Recent Statuses

2 yrs ago
Current I change my status every year.
4 yrs ago
"You went to the Chaplain, who also kicked you out. How do you antagonize a Chaplain?"
1 like
4 yrs ago
Current status: Bumming cigarettes off of a Chilean guy.
5 yrs ago


I'm Evan and I like hard liquor, trashy EDM, and shooting things. On the side, I dabble in strategic analysis and I have a blast working through logistical planning.

I study nuclear engineering: It's basically a sophisticated counting exercise that usually ends up in two ways depending on if your math is right or not: either water boils or people die horribly.

Most Recent Posts

The Revenant
With @Athol

Sadaet had the data drive on his desk ready to plug in. Stryker had, rather sheepishly, knocked on his door and asked if he could help get into the device. His voice was stuttering like he was somewhere else, his cheeks were blushed, and he had been looking over his shoulder every few seconds: Sadaet, figuring that the captain was probably in a rush to get laid, took the drive and bid him a good night with a slight smirk. He shut the door and tossed it onto the table in the corner. In the room, particularly the closet, laid the Revenant’s internal networking hardware. Sadaet had lobbied Stryker to give him funds to purchase some computer equipment to set up a small, enclosed network within the ship that was totally isolated from any of the larger electronics and systems. He had reasoned that any collected intel was to be first tested and decrypted on this closed network to detect viruses or other malicious software before it could get to the ship. As advanced as cyber warfare and viruses had gotten, there was simply no way for it to jump to the ship if there were no physical or wireless connections to the main system.

The result was a mess of whirring and bleeping boxes in his closet that provided an almost comforting white noise at night. After years of fighting, Sadaet had developed an annoying case of tinnitus that kept his ears ringing if there wasn’t anything to drown it out. He liked to play music or one of his podcasts – usually something boring like economics or obscure scientific research – on his speakers to help him go to sleep at night. But, in a pinch, usually if he got too drunk to turn on the music, the server would at least keep the ringing from interrupting his sleep. It served the crew well, however, and Sadaet had used it to test out software before. At least a few of the devices picked up by the Revenant’s misadventures had some sort of anti-handling measures on it, so he felt a little bit of relief that they weren’t directly plugged into the ship. If SAL had plugged into the ship with some of those viruses in there, there would have been some nasty consequences for the crew when his target discriminators were overridden and he shot at everyone.

Sadaet had stubbed out a cigarette in his ashtray when he heard a ring come from the door. He looked up from his monitor and dropped his headset from his ears to his neck. The beat of lofi music was drowned out and he got out of his seat to answer it. The door slid open, and Sadaet made eye contact with Val. Sharing an equal height, he had to look her up and down to confirm that it was, indeed, the cyborg that he thought she was. He nodded his head: “How’re you doing? What do you need?”

“There’s something that needs to be decrypted, I came here because you have it,” she said simply.

“Well, I do,” replied Sadaet as he looked back towards the data drive that was on his desk. “If you want to help, then that’s good. I’ll let you take a spin on it.”

Val walked into the room silently, taking note of his eclectic decorations and surroundings. Sadaet hadn’t seen much of her since she came aboard with the crew and always considered her to be an introverted weirdo. He hadn’t really gotten to know her over a drink or several, and had his own preconceived notions about people who decided to replace their bodies with cybernetics. Regardless, he showed her the workstation where the drive was ready. “It smells awful in here,” she remarked upon sensing the faint odor of cigarette in the air.

“Well, the captain lets me do it in the room,” Sadaet quipped. “If you don’t like it, I’m sure you can turn that little robot nose off and be just fine.”

The computer spun up and blew through its welcome screen, before Sadaet scanned his fingerprint and offered up a password to get into the system. On its screen was a simple blank wallpaper that read in white letters on a red background: “TEST SYSTEM, DO NOT NETWORK.” He snatched the drive from his desk and searched for a cable with a piece of red tape around it, which he plugged into the drive. The system initialized its drivers and began talking to the piece of equipment in his hand, which he laid down. A file folder came up on the screen, with only one option to access the data inside. He tried clicking on it, but was instead met with a password lock. Sadaet closed that out and looked over at his second monitor, which was running the software tracking anything introduced into the system. So far, nothing was making its way through the fake network like a virus would. After Val cracked open the actual drive, he’d need to run a full scan on everything just to make sure, but it seemed alright for now.

Val stood a good distance behind him, observing the Solarian as he looked back. He scanned her and recognized her off-putting posture, hesitated for a second, but then pulled a cigarette out of an old mint tin in his pocket. He motioned for her to take one as well, but she gave him an icy look. He wondered if cigarettes, alcohol, or anything else that “mere mortals” like himself enjoyed did anything for her anymore, but didn’t voice his thought. Sadaet shrugged, lighting his cigarette with a silver-plated flip lighter and inhaling deeply. He finished setting up the continuous scan on his network and tapped his ashes into the ashtray beside his keyboard. The man stood back, bathed in the red light of the computer monitor, and pulled out the chair for Val with an inviting hand wave.

“It’s all set up… I suppose you can take a crack at it now,” he said.

Yeah because my drunk ass finally managed to take a post out of my WIP folder and do something kinda shitty with it...
Hrazdan, Armenia

A spinning drill press dipped into a plate of stock steel, clamped to a workbench, spraying cutting fluid and stringy metal chips onto the table. Under a machinist’s watchful eye, Jon’s steady hand raised it a bit before punching deeper into the piece. After three solid presses, he felt the drill bit break through and reset the machine. The motor spun to a stop before Jon came down to pry the piece out of its clamps and inspect it. It was the fourth hole for rivets on a plate designed to go inside one of the landships, designed and machined as an engine cover. Jon peered through the holes and ran his finger over the rough edges before turning to the older machinist watching his work. “So, I’m going to want to… deburr this now, right?” he asked, mentally following the checklist in his head. The instructor nodded and pointed him towards the toolbox. Jon went looking for the sandpaper, which he could use to grind down the sharp bits of metal around his newly-pressed hole.

While he did this, the door to the machine shop swung open and Andrei appeared with a clean-cut man in a green Army uniform. His shoulder bore a white brassard with “Reserve Affairs” stenciled across it, and he held a folder with paperwork in his hand. Andrei scanned the busy shop, with most of the machinists focused on their own pieces, and spotted Jon receiving his instruction. He led the man over and excused himself for bothering the lesson. The machinist nodded and turned back to his own station, letting the manager step up to speak to his intern. “How are you, Jon?” Andrei asked, sticking his hands in his pocket before nodded his head over to the soldier. Without asking for an answer, he added: “This is Sergeant Derzorian, part of the Hrazdan Garrison Reserve Forces. He wanted to speak to you.”

