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January 20, Etremetoryy

Tafun looked up at the embassy of Rotteburg, his gaze darkening at the sight of the structure. He had no fond memories of this building, and it seemed every time he was summoned to it it was under inauspicious circumstances. Never had he come here for celebration or even to send out a letter to the wider world, solidifying the peace. No. The last time he had been summoned as he had, war had broken out between the Realm and Kratoria as the latter sought to prevent the unification of the Kudruni states. And now he was here in the aftermath of the brutal assassination of Rotteburg’s prince. He dreaded to think what the next summons might entail.

Nodding to his driver, he and his guards disembarked from the motorcade, making their way into the structure. After a moment, the Kudruni guards ahead let him pass, and as he made his way under the marble columns he could not help but feel a chill go down his spine.

It was a relatively short trip through the embassy, and only a few minutes elapsed before his arrival outside the room in question. “I am here to meet with Ambassador Ernst.” Tafun said to the guards outside his door, “Foreign Minister Tafun, I have been told it is urgent.”

The guards nodded to him and let him through, revealing the office of the ambassador. A heavily marked map sat on one wall, with several blackboards of notes scattered throughout the room. On the desk of the ambassador, sat a variety of folders and papers, and the Kudruni himself sat in a chair behind that desk. He had a cigar in his mouth, and at the time of Tafun’s entrance, he had been flipping through one of said folders.

He looked up gravely, looking over Tafun before saying, “I am sure you have heard of the assassination, so I will spare you the details. I summoned you due to certain circumstances outside of my control,” he paused, puffing on his cigar, before continuing, “the Kaiser has given the military a blank check to wage war. Heinrich’s general staff has chosen War Plan XXVI for this eventuality.”

He slid a folder across the desk, puffing on his cigar again before saying, “Heinrich the Junior is not his old man. I fear this war. But, at the same time, as long as Kratoria has entered mobilization, there is nothing I may do to help end this war before it begins.”

Another puff. “If we were to halt mobilization, we would be hopelessly behind. We would be subjugated by Kratoria without a fight. I cannot abide by this. Heinrich has granted a week for the ministry to draft an ultimatum, but after that -- and I have no doubt of this -- War Plan XXVI will be enacted. Have a read for yourself.”

“I know of War Plan XXVI, and War Plan XXVI is unacceptable. Invading Pohae, one of the Realm’s biggest trade partners - and a longstanding neutral nation - would be disastrous for foreign relations and popular support for the war. Perhaps the Reich’s general staff thinks such action is required, but doing so will alienate all but the most determined allies of our respective nations, and much of the population of the Realm.” Tafun frowned, “I wish to impress upon your general staff - things are different in Etresna, the people do not meekly go along with what the leadership demands. If we are drawn into an offensive war to defend the honor of a foreign nation, we will be just as swiftly drawn out of it. Raijen Zhami is dead and gone, and her successor does not have her charisma or military inclinations. Zhami was able to convince the Realm to engage in a foreign war for little apparent gain, Anukadi cannot and will not bring her nation into a war as an aggressor against neutral powers on behalf of another country. The Reich’s army is mighty, it is true - against Uruk alone you would certainly prevail - against Kratoria as well your defeat would be inevitable without the aid of the Realm. Neither of our alliances is yet capable of defeating the other outright. I am confident that we can hold them at bay, but we will still need the support, or at bare minimum the neutrality, of the other powers to survive. Should the Realm join the Reich in invading neutral powers, it will certainly align Anvegad against us, Faenaria will wonder as to the safety of their interests and the profitability of trade with a nation that so readily violates a neutral nation, decades of diplomacy and hard work would be undermined in a fortnight. Does your general staff not see all of this?”

The ambassador pointed insistently at the folder. “War Plan XXVI has changed since the last time you have read it. I do not know how often Etremaden general staff revises their military plans -- but, if the complete lack of thought that it could’ve changed in a decade is a testament to your general staff’s ability to account for our changing world, I fear woefully for you.”

“The general staff of the Realm tends to give new names for new plans, ambassador.” Tafun replied, raising an eyebrow, “It is not our custom to use the same names for different plans.”

The ambassador puffed again. “It is not a new plan. We do not take to filling our archives with thousands of new plans that are merely revisions of old ones. Let me remind you that Rotteburg, under Heinrich the Senior, was the first to maintain a dedicated general staff for the purpose of war provisions and plans. We do know what we are doing.”

Tafun sighed, “Would you like to lay out the ‘new’ contents of XXVI, then?” He reached out, taking the folder in hand and quickly skimming through its contents. “I will give this to our own general staff later for their appraisal. Can you please summarize it, for this meeting?”

He nodded. “The northern fronts remain the same -- we will have to preemptively strike before their regular army can fully mobilize to the Kratorian southern border. The south, however, will focus on a looser front line, dictated mainly by smaller skirmishes and raiding parties on Uruk soil. To back them up will be a more dedicated frontline in the petty states between Rotteburg and Uruk, minus Pohae -- under the condition they do not permit enemy troop movements through their borders.”

Tafun nodded, “Yes… the Realm and Pohae are close trade partners, I will do what I can to ensure neutrality from them. The standing army of the Realm has already been alerted to take up defensive positions, and the Raijen is in talks with the militias to begin the process of preparing for war. The people will not stand for the Realm undertaking operations in offense, I do hope you understand this?” Sighing, he gently closed the folder, “Strange as it is, as things are now the only way for the Realm to maintain a war is to fight it defensively. The populace will fight tooth and nail in defense of their homes, but the wars with the other powers were only forty years ago, much of our populace bear scars mental and physical. We will support you, but… in the beginning at least, we cannot send much in the way of direct support. Material, money, these we can do.”

The ambassador simply responded, “Then do so. The fate of the world hangs in the balance, and should the machinations of the diplomatic state fail us, then the loser loses everything. We cannot afford to fail.”

“Indeed…” Tafun mumbled, steepling his fingers, “I hope deeply it is not yet too late, but the realist in me says otherwise. I do not know how this war will go, but you are correct. Failure is not something we can afford.” He sighed again, deeper, “Fools the lot of them.”

