do peacefully. This ought to show those countries that still sit on the sidelines what the future might hold if they do not commit to resisting the OCA and its allies.

Few nations, however, have resisted the OCA for as long as the Demokrateia tou Kyptou, the Republic of Qubdi. For almost two years, the people of Kypton have struggled against an ongoing invasion by the Regaseion tes Megas Angleias, the Kingdom of @Great Anglia, and those weak-willed enough to prefer war to peace. Whilst the conflict may well have initially been triggered by Kypton itself, it was provoked by the Angleiki and their actions in the Occident. However, the conflict has drawn and it means that the Kyptoi have remained a thorn in the side of the OCA. This has meant that Megas Angleia has not been able to bring its full strength to bare across any other part of the wurld, from southern Europa to Argis to Aurelia.

For this, the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion and the Arhomaioi themselves are grateful. This war has taken much out of the Kyptoi and caused significant hardship to them. Therefore, in order to help the people of Kypton, our nation is going to donate A$1 billion in humanitarian aid to the Kyptoi. This will go some way towards alleviating the suffering that they are facing and will take the form of food, water and shelter for those that have been displaced by the conflict or are facing starvation or shortages due to the infrastructure damage caused by the actions of the Angleioi. At the moment, it is also unknown what the long term economic damage caused by the war might be and the future repercussions. The aid being donated may go some way to help make sure those repercussions are not as severe as they might otherwise be.

Arhomaneia is also going to take a further step. As well as this donation of humanitarian aid, the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion will also donate A$ 1 billion in weaponry and military equipment. This will help the Kyptoi to defend their nation from the schemes of Regas Kreitonos and his minions. It will also make sure that the Demokrateia tou Kyptou remains free and independent of the machinations of the OCA. Hopefully, the result of this aid will be that the Kyptoi eventually turn the tide and the deadlock that has been in place for some time is broken and the OCA is driven back to their positions at the start of the conflict.

This conflict has gone on for a significant amount of time, it is hoped that the end is now in sight. Although God prefers peace, and it may seem that the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion is stoking the conflict through by providing armaments, the opposite is the case. The conflict has likely been shortened and soon peace will again return to Eurth, through the defeat of the OCA.

Through faith in God, peace will again be on Eurth.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Eugenios Goulielmos walked along one of the ostentatiously decorated corridors of the Basilikon Synkrotima Palation, the Imperial Palace Complex. Unusually, he was not accompanied by any other minister or even by aides from his own ministry. It wasn't an attempt at secrecy – there would be little chance of that, with the white-robed and gold-armoured imperial bodyguards positioned along the corridors and the various functionaries that bustled past him in the political heart of God's chosen nation on Eurth. As Goulielmos passed them, the guards snapped to attention and the functionaries stood to one side. There was a worried look on his face, something that he felt that all Arhomaioi ought to be wearing. War was virtually upon them, after all. The news that had been spread by the Argic Defence Coalition was that an invasion force from Megas Angleia was speeding towards the island of Galahindeia (@Galahinda) in order to try to conquer it. That was the reason why he had requested an informal meeting with the Leader of the Free Wurld. The Megas Logothetes ton Barbaron wanted to talk about what would happen next.

He guessed what would happen. The foreign minister felt the inevitability of it.

The door Goulielmos approached was flanked by a pair of the Spatharokandidatoi, same gold- and white-dressed guards that lined the rest of the building. They were the personal bodyguards of the sovereign of Tagmatium. The door was made of heavy, ancient-looking oak, stained by the passage of time. It bore little ornamentation, although the iron studs that held it together had been covered in gold leaf. The foreign minister stood in front of it for a moment before the two leaves of the door opened, without any obvious sign that those within knew that Eugenios had arrived. As soon as the door began to open, the two guards on either side snapped to attention. They faced directly ahead, their golden sallet helms giving no indication that they had even registered the presence of the Megas Logothetes.

A man long used to the ceremonies of the government of Arhomaneia, Goulielmos didn't react as two more bodyguards stepped forwards and barred his way into the room. They held their long handled, flanged maces so that the way was blocked. These wore the red robes and gold armour of the Maghlabitai. Amongst other roles, they possessed the full arrest powers of law enforcement officers and could – in theory – pass summary punishment on anyone who offended the Agios Basileos. Both of them, like the other guards on either side of him, seemed to tower over Goulielmos, although none were actually that much taller than him. The weight of the ceremony may have been enough to crush anyone unused to it. The minister just looked straight ahead and waited the next part to begin, silently counting down in his head. Perhaps that was blasphemous and took the meaning out of the whole affair.

At the correct mental count, a priest stepped between the two Maghlabitai and blessed the Megas Logothetes. After another short count, the guards withdrew their long maces and moved to the side, allowing Goulielmos into the room. The next part of the ceremony could then begin. The minister walked forward ten steps into the room, stopping just before a mosaic that depicted the continent of Europa. The depiction of the continent was edged with martial and hunting scenes, which became Christian symbols and geometric patterns towards the edges of the room. Once, the continent had been the centre of Eurth, to at least those who lived on it. But contact with the other continents had come quite early in Europa's history and had quickly given most sensible people the notion that theirs was just a small part of it all. Even the Emperors of Arome had come to realise that their empire was but one nation amongst many others, even if they arrogantly referred to themselves as the only true civilisation. Now some dickhead from a windswept and rained-upon corner of Europa had decided to try to re-centre Eurth on his benighted corner of it whilst everyone else tried to stop it from all falling apart again.

God, Kreitonos was a c*nt.

Goulielmos gave a deep bow towards the desk opposite the door. He waited in this position for a count of seven seconds, which represented the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Another priest – or perhaps the same one, stepped forward and made the sign of the cross over him. Goulielmos could not tell if it was the same one from his study of the tesserae at his feet, but he felt it unlikely. The ostentatious display would have been diminished somewhat if it had been forced to recycle parts of itself.

At the moment the priest moved to one side, the voice of the monarch of Tagmatium issued from the end of the room.

“You may rise, my child.”

That was the sign for the next part of the ritual. The foreign minister stepped forward onto the mosaic that dominated the room in front of the Imperial Desk. It wasn't especially a work of art – there were better executed mosaics out there – but it was ancient and also remarkably accurate. The accuracy spoke of the typically Tagmatine perspective on tradition: if it wasn't broken, you shouldn't fix it but you should adapt and improve it. The mosaic had been tweaked in order to reflect better and more accurate maps of the continent. As Goulielmos walked across the mosaic, more bodyguards clicked to attention. Decorating the walls behind the guards were silk hangings in the red and purple, colours of the Greater Holy Empire.

The minister of foreign affairs stopped in front of the desk and bowed again. This time, he paused for a count of five. This represented the five wounds of Christ.

Again, the Aroman leader spoke.

“Be seated, my child.”

Goulielmos moved forward and sat in the chair, as he was commanded. The number of chairs reflected the number of people that were at the meeting. There was only one this time, of course.

Megas Logothetes Goulielmos. May the blessing of Christ be upon you. I thank you for coming. May I offer you some refreshment?” said Kommodos. They weren't words of courtesy but merely the next part of the ceremony.

In turn, Goulielmos spoke the traditional reply. “I thank you for allowing me some of your precious time, O most Christian majesty. I hope that it will be a fruitful meeting, God be willing.”

He stood again as soon as he had finished speaking. He bowed again for three seconds, three for the Holy Trinity. Once that count was over, he sat back down and a functionary from the monarch's staff came forwards and placed some refreshments on a side table next to Goulielmos. He didn't have to look to know that it would be those he favoured. Chocolate and hazelnut biscuits and a small pot of tea, of the type of black tea called Cotovar, known for its strength of flavour, as well as a thin porcelain cup. The tea originated in Kotowari. A small jug of semi-skimmed was set to one side of the table. The tea was becoming a rarity due to the disruption caused by @Great Anglia's wars. The provision of refreshment was a power play, as the refreshments themselves were supposed to be those preferred by the people attending the meeting. It was to show that the Holy Emperor knew what they liked and to imply that there were lots of other things that were known by the Tagmatine monarch. Secrets, et cetera. It also made life more convenient for Eugenios, as he didn't need to ask for anything.

Another functionary poured Goulielmos' tea at the nod of the Holy Emperor and added the amount of milk that he preferred. That was the sign that the meeting could now begin.

But as soon as that signal was given, an awkward silence blossomed. Goulielmos shifted in his chair as Kommodos looked on. He wasn't really sure how to begin. Stationed behind the Tagmatine monarch, the Mystikos and the Protospatharokandidatos, the Holy Emperor's private secretary and head bodyguard, shared a glance as the silence drew on.

“Imperial majesty, forgive me for questioning you,” began the foreign minister, finally. As statements went, it wasn't exactly one to inspire confidence. He continued onwards, however. “I appreciate that there does need to be some sort of casus belli for finally declaring war on the Angleioi but I am not sure that many people would understand why it is the invasion of Galahindeia is to be it.”