Jon’s heart dropped as he saw the papers in Sergeant Derzorian’s hand. Draft papers, from the seal. They could be sending him to Georgia. A million things raced through his mind as he looked up to the ambivalent soldier’s face: was the operation really going that bad? Was the going to the insurgency? Why are they authorizing reserve call-ups already? The Sergeant noticed this, shaking his head and placing an arm on the student’s shoulder. It felt awkwardly like he was trying to be paternal, but the sentiment didn’t quite line up. “Don’t worry,” he said matter-of-factly, “this isn’t about calling you up. Well, it is, but it’s for a temporary duty.”

He handed over the papers. They weren’t draft papers, but orders to a Category G assignment: activated Reservist troops. Jon flipped through the two front pages explaining what this meant as the soldier talked him through it: “You’re being activated to serve on a special task force of investigators here in Hrazdan,” he announced, much to Jon’s relief. “The orders give a brief description and we’ll give you a briefing later, but you were picked based on your ongoing education at Hrazdan University of Industry, current Reserve qualifications, and your current job in a military-related industry. We’re taking you and sending you with some other like people to the Nazarian Metalwork Facility, which has been contracted to produce steel helmets. These helmets were supplied to troops in Georgia and we’ve been noticing an increased failure rate in this factory’s batches. You’re looking into it, and the uniform is just there to give you a little more authority.”

The Sergeant asked if Jon had any questions, which he didn’t. Andrei shrugged when the reservist turned towards the door and said: “We’ll sort out your pay later. This isn’t that big of a deal, but we do have those laws to go through with reserve activations and all.”

Jon nodded. Even though this was more of a temporary summer job, the activation orders meant that management couldn’t fire him for being away from the office for however long the assignment took. Parliament passed protective laws a few years prior after a group of Artsakh veterans, many of them reservists returning from combat, struck in Yerevan to put heat on the politicians to correct the oversight. The government back then cowed and folded, as that administration had already gained a reputation for abandoning Armenia’s military in the conflict. The Artsakh, after all, had not been saved by an Armenian military defense: the Persian Shah’s deus ex machina of an invasion turned the tide on numerically superior Azeri forces.

Jon folded up the papers into quarters and put them in the linen shirt pocket on his chest, turning his attention back to the machinist. He finished up sipping his coffee at a station in the back and returned: “Reserve Affairs?” he asked inquisitively. He seemed almost hesitant to ask the next question, like he was convinced Jon was going off to some sort of frontline meat grinder: “Is everything alright?”

“It’s not a big deal. Temporary duty in Hrazdan for some investigation. I’m not a cop though, so I’m still a little hazy on it.”

They finished up their lesson, focusing on going through the motions with the drill press again. He didn’t have enough time or experience to maintain qualifications as a machinist, of course, especially now that the job was becoming increasingly more regulated by occupational safety and standards-oriented organizations. The exposure was mostly an attempt to get him familiar with the work processes for fabrication and maintenance so he could better manage the supply situation in a managerial role. Basic “literacy” with the machines would at the very least stop him from looking like a fool if he said the wrong things to his shop workers or tried to order difficult or impossible-to-produce parts. Overall, shop work was more interesting to him than the paperwork he had been doing in Andrei’s office or the inspections on workflow and the tank assembly line in the main hall of the factory. Already bored with college in his third year, he wanted to do things with his hands. Time in the shop scratched the itch for him. He washed his hands and hung his apron up on the rack by a row of lockers outside of the workshop floor. Nothing short of a shower would quite get the smell of cutting oil and grease out of his clothes and hands.

Jon checked out with his supervisor before heading home. He checked out his punch card, putting the stiff piece of paper back into its wooden holder with the eight hours he worked that day clearly logged. On a coatrack, his light leather jacket dangled. The summer was ending, and the chills of autumn had been whispering now that they were a week into September. The nights were getting cold enough for a light outer layer. A bicycle was chained up to a rack beside the entrance, where a factory worker was taking a smoke break. He wished Jon a good evening as he flicked his cigarette butt into the ashtray and looked up at the gathering clouds. The man remarked about how Jon should probably hurry home, before it started raining too hard. The student agreed, unlocking the chain around his bike’s frame and straddling the seat. With a kick forward to get him going, Jon cycled through to the front of the employee entrance and waved at the security guard in his booth before shooting past the gate and making a turn to head down the hill.

Tsaghkadzor Heavy Industry Plant quickly shrank into the distance as Jon coasted down the hill, past the murals on the walls surrounding the plant’s land that were so familiar to him. He had just about two weeks left of full-time employment before school started again, but Mr. Bagruntsian had wanted him to stay on part-time to handle administrative work. While his schedule wasn’t as busy this year, Jon told him that he would think about it: after all, he wanted to be with his social circle before graduating and moving on. Some of his friends were getting jobs in the west, especially in the burgeoning shipping and transportation centers like Trabzon or Van. Jon was content staying put in the military industry in Hrazdan: at least it was close to home. He mulled over these thoughts as the hill flattened out and the city began densifying again. Small warehouses and workshops gave way to progressively taller apartments. The street widened into its two-lane main road, one that connected the Hrazdan city blocks. The offshoots became more rigid and square: west Hrazdan had been extensively planned in the 1940s and 50s, with concrete block apartments that everyone thought looked the same.

He parked his bike at the rack by the student apartments. He duly chained it up again and shouldered his cloth rucksack, feeling a droplet or two of cold water splash onto the back of his neck. He wiped it away and looked up at the grey skies, receiving another drop of water straight to his forehead for the trouble. With a sigh, he unchained the bike and moved it to another rack underneath an awning, where he locked it up again. He spent good money on a commuter bike: too much to let it rust out in the rain. The student hustled back to his apartment on the second floor before he could get caught in the rain himself, barely making it to the covered walkway before the drops turned to a consistent sprinkle. He jingled his keys on the keychain again, this time looking for his house key. He got in, tossed his rucksack to the old blue sofa that he had inherited from his grandmother, and greeted his roommate who was sitting on the other sofa in his undershirt and boxers drinking a beer. “What’s going on, man?” Jon said. “Isn’t it getting too cold out to sit around with no clothes on?”

