Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
-Dulce et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen
6th Hazirani, 1912 P.A.:
Revelations about the people known as Volyudki and Lisavki are published in the Volstranlyudkivka scientific journal Baigalirod
. A surveying team had ventured north, intending to study numerous phenomena that had long been speculated for years but never explicitly confirmed. For centuries, and with folk tales dating back millenia, scientific and occult theorists had postulated that the Volyudki and Lisavki owed some connection to the large, forbidden forest from which they claimed origin. After a long, rigorous study fraught with peril, during which no fewer than seven research team members are killed, they come to their conclusion. The suspicions are correct: Volyudki, Lisavki, and potentially other Pushtavki subgroups do in fact possess an abnormal influence upon their surrounding environment, charactized by some as an “aura”.. Likely tied to their relation to the elder being referred to in common parlance as “Ishareth” though the paper stops short of explicitly stating this.12th Abin, 1912 P.A.:
Subsequently, further revelations follow in the historical journal Sazhal
. During their stay in the outskirts of the great forest, the scientific team had been joined by an archeological one from the Historical Academy of Novetska. They had left before the closure of the scientific team’s camp, refusing to speak of their findings but visibly excited. Three months after the article appeared in Baigalirod
publishes its own findings. Relics identified as belonging to The Eighth Tribe, spoken of in Posdal texts and rumored to have vanished into the north, were discovered in the outskirts and within the forest. The paper drew a strong link between but stopped just shy of directly confirming a link between the Eighth Tribe who vanished into the forest, and the Volyudki and Pushtavki who would later emerge.23 Tirish-an’thi, 1912 P.A.:
An initially unrelated paper is published within Baigalirod
, relating to the uncharacteristic fertility of the steppe and arctic plains of Volstranlyudkovka. An ancient subcontinent spanning archeotech device, its age nigh incalculable, using the energy of souls being fed through the cycle of death and rebirth to fertilize and warm the northern permafrost. The team confirmed their suspicions that while the device did not destroy the soul, it instead leeched from them slowly over time, siphoning all useful energy it could before it could no longer maintain its grip. They calculated the process took millenia in total, and their findings indicated that in its entirety it represented a continent spanning engine of human sacrifice, draining the energy of those trapped within to power the agriculture of a society long speculated by historians and archeologists. The scientists likewise concluded that, while predating them by several millennia, the Volyudki act in harmony with the device. Without it their natural effect on the environment would see a Volstranlyudkovka far less conducive to their sprawling cities and agriculture in many of the far northern provinces. Working in tandem with this device, however, the dual effects of Volyudki and Lisavki and the ancient machine resulted in the legendary fertility of the nation’s lands.
Initially, the Volstranlyudkoska public regards these reports with some ambivalence, treating them as more of a curiosity or a confirmation of old suspicions and legends. The revelations of the soul machine cause some minor furor, but upon further publications indicating that the machine predated their existence, or indeed the existence of any extant civilization, furor subsided. The theory postulated that it was initially designed to utilize arcane crystal, and that the machine had grown itself into the landscape itself and could no more be deactivated than the sun switched off, and with these findings the debate instead turned to its modification. Further studies over time by various historical groups indicated that the traditional burial practices of the Volstranlyudkoska could be tied to the influence of this machine and a desire to avoid being subsumed within it.1st Khanun’an, 1913 P.A.:
The Posdal of the Son, his benevolent Mikos IV, declares that the recent revelations proves that the elder gods are beyond a doubt dangerous to the wellbeing of any and all mortal souls. Even though more moderate voices call for calm, Mikos IV asks every Posdal to act according to their conscience. As Urush asked his own flock ages ago.29th Khanun’an, 1913 P.A.:
The first major Posdal backlash happens in the capital city of Melidkii where a crowd of Posdals viciously attack a local priest of Ysharith. Local inhabitants and police enforcers are able to subdue the crowd. However several in the Posdal mob are severely injured. The Morric community urge the Sultan to punish those involved against the Posdal crowd. Sultan Memet II has three police dofficers convicted for excessive force. In turn, this light sentencing angers the Quat’i community. Ibhrahim Kusha, a distant relative of the Memetian dynasty, occasional contact to the Posdal of the Father in Sentekuthi and close friend of Mustafa, begins to plan an attack on Abnawaandia.8th Adara, 1913 P.A.:
A ‘people’s crusade’ marches on the city of Al-Sakhra, known for it’s academic and religious importance. The people’s crusade is composed of an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 people. Their destination is the prestigious Habharra university. Anything remotely connected to Ysharith or the Quat’i pantheon is destroyed. A large bonfire made by burning several books lights up the central university square. Priceless works of arts are burned and smashed. The Royal Astronomical Society’s Planetarium, where the large building’s dome is painted with an accurate representation of stars and four meter statues of the Quat’i pantheon at the center, is sacked. The statues are torn down and demolished while a fire is set, consuming the starry mural on the ceiling. Several professors and staff, a good number of them Posdals themselves, try to stop the crowd. Some of them are lynched.9th Ayyara, 1913 P.A.:
Volstranlyudkovka, where Velmir is believed to still be “alive” within the soul-machine, begins to be subject to hundreds of terror attacks by fanatical Posdals. The most notable incident being the Vynish Massacre, wherein a radicalized Posdal from the Morrlands murdered a soldier and took control of her machine gun post, gunning down over two hundred people in a packed city square during public festivities before being killed by an armed citizen. Further incidents included forced train derailments by armed hijackers, the bombings of prominent temples and universities, and arson attacks against densely populated public housing. The total deaths from all of these incidents were estimated to range into the thousands. Tsarina Valeriev calls for calm, not wishing to lead her nation to war. Multiple military units are called up from reserve and guards are assigned all over major population centers.
