Give the anemic state of the hosting site (RPGuild) this page is being used as the Wiki back-up of all posts made in the RP, with some attempt at organization.

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May 1st, 1980: Sevan, ArmeniaEdit

The sun set over an old, blocky cobblestone cottage to the west. Red sunlight burned through its empty windows like fire, and when it disappeared over the horizon it felt like a chill had taken the air. For the four musicians, it was time to rest.

Yared drove their new ride off of the road. They had found it abandoned on the border of Syria and Armenia, lacking only gas and a driver. It was some military vehicle, thick and olive drab with a solid armored body and the smell of rust about it. It drove rough and sounded rougher, sputtering and choking like something near death, but they kept her moving all the same. There was only a front seat, as long as a sofa but made like a steel bench. In the back, there was nothing but empty space and a cold metal floor, and the red-stained weld marks that bubbled along the wall. They had covered it in blankets to warm it, but a ruffled sheet or a folded edge sometimes exposed the skin to the chilly steel below.

Yared bounced in his seat as they drove over folds in the landscape. His baggy clothes flopped on every bump. He did not look like someone who should be driving this rig. His bushy beard and the small-framed pair of yellow-tinted sunglasses posed playfully on his nose was a far cry from whatever soldier or rebel had sat on this seat before him. His freckled black skin was certainly different then the Turks who had owned this thing before, and even here he wore a contented smile as he drove.

They found a place on the other side of a bald hill and stopped. All the hills were bald here - trees were as rare as people in the Armenian countryside. Instead, a rolling grass plain surrounded them, green except for where it was brown, which was often enough that either color described half of it. In front of them, a long lake stretched on endlessly on either side, but they could see the shore distantly in front of them. Turquoise waters caught the wind and marched across the jeweled surface in gentle lines.

"This should be it, friends." Yared said. "We can sleep here for tonight."

"How far are we from Sevan, brother?" Marc asked. His voice was hoarse from smoking for the entirety of the last hour. The younger man, he wore baggy clothes in the same way as Yared and had the same dark African skin, but he was clean shaven and had the look of someone who was about to fall asleep.

"It's right over there, brother." he pointed. A vague orange glow stained the northern sky, hugging the hills next to the lake.

They had heard it from Armenians and Syrians, Palestinians and Greeks. As the Ottoman Empire fell into pieces, Armenia had turned into a sort of temporary leader. There were still grudges and differences that made the relations between individual people run chilly, but the threat of their shared Turkic foe brought them together all the same. Armenia was a place to find weapons and training. Armenia was a place to meet with foreign ambassadors and discuss shared tactics. And in Armenia, Sevan was a place to get drunk and find a whore. The small resort town brought foreign agents and ambassadors just as quick as it did middle eastern rebels, and soon enough expatriates brought exotic foods and exotic ways to accommodate them. There had been a war on the front, but there was party behind it all in Sevan.

And they were a band. They had been fleeing since Cairo, where Barnham had taken Aaliyah's eye. He would have taken more if they hadn't run, and they were still running. The thought of settling down seemed like a dream coming to life, and they were nearly there.

"Samel, brother, are you going to want some of the shit?" Marc grinned.

Samel. That was still his name here. He had been born Sahle, first son of Emperor Yohannes of Ethiopia. He had been that, and more. When his father died, he had been Emperor for a time, but his brother had overthrown him and assassins had driven him out of his mansion-prison. Now he was Samel, a traveling musician of no accord. He had grown a beard to hide his face, and grown his hair out long for good measure, but somewhere inside he was still Sahle, and nobody could ever know.

Not even her. Aaliyah. He had fallen in love with her in Cairo, and she had lost an eye for it. His dark haired Bedouin beauty. She was hardly five foot tall, but she was thick in the chest and her remaining eyes was as green as its twin had been before Barnham. Even the place she had been wounded was covered with not but a delicate silk bandage. He has caused that maiming, he always felt. He had caused it by suggesting they skim money off the top. But she still loved him, and he only wished that she could know who he was.

"Yeh." he nodded, ready to hide from his feelings. "I'm ready for some shit."

They crawled in the back, all except Yared who seemed to be enjoying the view of the lake. They had mescaline and mushrooms and acid and cannabis. Sometimes Sahle wondered how Marc managed to maintain his stash - he was stoned more than he was sober, yet he still had the wits to find all the drugs he needed to replenish his supply. Sahle never questioned him. He seemed to know what mixed with what, and and he always delivered the feelings Sahle wanted.

Yared turned on the radio. Armenian folksongs. Yared looked at the static-babbling machine as if it had just farted. "I hope this is not what they expect us to play, friends." he giggled.

"It sounds like somebody dropped all their grandpas instruments down the stairs." Marc choked.

"And listen now." Yared said, "He is getting yelled at for it."

Smoke filled the truck, and soon its rusty smell joined with richer scents. Aaliyah had curled into a blanket, and Sahle wrapped himself around her. The world seemed to throb in his vision, and it gave him a headache. He closed his eyes.

The music came to an end, and the strong monotone voice of an old man began to drone in its place.

"This is the news, from the Armenian people and to the Armenian people. The time is twenty two hundred hours."

Sahle began to drift into sleep, and the newsman's voice accompanied him. At first it played in the back of his mind, like a soundtrack for the night.

"The Turkish Government have claimed that the Greek incursions on their lands on the Aegean coast of Anatolia is an illegal breech of their sovereignty. Meanwhile, the Turks have yet to reclaim the capital city of Istanbul, which remains in the hands of the civilian coup which took control of the city after the death of Suleiman the third was first reported."

And then the voice started to fade. Sentences fell apart, and a dream took over.

"At twelve hundred hours today, Turkish officials confirmed..."

He dreamt of an ancient city crumbling into ruin. In front of him, an towering domed church painted in rusty pinks cast a shadow and bells rang. A man in flowing white robes and a great red turban stood in front of it, jewels flowing from his wrists and neck and a twice-pronged cross on his brow. Blood and semen gushed from an invisible wound in his chest, and it was all gone.

"the third is dead. It is official as of ten hours ago..."

And then the voice ceased, and all that was there was the dream, and it kept going.

A man with sharp features and hair as black as coal sat atop a throne of disembodied hands black with rot. His suit and face alike were covered in a thing layer of white dust, and he laughed hysterically until one of the putrid hands grabbed his ankle and caused him to scream. Into smoke, he and his grisly chair were gone.

In their place, one thousand banners danced against each other to a visceral drumbeat, catching fire from an invisible torch and burning up like matchsticks until there was only one, and its pole was tipped with a spearhead. In a moment, it was gone as well.

An elderly Asian man sat in a simple canvas chair, his palm pressed against his forehead. He was surrounded by younger men of his race, and they bickered amongst themselves while he remained quiet. When everything around them caught fire, his comrades did not seem to notice, but he did, and he looked defeated. The smoke swallowed them and they disappeared.

A faceless army marched across fields and left mud behind them. In front of them, a bearded eagle proudly carried a land deed and shoved it in the face of a rabid bear. The bear roared and they vanished in a puff.

Fainter dreams followed. It felt as if he were looking at something he was not supposed to see. An alligator was smothered by a red flag, and the sea drowned a young wasp nearby, washing it all away. In its place, he saw a jungle that stretched from coast to coast. It began to wither and die until there was only a patch left on the eastern shore, and then it was gone. A man in chains offered his hand to a king, but the king spurned him and shook hands with the mans master instead.

When he awoke, the radio had turned back to folk music. Yared had fallen asleep in the front, and his head was draped uncomfortably over the top. In the corner, Marc was hugging a long pipe, and its thin glow was the only light in the compartment. Night had brought the cold, and tousled blankets had left patches of the cold steel floor exposed to his skin. He shivered and sat up, then realized Aaliyah was not there.

Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he opened the back hatch. The unoiled hinges cried and scraped as the hatch swung open, and Sahle leapt to the ground. His bare feet felt the cool ground and scratchy half-green grass between his toes. There was a strong breeze, and it carried the wet sounds of the lake with it. By now, the moon had taken the sky, and the blackness was filled with infinite stars.

He saw her at the crest of the hill, staring out across the water. The wind caught her hair, and the fringes of the white dress she had wore ever since Bethlehem. He walked up to her and pressed himself against her shoulders.

"We should be sleeping." he said.

She was silent for a moment, leaning into him but saying nothing. He could feel her warmth, and it was his favorite thing in the moment.

"It is over there." she said, pointing out across the lake. "What we have been wanting."

The orange glow seemed close, only kept from them by the rising Armenian hills. They had nearly went there that night, but Yared had talked them out of it. "Do you want to go to a crime town in the dark, brother? Lets get there when there is some light so we can see before we get stabbed." His reason had won them over.

"I wonder what they have." she said softly.

He kissed her neck. "A job and a room." he said, "We can live together this time. In the same place, in the same bed..."

"It will be different this time?" she asked hopefully.

He smiled. "It will be different this time."


Novosibirsk, RussiaEdit

The guttural rumble of diesel engines purred in the April afternoon. Melting snow that blanketed the ground pooled in the middle of the yard, soaking into the grass to form a thick mud. In the distance, the dull gray high-rises of Novosibirsk loomed over the naked trees and warming Siberian landscape under a clear sky.

Accompanying the purr of heavy engines, over head planes flew west-ward. Large wings of propellers cutting west. From their wings the markings of China or Russia flew on the side, faint from the distance. And as they flew over head a young man sloshed through the snow muck, a heavy coat wrapped around him as he staggered for balance. The thick grime that was clay sucked down on his feet as he slipped through the cold earth passed the woken metal beasts that were tanks.

The young man looked on at the grumbling iron coffins. His pale round face bent up in frustration and anxiety as he wound through the crews bustling between points; loading in their mission's allowance of shells. His coat's sleeve embroidered with the red star of China, an already muddied assault rifle – the CP1960 – slung over his shoulder. A knit cap hid his short hair and a heavy back pack wore down on his wide shoulders. He staggered through, keeled over like a troll as he pulled his weight through the thick stirred up mud.

“Have you fucking seen this shit!” a man bellowed over the engines. Three boxes worth of ammunition cradled in his arms as he sludge through the mud. His legs had become so caked with dirt they were a solid brown, and much of it had already splashed up to his tank top, “How the fuck do they expect us to start moving out in this?”

“Excuse me, comrade!” the young soldier yelled out. The man carrying the ammo stopped and shot the newcomer with a sharp angry look.

“What?” he glowered sourly, “What the fuck do you want?”

“I'm looking to the Q-41I crew...” the soldier started hesitantly, “Where are they set up?”

Scowling the man swore under his breath. “Juunshi, sir,” he started, turning to a coated man atop the block- built turret of a nearby tank. The officer turned around, looking down with a glazed indifferent expression, “Where's the Q-41I crew at?”

“Sun Song's tiger?” the sergeant asked.

“I suppose so, we got a wet dog looking for him.” the soldier grumbled, nodding his hand to the anxious young soldier.

The officer looked down on his, his eyes lit up with realization as he gazed down on him. “So we do.” he muttered, “Juunshi Sun Song is in the front most row.” he yelled down, “You're in the fifth row back.”

“Front most row...” the young soldier muttered under his breath, barely audible to himself over the song of purring motors. Then it dawned on him and his face went pale. His expression went numb. The crewman and his commander must have noticed, the sound of their laughing was audible over the monsters they had tamed.

“You get to see the action before us!” roared the sergeant, “What's your name?”

“Li Tsung, sir.” he replied with a distant gaze.

“I'll be sure to remember it.” the sergeant laughed.

“And be sure to put a boot through Tse Lin's cunt when we're done.” the crewman barked with a grin, “Bitch owes this crew a few confirmed hits on something at least. We fucking know she stole our HE rounds last week!”

Tsung felt lost as he turned from the snickering crew as he passed between them and their neighbor's treads. His head felt light, and the knowledge he was up front loomed over him heavily. It made each rise and fall of his feet heavier. He had heard the rumors things were beginning again, but that he wouldn't be up and front in it. His eyes turned up to the distance were he gazed ahead through the ranks of idling tanks.

Tsung wound his way through the rows, stepping out into the midst of the first ranks. Off in the distance no doubt stood the Republic. Aircraft over-head still bellowed out to it. Tsung stared emptily in that direction, knowing what was to come. His head still felt lost and cloudy. The revelation of action now, or the next day had hit him with the weight of a fully loaded crate of bricks. It still left a bruise.

“Comrade!” a voice shouted out, breaking Tsung from his daze, “Are you lost?”

Tsung turned stiffly in the muddied snow to come face-to-face with another officer. He loomed over him by a full head. His full coat and the single echelon on his shoulder showed him to be an officer. Deep set, dark eyes looked down on Tsung. He frowned unappealingly at him as he drew from a worn and well-smoked cigarette.

“Are you lost, comrade?” he asked again, “You looked confused.”

“Oh. Oh!” Tsung jumped, coming back to Earth, “I'm looking for Sun Song. Q-41I?”

“You look at him.” the officer smirked, “Li Tsung then?”

“Y-yeah...” he stammered.

“Excellent!” he laughed, clapping and smiling enthusiastically around his cigarette, “I was wondering when we were going to get my new driver.”

“Y-yeah.” Tsung choked nervously. Sung put a gentle hand on the young man's shoulder as he lead him towards his vehicle. A machine that looked no different from any other machine alongside it. Down to the low-cut plow blade being fixed to its front.

“Where did your papers say you were from again?” Sung asked genially. “Changji? Read in the transfer notices I got that you were a driver in the 2nd Mongolian armored division. What brings someone like you further north?”

“I-ironically I was hoping for warmer weather.” Tsung stammered nervously, Sung's arm on his shoulder felt uncomfortable, and he hoped he'd let up when they stopped by his tank. A man sat perched on the turret, watching the two.

“Well you certainly came in when it's hot.” Sung grumbled, “I keep getting notices we'll be moving out the next day. Then we're moving the day after. We're being kept on alert, I haven't heard a quiet night now in a week.”

“So it's happening then?”

“Part two is happening!” Sung cheered, stopping as they came to the side of the tank. To Tsung's relief he lowered his hand and he climbed up on top. “So say hello to your new family.” he said with a smile, hands held out.

“And by extension the two other crews alongside of us.” a scruffy, wide built man said from the top of the turret. He looked up and down Tsung with a dead stare. Not particularly interested, “This kid's green, is he really replacing Little Brother?”

“He is.” Sung nodded, is enthusiasm died on his tongue, “But his shoes shouldn't be too big to fill.”

“Dumb ass.” the other grumbled.

“Excuse me, but what's going on?” Tsung asked nervously, uncomfortably hoisting his pack higher up.

“Your predecessor took a spill on some ice and broke his ass.” the large figure chuckled, “You're not going to break your ass, are you?”

“I-I should hope not.”

“Good enough.” he said, taking a bow from where he sat he added, “Wi Hui.” he introduced himself, “Loader.”

“Li Tsung, driver I guess.” Tsung said nervously.

“Tse Lin's around here shining her shoes.” Hui said, “Where are you!?”

“Damn it, I'm down here!” a woman's voice shot out, “What is it?”

“Come meet our new little brother.” Hui said. From the far-side of the tank a woman stood up. The hair shaved back along her head gave her an eerily masculine apperance.

She gave Tsung a look over, before smiling, “Damn, he is little!” she laughed.


Madrid, SpainEdit

A fluttering mass of cooing pigeons swarmed about the wrinkled mass of gray fabric that blanketed the newest of the capital's numerous landmarks and monuments. Plaza Republicana, the tree-lined park that surrounded the heart of Spain's capitol - the Halls of the Republic - played host to a reasonably-sized crowd that had come to witness the unveiling of the monument today on the second of May. This was a minor holiday within Spain: El Dia de la Abdicacion; twenty-five years ago today, Juan III - the ultimate king of Spain - renounced his crown, and the Second Spanish Republic had been born. On this quadranscentennial of the abolition of the Spanish monarchy, it had been decided that a monument dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the Republic was to be erected in celebration.

Just over a thousand people - many of them journalists armed with cameras affixed with bulky lenses - formed a wide arc around the concrete pedestal nestled within the loosely-wooded park. Morning dove and pigeon coos mingled with the dull roar of onlookers as they awaited the unveiling. The sculptor fidgeted anxiously at the foot of his creation as he and the rest of the crowd awaited the arrival of an important guest before the unveiling could begin.

The clicking and flashing of reporter cameras joined by polite applause from the crowd heralded the arrival of that guest of honor. Coming down the winding pathway paved from the Halls of the Republic came Alfonso Sotelo: Prime Minister of the Spanish Republic. A small suit tailored for a wearer with a small frame was pressed immaculately to his breast, but even so it seemed the suit fit him rather loosely - as if he had lost weight since he had been fitted for the outfit. A face characterized by an angular jaw, protruding cheekbones, and a sharp, jutting nose sat atop his shoulders. Within sunken sockets, predatory grey eyes flitted about his surroundings: to the gathering of spectators he approached, and back momentarily to the four hulking bodyguards walking in tandem at his side. As Sotelo drew nearer to the crowd - within range of the cameras - his face wrung itself into a polite smile as he approached the cloth-draped monument.

The Prime Minister craned his neck up to the top of the curtained object. Though the finer details had obviously been obscured in wait for the unveiling, the height and the size could roughly be discerned; and it was quite large indeed. The top of the draped cloth ended in a wrinkled lump about 10 meters above a plaque-adorned dais of granite. There, in front of said plaque, Alfonso Sotelo met the sculptor responsible for the project and grasped his extended hand within his own. His palms were rough and calloused as one would expect of a man who worked with his hands. They felt abrasive and uncomfortable against Sotelo's bony digits and he was quick to release from the handshake.

"Senor Mescalero, I have been quite curious to see what you have so busy putting together on the grounds for these past four months."

"It will have been worth the wait, Excellency." The artist attested confidently with a knowing smile.. "I think you will be quite surprised - and pleased - with the results." 

"Excellent." Sotelo began, clearing his throat briefly before addressing the audience; camera lamps flashing incessantly upon Sotelo and the sculptor as he did.

"My fellow men and women of the Republic. It was this day, a quarter century ago, that our nation was ushered into this world through the exhortations of a people - a nation united against the disgraceful and decadent rule of the Borboun dynasty that had sapped the terrifying potential of this nation and led it to ruin. It was on this day, twenty-five years ago, that Spain as a whole had decided that its destiny was greater than servitude under ambitionless monarchs. On this day, el dos de mayo, 1955, we left three hundred years of misrule and decay in history and carved a brave path into the glorious future upon whose cusp we now stand.

Men and women of this great republic, look back but a single generation and see how far this nation has come. While the rest of the world sank into violence and decay, or fell under the iron fist of our communist adversary in the Orient - this republic stood as a bastion of stability and prosperity. Spain stands now as the example for all civilized people of the world, when just twenty-five years ago this nation was an embarrassment among them. As such, it is with utmost pride that I allow Senor Arturo Mescalero, the man who assembled this artwork for which we gathered today to see unveiled, to do exactly that." With open hands, Sotelo gestured to the sculptor.

"I couldn't, Excellency. The honor must be yours."

"Fair enough." The Prime Minister nodded, grabbing a wad of the curtain draped over the monument in both fists. "And so it is my honor to present to you this monument built to celebrate this great day!" With that, Sotelo tore the plain fabric off and let it fall to the pavement in a billowing curtain.

It was him.

Standing before Alfonso Sotelo was a giant bronze statue of himself. But disconcertingly to the Prime Minister, he was joined upon the dais by the likeness of Miguel Tejero. Miguel Tejero - the man that had served as Spain's Prime Minister for sixteen of the 25 years of the republic, the man who had built the Second Republic without precedent, the man that Sotelo had ordered murdered in cold blood four years ago. In the hand of the bronze likeness of Spain's longest serving and most beloved Prime Minister, the crown of the Bourbon dynasty lingered lopsidedly in his fingers, as if he were ready to drop it to the ground like a piece of filth. The giant bronze Sotelo smiled warmly at the crown without a king to bear it.

Sotelo stood silently with the wadded curtains still bunched within his hands, staring wide-eyed at the bronze Tejero. He had been dumbstruck by the statue - perhaps even mortified - and the crowd had noticed. Songbirds chirped in the uncomfortable silence where cordial applause should have sounded.

"Excellency." The sculptor whispered nervously. "Do you like it?"

Sotelo's head twitched briefly as he galvanized himself from the terror of seeing the dead man's face yet again. Quickly, Prime Minister Sotelo calculated the appropriate response, and his insincere smile returned to his face.

"It is brilliant!" Sotelo exclaimed, clapping his hands together to prompt the onlookers to do the same. With the silence interrupted, the newcomers followed Sotelo's example and joined him in a reassuring applaused. "Truly, a masterpiece for the people of Madrid and their posterity to cherish forever."


Yerevan, ArmeniaEdit

The cheering crowds were unlike anything that Corporal Haroud Abbasian had ever seen before. Ticker tape fluttered from buildings vaguely like a snowstorm, while a parade marched down the street. Armenian flags hung from windows, streamers decorated every lamppost. The date was April 24th, 1980: Victory Day. Abbasian remembered it all, beginning from the moment he stepped off the sturdy ramp of the Polish-made cargo plane at Zvartnots International Airport early that morning. Military policemen - reservists, mostly - stood by idly while civilians crammed the tarmac to find their loved ones. Tears of joy seemed to flood the airport as more planes arrived on the far runway, bringing with them more and more troops. Elsewhere in the city, train stations brought back more men from the front to equally-sized crowds of friends and family. A band played patriotic music composed for the event, while several important general officers waded into the crowd to shake hands with their peons. Camera crews from every news outlet in the nation were there, and there was even a television camera pointed right at the plane. Abbasian had never even seen a television before, much less appeared on the airwaves. He waved a sheepish hello to the cameraman as he walked briskly by, unsure of what to do with himself.