His roommate shrugged and took a swig out of the bottle. “Shit, man, I’m glad it’s cooling off. I’ve been sweating my balls off at the job site for months now. Shoveling fucking dirt in the sun all day… I deserve a beer in my underwear.”

Jon wasn’t about to argue with him about it, simply shrugging himself and agreeing. He mentioned that he was going to shower, to which his roommate informed him that the water heater was broken and the apartment’s landlord was in no evident hurry to fix it. So Jon took a cold shower, cursing the college for hiring such an asshole to run the student apartments. He finished quick, wrapping a towel around his shivering body and shook in front of the mirror, inspecting his hair as he wiped the water out from his thickly matted scalp. He had to trim his beard sometime soon, at least, since he needed to get into uniform and wasn’t sure how relaxed he could take the grooming standards. He shrugged, leaving that decision for another time and went into his bedroom. There was one last thing on his list for the day before he could go, drink a bit, and fall asleep reading a book: Farah had given him her number after a bit of flirting on his part, last time they had seen each other. She popped in and out of the Hollywood Hayer, each time engaging him in a conversation. The student, realizing this, decided to take advantage of the conversation.

He rang the numbers in on the black receiver of the telephone, waiting for the ringtone to sound. She lived in the student apartments as well, somewhere on the other side of campus: the telephone exchange redirected him automatically to the number. After a few moments, the phone clicked and Jon heard a muffled female voice with her Persian accent: “Hello?”

“Hey, Farah, it’s Jon,” the student began. After a moment, she giggled and greeted him back.

“Hey! How are you?” she asked. “You finally managed to call me.”

“I did,” Jon replied playfully. “Long day at work, you know. And lots of interesting things are happening.”


“Yeah,” he said, absently stroking his beard while he talked. Here goes it. “Maybe I can tell you about it with dinner sometime.”

Farah laughed again, and he could picture her rolling her eyes flirtatiously. “Sounds like the perfect way to set that up. Alright, you made me laugh so I will accept.”

Jon, feeling quite lucky, hid his breath of relief from the speaker with his hand. Of course, he hadn’t thought of the specifics beforehand and needed to improvise something quickly. “Well,” he stuttered, trying to think quickly. A few options passed through his thoughts almost like scanning a rolodex of phone contacts. “How about… Karas?”

“I don’t think I’ve been there before,” Farah replied. “I don’t think I’ve heard anything about it either.”

At this point, Jon had to make things up on the fly: “Well, the byorek appetizers are quite good and…”

“Well, we can try it out. How does Thursday at seven sound? I figure I can take over some of the planning for you,” she said with a soft laugh.

Jon agreed, and they talked for a few more minutes before they said their goodbyes and hung up. He walked back into his living room where his roommate still laid splayed out on the couch, beer in hand. “What was that all about? I heard you on the phone,” he asked casually. He took another sip from his bottle and put it on the coffee table with a dull clink.

“I got a date, apparently,” Jon boasted. His roommate raised his eyebrows.

“That Iranian lass from the bar? Huh. Good job.”

Jon shrugged and poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher on his counter. “We’ll see how it goes,” he said, taking a drink. Outside the rain was starting to get worse: the sky was darker and the rain has gone from a trickle to a steady pour. He forgot what the weather forecast was supposed to be, but he wasn’t going anywhere for the rest of the day so it didn’t matter too much. Finished, he put his glass back down and wiped out the inside. He left it to dry, and went over to a shelf where his beer was. Two of the bottles of lager were missing, his roommate already having a few: he silently cursed him and opened up a third. Jon then grabbed his book from the nearby table, a history of the Great War’s Middle Eastern theater, and sat down on his couch along with his roommate. Outside, the rumble of thunder in the distance lightly shook the windows. He opened up to where he had dog-earned the chapter he was going to read and began to page through. It was a small subsection of the Anatolian conflict: the Persians fighting the Kurdish tribes in the south of the region. He would read until he fell asleep on the couch a few hours later.

Sochi, Kuban Unorganized Territories

The rumbling of an explosion shook the wall that Anton and Natasha had taken cover behind. Another wave of gunfire rattled off in the distance. They were in the north end of town where the fighting had not reached. The streets were deserted, everyone having taken to hiding in their cellars while the pirates and bandits fought it out with the Armenian marines near the docks. The two scanned the street ahead and Anton leveled his rifle down towards the most likely avenue of approach. “We gotta go find the commander, he’s our ride out here,” Natasha said. Her radio was not picking up anything: she was worried that the marines had either changed their frequency in the pre-mission planning or that the NSS had accidentally given her the incorrect ones. Either way, they had to link up with the marines and not get shot on their way there. Not being able to let them know they were coming was going to complicate things. Both of them had donned orange armbands over their fatigues, which had been pre-briefed to the Armenian marines as identifiers. Anton secretly hoped that they were visible enough.

Anton tapped Natasha’s shoulder and pointed to what appeared to be an undamaged pickup truck on the shoulder of the road, parked by a shop where the windows had been cracked by the vibrations of a larger seaplane-dropped bomb. “We can take that,” he said.

Natasha agreed, and he nudged her to start running towards it. She sprinted as fast as she could with her rucksack and kit bouncing around on her. Reaching the truck, she called over for Anton and covered him while he made the same awkward run to their new piece of cover. The two looked around the truck for any obvious signs of damage and found none, so Anton dropped his bag and smashed the glass window to reach inside and open up the door. Natasha watched him hotwire the vehicle’s ignition system, finally hearing the engine rumble to life with a hearty thrum. Anton called out that the gas was fine, and Natasha scrambled into the back.

They started to drive off, but Anton stopped a few meters down the road. “Wait a minute,” he called out. “Get me that flag in my pack.”

A flag was pulled from the side pocket of Anton’s ruck and unfurled. He had gotten out of the still-running truck with a bundle of nylon parachute cord. He cut four pieces and looped them through holes poked in the corners of the flag with his knife, then tied it to the truck’s side windows and down to the grille so it lay across the hood. Stepping back, he looked at it with a hint of satisfaction on his face. He turned to Natasha and gestured for her to get back in. She took up a spot in the bed of the truck, weapon over the roof, and they sped off. They took a tight turn to get out of the neighborhood and onto a main boulevard, just as deserted from the ongoing combat. Anton swerved it out of the way of an abandoned horse-drawn cart, a load of vegetables in the back presumably heading to market. The tires hit cobblestone, knocking down Natasha onto the bed of the truck while the aged and stiff suspension did little to cover the shock.