Several days later Marco bin Marco, a prominent fiction writer from Anyueva living in Volstranlyudkovka shoots a priestess of Ishareth. He along with two others then set fire to the three hundred year old temple. They were all gunned down by Volstranlyudkivka authorities and civilians while attempting to make their escape.
In retaliation a small group of Quat’i, suspected to be members of Fehdayeed Ysharith, abduct three janissaries from the northern city of Muskhan. Their mutilated bodies are later found decapitated.18th Tammiz, 1913 P.A.:
Ethnic tensions between the Morrs and the Quat’i reach a boiling point when Baig Abdul Ersoy is shot by a Quat’i assassin accompanied by two others. The pasha’s own son calls for the deaths of all Quat’i. Even though the Sultan himself quickly rebuffs this statement and calls for calm and understanding, street clashes between the Quat’i and the Morrs become a frequent occurrence.17th Aylulan, 1913 P.A.:
Ibharim Kusha contacts field general İylas Kemal and janissary grand commander Ozun Coşkun. Coordinating an attack on Abnawaandia. Kusha planned on disrupting Abnawaandia’s state operations by targeting several government buildings with bombs. During the chaos Coşkun and Kemal would race into the Abnawaandian borders. All three men agree to keep their plan a secret from the sultan.23rd Khanun’an-isi, 1913 P.A.:
The attacks begin three months(?) later. However Kusha’s disruption is a complete failure. Several bombs fail to explode and most of the conspirators are captured. However a small group manage to hijack an airship:
And Urush stepped in front of the sinner about to be stoned and spoke to the crowd; "Though they do not follow our ways, are they not people still? Do they not deserve the same mercy that you and I enjoy?". And one young man from the crowd answered; "Teacher they are different. They follow the old path. They worship the false idols of the stars. The 12 unspeakable demons." Urush then asked back; "Were not most of you the same as them before you had met me?" And the crowd was silent and humbled after.
-The Book of Urush, 2;20 - 2;22
Year 1914, 13th of Adara
It was hot and dry in Durnadiir. It reminded Mevlut Koyuncu of his home back in eastern Bastaar. In fact it could be home for him if it wasn't for the elder god churches prominent in the region. Like the one that was currently below him. Koyuncu looked at the Gran Templii di Itzarel which dominated the street below him. It was massive. Maybe even more so than the famous Cathedral of Saint Dumal in Anyueva. The church was covered in ornate designs and statues of their alien gods stood vigil at every corner. The more that Koyuncu looked at it all, the more that he despised it. He hated how so many were swindled by these false gods. Gods who warped the minds and bodies of the weak and desperate and fed on their souls. Koyuncu and the 40 others with him in this city were chosen by Ibrahim Kusha himself. Recommended by the High Posdals in Anyueva. Some of them had even had personal dealings with the High Posdals themselves. They were unwaveringly fanatical. Their faith in the church was unshakable. It was these men and women that Kusha desperately needed to carry out his plan. His plan that would end what he saw as the dominance of the apostate churches.
Koyuncu and the four others with him had a simple role in this plot. They were to plant a bomb on the airship that they were on. Making sure that the explosive's timer was set to go off exactly when it was over the Templii di Itzarel again on its return trip. They had spent a month training for this task. Learning the Quat'i language to a passable degree, learning the mechanism of the bomb they were using, learning how to use their weapons in case the need arises. Each of them familiarize themselves with every detail of the plan. This particular job needed precision on the highest level and they would need to carry out the job of the other if one of them became unavailable for the task.
For now though there was calm. The bomb wasn't due to be armed for another few minutes or so. Koyuncu and one of his accomplices, Miss Marshanda bin Pratam, sat in the viewing lounge of the ship. Taking in the sights like the innocent tourist they tried to make themselves appear as. He and bin Pratam were enjoying tea and pastries while a string quartet played a soothing tune. Koyuncu admitted that this was all pleasant. That is while this calm lasted. If their plan went according to plan, the city would be in complete disarray in two hours or so. Koyuncu found himself tapping his foot against a briefcase he had on himself at all times. Inside it carried three ball grenades, his Fenisian pistol, spare ammo as well as his forged paperworks.
"I don't understand how people can wear these," bin Pratam spoke after taking a sip of her tea. Koyuncu gave her a confused look. "These outfits I mean," bin Pratam followed up. “How is anybody expected to move in this dress?” she asked. Marshanda was wearing a violet long gown with a cut out on her left hip, leaving nothing to Koyuncu’s imagination. Now that he was looking at her dress, he also noticed the rest of her attire. A golden necklace, a golden bracelet with the tri-circles dangling from it and black high heel shoes.
Bin Pratam was quick to notice Koyuncu’s eyes. Who in turned placed her hand in front of his face and snapped her fingers. “Mevlut!” she said in a stern voice to call his attention. Koyuncu simply moved his eyes up to meet her gaze. Then he pointed his finger towards her bracelet. “You’re not supposed to wear that. Not right now.” he told her. Koyuncu and the others were suppose to blend in a Quat’i tourist and while some of the Quat'i were themselves Posdal, most of them followed the old ways. The faith of the great enemy. Bin Pratam was quick to brush his concerns off. “So? It’s just a bracelet. I doubt the guards here will raise any objections to me wearing it.” she defended herself. “Besides I’m sick of all this sneaking around. I’d rather have a straight fight with them like my grandfather did.” Koyuncu placed his index finger and thumb on the bridge of his nose. To say that he was nervous about the entire business around him was an understatement. Just the night before he barely got any rest. It took every fiber of his being to appear calm at the surface. Every little thing needed to be perfect for this plan to go off. Bin Pratam saw the building frustration on his face and decided to calm down her partner by placing a hand on his shoulder. She then gave it a firm yet gentle squeeze. "Nothing will happen Mevlut. Trust me."