The message sent by the Defence Command for the North Adlantic Union had been seen by the the Tagmatine government. It indicated that Great Anglia was sending a large invasion force towards the Adlantic island nation, intending to seize the island for themselves and use it as a base to control the entire ocean. Whether or not that was actually a viable plan was being hotly debated in both political and military circles but the reality of the invasion was not. It seemed that Creighton believed that it was the move that would either win him the war or put him in a position to do so.

“I am sure the Proedros has forgotten about that video, Endoxotatos,” said Kommodos, referring to the head of the state of Galahinda. The collapse of the relations between Aromania and Galahinda several years ago was entirely common knowledge. The Holy Emperor sat back in his chair and placed both hands atop the dark purple leather pad on top of the desk. “Although at the time we had to make the correct noises, it did not do anything other than make the Galahindoi look foolish. I believe you even questioned me then, asking whether I thought it was a good idea to even reply to them.”

They both knew that it probably hadn't been a good idea to reply to them at any point in the sorry affair. It would have been better to let it all blow over and the notoriously fickle Galahindans let themselves get distracted by something else, something equally vacuous. The Enlightened Aroman Church, however, had picked up on it quickly and began to point to the video produced by the Galahindan singer Alyiah Arotica – what had even happened to her, anyway? – as a blasphemy and an insult to their dignity. Kommodos, as protector of the Church, had been forced to step in. It had spiralled from there, dragging in even the @Seylosians. But, ultimately, it had gone nowhere, other than seeing a dutiful servant of the Galahindan state ground into the dust. Goulielmos had pitied Vyktoria Parker at the end. It was a sad way for a solid diplomat to end her career.

“I am just not sure, Imperial Sovereign, that the fate of Galahindeia is the reason why we should be going to war.” Eugenios thought on that for a moment. He signed and closed his eyes for a bit before opening them again. “I do not mean that we should allow the Angleioi to invade, nor that we ought to allow our allies to go unsupported. I am just not sure why that this ought to be the straw that breaks the camel's back.”

It was Kommodos' turn to remain silent for a while. The Tagmatine monarch stared back at Goulielmos for a moment and picked up his own cup of tea. The smell of his tea wafted over to Eugenios. It was a slightly smoky smell, the scent of a blended tea known as “Akiiryan Caravan”. It was a much stronger sort than the one that he himself preferred. It originated from being smoked, dried and made into bricks before being traded across the Orient to Arome via Akiiryu, where it picked up the name. It was preferred during the Long War because it lasted a lot longer than other teas. It was stereotypically favoured by the older generations of Tagmatines. After a moment, it struck the foreign minister that the Old Tyrant was just that – old. He was going to be eighty this year. If the man had been in any other occupation, he would have been long since retired and able to live the remainder of his life at leisure, perhaps pottering around an allotment or playing tabula in a public park, under the shade of a tree. He knew that Kommodos had grandchildren and Goulielmos realised that it might be the thought of them growing up in the wurld envisioned by Creighton that was driving him on for this much longer.

“If I may use another idiom, Endoxotatos, there has to be a line drawn in the sand somewhere. I am sure you are aware of the origin of the phrase – the circle drawn around Androdamos IV of Aexputria by the consul Quintus Turullius Audacius?”

The foreign minister did know the phrase, of course. It was a commonly used one, after all. Although Eugenios would admit that classical history was not his strong point, he was aware of the story. The Aroman drew a circle in the sand around the feet of the Aexpurtian monarch as he was about to invade Qubdi and demanded an answer before the monarch left the circle, implicitly threatening war if the answer was not to his satisfaction. Androdamos backed down and withdrew from his invasion.

“I am, O most Christian majesty.”

Kommodos nodded, apparently satisfied. “Then this is our line in the sand.”

“Is it the correct line in the sand, your majesty?” asked Eugenios. “I don't necessarily think that the people will understand it, nor the Church. I think that the Patriarch of Tzankheia would be vocal in his criticism of it, for example.”

The Patriarch of Tzankeia, Nikolaos IX, had long been a critic of Kommodos. Before that, he had been a close political ally and the Mesazon (prime minister) under the previous Holy Emperor, Theodosios VI, although Nikolaos was then known as Maurikios Amfonos. The three of them had conspired to place Maurikios on the patriarchal throne in very dubious circumstances, in order to have a political ally in one of the most powerful positions in the Aroman Church. Then Nikolaos had found true religion and become the bane of anything less than the most conservative aspects of the Aroman Church.

“No, Megas Logothetes, it is not the correct line,” replied Kommodos after a long moment. The Old Tyrant shook his head and something like a rueful grimace could be seen on his face for a brief moment before the typically reserved and distant expression settled back in. “The correct line was crossed some time ago. Perhaps when the OCA were meddling in the Mediargic. Or when Angleiki arms were turning up in Makhairakeia or in Aurelia. Or when the OCA was bulldozing through Azania. No. None of those.”

Kommodos shook his head.

“The correct line to have drawn was when they invaded Lyseia. That was when Arhomaneia should have responded strongly and firmly. That was when we should have drawn our line in the sand.”

And, then, much quieter, the Tagmatine monarch continued. Despite sitting opposite him, Eugenios had to lean forward in his chair in order to hear Kommodos speak and he knew that the words weren't really for him to hear.

“That was when I should have drawn our line in the sand.”

As if to cover that unintentional slip of his own internal thoughts, Kommodos sat back up straight and steepled his fingers, his stereotypical pose.

“The Arhomaioi will understand why this now has to be that line,” he said. It was said firmly and with conviction, although Eugenios did not know how the Old Tyrant might actually have that certainty. But, equally, it was clear that the developments over the last few years had been leading up to this moment. “Firstly, it is our Christian duty to extend our hand to those in need. Secondly, it can be seen how strategic Galahindeia is and they will know why we cannot let Megas Angleia get a hold of it. Thirdly, we must use Arhomaiki strength to defend the weaker countries from those that would take advantage of them. That is our God-given duty as one of the most powerful nations on Eurth.”

“You propose to put down an ultimatum to the Angleioi.” Although phrased as a question, the way Goulielmos said the sentence was not framed as one. The tea and the biscuits were forgotten now. The sudden dry mouth that the foreign minister had meant that he probably couldn't swallow the latter if he had tried and the taste in his mouth was bitter enough that former would need much more sugar that he could ever tolerate.

“I do, Megas Logothetes. And may Christ and his saints be with me and the Arhomaioi.”

“I pray that that is the case, your imperial majesty,” said Goulielmos.

He really did. He really, really did.

That seemed to be the end of it, though.

“My child, I thank you for bringing this to my attention. May the blessings of Christ be upon you.”

Those were the traditional words that ended the informal audience with the Tagmatine monarch and Eugenios stood and bowed.

 


 

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To: His Excellency, Sir Algernon Edgeyton IX, Minister of Empire of the Kingdom of Great Anglia

From: the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion of the Megas Agios Basileia Arhomaion

 

Your Excellency,

The Holy Imperial Government has received intelligence from sources that it feels are beyond reproach that there is a military force from the Kingdom of Great Anglia heading towards the island of Galahinda. This intelligence suggests that this force has been sent with the mission of forcing a landing on that island, or forcing it into submission, with an eye to seizing it. Such an action, were it true, would be a move that is abhorrent to all the peoples of Eurth. Any invasion would, at best, cause significant disruption to the lives of the citizens of Galahinda, as well as put in peril the trade that stretches across the Adlantic Ocean. At worst, it would cause untold misery, death and destruction. It is not the habit of Aromania to assume the worst in other nations or peoples, but it does seem that your excellency's nation has been acting in a most aggressive manner for several years.

Therefore, from receipt of this message, the government of the Kingdom of Great Anglia has twenty four hours to come up with information that disproves this intelligence – or gives a reasonable argument as to why there might be a large naval force within the area and on that heading – and turn that information over to the Holy Imperial Government. If Great Anglia is able to prove that there is no such intention, and no such force, then may there be peace for our time.

If there is indeed such a naval force with the mission of invading Galahinda, or the government of Great Anglia cannot reasonably justify or explain the presence of a large naval force in the Adlantic, then the Holy Imperial Government and the People of Arome will consider this a move that cannot be tolerated.

It will be the line in the sand that the Kingdom of Great Anglia cannot cross without repercussion. In that instance, a state of war will exist between our countries. Greater Holy Empire of Arome will join the ever-increasing list of enemies of the Kingdom of Great Anglia has made for itself.

May God have mercy upon the the Anglians.

Eugenios Goulielmos

Megas Logothetes

of the

Logothesion ton Barbaron

of the

Megas Agios Basileia ton Arhomaion

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  • 3 months later...

“May God favour the Qubdi,” said Honorios Kontarian, the Tagmatine Megas Logothetes tou Stratiotikou (Grand Minister for War) in the language of that same nation. He knew his enunciation was perfect, even if his upper-class accent was still slightly there. He was fluent in Qubdian and both the official languages of Tagmatium, as well as Lysian and Anglian. It always helped if your family was one of the richest and most powerful within a nation. You went to the best schools that way. “Your people will turn back those who have struck against them so.”