If the pirates had seen them, they never fired. The spectacle of a truck zipping through the streets of Sochi, Armenian flag tied to the front, while gunfire echoed through the waterfront was strange more than anything else. Anton sighed and prayed quickly as he turned to where the naval infantry was supposed to land. Just to be sure the marines wouldn’t shoot him, he grabbed his carbine and stuck it out the window to show them another piece of Armenian equipment, bashing on the horn to get any sentries’ attention. It seemed to have worked: two marines poked their heads out from behind an overturned dumpster to scan the movement that had just broken through their security line. They looked at each other as Anton drove furiously past, but never swung their weapons to engage. Ahead of the NSS scouts were the four landing craft that had dropped their loads of troops in the marina and were waiting patiently as the rescue team was going in to raid the pirates’ prison. The sounds of battle had since migrated eastward, leaving it safe for the Armenians to set up a command post on the docks, safely behind a canal wall. Two figures were hunched over a map, but one of their soldiers alerted them to the NSS operatives.

The commander of the Armenian naval infantry unit was a peculiar officer by the name of Colonel Victor Maghakian. The 44-year-old had been born in Chicago, but immigrated back to Armenia along with many other Armenian-Americans fleeing the chaos that had enveloped Middle America. To make matters even stranger, his Gunnery Sergeant was from Rhode Island: Harry Kizirian. Somehow, the unlikely duo had both found their homes in the naval infantry and had made themselves a name as being skilled, aggressive, and most importantly assertive warriors. Parliament had more than once questioned the legitimacy of the naval infantry program, arguing that they could just cut them and arm sailors to perform ship boarding and security operations. It was no secret that Colonel Maghakian had pushed the brass to let them perform a sea landing, if only to prove that the marines were more useful as a tool of force projection than the glorified sea police that the National Assembly made them out to be. He appeared quite pleased that the operation was going to plan.

“NSS?” inquired Colonel Maghakian, matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, finally managed to find you guys. You’re laying down one hell of a bombardment,” answered Natasha.

“Was that you in the truck?” the Colonel asked immediately, pointing to his brick-like radio that sat on a crate near his maps and staff members coordinating instructions. “Damn near got you killed, pulling a stunt like that. You’re lucky that flag trick saved you. Sentries were about ready to shoot.”

Anton looked at Natasha with wide eyes, a small grin on his face. Inside, a wave of stress washed over him briefly. He was just now realizing what a gamble he had made trying to push through the Armenian security bubble in a stolen pickup truck. “Well, sir, I don’t want to be doing that again.”

Colonel Maghakian shrugged that off and continued: “Well it’s a good thing you’re here now. Our team has broken in and is getting the crew out. Apparently they need to stretcher a few back here. We’re taking them back, but I need you two to help out with the other phase of our operation.”

Natasha raised her eyebrows. She thought they were catching a ride home with the marines back to the ship. “There’s another phase?”

Colonel Maghakian nodded and pointed to the Breadwinner that was docked nearby. A rocket whizzed by overhead, harmlessly spiraling into the harbor before exploding and splashing a whitecap of sea water onto a nearby moored boat. “We’ve watched the pirates fix her up and we think she’s ready to go. We don’t want to lose our investment and let the Russians keep our ship, or so the politicians told me. That was the deal they offered me for the marines taking this mission: they want us to steal it and sail it out of here. I told them I could do that, so we’re not about to disappoint my bosses.”

The marines had brought with them a team of sailors and Merchant Marines, specially outfitted for ship recovery. Spies and observers had reported that the captured sailors had been fixing the engine and other damaged parts of the ship, and had fueled it for a voyage. The Sochi pirates were fixated on using the Breadwinner as a mothership, to strike at cargo further out into the Black Sea. Armenia, however, was terrified of letting this make their fledgling maritime industry look like a pushover and were pursuing almost nonsensical means of taking their ship back. The marines had been fighting for a few hours, so the ship was almost ready to leave as well: luckily, most of the pirates had fallen back outside the security bubble. All the NSS scouts had to do was push out and help secure the ship while the crews worked it. Anton and Natasha were perfectly suited to sniping pirates from the bridge. With no room to argue, they shouldered their gear and were ordered out by the Colonel.

Under the imposing suppression of the firefight around them, the NSS scouts trudged through the dock towards where the Breadwinner was laid up. The blown-out buildings were enough to provide cover for them as they navigated through the landscape of spilled cargo crates, abandoned trucks and wagons, and broken machinery. They saw the remnants of what was once a prosperous city-state in the collapsed Russian empire. Carts of goods, food from the countryside, and consumer items were now scattered about the empty spaces of the docks. Corpses of dockworkers, pirates, and even uninvolved civilians lay out in the open after they had been hit by the initial airstrikes. Fire and smoke burned the neat European blocks of the city, throwing Sochi into disarray. It looked like every Armenian’s perception of Russia: an apocalyptic mélange of death and destruction. Natasha and and Anton carried on, towards the ship.

Ahead of them, the Breadwinner was a ragged, broken shell of its former self. It bore the scars of bullets and fires from its raiding. On its railings were improvised fortifications of sandbags, mattresses, furniture, and other barricades designed to repel attacks or further boarding actions. Armenian marines manned these barricades, sitting low behind the safety of their cover with their rifles peeking over the sides. Natasha and Anton found the only gangway up to the ship, passing through the guard before heading aboard. In the distance, the firefight appeared to be getting closer to them. Maybe crew had been rescued. They navigated through to where the leadership of the marine detachment lay, on the forecastle of the cargo ship. A small tactical operations center had been set up with a radio and a battle tracker of the surrounding area: only the platoon leader and his NCO remained inside, desperately talking to Colonel Maghakian about their departure schedule. The NSS scouts, interrupting the exchange, barged in and asked where they would be most useful. With the direction of the commander onboard, Natasha and Anton were ordered to the bridge of the ship and told to man the sniper nest atop the highest point of the superstructure.