Koyuncu breathed and tried to calm himself down. His little moment of peace wouldn't last however. Suddenly there was a commotion from behind them. Directly towards the corridor outside the lounge. Koyuncu and bin Pratam quickly stood up, Koyuncu grabbing his briefcase, and walked a brisk pace towards what they perceived as frantic shouting. Koyuncu quickly recognized the dialect. It was Morric. Before he could ponder further he was met by two of their accomplices running inside the lounge. Nazim Ekşi and Yonca Özkan. The first thing Koyuncu noticed was the red smear of what he assumed was blood running down Ekşi's white shirt. "They know about us," Ekşi managed to blurt out of his mouth once he identified Koyuncu and bin Pratam coming over towards them. "How!?" Koyuncu asked with clear panic rising in his voice. It seemed that Ekşi was about to answer when they were alerted to the sound of several running feet in hot pursuit. Özkan placed down Ekşi and, along with Koyuncu, barricaded the door. Meanwhile bin Pratam took out a pistol she had hid on her inner thigh with straps. "Ladies and gentlemen we are taking over this ship," she informed everyone in the room who had their full attention towards her. "Follow our orders and nobody gets hurt. Now everybody get on the floor with your backs facing the ceiling."
Koyuncu scanned the lounge. Looking for an escape. He saw a service door leading to what he gathered was a staff hallway. Koyuncu tapped bin Pratam on her shoulder and motioned his head towards the door. Özkan and Ekşi observed their interaction and quickly picked up on the plan. Özkan then moved towards her wounded partner to help him up. Ekşi stopped her. "You and I both know I don't have much time. Just give me a ball and I'll handle the guards." Özkan wasn't so easily swayed by Ekşi's plan of martyrdom but Koyuncu knew the wounded man would only slow them down. Koyuncu placed a hand on Özkan's shoulder. "He's right," he told her in the most sincere tone he could muster. Koyuncu saw that Özkan still wasn't prepared to leave him. Before this day they had trained with one another in their small operational cells. Their bonds of trust grew beyond simple professional relationships. Koyuncu himself knew that Ekşi had a wife and two daughters waiting for him back home in the Quat'lands. It was a hard decision to leave him. However they worked too much to have this all amount to nothing. Each and everyone of them knew the risk. Ekşi was no exception.
Bin Pratam grabbed Özkan by the shoulder and pulled her up. It was clear on Özkan's face that she wasn't happy about being dragged away. Koyuncu opened his briefcase and he handed his wounded companion a grenade. They both stared at each other with a brief pause before nodding in agreement. Koyuncu stood up and was grabbed by the wounded Ekşi. "Tell my wife…" Ekşi paused as he was choked by his emotions. "Tell her I'm sorry." Koyuncu held Ekşi's hand and gripped it tight. "We'll meet each other again brother." Ekşi seemed at peace when the three conspirators left. They made their way to the hallway. Behind them they heard uproar followed by the sound of an explosion. They all knew that Ekşi had bought them some time but it wasn't much. Koyuncu heard Özkan recite a prayer under her breath.
In the maze that was the staff corridors, one could easily be lost in its labyrinthian pathways. The only thing that was on Koyuncu and his group's minds when they entered was to escape. Now it dawned on them that none of them had a plan past this point. Koyuncu led the group of three. Going this way and that in a vain attempt to find any progress. Koyuncu could judge that the other two were getting close to exhaustion. They found maps here and there that were fastened to the wall. However it was in Abnawaandian and none of them could make out what led to where.
It was then that by some miracle they happened upon a lone Jakanti walking the hallways. Koyuncu immediately ordered the two to stop. The group hid in a corner. Watching the Jakanti. Koyuncu observed him. Noting that he was wearing the clothing of a waiter. He was also pushing along a tray rack trolley in front of him which Koyuncu noticed had food containers on it. Koyuncu had no other choice but to trail him. They moved as stealthily as they could behind him. No more than a minute after this did the clueless waiter enter another room. Koyuncu quickly ordered the rest of his team to enter after him.
They say that the Posdal God works in mysterious ways. Koyuncu and the two others with him barged into the room that they had followed the waiter into. By sheer luck, or as Koyuncu would have it, by divine intervention, the group found themselves at the bridge of the ship. Two surprised guards found themselves looking at Koyuncu already halfway through their meal. Bin Pratam was quick with her gun and shot the two of them dead. The crew yelled in terror and disbelief. Özkan found herself barricading the doors. Koyuncu took out his pistol and pointed it at the airship's crew. There was screaming after. The two sides are unable to understand the other. The language barrier was broken when Koyuncu took a shot at one of the bridge crew, dropping him to the floor. The rest of them placed their hands over their heads. Seemingly ready to cooperate. Marshanda kept her own firearm aimed at them just in case.