“History will remember us all as unequal to our forebears should war break out. In the eyes of history, failure marks us all the fools,” the ambassador simply responded gravely.

Tafun stood, stretching his arms, as he looked out the window on the busy city, “Unfortunately my forebears were some of the more warlike persuasion. There is a time when war is necessary, but that is not now. It saddens me that the world may rush headlong into war when it could be avoided. But every day that seems more and more likely.”

He simply responded, “Our forebears used war effectively, without collapsing our global hegemony and peace. I fear our generation will not live up to that.”

“Our generation has the blessing and curse of a world more connected, more advanced than ever before. A hundred years ago, we could have scarce imagined the world as it is today - I can board a ship and be on the other side of the world in under a month. I can step outside and buy goods from every corner of the globe. And I can send a message to any corner of the world in but an instant. A train can send a battalion of soldiers to the front in less time than it would have taken a single rider to cover half the distance. The era of a small, localized war is gone, I am afraid. It is no failing of our morals or intellect that any war will surely spiral out of control - it is a direct result of our intellect connecting us like never before.” Turning back to the ambassador, Tafun shook his head, “The challenge of our generation, faced with this, is something we have never had to confront before.”

“Then let us hope we are ready to meet this modern world,” is all he said.

We are~

That goes for everyone! If it says open, we're open!
January 18. Kera-Bijan.

“Through fire are you redeemed,” intoned the priest, voice somber and monotone. It carried across the humble room, echoing and traveling along the walls, until the entire room was a symphony of his voice.

“Through fire am I redeemed,” said Satrap Kazosh, in a whisper. The priest removed a leather pouch from his robes, and from it produced a pinch of blue dust, that of crushed magic crystals. He flung it into the brazier in front of him, and the fire blazed up, spewing from it sparks of red and blue and yellow.

“Through water are you cleansed,” said the priest, pulling out another pinch. However, he stopped, hearing the sound of approaching footsteps. “Let us finish this another time, Honored,” he said. Satrap Kazosh’s hand went to his beard, as it tends to do, and the priest went to the door. “Ah, ambassador. I welcome you in. Please, no consumption of substances within the temple room.”

Ambassador Tofku, a tall woman of formidable build, inclined her head, “My deepest apologies, Satrap. I would not intrude upon you in your personal time if I did not think it necessary. The matter can wait, should you need to finish, but please - this is not something that can go unaddressed.” She nodded too, at the priest, “My apologies to you too, herbad.”

“I shall leave you two alone,” said the priest, nodding his head and exiting. The door thumped, and like the priest’s voice, carried itself to all the corners of the chamber. Satrap Kazosh stood up, and scratched at his hairy chin.

“You interrupt nothing. This is more for me than it is for the gods. Perhaps you had not heard, but relations within the Excellency's council is a bit . . . strained. I can ask their forgiveness on my own time. What, may I ask, is this matter that is so pressing?”

“I had heard, and it to some extent the reason for my being here. I trust you know of the assassination of Satrap Bahar, yes?” She asked, taking no time to slow, assuming him to already be informed of the matter, “I have been given information that indicates there may be more to her death than… well, I apologize in advance, it would seem there is more to it than the usual backstabbing amongst the Kehmeyids. Obviously, you know of her opposition to involvement in the West - something that, informally, I can completely understand - my sources tell me this, rather than any jockeying for power or wealth is the motivation behind her death. It is my concern that you too, Satrap, may be at risk.”

She frowned, “My source cannot tell me much, but claims to have been present during Bahar’s assassination - I cannot divulge his identity, I fear, but he claims to have overheard her killer speaking to her, and mention of Bahar’s ‘treason’. I am afraid I do not have much more than that, and I waited as long as I could stand, for the reliability of his memory was somewhat in doubt. I have had a doctor examine him, and she tells me he is of sound mind.”

“I hadn’t even realized Satrap Bahar was dead,” Kazosh said. “Your informant got lucky. Very lucky, to have both seen and heard such a murder taking place. The orchestrator must be either very stupid or very desperate.” He looked over at the fire, as it continued to burn on the brazier, and an expression of relief washed over his face. “There was a time, during the wars with Qaroitn, when a satrap passed at the hand of another as quickly as Shah Sannes could appoint them. We have taught ourselves as a people too well to kill without hating, to disassociate the action of taking life with the action of seeking vengeance. The killer did not hate his victim. He had something to gain. That would be . . . a half or more of every satrap in Zanateyin and the provinces of the shahdom. You’ll need more than petty hearsay for the Storm Guard to take any of your words for truth.”

“Then, satrap, I ask your assistance in finding the identity of her murder. That my source heard mention of treason tells me this is no minor disagreement over some small economic policy. That her death came so soon after leaving the council, and… the em, manner of her death. If what my source says is correct, she was rather violently dismembered, much of her body thrown for alley cats and dogs to devour. I may not be of Kera-Bijan myself, but such an extreme action tells me this either runs deep between them, or is a matter of considerable severity.” She frowned, “I have told my eyes and ears to listen and watch extra closely, but I nevertheless advise you, and perhaps I, take care where we step. Perhaps the killer may yet give themselves away.”

“Perhaps. Only the gods may know,” Kazosh sighed. He tugged at the loose strings of his beard with an idle hand, combing a hand through them. “Might I say, your Bijani is very good. Few westerners would honor us by learning our tongue, and thus we for the most part have taken to learning Rahuri ourselves.”

“Perhaps indeed, I shall keep my ears open, and I humbly ask you do the same. And please, take care where you step. I was not well acquainted with Bahar, but I did not know her to be one to take unnecessary risk.”

At his compliment, Tofku inclined her head, a small smile playing at her lips, “It is expected of any ambassador to know the native tongue of the people with whom they treat. Additionally, any ambassador is required to have a basic knowledge of the tongues of Kratoria, Cethos, Rotteburg, Anvegad, and Uruk. I have hired one of your own as a personal tutor as a matter of fact, to ensure my accent and pronunciation are as close as possible to that of the capital. I have also been studying the major regional dialects, just in case. It is in poor taste, after all, to come to a country ignorant of their language and customs.”