“May God see that it is so,” replied Thaodoros Kalb, in Anglish. Kontarian raised an eyebrow, although sightly. With his use of Anglish, Kalb not only ignored both of the official languages of Tagmatium but emphasised the fact that Anglish, as a language, went beyond the dreams of that petty despot sat in Godstone. It was a statement against Anglia being the be all and end all of the current situation in the politics of the wurld. A smile then lit Kalb's face, an expression that was as false as the Diarchy. The Qubdian continued, this time in Fragran. Again, an intentional choice but not one that Kontarian would be able to find fault with officially. “I don't doubt that with the help of the Aroman Empire, my nation will be able to see justice for the hurt inflicted on it by the Anglian-backed regime in Chisinau.”

With that, as they had both been coached to do so by their respective public relations staff, the two defence ministers stood. They had finished the meeting that had taken place for the cameras, but the deal already hashed out behind the scenes. The Qubdian offered the traditional half-bow of the Aroman wurld and Kontarian returned it. The flashes of press cameras started to go off, freezing the moment in time. It would be forever shown that Kalb bowed first, seemingly showing the Aroman Empire the respect that it thought it warranted. Again, a calculated choice by the Qubdian government. Just as Kalb had been careful to emphasise any strike was against the regime of the military dictator of Suverina, not that of Queen Eva I or the people themselves.

“That justice will be done, your excellency,” replied Kontarian, using Fragran as well. He knew that Kalb had used the second language of Tagmatium as an intentional disrespect towards Tagmatika. After all, Laimiaic was the true language of the Aroman Empire and Kalb knew that. It was just a petty move by someone from one of the local rivals of Tagmatium. An erstwhile rival, at least for the moment. “His Aroman Majesty, the Equal-to-the-Apostles, commands it.”

Kalb just returned a big smile. The Qubdian defence minister could offer a lot of disrespect to Tagmatium and the Greater Holy Empire would do nothing about it, without damaging its short-term plans. Ultimately, it would be Qubdi that was making the first move against Anglian and its minion. Even if it was arguably the Amutian republic had been the one that had precipitated almost the whole crisis by invading Tagmatium's southern neighbour in the first place. Nothing could be done about that now.

They shook hands and smiled at each other again, the flashes from cameras lighting them both up continuously. The one on the face of the Qubdi minister was the one of a man who had got all that he had wanted, whilst the expression on the face of Kontarian was fixed and almost pained. It was the look of a man who had given away much and not received anywhere near the equal. Despite Kalb being slight and shorter than Kontarian, and with a wiry build, he had a strong grip. The handshake he gave was slightly too hard and the Tagmatine resisted the childish response of squeezing back harder.

The prick was mocking him, thought the aristocrat. Years of archery and tzykanion meant Kontarian could have squeezed back harder, but actually being so petty as to crush the Qubdian's hand would not have done much more than give him a personal feeling of satisfaction, if only in a hollow way.

The pair then turned and walked away from their chairs in the well-lit meeting room within the Grafeion Arx, the Fort Office, the headquarters of the Logothesion tou Stratiotikou, the Ministry for War. Thaodoros Kalb wasn't a man Kontarian would want to see again in a hurry. Both men stood looking at each other for a moment as the cameras continued to strobe. The media followed the Qubdian minister out of the room, leaving Kontarian alone, bar the usual gaggle of aides and priests.

Unconsciously, Kontarian dusted his hands together as if wiping away something unpleasant. He then walked back over to the table that the ministers had just sat at. He hovered for a moment, looking around at the room he stood in.

The offices the two defence ministers had met in were converted out of an old fortification, one that had been built to defend the perimeter for the Tagmatine capital. The site had its roots in the Bronze Age but it had been fortified and refortified over the course of millennia. The last serious attempt to make the hill part of the defences for the capital had been a star fort. Once that style of military architecture had been rendered obsolete by more modern weaponry, a nostalgic or foolhardy – or both – Grand Minister had decided that it would be a perfect site for main offices of the ministry. The parkland that had surrounded the walls of the fort had been covered in office blocks and administration buildings, where they had once been clear to provide clear lanes of fire from the fortifications themselves. The Long War had also taken a toll and in places the 19th and 20th Century brick and stone buildings were patched with modern glass and steel.

The meeting between the two ministers had been a secret one, as if it was worth it to continue with the pretence that Arhomaneia and Kypton were not working closely together. It was so secret that both the Tagmatine and Qubdian governments had allowed reporters in to watch the two shake hands afterwards. The wurld knew that the Greater Holy Empire had given over a billion Adapton Solidi worth of military equipment to the Amutian nation, and another billion in humanitarian aid. The Qubdians had now been promised the same again, as well as investment from Aromania in rebuilding the west of their country. This was where much of the fighting had taken place, once the joint Anglian and Suverinian forces had pushed out the Qubdian attempts to conquer the Disputed Territories. Both the Suverinians and the Qubdians had their own names for it, but they weren't being used by the Aroman government at this point.

One of the concessions that Tagmatium had given was that, post-war, it would use the Qubdian name for the territory. At the moment, that was as far as the Holy Imperial Government would go but Kalb would have known that was not all that that promise meant. It was effectively tacit Tagmatine agreement that the territories were part of Qubdi and not Suverina. This was even if the Aroman government used it alongside the Suverinian name or just calling it the “disputed territories”. Or both.

In and of itself, that point had been a major source of friction within the Holy Imperial Cabinet. Kontarian hadn't necessarily seen why – he had proposed that both names were used in any official correspondence. If need be, the Holy Imperial Government could swap them around as it saw fit or as the circumstance dictated. A couple of the other members of the cabinet had seemed reluctant to go that far and had argued that the short term benefit of such a concession would outweigh the long term costs of poor relations with the Suverinians in the future. Tzimekhes, the Minister of Finance, had been the main one behind that argument, with both Zemarkhes and Tonaras nodding along. The Ministers of Power and Internal Affairs formed part of a clique that always seemed to be against whatever Kontarian proposed, anyway. It was duly pointed out by Kommodos that the ground invasion of Suverina would sink any relations, at least in that same short term. An attack on a nation that was formerly friendly to the Greater Holy Empire would probably cause significant diplomatic repercussions for years to come.

Ultimately, the plan was more or less that a two-pronged assault into Suverina, one from Qubdi and Euandria westwards into the Disputed Territories and one south from Tagmatium to the coast of the Gulf of Martyrs. These were not “core” Suverinian territories, as they were both later acquisitions through in the 2010s. They wouldn't come close to threatening the heartlands of the Great Queendom. This, as envisioned by the government of Tagmatium, would mean that the regime of Field Marshal Nikolai Dănilă would not be able to try to draw on popular support, as the centre of his nation was not under attack. This would then cause the Suverinians themselves to revolt against their military leader and topple him, whilst the Anglians were distracted and thus not able to offer any support.

Kontarian sighed as he thought over that and sat himself back down in the chair that he had used whilst meeting with this Qubdian opposite number. At best, it was an inelegant solution. He leant forward and poured himself a glass of the wine that he and Kalb had toasted their agreement with, filling the glass half full and then adding the same amount of water as the wine. He swirled the contents of the glass around to make sure that it was mixed, even though it was considered to be an uncultured gesture by the Aroman upper classes. There were implements specifically for the mixing of wine and it was not usually done by the glass, either. The idea that the Suverinians would draw the line at territories not historically theirs was a hopeful thought on the part of the Holy Imperial Government, thought Kontarian.

The reaction from the Epistrategaion was mixed. On the one hand, they thought the scheme a politician's plan, made too much up of half-measures and hopeful suppositions to be truly effective. The populace of Suverina didn't really support Dănilă and they loved their queen. But Dănilă enjoyed the support of the Suverinian parliament and church – he had been installed by them or taken advantage of them to be installed, depending on how the situation had been viewed. He had defended the territories of his homeland successfully and had not brought the wrath of the rest of the wurld down on them for that. Few viewed the Qubdian attack as little else than an act of belligerence on the Qubdians' part. If the Greater Holy Empire was to make a move, thought the High Command, it would have be decisive and truly knock out Suverina with an assault that never stopped short of the capital itself.

“Chisinau or never!” a staff officer had declared, presumably thinking himself quite clever. Kontarian wasn't a vindictive man and he had always felt a deep respect for the armed forces officers of his country. His family was of the military aristocracy who had served Arome for over one thousand years. However, that officer was never going to see another promotion for as long as Kontarian had any authority in or with the Tagmatine government for that pun.

On the other, the General Staff saw the need to not push too hard into the Great Queendom. Private meetings Kontarian had with its members had made that clear. Similarly, the Sovereign Imperium (@Haruspex) was keen to strike against Anglia and was going to provide a force of tens of thousands of soldiers. Upsetting them and their so-called blood pact with Suverina might have dire consequences. Isolating the Suverinian forces east of the Sinuus River and destroying most crossing points might mean that the Suverinians thought twice about a counter-attack, especially if the Anglians themselves were defeated. And it looked like they would be soon. The assault on @Galahinda would begin and it was expected to be rebuffed. Even if it wasn't, the Aroman fleet moving up behind the Anglian forces was thought to be enough to destroy them. There was also the TRIDENT attack on the Anglian mainland itself, which had been hinted at for a while now. It looked like it would take a good hard shove and the OCA's house of cards would topple.