Koyuncu made his way towards the ship's wheel. Pushing aside the captain who looked at him with pure disdain. He looked over at Özkan who had just finished securing the doors to the bridge. "Yonca!" he called out. Her attention turned towards her. "Tie them up," Koyuncu ordered as he motioned his head towards the crew. Özkan would quickly find some rope to tie up the crew, who themselves needed some rough handling to completely subdue them. Koyuncu himself stood over the bridge pondering on his next course of action. He would have to think fast though. As he ran the different scenarios in his head, the unmistakable sound of footsteps were heard outside. Then there was yelling in broken Morric. 'Open the door!' they demanded. Bin Pratam, who at that point was trying to come up with a plan herself, looked over at Koyuncu. "Give us a plan here Mevlut."
Koyuncu looked at the city below. He noticed that they hadn't moved that far away from the grand cathedral that was their target. A plan soon formed in his head. A mix of desperation and apparent insanity. Koyuncu grabbed the steering wheel and drove it hard to the right. The entire ship pitched hard to starboard. Turning towards the cathedral. Özkan and bin Pratam were almost thrown off their feet. Koyuncu heard the Jakanti outside struggling to keep their balance. The bodies on the floor slid off to the side. Leaving large smears of crimson red along their path.
Bin Pratam looked on confused at Koyuncu as the airship began to settle. "Marshanda," Koyuncu called her out. "Try to find a way to make this thing faster," he ordered. "What's the plan Mevlut?" Bin Pratam asked. Trying to grasp any information as to what her partner was intending to do. She looked at his eyes, followed the path of his sight and saw the grand cathedral locked in his view. It came together in her head. She knew what Koyuncu wanted to do. Bin Pratam herself had little to no knowledge about all the different controls in front of her works. She tried everything that she could. One of the buttons she pressed ringing off an alarm that blared on the bridge. Making it hard for the three to hear each other over the noise. Again one would think that even now Koyuncu's luck had run out. The airship was no faster than walking speed even though Koyuncu had control over it. What's more was the repeated thuds on the door behind them. It may not have been long until the people outside made their way in. However it seemed as if the Posdal's God gave them another stroke of his favor. Bin Pratam kept inspecting each and every control of the ship. Looking for anything that might seem to control its speed. Her eyes would then come up some throttles on their side of the steering wheel. She pulled up on them. The relief she experienced when she felt the ship pick up speed was intense. Even though she knew that none of them would survive what was coming next.
The captain and his crew began yelling again as they felt the ship pick up speed. Of course Koyuncu could barely hear their protest against the loud sirens that continued to bombard their ears. Bin Pratam had no idea how to turn off the alarms. Neither did she or Koyuncu thought it mattered. What they did hear was the pounding on the door. Özkan watched the door. Seeing the hinges being rattled with each thud. "Gun!" he yelled out. "Gun! Gun!" she continued on. Eventually bin Pratam turned around towards her. Marshanda handed her the pistol she was holding. Özkan pointed it towards the door. Shooting anyone who made it inside. Koyuncu himself kept a clear eye on his target. Just then above the noise of the sirens was the sound of metal breaking. Koyuncu turned around briefly to see that the door's knob gave way and an opening big enough for a man's arm to fit through was made. Then an arm reached inside. A Jakanti arm which tried to push away the chairs that were blocking the door. Özkan put a stop to that by placing five lead shots on the arm. Koyuncu barely heard a scream of complete agony after. Then the blaring sirens could have been whispers to the barrage of gunfire that followed after. Koyuncu and bin Pratam docked their heads instinctively. Koyuncu looked back over his shoulders again to see Özkan having a firefight through the gap on the door.
Everything after that was a blur to him. His final moments hazy from the surge of adrenaline. He knew that the airship was going fast. How fast exactly he didn't know but he could have sworn that he was going fast enough to see the buildings below him racing past his view. Bin Pratam was again able to find the controls to airship's elevation which was again a couple of throttles directly next to the steering wheel. Normally the captain's first mate would operate the elevations during a landing while the captain kept the vessel as level as possible. What Koyuncu planned was nothing but a practical landing though. He used one hand to keep the ship on course while he slowly lowered the ship. Soon enough the cathedral grew wider and wider. Koyuncu looked over at bin Pratam. What little he read off her lips made him assume she was praying. Urush helped them all he thought. Just then though it seemed like their well of miracles dried up. A strong wind pushed the craft off heading. Koyuncu tried his best to aim it back at the Grand Templii di Itzarel but it proved futile. The last thing Koyuncu saw was a brick building that was almost close enough to touch. After that the sound of scraping metal. Then there was silence as the darkness consumed him.
The craft crashes into the embassy of Volstranlyudkovka within Abnawaandia, killing over 200 on the ground and 73 on the vessel. Unaware of the lack of success by Kusha’s attack, Coşkun and Kemal continue with their own plans.
Throughout all of this, the Tsarina would continue to call for calm, seeking a peaceful resolution to the violence. A veteran of the civil war, she had no desire to drag her people into another, and exhausted every possible avenue of reconciliation she could in her desire to end the attacks peacefully. These efforts would come to a close with the two final straws: the assassination of Princess Aminaa of the Abnawaandian royal family and the brazen assault on the Volstranlyudkivka capital of Novetska.
In the year 1914, 17th of Ayyara, Princess Aminaa of the Abnawaandian Royal Family was assassinated at long range. The assassins, acting on the orders of Coşkun and Kemal, had positioned themselves on the third floor room of a local hotel. Aminaa, visiting a small city within Abnawaandia, had exited her motorcade to speak to the assembled crowd. The media assembled soon spread the subsequent events across the world, as the bullet streaked through the air, blowing through her neck and into the shoulder of her son, standing adjacent. Photographs of her collapsing, the crowd panicking, the princess bleeding out as medics tried to staunch her wound - all of these and more plastered across newspapers the world over. When Abnawaandian authorities discovered the identities of the killers, cries for retribution were heard far and wide. Extremist Posdal factions, many claiming all Pushtavki to be the cursed scions of the hated elder gods, declared that the princess was naught but a dog of demons and her death ought to be celebrated. Others warned of more to come, far worse than anything before.