Abbasian clutched his duffel bag and watched his friends run to their children and loved ones. They shook his hand and patted his back as they walked by, and he did the same. A young Private in his company approached, carrying a goat off of the plane. The goat was fitted with a cutesy little uniform made from a dyed sack, with a peaked cap perched atop his diminutive horns. On his uniform were several rows of ribbons and medals pilfered from some personnel office's award storeroom, giving the appearance of a distinguished officer. The goat's name was Herbert - company mascot for Abbasian's artillery unit -, and an embroidered nametape requisitioned by the troops was stuck alongside the ribbons while the regimental logo was sown to the sleeve of his forelegs. Abbasian's smile grew wider as a group of young men went in to pet the animal and feed it little scraps of food from their pockets. The Private - an incredibly tall sixteen year old boy who had lied about his age to join, and was therefore the youngest in the Regiment - was voted to keep him. Herbert would go back to the boy's farm to be with the other goats and become the undisputed champion of whatever ranch he was put in. Herbert would be with the pride of having participated in the Armenian War for the rest of his life, if only because a bored and slightly drunk optics calibration expert put a helmet on him and strapped a gun to his back to replace the company's dog that had run out and stepped on an antipersonnel mine.

After he had fought through the crowd of elderly grandmothers waiting for their sons and grandsons to appear from the mass of jubilant people at the airport's tarmac, Abbasian managed to crawl through a window - the door was blocked by the sheer volume of spectators - to find the adjutant who would let him go for the weekend. Luckily, Victory Day fell on a Friday - not that he expected to have a job in the military for much longer, since his conscription contract was almost up. This gave plenty of time for celebratory drinking and whoring on Saturday, after a nice lunch with his mother and sister. Wandering through the halls dazedly for five minutes, Abbasian turned a corner and swung his duffel bag straight into the face of a WAC holding a stack of leave paperwork that was almost a foot tall. She stumbled backwards from the impact, barely keeping hold of her forms while Abbasian rushed to see if she was alright. "Sorry, ma'am!" he cried, seeing the Sergeant stripes on her sleeve. "I'm looking for the adjutant!"

"I'm the adjutant's adjutant," explained the WAC as she brushed strands of her black hair back behind her hairband. "So basically I fill out all the shit that he's too busy to do. And you just smacked me in the face, Corporal."

"Sorry... Eh, that was an accident."

"Fine. Looking to get off the hook for the weekend?" she asked duly.

"Yeah. Got my paperwo-"

The personnel Sergeant snatched the folder out of his hands and put it on top of the file. "Abbasian, Haroud K. - Corporal, Armenian Army," she read off of the header. "Go and enjoy your weekend while I spend mine signing off on your fucking leave requests. I don't even give a shit: we just won the war."

"You got it!" exclaimed a jubilant Abbasian, springing off of the ground. The WAC eyed him suspiciously as he sprinted off to find another window to jump out of. He was free at last - the previous time he had been on leave was almost nine months ago after artillery school. Now he was free to enjoy the fruits of civilization. But first, his family awaited.

Unable to find exits on the first floor, Abbasian had ran up the stairs to find an open window letting in the new spring breeze. Checking first to make sure that it was safe - a bush at the bottom would break his fall -, the Corporal straddled the windowsill and swung his legs out to fall face-first into a shrubbery. Rolling out of the bush with only mild cuts and scrapes, Abbasian tore off through the airport's terminal's garden to go to the main building and find his mother and sister. They had promised to be at Zvartnots for his return and were probably anxiously awaiting. Scaling a wall to the airport's courtyard, he attracted the view of a security guard who evidently thought nothing of it. Abbasian smiled, flashed a thumbs-up to the guard who did the same. Then he ran off into the building's waiting room, which was also packed with people. They held flags, posters, and pieces of cardboard with the names of soldiers. Abbasian scanned the crowd - an easy task, owing to his height - to find one that had his name on it. Unfortunately, it had seemed that his mother hadn't thought to do that. Without any indication of where his family may be, Abbasian seemed content to wander around and hope that he bumped into them. Fifteen minutes later, he heard a familiar voice shout: "Haroud! There you are!"

Abbasian turned to face his mother running through the crowd with flowers and a box of candies, his twelve-year-old sister tagging along. The son grinned wildly at the sight of his mother trying to run in her ankle-length skirt, the loose ends of her hijab fluttering about. She almost plowed into Abbasian, tossing the box to his sister to give him a bone-crushing bear hug that seemed to be outside the realm of possibility for such a frail woman. "Oh, Haroud!" she cooed, "I missed you so much!"

"Thanks, mother," Abbasian replied, returning the hug. "I missed you guys, too."

"How was the war?" chimed in Abbasian's sister, looking up at him with her piercing blue eyes.

"The war was fine," Abbasian shrugged. "I mostly just sat and watched stuff blow up."

"Cool! Did you shoot things?"

"No, no," laughed Assanian, even if that was kind of a lie. "I'll tell you all about it later."

His mother smiled and gave him the box of candy: "I was saving it for when you got back."

Abbasian took the box and shifted the duffel bag off onto one arm. He opened the top and stuffed the box inside, right over his spare battledress. "It's cool that they didn't give me a dress uniform," he noted. "I can fit so much stuff in here without that frilly crap."

"Now that you're home you might have to spend all your time in a service uniform," his mother noted. She began to walk towards the exit while Abbasian followed her. "When your uncle worked as a... what is it called? Deals with people?"

"Personnel staff member," the son corrected.

"Yes. One of those. Well, he wore his fancy uniform all the time. Not like what you have now." She gestured to his battledress, sleeves rolled up and shirt open one button past the technical regulation, showing the worn telnyashka underneath.

"This is comfortable though. It feels like pajamas," contended Abbasian, pushing the door open for his mother.

"So you ran around in the desert for nine months wearing pajamas?" asked his mother.

"Pretty much."

"Oh! When did war loose its charm! I remember hearing my grandfather talk about his grand old experiences with uniforms back when he served," his mother said nostalgically.

"I assume they got rid of them when people wanted to be comfortable," perceived the son. He held open the second set of doors, and they had reached the boulevard leading to the roundabout and parking at the front of the airport. "Is this all new?" he exclaimed. "When I flew out last time I didn't see this."

"Apparently so, yes. It's marvelous," his mother agreed.

"Oh well. Let's get ready for lunch. I'll hail a taxi," Abbasian said before gazing around to see if any were free. One was, and he went to go flag it down for his mother. Like with the rest of the soldiers, it felt good to finally be home.

Yerevan, ArmeniaEdit

Elsewhere in the city, President Hasmik Assanian celebrated initially with his cabinet. Drinking from the seemingly indepletable reserve of alcohol from his desk, they recounted various stories with laughs and smiles. Joseph Pollundrian told them about how he had once caught the janitor having sex with the maid in the closet, encouraging uproarious laughter from the various ministers. Jordan Ivakon recounted how he had seen a soldier trip, fall, and roll down a steep hill during an exercise that he was attending. The dizzy soldier had started projectile vomiting in the direction of his squad leader. Assanian remembered a particularly slapstick event that he watched from the window of his office where an elderly woman smacked down a would-be thief with her handbag. Toasts were all around, to any number of things. To Armenia, to the Armenians; to the Persians, the Poles; and to their fine military. For now, it was time for joyousness. The Ottomans had collapsed, and they had won. Now was the time to focus on nationbuilding instead of simple security. Now was the time to truly expand.

The morning drinking eventually wound down after a few cabinet members scurried off to attend to their own affairs. By noon, only Assanian, Pollundrian, and Ivakon remained sipping cognac from glass bottles that seemed to come from nowhere. Ivakon puffed on a cigar in between shots. Outside the closed shutters of Assanian's window, crowds were gathering in Republican Square below. They chanted "Hayestan!" - Armenia - over and over, whistling and screaming. Cars drove by with men waving flags from the window, honking at the crowds as they went. People kissed under flags, posing in hope that the newspapers would recognize them and shoot a memorable photograph that would go in the history books. Assanian was to make a speech soon, which he had totally neglected until the previous day when he woke up and realized that it was something that needed to get done. On his desk was the first and final draft: just like how he used to write school papers. At least victory speeches were easy, because all he had to do was praise Armenia and its hardworking, industrious people. They had fought the just fight that the Armenians would inevitably win. The parade would be kicked off by the speech, which was to be broadcasted across the radio and rare television channels, and was one of the single most important speeches that he had ever done. But as he drank another shot of the alcohol, he didn't worry at all. It was standard fare to do these a little bit drunk.

Rising from his chair, Hasmik Assanian tossed the bottle away. It landed expertly with a clatter in the wastebin next to his desk: an ordinary accomplishment for a professional drinker like he. Bidding farewell to his Defense Minister and urging Pollundrian to follow, Assanian snatched up his papers and burst through his office's double-door. His next stop: the speech podium that faced Republican Square. There, a crowd had gathered to await the President's speech. Already, the parade was forming - a fantastical thing that was kept a surprise even from Assanian himself, even if the organizer assured him that it would be perfect. These were good for the country's spirit. At long last, they had something to be proud of. They had a state, free from control. They had defeated the enemy that was bent on total extermination. They had kicked it down and made sure that it wouldn't come back to hurt them again. They were the child getting revenge on the schoolyard bully, freeing the rest of the class from his wrath as well. Times were finally looking up for the small country of seven million people. The future was bright: the sky the limit. Safe from immediate danger, Assanian was confident that the Armenians would secure their permanent place in the world.


Batumi, GeorgiaEdit

On the outskirts of bleak Batumi, on a dirty abandoned street, a tall man walked upright. He didn't look at all bleak. In fact, he looked...chipper. Happy, one might say. In a serious way. He wore a suit similar to that of a European businessmen, complete with tie and black jacket. His hair was cut short and combed neatly. A pair of round glasses were balanced on his nose. He was clean cut, a feat almost unheard of in this city, as razors were in short supply. A large suitcase was held under one arm, while the other arm was dropped to his side, the hand in a pocket. Even his shoes, polished black, looked out of place. This man wasn't supposed to be in the city. This man was Zagreb Esadze, known by most under the alias Pikey. He looked the exact opposite of a pikey but that was why the name suited him. He was the opposite of the city around him.

Zagreb stopped in front of one house and squinted. It was identical to every house on the street. Broken, covered in boards and overgrown. The front gate lay in the long grass, leaving the small path to the door clear. Zagreb smiled. He was where he needed to be. He followed the path to the front door and without hesitation, knocked on one of the boards. The door opened almost immediately. The boards were an illusion, not nailed to the door frame at all. An Azeri peered out of the crack of the door. He was a younger man, probably no older than 25. Recognition lit to his face and he usered Zagreb into the house. The door was shut quickly behind him, clicking slightly. The street was once again silent and empty.

'Pikey. Good to see you, friend. Were your travels well?' whispered the young Azeri, a smile creasing his brown face. 'They were' answered Zagreb shortly. He did not recognise this lad but suspected he was a new recruit to the Guard. All the same, one doesn't reveal all their secrets to a guard. 'Good, good. Davit and my father are in the kitchen. I suspect you'll want to speak to them. Good luck, my friend'. Pikey nodded. He realised who this lad was now. A son of Elchin, an Azeri officer in the Guard.

The hall was dark. The floor was concrete, the floor having been ripped up. Stair led to an upper floor to his right and to his left, a closed door. It most likely led into a living room. At the end of the small hall, a door lay shut. The walls were bare. A small stool sat propped against the wall. A rifle sat beside, a chilling reminder that what happened in this building was punishable by death. Zagreb opened the door and was flooded with the warm feeling of recognition. This was the Guards base and had been for the last two years. It was a place some could call home. 

It had once been a dining room-kitchen. The floor was black stone and the walls were bare. A faux-marble work top hugged the kitchen walls and small windows let light into the dark room. An island sat in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a random assortment of chairs and stools. A boarded up door led to the small backgarden. The room smelt strongly of cigarette smoke, sweat and alcohol. Unwashed plates and dirty cups and bottles were piled next to a rusty sink that was attached into the work top. The island was covered by a large map of Georgia, with all the major cities and regions drawn out. A long shotgun sat atop of it along with a small pile of shells next to it. The room was dark, the only slivers of light coming from the windows. In the darkness, Pikey/Zagreb could see a short, fat man leaned over the map, writing furiously with a pencil. A sliver of light illuminated his writing space. The man glanced up at Zagreb and smiled. The pencil was dropped and the man jumped from his stool.

'Zagreb! How are you, my friend? How is Poti this time of year?' he smiled. He grabbed the tall man around the middle in a hearty hug. An overpowering smell of vodka crept into Zagreb's nostrils, seemingly burning his nose hairs. Zagreb placed an arm on the small, dirty man's shoulder as a way of friendship. 'Good, good. Poti smells better than Batumi any day' he smiled. The fat man let out a hearty laugh, from deep inside his thick chest. 'Pull a chair up. We must discuss your travels under a bottle of vodka' the man busied himself around the worktop as Zagreb sat down. 'I'd quite like to tell my travels under some light too' he murmured to himself. The fat man heard him and opened the blind to the dirty kitchen. The backgarden was as bad as the front. Over the backgarden wall, the broken blocks of flats could be clearly seen, right down to every broken window. He blinked furiously in the sunlight as he set about pouring out three vodka glasses. The years had not been good the leader of the Guards. He had grown fat and pale from spending much time inside. His beard was now fully grey and the little hair head left was lank and greasy. He wore a stained white vest, dark coloured trousers and a pair of slippers. This man was the leader of the Georgian Guard, Davit Patarava. And despite how he might of looked to outsiders, Davit was a hero, a genius and a friendly man, if a bit quiet sometimes.

He dropped a glass next to Zagreb and sat opposite to him. He took a long gulp from his glass. Zagreb didn't touch his. 'I would offer Elchin a glass but he is going through a 'spiritual phase' or something' he acknowledged the Azeri collapsed out on the floor, fast asleep. The Azeri had grown his dark beard long and knotted, unkempt. Zagreb felt disgusted as he looked at Elchin. This was the man who was to lead their forces into battle. A 'devout' Muslim who had lived in Batumi his entire life who was usually found drunk, eating pork or beating the Jesus out of people who annoyed him. Zagreb hated the bastard.

'Zagreb' Davit was serious now. 'Tell me everything about Poti'. Zagreb's eyes were torn away from the drunken Azeri on the ground and to the eyes of Davit. 'First, I want to show you something' he answered. He lifted the heavy suitcase to the table and clicked it open. It was completely empty. He felt the sides of the suitcase and his fingers came across what he was looking for. He pressed the button and a click was followed by the bottom opening. It was a secret compartment, hidden within the bottom of the case. Davit watched patiently as Zagreb shifted through papers. He shuffled the papers into a messy pile and dropped them next to the case. Underneath, moulded perfectly into the velvet of the suitcase, was a weapon the Guard had never used before.

An Armenian K19 Battle Rifle.

Zagreb lifted the rifle from it's secret compartment and held it to the light. Davit looked impressed. 'Well. What is that?' smiled Davit, knowing perfectly well what is was. 'Found it in Poti. Could of brought a few cases of ammo with me but they were too heavy, so I just brought a few clips.' The tall Georgian grabbed dropped a few clips of ammo onto the table. He handed the rifle to Davit, who balanced it in his hands and tested it weight. 'Bleeding Armenian's are invading bastards. But they make some nice guns' he murmured. 'Do you think we could get a few more of these?' Zagreb shrugged. 'Perhaps. I just found this in some shop in Poti for 5 lira. The keeper said he 'borrowed' it from one of the Armenian stragglers a few months back. I think the Poti Defence Force, the militia over there, is using them now'. Davit looked impressed and placed the gun onto the table. 'Tell me more about the political landscape in Poti' he asked. Zagreb closed his case and dropped it beside his feet. 'The Armenian's left the place a shithole. Used it as a naval base and then fucking left it to itself. A group of ultranationalist's took it over. They call themselves the 'Poti Defence Force'. I tried getting in contact with a few of them but they told me to sod off. They've declared Poti the true Georgian Republic and put some Orthodox nutter as the top man. A man named Nakin. No one knows his real name'. Davit nodded throughout. 'What about Abkhazia? Has it settled down up there?'

'No. Ever since Tamaz Nakini disappeared, the place has gone to shit. Ossetians are trying to invade but the Abkhazians are having none of it. All while they're arguing amongst themselves over how to run the place. You've got communists, fascist, even a monarchy movement. That's according to the Abkhazians I met in Poti, anyway. Tamaz was a clever bastard, even if he was a Dagi. He kept the place going. But ever since he's disappeared, a big power vacuum opened up and now every fucker from here to Timbuktu want's to make an Abkhazian republic. Really, it's a mess. Any hopes we had with contacting the leaders up there are dead and cold in the grave' Zagreb ended his report. Davit swore under his breath. He had been hoping for the Abkhazians to pull through. But they hadn't. They were too busy arguing about politics.

A silence befell the two men as they kept to their own thoughts. The only noise came from a bird singing outside and occasional snort from the drunk Azeri on the floor. 'How have things been around here?' asked Zagreb, breaking the silence. Davit banged his fist on the table suddenly and stood to his feet, his face twisted in anger. 'Absolutely shit. We lost four smugglers last month bringing food into the city. They've started taxing the fuck out of everything coming into Batumi and everything leaving Batumi. We lost a squad on the north side to a group of bloody Turks under the command of Altan. Morale is getting low and the recruits are drying up' the short leader placed a hand to cover his eyes. 'One smuggler left. An Armenian sod, he is. Brings through the Sea, bless his soul. We're putting him and his crew under protection in case the Turks get pissy with him in the docks. If he's gone, we lose all hope of feeding anyone. '

'Who's protecting him?' asked Zagreb, taken aback by Davit's sudden outburst. 'Sabas and his band of merry fucking boys' growled Davit, removing his hand from eyes.


Addis Ababa: Capital of the Pan-African EmpireEdit

It was a hot. Taytu felt the cloth of her dress sticking to her skin despite that it hung loosely from her tall, bony build. It was white and embroidered with gold, though time had turned it a sandy tan, contrasting lightly with her dark-bronze skin and wiry black hair.. It was a cloudless day, and the orb of the sun was obscured by sharp rays of light, but Taytu felt as if the crowds in the street were making the worst of the heat. They were bottled in between the buildings of the city, which acted like walls directing the crowds from one part of the festival to another.

It was no holiday, simply a victory. War had came to Ethiopia and the Imperial clients that made up the larger Pan-African nation, and Taytu had been at the center of it. She was the Emperor's own sister, and she held the office of Adviser for Foreign Affairs on top of that. The Ottoman Empire had insulted them when Turkic terrorists bombed the Ethiopian Embassy in Armenia, and the Sultan had made no attempt to right that wrong. In his paranoia, he had even had the audacity to try to imprison her during a diplomatic meeting before declaring war outright. She had escaped, only to discover that the Turks had destroyed the Ethiopian navy.

The next few months had been a blur. In truth, they had not started a war, but were rather dragged into one that had been going on for half of a decade. Armenia had declared independence from the Ottomans, and soon half of the old Empire was doing the same. It had driven their Sultan mad, and in his growing fear he had made bad decisions one after the next. 

Despite their set backs, it was a war they had been destined to win. Their sudden war on Ethiopia had been a death rattle. Still, the people in the streets whispered the same idea - it was Ras Hassan. Hassan has led an army north out of Hejaz even as Turkish troops landed in Ethiopia. With them, he gave support to the Palestinian rebellion and helped them to officially declare an enforced independence. The Turks abandoned Africa all together, but it was too late. When the Sultan died of a heart attack a couple of weeks later, many in Ethiopia proudly said Hassan's victory had caused it. A megalomaniac Taytu though, aghast that they would give him this one as well. That monster will get rewarded for this one as well. She only had to look at her young Olivier to know why.

Just past his third birthday, Olivier was a quiet child. He was not truly hers - an adopted son, orphaned by civil war. He had been born of the Garenganze people of Bunkeya at a time when those very same people were at war with the Pan-African Ethiopian government. They had followed Marcel Hondo-Demissie - the infamous Rouge General and Ghost of Katanga that had lead the tribes of Katanga in an uprising that embarrassed the Ethiopian military. It was Hassan that had finally put the revolt down, and his methods would leave an effect that would be felt by Olivier and those like him more then anyone else. Hassan had gathered the Garenganze people into camps and, in an effort to draw their leader into open battle against the Rouge General's wishes, began to mutilate the children. As an infant, Olivier had lost an arm, and now he were an empty sleeve on his left that gave testament to it. It was partly for this reason that she had adopted him. What Hassan did could not be forgotten.

Their Imperial guards pushed through the crowd, making way for the women of the Imperial family. This had been Empress Azima's notion, Taytu's sister-in-law, and they had brought Taytu's mother Elani with them. Stress had caught up to the Empress-Mother, and her mind was failing alongside her health. She was only fifty eight, but she looked twenty years older. She dressed all in black and seemed to be losing her wits. The loss of a husband and a son, Taytu's own father and the former Emperor Yohannes, and her brother Sahle, had caused her to sink into a distant sourness. She rarely spoke, smiling bitterly and nodding in answer to most things, and she didn't seem to have any interest beyond the children.

"Look at this." Azima plucked a flower from a bin and showed it to Elani. Its purple pedals held a cold, sweet smell. "Wouldn't it be lovely to have a few of these in your room." Elani smiled weakly and shook her head. 