Kontarian rolled the glass of wine across his forehead, as if it could draw the headache that was building behind his eyes into it.

The reason why the Qubdian price was so high was because they had to make the first move, according to Arome. They would be the bait. They would attack into the Disputed Territories again – with Euandrian support – and bear the brunt of any immediate counter-attack. Suverinian forces had been stretched by sitting across the border from the Tagmatine formations and trying to cover both their northern and eastern borders. The Tagmatine forces would then move within a day of the Qubdian attack, although an air and missile campaign would begin as soon as the Qubdians signalled their intent to move. Hard pressed by both attacks and with Anglian support draining away, the political will of the people of the Great Queendom would soon follow.

That was the theory, at least.

Kontarian looked into his glass and at the wine in it. He knew that it wasn't just that Aromania thought that this was a way to knock out Anglia's other Occidental ally. It was also a way to show that Tagmatium was contributing to the military defeat of the OCA. Certainly, the Greater Holy Empire had been a significant contributor of financial and military aid to pretty much any nation that asked for it – and some that didn't. There had been Tagmatine casualties in the campaign against the Dolch, but nothing like those the Aurelians or the Velaherians (@DPR Velaheria) had suffered. There was a feeling that if Aromania didn't show that it was committed militarily as well, then it would not be able to justify its position in the post-OCA wurld. The naval force that was sent to aid in the Battle of Galahinda had not got into combat, although that was probably a good thing. As it had gone unscathed, it could then support other operations against the OCA. There were ideas that it could turn south and move against the Azanian portion of the alliance but those were to be discussed with the government of @Seylos.

It probably also helped that some of the High Command were champing at the bit. They wanted a conflict with the Great Queendom, as small as its aims were, to settle old scores. Scores, admittedly, most thought settled with the acquisition of the Despotes class carriers.

Kontarian finally took a sip of his wine. He rolled it on his tongue for a moment before taking a swallow. It was a Suverinian wine. Another message, and a clear one at that.

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  • 4 months later...

The Qubdi, as promised, had made the first move. They pushed, once again, into the disputed territories. Their tired armed forces had been bolstered by a significant injection of equipment and training from Tagmatium. They had promised to achieve certain objectives within the first few hours and then push onwards but the Tagmatines had not expected them to do much more than seize and hold those objectives, with some attempts to continue to push for at least a day. Then, the Epistrategaion assumed that the Qubdi would be exhausted and capable of doing little more than holding onto what they had gained. That was fine, however. The aim was for them to act as little more than a distraction, until the next phase began. Once that day had elapsed, and the Suverinian armed forces split between coping with the TRIDENT attack in their west and the Qubdi attack in their east, the Tagmatine Armed Forces began their assault.

The Tagmatine Army unofficially styled itself as the “Hammer of God” and the sledgehammer that hit the Suverinians lived up to that name.

The initial Tagmatine attack was intense but resistance was equally stiff in return. Even with the pressures that the Suverinians were feeling from the other fronts that their nation was involved in, the Occidental theatre was always going to be where much of their forces were positioned. Every Europan nation had considered the possibility of a Tagmatine attack. The Suverinians shared a long border with the Greater Holy Empire and were undoubtedly wary of it, especially with their government's pro-Anglian alignment. The Aroman Gap, the wide valley between the hills that lay to the south of Arome, was the often considered to be the lynchpin of attack and defence for both Suverina and Tagmatium. The Tagmatine attack saw an army group thrown at the Gap order to both bog the Suverinians down and crack their defence. As the Suverinians moved to defend the against the massed Tagmatine forces moving against the Aroman Gap, another attack was laid through the Megale Agrotikon Gap to the east. It was the textbook attack both nations had been fearing and planning for and against for decades.

Nonetheless, the fact that the Suverinian forces were being spread so thin meant that the Megale Agrotikon Gap was not as well defended as the Suverinian General Staff had planned. As the first Tagmatine army group battered its way through the Aroman Gap, the second ploughed through the Megale Agrotikon Gap.

Spread between the Qubdi, the TRIDENT assault in the west and Hammer of God hitting them in the east, the Suverinian forces collapsed. They held what had been termed the Dănilă Line, a forward line of trenches and dugouts, for several days, before it was broken. The more traditional Michael line, a network of interconnected bunkers and trenches, was broken by bunker-busting munitions and assault units with flamethrowers. The next line, the Eva Line, was of a similar construction. It held out for much longer and it wasn't defeated by a frontal assault.

In between the attacks on the Suverinian lines, Tagmatine special forces moved through the hilly regions between the axes of attack along the Aroman and Megale Agrotikon Gap to weaken the Suverinian forces and to prevent a coordinated defence. These consisted of a mix of units from the different formations that the Basilikostratos had. One of the Apelatai mountain units led the way, followed on by Exkoulkatores and Hippakontistai special forces units. These spread out as the mountain forces penetrated the Suverinian lines.

Several brutal battles were fought to try to maintain or penetrate the defences within the hills before the Tagmatine formations managed to gain a foothold on the northern coast of the Gulf of Martyrs. Although reinforced, their position remained precarious, as they were surrounded on both sides and Suverinian attempts to break the roadblocks became furious. As the Tagmatine forces severed the Suverinian line of retreat, opposition to the attack through the Megale Agrotikon Gap finally collapsed. The blocking forces on the coastal roads were wiped out or forced to retreat as they tried to maintain their foothold against Suverinian units retreating along the coast. Nonetheless, other units and air attacks harassed the Suverinian retreat, especially as many of the bridges across the Sinuus River had been damaged by long-range missile strikes. Within the month, the Tagmatine forces linked up at the southern end of the Aroman Gap and several Suverinian brigades had surrendered rather than face being wiped out after they could no longer retreat.

The Bianor APC hit a bump and caused a ripple of movement through the troop compartment and a few curses and prayers. The helmeted head of Skoutatos Zakharopoulos jerked back uncomfortably and he joined the rest of his section in swearing. The armoured panels had been drawn shut across the windows in the sides of the troop compartment to protect the occupants against shell splinters and small arms fire. The relatively thin armour of the APC wouldn't protect against much more than, although it should be proof to anything up to and including autocannon fire. None of those in it wanted that put to the test, however. Zakharopoulos had nothing to do other than to look around the faces of the rest of his section or to fiddle with his gear. He'd done both of those for too long and too often over the last few days. The only light inside the vehicle was from several red bulbs that were designed to preserve the night vision of the soldiers riding within it.

Another bump and another round of swearing and muttering. The vehicles hadn't been designed with the modern uniform in mind, with its bulky body armour and personal communications equipment. The soldier it had been made for had basically just a rifle, helmet and ammunition. They barely had more than two machine-guns per section, let alone anything the grenade launchers, anti-tank equipment and marksmen rifles of their modern equivalent. This was the reason why the section felt crammed in the back of the APC, even with the fact that the Bianor had been retrofitted with better seating and belts to secure the troops that rode in it in place and more ergonomic storage. The section leader, Spandounia, snarled and thumped her fist against the bulkhead separating the crew and troop compartments.

“Watch where you're f*cking going! You're rattling us around back here!”

Zakharopoulos guessed that the Pentarkhissa was just as scared as he was. Spandounia met his gaze for a moment and she narrowed her eyes at him and he looked away quickly. None of the Skoutatoi sat along the benches around him had been in combat before. He had been told that the division had been intended to be cycled through Ceris to get a chance at some combat experience but the deteriorating situation in Europa meant that that had never happened. Instead, the rest of the wurld erupted into conflict and the Occident slid closer and closer to war.

And then was at war.

“If you think you can do better, be my f*cking guest!” came the muffled shout of the driver, barely audible over the sound of the engine and the tyres along whatever surface they were bumping along. Tagmatine doctrine held that the APCs were to get as near as they could to their objective before withdrawing. Unlike the heavier IFVs, the Bianores couldn't take much in the way of incoming fire and their armament was limited to .50 calibre heavy machine guns and 20mm autocannons. The one that Zakharopoulos and his section sat in had a heavy machine gun mount on it. As yet, it hadn't sounded as if it had been used. It was unlikely that it would be,unless the vehicle itself came under attack.

To Zakharopoulos' right, he heard a gagging noise. His fire-team's designated marksman had one hand clutched tightly to the strap holding him in place and another pressed over his mouth. At the best of times, Protoskoutatos Psendakes suffered from motion sickness and he needed to look out of a window to get over the feeling of nausea. With the windows of the Bianor blocked, it was just the man's willpower keeping what was left of his lunch down.

“Don't puke on my boots again, man,” said the soldier opposite Psendakes. It wasn't said with any hostility. And, in fairness to Psendakes, it hadn't happened since the day before. They had managed to air out the stink of vomit from the Bianor and the rifleman had been able to keep his food down since.

Psendakes withdrew his gloved fist from his mouth and waved it at his comrade. “I'm bloody trying but your moaning is making it tempting.”

“Puke again and you'll have to eat it up from the deck yourself,” said the commander of the section's second fireteam, Tetrarkhes Limetanos.

The colour slipped from the face of the Protoskoutatos again at the mental image of that and he put his free hand back over his mouth. The soldier opposite tried to slide his boots as far back under his seat as he could.