Year 1914 PA, 28th of Hazirani, during The Festival of the Liberation of the People
Private Adliya smiled as she watched the crowds of people gathered in the central square celebrating the festival. Though she was on duty this year, assigned to guard over it and keep a watchful eye out. In the wake of the attacks upon numerous smaller events or on religious institutions, the Tsarina had ordered the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of military personnel to keep watch over the festivities nationwide. Adliya, however, wanted to believe no such travesty could occur. The sun shone bright overhead, the warmth of a midsummer day gentle on her skin. Today was a good day, and she found it hard to believe any would seek to ruin such a wonderful occasion. Though she could not participate in the festivities like years past, she remembered them fondly. Spiced meat pies, sugary confections stuffed with sweet creams, the heady aroma of a million market stalls hawking their wares at passers by. She remembered the first day, perched high on her mother’s shoulders. It was custom for children brought to the festival to be given sweets in the shape of a star, as like the old tales said, the stars had been with them that day. She still fondly remembered her mothers insisting that it was far too much for one girl, and helping her finish every last one. It had been a festival day when she had her first kiss, and a million fond memories swirled around her mind as readjusted her rifle, a smile coming across her lips.
The festival, held every year on the 28th of Hazirani, was one of the largest celebrations in the nation of Volstranlyudkovka. It was a day where people from all walks of life, from a factory worker in a national arsenal, to a small cobbler running a one-person shoe-store, to a bureaucrat from the archival systems, to the esteemed priestesses of Ishareth, to the local military detachments, could gather together in celebration of the same date, exactly three hundred and ten years ago, when the common folk of Volstranlyudkovka had banded together and overthrown the tyranny of the old nobility and monarch. It was by far the favorite holiday of Adliya, but on this day she had been assigned to guard duty. She would’ve far preferred to be mingling in the streets, scarfing down armfuls of fried foods and noodles spiced with exotic ingredients from the Quat’lands or from Fuso, chatting with the food stand owners as they told her the details of how the dish had been in the family for seven generations. She wanted to walk through the streets, arm in arm with Safiyah as she listened to her love complain about how the Volyudki here could never quite get the spices right - of course she herself couldn’t tell, she’d never visited Safiyah’s home, but any time spent with her was cherished. She loved nothing more than joining in the people’s march from the city limits to the capitol building - except instead of muskets and halberds, they would bring cakes and pies and share freely amongst one another as the dancers and performers plied their trade through the streets.
The festival always concluded with a magnificent fireworks display. The great rockets would shoot into the sky, eruptions of bright colors carefully coordinated into gorgeous choreographed dances of light and sound. The grand finale was a rapid fire series of them, forming not only the date numbers “1604” emblazoned in the sky for all to behold, but firing off in perfect cadence with the percussion section of the national anthem. Adliya loved it more than anything, and to this day as she stood smiling at the crowd below her, she could vividly remember the very first festival she ever attended. The sights, the smells of the festival foods, and the enthralling clatter of fireworks, the rapid pop pop pop
as they shot into the sky, the cheers of the crowd as-
The sounds were real, she realized.
Adilya snapped out of her reverie, her rifle instantly rising to the ready position. The cheers of the crowd in her memory were not cheers but screams, screams of terror and panic as the unmistakable staccato rhythm of machine guns firing in tandem. The crowd surged in all directions, many of them pulling sidearms from their clothes and looking wildly in any direction as they sought the source of the gunfire before machine gun bullets tore them asunder as well. Adliya screamed, though she did not know why, begging the people below to run for cover. She realized a moment after that the gunfire, at least one source of it, came from another guard post - the only one equipped with a machine gun, she realized with a sinking dread in her gut.
She screamed again, her voice growing hoarse as she strained to see who was behind the trigger in there - the shade created by the awning illuminated the muzzle flashes as the human behind the gun gunned down more of her people around her. She leveled her rifle, finger squeezing the trigger, and the rifle kicked sharply against her shoulder. The figure behind the gun crumpled, and she looked around in desperation - the gunfire was still going on.
From behind a man plunged a knife into her back, but she felt no pain, merely rage. She whirled on him, driving her own head into his as she pulled her own knife, overpowering the smaller human and driving the blade once, twice, three times, a dozen times into his chest. Her rifle clattered to the floor, and she saw more of them, their faces obscured by balaclavas as they took aim at her with rifles of their own - models she did not recognize. She dropped to the floor as the sharp cracks of the rifles echoed out amidst the din of the unfolding massacre. Adliya knew she had failed - her sworn duty was to protect and serve her people, and every crack of a rifle or burst from the machine gun meant she failed more and more each passing second.
She clawed for her own rifle, working the lever in a practiced motion - until the clatter of a hard object striking the wood behind her caught her ear. She turned, her eyes alighting on a small grenade lying almost innocuously on the floor of her own post. Without thinking she hurled herself from the elevated position, the explosive detonating moments later as she found herself faced with four more assailants, each raising their rifles. She snarled, raising her own - but before any could fire, the ground itself shook violently as a deafening, cacophonous blast rocked through the city. She and the attackers turned as a great plume of smoke rose from one of the city’s rail depots. Tears streamed down her face, and Adilya fired a shot into the gut of one of her attackers, crying out in rage and anger as she rushed for another one, bullets slamming into her body as she did so. The impacts tore great gouges in her flesh, and she collapsed within arm’s reach of the next criminal as her world began to darken. She had failed. She had failed again. She had failed utterly. In the span of half a minute, she had failed. More explosions, smaller this time, rocked the city, and as one of the terrorists pointed her sidearm at Adliya’s forehead the world went dark.