The two took up their positions and settled in behind a wall of sandbags. They dropped their equipment off and took a good look at the surrounding city. Gunfire and explosions continued in the distance, but they took aim at the one likely place they needed to observe and cover: the approach from the pirates’ prison complex to the east. The pair racked their weapons: Anton peered in through his sniper rifle’s scope while Natasha pulled out her binoculars to watch closely over the maze of roads and alleys across from the docks. They were ready: it was time for the Armenians to leave Sochi and head back to safety.
N’zwasis, Saraya

A lone truck climbed a hill on a jungled two-lane concrete road. Its engine whirred and struggled, belching fumes from its tailpipe before a series of dull clunks indicated a gear change below the hood. It ran a little bit smoother now, but it still struggled up the steepness of the slope. The truck’s vibrancy stood in contrast to the dark shadows of the jungle. Rays of sunlight poking through the canopy illuminated the truck’s decorative art. A mural of a lion lounging atop a mesa-like flat hill adorned the rear doors of the cargo container. A landscape image on the side depicted the Battle of Osoika, where fighters from the rebelling Indaran tribe were routed by a noble, yet rebelliously independent, Padvian prince to end years of internal fighting in central Saraya. The other side of the container maintained a patterned, almost abstract depiction of a marketplace. Elaborate, bright bordering framed the art, featuring traditional patterns and zig-zags of the northeast. Pendants, chains, and beads all hung from the bumper, clacking against it as it drove.

Inside, the smell of cigarettes seemed to have been permanently taken hold in the worn leather of the bench seat. An AM radio, garbled with static, played a melodious tune. As the truck reached the top of the hill, the radio cleared up, but the signal was soon lost as the road wandered down towards the base again. The driver, a man of about fifty, referenced a folded-up map beside him in a neat olive-green map case that looked almost like military surplus. This was the last hill before the jungle thinned out and the suburban townships of N’zwasis crept into frame. He did a last-second check in the glovebox to make sure that he had his papers: an identification card, his trucking company registration, a cargo manifest, and his schedule. Armed police units conducting checkpoints were usually the case in the northern provinces, where bandits thought that they could evade the government, but lately threats from Istian border militias seemed to be front-page in all the regional newspapers.

Soon enough, as he approached the wooden and corrugated-metal box houses of an N’zwasis farming township, he saw a checkpoint guardbox along with several signs warning drivers to stop their vehicles for inspection. Two men in police blue uniforms stood at the road, orange sashes draped across their torsos and wearing wide-brimmed slouch hats. One carried a bolt-action carbine, standing back to the rear, while another wore a revolver around his hip: this one waved the driver down with one hand while he readied a clipboard in the other. The truck rolled to a stop on the road, pulling off to the packed-dirt inspection lot on the side of the road before turning off the engine.

The guard with the clipboard greeted the driver at his door. “Thanks for stopping,” he said. “Welcome to N’zwasis… Have you traveled this road before?”

The driver nodded. “I make the Voi-N’zwasis run quite frequently. This checkpoint is a new one, though.”

“It is, we just sprang this one up on Saturday. Governor’s orders.” The guard tapped his pen on the clipboard, which bore a typewritten memo and checklist for the inspection. The driver caught a glimpse of it, reading off that they were to do a quick sweep for guns and bombs in the cargo bed or trunk. He raised an eyebrow but handed over the manilla folder with his documents when the guard asked. His partner relaxed as the driver appeared compliant with the inspection. His grip on the rifle loosened and his shoulders dropped. He looked around again, breaking his intense eye contact with the truck.

“I suppose I should declare that I have a weapon then,” the driver said calmly. The guard’s eyes widened in curiosity. He ordered the driver to take it out slowly. He returned from the cabin with a sawed-off double-barrel, lever-action shotgun from the late 19th century that he kept underneath the dashboard and handed it down to the guard. Duly, the guard looked it over: it wasn’t an unusual weapon for truckers to have, especially in the northern jungles. He set it down on the ground, careful to lay it in a way that didn’t get dust in the action or barrel.

“A classic,” he mused as he inspected it. “My grandfather had the same model. He used it to keep the panthers off our coffee farm.”

The guard reviewed the driver’s license and information. Everything checked out: Azmat Sadari, aged thirty-nine, who had black hair and green eyes, appeared to stand the printed 1.74 meters tall with a noticeable beer belly bringing his weight to eighty kilograms. The guard nodded and reviewed the cargo manifest: consumer goods for a furniture outlet. Mostly disassembled wooden furniture components and screws, nuts, and bolts. He swung open the rear of the truck and was satisfied by the heaps of wooden tabletops and chair legs he saw inside. A sweep revealed no obvious traps or bombs. The guard scribbled off on his checklist as the driver waited, leaning against the hood of his truck smoking a cigarette.

“Looks like you’re good to go,” the guard said, stamping an approval on Azmat’s sheet before handing it back to him. “One last thing, however.”

The driver raised his eyebrow as he tossed the manilla folder up into his cab and retrieved the shotgun from the ground.

“The Governor has instituted a toll to help pay for the increased security measures. It’s forty tala per commercial vehicle.”

Again, Azmat appeared confused. He had never heard of a security toll before. He was no politician or military man, but that appeared to be something that the Kassaji government tried to control more tightly than the Padvians used to. The headlines said something about consolidating military budgeting and centralizing control over these things, and Azmat wasn’t sure if they were provincial police or regional militias. Their hair, dreadlocks pinned back into coiled buns behind their heads, looked very traditional, and elaborate tattoos peeked out from underneath the rolled sleeves of their blue uniforms. They had no familiar insignia like the Highway Patrolmen did.

He mulled if this was a fight he wanted to wage. He could easily ask them for the government order, or ask to pay a licensed treasurer. Handing cash over to a beat cop seemed unreliable at best. But at the end of the day, he could just grease the wheels and get it done with. While his company gave him money under the table to handle situations like bribes or even small ransoms for the average highwayman, he always just pocketed the extra money. The guard awaited his answer, looking him down in a way that, while he wasn’t posturing, looked like he could threaten Azmat if he wanted to. So Azmat reached into his pocket, opened up his wallet, and handed over four of the ten tala bills.

“Thank you,” the guard said, taking the money and stuffing it in his uniform breast pocket. “And nice truck, by the way. I like the art. Where’d you get it done?”