There was a sudden feeling of sharp deceleration and the section bumped back the other way. Another wave of swearing issued from them but a lot more quiet this time. Hands sneaked to personal reliquaries and the cursing was mixed in with a dash of prayer. Zakharopoulos checked his weapon again, making sure that everything at least looked OK. The TE11 and its EK11 underslung grenade launcher seemed to be fine. The rifle was loaded, the grenade launcher was not. He'd not been given the order to put a grenade in it yet.

Dekarkhion! Debus!”

At the command from the Pentarkhissa, Psendakes and the soldier opposite him at the rear of the troop compartment leant forward and grabbed the handles. They pulled down and pushed forward in the smooth motion they were trained in, before bringing up their rifles up and covering the rest of the section as they exited. The rest of the unit jumped out in pairs and moved towards any available cover they could see, to the left and right of the Bianor. In this instance, Zakharopoulos was the next soldier out and he felt his boots crunch onto a tarmac surface before he scurried over to a bush and crouched behind it. He half slid back into a drainage ditch behind him that he hadn't initially seen. He checked his slide with a hand and then steadied himself. The ditch provided him with a bit of cover but he pulled himself back out of it.

He blinked again, trying to dispel the artefacts in his vision from going from the dim light of the carrier to the bright day outside the vehicle. Almost as soon as he had got his bearings, the stink of burning hit him. He recognised a fire-blackened vehicle one hundred metres to his left as a Suverinian tank. Further on, in a gouge in the landscape, the tail of a Basilikoaeroporia helicopter could be seen. As he looked more, the scene in front of him was almost apocalyptic. The landscape was pockmarked by shell craters and what few buildings he could see had been burnt, charred rafters poking through collapsed roofs and fire-blackened walls. Columns of smoke still drifted into the surprisingly still air from some of them. The rest of the platoon had dismounted and was in the process of fanning out from their vehicles.

“Take that f*cking bayonet off, Skoutata!” came the voice of the Pentarkhissa. “I didn't f*cking tell you to put it on! You'll have someone's f*cking eye out!”

Zakharopoulos risked a glance over his shoulder. His opposite number, the grenadier in the other fire-team, had a sheepish look on her face as she took off her bayonet and replaced it in its scabbard. Unlike most bayonets, that of the TE11 fitted onto the gun with its blade facing upwards. It was not well liked by most Tagmatine soldiers. The conservative way of thought that was deeply embedded in the Tagmatine military meant that the bayonet was still considered one of the key weapons of its soldiers, especially the infantry. Bayonet drill and mock bayonet charges were part of the regimen every recruit had to carry out. Those weren't as hated as the pike block drill, stated as a key part of making units work cohesively on the modern battlefield. During basic training they had to shuffle around with a four-metre wooden pole, shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the platoon, for a few hours every day for a month. This was repeated for several hours every month or so after basic training. It did little to condition someone to warfare where unmanned drones were beginning to play a big role.

The Bianores sat with their engines running. The chip-fat smell of their biodiesel engines started to seep into the air, covering the generic burning scent. The smell finally made Psendakes lose his lunch. Apart from the chug of the APCs' diesel engines, it was surprisingly quiet, if one were to ignore the constant rumble of conflict in the distance. There was little wildlife in the area, though. Just some hopeful looking pied wagtails, which were essentially prettier-looking pigeons. Their bobbing tails drew the eye to them. They scurried around, as close to the disembarked infantry as their nerve let them get. Occasionally, they would take to the wing and chitter to each other before landing again and creeping closer. Everything else had all been disturbed by what was essentially the biggest land conflict since the Long War. Even house sparrows, ubiquitous as they were to human civilisation, had since left the area. Probably as the buildings that they lived in burned down.

Suddenly, a flight of jets, M/P-87 Boutoi from the look of them, roared overhead from the east, drowning out all other noise as they flew in low towards their target. The wagtails disappeared, petrified by the sudden noise. As Zakharopoulos watched, dark shapes detached from the aircraft and the jets pulled away as tracer fire started to leap up at them. Flares exploded from the jets but one of them took a hit and started to leak smoke. He watched as the pilot ejected and the aircraft itself disappeared from his view. A reminder that there was a wider war going on, after all.

The Pentarkhissa made a gesture and the section coalesced in the lee of its APC. Psendakes looked even more green as he was forced to come closer to the exhaust fumes of the vehicle again. He probably didn't have anything left to throw up, however.

Skoutatoi,” said the Pentarkhissa. “It's time for tea. The Axiomatika will brief us on what we're to do next.”

There was a moment of grumbling, as the section felt that it had been roused out of the relative comfort of its vehicle for no reason. Mugs were produced from the soldiers' kits and two of them ducked back inside to use the Bianor's boiling vessel to make. Their duty was then dole out tea to the rest of the section. A similar action was happening across the rest of the platoon. The platoon commander, Axiomatika Blathylla, drew the platoon up with a gesture. Her rank would translate into Anglish as 'lieutenant of infantry'. The Noumeroi differentiated in rank title between its branches.

The lieutenant produced a map and spread it against the sloped side of her command vehicle. She gestured at two other soldiers, who took a corner of the map in each had, which left the officer's hands' free to point at the map. The rest of the unit craned in to try to see. Several positions were marked out in what Zakharopoulos could only assume was crayon. The officer had several tucked into the top of her body armour.

Tourmarkhon has lost contact with what is reported to be a battalion-sized element of Suvvies, roughly here,” she said, pointing at a red circle on the map. A red arrow then moved away from it, towards the right corner of the map. “They were believed to be retreating from our advance towards the north-west. Other reports state that it might be brigade-sized, rather than battalion.”

She tapped at that with a finger. The suspected line of retreat seemed to take the Suverinians towards some heavily wooded and hilly terrain. They likely thought that it would cover them as they attempted to put distance between them and the Tagmatine advance.

“Our kentarkhon will be moving along their suspected axis of retreat to try to re-establish contact. Once done, the komes has assured me that the rest of the kometon will engage, along with support elements attached from external units. This will include air support, if need be. He has assured me of this”

There was a moment of silence as the platoon digested that information. It seemed like the komes – the Anglish equivalent would be 'colonel' – expected the company to run into heavy resistance from the retreating Suverinian forces. That was probably not just the regimental officer being cautious. Their country was getting invaded, after all. From towards the back of the group, a hand was raised.

The infantry officer pointed at the soldier with their arm in the air. “Yes, Antisthenes?”

“Isn't this a recce job?” asked the soldier, a member of one of the other sections. There wasn't any vocal agreement, a few helmets could be seen to be nodding up and down slightly.

“Good news, Skoutatos! As a member of Aromania's illustrious and storied infantry, you can perform any role asked of you.” Although Zakharopoulos couldn't see much of the platoon commander's face beneath her ballistic goggles and helmet, he felt that her eyebrow would be raised. “Such as this.”

It looked like Antisthenes wanted to say more but thought better of it. It did seem like a reconnaissance job but maybe the division wanted a reconnaissance-in-force. It still could be better performed by the actual reconnaissance units of the division, not by the infantry. Maybe they were off undertaking another mission.

Maybe they had been torn to pieces by the Suvvies whilst carrying out the same mission.

He shuddered and repressed that thought.

“We are going to advance to the Suvvies' last known location,” the officer continued. “There, we will wait to then link up with a troop of Klibanoforoi. Then we will resume the advance to contact. Does that satisfy you, skoutatos?”

The look on Antisthenes' face seemed to suggest that it, in fact, didn't. The Klibanoforoi were the independent tank regiments of the Basilikostratos and mounted in the most modern Tagmatine tanks. They were often attached to the Skoutatoi, who did not possess organic armour of their own. Still, it suggested that the higher ups within the division expected more of the company than just nipping at the heels of a retreating and defeated force.

“That's all, kontoubernion,” the officer continued, using the Tagmatine name for 'platoon'. She looked at her watch in an exaggerated fashion. “You have five minutes to finish you tea before we get back in the Bianores. Stretch your legs. The next time you will debus will likely be under enemy fire. The company confessor won't be able to make his way to us before we get back in the APCs, so make sure your sins are just shooting Arome's enemies.”

Zakharopoulos pursed his lips and looked into his mug. His tea was probably still too hot to neck in the next five minutes but he took a few tentative gulps from it and pulled a face as he felt the hot liquid burn his tongue a bit. Timoklissa, the soldier who'd put her bayonet on before exiting the APC, met Zakharopoulos' gaze as he looked around the rest of the section and shrugged. They were already moving towards the rear doors of the Bianor when the Pentarkhissa gave the order.

Dekarkhion! Rebus!”

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Flares lit up the cloudy sky, throwing some stark lights against the low clouds as they fell to the ground.

The bursts of flares had become commonplace over the last few weeks, as Tagmatine aircraft had conducted strikes against airfields that had been within the lines drawn by TRIDENT as the Tagmatine area of operations. Dagalaifos watched them as they arched down from the sky in clusters, plotting out the route of some aircraft as it deployed countermeasures to try to not be hit by an anti-aircraft missile or gun system. He had no idea who it was or what side they were on, of course. Wherever that aircraft was, it was too far away for him to be able to see. At a guess, he imagined that they would either have been Tagmatine or Suverinian. There were other options, of course – the Qubdi, the Anglians or TRIDENT but they weren't as likely.