Her smile turned into a broad grin, “I thank you, though. I and dare I say, the Realm as a whole, pride ourselves on learning, and that extends to language - I know many at home who study Bijani, and are quite fluent in it. If there is a known language, I assure you, someone in the Realm has made it their task to write down everything about it.” Smiling wider, she continued, “That said, there is something to Bijani that makes it a delightful language to speak. I would be happy to show you my practice on Bijani calligraphy sometime, satrap.”

“I’d be honored,” Kazosh said. He bowed to the ambassador. “Thank you for the offer, as well as the warning. I will consider them both deeply. Now, if you would excuse me, I must make my peace with the gods. No doubt they are disappointed in me for my giving in to anger.”

Etremaden Ambassador informs Satrap Kazosh of Bahar's death, they discuss the matter, and calligraphy
January 8, 1910
Outskirts of Tresaii, Realm of Etresna

Ahead loomed the Forum. A tall, imposing building of pyramidal design endemic to Etremaden architecture, but adorned with the old Kratorian style of marble statues and engraved columns. The Forum had been erected well outside the city limits of Etremetoryy, and its ostentatious display had been a source of contention within the Realm when it was first laid out, seventy years prior. Yearly construction was underway, renovating the building with more modern conveniences and amenities. The building served not only as a neutral ground for secure diplomatic negotiation between the two rival powers, that was a new development. In its first days, the building had been designed as a space for Etremaden and Kratorian scholars and holy people to gather and exchange ideas, work together to solve pressing global issues, and to this day it was full of many of those same minds. Now though, a wing of the building had been set aside for diplomatic affairs, soundproofed and under heavy guard at all hours of the day.

Azhis sighed - rarely had she stepped foot in this building in the past few years for any good reasons, and this day was no exception. A dark cloud seemed cast over all she had seen, and nobody lounged outside, the shaded reflecting ponds were bereft of their usual inhabitants, older men and women debating, arguing, or reminiscing by the water. The guards had been doubled on all sides, Kratorian and Etremaden, and it was with great reluctance that she stepped from her vehicle, making her way into the structure. A convoy of Kratorian vehicles, with their elaborate decorations and ornately-attired attendants, was already there.

Great works of sculpting, pottery, and painting adorned the walls of the Forum. Exotic plants from every corner of both the Empyreum and Etresna graced its open-air garden. Artifacts such as suits of Empyreal armor or vintage Etremaden cannons were prominently displayed. Truly, the Forum was a place of art, history, and learning. A bastion of knowledge and understanding between two great world powers. And yet there were no hymns sung or poems recited in its normally inviting halls. No young scholars or groups of schoolchildren toured the exhibits. There was scant evidence of the priests and mystics, philosophers and scientists, artists and orators, that made the Forum their residence. Save for Kratorian and Etresnan soldiers staring each other down, the chambers and halls were empty. Sometimes a lone scholar would pass by, but only ever with their eyes downcast and in a hurry. One Kratorian nun seemed to be muttering a prayer.

It was in this foreboding atmosphere that Etresna’s military leader entered the council chamber. Unlike the rest of the Forum, the chamber had no natural lighting and relied on half electronic lights and half illumination crystals. Each half of the room was decorated in Etremaden and Empyreal style, from the floor beneath them to the ceiling above. Even the table was bisected in such a manner, horizontally arranged across the space with two head seats facing each other and several others in between. The Kratorian side of the table was hard black wood with intricate symbols. The head seat was carved into the likeness of a dragon. Praetorian Knights lined the walls in their white armor, swords at their side and pistols on thigh holsters. The Etresna side of the table was already mostly filled, Azhis having arrived last.

A handful Kratorian nobles sat alongside the table, those of greatest prominence seated next to the Empyreal at the head of the table. Ser Barris Paeston was present, a representative of the Empyreal blacksmithing guild and his cousin Primarch Phaeston, the Iron Lord. Archsage Demetrius Pallenis, the leader of the Kratorian scholars in residence at the Forum sat across from him. Chanter Cassandra, head cleric of the local Unitarian Convent was dressed in her priestly raiment. Lord Dekton, the Empyreal Ambassador to Etresna and decorated veteran, sat at the position of honor to the dragon-seat’s right. A Knight Praetor with a golden plume, a captain of the venerable order, stood just behind the seat. All of the Kratorians rose respectfully at Azhis’ entrance.

All except Princess Ariel, who bowed her head but did not rise. The Princess was Alexander’s youngest daughter, yet unmarried and one of the most celebrated beauties of the Empyreum. But also was she highly regarded in the art of diplomacy, and so served as the nation’s youngest Lady Herald at the age of eighty, though she looked like a girl who hadn’t yet reached her second decade. She was stunning in her dark red dress, her long black hair done in a traditional Kratorian braid. The Princess smiled slightly at Azhis, meeting her gaze with her golden eyes, and said, “It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance once more my lady. Now that you are here we may begin in earnest. I won’t stand on ceremony, I have arrived fresh from Empyreapolis at my father’s command.”

She took in those around the table before saying, “If swift action, is not taken soon, our nations will once again clash. We must stop this violence before it starts. Or else this time, the whole world will bleed.”

Anukadi, who had given Azhis a look of dissatisfaction as the latter arrived late, once again, turned to the princess, nodding. “Yes. We have been leaning upon the Kaiser to be calm, and not to rush needlessly into war. Uruk has, of course, not been conciliatory in the actions of their… ally, and Tsuljin itself seems desperate to, if anything, provoke the Kudruni.” She sighed, drumming her fingers upon the silver inlaid wood of the table, images still clear in her mind of the carnage even decades ago, hundreds of thousands dead or wounded in the last conflict between the Realm and the Empire. She had not served on its front lines, but had been deployed to the region to oversee the engineering aspects of rear echelon supply and logistics within one of the theatres of operation. As with every other citizen of the realm, though, the grainy photography taken in the aftermath of the battles had seared a bloody brand into her memory, and as she considered the modern weapons they now held, the prospect of war terrified her.

Azhis spoke up, “Forgive my lateness, Princess, Raijen. I have been overseeing the deployment of more security to our embassies abroad, as well as other pressing matters, though I must apologize, for such does not excuse my lateness. With your permission, I would like to remind the Kaiser’s own military advisors of the importance the Realm plays in his own nation’s security and prosperity, and of the horrors a war would unleash not only upon his own nation, but uncountable lives across the world.”