The driver told him about the auto shop he worked for in Voi, that a portion of his salary paid for some of the traditional decorations. Satisfied by the security measures in place at the checkpoint, the guard waved Azmat back into his truck and let his partner step aside. As the diesel engine thrummed back to life, he shifted gears and went along his way. A few kilometers later, he was heading into the outskirts of town. N’zwasis had an inner-city portion clustered around ancient temples and ruins that were once the castle of a noble tribal family. A ring of taller buildings surrounded it before the density dropped off and junctions of factories, warehouses, truck stops, and railway yards brushed up against the jungle. Azmat found his destination, the furniture store, and pulled into a warehouse parking lot in the back.

The owner greeted Azmat, gladly handed him a bill of sale and payment, and asked his help moving the goods out of the truck. Duly, Azmat accepted, and they spent the next hour moving the pieces of furniture into his storage unit with the help of a pair of teenaged laborers. He backed out at the completion of this, parked his truck by the entrance of the lot, locked up the doors for the night, and went on to find his way into the city. His hotel and maybe a beer or two to alleviate the hot and humid air of the jungle awaited him.
Javad, Saraya

Beneath the still water of an pleasantly warm day, a pair of reddish salmon swam complacently through the water. One of them, breaking from its partner, spotted something shiny and excitedly swam towards the surface to investigate. Mere moments later, it was ripped from the water by the razor-sharp talons of a great hawk who had descended towards its next meal. With a shriek, the hawk lifted off with the writhing fish in tow, ascending high towards its destination. Atop one of the two massive grey steel superstructures of a suspension bridge, the hawk landed and dropped off its prize to a nest full of squawking chicks. It then took off just as abruptly as it arrived, coming to circle around its environment.

The bridge spanned a wide river at the mouth of a wide bay. Lining the shores were all sorts of riverwalks, ports, tall buildings, and urban buildup. The stark grey of the dense cityscape stopped abruptly at the watery blue. Ships motored in the harbor, the big cargo ones nestled against jutted-out docks where cranes moved up and down on rail tracks to help longshoremen offload pallets of goods. Inside the city, neon lights lit cramped alleys while banners and signs appeared at every corner. In the delightful calligraphy of Sarayan script, colorful advertisements for businesses and products breathed life into the greys of the stone buildings. Cars drove, along crowded roads and packed avenues. Pedestrians waited on stone sidewalks for their stoplights to change. An elevated train rattled along its tracks before dipping below the ground to drive along the intricate subway of the downtown.

An island in the bay off center to the north, connected to the mainland by a long bridge flanked by masses of electrical lines, belched steam from a dozen brick cooling towers. Inside the squat cement industrial housing surrounded by a maze of metal electrical transforming and transmission equipment, its precious solarium-driven power plant spun four industrial turbines to generate the city’s electricity. Above, an airship cut through the cloudlike vapor as it began its own circle around the fixed-wing airplane routes from the airport, towards the landing and mooring zones established just to the south of the bridge along the coast. There, landing pads flanked with anchorpoints and signal lights drew the crew of the airliner in.

From the window of the airship, a man looked up from his book. Clean-cut, tall, with brown skin, he looked rather stark. His long, curly hair, a severe fade on the sides leading to a lopsided combover that fell off the top down to his left ear, had an even darker brown tone to it. A pack of cigarettes had been tucked into the rolled sleeve of his white linen shirt. The hawk had flown up to the window of the airship, gliding alongside for a few moments. It had just barely enough time to make eye contact with the man before the airship blew its ballast, jets of air erupting from the side with a hiss. That seemed to scare it off enough, as it rapidly banked away from the airship and went screaming towards the bay again. The man returned to his book for a minute, before dog-earning the page as the intercom crackled to life and the pleasant voice of the hostess announced: “We have begun our descent to Javad Aerodrome. Please take this time to gather your belongings.”

He waited a few minutes as the cityscape came closer into view. From the window, he saw the skyscrapers and density of the downtown area come into clear view. From there, his view wandered across the roads and parks until the hills that surrounded the capital rose from the shore. Atop the largest hill lay the King’s Citadel: an enormous, ancient castle made of khaki-green junglestone and crisscrossed with vines from the trees and gardens at the foot of it. Although well-maintained and constantly occupied, the King’s Citadel appeared as ancient and ornate as any of the other symbols of royal power. The airship continued to land slowly, the tenements of Rud-Javad’s seaside residential district quickly obscuring view of the castle. Before long, the landing gear of the airship thumped into the metal pad, while from the window the man could see groundcrew in jumpsuits quickly securing anchors and tethers to the fixing points.

He gathered up his luggage: a leather satchel that he secured around his shoulder and a green, military-style duffle bag with his clothing and personal belongings inside. Beside him, another man who appeared equally as tall and athletic donned an identical duffle. The two of them left their booths and shuffled out orderly, thanking the stewardess politely. She smiled at them, waving them down the stairs and to the landing pad. The man was the first to exit while his partner was stuck in line: he took the time to light a cigarette with one of his matches. His partner arrived shortly thereafter, with a blank look on his face. He wordlessly accepted a cigarette from the man, replying with a gruff thanks.

“Air travel, huh?” joked the man to his partner.

“I hate it. I always get sick,” was the terse answer. “And I can’t fuckin’ smoke on these things. At least I can smoke on the ferry.”

The man shrugged, before urging his partner to follow them. They made their way towards the central hub of the aerodrome’s airship terminal, a taller building with a grand arched concourse topped with a ceiling of glass that let the sunlight flow naturally in. In the center, a pond with six upwards-spraying fountains encircled a metal sculpture of a globe: a glowing orb of pale blue tight shone from within. Little magical tricks and decoration to wow the visitors coming into the capital. On each side, between marble pillars, decorated stone murals depicting the history of air travel had been created. The man and his partner had stopped for a second to watch the people scurrying about the terminal, before continuing to the pickup driveway to the front of the airship terminal. There, they scanned for what they had been told: a black sedan with a uniformed man beside it.

By the end of the terminal, they found it: a man in his green uniform leaning against the hood of a staff car. His face, hidden by glasses, was buried in a newspaper. On his sleeve, he wore a section sergeant’s rank. The two passengers caught his attention. The sergeant stood up as the man approached, reaching out his hand. “Welcome to Javad, guys,” he said simply.

The man thanked him and shook his hand before his partner did the same. The sergeant looked to him: “Which one are you?”

The man unclipped the document pouch to his satchel and withdrew a sheet of paper marked with official letterhead. “I’m Sergeant Amsar Kandeh and this is Sergeant Marko Avordani.”