The air force of the former, Qubdi, had hit enough of an attrition rate during the early part of the Anglian War that they had not really been worth mentioning for several years now. At best, they had been able to carry out sporadic interdiction attempts against the cursory ground attack operations run by the Suverinians in the stalemated disputed territories. As for the other two, as far as the likes of Dagalaifos was aware, they had not strayed this far east.

The Tagmatine air force had heralded the invasion of Suverina by conducting its own SEAD campaign, in conjunction with both conventional bombing and ground-launched missile attacks. Anything that was known as a military target was hit, along with anything that was theorised as a military target.

The flares were especially pretty at night, the armour officer thought to himself. It was a shame that it wasn't night at the moment. He wasn't the only one of his crew watching them fall. The loader sat in her hatch, watching the flares arc down as well. After a few minutes, she broke the silence.

“I heard that the Epistrategaion was pissy that TRIDENT had drawn its plans and gave us such a small slice.” Maioriana idly wiped a finger through some of the dirt that had accumulated on the turret roof, just in front of the loader's hatch. The day was overcast and the flares caused a play of light through the camouflage netting that hung over the tank. From what Dagalaifos could see of the loader's face between the bottom of her goggles and the scarf that tied around her neck, she looked bored. It wasn't the same scarf that she had worn when they'd been camped out in the snow.

The Kentarkhos had burned that one whilst Maioriana had been busy with some other task, although he couldn't remember what. He hadn't been able to bear that diseased rag being in his tank any longer. If she had noticed the fact that it had gone missing, she had never said.

“Yeah, well, I heard that the Epistrategaion wasn't too unhappy about it,” said another voice, echoing up from both hatches. And through the headsets of both of the crew who had their heads and shoulders outside of the tank. The gunner, Kouritikos, tended to be contrary to what almost everyone else was saying. “I mean, it's obvious when you think about it. It means that we can move more force against a smaller frontage. Especially since the Suvvies are getting f*cked by TRIDENT from one side and the Kyptoi from the other.”

“And then us,” added the Kentarkhos half-heartedly. This had pretty much become the default topic of conversation amongst all of the Tagmatine service-people that he had spoken to, let alone the crew of his tank. Out of impulse rather than any real need, he leaned forward and checked the belt-feed of the heavy machine gun mounted on his cupola. The mount it was on was both remote controlled and capable of being fired manually. It also had several plates of ballistic glass to protect him from incoming fire, if need be. He noticed that there was something of a grime build up. Someone had drawn a Chi-Rho in it, along with a smiley face and a surprisingly artful picture of a dog wearing a tanker's helmet. He'd have to clean it once they had some down time. The whole tank needed a once-over, when they had a spare moment. Now was not one of them, despite the fact that they currently found themselves sitting idly.

“And then us,” echoed the loader. She had a slightly grim set to her face. It was likely that Maioriana was thinking about the Sentist War, the last time the crew had been in combat.

They had been pretty lucky – during the Sentist War, they had been the first Aroman vehicle into hostile territory. The advance had not been particularly pretty. The Sentists had been experts in the art of using artillery rounds as improvised explosive devices. Sometimes, they even used ancient, giant naval shells. It turns out, shoving enough of those into the ground and waiting for a Thoas to roll over them before they were detonated could literally flip the seventy-tonne monsters onto their backs. The crew had all seen happen, once to the lead vehicle in their platoon. It had not been particularly pretty.

Their Mark V Modification Zeta General Tank Thoas, 501, had, as it turned out, had to do little more than bounce old recoilless rifle rounds and squash technicals during that conflict. Literally, at one point – some dopey Sentist cunts had allowed themselves to get run over whilst doing a particularly shittily executed ambush. It wasn't as if the monster the crew was in was quiet.

'501' wasn't really the name of the tank – it was its designation as the command vehicle of the fifth squadron of the regiment. But official Imperial Army regulations stated that naming vehicles something that the Imperial Navy did, so it was forbidden. Interservice rivalry at its best. Unofficially, some crews did name their vehicles and others did not. NCOs and officers turned a blind eye to it, by and large. 501 had never been given a name and the number had slowly become the tank's name. It was the same tank as they had used in Ceris, of course. It had a different number then.

“We made it through, though,” said Dagalaifos. He unconsciously rubbed the prayer inscribed around his cupola, above the periscope blocks. There were eleven kill rings painted around the barrel of the main gun. The Sentists still had had armour and the outdated tanks that they had deployed could still be lethal from ambush or if used en masse. One of the tanks in Dagalaifos' platoon has been hit repeatedly from ambush and it had then burned. The crew had escaped relatively unscathed but had then been machine-gunned as they had attempted to get into cover. That episode, and several like it, had led to Tagmatine crews returning the favour any Sentists who left their damaged or burning vehicles.

The crew lapsed into silence, their usual bickering fading away. No one really liked thinking about the Sentist War.

The camps were especially hard to think about. Or to avoid thinking about.

Now, 501 sat in an overwatch position. In theory, everything was going to be quiet for the moment. The rest of the division, the 109th Palatinoi Katafraktoi Tourmarkhon, was not exactly held in reserve but they were in what was considered to be a quiet sector. The 109th had been one of the follow-on divisions, moving through once the leading units had broken out of the bloody fighting through the Aroman Gap. They had secured their objectives – several hills and villages overlooking the routes out of the Gap along its western edge – quickly and were now settled down to wait until they were called to advance again. This was why they were able to sit and watch the flares from whatever air combat was going on above them.

Suddenly, a voice in Dagalaifos' headset broke through tank crew's unfortunately reflective silence.

“Gekon-2 reporting enemy armour, in our sector, moving down east slope, over.”

'Gekon-2' was the call-sign of 159th Katafraktoi Kometon, Gamma Company, 2nd platoon. They had a tank or some sort of armour in their pre-registered sector. That unit was one of the other Katafraktoi regiments of the 109th, with the 'lead' regiment of the division all being in MBTs and the rest as armoured infantry.

The crew sprang into action without Dagalaifos saying a word.

Maioriana slid back back through her hatch without any further comment as Dagalaifos moved the rangefinder attached to his cupola towards the sector covered by Gekon-2. Kouritikos moved the turret to match that position. The engine behind him erupted into life as Praiketos, the tank's driver, prepared to move 501 forward. It would have been more efficient for the tank to have been in the hull down position from the start, but the Imperial Army was still worried about ground attack by Suverinian aircraft. As the Thoas crept forward from under the netting and towards the reverse slope of the low hill it sat behind, Dagalaifos caught sight of the Suverinian armour units trying to nose down a steep road, almost little more than a goat track. He stopped Praiketos when their tank took up a hull down position. He slid back down into the turret and sat with his head just peaking above the rim of his cupola.

The Suverinian armour looked like an IFV, probably cut off from the rest of its unit by the Tagmatine advance. They might have tried to scurry into the hills to work their way back around but then had been cut off again by the break through. They either had balls of tungsten or were totally desperate. They would have known that moving down that track would move them back towards the bulk of the Tagmatine thrust. Off the top of his head, Dagalaifos remembered a parallel move by a Noumeroi mechanised division along his division's own axis of advance. Presumably, these Suvvies were trying to escape that and were moving towards his position. He was about to ask Kouritikos whether he had the IFV in his sights when it brewed up. Another burst of flame showed behind it, which was then followed by several others. That indicated that it was not one IFV, but several. The first vehicle in the small column had run over an anti-tank mine, whilst the rest had been dealt with by the man-packed AT weaponry carried by the dismounted cavalry. The Suverinian appearance had been brief.

“We got them, Kotrios-1,” reported the commander of the dismounted Katafraktoi. That was Dagalaifos' platoon's call-sign. It was a tradition in the 109th for platoon call-signs to be mythical canines' names. Hence why someone had drawn a dog in the dirt on the turret. “Some HE would be appreciated, to see if we can clear out any infantry lurking, over.”

“f*cking whingers,” said Maioriana, over the vehicle intercom. “They could have at least dealt with it themselves before asking us do anything.”

The noise of the breach being re-opened and the combustible cartridge case being extracted, replaced into the ready magazine and the armour-piercing, fin-stabilised discarding sabot projectile being removed as well could be just heard over the rumbling of the engine. Several icons on the Kentarkhos's display flashed from green to red, indicating that the main gun was no longer loaded. Still grumbling, the loader was already loading a high-explosive round into 501's main gun. It was a heavy shell and she had rolled up her sleeves. Despite being the only woman on the crew, she probably had the biggest biceps. It had been a long time since the rest of them had got drunk enough to take her up on her usual demands for an arm-wrestling tournament when they'd been at a bar for any length of time.

She usually beat them.

He rolled his eyes at his loader doing her own whinging. “They've already done the hard shit. We'll just shell the rest of the f*ckers.”

Dagalaifos switched his headset from talking internally to the crew to the channel used by the platoon he was providing overwatch for. “Where do you want them, Gekon-2?”