Silence reigned for a moment before Anukadi gave her a tacit nod, before returning her attention to the Princess. “We are doing what we can to restrain the Kaiser, but I must implore you - your own nation must do what you can to keep Uruk - and by extension Tsuljin - in check. There is no time for keeping information behind closed doors, hoping to gain something from this crisis. The Prince’s assassination has thrown Rotteburg into an uproar not seen for four decades, and their army is mighty for sure. Were they to attack Tsuljin, Uruk, as we know, will retaliate. Such will draw both our nations into the fray, and those other allies of ours otherwise uninvolved. The dominoes are lined up, and I fear for the ramifications should they begin to fall. The world will bleed, yes, but bleeding may be the least of its concerns.”

The Princess took a sip from the chalice, pure Empyreal nectar, and replied, “There are many at home who share our concerns. My esteemed colleagues will no doubt testify that endless scores of clerics and sages both call for a cooling down of hostilities. Not to mention the trade guilds.” Ariel nodded at Ser Barris.

The broad-shouldered, barrel-chested man looked out of place in a business suit and his booming voice filled the whole room, “Yes. A war would disrupt the world economy immeasurably. We’ve come to welcome Etresnan iron in our foundries. Just as you’ve come to appreciate our custom, I’m sure. Violence is bad for the populace, but so is economic decline. Our people have not known shortages in supplies or jobs in many generations. Rest assured that the guilds will do everything in their power to see this peaceably resolved.”

The Archsage, a tall grey-eyed man with silver hair, interjected, “Not all I’m afraid. I’m sure the fletchers’ and armorer’s guilds would welcome a little blood-letting. Even if war did not break out, brinksmanship is in their best interest and they’ll be exercising their influence in the Senate. Speaking of which, there are more than a few Senators who fought Etresna and Rotteburg in wars past. Many jockey for glorious vengeance. Even the Chantry isn’t free of such influence.”

Chanter Cassandra, exuding virginal innocence and long-lived experience at the same time, nodded gravely, “This is true. I chant for peace and reconciliation. But there are wandering preachers and grand clerics both who call for justice to be paid to Rotteburg. They follow the Pantheon, but many see their customs of doing so as being heathenry. They wish for the Hierarch to call for exalted crusade against Rotteburg.” She paused and looked at the Etremaden, “And against Etresna. For the sacrileges of the past and offenses of the present, they say.”

Ariel grimly added, “Those voices are present on the Council as well. They wish for my father to throw in with the Uruks, not rein them in. Soon it will be a chorus. And as you well know, Alexander has no great love for either of your peoples. Avoiding this war will be a fight in itself and I welcome suggestions.”

Grim faced, Anukadi listened to the Kratorian delegation, their sentiments echoing many of her own advisors. “Seems we are not so different in yet another way. While many of my people oppose war - we too have many who remember the wars with Kratoria in the past, including myself - there are those who seek ‘glory on the field’, among other bellicose language. While we do not hold grudges as long, our memory stretches back far too, and some still champ at the bit to avenge Daskan’s defeat, over a century ago. We too live long lives - perhaps not as long, and even now some who fought in that war live on, angry at Kratoria.” She shook her head, sighing. “I am not a warrior, and I have no taste for it. It is an ugly matter, a view I have done my best to impress upon some of my colleagues. As for the concept of crusade - victory against Rotteburg might be feasible, but it would cost both sides dearly, and for what gain? Victory against the Realm…” she raised an eyebrow, “I do not mean to seem boastful, but I think we both know such a war between our two nations would result in naught but another stalemate, far bloodier than the last.”

Another voice joined, a small framed man with deep crimson eyes, a long beard woven into an intricate pattern of pleats and braids adorning his chin, and prominent horn rimmed glasses perched atop his nose. “Economically, many in the Realm would also benefit from war.” He nodded to the Archsage, “The Raijen and many of us have pushed for peace, and prosperity, and the Realm has devoted most of its spending to peaceful, domestic pursuits. It has borne fruits that have made our cities clean, safe, and prosperous - but many se’Khyur have been spurned by this trend. Some of our most ancient and venerable have their roots in martial pursuits, and they push for war - or at least, for greater military spending. I have promised to secure for them greater military contracts in the future, but they are not placated.”

Azhis, having taken her seat, nodded to the man. “Yes, you are correct, Iuvalle.” Turning to the Kratorians, she continued, “The death of the Prince has only inflamed such sentiments, though their bellicosity is aimed more at the Uruk than your own nation. All of our nations have, evidently, begun the mobilization process - but many se’Khyur have already begun to go further, as you are doubtlessly aware, and they have sunk funds into overhauling old munitions factories and spooling the modernized factories up. They expect war, with Uruk if nothing else, and it has been a gargantuan struggle to hold them back.”

“What all this means is that we are in no better shape than you, when it comes to averting catastrophe.” Anukadi groaned, “I am sadly bereft of solid suggestions. The most we can do, I think, is to exert what influence we can upon those nations directly involved in belligerent action - I beseech you, do all that you can to reign Uruk and their upstart puppet in. Perhaps threat of military abstention from their conflict will make them see reason. It is with the strength of both of our own nations that they rush headlong at each other, and should we threaten them with taking away that support they count on, and will desperately need… perhaps disaster can be avoided.” Her expression darkened, “But I do not know how much we can dangle the threat of our withdrawal from our alliances before compromising international standing, and undermining the integrity we depend on.”

“Both of our nations are host to proud peoples, and I do not think either of them would brook a peace solely for the benefit of other nations. No, speak to them of averting war of the sake of their children, their loved ones. A war would mean uncountable dead - many of them Kudruni for sure, but many Kratorian. I do not ask you openly declare any threat of withdrawal of support, such would be an absurd request, and I do not think there is anyone in this room who would urge such action. My intention is private pressure, a reminder to our allies that their strength has much to do with their association with our respective nations. Should we inform them in private that we may find it… ‘difficult to provide military aid for hawkish endeavors’ or however you might phrase it, they may yet see reason.”