The sergeant nodded, skimming over the papers. “Well, guys, congratulations on making it through selection. Not a lot of people transfer over from the Land Forces to the Guard Corps. Well, enough chit-chat, let’s head you to the company.”

The three men piled into the car and the section sergeant shifted to gear and drove off. They took off out of the pickup lane and quickly merged onto the highway. The road rose up to its elevated portion, and they were now driving alongside the tops of some of the lower two or three-story structures. “You picked an interesting time to come in,” the section sergeant said as he swung into a turn lane. “The Acradians and Hasturis are stirring up shit on the other side of the world and it’s starting to turn into a hot issue.”

“So I’ve heard,” mused Kandeh. “Everyone’s thinking about some sort of alliance now or something.”

“Exactly. So we’re supposed to be taking a new spearhead role in these decisive operations if it comes down to it. At least that’s the word around the regiments these days. I’m thinking that the High King has some ideas in mind for direct action and he can use us for shorter, higher intensity operations. Don’t need to get parliament to legislate the Land Forces into action.”

Kandeh shrugged and looked at Avordani. He paid no mind, looking out the window at the skyline as the car took an exit to begin a winding road up to King’s Citadel. They didn’t know each other before selection, but the rigorous process had weeded most people out and left the rest with an infallible sense of teamwork and community. Avordani was born a farm boy from the north and chose to continue his enlistment after his two-year service draft had ended partially to avoid going back to his parents. The man could hike and carry gear like an ox, even if he didn’t make the best decisions with choosing his words tactfully. Kandeh, meanwhile, hailed from a mediocre town outside of the southern industrial hub. Although he was a good five years older than Avordani, Kandeh was also trying to escape from something: his ex-wife.

The car squealed to a stop at a blockhouse-reinforced gate midway up the road on the hill. Two men in fatigues clutching submachine guns, wearing their load-bearing vests and blue berets with gold trim and hackles, stopped the car. The section sergeant rolled down the window and displayed his identification card, while the guard peered into the back. “They’re new Guards, don’t worry,” chuckled the section sergeant.

They were waved through. The car continued the climb up towards the iron gate of the King’s Citadel where it was waved through again. This time, the section sergeant stopped it in a parking space by a sign that denoted a regimental office for the barracks. Kandeh and Avordani got out of the car and were escorted inside. They passed by several offices at the forefront of the barracks that were marked for regimental staff, before climbing a set of stairs. The second floor was divided into two sections: the First Company and the Second. Their section sergeant led them to the Second Company offices and stopped them at the door that read “Company Sergeant.” He instructed them to wait while he entered. After a few moments, the section sergeant told them to enter. He left, his job completed.

Kandeh and Avordani arrived in the office to discover the company sergeant sitting at his desk, hands folded. Behind him, a bookshelf indicated he was well-read. A sword on the wall topped this, laying horizontally across a red velvet mounting. To their right was a sofa with a coffee table and to their left was a shelf with all manner of trophies and collected items from his time in service. The company sergeant stood as Kandeh and Avordani reported in: “Company Sergeant, Sergeant Marko Avordani of the Royal Guards Corps reports as ordered.”

The company sergeant, whose nameplate read “Yasati”, nodded at them as they dropped their bags to their left and arrived at a parade rest. “Welcome to the Second Company, First Regiment, boys,” he said. He looked to Kandeh and corrected himself. “Well, I suppose you’re more of a man than he is. What took you so long?”

Kandeh sighed. “Joined up late,” he answered nonchalantly. The company sergeant grinned.

“Well, in any case, we’re glad to have you guys here as Guards.” Company Sergeant Yasati took a seat and waved his hand to gesture them to do the same. “I’m sure your escort was fairly talkative. There’s a lot going on right now that is going to make our jobs a lot busier. The High King has instructed us to be aware of external threats now and there seem to be more of those every day. Those assholes to the north, the guys on the other continent… you name it. We also expect to be working more often with foreign militaries as the political arm of the High King’s military. If there’s a significance to it, we’ll be there. And I’ll tell you the same thing I tell other Land Forces transferees: you’ve got to act a lot more careful here. Right now, you’re an arm of the monarchy. We don’t work quite like the national military.”

Kandeh nodded. He had heard all about it during selection, done all of the interviews, and read the literature that he was prescribed. The Royal Guards operated somewhat independently of the rest of the armed forces in accordance with the constitution’s allowance. However, they were mostly light infantry forces: heavy support and air power had to come from the regular military to prevent the Royal Guard Corps from becoming the High King’s personal expeditionary army. For example, if the Guards were to be deployed overseas, they would have to hitch rides on Sea Forces vessels. It was a compromise, tense at times, but the Kassaji regime had seen no reason to complain about it when they were busy focusing on internal issues.

“So that’s the strategic overview of what you’re doing here, are there any questions?” asked Company Sergeant Yasati. Both of the new Guards answered no. He continued: “Tactically, you’re going to be operating in independent platoons. My company and our commander has a lot of autonomy from regiment. We get the newest equipment and we train on the newest tactics. Small units, decisive operations of political significance. It’s a little different from the massive operations you might be used to in the Land Forces, but selection made sure you can cut it here. Think of it like the regular military’s commando units. Small and deadly. We expect a high level of readiness so you will be training routinely. Your physical and mental fitness is also important to us, so keep that in mind.”

He reached into his desk to procure two reporting sheets. He slid them onto the table for Kandeh and Avordani to view. “These are your sheets. Basically, same process as your old job: go around and check in to your unit. Go to medical, get your physical, get your equipment issues, parade uniforms sized, whatever else. Easy enough?”

“Yes, Company Sergeant!” both of them answered. Yasati grinned again before getting up to shake their hands.

“That’s enough of my counseling. Your platoon commander and sergeant will fill you in on more specific details and help you get the sheet signed. You’ve got the rest of the week off until Monday to move in and get settled, but your duty begins then. Alright, on your way.”

The two Guards stood from their chairs and collected their bags. “Long live the High King,” they both stated. The company sergeant answered the same, before the two left the office. Outside, the hustle and bustle of company activity had increased and they dodged troops until they reached the rooms that had been assigned to them on their paperwork. Being laterally transferred sergeants, both of them were entitled to their own room in the barracks: a small room with a bed, a desk, a wardrobe, and a shelf for books and knick-knacks. A small sink and medicine cabinet was inlaid to the wall by the door. A bare lightbulb illuminated the living space. Not too spacious, but they also didn’t have roommates. Kandeh entered into his and dropped his duffle bag down onto his bare mattress. The wooden chair to his desk had been left out, so he took it to sit down and put his briefcase on the desk.