He could see some brief tracer fire from a ruin but he had no idea whether that was an enemy position or a friendly one. As far as he was aware, the Tagmatine positions were further down the small track but the dismounted cavalry could have moved up in order to flank the Suverinian units. They had not reported it to him and he was hesitant to give the order to his crew to fire until it had been made clear.

“Painting it now, Kotrios-1,” came the voice back. That same ruin that the armour officer had been eyeing up suddenly had points of laser light dance over it. It seemed as if a squad support weapon had been dug in on one of the lower floors. Other small arms fire came in bursts from higher windows.

“Seen, Gekon-2. Over and out.”

Kontoubernion, all seeing?” asked Dagalaifos. He had switched to the channel used by his own unit. The rest of his platoon answered in the affirmative. They were watching what he was doing. This had been the most action that they had seen in the few days. His tank crews were itching to do something but he didn't want them to unmask themselves unnecessarily. They were all dug in and hidden across the rest of the northern side of the low valley. “Wait for my order. I can deal with it for now, over.”

There were several statements in the affirmative and in reception. The rest of Dagalaifos' unit would wait until their commander ordered them to intervene. The icons on his display switched back from red to green. The main gun was loaded again. Dagalaifos switched back to the channel being used by Gekon-2.

“Firing, over.”

As soon as the tank commander stated that to the dismounted cavalry, he said 'fire, fire!' over the tank's intercom. 501 burped fire and sent a 128mm high explosive shell towards its target. The repeat order was an artefact of the Long War, still used amongst Tagmatine tank crews – it was originally to make sure that the gun crews had their mouths open so that the sudden change of pressure within the vehicle didn't burst their eardrums. The gun was actually fired on the second word. It was redundant with modern armour but the Imperial Army was cemented in tradition, useful or not.

“Another one, Kotrios-1, 30m to the north-east of the first,” came the request of the dismounted cavalry unit leader. “Two more after that, we will light them up in turn. Will request if we need more, over.”

Christ, they were Katafraktoi, supposedly one of the élite units of the Imperial Army. The same as Dagalaifos' crew. They should have Perifas IFVs with them, providing support as they dealt with the apparent attempted breakout. Surely with the firepower of the IFVs and the soldiers working with them, they should be able to get rid of any dug-in enemies? Dagalaifos could see the buildings in question. The pall of dust and smoke from the first target began to cover the rest of the hamlet from his point of view. He shifted in his seat to see what he could see through thermal imaging. The first building was beginning to collapse and burn. He couldn't tell whether there were people within it. Still, he highlighted the next target for his gunner and he felt the turret shift as Kouritikos moved the gun to bear on the next target. That building was brought up into his own version of the gunner's targeting reticle. Another stone-built structure, probably a small dwelling. Some shepherd or small holder was about to lose their wurldly possessions, or at least what they had not been able to take with them when the Imperial Army had smashed through the Suverinian positions. He felt slightly sad about that but forced that feeling down.

“Firing,” he reported to Gekon-2.

Again, he used the two word command to his crew. The Thoas thumped back and he could feel more than hear the breech open, Maioriana shove in the next shell and then the propellant. The building the shell was fired at disappeared in a gout of dust. They were properly wrecking the small hamlet. Belatedly, the tank commander hoped that there weren't any civilians sheltering in the buildings. There had been long columns of refugees fleeing the Tagmatine attack, which had slowed down the Suverinian response. The traffic jams had prevented a coherent counter-attack in places and there had been several reports of unfortunate civilian casualties. It wasn't something Dagalaifos wanted to think about and he forced his mind back to the task at hand.

“Firing.”

Another building of the hamlet was hit and disappeared in a cloud of dust and smoke. Whatever wood that was in the structure began to burn. He was glad that the rest of his platoon had not joined in. Despite the fact that the Tagmatines had local air superiority, he was beginning to get nervous of shelling an area without moving. It wouldn't take much for a Suverinian drone to sneak through and start painting his tank before he could move out of his current position.

“Firing.”

It was as dryly reported as the rest but firing off four shots without moving was a very bad idea. Even if the Suverinian air force was unlikely to make a pass over them, it was probably a good idea to make sure they were back under cover. The regimental anti-aircraft platoon would keep any enemy aircraft at arm's length, if any managed to slip past the rest of the air defences of the Tagmatine attack. The divisional ones would keep them back even further.

Nonetheless...

The suppression of enemy air defences had been the first phase of the attack, worked between the Imperial Air Force and the Imperial Army. The army hit any and all known targets with a combination of artillery and missile fire, whilst air units moved in to hit the deeper targets. Sporadic dogfights occurred up and down the line as the initial Tagmatine air units moved in. After that first phase, the weight of numbers of the Imperial Air Force and the split attention of the Suverinians meant that the Tagmatine assault won out. The fact that the Tagmatine attack was happening on the back of the TRIDENT assault in the west meant that the Suverinian air defence was hopelessly split between the three fronts they were being forced to fight upon. However, this had worked somewhat in the favour of the Suverinians – some interceptor airfields had been stripped of their aircraft to bolster their forces in the west. These otherwise empty bases were hit, along with decoy bases that successes of Suverinian counter-intelligence or failures of Tagmatine intelligence had highlighted as interceptor fields.

“Driver, move back fifty metres. Take us back down the reverse slope.”

501 moved back under the camo netting. The diesel engine quietened down. The air smelled strongly of what could only be described as 'chip fat' – the biodiesel that Tagmatine vehicles now ran on had a tendency to smell like that. It put most service-people off of chips for life, by and large. Dagalaifos sat back in his seat, resting his head against the rear rim of the cupola. If this was how he spent the rest of the conflict, he would be happy enough. He knew that it wouldn't be, however. His division had not really sustained much in the way of casualties, so it would probably be on the front line during the next phase of the assault, deeper into Suverina.

Edited by Tagmatium Rules (see edit history)
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  • 3 months later...

There was a tickle on the skin of Zakharopoulos' neck and he brought a hand to it and rubbed at it. His fingers came away wet. It was a drip of sweat but that was better than the flies that could swarm during the hottest parts of the day. It was obvious what they were attracted to, even here, where no real fighting had taken place yet. There was the carcass of a cow a couple of hundred metres down the gentle slope, towards the small river that currently demarcated the limit of Tagmatine control in the area where Zakharopoulos' unit was. He guessed that he stank from sitting in his own sweat all day, although probably not as bad as the cow. It had been a hot day and the camo netting that covered his foxhole was only semi-effective at keeping the sun off. At the moment, he could only smell the smell of the biodiesel. After a certain point, it seemed like the only thing that everyone in the dekarkhion could smell. It was like it permeated everything, from their uniforms to their hair. It was probably going to be true of every member of the Imperial Army. He wondered if, when the war was over and all the soldiers returned from deployment, there would be an appreciable downturn in chips being bought from takeaways and fast food places because of that. He doubted he would be able to stomach the smell for a long time.

“Would you fight?”

The question broke Zakharopoulos out of his idle thoughts about the use of biodiesel in the Tagmatine armed forces and its economic impact on street food vendors.

He had been looking out from the foxhole that he and Protoskoutatos Psendakes shared but not really taking notice of anything. It had been an absolute bastard to dig, chipping out a hole in the baked clay of the flood plain that the division was occupying. Both of the men had sweated buckets, stripping down to just wearing their plate carriers as they hacked at the soil. A light wind had picked up at points, cooling off the two infantrymen but coating them in dust from the piles of loose topsoil that they had made. It was not especially pleasant. Doubly so when Tetrarkhes Limetanos come by to check on their progress. The NCO seemed pleased with their work but he had pointed out that the field had been pasture until the Hammer of God had smashed into it – made manifest in the form of the entrenching tool Zakharopoulos was wielding – and they were now liberally covered in aerosolised cow shit. Limetanos was from some farming town in the country. He was probably used to bathing in the shit that they hosed down the wheat fields with. Both the grenadier and the marksman were from big towns, although different ones. The idea that they were now caked in fine particles of cow shit was a new and unpleasant experience for them.

The marksman was looking down the scope of his rifle, watching a suspected Suverinian position. He didn't take his attention away from it but repeated his question, albeit with more context to it.

“If you were them, would you fight?”

“I f*cking volunteered,” pointed out Zakharopoulos, once he realised what the other man was talking about.

He shifted in his position, trying to get his TE11 to sit better against the lip of the foxhole. The AT14 that Psendakes had was rested much more comfortably against it. The grenadier's underslung grenade launcher meant that he couldn't rest it as well on the edge of the hole. He was personally happy for having the extra firepower at his disposal but he didn't necessarily like the extra encumbrance.

“Yeah, of course,” replied the marksman. The tone in his voice made it sound like Zakharopoulos' reply was both stupid and obvious. The man breathed in and moved his rifle slightly. He was scanning the enemy position in front of him. “So did I. So did every Aroman who we're fighting with. We have a volunteer military. Even when we're facing the biggest crisis on Eurth since... Since even the f*cking Long War. And those Argic wars. All of those combined, probably.”

The grenadier felt that that was probably a hyperbolic statement but he let it slide. In fairness, it might actually not be. All the other large-scale conflicts in Eurth's history had only touched a couple of the continents, at most. This one was seeing conflict on pretty much every one but Antargis.