"I dun like flowa" Tewodros pouted in the Empress's arms. The young prince and Imperial heir was nearly two years old. Feisty, he had spent the week punching cats until he was caught and scolded earlier that morning. His mood had been sour ever since. 

"Fine." Azima put it away. Elani's reaction worried her more.

Azima was young and pretty, with bronze East African skin and a narrow face. Her pointed Arabic features and smooth black hair made her look like Hassan, her father. Her relationship with the Ras was distant, but it still made Taytu wonder. Sometimes, things that Azima said reminded Taytu of the same coldness that had made Hassan so inhuman.

The crowd was awash in a sea of white, the color of the wrapped robes that most of the people wore. Colorful floral dresses and modern outfits consisting of shirts and belted pants broke the monotony of color, as did rugs hanging from racks and thick velvet parasols that protected stalls as well as the individuals wealthy enough to have their own. When a rare breeze broke the stale air, the smell of injera cooking in clay ovens or the rich scent of ginger-laced berbere mixed teasingly together. But traditional food wasn't all there was available. Fried fish served in banana leaves came from the Congo, and egg rolls held in easy to carry palm leaf dishes gave a hint of their ally to the far east. For the first time in her life, Taytu tried one of the fried Chinese foods, but found that she did not like the cabbage-heavy flavor. 

"I wonder what it is like in China?" Azima asked as she cautiously ate at the hot egg-rolls. 

"I don't know." Taytu replied. "I've met people from there, but they have been diplomats and they've always been straight to business. Yaqob would know better. He has actually been there."

"Yaqob has told me some." Azima admitted, "But he was in the army, and after that he just lived in some mansion hidden away from the rest of the country. He said they were very cautious about letting foreigners around their country. It sounds suspicious to me. Like they are trying to hide something. Do you think China is actually a horrible place and they are keeping it under wraps."

"If we listened to Spain, I suppose we'd have to assume that all the Chinese are slaves." Taytu mused. "But if we listened to Spain, we'd have to assume we are slaves to your husband as well." Azima laughed.

There were hints of Spain as well. Even though the Spanish pretended Ethiopia was one of the leaders of evil in the modern world, there was no lack of Spanish goods in the country. Their magazines were full of full page ads, glossy and in color, selling everything from cars to socks. 

Photo stands were especially popular. They sold images related to the war - soldiers on the front, images from Hassan's entry into Palestine, banners waving over this battle field or the next, a lone priest leaning against a cross proudly holding the green, yellow, and red of the Ethiopian flag, and many many more. 

And then there was the paintings of the Emperor. A young man, he sat demurely on a wicker chair, a warm smile on his face as youthful strength in his eyes. His skin was the same dusky color as hers, and he wore his hair in a natural afro. Loose fitting tan robes flowed over white. He wore no badge of office - no crown or collar, nor jewels or military badges. It was his face alone that told you who he was, a face that everyone knew the instant they saw it. For the rare person who wouldn't know, a small tag on the bottom of each frame identified him.

"His Imperial Highness Yaqob II." Taytu's brother and Azima's own husband. 

As they met with the main road, the crowd became an endless sea of cluttered loud bodies. The dusky people of East Africa were not the only ones present in the number; the olive-skinned Arabs of Sudan and Somalia, and the Nubian blacks with skin as dark as oil muscled by each other as countrymen. Among them, the rare blotchy pink of European tourists stuck out like flies in pudding. In some places, the new towering skyscrapers of white and steel helped shade the people below, but in others the glass of these towers sent directed rays of light that made things worse. Skyscrapers were rare in Addis as well, and most buildings were simple structures that clung closely to the ground. 

The sound of drums from far off told them that the time was near. Officers in their khaki uniforms began to clear the street as much as they could. "It is getting late." Azima blustered. "We will be expected."

A simple brown land rover picked them up. It was a utility vehicle belonging to the Imperial Guard, but Azima had insisted they take it instead. It was easy to forget, but she herself had been an Imperial Guard before she was Empress. When Hassan had started the war to overthrow the elder brother Sahle for the younger brother Yaqob, his daughter had served as an agent in the Walinzi - the national intelligence of Ethiopia. He had transferred her from there to be Captain of the Imperial Guard once Yaqob had gained his throne, and their following affair would become serious when Yaqob was almost assassinated in the streets. She was a tough woman - likely tougher then the delicate-hearted Yaqob - but it was easy to lose sight of that amongst the plush dresses and her motherhood.

They arrived on the steps of the Imperial Palace. The Palace wasn't truly a Palace at all, but rather a sprawling complex of government headquarters and offices. A wide street led to its front, where a gallery of cream-colored steps led up to a columned mutlistory building. It was here that the government had turned out, building an artificial stage along the steps where seats could be prepared. And here, they would recognize the heroes of the short-lived war with the Turks.

Taytu followed Azima and Elani up to the royal box, where a golden awning protected plush chairs from the sun. They were greeted by the Emperor himself, who stood up as their feet met the clapboards of their box.

This was not the Yaqob of the painting in the shops. He was paler, his skin the color of creamed coffee, and there was a tiredness in his eyes that made him look older than his twenty seven years. He stood slightly hunched over, pale red robes falling around the cream robe underneath., and he had a dour look on his face that only grew warm when he saw his son. "Tewodros." he said as Azima put the boy on the ground. He waddled over toward his father and fell into his arms. Yaqob took a deep, hollow breath and picked the boy up. "How was the market?" he asked.

"We enjoyed ourselves." Azima answered. "I think Elani liked getting off the grounds."

Yaqob looked up at his mother, and Taytu could see the dark clouds of his constant worry enter his eyes again. "Mother, did you enjoy the market?" he asked sincerely. 

She looked at him, smiling blankly. "I enjoyed the market." she echoed with a nod. 

The drums grew louder, indicating that the parade was nearly there. Taytu sat in her place in the corner, holding her Olivier on her lap. "Those drums are loud." he said meekly.

"I know, sweet one." she kissed him on the cheek. "If they are too loud, cover your ears." He followed suit, but for only a moment. Soon enough, curiosity had pulled his hands back down.

At first came a line of bands, their members so numerous that they could have filled several orchestras. They played old European marching songs alongside new African ones. The anthems of the nations that had fought against the Turks in the war could be heard as well, from Armenia to Greece to Syria. And then, louder than any of the others, came the Ethiopian anthem. The thumping of drums and blare of trumpets echoed through the streets and allies of Addis.

Next came a line of men wearing white tunics with leopard skin robes draped over them and rope sandals on their feet. Each man carried a banner with a captured Turkish flag. Some were bloodied and torn, while others were pristine. As the band melted down the roads behind the buildings, the banner carriers approached the stairs in front of where the Emperor sat. Amongst their number, men blew horns as each banner carrier dipped the crescent moon flags with their bloody crimson before tossing them to the ground and bowing. These were not Turks, Taytu noted. There were rumors that Hassan had murdered his prisoners of war, though when asked he simply insisted he had turned them over to the Palestinians.

Soon enough, a pile of red flags lay in inglorious heaps right below the Emperor, and the next wave of the parade came up.

The parade itself was actually the marriage of several. They had wound separately down the main streets of the city until they came to the plaza-like road in front of the Imperial Palace. Here, they came together into one massive procession. In some places, the union was obvious. Acrobats, jugglers, and men in colorful dress walked in columns one next to the other. A man dressed in womans clothing ran around with a shortened toy gun and play-attacked random people in the street, only to be chased away by several more clowns with swords in their hands. More bands joined them, with the same music as before with a playful tinge in the back. 

Following them came the soldiers. Some wore the drab green of the field, while others were decked in Khaki dress uniforms. They marched in step, following tanks laden with wounded soldiers and long pieces of artillery whose polished barrels seemed to be on phallic display. 

The survivors of the Battle of the Red Sea were next. They rode up in trucks, those who could stand hanging over the backs and waving. More banner-men accompanied them as well, holding white banners that plainly listed the battle's dead.

Following all of this came Ras Rais, riding on the back of a walnut horse. He was surrounded by one hundred men of the 1st Somali, the regiment he had started his career in. Ras Rais was a thin man. His brown dress uniform was baggy on his skeletal frame, and he wore sunglasses to hide eyes that many deemed too harsh. Drums followed him, and they pounded a heavy beat that was half marching and half artillery shells.

And following him came Hassan.

The same sorts of bannermen who had delivered the Ottoman flags, but these carried long poles with torches on top. Hassan himself carried a final banner in his arms as he rode in on horseback, and he was surrounded by a dozen men in plain army drab with keffiyahs wrapped around their faces.

Hassan was a thickly built man. In his youth, this would have meant broad shouldered and muscly, but his middle years had also added a gut. He was dressed in drab olive fatigues and a similar green side cap. His skin was the same dusky bronze as most east Africans, but his features had a pointed Arabic look to them. Hit hair was black tinged with grey, and he wore a days worth of stubble on his chin. As he arrived at the foot of the stairs and took his place next to Rais, the lightly colored line that ran down the side of his face became noticeable - a scar from his early years. 

"Who are those men in the checkered face-masks?" Taytu heard somebody whisper.

"Palestinians." she answered quietly.

She had heard a rumor of these Palestinians. Hassan's intervention in Palestine had made him a hero to their people, and it had created a group of men who had grown up in the rebellion. They knew nothing about the world outside of war, and they had been scarred for it. Some of these men had offered their services to Hassan, and he had accepted them in turn. A hero at home as well, few questioned the great Ras Hassan acquiring personal soldiers. He launched a coup before. the thought niggled at the back of Taytu's mind. Why wouldn't he launch another one for himself?"

The bands went silent, and suddenly it was quiet. Taytu noticed the wind whistle passed her ear for a moment, and she heard muttering in the crowd that filled the streets. 

"Your Imperial Majesty!" Ras Hassan shouted up. His horse shied away from the steps and the flags that covered them. "I have brought you the tokens of a fallen Empire. They attacked you and they insulted you by imprisoning your blood." 

Taytu cringed at the memory. Being captured by the Turks in Port Fuad had been one of the most frightening moments in her life. They had broken protocol so thoroughly that she had not been certain what would happen next. It was only by chance that a runaway musician and his friends had managed to save her and help her escape to Hejaz. 

"I have answered their insults by bringing them down low!" Hassan continued the charade. "Accept this as a gift." 

Yaqob stood up and approached a microphone in front of him. "This is good." he answered loudly. In front of a microphone, the sour young Emperor came alive. "The Ottoman Turks dared to declare war on my people and they answered for it. They had seceded from the world when they denied Armenia its due, and they were treated justly. I take your tokens knowing that we, the people of Africa, have answered injustice with swift correction."

Hassan nodded. The torchbearers and Palestinians fell around him and he began to climb the stairs on horseback, banner in hand. As he passed over the pile of flags, the torch bearers lit them on fire. Taytu twitched at the sight of the burning Turkic flags. She had been firmly against it, and she had argued to the Emperor that it would do nothing but make peace even harder than it already was. There was still a Turkish nation, Ottoman or not, and they would see this stupid ceremony as an insult to their already wounded country. It was like pulling a new scab and grinding salt into the cut. But Hassan had insisted, and Hassan had got his way.

Still on horseback, Hassan reach the royal platform and handed the remaining Ottoman flag over to the Emperor. Taking it in one hand, Yaqob fumbled with it until he held it firm. Hassan cleared the way, and Yaqob thrust the flag into the air in triumph. "We have won!" he said. The crowd in the street cheered, and for once Taytu truly felt like their Empire was finally in one piece.

"We have won!" Yaqob repeated. "We are invincible!"


Belgrade, SerbiaEdit

The crackling of a fire could be heard in Alexsandar's office, while it wasn't cold or even freezing right now he preferred the heat and the sound fire makes. Alexsandar him self had light brown hair. His face was rounded and flattened, and he possessed jade green eyes. His nose was small and not very prominent within his facial features, and brows weren't very thick. He was tall standing at 6"1 and he was of average weight for his age and height. He looked liked he was in his mid 30s or late 20s.He remained concentrated on his work. He wore a long black sleeve shirt, with some blue slacks. His office was large, but was rather lacking in furniture, only a two chairs in front of his polished wood desk and a few bookshelves with collections of literature that seemed to be mostly about philosophy. The fireplace was made of a white stone, the wallpaper being red and yellow striped. Shiny wooden baseboards boarded the room, with the same effect being applied at the top of the walls. His desk was a bit of a mess, papers and pens scattered about.

Alexsandar looked up from the paperwork he was working on as he heard a knocking at the double wooden doors to his office. He sat up and straightened up and threw the papers together in a loose stack. He put most of his pens off to the side of the desk and pulled in further.

"Come in" said Alexsandar in response to whoever was knocking.

Through the doors stepped in Damier Bogdan, Serbia's Minister of Foreign Relations. The man was short when compared to average, only standing at 5"5. He had darker brown here that contrasted with Alexsandar's light brown hair. The men wore a trench coat and rather dark pants and shirts, giving hi more onto the theme of one of the rulers of the state. His face was a bit more oval like then Alexsandars, but still remained flattened. He had dark blue eyes that seems to just gaze at whatever he was looking at.

"Damier! What to do I owe the pleasure?" spoke Alexsandar in a bit of a happy mood.

Damier approached Alexsandars desk and pulled out one of the two chairs that was in front and tucked under the desk. The chair was made of a shiny wood, with a red cushion for the seat. Damier sat down and pushed himself under the front of Alexsandar's desk.

"I just like to discuss a few things with you. Mainly when we actually do plan to begin the reunification, and on that subject..." Damier seemed to pause for a minuted before speaking again "The people of Serbia are getting a bit upset. It has been a while since Yugoslavia collapsed, they were hoping we make are move much sooner then this."

Alexsandar stood up and went to look out the window that was behind him. He looked over the city of Belgrade, the pride and glory of Serbia. Where much of its industry lied, it beautiful rivers flowing calmly amongst the many packed in buildings. He sighed and sat back down.

"The reason I haven't ordered the Generals to move out yet is because we are still building up. The former countries that comprised Yugoslavia may be weak in comparison to us, but a want a decent enough force that we can hold off attacks from a few of them. I also feel that not all the people of Serbia are still in favor of reuniting Yugoslavia back to its former glory. I want to make sure these people see our side, and see the benefits of reuniting Yugoslavia before we make our move." spoke Alexsandar.

"Ah yes then. Anyways we might begin seeking some allies, it might help us when we do begin the reunification of Yugoslavia" said Damier. He and Alexsandar spoke for a while about Serbia and its current state in the international community. After Damier left Alexsandar relaxed a bit, glad that he was finally done speaking to Damier. He personally did not see Damier as friend as he did with his other Ministers, but he got the job done. Alexsandar went back to looking over the many papers layed amongst his desk. He went back to his usual routine and day dreamed of Serbia's bright future.


May 6th, 1980

Gilan province, State of PersiaEdit

"Dearest Hamid, why won't you just stay here with us and rest? It would be wonderful, we haven't had hold of you in years. You're always traveling the world, going here and there, anywhere but with your friends and family." said Lady Catherine nonchalantly, as her visitor was about to leave.

"Well, truly I...

-No, no, I will not take it. Do not move. Let me have you discharged of your frock. 

-Lady Catherine, I doubt...

-Fatima, my pretty, bring a chair for our friend Hamid-dowleh. He will be staying for tea." Her waist pivoted elegantly, and she inquired, giving an appearance of concern "That is your title, my good friend? I am still so confused with persian matters! It is so very confusing." 

Her guest, reluctantly seated, but never one to displease, reassured her, "It is of no importance, truly. You are our guest here, and we are to accommodate you, not the other way 'round. Among people of proper upbringing, the exact rank does not so matter, does it? 

-I am terribly grateful to have you as such a forgiving acquaintance. Some people are despicable and perfidious, I would not want anything more to do with them than they do me, that is, the most common civilities." She paused, and gaily asked, "Pray tell me, where have you been lately? Or perhaps should I say, 'What have you been doing?'. "

As she spoke, Hamid had rose up, to wander around the room, exquisitely decorated with chosen pieces of persian and european art. He came to the large, clear window, which overlooked a ravishing evergreen forest, and fields sculpted in the mountain further down. He thought that he had missed these blessed lands somewhat, at the very least for the old british charm of his host. "My lady, I must repeat myself from year to year, but every time I pay you a visit, I cannot prevent myself from being taken by the view, the sweet flower scents, the mellifluous cascades of sounds. This is very close to heaven, and were it not for my duties, I would wish to live in these very valleys. How did you come to find yourself here? I have not often met your husband. I do hope this is not a subject painful..." he paused, waiting for a reaction to paint itself on her face.

"Oh dear lord, not at all!" she laughed. "Abolfazl is a caring man, if distant. He's a general, you see. Very martial, dignified. In his younger years he was charming, and so thoughtful! We had a love marriage, you know? It was still something of a rarity in our times. You are still a lone gentleman, I suppose you know all this. We met in Berlin, 1948. We were both 18 years old. The city perhaps wasn't as joyful as in the years prior to the Great War - you must have heard the most extravagant tales from our forefathers - but it was still very much dainty. Unter den linden, Potsdam, Sans-souci, it was the most wonderful of cities. The Republicans hadn't been so mad as to destroy the charm of their capital. Some were even quite civil. I met there this young Jew named Fitzler, Feidler, something of the kind, who was a rare gem, I can assure you!" did she exclaim joyously. "Well, to the point, Abolfazl had been sent to train with the german army. Despite the war, it still had its fierce prussian reputation. It probably served him some good. He supervised the operations in Sindh, you know? He found the right arguments to convince those rude warlords, and keep them disciplined."

Hamid, several years her junior, smiled as he listened to her recollecting memories from her youth. He had loved her, when she was still a young woman, and he a shy adolescent. He had been seduced by her fine ways, her wit and prestance. But she was an other's, and he had had to wait for this youthful affection to wither away, which never it truly did. None of his loves ever quite dissipated, thinning instead into a vaporous and melancholic essence, which joined and enriched the aroma of all his past lives. He was nearly a happy man, notwithstanding. "Oh, I see. I reckon he is in Esfahan, then. I will try to arrange a little presentation during my next stay there. I would be enchanted to make his acquaintance. If he is to the measure of his wife, I have high hopes!"

"You are too kind, dearest Hamid. Have I heard though that you will not be staying here long? Already you are departing for another country?

-Why, yes, I do fear so. I believe I have a mission in Algiers later this month.

-So you have to deal with the Spaniards? Pardon me, but I quite despise them. They are so haughty and vulgar. Have you heard of this dreadful statue they erected to celebrate their 'republic'? By Jove, it represents the acting prime minister, Sotelo, Sotilo, and his deceased predecessor. A bronze statue! And a monumental one, at that. It is entirely lacking in taste. I feel quite sorry for my friend Joana of Medina-Sidonia. A republic, and that kind of republic. I say Spain is a threat. It cannot refrain itself from meddling in everything and anything, especially what it shouldn't and has no right to."

The diplomat, somewhat surprised by what he was hearing, hesitated, "Spain isn't a communist country.

-Oh, I know!" she said. "That's why I am so upset. That China act rashly, I could understand. But Spain! It's supposed to be on our side. "

Hamid observed her, speechless, for a few seconds. He instinctively shook his head and regained his composure, as she continued criticizing the Iberians. 

"What do you plan to do about the Gibraltar dam? What kind of idea is that? It's mad. Can you imagine the damage? I tremble thinking of the Riviera defaced, not to mention Venice. Simply suggesting that should be a crime! Venice is the loveliest city. I am no scientist, but I heard from a professor friend of mine that it might lead to the collapse of some buildings? I'd faint just saying it." did she explain, outraged, and shuddering. " It's treason not to act. Someone has got to do something. 

-I do hear you, my friend." he sighed. "We have been trying to reason them for years now, but they just won't listen. I shouldn't tell you this - it's a diplomatic secret, you see - but somehow I feel it can only end badly. What I can tell you is that the strait of Gibraltar is vital for persian trade, and...

-Absolutely! Even the communist parliament wouldn't once think of doing such things! I don't hold it very dear in my heart... truth be told, I find this situation most absurd. A communist monarchy seems very contradictory to me. But then what can we do? Nowadays the popular vote is an important thing. One cannot simply discount it. I hope His Highness will succeed in limiting their folly. Dear Hamid, how do you deal with all these political eccentricities? I dare hope a socialist, or marxist, whatever they call themselves exactly, hasn't had the impudence to give you directives?"

He laughed lightly, before petrifying quite entirely, his only movement being the regular tap of his fingers on the fine-grained table. He stood still a few long moments, and confessed, "To say the truth, the communists do not hold so much sway as one could be lead to believe. Within their own majority they are far from the sole group, and have to compose with a dissonant chorus. In the government, beyond the ministers themselves and their aides, and aside from the lone employee, it cannot be said their ideology is espoused with much enthusiasm. It isn't just a joke that bureaucracy chokes most change; the most inconsequential, or least damaging reforms pass through the net, but those dearest to the communists are left ensnared in a hopeless morass. I digress" he chuckled, "No, I do not obey to any of them. Worry not. Sane people are still in command. 

-You see me reassured, my good fellow. I wasn't alarmed, but, you must understand, somewhat worried. There were talks of irresponsible land reform and wealth redistribution. I do not object - I try to go with the times - to the poor getting a better living, but I don't think everything should be so much as reversed. 

-We can trust His Highness to wisely navigate Persia through these difficult waters. Have you ever met him, Lady Catherine?

-Yes, yes, naturally. How could I not!" did she utter, theatrically shocked at the mere thought Hamid suggested. " He is a fine man. An excellent man. So refined, delicate, yet distinctly firm. In a word, he is a perfectly noble man, in the best sense of the word. My only fear is his youth, really. He is becoming more than a young man, now, but thirty-two years to govern an empire, in such troubled times, is such a daunting task! 