The clatter of gunfire echoed around the city. Reports had come in, disrupting the cheerful holiday atmosphere, of at least twenty separate attacks at various points throughout the city. Masked individuals yelling Neverustasika slogans had opened fire using captured weapons and their own. The Tsarina was inbound to the city on a train - and the fuel depot of the station she was due to arrive in had exploded minutes before, shattering windows across the city and wiping the station from the map. Adjacent to the station, though, was the central square of the city, where enormous crowds had gathered during the festival. It lay nearly abandoned now, save for the bodies of hundreds of festival goers strewn about. Many cried out in pain or begged for help, many more held weapons of their own despite their injuries, desperately firing at the attackers’ locations as they dragged themselves behind cover. Many lay ominously still, and Kapitan Farehn knew all too well what had happened to them.
Her company raced through the square, opening up on the various guard posts built into the buildings surrounding the square. Others raced into cover, taking shelter behind walls and overturned food stalls along with many other soldiers, and even more armed civilians.
She followed her second in command into position behind a position diagonal from the main point. The muted burst of a machine gun was followed by a scream as one of her soldiers collapsed, bloody chunks torn from her body as the bullets found their mark. Farehn’s heart skipped a beat - she knew the soldier, she knew every soldier in her unit. Private Vidul, one of the newest additions to the unit fresh out of education. She had been one of the unit’s jokers, and Farehn herself had found it impossible not to laugh at the young human’s wit. It was another name and face to add to the list, Fahrenheit knew, another one killed under her command. These criminals would pay.
She lifted her rifle, nodding to the soldiers in her unit who had taken refuge with her, and nodding to the two civilians who held revolvers beside them. “I want you seven,” she said, pointing to the civilians and to a squad hunkering down beside them, “to lay down fire on that post. Serzhant Sidiztch, take your squad and push forward. Try to take them out with grenades or… something!” Her words came rushed, uncertain. “I’ll take squad 2 and flank to the east, we’ll take one of the KMRs with us to try and keep the next one pinned. Go, now!” Making the sign of the star across her brow, she added, “And may Ishareth guide you.”
She signalled to the squad she’d chosen, one of them hefting the KMR with a slight grunt. A nod to those she’d delegated, and the civilians and her designated squad opened fire, popping out briefly from behind cover to unleash a withering hail of gunfire towards the guard post - the second squad sprinting towards the next patch of cover. Her own squad bolted to the east, setting up position as private Adlisev racked the charging handle, opening up her own deafening hail of machine gun fire on the next guard post. A figure, silhouetted behind the constant flash of their weapon, fell from view. Another soon took their place though, keeping a lower profile as they redirected their weapoon towards her squad. The impact of bullets on the hard stone around them sent clouds of dust into the air, and Farehn and her comrades ducked behind the hard wall - though another was not so lucky, going limp on the ground as the bullets hit home.
Farehn directed her gunner to return fire, and as the woman loaded a fresh belt into the gun, a sharp blast came from the first guard post. She whirled - smoke rose from it as the squad she had assigned crouched nearby, two of their number lying prone on the cobblestone as a third clutched at her side. The remaining two kept their rifles trained on the post, but no more movement came from it. The other soldiers from across the square moved in, and Farehn could see fresh reinforcements streaming into the square, hundreds of green uniforms moving like a tidal wave of vengeance. They opened fire upon the remaining attackers, several of them using improvised staff slings to hurl grenades at and into the positions held by the terrorists, explosions erupting all around and within their commandeered guard posts. Silence, relative silence, fell on the square - all three points had been neutralized, an abrupt end to the rampage.
A runner came sprinting over, one of many, and addressed her and her unit. “Rendezvous at Belayinskaya Rail Terminal, they’ve barricaded themselves inside with hostages.”
Farehn moved to argue, “But there are countless here in the square that need our help! It is our duty to a-”
She was cut off by the runner as she shook her head. “They’ve dispatched medics, we need everyone we can get over to the station and the other combat zones as soon as possible. They’ve attacked all over the city, and we’re mobilizing as many as we can to deal with the situation - but right now you are needed as Isknada Station, Major’s orders!”
The din of telephones joined in with the distant rattle of gunfire, seemingly coming from all corners of the city at once. Fahrenheit glimpsed a guard by the telephone operators huddled behind a section of wall, her rifle clutched tightly in her fingers and her face white as a sheet as she kept a close watch for more assailants. Many telephone lines around the city had been destroyed by the effects of the enormous blast, but her substation remained intact. Confused, garbled reports continued to flood in from around the city as the assault upon Novetska continued.
“We have reports of a hostage situation at the. They claim to have another bomb and have affixed it to the fuel tanks, and they claim to have over two hundred hostages inside. All available personnel are to report to our position at Belayinskaya immediately. The Tsarina may have been killed in the blast. Under acting commander General Iskand all available units are to redeploy.”
Farehn stared in mute disbelief at what lay before her, unblinking. She watched as another company of soldiers moved in, taking up positions around the building as shots rang out from within. She glimpsed dimly silhouetted figures moving inside, and the shouts of her comrades attempting to convince them to lay down arms.