Lord Dekton, to this point silent finally spoke. His sharp cheekbones and jaw and grey eyes, framed by deep brown hair, were a familiar sight to the Etremaden as the local Consul. His tone was measured, deliberate, “We will do everything within our power to curtail war. Priests will sing hymns of peace. Poets and artists will construct works of reconciliation. Orators and philosophers will talk of prosperity in calm and brotherhood. Writers and journalists will craft editorials in newspapers. Senators will debate on the floor for aversion of conflict. Mercenaries and toughs will beat rabble-rousers and firebrands. Lords and knights will send missives to their Archons asking for cool heads to prevail. We will cajole, beckon, beguile, bribe, threaten, deceive, entreat, and seduce anyone and everyone we have to and many we don’t in order to get this message heard.”

The lord, who looked no older than forty but whose eyes betrayed a century of politics and intrigue continued, “Make no mistake. Everything we will do, the Warlord and those of his mind will do to encourage war. I served in the last war between our nations, as did many of them. I witnessed the horrible slaughter. But whereas that made me wish to avert bloodshed, to build peace and even perhaps concord, it filled others hearts with fury and hate. We have been beaten, but true defeat is an alien concept to my people. However, the honor of battle is one of our most venerated ideals.”

Dekton looked Anukadi in the eyes, “Even if we did not win, if glory was won and heroism proved, than many Kratorians will have considered it a worthwhile enterprise. Especially the young who have not had their war, as every generation of our race has had one. They pray for immortalization through valor. This is the philosophy we contend with. Even without the considerations of politics.”

Ariel shook her head ruefully, “You must also make sure that Cethos or their lapdogs do not take advantage of the international chaos. The Lord Governor on Pandorum is already raising his levies in anticipation of raids. Many of the subjects of Uruk’s new empire are descended from those in our old one. We have political, religious, and cultural connections and we will exert them strenuously to avoid blood but tensions are high. We can’t let Cethos ignite them.”

Ariel took another sip of nectar, her expression pensive now, “And we must convince my father to listen to our voices and not those who call for action. He stands at a crossroads, equally liable to side with us and with the hounds of war. We must find a way to sway him to our way of thinking. He has no love for Rotteburg and he has always distrusted Etresna, since the death of my grandmother. Most of my siblings and other kin are also rather less sympathetic than I am to either of your peoples. I fear it may be far too easy for him to agree with war.”

“Yes, the Peacemaker.” Anukadi sighed, steepling her fingers. “I wish I could tell you more, but I can do naught but say again what has been said countless times before. The Realm had nothing to do with her death. A monument in her likeness stands outside this very building. I will not pretend all those in the Realm wished her well, but our concerns have lain with our immediate neighbor, and the Realm stood only to benefit from peace with Kratoria. I have tried time and again to explain this. But my words fall on deaf ears. His enmity with Rotteburg, however, is perfectly understandable. Many of my own people resent them, we lost many in the fields alongside their own dead, and our participation in their war with Kratoria cost the Realm no small amount of treasure. That Kratoria, and its ruler, hold even greater distaste for them is only to be expected.”

“Regardless, Cethos can be restrained with far greater ease than Rotteburg. They are in no direct involvement in this war, and the Cethosi are no fools, they are not blinded by rage as the Kudruni are.”

Before Anukadi could continue, there was an urgent knock at the door, and the Etremaden guards stiffened at the noise. Clad in considerably less aesthetic attire than their counterparts, they were outfitted with thick plates of hardened steel covering their chests, plain grey uniforms crisply starched beneath their equipment. Two of them hurried to the door, opening it after a brief exchange of hurried muttering.

In bustled a young man, a sheet of paper clutched in his hand as he made his way to the Raijen, inclining his head before offering her the paper, bowing out of the room just as quickly as he had come.

Anukadi scanned the paper, he expression darkening swiftly. “Grave news. A Rotteburger settlement on the border with Tsuljin has, according to this missive, been annihilated in a raid conducted by Uruk partisans alongside the Tsuljin greenskins themselves. One survivor claims to have seen a Kratorian, Argentum or Aeruca unknown, among them during the attack.” She looked up at them, “The Kudruni then, when sweeping the village, found the coat of Prince Wilem, bullet holes and all, planted in the village temple.”

She folded the paper, neatly setting it down. “The Kaiser wishes to inform me and the world at large that Rotteburg demands the execution of those soldiers involved in this raid, in addition to the previous demands for the execution of all involved in the assassination of his son.”

Ariel frowned at the news, as did all the other Kratorians, though they did not not seem particularly surprised at the news. The mood changed from one of cautious optimism to something far more bleak. Ariel replied, “Unconfirmed reports, but much sooner than even I anticipated. I’ll have the Inquisition get to the bottom of this. Though you must know in advance Raijen, that the chances of us acquiescing to the Kaiser’s request to be very remote, even if the rumors are true. A Kratorian, much less a noble, would never be extradited to Rotteburg. They would be tried by an Empyreal Magistrate if they are ever caught. I don’t suppose you could try to persuade the Kaiser to accept this?”

“I would expect nothing less, and would do nothing less myself, Princess. Were it Etremaden involved in this… act, no power in heaven or on earth could force myself, or the Realm, to accept the trial of one of our citizens by a foreign court. The Kaiser will know this too, I am sure. Whether I can convince him to accept this…” She grimaced, “I do not think so, no. He is outraged, rightly so it must be said, and in his anger he seems bereft of all reason.” She looked up to the Princess, “I do not think war can be averted at this rate. The Kudruni and Greenskins seem determined to tear each others’ throats out.”

Ariel sighed, “It is time like these one almost wishes for another Morghul Scourge to appear. At least then, we could compel the lands to unite. We face a sisyphean task but we must undertake it all the same.” The Princess looked around to her countrymen who nodded back, “No further time can be wasted. We must to our duties now. I leave for Pohae, to reassure the city that no harm will befall them from Kratorian arms so long as they maintain neutrality. You may not know our gods, but perhaps they will favor you with success in peacemaking all the same.”