-May I share my thoughts with you, my lady?

-But of course!" did she say invitingly, weighing on each word. "We are of one mind."

He kindly looked at her, and pursued "I must say he most impresses me with his knowledge and acute understanding of the world. I have noticed however his idealism. He holds very dear to certain ideas, freedom, democracy, happiness, right, and sometimes turns a blind eye on what might trouble his certainties. He is still young, but right now ideals aren't the right thing to have. A country can't afford itself the luxury of overlooking its interests.

-He will learn, I fear not. We all do." she mused indulgently. 

Outside, a slight rain was knocking on the window, veiling the gently sloping mountains.


Madrid, SpainEdit

Deep within the heart of the Halls of the Republic, Alfonso Sotelo had resumed his seat within his office following the troubling unveiling of the statue on the complex grounds, and immediately attempted to forget the affair. But as the leader of Spain and the the most powerful man in the West, he knew full well that nothing could simply be forgotten. His paralyzing fear had been captured in a thousand photographs that would find their way to newsreels and publications by that very evening. Within the week, the entire world would be privy to that embarrassing ordeal at the foot of the statue, and he feared that the incident would result in yet another of the insidious rumors about him. Alfonso went to great lengths to brand himself as the assertive socialite at the nexus of Spain's upper society, but after four years the fabrication was coming apart at the seams. Murmurs among those who worked directly underneath Spain's eccentric Prime Minister told of a lonely and perpetually irate monster. Some claimed that Sotelo had no real friends to speak of, and worse still, others hinted that his weight had fallen since taking upon the mantle of Spain's Presidente de Gobierno due to an aggressive dependency upon cocaine. These scathing whispers comprised the penultimate concern on his unending list of fears; not in and of themselves, but because they were true. Sotelo's public facade, however well-constructed it may have been, was slowly being chipped away. The bright, confident veneer he had fashioned for himself was notimpenetrable. If these things could come to light, then it might come to pass one day that Alfonso's Sotelo's deepest secret be known and his greatest fear realized: that the world might discover the plot that had allowed Alfonso Sotelo to rule the West.

For Alfonso, the statue of himself paired with his predecessor was a reminder of that dark reality waiting to make itself known. For as long as he was Prime Minister of Spain, the monument would taunt him from just beyond his office. He wished it could simply be torn down and the man who wrought such a poignant reminder hanged for tormenting him so. His mind swirled with a volatile mixture of anxiety and rage which manifested itself as a violent trembling of his bony arms. The fury coiling within his limbs released with little warning and his arm swung into a sizable stack of documents. A flurry of papers scattered through the air and tumbled clumsily into a mess across the black marble desk and the tiles below. His chest puffed and fell as he tried to regain a sensible rate of breathing. If the statue was to remain outside his office, Sotelo knew he would need help if he was to continue functioning.

From within one of the drawers of his black marble desk, the Prime Minister produced a vacuum-sealed bag filled to capacity with a snow white substance. Purchased anonymously from a producer in southeastern Ecuador, it was the purest coca that could be bought. Sotelo pierced the top of the bag with a sharp letter opener and sprinkled a smallish pile onto the polished surface of his desk where it glowed with pure whiteness against the black marble. With the same letter opener, he tapped the pile into a suitably-long row before hovering his left nostril over the line and inhaled it all in a long snort.

His eyes rolled back into his head and he threw himself against the padded backing of his chair as a familiar wave of ecstasy coursed through his brain. The myriad of problems pitted against him seemed surmountable - paltry even. Certainty took hold where despair gnawed just moments before.

Sotelo's euphoria was interrupted by a soft beeping. The red LED of a console carved into the side of the desk blinked intermittently, informing the Prime Minister that he was being hailed for a telecall. He pressed the appropriate button to accept the transmission, which allowed him ample time to hide the baggy of white powder in the confines of a drawer. From the ceiling directly in front of the desk, an electric motor whined with a soft, high pitch as a large projection-screen television descended gradually from the ceiling. A flickering rainbow of colored bands glowed warmly on the giant screen, directly above which was a camera tethered to a telephone cable that ran up into the ceiling.

For some time, telecalls had left the realm of cutting-edge technology; the technology to conduct live calls in which both parties traded video and audio had existed for the better part of a decade. Even so, the cost of the equipment and infrastructure - coupled with its unreliability - made it far too expensive and problematic for anyone but large corporate entities and the governments and militaries of wealthy nations to bother with it. But for those who possessed the capability to conduct these futuristic video-integrated calls, the convenience of holding meetings from anywhere at any time was tremendously valuable.

The band of quivering static on the television screen blinked and was replaced instantaneously with the bust of a dapper young man clad in an olive green jacket whose breast was decorated with a dense band of medals. Curled tufts of black hair squirmed out from underneath his general's cap and sharp hazel eyes stared forward through the screen underneath thick black brows.

"General Ponferrada. It is a pleasure to speak with you once again."

"Equally so, your Excellency." The young general responded after a brief lag, bowing his head slightly.

"And how has Malta treated you thus far, General?"

"The Maltese have been accommodating enough to myself and the 3rd Mechanized. If they have any qualms with our invocation of the Ibiza Treaty, they've kept them amongst themselves - as they rightly should."

During the final weeks of the Ottoman Empire, elements of the Spanish Ejercito based in Algeria moved across the border into the Turkish holdings along the North African coast and seized Tunis and Sfax unopposed, doing so for the sake of "maintaining regional stability". Additionally, and unbeknownst to the majority of the world - transfixed upon the collapse of the Sultan's dominion as it was - two Spanish armies had been placed on the island of Malta. Officially, these forces had been assigned to Malta - a client state of the Ibiza Treaty - for the purpose of providing stability to the region for those few who were aware of the mobilization. The actual role of the 3rd Mechanized Division in the aftermath of the Sultan's fall would prove far more sinister.

"Forgive my curtness, Excellency, but I'd like to move ahead to purpose of my contacting you. The Levant War has come to a close and my forces sit idly by as Ethiopia rebuilds. Our single best opportunity in delivering the fatal blow to the Yaqob's regime is rapidly slipping from our grasp. Every day we bide our time, their military regroups and replenishes itself. The Pan-African Empire will only get stronger-"

"I know these things already, General."

"Then why have you not acted?" Ponferrada spat. Thanks to the advances of modern technology, the general could see in real time as an irritated Alfonso Sotelo rose up from his seat.

"What did you tell me?" Sotelo growled.

"I spoke out of turn, Excellency. I did not mean-"

"I did not ask you to apologize. I told you to repeat what you said."

"Why have you not acted... Excellency?" General Ponferrada recited shamefully. The Prime Minister resumed his seat.

"Remember whom you are speaking with, General." Sotelo bridged his fingers upon the desk as he assumed a more comfortable posture. "I will remind you that I am charged with overseeing every aspect of the Republic. I am afraid that there were extenuating circumstances at play elsewhere that prevented our engaging against Ethiopia and Brazil in the past month. You will, however, be pleased to know that this situation has since resolved itself. To my knowledge, I only await the departure of Admiral Santin's battlegroup from Cadiz to issue my ultimatum to Claro and Yaqob. After the 10th, you are to keep your forces alert and prepared for combat at all times."

"Very well, Excellency. You have addressed all my concerns."

"Then I have nothing more to discuss." Concluded Sotelo. "Until we speak again." Alfonso pressed the button on the console built into the desk once again and the live feed cut to the same twitching band of colors as the screen and mounted camera retracted back into the ceiling. The hidden compartment in the ceiling for the telecall equipment shut with a mechanical whine. Silence fell upon the office yet again, but only briefly. A second interruption came - this time in the form of a knock on the doors.

"Permission to enter, your Excellency?" Asked a monotoned bodyguard from behind the doors.

"Let them in." The Prime Minister sighed.

As permitted, the doors of the office creaked open and allowed entry to one of the nondescript suit-donning goons that populated the Halls of the Republic, flanked on either side by two musclebound bodyguards. They closed the doors behind them and escorted the man to the foot of Sotelo's desk. He cast a curious glance to the papers scattered about the floor before redirecting his attention to Prime Minister Sotelo.

"Good afternoon, Excellency. I represent the Oficina de Inteligencia Militar, and I wish to bring to your attention a matter that we thought might be of interest to you."


"Certainly. Now, do you happen to remember Julio Zuraban? The senator who disappeared before he was charged with Disloyalty?"

"Senator Zuraban..." Sotelo mumbled thoughtfully to himself. "Yes, I remember quite well. What of him?"

"Our associates in Egypt discovered him in Ottoman possession several weeks before the collapse of the imperial government. He is in our custody now, en-route to Bajaras Airport and due to arrive later this evening. We thought it might suit you to... 'catch up' with him."

"Catch up?" Sotelo remarked with a malign grin. "I would love to."


Sevan, ArmeniaEdit

In Sevan, they found a town straddling the line between resort and barracks. The empty green hills of the Armenian highlands rolled onwards like a thick lumpy blanket ruffled from one horizon to the next, with the sea blocked by the city itself. Dull grey concrete buildings mixed with fresher architecture plaster and paint. A lone tower built on wooden stilts protected the approach, and a lone machine gun watched over the road. This wasn't the only sign of the war they had seen. On the way in, a crashed fighter still lay in a crater of ash and kicked up dirt, its cockpit and engine charred along the edges. Sahle watched it worriedly as they passed, taking note of the goat wearing swimwear that was painted on its nose. The image had turned gray and was splattered with black. Do they leave the bodies in those? He had wondered. War was not something he could get used to. He couldn't imagine anybody ever did. 

They had passed through the worst of the war in Syria. The Turks had made a final push, shelling rebel positions with such ferocity that it looked as if the clouds were on fire. The bright flashes and deep thrumming of their guns had kept him away, watching the grey on the horizon as it sizzled with light. It had looked like storm gods going to war with one another. Despite that, they never saw a shell fall, being too far from the action itself. They had only smelled it, and it had smelled of fire and dust. Shortly after they had found and claimed a military vehicle rusting on the side of the road

But now they were away, in Armenia. The place where the war started, but for them the place it had ended. Yared and Marc road in front, but that did not stop Sahle and Aaliyah from leaning against the bench of a front seat and staring out across the windshield. This same vehicle they arrived in Sevan in.

Most of Sevan was nothing more than another town, filled with stores just opening as the sun came up and apartments slowly leaking the people who lived inside of them. Most of them were women or old men, as the younger men had yet to return from the war. It wasn't until they chanced upon a smooth lakeside avenue that they found what they had came for. 

There were restaurants and cinema's and beach side kebab stands, but there were also bars and clubs and hotels that promised a different sort of good time. Painted metal signs and the dimly colored shapes of unlit neon lights spelled their names. Lake Place, The Prancing Goat,Maria's. Most were dark, abandoned for the day or for the week. Those they could find were not hiring, citing the end of the war as the end of their business. It was only once they had exhausted half of their leads that they found one that would hire them.

The Dead Soldier's Den was a short hangar shaped building with a simple plaster front, hardly fitting in with its flat-roofed brick and grey-stone neighbors. It favored simple cast-iron letters bolted to the wall over any other signs, and its door was a simple tin thing that looked locked from just seeing it. It was only when Yared shrugged and went to turn the knob that it opened easily and let them in. 

The inside of the Dead Soldier's Den smelled like piss and aging wood. The floor was covered in thin carpet with filth-tinged red patterns broken only by stains. It warped as they walked on it, but they found that it muffled their steps. Soon, they were in an open room. A stage dominated the wall on the far end, built from raised dark wood and heavy red curtains. In between there and the entry were dozens of round wooden tables with chairs placed on top hanging by their seats. On the wall nearest to them, a dark-wood bar stretched across the room.

"We are not open, you are seeing." a syrupy voice with a thick Russian accent flanked them. Startled, all four musicians jumped.

The Russian was a taller man with sleepy eyes and a pale, moon-shaped face. His hair was a greasy streak hanging from under a fur cap. He wore brown-green fatigues, and had an assault rifle tossed over his shoulder. Sahle made eye contact with the gun barrel and Yared did the speaking.

"We are here looking for a job, friend." Yared said in his mellow, friendly tone. "We are musicians from Africa."

"From Africa is what you say." he said, "I do not know why you would come to this country. It is cold up here, and we do a lot of war." he smirked and swung his gun into his arms. The action caused all four of them to back away at once, but that only made the Russian laugh. "I am thinking you are not comfortable with by equipment, but do not worry. I am the bouncer here, and I have found that having this with me means I have to bounce people around much less." He shrugged and tossed it back around his shoulder before extending an arm. "My name is Vasily. I think that we might be hiring some, but I will have to call the boss. He is doing some sleeping right now, so you will have to wait."

And so they did. The Russian went behind the bar and picked up a phone, spinning the dial quickly. Bzzt Bzzzzzzt Bzt. Soon enough, he was speaking to it in a low voice.

Sahle and his friends found their seats easily enough in the empty bar. Marc began to play with a small white-wax candle in the center, chipping dried dribbles of wax away with his thumbnail. "This might be it, friends." Yared said confidently. "This might be our new place."

Sahle was less certain. At first, the odd Russian kept his attention, but soon he was looking around the building. There was no true ceiling, but instead he could see the roof as it went from one end of the building to the other, its black hollowness passing over even the walls. Lights hung from exposed electrical wire that ran along the wooden and steel beams. In one corner, Sahle spied a pair of pants dangling from a beam and could not help but imagine the poor drunk who tossed them up only to have them never return. 

Looking back at the bar, Sahle saw the namesake for the first time. In a glass case, hidden in the shadows between two massive kaleidoscope-like mirrors, was a glass case holding a corpse. It looked like a shriveled old man, gray and hunched with withered limbs and dark pits where its eyes had once been. Its near-toothless mouth was agape. To complete the image, it had been dressed in a dusty green-brown military uniform that looked like a design from a century before.

It had caught Aaliyah's eye as well. Sahle could see that she was more confused by it then she was uncomfortable, but for him it was nothing but creepy.

When Vasily returned, he caught them staring at the dead man. "He is nothing to see I think." Vasily quipped, "Just another dead man, and there are more of those than there are live ones. Or at least that is what my babushka used to say. If it is between us, I don't know if he was a soldier. I think he was just some man resting in a cemetery until the old man took him and dressed him up."

"Who is this old man?" Sahle asked. 

"Sanos Horasian" Vasily explained. "He is truly an old man. It will take him a while to find his underpants, and it will take him a while longer to get down here."

When Horasian finally did make it, it was clear that Vasily had not exagerated. Horasian looked like a man in his eighties. His hair was sparse and snow-white, sticking to his head like tendrils of snow following mountain gorges. His skin was splotched and wrinkled, and his jowls hung from his face like those of an old hound. His eyes were a deep blue, but clouds marred his right. His weight worsened his already damaged health, and his gut hung over his trousers and buried his waistband, which was kept up by a pair of puke-brown suspenders.

"Musicians." he grumbled, phlegm shifting in his throat. "Why do you wake me for this, eh?"

"Sanos, you need to hire some entertainers that are not cold fish. Every night we watch them flop and flop on stage and nobody likes it. These nice people are all the way from Africa."

"Blackies then." Horasian coughed. "I hear your people are good with the bongo drums, but I don't need bongo drums. I need dance musicians."

"We have played in dance clubs from Cairo to Addis Ababa." Yared replied enthusiastically.

"Don't brag about how many places you've worked." the old man moaned, "That just tells me you've been fired a lot. Now tell me, what type of music do you play."

"Mostly African Blues and Jazz scene, friend." Yared replied. "But we can do others..."

"Hot dancing music then." Horasian had began to breath heavy. Whether it was the talking or the standing that had wore him out, he took a chair. from a table and placed it down. His butt hovered like a helicopter trying to find a landing pad in a rain storm before he finally found his seat. Once he was down, he eyed Aaliyah.

"And does this one dance, or..."

"I...I..." Aaliyah stuttered. Before she could speak, Horasian interrupted her.

"What is wrong with your eye, girl? Did one of these men sock you?" 

She shook her head. "I lost it, sir."

"Lost your eye." Horasian guffawed. "That is a shame, you might have had a pretty face before. Well, I know a guy what can fix you up. Still, I need girls for dancing and cooking. There ain't much more use for women. Dance, cook, raise sons. That is what your kind should be doing now."

"I have always found women good for warming my cockadoodle." Vasily added in his syrupy Russian accent.

Aaliyah looked like she was under siege. Sahle felt angry suddenly, and he put his arm around her as if it were a wing. "She sings, Mr. Horasian."

"Sings." Horasian looked at them funny. "Bah. We already what and got a singer, don't we Vasily?"

"Levon sounds like somebody stole his vocal chords when he was a boy and swapped them with a cow. Not a cow's vocal chords even, the entire cow." Vasily countered. "Most people like to hear pretty girls sing, not everyone is like you Sanos. If we all had your taste, we could fire most of our entertainers and just put a sputtering truck and a naked girl on the stages."

Horasian hocked and coughed so hard it sounded as if he was choking. It took a moment for Sahle to realize what he was hearing was a sort of laughter. "Maybe." the old man admitted. "Maybe. We will see tonight. Can you be here at nine?"

Yared nodded.

"Good." the old man said, "I will pay you later."


Black Forest, PrussiaEdit

A cool morning breeze swept through the trees and their bristly needle branches danced and fluttered about. Under the arms of the fir tree giants rode Kaiser Frederick IV and his son, Prince Karl. The two had set forth on a hunt at dawn, and their tracking hound - a Jagdterriernamed Blitz - had taken the lead and vanished into the woods ahead of them.

Frederick's horse protested with a snort as it neared a rocky creek. Moss covered every rock and it played a soothing song as water flowed freely and hoofs met the hard stones. The horse brought the Kaiser over it with a slow trot and Karl followed.

The woods before them had an eerie ambiance, enough to make the prince feel uneasy. But the emperor moved unfazed; this hadn't been his first time hunting. He preferred it to ruling a nation, he had said. His eyes scanned the trees in front of them, a task made easy by the clearances between each fir giant. But Frederick cursed the clear line of sight. How could he close in on an animal undetected? He took comfort hoping the cold morning fog made spotting his approach as hard for the animal as it was for him to hide himself in the trees.

It was dark and quiet. Karl looked around him nervously. He couldn't shake the feeling that something was watching them, something waiting to pounce from the darkness. It was a strange sort of lighting. The uppermost tree branches basked in yellow light, while those beneath them drooped down under a shield of leaves, in the cold shadow of the deep woods.

Sharp and bony features defined the young prince's face, clear and hairless. He was tall like his father, but far slimmer. A head of blond and strong blue eyes. And he had a style to him that swayed between graceful and confident, and effeminate. A peculiar contrast between he and his father - and it felt like even his appearance disappointed the Kaiser. The boy had the charming look of a fairy tale prince, even in the dirty rags he had picked for hunting. His father wanted a soldier.

The emperor towered over most men, and his shoulders were broad. His look alone demanded respect and cemented an authoritative dominance. But he had a certain grace to him. And a great golden beard that forked in the center. Muttonchops added to his splendor. He was known as a stern, strong man who never smiled. And people had little reason to disbelieve it. When he had come to claim his throne, palace guards unable to recognize him had tried to stop him from entering the castle. Frederick flung one of them across the street, and it took five men with batons to halt his advance. It sounded like a story told to amuse children, but it was true.

"Father." Karl broke the silence, much to his father's discontent. His irritated gaze told the prince behind him to be quiet, but the boy missed the hint and continued. Karl had never been good at reading what was behind that beard. "I'm worried for Blitz." he admitted, concerned for their hound. "It's been a while since he ran along, and the fog has thickened."

Frederick let out a dismissive huff from his nose. "I have more faith in that dog returning than I'd have if it were you out there." he said bluntly. Their horses brought them under a gap in the canopy. The wet fog caught the sunlight seeping in, the light that filtered through washed over them with a soft warmth.

There was a pause and Karl rode up beside his father. He shook the demeaning words off as he had done many other times, perhaps hiding his emotions under the veil of friendly mockery. "I'm a soldier, father." he said with a taunting smile. "I'm better trained than you to survive in these woods." the prince said confidently.

"Yet you lack discipline." Frederick countered with a tone of disappointment. "And all the qualities of a good soldier."

It was true Karl was a soldier, but not a popular one. "I am." the prince argued. "And I carry the badge to prove it." he added, producing a small metal pin from his breast pocket. A Totenkopf encircled by an iron wreath, atop the image of tank barreling over a hill. "I drive one of your deathtraps, mein Kaiser."

"You hand the gunner shells to be fired." Frederick corrected, unimpressed. "And even that you fail to do well." the emperor added. A defeated Karl pocketed the pin, his smile wiped from his face.

"I did well." Karl assured. He had drifted into thought for a moment, saddened. But he remained defiant. "I don't wear cavalry coats and pretend to be a soldier." he shot. "I am one."

"An incompetent drug addict, but not a soldier!" Frederick spat. He didn't face Karl. And it seemed like he wished for him to be gone. But he also wanted him there. "I see a smear on the family name when I look at you, sometimes." he admitted with a shaky voice, sparing the boy a brief glance. "I hope you change."

It hadn't been the first time Karl heard something similar. He had grown resistant to harsh words, but they cut deep, and the boy held back tears. "I did a good job." he maintained, in his voice a hint of sadness. "I earned this badge." the prince added. "This is more than you've ever earned."

"That's not what the reports have told me." Frederick countered. He had personally requested updates on his son during his training, and they always came back with more complaints than commendations. Karl was described as arrogant, believing his status as Prince gave him authority over the rest. And he wasn't described as a particularly good soldier on the field.