“Hold on.” She said, breaking her silence, “The Tsarina is dead?” She turned to another woman, her words becoming more frantic now. “The Tsarina is dead?!”
The other woman rested her arms on her shoulders, “Calm, kapitan. We do not know for sure, but we were told a train had arrived at the station just before the blast. I cannot tell you for sure, but we must steel ourselves for the possibility.”
Year 1914 PA, 28th of Hazirani, on board the Tsarina Valeriev's train
Tsarina Valeriev enjoyed few things more than she did a train ride. It was a fascination that had begun at an early age, when her mother brought her into Novetska to bring in the family’s harvest of wheat. She had been enthralled by the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings of the massive, sprawling city. A metropolis with few equals anywhere in the world, and her home now, since the election.
She had been away from the city for over a week, visiting soldiers on the southern border fortifications and giving speeches. Nobody had ever told her, while on campaign trail, the extent of campaigning she would still be required to do after. It was a perpetual task, and she had begun to understand not long after ascending the steps why her successor had resigned while she still had hairs that had not yet gone grey.
But today was the festival - and while the feast of Ishareth was by far her favorite holiday of the year, the festival was certainly a strong second in her heart. The fervour, the patriotic love, the delicious foods - there were few days whereon Valeriev felt more proud of her home than on festival day. It was one of the days when everyone, regardless of their social circle or employment, could mingle and celebrate together. One of the days she would look forward to all through the year and then think back longingly on for months after.
And today was special - her fourth daughter, eight year old Subuka, had turned eight not two days before. The young girl had accompanied her on her trip from the capital, and though some had initially resisted it, Valeriev herself had overridden them upon seeing her cheeks stained with tears at the prospect of her mother leaving her again. And so it was young Subuka had followed after her mother, laughing boisterously at the security detail that followed her. It had taken only a day, with some prodding from Valeriev herself, for one of them to relent. On being relieved from her post, the soldier had turned and knelt, joining in the children’s hand game that Subuka had insisted on since laying eyes on the woman.
The memory was a fond one, and Valeriev’s smile grew wider still at the recollection of it. It would be good to return home - just one more speech to give and she would be ready to sit back at her desk and enjoy the first long nap in a week. Subuka, too, would benefit - her daughter was growing increasingly stir crazy in the confines of the train cabin, and as she tried to calm the little girl she held perched on her lap, she did her best to suppress a laugh at her antics. “Calm, sweetie.” She cooed, stroking her hair, “We will be home soon, I am sure Vitri will be eager to play with you as well when we get there.”
With the wide, innocent eyes of childhood, Subuka replied without missing a beat, “But mommy, you told Susika to feed him! He’ll be fat!”
At that, Valerierv lost her battle, and burst out laughing, wiping a tear away with a free hand. “My little star, if so is the case - I think a nap is in order, first. And then I suppose you’ll have to exercise him, won’t you?” She smiled, “I know Susika will be happy to help you out with that, I’m sure. She can throw the ball far further than you can right now - but I bet you can help encourage him! Besides, I bet you could do with some exercise after being stuck in here too.” She gave Subuka a tight hug, kissing her on the forehead. “I love you more than you can understand, my little star, but sometimes you can be a bit mu-”
Valeriev was cut off by the sound of what seemed to be muffled shouting, and the stampede of feet outside the carriage. The door to the left flung open, and Valeriev reflexively reached for her sidearm - only pausing as the figure of her chief security officer made itself clear. “My Tsarina!” She gasped, her breath ragged, “We must evacuate immediately! There i-”
The security chief’s words were cut mid syllable as the wall opposite Valeriev exploded. The deafening crash of utter armageddon filled her world. She had no time to scream, no time to react, no time for anything as her body was hurled through the void. Seconds stretched on for years in a maelstrom of fire and sound as metal ripped and tore around her and great plumes of smoke rose into the sky.
Valeriev lay in the grass beside the railroad, staring into the sky. It was a brilliant blue, a bright, sunny day with nary a cloud in the sky around her. Except… in the corner of her eye, an ugly dark cloud marred the beautiful color. She frowned as it grew larger - where was this ugly cloud coming from? Why was it so dark? She turned her head to look and pain shot through her body as she did so. Her arm was red, she noticed. She thought she had been wearing a black uniform earlier. Had she taken it off?
A curious sound crept slowly into her ears. She couldn’t place it, at first - it was a strange crackling. It was familiar, but for some reason simply resisted recognition. Fire. That was it, something was burning?
Valeriev turned her head towards the sound of the fire, was someone building a campfire? She didn’t recall leaving the train for anything like that before - a wood gas stove served the purpose perfectly well.
Train. That word stuck in her mind for some reason, and she slowly took in the full scene before her. The burning wreck of a train lay before her eyes - it looked, to her only semi-trained eyes, as though the fuel tank had exploded, tearing the entire train apart. Anyone inside would have been very lucky to be alive.
A brass number seven lay nearby, and as her eyes alighted on it, the memories came rushing back. She had
been on this train. Train number 7, the Tsarina’s personal armored and armed express train. Perhaps the heaviest, best made armored train in the entire empire. It now lay wrecked and smoldering around the field. Even its heavy armor had been little match for a blow from within.
Valeriev pushed herself into a sitting position, looking around blearily. Jagged lumps of metal lay scattered around the countryside, and strange misshapen lumps lay intermingled amongst them. Strange colored cloth clung to those lumps, flapping thinly in the breeze. Valeriev realized, after a moment, that the lumps were bodies. Many of them unrecognizable as anything more than charred and mauled hunks of meat.