The Kratorians stood, filing out of the room with respectful farewells, all save for Ariel and her Praetorians. The Princess waited until her and the Raijen’s parties were the only people present. Ariel curtsied the Etremaden ruler and said, “I believe you when you say the Realm was not behind my grandmother’s death. But… if you have some disgraced soldier or politician, some condemned traitor or seditious malcontent or a group of such that you would be better served without…. well, better you send us heads than we send each other armies. Consider it, my lady. I hope that the next time we meet, it will not be as enemies.”

With that the demigod princess stepped out of the room, her red dress flowing across the floor like a pool of blood.
January 2, 1910
Tsuljin Khanate

A clear, bright day in the nation of the Tsuljin Khanate. Nary a cloud marred the sky as the squealing of train brakes sounded through the busy station. Several insectoids, each carrying two rifles, stepped off the train, clearing a path through the crowd. Once they had done so, another wasplike person stepped off the train. They surveyed the crowd, looking for their driver.

After a moment, the crowd parted with some scuffling and muttered swearing, to reveal a small column of three open topped cars, each with a contingent of six greenskins marching in stiff lockstep on either side. In two of the cars sat more greenskins, clad in crisp, starched uniforms and staring straight ahead, showing nary a trace of emotion. In the front car sat a Kudruni driver, similarly emotionless, and behind him sat the delegate of Tsuljin, smiling warmly. The soldiers standing by the sides of the second car parted, and two of them knelt, gesturing to the car.

Wilem, the prince of Rotteburg, son of the Kaiser, stepped off the platform, walking through the clearing in the crowd. He made his way to the motorcade, entering the second car, hesitating for a moment at the sight of the greenskinned driver. Wasn't his driver supposed to be Kudruni? Whatever the case, it would only hurt matters to make a fuss, so he kept quiet. The Kudruni soldiers that came with him piled into the cars surrounding him.

Making no sound, the drivers of the cars shifted their vehicles into gear, and ponderously set off. At first, things went normally, the column of soldiers walking in front clearing the gathered crowd with minimal difficulty, though shouts and jeers abounded. A mile passed in relative ease, the shouting eventually fading into a dull background roar. There were bigger concerns lying ahead - the imposing limestone fortifications of the central citadel, dating back three hundred years, loomed ahead. Within them lay the task of treaty enforcement - it was crucial for the stability of the region, the wellbeing of Rotteburg, that Tsuljin not unite with their neighbor, or be subsumed into the wider expanse of Uruk.

A decade ago, the Reich had intervened, their armies marching westwards and forcing the signing of the original treaty - Tsuljin and Ushro would swear not to seek unification, nor to be annexed or in any way controlled by the looming behemoth of the Uruk Empire. Today the treaty would be renegotiated, ensuring stability and peace in the region, and a chance for Rotteburg to continue to grow strong without greenskin threat to the we-

An abrupt, lurching jolt brought the middle car to a halt, a deafening crack echoing around the square, and the car sagged slightly, one of its wheels now rolling aimlessly about. The axle had snapped, somehow, and many of the soldiers guarding the vehicle tensed, almost imperceptibly. After a moment's pause, the driver sighed, hopping out from his seat and scurrying underneath the car. A stream of muttered curses followed, too fast and muffled to make out.

A minute passed with minimal movement from anyone, before an officer of Tsuljin stepped forward, inclining his head slightly towards Prince Wilem, and gesturing to the front car. "If it please your majesty, we will be continuing without this car." He bowed his head once more, and stepped aside.

Wilem simply nodded, allowing the door to his car to be opened. He stepped out, looking around.

A commotion stirred within the crowd, a few more muttered curses, and a single yell - out from the crowd burst a wild eyed troll, brandishing a large revolver. It happened in the blink of an eye - the troll's eyes locked onto the prince, and he grinned maniacally. "Death to tyrants!" He shouted in the dialect common throughout Tsuljin, and fired, one, twice, both bullets slamming home into the gut of the Prince. Immediately, over half of the greenskin guard turned, planting bayonets into the necks and stomachs of the Kudruni soldiers, and the crowd exploded in a cacophany of shrieking, shouting, and fighting. Many surged forwards, tackling the young assassin, but many more beat them down, rushing forwards in a wall of flesh, surrounding the prince and his entourage.

The Kudruni portion of the entourage -- what was left -- yelled warnings into the crowd, and when they did not back off, the officer in charge ordered the soldiers to fire at will. In the maelstrom of the mob, the soldiers opened fire without hesitation, each with both of their rifles. Bodies began to fall as the crowd attacked the entourage and was shot and stabbed in return.

The shots served only to enrage the crowd, and many of those who had tried to shield the wounded prince turned to flee, or joined the tidal wave of greenskins. Thousands poured in, where one fell dead, a hundred joined the throng, kicking, punching, clawing, goring with tusk and tearing with teeth. The prince, bleeding out his life's blood, was pulled from his guard by the mob, and they began to do the same, wholly out of control by this point. He was kicked, mauled, his stomach opened with the tusks of a troll, his arm shattered in the grip of five more. The crowd screamed and shouted, jeering at him - he would die here, there was no doubt of that.

Upon losing the prince, the officer ordered the remaining soldiers to throw their stick grenades into the crowd, in one last desperate attempt to disperse them. The soldiers obeyed, throwing the grenades into throngs of people in between their shooting and stabbing. The grenades went off, sending fragmentation into the greenskins.

Screaming, crying, and howls of pain rose from the crowd, the explosions tearing bloody swathes through their ranks and, for a moment, the crowd withdrew in shock, the Prince’s body nowhere to be seen - but their anger resurged, and they fell back on the soldiers with twice the fury of before.

Gradually, the shooting went silent as the Prince’s escort were overwhelmed. Silence fell upon the square as the magnitude of what had occurred seemed to sink in with all around. The eerie stillness blanketed the air, the sun shined on, the clouds dared not to marr what had before been a beautiful day.

Of the assassin there was nothing to be seen. Perhaps he had been trampled in the crush of bodies, perhaps spirited away by quick thinking countrymen. His work was done, in this life, or whatever next life there was, he would know that.