Their horses entered thicker woods and their pace slowed even more. "I gave you a good life even before all this." Frederick said. His voice was strong as always, but flat of emotion. "Now you have everything you need, and all you do is kill yourself with drugs and bed whores."

Karl let out a huff of air, as if he was insulted. "I've never been with a woman." he assured. But he didn't deny his drug use. His honesty only served to credit some of the rumors about the prince, and a look of disgust drew across the emperor's face. Karl noticed it and spoke up again: "Or a man!" he clarified. "I've never laid with anyone."

"Enough." Frederick said, uninterested. He didn't need to hear who Karl had slept with, or which drugs he had used. "You will rule Prussia one day." he continued. "And God willing, you will rule the Russian people, as it is our right."

"I don't want to rule." Karl cut in. 

"But you will." Frederick declared. He offered no alternative. "And Hell will freeze before I let you make a mockery of our family name." he warned. "You will change one way or the other."

"I'm sorry I wasn't born the son you wished for." Karl said, almost indifferent. Frederick offered no response, his horse leading the way. It was true that Karl had no interest in ruling as Emperor, but he loved the life of a prince. He wanted the respect that came with it, the wealth. The power to wish for something one moment, and have it lay before him the next. But ruling a nation didn't seem fun, if his father was anything to judge by.

A song of playful chirps played above them as unseen birds dashed between the tree branches. Karl spotted their hound not far ahead but Frederick waved the boy quiet before he could say anything. Pulling on the reigns, Frederick brought his horse to a halt and Karl did the same. Blitz was a small dog with a coat of shaggy black hair. It kept low along the forest floor, and quiet. Not far in front of them was a deer the hound had tracked.

"Dismount." Frederick ordered in a hushed tone. The emperor slid off the side of his horse without making a sound. In his hands, he cradled a bolt-action rifle. Karl's dismount was less graceful and twigs snapped under his boots. The Kaiser shot him a look of disdain and the two watched as the deer perked its ears, nearly spooked. Karl gave the Kaiser an apologetic look in return. Frederick waved him low and they began their slow approach.

It pained Frederick to crouch, and he often walked with a cane. But here, he had only his rifle to support him. And he ignored the pain in his back the best he could. His boots were spattered with mud and wet grass, and he took calculated steps. Slow and steady. Karl lacked technique, but he managed. The two positioned themselves behind some trees, not far from the deer. "I'll do it." Karl volunteered with a whisper. Frederick nodded.

The prince rested his weight against the tree trunk and leveled his rifle. He relaxed and aligned his sights, his finger soft on the trigger. When his sights were on the animal, he took a shallow breath and fired. An explosion of splinters shattered the husk of a tree behind the deer, and the thunderous blast sent the animal darting for the deeper woods. Frederick cursed under his breath and leveled his own rifle. A second shot thundered through the forest and the deer fell with a hard thud.

It hadn't been the cleanest kill. The deer kicked on its side, like it wanted to run but couldn't. Blitz hurried out of cover and confronted the dying beast. Frederick ran up to its side and Karl followed. The emperor was quick to unsheathe a large hunting knife, and without warning, sunk it into the animal's neck. Karl looked away as he did, and the kicking stopped shortly after. "Damn it, boy." cursed Frederick. 

"I'm sorry!" said the prince. He had no real excuse.

"You're a Leutnant." Frederick pressed on, in his voice a bit of struggle as he pulled the knife from the animal's neck. "But can't shoot a damn rifle." he said harshly. He had seen personally how poor a soldier Karl really was.

"I never wanted to be a soldier." the prince said in his defense. Frederick ignored it with an annoyed wave of dismissal.

The smell of fresh blood was now in the air. "Help me turn it over." the emperor requested. Karl stepped up and the two pushed the deer onto its back. Readying his knife, Frederick pierced the skin downwards from the sternum. It was a clean cut, but Karl grimaced at the sight. The deer's belly split and the Kaiser reached inside. It looked like he had done this before as he reached inside and began to pull out the animal's guts. A look of horror and disgust drew across Karl's face and he turned away with a nauseated gag. Frederick noticed it and shook he head. "A 120mm gun will do a lot worse to a man." he reminded the prince. "Get used to this."

"I hope I never see it." Karl replied in between gags. He didn't join the military because he liked war. He joined it because it had been an expectation. The prince hoped he'd never have to kill a man, in any way. Blood began to gush out of the animal like Frederick had cut the wrong thing, but the emperor didn't seem fazed. Disgusted and feeling nauseous, Karl finally stepped away. His father said nothing, but the prince could feel his disappointment.

The Kaiser severed the last membranes holding the guts inside and pulled them out with his hands. It wasn't long before the deer was ready for transport. "Get the horses." Frederick finally spoke. "We're bringing this one with us."

"On your horse, I hope." Karl said. "I'm not sitting on mine with that." he assured.

Frederick stood up to face his son. His hands were covered in blood, like he had committed some kind of massacre and Karl was next. And even his beard had collected some. "You're right." he said. "You're walking back."


Tianjin, ChinaEdit

A light ocean spray crept up the shore. A soft warm breeze blew off the south, stirring the waves and raising them to fall with a guttural beat of the drum. Perched on a short hill overlooking the Bohai a modest estate stood. A wood-plan trail – aged to a stone-grey and choked with spindly, thing weeds – lead between the back deck and the sandy shore below. Trees with bright green budding leaves stood along the home's side. Ceramic shingles stretched out and arced outward on a majestic hang over the walls of the stone clad home.

Rising behind the home, on its inland face rose a flag pole. A red banner had been risen to its peak. It sputtered and flapped in the warm, salty sea breeze. There was a warm relief in the air. A comforting breath that came with spring. The warmth of summer was on its way, and the melting snow had given way to sprouting flowers.

An elderly figure stepped out onto the deck. His boney, leathery hands wrapped tightly around the head of a wooden cane, its head set with carved bone. Its figure head looked to be a dragon. Brass inlay marked where the wood ended and the bone began. All of it shone in a rich lacquer that gave it a deep, new shine.

Behind the man walked a younger figure, dressed in a clean white suit. His hands rich and new, pure. They rested wrapped in front of him, refraining a purpose. Poised with gentle etiquette.

“I have always enjoyed springtime.” the old man croaked as he hobbled towards a deck chair. He was Hou Sai Tang. The widely spoken of chairman. Respected in the east, despised in the west. But much of his prominence that he wore when he first stepped onto the world stage and seeped away. He was an old man now. He was coming on seventy.

Deep prominent lines had formed across his face, tracing his almond eyes. His brows appeared thin, if because they were raised so high above his head. His nose wide and dimpled with the years. And where his hair was thinning on his head and slowly receding across his scalp a still prominent beard grew from his chin. Sharp and angular, like the point of a spear. It dramatized he's already thin and narrow visage by stretching out his face even longer.

His left side also hung lax and numb. A stroke some several months back had seen to that. Now he walked with a cane and he had lost his energetic stride. In only one brief moment inflicted on him by America, he had come closer to death than any man had come so far. But he walked still. But he had much stolen from him. One of which was is energy to remain the Grand Secretary of the Chinese state.

“I had taken you for a summer man, comrade.” smiled his younger companion as he walked carefully behind him. Zhang Auyi, a trusted minister to Hou. Although not the first in his particular position.

The two stood equal to one another. Although Auyi was of fairer and more youthful complexion. He was by chance perhaps the youngest man in the current Chinese government at the age of forty-four. He still possessed a thick head of hair, cut clean and worked to a campaign finish. His face full and healthy and round. No lines marked him as was the case in Hou. His lips full and flush where Hou's had grown pale and thin.

And he dressed different. Where Hou dressed in a dark conservative black, Auyi's Zongshan was a bleached white. Grey buttons rose up and down the middle, marking the breast and waste pockets.

“Summers are nice, except when you're in Hong Kong.” Hou Sai Tang grumbled. His speech was lightly slurred, and had regressed as such over the past month, “But I suspect you didn't come here to compliment the time of year.” he added, his voice growing lower and if to be true: bitter.

“Unfortunately not.” Auyi exclaimed, taking a seat as the Chairman of the New People's China party did likewise.

“Then are you seeking a campaign endorsement?” Hou asked, “Because I can tell you here and now that I made it known when I announced my retirement I will not be officially involving myself in this. I am done, it's over. I want to step out of the political spotlight, come to terms with what I have done and survive long enough to see my father pass away.”

“How is he?” Auyi asked.

“The man is over ninety and still feels he can continue living.” Hou grumbled, “They say a man doesn't live long after his wife. But no one told him.

“He just needed me to remind him of his mortality.”

“I'm sorry to hear that, my condolences.” said Auyi.

Hou grumbled. With a low sigh he slipped into silence, leaning back in his chair as he watched the sea with a wistful distant expression. He went for some time as the galls over head called down. “But we're digressing from the topic again.” the old chairman said softly.

“I'm afraid so, I'm sorry.” Auyi quickly apologised.

“And I'd issue it to you if I could, but I have been asked by all thirty of your running mates.” remarked Hou, “Including Mang Xhu. It seems that all of government is getting up to take my old chair.

“I should count it as fortunate, the constant courting has slowed down the process of everything and I can continue to stay here for once in my life.”

“I understand.” Auyi nodded, “Although, I've tried not to set aside my current priorities.”

Hou gave him a cynical look. Though in his green eyes there was a certain expression of appreciation for what he could do. “Is that so?” he said, “Minister Mang Xhu I've heard has lightened his work load. He's devoting himself to trying to court half of Congress in his favor, and who knows what else. If he announced tomorrow he would be stepping down as Industrial Minister I would not be the least bit surprised.

“Of course this means I would need to go to Beijing and talk join the Politburo in making a replacement.”

“How does that process work?” Auyi asked, “I never fully got it.”

Hou shuddered off a deep sigh, “I wish I could remember the original logic. It's been twenty years and the job has been so highly associated with my position. I wouldn't be surprised if a legal committee simply wrote the Grand Secretary in as being the one to do it, and not the Chairman. Or both could. And I signed it when I was drinking.”

“Six months clean, haven't you?” Auyi asked.

“Eight.” Hou corrected, “I don't know how I feel anymore.” he mumbled, “Dien Han's been encouraging I stay this way as part of my rehabilitation. Whenever he comes over for a check up every so many weeks he even demands the guards to prove the house is dry.”

“And do they?” Auyi asked with a smirk.

“Only when I order them to comply.” he responded, “Loyal young men.” he added.

Auyi nodded, and it was again his turn to invite the silence. The two sat in their chairs. Watching the distant ocean throw itself on the waves and draw itself back. Birds – cranes, herons – strutted along the wet sands calling out to each other. A few galls picked along the sides, giving their taller more majestic companions sharp disdainful looks as they prodded the sand for food.

“It's strange.” Auyi started, “I had never seen the ocean before until I joined the Revolution. I had only seen fields and mountains and rivers as a boy. I never left my home by birth.”

“I have seen much.” Hou added, “Too much.

“Young men get killed for their cause. Destructive Imperialism by one breed of men. Starvation. Disease. More death any normal person should ever witness.

“I've been shot at, exploded on, and driven out with my friends by my enemies. I cried when the greatest man that ever was died, and became the executioner. I fear those days will catch up on me. I will not to meet them on my own terms.”

“Surely though you've seen much?” Auyi asked, “You saw us go beyond the clouds, liberate so many.”

“Yet people die, and Spain seeks to dam the Gibraltr! Yet Russia continues to prove that man is not pure and righteous!” Hou proclaimed, nearly shouting as he leaned out of his chair, “Brothers kill brothers in Africa. The Ottoman Turks rise and crash climatically in a single decade!

“In five years I have watched two nations crumble to dust, and now a third, shredded by violence and to no doubt be doomed for more.” he leaned back in his chair, raising his hand to his temple he sighed low, “Wen Chun, by dear friend and best man I have ever met once said I was perhaps the greater pick. He was too modest a person. If I was some saving light in his young ideological mind, how did I not prevent this?”

Auyi leaned back, too stunned to answer. He found his words though, but he felt uncomfortable. Like they weren't the right once. They were awkward. Somehow, he wanted to confirm what this man he had never met had said of Hou once upon a time. “How is any man supposed to?” he said.

“How is anyone supposed too...” Hou said, “Communism can not be accurately achieved without insanity being purged. But I'm not strong enough. I may have been able to keep it from happening in China itself. But how was I supposed to keep a wanton psuedo-Pope from starving half of Mindanao for his holy mission.”

“You... you couldn't.” Auyi said. He hoped to find something dismissive, something that wouldn't build the confirmation.

“I feel deep down China needs someone who wasn't there to be a party in the politics of the old party and the old communes.” Hou bemoaned gravely, “Xhu knows it too much.” he stopped to look at Auyi, looking into his eyes and seeing the frozen shock on him, “Provincial governor of Guangxi, no background but honorable service before that. Minister of People's Affairs and of Agriculture.”

“What are you saying?” Auyi asked.

“Maybe I facilitated to rapid a rise.” Hou laughed, “Some might criticize me for being too apologetic to Puyi for giving him the same seat before you, and after Mao. Though maybe it's favorable.

“I do not believe in circumstance, comrade. I believe in merit.”

“Is this an endorsement?” Auyi asked, he felt confused. Excited if scared.

“I will need to think.” Hou sighed, “But it won't be official if I do. Never will be.

“And you got a campaign to go on, and a family to return to, comrade Auyi.”

Yekaterinburg, Russian RepublicEdit

“Penthouse suit, top floor, third window on the right. No company.” a deep voice said next to him. A Grizzly, rough built Russian. A heavy fur coat hiding his bulking form as he sat crouched at a broken window on the top floor of an abandoned, darkened tenement building.

The rooms had been completely ravaged. The walls tore out in order for scavengers to get at the pipes. The broken wood beneath the plaster jutted out like broken teeth. Their mouth opened to an abyss of derelict nudity. In fact, filled with the crude depictions of the nude. Spray painted penises and crude dripping vaginae had been painted onto the opposite side of the wall opposite. There was already nothing there. The meat and worth of the walls had already been stripped out, along with the wiring.

What remained of the furniture was busted and strewn across the floor. The remains of a toiler lay scattered across the floor and a substance that look like dried and aged blood coated the chunks. Broken abandoned needles and broken light bulbs littered the floor, except for where they had been cleared by the window. What had transpired in full here was a mystery, even to the pair of men; and no one bothered or wanted to solve what had happened. Jun was almost surprised when they had entered that there was no body.

Leaning on an overturned couch some ten foot from the window next to the Russian was the man named Jun. His full figure too was clothed heavily in a thick coat. In his arms a battered rifle – a Mosin-Nagant from the era of the Imperial army no doubt – rested in his arms. A bundled sheath and sword rested on his back, hidden in a cocoon of bundled supplies and hidden gear. His mouth wrapped up in a thick scarf. Only his eyes could be seen, sharp brown eyes that glowed like a killer's. Irritation had saturated the white's thick with blood. And clenching one shut he peered down the long scope and scanned to the window his spotter had pointed out. A thin hair-line crack ran across the glass, but to his relief he could still see all the same.

“Dorofey Mitschov,” his spotter said, licking his lips as he watched through the binoculars, “How the world will be happy with you dead.

“Do you see him comrade!?”

“I see him.” the Chinese spy said angrily. He scanned his scope to the indicated window. There, several blocks off in the distance stood a large man. The weight of a fully stocked cow hung from his belly and his arms. Through the scope Jun could make out his signature mustache as he moved through what looked to be his bathroom.

“Carve out his head before he returns to his bitches and so we can go home.” Jun's Russian partner demanded, “I am tired of this shit.”

“We will need to confirm it still.” Jun replied with a bark.

“Right right, Makulov said you were in charge.” the Russian growled angrily, “Just take the shot then will you?”

“How's the wind?” Jun asked flatly. Cutting the bullshit on the spot.

“South by south-east.” his partner replied flatly, “Distance is roughly four-hundred fifty meters. Taking the shot?”

“Taking the shot.” Jun repeated.

“Then this man gives you permission.”

With a loud clap the rifle flashed with a strong report. It bounced in the Asian's hands, kicking back with a numb punch against his shoulders. And for a brief moment, the city outside went dead silent.

“Confirm it.” Jun demanded.

“Blood on the windows and walls.” his companion cheered, “I'd say you hit him!”

“Right.” Jun sighed, standing up. Bending down by his knees he grabbed a heavy wool wrap, and proceeded to bundle the rifle up. “We move out, give the responders time to come in, clean up, and move the body out. Then break into his suit and look around for confirmation.

“Then the morgue, get a photo of the kill for the Ghost General.”

“Sounds good by me.” his spotter said with a proud smile.

Novosibirisk, RussiaEdit

Outside the glass panes, rain fell over Novosibirsk. Inside the office, it was warm and dry. Outside, trains pulled into the city train-stated. Inside, a desk sat accompanied by a number of officers. The cap of a a Chinese officer stood out among the crowd. His over coat weighed with the multiple medals, badges and ribbons and symbols of his rank.

He stood over a notice on his desk, a dispatch from the Chinese military logistics service. “This is the fifth time I've been undercut, and we are already running out of time.” he grumbled, “We're loosing our window.”

“General Wen sir.” an officer said nervously, “It's nothing in our control. The roads out here are terrible. It's perfectly reasonable to expect to lose convoys and to delay them. The spring melt has turned much of them to mud.”

“I can read the dispatch comrade Mann!” Wen shouted angrily, raising his head. Grabbing the paper and holding it up to his face.

The general's face was heavily decimated by wrinkles. Sleeplessness had formed bags under his eyes. And his wide-chin sagged from the disdainful frown he wore. His nostrils flared wide on his upturned nose. He looked like an enraged boar than a man, only his cleanliness and neatness presented him as a man than a beast. “We are loosing our window for a swift action over Russia. I will not be caught in the snow!” he boomed, “It is how we lost the last time.”

“To be perfectly honest comrade, we have fought plenty in the snow.” a Siberian officer counter argued. A young, trim Caucasian figure, “How this is important I do not understand.”

“Snow means winter,” Huei Wen growled, “And winter brings snow. And with snow we risk attrition, especially at the harshness as we will face here. If we can not establish our lines or make swift action then by next spring we will be shot in the muck when we have not properly moved needed supplies where they're needed on time.

“And these set backs are forcing me to become concerned with the entire endeavor! Already we've sprung our first move and we're prolonging our second. If we can't get the last of the units in from Manchuria than we are risking one more day the Republic will counter-act once your Russian forces are forced into retreat.”

“Are you implying we are not strong!” the young Russian bellowed.

“And I am your superior officer Lechivsok!” Wen boomed in angry force, sprinting around the desk to put himself into the Russian colonel's face, “Have you not had the sense of humility bashed into your head!?

“Every day we wait for them to clean up their mess is another day our forward army sits idle ready to move. I wanted to be in Omsk last week, and our men on the way to taking the frontier forts in the north by now. I can't blind the Republic to the north without us striking Omsk with the force of a hammer.

“Air-raids and unit skirmishing will only do so much to delay or prepare the piece.”

“If I may speak sir,” Zhōng jiàng Yu Mann spoke softly, “Perhaps I may request the Mongolian air service assist where possible. Lighten the load, and move the last or most troubled men in the stuck units out to Chita. They could be on a train on the rail road and to Novosibirisk.

“Obviously, with the Trans-Siberian being so heavily damaged between Valdivosotok and Chita it's not possible to safely do it. But it's in much better condition I gather between there and here.”

Huei Wen sighed, backing from the retreating officer. “Very well.” he groaned, “Thank you.” he added stiffly, “You may be the only other one here with brains.”

“Well it's no longer cold sir,” Mann added, “And the air conditioning works.”

“That it does.”

(West of) Novosibirsk, RussiaEdit

The grumble of tanks rumbled even on at night, but not a light was shone. Instead in the distance behind them glowed the city of Novosibirisk. Not as a great metropolis like Shanghai, or metropolitain Hong Kong. It was low suppressed glow. A sleepy orange laid down behind the trees. The golden spots of distant cars crawled along the roads. But none coming towards them.

No traffic west.

Li Tsung sat perched on the shell of the rumbling, idle tank. A distance off by a burning barrel Shan Sung stood with his commanders and some of their crew. Talking and laughing together. Tsung watched them, feeling distant and left out. He didn't know these men. And they didn't know him. So they stood at their barrels, smoking cigarettes together and telling jokes. But the tanks were too loud to for him to hear.

It felt, lonely. He had barely been here a few hours and he still didn't know what was going on. Fully that is. He heard the planes over head enough tirelessly sweeping westward or returning to base. He knew a war was starting. But when it was for him, that was another thing. It made butterflies in is stomach. Ants. He felt... knotted and cold. Ahead was a big mystery, with mysterious people.

Back at his old base, as cold and miserable as it was, he at least knew people Uygur and Han alike. Now Russians had been thrown in, and wet, still cold weather.

He shivered under his coat. He hadn't been allowed to leave his tank. They were on standby for something. But it just felt like they were idling forever. He gave a tired sigh, pulling his legs in and sitting hunched over his new home.

He could have stared down at the hexagonal, sharp, boxy turret of the tank for hours, lulling himself into a trance to spend the time. But as he drifted off, there came a soft metallic knock. Tsung looked up and over. Wi Hui leaned up along side the metal carapace of the tank, a wrench in his hand. “Comrade.” he said. In the dim light he smiled a bit around the word, like he thought it was a joke, “Having fun?” he asked.

“I- I don't know.” Tsung said confused.

“Huh...” Hui grunted, looking at him up and down, “Want to go get warm?” he asked, nodding to the fire.