One thought flashed into her mind. “Subuka!” She called, her eyes widening as she looked around, the full memory of events now finally flooding into her mind. “Subuka! My star! Subuka!” She called, her voice devolving into a panicked scream. Valeriev pushed herself to her feet, taking a wobbly first step as she looked around the devastated scene of the wreck. “Subuka!” She called again, her eyes straining to catch a glimpse of her daughter.
She turned around, her heart pounding in her chest, her entire being ached - but she scarcely felt a thing as she searched for her daughter.
A light blue scrap of cloth caught her eye, and she felt her heart sink. “Subuka!” She gasped, stumbling towards the prone form lying motionless in the grass. As she drew nearer, however, she breathed a sigh of relief, only to feel a wave of shame wash over her. Though it was not Subuka, it was one of the train attendants, a young Nang Hum girl from the east - Hua, her name was. Valeriev blinked, and stumbled, overcome by the situation. “Subuka…” She cried quietly to herself, looking around the devastation that surrounded her, seeking the light blue her baby had worn.
Her heart sank once more. There, another one - unmistakably Subuka. Valeriev half sprinted, half stumbled towards her daughter - for it was Subuka, her shock of bright red hair unmistakable for anything else. Valeriev called for her, her throat hoarse, and she collapsed by her daughter, shaking her vigorously. “Subuka! My star, please!” She begged, pulling her daughter up towards her - only to recoil in shock and horror, letting the limp corpse fall back to the ground. Valeriev stared, speechless, at the bright red blood that now stained her hands from grisly wounds she had felt on her daughter’s back. Tears welled in her eyes as she sat in stunned disbelieving silence as each heartbeat stretched on for an eternity.
Valeriev felt all strength leave her as she collapsed next to Subuka, the images of the last moments on the train flooding her mind. She bawled aloud, crumpling into a heap atop the body of her daughter. Subuka had sat on her lap, her back facing the wall, Valeriev had leaned in to give her a hug. Subuka’s back was covered in horrific wounds, Valeriev had seen enough in combat to know there was no surviving such. Her own arms and legs were covered in cuts and other wounds, a chunk of shrapnel embedded in her right calf - but much of her torso was entirely free from such. And the dreadful realization sank in as she cradled her daughter’s body in her arms, sobbing and begging aloud for her to come back.
Another image flashed into her mind. Susika, her nanny, had resisted sending the little girl on the train with her mother. She had voiced her concerns openly, fearing that something might befall the Tsarina’s daughter. Valeriev had rebuffed her, laughing her off. “What could possibly happen?” She had told her, she remembered. “She will be with me, there is no safer place in the whole nation!”
Valeriev’s wails filled the air as she begged her daughter for forgiveness, slowly descending into meaningless sobbing. She scarcely knew how much time had passed. She did not notice her state photographer standing by, capturing the scenes of devastation. She did not remember her turning the camera to her Tsarina and capturing the image that would cover the headlines for months after of Valeriev clutching the mangled, broken body of her youngest daughter as she wept. Valeriev did not remember anything as she drowned in an ocean of grief, her only company the body of her daughter as it slowly cooled, her blood congealing onto Valeriev’s skin. She did not hear the words nor feel the touch of the other survivors as they gathered around her. She did not notice as the army arrived, hundreds of soldiers pouring from another train as they rushed to ensure no further harm could come to her. She would have died for Subuka, she would have died for any of her daughters.
The first words Valeriev heard, as she cradled her daughter’s body, on a train riding back into Novetska, were from General Laiki of the North-Central Front. “Multiple attackers have struck Novetska during festival celebrations. Linukoi Station has been completely destroyed in the same kind of attack that took your train. We have counted three hundred and eighty seven dead in the main square alone. Isknada station has been taken by the attackers, and is under siege with over two hundred hostages held inside, we don’t kno-”
Valeriev held up a hand, looking at the woman across from her. “Do what must be done.” She said simply. “You have full operational authority until I enter the city.” She looked down at her daughter, and her composure nearly broke once more. She looked back up at her general, her eyes and expression hollow, her gaze cold and dead. “I will lead the nation when we do so. We arrive in half an hour, you will have your Tsarina ready then, general.”
Using Government resources and a previously unknown paramilitary organization of a size and sophistication believed impossible for the Sultanate to effectively operate, over a hundred and fifty highly trained agents were embedded within the general populace of Novetska until the agreed upon event: the Festival of the Liberation of the People, on the anniversary of the overthrow of the old capitalistic monarchy in the year 1604. Following an agreed upon plan, major rail terminals were subject to suicide bombings or attacks by gunmen who overwhelmed guard posts with pistols and grenades, taking their machine guns and rifles and commandeering the positions - enabling them to then rain fire and grenades upon the stunned crowds.
It was three days until the last attacker was killed or captured, with total civilian deaths standing at over five thousand two hundred and sixty six, including deaths from train derailments, machine gun fire, numerous hostage situations, and the explosion of the city’s main train fueling depot. With the storming of the final holdout and the deaths of some thirteen hostages came the capture of incriminating documents tying the operation to Ibharim Kusha and other high level individuals in the Sultanate. Clamoring for war in Volstranlyudkovka reaches fever pitch. Tsarina Valeriev gives a speech in the following months. Her final words rang around the world. “I, and my comrades throughout the nation, are distraught. We are hurt, we are confused, and we have lost many of our loved ones today. We know, full well, who is responsible for this outrageous assault upon the good people of our home. And we... I, will bring justice to those responsible for the crimes committed on the 28th. By any means necessary.”