By the end of the day, news of the event would cascade around the world, and the die were cast.
So, for anybody who is wondering - this RP is very much alive. We've been on hibernating for a bit, expecting players to finish sheets over break, but that never materialized... as such, we will be beginning our war to end all wars (for a few years) as soon as possible! Anybody interested in this is welcome and encouraged to express their interest and join our discord server! We have lots of lore and a lot of nerds of the friendly type eager for new players on our little international stage.
@Willy Vereb

A good point, thank you for the reminder!
After some hiatus, we're resuming recruitment on this - we've lost some players due to inactivity or schedules, and I'm now resolved to get this thing rolling for real!
Farewell, all.

I too, hope to see y'all in another RP some day.
Firuzeh and Kargad Begin Their Murder Picnics

Firu and Kargad Murder Picnic #1

Firuzeh flashed a look to her side, her breathing quickening as she felt the rush of adrenaline surge through her body, her teammates were beginning to act, Khosin charging into the Kett as though seeking as quick a death as possible. She grinned to herself, relishing the battle soon to come. "Right then." She called to Kargad, biotic energy swirling around her, "Down with the big ugly!"

She charged at the enemy, slamming into a nearby Chosen, driving her armored fist into its chest, biotic energy swirling around her arm. She felt the bony plates covering it crack and splinter under the impact, and she allowed herself a small moment of satisfaction as she saw its broken form hurled from her, lying dead in a crumpled heap against a rock.

Hefting her weapon, she unleashed a torrent of gunfire upon the Fiend, trying to draw the beast away from the main firefight, out of the danger zone for her squadmates, where she and Kargad could take down the thing. She grimaced, watching the bullets slam home into the thing's armored side to minimal effect, and doubled down, aiming to the best of her ability for the exposed sections on its back.

Out of the corner of her eye, however, she caught sight of another Chosen taking aim with its rifle, and she felt two rounds impact her shields in the split second it took her to dodge out of the way, before countering with another charge, her gun hissing as the heat sink overloaded, the hail of gunfire reducing the bony carapace surrounding its head to an unrecognizeable mound. Whirling around, she refocused on her primary target, the Fiend.

Kargad had remained in Firu's dust for a short moment, mouth hanging open as he tried (and failed) to think of some way to respond to Naryxa. He at least wanted to appear to be entertaining the prospect of a totally tactical approach, but he found it difficult to reach for the words when he was meeting her gaze. Something about her energy towards him after that morning's exercise seemed... hostile, almost. It made his hump itch, in that way uncomfortable situations always did. But the awkwardness only lasted a sharp moment - in the instants after Firu had left, Kargad mutely shrugged, jaw still slack, and then hastily pursued her.

He made similar movements across the battlefield, cloaking himself in a familiar field of glowing blue, which moved about him with the rising weightlessness of a neon smoke. He knew himself to be slow - but when he charged, he looked as quick as he did dangerous. He zig-zagged towards Firu's position, jumping between (and subsequently hammering) two Chosen, uppercutting the second with momentum enough to behead it, and send its head sailing over the battlefield. Kargad took half a second to appreciate the spectacle- it's the small things in the universe that make you appreciate the grand design- and then found his footing a jump left of his tag-team Fiend wrestling partner. He stowed his hammer and brought up his Mattock - incendiary rounds on, of course, why spoil the trend?

Although battles often left him hot beneath the plates, this battle was not one of them, not yet. Not until he was wrestling this fiend, his arm around its neck. The closest he might ever come to fighting a beast fit for Tuchanka again. So Kargad found his calm - on the advice of everybody else- and found himself just a little less embarrassed of his high impact, low heat gun... small though it was. He felt the sand shift beneath his feet as he changed his stance, and took his aim - and then began to try and hammer away at the spaces between the Fiend's plates.

Over the rattle of gunfire, Kargad yelled to his left: "What do you suppose the odds are we can charge this bastard from either side and flatten it?"

Firuzeh looked at the Fiend standing between her and Kargad, and weighed the options available to her at that moment, her mind walling out the cacophany of gunfire as she poured ammunition into the beast standing between them. It was visibly weakening, the bullets slamming home and burying themselves within the thing's flesh clearly having some effect on it. As her gun beeped at her once more, venting steam as she ejected the glowing heat sink and slotted another in, she felt a surge in the bloodlust bubbling just beneath the surface, and grinned. "Let's do i-." She growled and then grunted, cutting off midsentence; her voice a markedly different one than that of a few minutes before, low, aggressive, a primal killing instinct creeping in, edging out the reason and logic that normally guided her. She felt her control slipping, and struggled to reign it in.

Shutting her eyes, she turned to the side, two Chosen once more attempting to flank the team, and charged at them, slamming a fist into the head of one, smiling to herself at the satisfactory snap of a neck, and turned to the other one, biotic energy swirling around her fist. The chosen lunged at her, lashing out with a blade of its own that missed her by a hair, and she grinned wider, the energy visible about her entire body as she sprinted forward, driving her fist, omni blade extended, into the thing's chest, pulling it out as blood droplets showered the sand beneath them, and plunging it into the eye before letting the corpse crumple to the ground. She looked back, and with the reflexes of a woman running on pure adrenaline, dodged the mad charge of the fiend as it barreled towards her, jump pack flaring as she cleared its path with less than a half meter between its outstretched claw and her legs.

Landing roughly, she stumbled, taking a moment to right herself and catch her breath.

"Kargad." She called through the radio ,"Let's kill this motherfucker."

Kargad, juxtaposed to the chaos before him, smiled collectedly. It had been a long spell- 600 years, even! - since he'd last had the chance to fight alongside somebody who enjoyed a good scrap quite so much as Firu seemed to. The thought warmed his heart. The thought, and the boiling blood rushing through his breast. War blood, the sort that rushed to a less secure Krogan's head. The sort that bred the blood rage.

Kargad hadn't felt that rage since Tuchanka. He found that it diminished his ability to appreciate the glorious brutality of battle. Tearing the limbs off of some alien behemoth lost its edge when viewed through a red haze. But he could recognise it in others - he could hear it in Firu's voice. There was a smile in his, as it crackled back to her through the comms: ""You've got quads for days, human - I like it."