“I'm not sure if I should...” replied the young soldier, his voice chirping with subtle fear.

“I guess not.” Hui shrugged, “Some of us have to keep close to the tanks. Can you make room?”

“Oh, yeah Yeah. Sorry.” Tsung said, shuffling over across the top of the turret. Wi Hui clambered up, sliding atop the turret and joining him looking out into the dark horizon. Tsung noticed he was finally in a coat.

“So,” Tsung began, trying to force his words around the rock in his throat, “How long have you been a part of this?” he asked.

Hui looked at him and smiled. “You want to know how long I've been in this shit can?” he asked, reaching into his coat pocket for a cigarette.

Tsung shrugged indifferently.

“Well,” he started, lighting his cigarette, “I should be going on three years now.” he remarked, “I was the lieutenant's first transfer in when he was still a sergeant.”

“Oh...” Tsung nodded.

“Now, can I ask you a reasonably sound question?” Hui posed.

“Yeah?” Tsung asked.

“Can you drive an 80-series?” he asked, “I've known some poor bastard crews who got someone who could only drive the 70-series of Tei Gui. Not these new ones.”

“Oh, well yes. I can.”

“Good, good.” Hui smiled around his cigarette, slowly looking up into the star-filled sky, “Then I have a feeling you'll do well.”


London, EnglandEdit

Bombastic fanfare sung out from the streets of London, accompanied by the sounds of the populace shouting and cheering. A gentle breeze caused the flags mounted on the sides of almost every building to flutter, as people sitting behind rope and police on the sidewalks waved arms and hats over the threshold, trying to get the attention of the black convertible driving down it. 

Standing up in the back of the vehicle was a man in a suit and top hat, just slightly over fifty. Short, peppered hair stuck out from above round ears, matching the large, overgrown eyebrows that sat atop a pair of wizened blue-green eyes. A large, porous nose between them seemed to hang on to a wiry mustache, which, in turn, held up a well-kept pointed beard. 

As this man smiled and waved back to the crowds, their enthusiasm only grew, making the police's job of holding them back just that much more difficult. They, however, didn't seem to mind for this man. After all, he was the leader of their glorious nation, who had promised to restore it to it's former glory.

Today was the official anniversary of the day that Owen Pyke took control of the nation, following the famous Price scandal-the attempt by Martin Price to install a socialist agenda into the country. 

Being such an important day to the people of Britain, it was declared a national holiday, and one of the few days that the factories weren't being worked. So people actually were able to get out of bed and breath in the fresh air, lending more to the reason for the excitement. 

Once the car reached the end of it's trail, it stopped, and Pyke stepped out of the vehicle, and up onto a large stage that had been constructed. He looked out as those who had been further down the road steadily flowed in, waiting patiently for them all to arrive before he spoke. Finally, when the stream of people had slowed to a trickle, he began.

“Hello, my fellow people!” he began. “And thank you for being here today! I am happy to be here with you, especially on a day as nice as today! It seems like luck smiles on us, seeing as we have a bright and sunny day, today, of all days. Wouldn't you agree?

The question was met with cheering that took over a minute to die down.

“Now... I know that all of you aren't here just for a thank you. You are all here because of the promise that I made you all last year. The promise that, within a years time, the restoration project would begin, correct?”

Again, the question was met with boisterous applause.

Laughing, Pyke raised his hands, moving them in a vertical motion to calm the crowd. “Well, then. It is my pleasure to announce that, thanks to the hard work from all of you, from the British people... Our dream will soon be a reality. I can't divulge specific details just yet, but, know this. Soon, we will rise. Britain has been dormant for far too long. Soon, we will wake, and remind the world just who it was that owned so much of it for so long. We will have to start out small, but I promise you! Soon, Britain will return to be the center of the world stage!”

One more time, there was applause, loudest as it had been yet. 

“But, know this. It will not be an easy task. Sacrifices will have to be made, and this will not be as easy as I feel many of you think it will be. However, if you truly have the will of Britain in your hearts, anything will be possible. Thank you.”

With that last statement, Pyke stepped down from the stage, and made his way back to the vehicle, watching as the police literally had to make a wall using their own bodies to hold the people back. Pyke couldn't help but laugh, and give them one final wave before the vehicle drove off.

In the back seat of the vehicle, Pyke grinned, as he spoke indirectly to the others inside.

“The fires in their hearts have been lit, which in turn, will light the fires in the factories tomorrow. A motivated people are an unstoppable force, that will give anything to see their dream come true. This is how we will succeed. We may not be as powerful as the Spanish, or as proud as the Prussians, but we have a will stronger than any other. The British people have been shamed, and they know it. To erase that from their hearts... They will do whatever it takes. And that is how we shall achieve our goal. We are a people united under a dream, and we will not let anyone prevent our dream from coming true.”


Yerevan, ArmeniaEdit

Abbasian's mother had managed to find a small cafe tucked away from the busy streets as the celebrations got underway. Inside, only a few people milled about quietly, reflecting on something or another. Two soldiers ate in silence at the back, one with a large bandage over his chest. The mood was more subdued than the parades outside. Only a teenaged girl ran the desk, with everyone else having taken the day off. She wiped down surfaces absentmindedly, listening to a quiet, crackling radio ecstatically narrate the parades in the streets of Yerevan. Abbasian followed his mother in, ducking under the short clearance of the door and stepping behind her as she went. Quickly, she ushered Abbasian and his sister to a nearby table, and proceeded to let the waitress know that they were there. Seconds later, Abbasian pulled a chair for his mother, sitting her down properly before taking his own seat. There, they looked at each other in silence before Abbasian's mother sighed. "It's good to see everyone home," she announced, looking at the two soldiers discussing something in the rear.

"Me, too. I'm going to get out of the Army and I'm going to work on the ranch and I'm going to be as happy as can be," proclaimed the son with a smirk.

"Get out of the Army?" his sister asked suddenly. "But you could be a general! They have all those fancy bits of ribbon and medals."

"Not quite," chuckled Abbasian. "See, I'd have to stay in for a long time until I was as old as mother. Older, even."

"Then why don't you, Haroud?" inquired the young girl, playing with her butter knife.

"Because truthfully," Abbasian whispered, leaning in closer to his sister's ear. "The Army is kind of silly."

She giggled softly. "Why? I thought it was full of big tough men. They aren't silly. They're serious."

"Well," the soldier explained, "it turns out that when you get a bunch of big, tough men to fight lots of battles, they need to be kept track of. Some of them aren't smart enough to stay in the same town for more than a day without someone telling them they can't."

"Our dog used to escape a lot!" offered Abbasian's sister. "But now he's old..."

"Well, I won't say that they're dogs, but Army men are prone to running off. We even get tags like a dog gets on their collar, to let everyone know who we are." Abbasian reached beneath his telnyashka to pull out his dogtags. He quickly slipped them over his head and placed them in his sister's hand.

"So they can return you when you're naughty and you run away?" giggled his sister.

"Exactly!" exclaimed Abbasian. "And because some soldiers are silly like that, they make me write a bunch of papers for everything so they know what I'm doing all the time. I had to write my name on six different papers to get some clothes!"

"But you can just buy some at the store." Abbasian's sister put down her knife, and looked over to her mother. She was chuckling, too, watching her son try to explain bureaucracy.

"Not in the Army. We get them for free. Sorta. It's hard to explain."

By this time, the waitress had arrived with a menu. Her black hair spilled over her shoulders as she beamed a smile at the young soldier who was home. Abbasian had found service workers to be kind to the men and women of the armed forces. It was, as the government said, their patriotic duty to support them. She asked for a round of drinks to start, with Abbasian ordering coffee, his mother tea, and his sister some fruit juice. A few minutes later the drinks arrived, and Abbasian went to cautiously sip at his coffee. It turned out that it was way better than anything he had drank in Erzurum's theater. The flavor actually surprised him, and he stopped immediately for fear of being overwhelmed. It was too strong for his taste. His mother laughed at him. "Haroud, are you not used to true Armenian coffee?"

"Not anymore," admitted Abbasian as he stirred the coffee with his spoon. "They stuff they gave us in our rations was bland. Only good for a quick buzz."

"And this?"

"Well, this is very, very strong. Wow. I can't wait to actually eat something that isn't canned stew either."

"Pick anything you want. I have money." "Well, it looks like today is a feast day," cried Abbasian, rubbing his hands together. Any excuse to have food was a good one. Especially his first meal after deployment. So for that, he chose a dish of msov byoreks. The little pastries were filled with minced meats and lightly spiced: something to excite his senses after months of bland rations. A few minutes later when the bowl arrived, he dug in with the ferocity of a man starved for several weeks - someone who, in essence, he was. His mother ate a modest salad while his sister didn't order anything because she had eaten a street vendor's schwarma earlier. Instead, she occasionally stole some of Abbasian's byoreks with a cheeky smile. Abbasian didn't mind, even if the same offense often led to battles involving lead pipes with his buddies on the front. Their lunch was quick and sweet, with the family sharing various stories and laughs. Abbasian's mother paid the bill as she promised, before the trio got up to leave. Abbasian's sister got all of the complementary mints, eating them with glee as she skipped behind her brother. When they exited into the alley that housed the cafe, they were surprised to see celebrators lined up on the road to their right. Figuring that it was worth an investigation, Abbasian dragged his mother towards the crowds.

They pierced through the mob of people dressed in their finest clothes, past a few sailors wearing their floppy berets, and eventually made it to the police barricade at the edge of a sidewalk. A policeman, stray bits of confetti stuck in his dark green uniform, smiled as he patrolled the line. Offering a quick hello, Abbasian turned to watch a pickup truck drive past with two giant Armenian flags streaming from the bed. The students who held them cheered and pumped their fists in the air, throwing out candies to the various children gathered around. Then, beyond the corner, Abbasian saw what he instinctively recognized as a Polish IFV peek out from a turn. It was an armored detachment seeking to join the main parade heading to Republican Square. Watching the metal beast lumber slowly towards them, Abbasian recognized a familiar blonde man straddling the barrel. Upon closer inspection, he wore only his telnyashka to reveal bulging muscles underneath. It was Igor Zokarski. Abbasian, beginning to wave, stopped himself. "Igor! Igor! Igor Zokarski!" he shouted.

Zokarski, waving and throwing flowers and confetti, failed to notice. "Who's that?" asked Abbasian's mother from behind.

"A buddy," answered Abbasian. Suddenly, a thought crossed his mind. Would the policeman mind if he were to jump the fence? "Igor!" he repeated.

As the tank drew closer, Zokarski noticed the jumping man in front of him. At first thinking that he was a celebrator, he primed his throwing arm to deliver some confetti in his general direction. But then he saw the familiar face - the crooked nose and pale lips that could only belong to Haroud Abbasian. Eyes widened in ecstatic surprise, he shouted back: "Haroud! Holy shit, brother!"

The tank approached, driver being showered with flowers from bystanders. He waved and paid no attention to Abbasian. Zokarski, meanwhile, leaned down from the barrel: "Jump on! Join us!"

"I have my family!" Abbasian replied, looking back to his mother.

"Is your mom desantniki?" laughed Zokarski. "I'm sure she can learn!"

"If you had enough space for everyone's mothers you'd be full!"

"Shut up and hop on!"

Now the tank was directly in front of Abbasian, and crawling away. Looking back to his mother and sister, Abbasian urged them to come with him. The silent protest from his mother was instantly subdued as the son grabbed her lightly to persuade. He had hopped the barricade by then, picking up his little sister in his arms - now he began to tear off towards Zokarski's tank with his mother in tow. "This is crazy!" she shouted, picking up her skirt to run.

"Grab on!" Abbasian ordered, ignoring her protests. In the back, one of the wildly grinning soldiers reached out to take Abbasian's sister. The tank moved slowly enough that it was possible to grab onto the handrails and hoist up. His mother, on the other hand, needed some help. Using hand signals, Abbasian convinced a soldier to open the rear doors. They flung open to reveal two men with their arms outstretched. "Come on!" they laughed maniacally. "We have you!"

Abbasian's mother, still unsure, leaped into the tank's cabin. The doors closed behind her, and seconds later her head poked through an open roof hatch where she was helped up to sit on the side with the rest of the soldiers. Abbasian, still jogging behind the tank, managed to grab a hold to the handrail and pull himself up to meet with Zokarski himself. They wordlessly exchanged machismo backslaps and handshakes before Abbasian decided to pose heroically on the turret. One of the soldiers produced a sword, inexplicably, from the cabin, and handed it to Abbasian. He held it high, like a conquering general. Behind them, the policeman who had been patrolling the barricade paid no attention. Now the parade element was en route, ready for the full thing. Abbasian, as he quickly found, would be right at the center of it.

Sevan, ArmeniaEdit

Private First Class George Yaglian's military service was similarly almost over, but not quite. He gathered all of his things off of a green leather seat on the Yerevan-Sevan train route, and hopped off onto the steamy platform. It was a few weeks past the celebrations, and Sevan could be seen glittering even from the train station. New buildings, built to accommodate the new workers who were streaming in by the hundreds to work on the infrastructure such as the Hrazdan River Dam and the planned Azerbaijani oil pipeline, had arisen within the city limits. On the mountainous coast far in the distance, the lights from the affluent seaside resorts and mansions twinkled delicately. The vibrant city had always been known for its excellent tourism, but now Sevan was beginning to take on a new meaning. New jobs, new vibrancy, flooded into the city by the day. Workers and soldiers, looking for a place to spend their money, had funded the growth of a fledgling casino industry. Over the years, neon lights had popped up around the seaside district, and quickly the place became known for gambling and sin rather than restful relaxation. All manner of vices could be indulged in, from drugs to prostitutes to binge drinking. But with the influx of all these new people came the melting pot of culture.

Yaglian was enamored by the musical sensations coming out of the city. He held a certain romanticism about the town - the city that indeed never slept. Despite the fact that the quasi-legal drugs had brought the mob to power in the city, Yaglian thought of it highly for some reason. Armenians, Artsakh and Nakhchivan Azeris, Georgians, Caucasians, Russians, Greeks, Syrians, and even Turks all populated the rapidly growing city. Their cultures mixed and flowed, bringing enemies together and melding them into something new. Yaglian had tried as hard as he could to get his change of station to Joint Base Sevan Lake, where he would be guarding hangars on special duty with Air Force security. Not only a change of job from the boring frontier of Georgia, but an opportunity to make it big. This was where anyone could make themselves: Yaglian had brought his voice and his saxophone, and he was seeking others to be with him for the journey ahead. Maybe he wouldn't end up reenlisting at the end of his term, because he'd be a celebrity. But one could only hope, and Yaglian sometimes thought that he was simply being naive. Those thoughts, however, were usually drowned out by imaginary crowds cheering for him. So he stepped out of the station with all of his worldly possessions in his duffel bag to hail a cab to the base. The weekend would allow him to get situated in the barracks before Monday's shift.

Music was Yaglian's destiny, or so he told himself. It was the one thing he knew how to do in life. As he stared out of the windows of the cab, totally in awe of the flashing lights and music from city-wide loudspeakers, he wondered if lady luck would smile upon him. He sure hoped it would.


Robertson Barracks, Northern Territory; AustraliaEdit

“Which o’ you boys fancies yourself a man, eh?” Captain Anthony Martin Lee yelled out, his New Zealand easily noticeable.

They had been running for nearly an hour. The captain had dragged second company out of the base and decided they would go for a run, with full gear, in the desert. Half the men were leaning over and wheezing, with the other half barely breathing through gulps of lukewarm water. They had just gotten back to the base, and were now lined up in formation in front of the captain, who was pacing back and forth impatiently. He began to wave a fresh bottle of cold water in the air, his head turning to look at the crowd of exhausted soldiers.

“Anybody? Anybody at all?” The captain repeated.

Lee stands 175cm tall (5’9) and weighs 82kg (180lb). The man may not have been very tall, but he was stout, broad shouldered man. His dark black, straight hair is always cut down to regulation length. The captain’s tanned forehead was glistening with sweat as he glared at the gathered mob. Anthony had run with the men as well, carrying his own gear. Yet he was the only one who didn’t look as if they were about to fall over and die. Of course, Anthony was the only one ranked over first lieutenant. He also had the longest military track record. He had a couple of years on all of them, though.

One of the men, a round headed and round bellied young man, raised his head as he approached the captain. He saluted the captain.”Corporal Antis? Well, mate. I can’t say I’m surprised you’d be first.” The captain smiled. The corporal gave the captain his own toothy smile, and stood at attention. The small Mohawk that adorned the corporal’s head was uncovered when Antis removed his helmet. This was the third run in three days, and each one ended in the captain taunting the men with cold water. Lee even offered to give it to the man who could take it from him. No one had, yet. This was Antis’ third time trying, as well. Antis leaped towards the captain, aiming to tackle him. Lee avoided with ease, shoving Antis to the ground and stepping on his back.

”Your mighty strong, corporal, but you’re as dumb as a brick.” The captain teased his trooper.

“Now!” Three men shouted out in unison.

Suddenly, the captain found his legs being dragged out from under him, and his face hitting the grass. The bottle had been snatched from his hands, and he could hear the combined cheering of four men.”Harris! Thompson! Antis! Wilson! Fall in!” The captain shouted, standing up. The four men scrambled forward, getting into a line. The captain stood there for a moment, just glaring at them. The Anthony smiled, and nodded to the men.”Good work.” The captain turned around, and the soldiers were beginning to cheer again.”Oh.” Anthony interrupted.”And you all have kitchen duty tonight.” The men groaned, and the captain returned to the front of the formation.

“Captain Lee! Captain Lee!” A man dressed in combat fatigues came running out of a building towards the captain.”What is it?” The captain asked.”Brigadier O’Connell requests all commissioned officers in the command center immediately!” The captain nodded, and began to jog over towards the command center. Whatever this was, it seemed serious.

As the captain entered the command center, he noticed that everyone was gathered around a large television set. Lee moved over towards them, between two Lieutenants.”What’s goin’ on?” Lee asked, taking a seat.”The Prime Minister of Britain is giving a speech, mate!” One of them whispered excitedly.

Canberra, Australia – Twenty minutes after the Prime Minster’s speech Edit

Currently, the Australian Senate was having the most heated debate since its founding. The senate has always been considered the more docile of the two houses of parliament, however today both of them were equally as loud. The Governor-General sat in his throne behind the president’s chair, watching the senate verbally attack its’ self. The President of the Senate was attempting to gain control, yelling and furiously banging his gavel. Chapman ran a hand through his short, wavy blonde hair, ruining the styling his intern had attempted to give him for the occasion. As soon as he heard the announcement of an emergency meeting, he knew there wouldn’t be time for pictures.

“Enough!” Governor-General Chapman screamed at the top of his lungs. His loud, commanding voice usually accustomed to a battlefield was easily heard and recognized by all, and the fighting died down instantly.”You are the men and women who run this country.” Chapman began, standing up and starting to move down to the floor.”Yet you sit here and bicker and scream like children! You’ve done this every time the subject is brought up!” Mark spoke loud and clear, his piercing blue eyes patrolling the senators. Being six feet and two inches tall, Chapman could see everyone as he walked.

“There’s a reason the Kingdom of Australia was overthrown. The people demanded it. They’ve been rebelling since Australia became sovereign!” The Governor-General stopped in front of the president’s seat, turning to face the senate.”Quiet yourselves, and cast your votes like civilized people. Will you?” With that, the Governor-General returned to his seat and the casting began.

After about forty minutes, the casting was finished. The senate had voted to request to rejoin the British Empire officially, having overcome them by a small margin. The House of Representatives took far longer to settle down and vote, however they eventually voted, coming to the same conclusion as the senate. So the Governor-General drafted a letter to be sent to the Prime Minster of the former British Empire, and had the Australian representatives present in England write the letter and have it sent to the British.

The letter reads:

Dear Prime Minister Owen Pyke,

I would like to formally thank you, as representative for the Commonwealth of Australia, for your tremendous efforts in re-establishing the mighty British Empire. We, the people of Australia, have long stridden to rebuild the once mighty nation that has survived so many years. War has been fought over the right for the British to rule us, even though your once great nation was in shambles. But you have rebuilt that nation’s homeland. So now, we the people, wish to be the first to willingly join the British Empire as a commonwealth.  -Sincerely,

Governor-General Mark Chapman


Aeropuerto Madrid-Bajaras, SpainEdit

Underneath the masts of a hundred light posts, a motorcade of black sedans cruised across the unending expanse of tarmac. Waving arcs of orange light swirled across the polished contours of the cars as they cruised under the glowing lamps swarming with flying bugs. Baggage buggies and stair cars were parked in rows for the night along lines painted onto the pavement, around which the five cars swerved in wide curves. The procession drove alongside the facades of white-painted cinderblock hangars built on the fringe of the airport grounds. The towering outbuildings were featureless save of course for the retractable overhead doors tall and wide enough to swallow all but the very largest of aircraft. The only means of distinguishing one hangar from another was a pairing of letters and numbers painted great bold letters against the whitewashed walls. Alongside a hangar identifiable as "C2", the line of cars eased to a halt in front of the jointed doorway.

A handful of bored, suit-clad goons who had previously busied themselves kicking at the defiant tufts of weeds growing against the hangar's exterior did their best to seem official as the motorcade bearing Alfonso Sotelo drove before them. One knocked against the window of the first vehicle and gestured for identification from the driver. Satisfied with the brownish-pink card the driver produced, the leader gave the men guarding the hangar a thumbs-up, prompting them to push the gate up. As the gate yawned open, the middlemost car spun its wheels and turned gently inside the hangar.