“But isn't the Holy Imperial Government going to call up the Pantodapoi?” asked Zakharopoulos. The Pantodapoi – translating into Anglish as roughly 'of every kind' – were the generalised reserve volunteer force that Aroman citizens could join, as opposed to the professional province-based Noumeroi or the nation-wide Palatinoi branches of the Imperial Army.

“I didn't hear that.” Psendakes sounded outraged. He still didn't look away from the Suverinian positions, however. “Who told you that? That's f*cking nonsense. Shit's not that bad.”

“I don't know.” The grenadier looked away again and began to poke around in one of the pouches of his webbing. He was beginning to get hungry and he was sure he'd hidden a cereal bar or something away somewhere. When he couldn't find it immediately, he gave up. “I think it was one of the drivers from one of the other kentarkhones, not Mnesikles or any of our other ones. The one with the face. You know the one I mean.”

He gestured with his hand towards his own face, as if that would clarify what he meant, but Psendakes still didn't look away from his scope. The marksman still shrugged in a way that suggested he had both seen the gesture but didn't know what the grenadier was talking about.

“Well, it's f*cking horseshit, that's what that is.”

Again, the marksman didn't take his attention away from the position they were observing. Psendakes was a totally different person once he wasn't forced to sit in a vehicle he wasn't driving. Even this morning, before they had been ordered to occupy and dig in on the low slope rising up on the eastern side of the river, the Protoskoutatos had managed to piss off the rest of his section by puking on the floor as their Bianor had hit a bump in the road. After that, he had done the bulk of the digging of his and Zakharopoulos' shared foxhole and the grenadier knew it wasn't because he was trying to make it up to anyone else on his team. He was, outside of the motion sickness, an extremely competent and skilled soldier.

“It's not like we're going to get invaded from the east,” continued the marksman, still sounding angry. “The Volsci aren't about to try to sweep in and take the Hexanesa. Also, you're still dodging the question. Would you fight if your country was getting f*cked by five different nations? Including like most of Eurth's great powers?”

As the day's temperature cooled, the two were becoming much more talkative.

“Five? Isn't it more than that? It's like f*cking us, the Gelt arseholes, the Ivericans, the Gallambrians, the Qubdi,” Zakharopoulos still had one hand on the grip of his rifle but started to count with his fingers of his right hand. The TE11 was ambidextrous, after all. “Prymont, Variota, Girkmand, Andalla, those other Iverican nations, the little ones whose names I forget, that weird bunch with the weird swords...”

The grenadier gave up and settled back onto his elbows and put his attention back towards the suspected Suverinian position. They'd not done anything in a while but he knew he shouldn't let his attention slip so much. “Anyway, a f*cking lot.”

“Pfft. f*ck knows. It's easy to lose count.” It didn't bode well that a man whose first name was 'Kointos', the Laimiaic version of  the Fragran name 'Quintus', lost count quickly. Zakharopoulos knew that he was called that because he had four other siblings. There was a joke in there somewhere. “Most of those are hardly even 'powers', let alone 'great' ones.”

That was probably true, Zakharopoulos conceded mentally but he wasn't ready to give that ground to Psendakes at the moment. It was still a staggering multinational effort being made to finally defeat the Anglians on their home turf. They had been rolled back pretty much everywhere else, or it was on the verge of it happening. He personally didn't think that there would be anything like this level of international cooperation again any time soon. Maybe that was a bit cynical. The post-war Eurth was going to be an interesting place.

There was a brief moment of silence before the marksman picked up the topic of conversation again.

“You're still not answering the question, mind.” The angry tone was still in Psendakes' voice. The fact that the grenadier was seemingly totally evading the question was beginning to get on his nerves.

Zakharopoulos gave a dramatic sigh and then fished around in the kit stacked at the back of the foxhole. He pulled out a water bottle and took a mouthful, swilling it around it before spitting it out over the lip and onto the trampled, dry grass that surrounded the foxhole. He took another drink and swallowed that. He then put the bottle back where he found it. The irritation of the marksman was beginning to become palpable.

“OK, then, man,” the grenadier finally said once he had finished with his delaying tactic. “Let's break this shit down. You're actually asking a lot of questions. If I were me, a skoutatos, a volunteer citizen-soldier whose country was invaded, whose service arm had a proud history of fighting his country's enemies for over a thousand years? I'd not pack it up and go home. If this was, for instance, an Anglian invasion of Aromania. Or, may God forbid it, a similar sort of multinational invasion that the Anglians are getting hit by.”

He made the sign of the cross at that comment, which Psendakes managed to perform whilst not moving his rifle or head at all.

He took a breath and continued. “If I was some poor Suverinian, who kind of got the shitty end of the stick in all this, and I got dragged into a war that I didn't really want on behalf of a military dictatorship that I don't like because my nation allied with that of some lead-brained foreigner who supported my nation when my own one bickered with another one over some patch of sand that my nation and a couple of others had been arguing about for one hundred years and then shit spiralled from there?”

He took a deep breath before carrying on. That had been one hell of a sentence.

“Yes. I'd probably have doubts about fighting.”

Even though Psendakes still didn't look away or make any indication that he was about to say anything, Zakharopoulos held up a hand as if to ask for silence.

“But then if my nation got invaded by like eleven others – or however the f*ck many it actually is – and pretty much all of my nation's air force got f*cking wrecked on the opening night? I'd be thinking about packing up and f*cking off home. But when some of those invading nations are basically heretic ancestral enemies that view my nation as little more than occupied territory that belongs to them and one of the others is pretty much a mob of howling barbarians from the other side of the wurld and they're all intent on blowing me up for something that's not really my f*cking fault?”

Now he was definitely pausing for dramatic effect. It seemed to be wasted on the impassive Psendakes, however.

“Not so f*cking sure. Now I might be tempted to stay and fight, even if the lead-brained foreigner and the dickhead dictator are the ones that dragged me into this mess and are totally to blame for everything that is happening. Now it looks like my home and my family might be at threat, or at least the dickhead dictator will be hooting that from the rooftops and it seems pretty f*cking believeable. Hence why me and you are now staring down our rifle barrels at another bunch of f*cking foxholes and wondering if those people opposite are going to pack it up and f*ck off home if we try to get them out of those foxholes.”

There was silence after that rant. Psendakes seemingly didn't know what to say to it. The pair lapsed into silence again. In the distance, fighting was going on somewhere. There was the sounds of gunfire and distant explosions. Some aircraft passed overhead, coming from the north and heading towards some target further to the west. The grenadier didn't see anything rising up from the ground to try to hit the aircraft. It looked like the joint campaign to grind down the OCA air defences was now almost entirely successful, at least in this sector. He dug around in the inside of his nose and extracted his finger. He studied the brown results – probably more cow shit. Zakharopoulos did feel bad for the Suverinians, as his rant indicated. This wasn't really their fight. It was the fight of the Anglians and the Suverinians were just another group of people that had been dragged into it, like what had happened across pretty much every other continent on Eurth. Personally, he'd rather be fighting them than Tagmatium's south-eastern neighbour but the government of Dănilă had made it clear the were sticking by their ally. If it wasn't already clear that that was a bad move then it would become even more so as the war rolled on.

“They've got proper trenches over there, not foxholes,” Psendakes said, after a few minutes.

It was a pedantic comment to break the silence with. Zakharopoulos grunted in reply.

“And I'm pretty sure we're going to have a good look at them at some point soon.”

An actual infantry job. Not like the last orders they'd been given, to make contact with a retreating battered Suverinian battalion. At least it hadn't turned out to be a brigade-sized unit, as some reports at the time had made out. The kentarkhon had made contact with them, as planned, although the Suverinians had attempted to disengage. The Tagmatines had linked up with their own heavy armour and then moved to re-establish contact with the Suverinians. The wooded, hilly terrain the kentarkhon and its support had attempted to advance through had made the armour commander reluctant to press the advance as closely as was necessary. Woods and hills weren't tank country and wooded hills even less so. It was unknown whether the roads through them would even take the weight of the Tauroi MBTs and the close nature of the terrain slowed the advance, as they were wary of rearguards ambushing the tanks. This, in turn, meant that the infantry company commander had proceeded more cautiously the division would have desired, as they weren't keen on leaving their support behind.

In the end, the Suverinians had managed to disengage again and escape further into the hills. The hekatontarkhos, the major in command of the company, had been given a bollocking by the regimental command for this f*ck up. Zakharopoulos had then heard that the Suverinians had run into the 109th Palatinoi Katafraktoi Tourmarkhon on the other side of the hills and had got themselves wiped out. Sucked to be them and he was glad that someone else had had to do the heavy lifting with that. It did speak of some generalised f*cking up in the opinion of the grenadier.

The grenadier sighed at the idea of attacking defended positions. “Yeah, probably.”

“I suppose we'll see which of your theories is right when we do.” There was a self-satisfied, almost smug tone to the markman's voice. It seemed a bit out of place, since he was talking about having to test the theories by carrying out an infantry assault.

Zakharopoulos shot Psendakes a death glare but didn't say anything in reply.

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