Kargad's shape- now at the Fiend's hind- was visible for moments at a time as the beast kicked up dust, and sand. Desert dyed dark beneath its growing wounds. He was carefully returning his mattock to his back, and rolling the joint of his wrist about as he tested the weight of his hammer. Thought his next move through.
And then in the next instant he was in the air, engulfed in a voltaic fog and dropping like a stone: "Krogangram!"

Firu grinned, relishing the experience. She could tell, even through their somewhat limited communication, that she and Kargad gained the same enjoyment from the rush of battle and the death of an enemy. It had been too long since she'd shared something like that - over six hundred years - but even beforehand, only for a month or so had she known someone, Krogan or not, who relished the violence of battle but wasn't a mere brute.

"I don't think that's how biology works, but I'll roll with it." She shot back, her breathing steadying as she slipped once more into the calm serenity of pure bloodlust. Biotic energy began to swirl around her once more as she summoned all her might. "Tell you what, though, feel free to tell me all about quads after we've killed this thing. Wonder what it's got, might make a good trophy for that hammer!"

She too shouldered her weapon, the bulky machine gun nevertheless clipping tightly to the magnetized sections of her armor as another omni blade formed around her wrist, customized to match the devastating force her cybernetic arm could deliver. She looked enviously at the hammer Kargad held. Perhaps, if things ever cooled down enough, she could acquire something like that for herself.

And then she was gone, leaping into the air as Kargad did, jump pack flaring as it delivered her into a lofty position above her quarry, and a split second later she plummeted back down, biotic energy crackling around her as she hurtled forwards. She aimed for one of the weak spots on the creature's back, driving herself and by extension, her omni-bladed arm, into the exposed flesh bleeding profusely from the hail of gunfire it had been subject to. Grinning, she braced herself, driving into the Fiend with an unstoppable force behind her.

In an astounding show of biotic talent, Firu managed to land the first of the final hits on the thing - torrents of alien blood rising to meet Kargad as he brought his hammer down on the occipital portion of the rearing Fiend's head, bearing down with the the weight and momentum of a small but determined car. Then he heard it, the satisfying thunk-crack of his hammer breaking carapace, sending small, fine cracks across the beast's chitinous helmet, which broke further when Kargad landed on them, and clung to the struggling monster's shoulders.

For a second, Kargad felt satisfaction. Pride at a job survived. And then, dread. Because the thing was still moving - and now he'd mounted it. He reached forwards in a blind panic, grasping for any edge he could find, and seized the crusts of the Fiend's stony brow, then began to pull, wrenching the thing's head back with all of his might.
"C'... c'mon, you overgrown pyjack! We'll rip your head right off'a your shoulders!"

Firuzeh grimaced, her hand and forearm buried in the mangled flesh of the fiend, blood pouring over her. She wrenched her hand free, the omni-blade having already shattered and dissipated within, greenish blood flowing freely from the wound she had inflicted. And yet, the beast refused to die, and she flashed a look to her side, noticing Kargad struggling to finish it. She too was holding on for dear life as the thing bucked and shook ferociously, trying to fling the two of them from it, and she caught sight of Kargad's discarded hammer on the sandy ground below, making a split second decision.

Launching herself from the beast, she landed on the sand with an awkward and poorly practiced roll, jumping to her feet and dashing forward, seizing up the hammer. Again, the blue, whispy aura of biotic energy floated around her, and she launched herself into the air, jump pack flaring, taking aim at the thing's head. With a shout of pure adrenaline fueled, bloodthirsty glee, she hurtled forward at the thing's head, bringing down the hammer with every ounce of force she could muster.

Kargad was pulling the Fiend's head up with all he had, so when the hammer hit, like a meteor on a handy-dandy stick, it rocked the Fiend's skull forwards again with so much sudden force that it got whiplash. Tendons in its neck audibly snapped, muscles tore, and Kargad- yelling Krogan curses above it all- pulled it back again, twisting and jerking until skin, stretched to marking, finally began to tear about its throat, spewing black-green plasma from between the gaps. If Firu's last blow had broken the things neck, Kargad had just near torn its head off. Then it lurched, and Kargad- biotics at the ready- hurled himself in a blind charge to the desert floor, some few feet away. He struck solid ground just in time to hear their enemy collapse into the sand behind him, kicking up plumes of blood-dyed dust.

It took a few seconds for him to find his centre and rise to his feet again. He felt hot blood on his face. Copper. Why did every alien's blood seem to smell of copper? Was it all part of the same blueprint? He supposed it must have been. He plodded back over, breathing heavy, and then sharply kicked the unmoving beast in the jaw. The head pivoted back on a half-severed neck, but the life and fire in its eyes were gone. This creature had returned to the celestial furnace in which all things are forged.
He exhaled. A battle well fought. Then he scratched at the stony outcroppings of his chin, as he traced the torn flesh of its throat. The thing was half-way decapitated.
"Say, you were talkin' about trophies earlier, right? Think they'd let us hang this in the barracks?", Kargad asked, staring down at their war-crime with a balmy pride spreading between his eyes.

Grinning widely from ear to ear, Firuzeh paused in the midst of the raging firefight around them to admire their work, sheepishly passing back Kargad's hammer before responding. "Hmm... I don't know if it'll fit through the door, truth be told. Maybe if I distract them, though, you can drag it off somewhere and we can build a pyramid of kett skulls." She winked playfully, pulling her rifle from her back once more and scanning the rest of the fighting. "What say you though, work together and show the rest of 'em how it's done? Or should we get a contest going? See who can take down more of these uglies before the fight's over?"

Kargad, totally missing the joke, was already visibly designing a ziggurat of alien bones behind his eyes as he took back his hammer, and bounced it once or twice in his palm.
"Hard to say! On the one hand, you're real fun to work with," he supposed, smile wide and strangely warm, given it was celebrating a brutal combat kill. "But then, you did realign my jaw like a typewriter, so I figure - gotta earn my honour back somehow, right?"
He laughed, puffed out his chest, and struck it with his hammer.
"Bet's on!"

"I win, we get me one of those hammers. You win... Iunno, we'll jury rig a barbecue somewhere and I'll make whatever you want." She grinned, "Bet's on."
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