The interior of the aircraft was nearly as spartan as the the exterior. The squeaking of the smooth concrete underneath the wheels echoed within the cavernous space. Save for some metal shelving near the walls and another gaggle of Inteligencia Militar agents, the hangar contained only a single aircraft. The plane was a robust cargo aorcraft of civilian make, bearing a propeller pod on each wing. A wheel-bound staircase had been rolled up to the cockpit, from whence another member of the Republic's spy network descended. In unison, the doors of the sedan popped open as he stepped out of the cabin.

"Your Excellency, it's my pleasure to reintroduce you to a long-lost acquaintance." The agent-deputy called across the hangar with a wide smile beaming across his face. 

"Zuraban is on the plane?" Sotelo asked indifferently as he straightened the wrinkles out of his suit upon exiting the car and approached the stairs. The agent nodded approvingly.

"Take me to him."

As promised, Julio Zuraban - the former senator of the Spanish Republic - sat bowed over a metal bench bolted to the plane's interior fuselage. The dim lighting of the hangar radiated in through round glass portholes, providing Prime Minister Sotelo just enough light to see the Zuraban's bruise-mottled face. The last two months had not been kind to him.

"Señor Zuraban." Sotelo greeted with a patronizing maliciousness. The exiled senator's eyes twinkled in the gloom as they followed the approaching Prime Minister. Sotelo's footfalls reverberated through the dark fuselage as metallic clacks against the floor. "I have wondered for the longest time what precisely became of you. The circumstances of your disappearance were quite bizarre. I must say, your criticism of my policy toward communist regimes was in poor taste. But before you could even be questioned on the matter, it was as if you had vanished into thin air." Sotelo stopped a few feet in front of the bench and stooped down onto one knee and coming to eye-level with Zuraban.

"I will admit, you had the Oficina concerned, Señor Zuraban. You were quite a liability; there was a fear that you had defected to the Chinese and their... Comintern." Sotelo explained venomously, as if it pained him to even mention the international communist association. "But now we are met once again, perhaps now you can recount what it is you have been doing over the past three years."

"I wouldn't be to hopeful about that, Excellency. He's been extremely uncooperative with us, even after we applied persuasive techniques." Sotelo examined the fugitive senator's face once again now that he had acquired better visual acuity in the dim light. Scabby cuts and gashes nicked Zuraban's face, surrounded by deep purple and maroon bruises. His left eye socket had been blackened and had swollen profusely. "But from what the Ottoman magistrate in Port Fuad provided us and what the agency was able to find on him, he has quite the story to tell when we do get him to speak."

"I was told he was found in Egypt prior to the fall of the Sultan." Sotelo returned to his feet and turned to the agent-deputy. "What was he doing there, of all places?"

"He had been incarcerated by local law enforcement in Port Fuad, Egypt, when the agency discovered his whereabouts. It seems our Zuraban had been living under the pseudonym "Florian Anoeta" as some sort of war correspondent, photographing conflicts for a French publication. We've found he's been to Armenia, Istanbul, Ethiopia, the Congo, and more. But what's more interesting is how he came into Ottoman custody. They had implicated our very own Julio Zuraban in assisting a number of fugitives in escaping by closing a drawbridge into an Ottoman warship during the Ethiopian Invasion in addition to a count of grand theft auto."

"This man - Julio Zuraban?" Sotelo asked incredulously. The agent nodded.

"The plot gets thicker yet. The Oficina did some digging of its own during the implosion of the Ottoman Empire. We found that the Ottoman Empire had taken custody of one Taytu Yohannes prior to their invasion of Ethiopia. She had been liberated by what we perceive to be Walinzi operators - members of Ethiopia's military police of sorts. Now, here's where it gets very interesting: Julio here was arrested not half a kilometer from the very building from which the Señora Yohannes had been been freed."

"You believe, then, that he acted in concert as part of some covert foray by the Ethiopian military?"

"That is a distinct possibility." The agent confirmed. "As bizarre as it may sound, we cannot come up with a more plausible scenario given the circumstances. Until we can get him to speak - and trust me when I say we will - this is what-"

"You want to hear what I know?" Julio croaked. Abruptly, Sotelo and the Oficina agent turned to hear him. "I have nothing to do with the Walinzi or the Chinese or anyone else. I'm not some spy or agent provocateur. All that I have done for the past three years of my life is avoid you and your insane regime."

"What I do know is this: I've traveled all over this world - particularly over these recent years. The world is a diverse place of different peoples but I can speak for all of them when I say this. The people of the world - Spaniards included - despise you, Alfonso. The world is tiring of your aggression and they will not stand for it much longer. But it won't be you that feels the brunt of their cathartic rage. It is the people of this country, the vast majority of them innocents caught up in the deluded nightmare that is your rule, that will die by the millions when China, Africa, and Europe find they have been provoked one time too many. You will be the death of Spain, Alfonso. That much I know."

"Well now," The agent smirked. "I believe that's the most anyone's heard out of him since we took custody of him." Beside him, Sotelo quivered with escalating rage. His arms shook until he could stand it no longer. A trembling arm reached for the agent's holster and tore the pistol out by the handle, eliciting a worried shout from the agent. Sotelo approached Julio and pressed the muzzle of the pistol into his forehead, producing little in the way of fear from the former senator. Even as a twitching thumb found the safety and disengaged it with a soft click, Julio offered no response.

"Please, your Excellency. Please just give me the gun back." The agent pleaded.

"Why should I not kill him now?" Alfonso growled. "Why should I not spare your agency the effort of interrogation? Let me put this bullet in his head!"

"Please, just listen to me. Calm down, take a deep breath..." The agent inhaled loudly, trying to persuade Sotelo to do the same but also trying to calm himself down. "If you kill him, we'll never know if he's actually colluded with the communists. We have ways of making him tell the truth. Please just put the gun down."

"He knows nothing!" Repined Sotelo, pressing the barrel down between Julio's eyes. "You heard it from him!"

"The means we have of forcing the truth from a man are tortuous to say the least. When we finish with with him, he will wish you had killed him now. I think he realizes this, I think he may want for you to kill him. Don't give him what he wants, Excellency."

With a grimace, Alfonso turned the gun in his hand and held it by the muzzle. With a deft swing he clubbed the handle of the pistol against Julio's temple, eliciting a pained yelp as he tumbled down to the floor groaning in agony and massaging the side of his head. Satisfied with the throbbing pain he had inflicted, Sotelo placed the handle of the gun into the agent's palm, who eagerly safetied it and returned it to his holster.

"Thank you, Excellency." The agent sighed. "You made the smart decision. Once he's at Arratzu, he's going to beg for someone to kill him."

"See that he does."


Serbian Military Base, 5 Miles away from BelgradeEdit

The sound of running motors approached the Serbian Military base. This base was located in a flat grassy land of Serbia. Two APCs were in the front and back of a long black limosoune. It windows were tinted, but inside was Alexsandar. He was coming to this military base to meet with one of the Serbian Generals. The base came into view, soldiers could be seen preforming there daily drills and barracks and others buildings scattered about the base.

Alexsandar grabbed his head as he felt a headache coming on. He ignored it, as there was important buisnesss to be done here and no time to complain about a small headache. The limosoune finally entered the military base, and Alexsandar had a more clear view of the military base itself. The marching of soldiers could be heard not to far away. Most of the buildings looked realtively new, as if they had only been recently constructed. The largest was a big green builded with a rounded roof, most likely the barracks. A few grey garrages could be seen off in the distance, near another entrance to a base. Most of the base was gray pavement, with a few fields of grass here and there.

Alexsandar headed towards what looked like a small mobile white building. It had windows that had been shuttered, blocking the view of its inside from outside. Alexsandar stepped up and entered the small building.

The building was a single room and wasn't furnished, only holding a desk and a few filing cabinets. A tall man was observing a map of Serbia and the surrounding countries. On that map were various plastic soldiers, showing the planned movements of the Serbian Military when reunifacation came.

"Gordan! It is nice to see you. I hope you knew I was coming today." said a happy Alexsandar

Gordan Dusko looked up at Alexsandar. He was wearing a military cap and a standard military cammo outfit. He had various pins and symbols on his outfit to represent his rank as general. He took off his cap revealing that he was in fact bald. Like most Serbians his face appeared to be flattened, he had a sharp chin and cheekbones, giving his face a angled look.

"I did not. I only recieved word when a soldier saw your little escort coming up the road" replied Gordan.

"I have come to discuss a few plans with you. I have decided the sooner we move to reunite Yugoslavia the better." chatted Alexsandar.

"My forces have been ready for years. I can tell you we will have no problems with getting the troops to move. The Nationlism we have drilled into them will make them obey are every word."

"What about the intial plans? We are still moving for Bosnia first then I presume"

"Yes we are. Our navy is not as strong as I like it to be. We have to move for those first as a naval assualt of Crotia or the region that once made of Slovenia is out of the question."

Alexsandar suddenly felt his headache amplified a bit. He noticed strange shapes and colors, as if he was hallucinating. He had suffered form this most of his life. It had started with headaches and then he have halluciantions. He gave himself a minute to recover before speaking to Gordan again.

"Sorry Gordon, I just have felt a bit sick lately. Begin preparing yourself, as soon as you move out I will tell the other Commanders and Generals aswell, along with making the offical declaration of war to Bosnia." said Alexsandar

"I will move out as soon as possible Alexsandar." replied Gordon.

Alexsandar left the building and headed back to his limousine. His headaches were still plaguging him, but he felt good. It had been his goal since he took controll of Serbia to see it grow, and reunite with the former countries of Yugoslavia once again. Soon he though, very soon.

Gordon's SpeechEdit

Gordon watched as Alexsandar left. He was ready to begin. He had longed to see Yugoslavia reunited once again since the last years of Bojan's rule and all throughout Alexsandar's rule.

While not officialy the Supreme Commander of the Serbian Military, that title was held by Alexsandar, Gordon was recgonized as one of the greatest military minds in Serbia. Alexsandar trusted him with commmand of most of Serbia's military when it was needed.

He stepped out of his office and walked across the pavement to a small raised wooden platform. He had had it built for when he needed to give a speech to his men. He told his commanders to round up everyone for a speech. He saw the crowd of soldiers gather before him and he spoke.

"It has been a long time since we left Yugoslavia, and its collaspe due to it silly way of running a economy. Alexsandar has recently informed me that we will soon march upon those lands and countries that make up Yugoslavia, we will reunite with them once again! I tell you this so that you can prepare as we march out tomorrow! Once we begin we will be joined by the rest of Serbia's Great military. So prepare my men, so that we march out in a great conquest to restore the glory of Yugoslavia and Serbia!"

Cheer raised throughout the crowd of soldiers. All was going well, though Gordon. He gathered his commanders and began discussing there plans, for it wouldn't be long now.


Yekaterinburg, RussiaEdit

The door to the penthouse crashed open. Locks shattered, they hit the carpeted floor with a heavy crack. A pair of coated men stepped through, done away with their barrier.

“We should be quick then, someone's bound to find out.” the shorter man said, Chinese. Shan Jun.

“Agreed.” his burly Russian companion grunted, “Remind me what we're looking for again.”

“Anything that confirms this is the home of the guy we want, and who it is he's working for.” grumbled Jun, not at all amused with his mission partner's inability to retain memory, “Letters, papers, photos. Makulov ordered us to get enough to get a portfolio going, and trusted that bit to Ulanhu when we get back.

“If we find anything that suggests what they're doing - or where Bog is – then better.”

“I see.” the Russian nodded, walking across the floor. His boots falling heavily on the carpet of the penthouse.

Much of it was cordoned off by yellow tape and spent cigarette butts littered the ground and tables. A sure sign the already strained police services of the city had been here to perform their investigation. But with any luck, Jun hoped he'd be out of the city by the time they figured anything out.

“Hey comrade, you want and music?” the Russian called out in a playful tone. Jun looked up and saw him standing alongside a rather large radio set up. Brass adorned the wood paneling along the joints and the face of the shoulder-high device. A chrome antenna rose out of the back of the arced, paneled crown.

“No, leave it off.” Jun barked.

“Suit yourself.” the Russian shrugged, moving from the radio to rummage through end tables and cabinets.

The penthouse living room was large, larger than many of the homes in the village Jun and his partner had found Makulov and his army taking up residence in. Thickly woven Persian rugs lay across shaggy green carpet, and on top of these large bear hides had been laid out.

Leather upholstered lounge chairs and couches rung around a central coffee table. A vodka bottle stood at the corner of the table alongside a dozen cigarette trays all filled. Various magazines – entertainment and pornographic – covered the surface, creating a messy matting all its own. Reaching out with a winter-gloved hand Jun cautiously moved aside the stacked booklets, looking for any hidden letters. But non manifested between the covers of magazines whose covers were richly adorned with the large supple tits of Russian maidens or smiling Spanish celebrities.

“You know comrade,” Jun's partner said from the far-side of the room, “To be this rich at such a time in mighty Russia's history should be condemnable by law.” he proclaimed, “Families starve now and still there are those who will sap what meager resources we got less and bring our lands even more dry!”

“You find anything?” Jun asked in response.

“Shopping lists and an address book.” his partner scoffed. Holding up a fistful of crumpled papers and a large, black notebook.

“Keep the book, we'll look it over when we get back home.”

“Good to see our cozy frozen hamlet is home now!” the Russian laughed loudly. He waved the notebook at his partner with a smile before slipping it into his large flowing coat, “What new will come in this bright new world!”

Jun entreated him with silence as he moved aside and stepped away from the cluster of furniture. His eyes glazed over the wall where a gallery's worth of grainy black and white photographs hung, and framed newspaper clips. From the looks of it, he had a fantastic interest in the public actions of the Mafiya. Splotchy burning crosses and articles of flayed or burnt bodies found in city parks adorned his wall like prizes.

The Russian partner began to grumble incoherently to himself, muddled thick Russian that not even Jun could understand. He turned to find him digging through a large cabinet, throwing out a large sum of junk and baubles on the floor. Figuring he had the room covered, the Chinese spy moved to the next, hitting a door at the base of a short hall way.

Swinging open the door admitted him into a rather larger bedroom. The floor was still treated to the same gaudy deceleration of wealth and power – or what little the man had – with a number of rugs already on a carpeted floor. Large dressers lined a wall where a large desk and vanity mirror occupied the opposite. Between the two, a four poster bed wide enough to accommodate three persons and half a fourth sat between two heavily carpeted windows.

Along the side of the door were a pair or plush velvet recliners, their backs leaned far back as an end table between them sat an elaborate hookah. The spark within long extinguished, though the tobacco and weed inside still waited.

The bedroom had a certain vacant, longing feeling as Jun went through it, pulling open drawers and quickly piling through. Pulling out raged torn notes, then pocketing a few at the slightest suggestion of a name of affiliation. The drawers in the desk were an expected treasure trove of such details, yielding a number of personal letters received, or to be sent; though a quick scan revealed nothing telling and looked to merely be love letters to a number of female interests.

At the bottom of the lower most drawer Jun found a ragged dusty handgun and a box of ammo. Giving it a thought he liberated it from its home, sliding it into a pocket inside his coat and stuffing the bullets into another before pulling it out the rest of the way and checking into the empty cavity.

From the desk he moved to the far-side of the room, pulling open and going through the dressers there. Thick suits, and garish clothes packed the inside space. Suits and dress he found to be hiding a small armory of shotguns and assault rifles. It was nothing he could carry, or nothing that linked him to anyone, and he left them as he went to the side of the bed, peering down underneath.

Dark shadows obscured the clutter that hid underneath. A large number of boxes lay clustered about. But with his cheek pressed to the ground there was no way to tell if it was of use.

With a daring hand Jun reached out, grabbing at the edge of a box and pulling it out. It slid heavily against the carpet.

As it hit the light, Jun's eyes went wide and his breath caught in his mouth. An uncomfortable shocked arousal warped his stomach as the contents came into view. A raising feeling of light-headedness rose into his head as he looked down on his find. Peaking out of the box in a stiff nest of rubber, plastic, and glass was a box full of dildos, of a wide-number of colors and shapes. A feeling of repulsion washed on him as soon as he figured out what it was he was seeing, and in a fit of humiliating resignation threw the box over, spilling the the vast collection of multi-colored toys and strap-ons across the floor.

“Find anything?” the Russian asked as Jun stepped out of the bedroom.

“No.” he grumbled, taking a deep sigh, “What about you?”

“I got a telegram with names I found in his study, I think. Didn't think a man like him could read.”

“What does the letter say?” Jun asked forcefully.

“Brother Peterovisk,” the Russian read, walking in to Jun, “Word on the heavens has come. Declares the child of the devil is in Russia. Demands information on location, and timely execution to purge the satan-child.

“V. Donotorisk.”

“That's all?” Jun asked, stunned.

“It's all.” his partner returned, folding the small yellow note to put in his pocket, “Any idea on who this devil child is?” he asked.

“None at all. But it's a lead on something.” said Jun, “Now we got to meet his corpse.”

“After you, comrade.”


Addis AbabaEdit

The people had melted back into the city and traffic returned to the parade route. Only trash remained, littering the roads with torn streamers and soiled banners. Night had came to the African capital, but celebration still rung across the grounds of the Palatial residence of the Imperial Family. It's ground floor was packed with mingling bodies - some wearing sharp western suits or dresses trimmed to the body, while others wore the lose fitting and colorful robes of Africa. They were the important - politicians, businessmen, celebrities, and military heroes, and the Imperial treasury had spared no expense for their comfort. The several hired bars that dotted the grounds sent white-clad servants through the crowd with free liquor of all sorts. Wine, champagne, whiskey and rum... there was Ethiopian honey wine, and palm wine from the jungles in the west. Harbin Beer and dry rice wine represented the fruits of Asian trade. And when drink wasn't enough, tiny bags of white powder and acid tabs the size of fingernails were traded under tables. In the clamor, it was hard to tell who was drunk from who had taken more, and nobody cared.

Taytu stood on the mezzanine looking out a thick two-story tall window, one hand placed gently on the marble sill and another holding a half-empty glass of white wine. Outside, she could see the gardens - the party had poured across the porch and into the yard. Drunk women led young war heroes and aging aristocrats into the expansive mazes, gnawing at each others lips on fountain rims, or going further into the dark mix of hedges to enjoy each others company in other ways. But Taytu stood alone, her cream and gold dress feeling as cold as the blanket of an empty bed against her skin. It all reminded her of her youth in Austria where here father had sent her to study. She had been the only African, and the chill of the European Alps had been foreign to her. The elderly barons and graf's had looked at her with suspicion. A savage from a savage land - taller than most of the Germans and too swarthy to be a lady - that was what they had saw in her. The great grand daughter of a tribal mountain king who had the gall to humiliate white colonial forces at Adwa when they had been children. They had been as cold as the mountains that their castles mounted, but their children and grand children had been different. Perhaps the Austrian youth had felt the same chill, because they had rebelled against it in their way. In ski-houses and hostels, she had learned as much about socialism and liberalism as she had about alcohol and sex. 

But that was then. A distant past that had shaped her, but something she had left behind for the responsibility of her family, her dynasty, her country, and her brother. War had torn Sahle from them, it had torn happiness from Yaqob, and it had tore at the Africa their father had built more than once. Some times, it felt like she was the only one who could pick up the pieces.

Beyond the gardens, beyond the drinking and the fucking, there was Addis Ababa. The city did not have the grace of Vienna, nor the wealth of Madrid or the size of Beijing. It was an unorganized spread of modernity and poverty. Towers of glass and steel poked out from behind the trees - stunted compared to what the western or eastern capitals boasted, but proud in their own way. Behind them, the dim outline of mountains stood over the city. Moonlight made them purple and obscure, but during the day they were brown and scrubby. Sahle had disappeared behind them, across the highlands and near a small lake. Where is he now? Did he make it to where he wanted to go? No. He had wanted to be here, on the throne. And he was probably dead. 

She could barely remember him now. All the images they had now were of him once he had came to the throne. She was older than he had been the - he had been near thirty at coronation - but he always looked like a kid in a crown. It was the grin. He had always grinned, as if he was able to see under everyone's clothes. Knowing my older brother, he probably was imagining just that.

The crash of glass shattering against the ground woke her from a trance. A broken glass. There would be apologies and a broom, and then everyone would forget about it.

"Princess." a voice greeted behind her, calmer that any voice in the building. She turned and put on a politic smile.

It was Mvulu. The Captain of the Emperor's guard, he had succeeded Yaqob's own wife. He was a broad-shouldered man with skin the dark chocolate color of Central Africa, which contrasted with his cream-white uniform to make him look darker still. His face was scarred, as was his arms, but the worse scars were told by what he did not have. A patch of gold and white covered his left eye, and his right leg was replaced by ivory below the knee. The ivory was carved with a gold-leaf inlaid scene depicting a troop of gorillas standing proudly in a storybook jungle. It wrapped a round the entire peg, and distracted from the ugly truth behind how he had lost it. "A gorilla took the leg." he would say when asked, "And a white man took the eye." There was a story behind it all - a story built around the bloody rebellion that had ripped Katanga apart four years earlier. Mvulu had led a small group of survivors from Lubumbashi in the south and back into loyal Imperial territory - receiving his wounds as he went. His men had cut a swath through enemy territory, and he had won medals and an office as a result.

"They are asking for you down there." he said politely.

Taytu sucked air. She enjoyed parties from time to time, but the skirmish with the Turks had left her shaken. "Will you escort with me, Captain?" she asked. 

Mvulu nodded, and they went. The decent down the staircase was like climbing into a kennel - the dogs barking at each other and her. That is awful, she realized, These people have done the world for us. Why did she feel so tired of them?

A raucous laugh cut through the noise and caused her to look. Ras Hassan stood as solid as a wall - a crystal glass of brown liquor in one hand and men surrounded him like geese looking for bread. He was a big boned man with a gut that protruded over his belt. Taytu remembered him from her youth - the lean officer who spoke very little and whose star only rose on account of her father. Yohannes has seen the man different. He had seen the competence, and the willingness to do whatever had to be done. But he had not seen the arrogance. He did not live to hear of bloody infant arms piled behind a dirty camp. He did not live to see the man turn Yaqob into an puppet-Emperor. I bet he raped Azima's mom, too. It would make the most sense. There was no love in the man, nor no sentimentality. She didn't know what drove him, and that bothered her more that anything.

"Advisor Taytu... your imperial highness." another voice called out. A familiar voice. Can I get away from his lackeys? Why are they everywhere?

Hakim Mossadeq was the Director of the Walinzi - the Ethiopian intelligence agency that had grown out of the more domestic Home Guard of her father and grandfather. He had an Arabic look to him, with a square jaw and a shaven face stained dark by the roots of his facial hair. His hair was crisp and slicked by with grease, and his black uniform was even sharper. "You were in Port Fuad, were you not?"

He is the damn Director of Intelligence. Of course he knows this. "I try not to think about it..." she said. 

Mossadeq took a sip, as calm as the night. "We picked up some communications between Egypt and Spain... nothing telling, but surely interesting. The Turkish Governor in Cairo is scrambling for anything he can find, and he has been pretty open about what information he has. Apparently he sent Spain a query about a high-level political prisoner they took from Port Fuad at the same time you were there."

"They?" she asked. 

"Spain." Mossadeq said. "They haven't sent any replies. They probably won't."

It all came rushing back. She had that image her brother always described, of Sotelo wringing his hands and plotting their destruction.Preposterous. He is just another suit. It is the businessmen in charge of that operation.

But it came back to her all the same. The fear as they told her she was under arrest and locked the doors. The prison-like feeling of that barren cement room. The sound of battleships roaring through the water as they left the Mediterranean for the Red Sea. And the man who had saved her...

Oh god. It was him. They captured them all.

He had been a kind man - though even Hassan would have seemed kind if it was him who helped her from that window and led her out of the port. She remembered him for his rages, and his bushy beard and slurred style of speaking. But he was black. And not a political prisoner. His companions had not looked better, though there had been one she hadn't seen. [i]I knew there was something there. I had felt it.

"There was one man..." She began, describing the people she had seen. "That is interesting." Mossadeq stroked his chin as if it were a beard. "But I doubt it. They sound like bums. These Egyptians seem to think there were other criminals involved."

What on earth was I a part of? She thought.

"I wish I could have been a fly on those sinister walls." another voice chimed in. It was the first time Taytu had noticed him. His clothes looked like something from a different century - his jacket was long, and dark, and it had a tail. He was a dark skinned man with West-African features. He wore a bow-tie instead of the normal type, and his dress shirt was sewn from smooth silk. Though he looked healthy, he leaned casually on an ebony cane with a polished gold handle, and he wore a closely trimmed beard. Despite all of that, his hair was thick and disheveled like some wild woolen shrub.

Dr. Sisi, She knew at once.

Doctor Babukar Sisi was Hassan's pet. Or is Hassan Sisi's? He was a psychiatrist from the Kinshasa, where he headed a surprisingly successful practice. But everyone knew where he had truly found his power. When Hassan's men had taken to the countryside to fight to overthrow Sahle and put Yaqob in his place, Sisi built him a supply network out of smugglers and pro-Imperials. And when the war was over, Hassan returned the favor with resources. Sisi had more pull in the Walinzi then many cared to admit, and he exercised it through classified contract work and advisory roles. Few knew what those meant, but there were many rumors. He was said to have wrote the book on torture for Walinzi interrogators. And then there were colder stories. When a crazed German emerged from the Congolese jungle a year before with a thick scar denting his head, some whispered that he had somehow been a victim of Sisi's science. That man had lived on his own for years. It is no wonder he was crazy. Looking into Sisi's cold, disinterested eyes gave her a creepy feeling, and his presence made her question what actually surrounded this man.

"I do not aspire to obtrude." he added politely. His voice reminded her of those Barons and Grafs that had looked down on her in the Austrian Alps. "But the realities of that scenario is... well, it engrosses me Leult... Taytu is it? Or Taytu Yohannes? I have been corrected on this point of title in the past, and I do not mean to bring offense upon your house."

"Taytu Yohannes. My brother would just be Yaqob. Or Yaqob the Second, rather." She said. Many Emperors had taken new, regal names upon their accent, but that tradition had died with their grandfather. That man hated traditions. Emperor Iyasu V had broken many, stripping the church of their Imperial connections and bringing foreigners in to fill the gaps left by the nobles who had opposed him. Yohannes had kept his first name, and Yaqob has continued the new style, but it was considered peculiar to add the fathers name to the name of an Emperor. 

"That's most correct." Sisi said, "I forget your ways. They tack the name of the father instead of using a surname in this part of the continent. I am sure it is rather confusing to the remainder of all peoples, but each has their own methodology to be sure. I do prefer the European method of using noble houses."

"Is there any house nobler then the ancestors of Sulayman?" Mossadeq added.

"The House of Solomon." Sisi mused. "That is more prestigious than those in Europe, I confess. What that the ancestors of Augustus were still enthroned..."

Sisi and Mossadeq forgot about her, and she was grateful. Finally, she thought. I should find Yaqob

The ground floor was expansive, orbiting a silver fountain topped with slate-black babies spitting water. They had looked lovely in her youth growing up in this place, but now they looked like they were puking. Her thoughts turned to Olivier, the maimed infant she had saved from the concentration camps in Katanga. A gift from Hassan, the murdering bastard. His arm was missing, but he had grown up with the wound to the point that it didn't seem to bother him. 

The fountain was not the only thing to stick out in the crown. Yaqob had turned the Imperial Palace into his own personal museum. A hulking map of African hung on the wall above the part. It was carved from thick stone, and it looked heavier then the wall that supported it. Very few people lingered on the floor directly below it. They are afraid they will be crushed.

Statues from Egypt and China towered above the crowd. Paintings hung from the wall, as did masks and swords and a number of other specimens, so thick that they blocked out most of the wall. Most of it belongs in a museum. It was a peculiar obsession for her brother to have. 

She found him near the center of the madness, holding court amongst a few select people under the watchful eye of four Imperial guardsmen. He fears assassination. He fears crowds. The Spanish had seen to that. Though they never knew where the order came from in their hierarchy, it had certainly came from Spain. They had purchased killed from their own prisons and sent them half a world away to kill the Emperor. Their father had died from an assassins bullet, and her brother had nearly followed him. The wound punctured his lung, and the following infection kept it from ever healing right. He bore a scar on his breast now - a tangle of reddened tentacles reaching out from a crater of scar tissue. It made it hard for him to breath, and she knew it still hurt him more than he showed. 

"Sister." He said in his sad, warm voice. "Mvulu told me you were lingering outside of the party."

She smiled. "Has your guard became your spies as well? I'm not in the mood for this party right now."

He paused for a moment. She saw empathy in his eyes. "You have not slept well."

"Did Mvulu tell you that?" She replied with a half-baked grin, but it faded when he didn't return it. "I thought I was going to die."

"The Turks wouldn't have killed you." Yaqob assured. "That would have been extreme, even for them. Even for the Sultan. Suleiman was mad, but he did have sane people around him."

"You think the sane ones would have stopped him from abducting me." she mumbled. "Or stopped that stupid war. Now look what they have."

Yaqob nodded. "There is somebody you need to meet. Follow me."

They walked through several rooms, passing through crowds of people dressed bother colorfully and dully. The walls were white panel festooned in gold, and Yaqob's collection covered all of them. She saw a North American Native head-dress, its white feathers tipped in black and stained faintly tan from years of dust. A bronze shield hung from the wall across the room, chipping paint drawing a monstrous grinning face across the surface. Even a nearby end table held a small mummified cat held up by a copper prop next to the phone. If they put a candle there, it would burst into flames. How awful.

They entered another room, this one paneled with stained acacia. Taytu paid no attention to the decorations. Her eyes were on the people.

There were very few in this room, and all of them were dressed in black. When they saw Yaqob enter the room, the fell into a stiff salute, but he quickly waved them off. "Is Leyla here?" he asked. When his eyes caught sight of her, he nodded. "Come here, agent. I need you to speak."

Leyla was young for the Walinzi. Her face was youthful enough to be mistaken for a child, but her body was not. Her uniform did nothing to hide her full breasts, or the shape of her hips. "Agent Leyla..." Taytu greeted the young girl, pausing on her name.

"Leyla Masri." the agent replied. Even her voice is young. Did they get this one from a primary school? Taytu noticed the medals decorating her chest. "You were active in the war?"

"Armenia, your Imperial highness." 

Armenia. That was where the Ottoman Empire truly fell, and the Walinzi there had helped in the pushing. 

"Now agent Leyla, my sister is a secured source. Tell her the story, like you told me." Yaqob said.

Leyla hesitated. Is she afraid or embarrassed? Taytu wondered. "Don't be worried, young agent. I am comfortable with whatever you have to say. A lie.

And Leyla told. She told how she had joined the Sultan's household as a servant. She told how the Sultan was ill and suffered from a heart condition. "He was grey, your Imperial Highness." she explained. "And he needed help walking wherever he went. I sometimes helped him, and he grew close to me. I think he grew close to all of the girls in his service."

I see where this is going.

"So that is how I did it. I didn't need poison, or a knife or a gun or anything. I just replaced his heart medication with this a medicine the rebels in Istanbul gave me. It was made of natural chemicals and made his heart work faster without being detectable. I gave that to him and I... well, I was close to him so I..." she shied at this point, looking down at the ground. Yaqob touched her on the shoulder. "What you did was for your country" he assured. 

"It worked." she said. "He couldn't take it and his heart burst. I saw the look in his eyes. They drained... and he was gone."

At this rate, all the world governments will assassinate each other. What a way to reach peace. "You did good." Taytu assured. "It was unorthodox, but it was... clean."

They left the young agent and returned to the party. Servants began to move through the crowd carrying trays of skewered fruit, and the guests plucked them as happily as they had the drinks. "It smells like alcohol in here, Sister." Yaqob muttered. "Part of me thinks... wouldn't this be the right time to hurt us? Right here in this room, while everyone is too drunk to answer?"

Taytu smiled nervously. "Your guards are sober."

"So they are." Yaqob drifted, "So they are..."

Azima joined them, discussing gossip she had heard from some undersecretary to the Chinese ambassador. "He told me Chairman Hou was retiring." she said. "And that he is going to become a farmer."

Yaqob guffawed. "No." he said. "Hou spent his time in offices and staff cars. I can't see him retiring to work the soil and cake dirt beneath his nails."

"Then again..." Taytu mused, "You said that when it was said he was retiring."

"That is still hard to believe." Yaqob admitted.

A sharp crash quieted the night immediatly. Yaqob ducked to the ground if by instinct, but his wife took off dashing up the stairs. It was dead silent for a moment, until a guard called out. "It is okay! But the Emperor should come up stairs!" Taytu looked at her brother, and she could see the wheels moving behind his eyes. He is considering whether or not this is a trap. It was only when his wife called out confirming the same message that Yaqob went upstairs. Taytu followed.

On the second story, far away from the crowds, the two Imperial toddlers had broke the silence. Tewodros, a young boy barely out of infancy and hardly capable of walking, had ended up on one of the many carved wooden pedestals. He stood there as innocent as the baby that he was, looking on at the crowd that had gathered behind the Emperor as if they were just passing through. Below him, Taytu's toddler stood calmly, his one arm pressed against his chest and broken porcelain all around him. A vase? Half of this stuff is forgettable

"Tewodros!" Azima cried out. She scooped the child and shoved an angry finger in his face. "Don't destroy things! How did you even get up there."

"Don't be too hard on the child, Zima." Taytu said. His voice was tired, she could hear. But they can all still mistake that for caring. They know little enough that they have their own idea on what their Emperor is like.

Taytu grabbed Olivier in turn, but she found it hard to be angry at him. He looks at me like he is wiser somehow. That made her uncomfortable, and his arm made her pity him too much. She held him and stayed quiet. 

"Let me put them to bed." an elderly voice piped up. Their mother swept in, an aging wraith with sagging skin and pure white hair. And she isn't even sixty. She was dressed in simple black robes, and her eyes looked on into the distance even as she got close. Taytu handed her Oliver. She had taken care of the kids for years, after all, and she treated them more warmly than any nursemaid would.

Several maids joined the elderly Elani, helping Azima to hand Tewodros to her. She was frail, but not frail for the children, and she carried them as lightly as she would carry clothe. Walking back into the long halls of the Imperial Residence, Elani kissed Tewodros on the head.

"Now Sahle, you be good or I will have to tell your father."


Batumi Docks, GeorgiaEdit

The sea was a heaving mass in the darkness, an angry monster's chest rising and falling. The sky was a dark, navy blue. Clouds covered the moon, casting a weak light that made itself through the thick, foggy clouds. The docks were a desolate place, largely unused by the warlords. One ship came every month to pick up shipments of tea and deliver them around the Black Sea. They were built by men with big ambitions before the Turkish Invasion in the early 70's. Shipment containers littered the area, making a maze of rusted iron and concrete. All containers had been raided years of all goods years before. Obviously, these raiders had poor manners, as each container door was left open or ajar for the creatures and lowlife of Batumi to make their homes in. Wind and rain battered the iron frames in the darkness, causing a strange echoing effect of howling wind and pattering rain on the containers.

In the darkness, a match was lit. It was quickly raised to the face of a pale Georgian, who sheltered from the rain and wind in the doorway of one of these containers with his companion. He lit the sodden cigarette that dangled from his mouth and a puff of smoke escaped his mouth. The match was flicked out into the rain, where it quickly fizzled out to ash. 'You should put that out. You know how Sir feels about smoking' whispered his companion in the darkness. The man gave him a lazy wave as an excuse, not caring for the consequences. 'Fuck 'im' he whispered back, the cigarette clenched between his teeth. His whisper echoed slightly in the container and then reverted back to silence. The only sound was the heavy bashing of rain on the rusted container. Both men sat in the doorway of it, their legs outstretched into the rain. The smoking man touched the floor beside him and his hands closed around his weapon. A stick with a serrated knife tied around the end. The smoking man frowned. 'I wish they'd give us better weapons. A stick with a knife of the end. What are we, African spear chuckers?' he smiled at his own joke. His companion did not laugh. 'Keep your voice down, Giorgi. I don't want Sir coming around' his companion pleaded. Giorgi chuckled to himself but even so, made sure to keep his voice down. He acted like he wasn't scared of Captain Mildiani. But everyone knew the man who lead them around. And they knew his horrific temper. 

Captain Saba Mildiani was a former boxer and served in the Imperial Russian army for several years. He was a personal friend to Giorgi's father, Davit Patarava, but that didn't stop him disciplining him any lighter than the rest of the unit. He was a stocky, well built man with a shaved head and a face clean of all hair. He was a fair yet stern man who treated all his soldiers equally. 'Anatoli, what is the time?' asked Giorgi quietly, tapping the end of his cigarette onto the ground. Stray ash and tobacco fell to the ground and was carried away by the wind. Anatoli, his companion, pulled an old fashioned watch from his front pocket and squinted at the screen. 'Five to twelve in the night' he answered, wiping the droplets of rainwater from his watch. Both men were dressed identically, with thick, fur-framed parkas, heavy boots, scarves and black beanie hats. The scarves hung down around their necks but the parka hoods were up. Their standard weapon was knife or stick-with-knife, which sat beside them. These primitive weapons would do little against the armed soldiers of the warlords but a weapon was a weapon.

The sound of quickly approaching boots caused Giorgi to quickly flick the cigarette to the wet ground and stamp it in. His face was hidden by the darkness and a thick scarf but this didn't muffle his anger. 'What the fuck are you doing, Private Patarava?' snarled Captain Mildiani. In his hands he clutched a shotgun. Firearms were usually reserved for officers or important people as they were in short supply. 'Were smoking on the job?' growled the officer. 'Get on your feet'. The two men quickly jumped up, clutching their spears in their right hands. 'Yes, sir' mumbled Giorgi, shifting his feet uncomfortably. 'You're on discipline' he whispered, poking the man in the chest with the nose of his gun. 'And if I ever catch you lighting so much as a spark of light tonight again, I'll have you hung upside down by your bollocks. I don't give a rats arse if your father runs the show, because he'll most likely agree with me. Do you understand me?' Giorgi nodded and murmured an apology. The captain glanced at Anatoli. 'See anything suspicious, private Anatoli? Apart from your prick of a friend giving away his position' he glared at Giorgi. 'No, sir' answered the Russian, his eyes glued firmly at his boots. 'Good. I received the signal a few minutes ago. We're all taking the defensive positions. Get going' said the captain. He turned and walked into the darkness, still clutching his shotgun. 

The captain was somewhat shorter than both of the men but still struck terror into their hearts. 'Cunt' whispered Giorgi, cursing his commanding officer as he was swallowed by the darkness. 'Say it a bit louder, would you?' answered Anatoli. 'Come on. We had better get going'. The privates grabbed their scarves and pulled them over their faces, covering their noses. They both took one longing look at their post, a fortress of dry in this rainy dockland before stepping into the darkness to follow the Captain. 

They found their next post easily, having practised nights before. The rest of the small 'youth unit', as it was known as, were walking from different directions to their new defensive positions. An inlet built into the abandoned dock was where Captain Milidiani stood, crouched at the edge with a torch held in his hand. A distant light shone out from the dark, heaving sea. Around him, the men crowded silently, all desperate to get this over with as soon as possible. This mixture of cold rain and biting wind made the unit wish they were back at home beside the fire or in bed. The captain slowly stood and looked at his unit. 'They're late' he said shortly. 'Did anyone see anything while out there? Any Turks?'. All the men, dressed identically, shook their heads or murmured 'no, sir'. When the captain was happy with the response, he began talking again. 'All of you, defensive positions around the inlet. I'll stand at the end of it and meet our man when he eventually joins us. The rest of you, keep quiet and only do what I command. Keep an eye on our backs too. Go.' He turned back around and held the torch in his hand. This was a tactic that had been practised many times before on this inlet and each man knew his position.

The need for defensive positions wasn't because they distrusted the smuggler. It was because they distrusted the authorities who occasionally patrolled these empty docklands, rooting out the homeless and the smugglers. The authorities were commonly known as 'Turks', due to the fact that the officers were largely made up of Turks and the warlord-businessman who controlled the city was a Turk, known as Demir Polat. The common soldiers were usually local Georgians, along with small units of loyal Azeri's and Dagestani's. In the last few months, Demir's forces had begun a crackdown on smuggling and introduced high taxes to imports in the city, drying up the food sources. Demir had taken to importing food from Turkey and other loyal Turkic states, which was often not enough to feed the citizens. The crackdown on smuggling and the black market meant that four smugglers had been arrested bringing food by land and sea and two Georgian Guard members killed trying to protect them. Most smugglers now refused to even go near Batumi, no matter the price. Only one brave fisherman from up the country was brave enough to bring food and essential supplies down to Batumi every few days. He was paid previously by Zurab and was known by a common Armenian name, Bedros. Davit Patarava valued his importance highly and ordered he be protected by a squad at all times while on the shore.

Giorgi crouched down beside an old crate, rotten, drenched and smashed. It wouldn't do much for cover but at least he wasn't easily seen. The rain began beating down again and Giorgi sighed. He watched as Captain Mildiani, crouched at the edge of the inlet, shone his light to the boat far out in the sea. The sea pounded against the bay, spraying the Captain with salty sea spray. He took no notice, instead concentrating on shining his light in a morse code. The two conversed briefly until the light when silent and the torch was hidden down. The boat was no less than a few miles from the shore and the unit knew it. They sat in total silence and darkness for 15 minutes, Giorgi quickly feeling a cramp in his leg and gave it a quick smack to stop it from going to sleep. 

If he had blinked, he might of missed it. A small boat silently slid into the inlet. Not a single light could be seen aboard it but through faint light from the sky, a man was illuminated on the deck. A rope was thrown to Captain Milidani, who quickly tied it to a wooden post. The boat slowly turned until it's side was facing the captain. In the darkness, one could probably make out it's features. It was a small, white boat. The paint was chipped off and if someone looked hard enough, they wouldn't find the name of the boat. No flag flew from it's mast. A plank was dropped down noisily onto the shore and a tall figure hastily hopped across it. He was drenched to the skin, his teeth chattering. 'Sir' the man saluted through his chattering teeth. 'Tamaz, my lad' whispered Captain Milidani. He grabbed the man into a rough hug. Tamaz was dressed the same as his other soldiers, only significantly wetter. 

'Well, Captain, I never expected you to be the gay type' came a voice from the boat. It was Bedros. Bedros was of Armenian descent but that was probably the most remarkable thing about him. He looked significantly normal, with no defining features at all. This suited his profession. He could blend into a crowd easily. The Captain didn't move from his position. 'Bedros. I trust you were paid correctly?' he answered shortly. 'Yes. If you would like me to take your crates down myself, you will be here a while'. The Captain gritted his teeth together. He gave a quick whistle and two of his soldiers appeared from the darkness. 'Help Tamaz and I take these crates down. Quicker you work, the quicker you can go home' he commanded. The two soldiers obediently took the first of ten heavy crates from the smuggler and set it down onto the wet ground. 

Thank fuck I ain't Tamaz thought Giorgi, as he glanced at the shivering man almost drop a crate into the ocean.

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