As he prepared his things and looked at what he needed to do, he mused for a second. The Guards presented many opportunities for him and he was excited to see what was coming. But at the same time, talk in the barracks was different than the Land Forces: it appeared to be full of intrigue and foreign expeditions. Different from tribal policing and border security. He was excited: the future would bring many things. And big things were coming.
Patara Darbazi, Georgia

The province of Kvemo Kartili was slightly larger than six thousand square kilometers of forested mountains sitting on the border of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Rustavi, its capital, lay forty kilometers to the northeast of the Armenian encampment at the small village of Patara Dabazi. While historically, Georgian Christians had occupied much of the region’s north and ethnic Azerbaijanis lived along the southern border, more immigrants and refugees from Azerbaijan were displaced to the Azeri Shiite communities and had quickly become the majority. Rustavi maintained its Georgian majority while the rest of the province became overwhelmingly Muslim. A clash between the province’s population, who resented attempts to secularize and denounce Islamic culture, and its governing parties had resulted in widespread lawlessness, insurgency, and banditry compared to the rest of the country. They furthermore resented the incursion of Russian refugees traveling south and the presence of Armenian irregulars and, now, troops in what they viewed as their last bastion. Armenian high command had designated Kvemo Kartili as a “high risk” area of Georgia alongside the northwestern Abkhazian and north-central Ossetian provinces.

The main portion of the Georgian Plan consisted of sweeping into Tbilisi with a cadre of Armenian-trained Georgian troops and officers, along with previously-identified “reconstructionist” politicians and bureaucrats to solidify the existing weak government. They would go province by province to convince, by diplomacy or by force, the warlords to join a national government: their power would be converted into seats in parliament, and their guns turned to pens. Yaglian’s unit, patrolling the dirt roads winding through the mountains, only heard sparse updates from his platoon leader when they were gathered for the morning briefings. They had been there for just about a week, and the regular Army had just reached Tbilisi along with elements of the Poti Garrison. In name and in theory, at least, the Republic of Georgia’s government had been officially reinstated to its territorial claims. Of course, a long road was ahead for the men on the ground in country. Elections, stability operations, rebuilding and reconstruction: everything from the engineers setting up power lines and water wells to the medical service training rural doctors was planned to wrest control of Georgia from the warlords.

Patara Darbazi was a small distance away from the ruins of the bandit camp that they had destroyed a mere month ago. A single road ran through a few dozen houses, without much else. Livestock meandered around through farms and yards, grazing on the dry grass that grew along the dirt paths. As the company took an area of responsibility, each platoon took up a village or two in their own areas as a way to get to know the area better. Half of Yaglian’s unit was assigned to watch over Patara Darbazi, while another detachment was set up to patrol Kudro. Each patrol through the area consisted of two rifle sections along with a scout jeep providing backup and a platform for their machinegun. They trudged up a hill in the late morning, a mountain to the east providing shade against the August sun. Yaglian felt the steel frame of his rucksack press into his back as pools of sweat grew under his collar and armpits. He cradled his carbine in his arms, letting its sling press most of the weight uncomfortably on his neck and shoulders. At some points he picked his weary head up and moved it around, but for the most part he stared down at his feet.

The troops halted just before cresting the hill and parked their vehicle off to the side of the road. A trio of goats walked past the hood, looking up at the soldier on the pintle mounted gun while he stared back, unimpressed. The two sections each dropped their packs off by the truck in neat, orderly lines. Platoon Sergeant Ozanian was with them that day: him and the Lieutenant often switched out the towns they patrolled, each trying to make an impression on the civic leader. He ordered them to rack their weapons and they marched into town. It seemed empty, but only a few dozen people lived there to begin with. A few people were gathered around a well in the center of the village, but they scrambled as soon as the troops walked into town. This was becoming a daily occurrence, but they still remembered when loud noises and explosions woke them just a few weeks ago: in the morning, they had to bury the dead Mountain Wolf casualties. Yaglian had never spoken to anyone in the village and doubted that they wanted to interact regardless. He felt uneasy.

Ozanian and the Lieutenant had initial plans to interact with a “village elder” of some sort to try and bring Patara Dabazi into the fold of a new county government that their company commander was establishing in the large town of Talaveri to the north. They would ease them in with the promise of security and safety against the bandits before trying to push the envelope further with taxes or a centralized constabulary. Yet they routinely found in these towns a more communal approach: there was no formal leader, and the closest thing they had to anyone in power was simply the oldest patriarch of the largest family. It continually frustrated efforts for the Armenians, who were relegated to standing around in town before going to patrol through the mountains in search of bandit camps. They had no evidence that the Mountain Wolves were there besides the burnt remains of the outpost they had destroyed in their initial raids. It was like they had disappeared. Yaglian knew that they hadn’t: ambushes and raids were still occurring in other company areas nearby. But not his.

The Corporal walked amongst his team and checked them off. He casually asked them about how much water they had been drinking, if they felt dizzy from the long walk, if they had seen anything in their sectors, and other minutia. He had just lifted up his cap to wipe the sweat away from his forehead when a loud bang sounded from one of the houses.

“Ambush!” shouted someone, before a volley of shots rang out. Everyone dropped to the ground and pointed their weapons out. Someone was groaning: Yaglian looked around to see a rifleman writing around in pain as he patted away blood on his pant leg. A friend of his had rushed over to rip the trouser fabric out of the way, pour water onto the wound, and start wrapping a tourniquet tightly above the wound. Another man rushed forward with his machinegun and, firing from the hip, unleashed a burst into the house where a body now lay in front of. Windows shattered and wood splintered apart: the sound echoed throughout the valley. It became deathly quiet again as Ozanian sprinted up to the area of conflict. “What happened?” he barked.

“One guy in the house just came out and started shooting!” cried the man tending to the wounded soldier. He nudged his head back to where the gunner had riddled the wooden cabin with bullets. His friend on the ground grabbed at his leg as a bandage was applied, tears streaming down his grimacing face. He kept moaning and cursing.

“I got him!” replied the gunner. He let the machinegun dangle on its sling again, but he still pointed cautiously towards the house. Ozanian trudged towards the body of the militant who had shot at them, pointing his rifle forward at a high-ready while he walked. Everyone else, who had now found cover, were watching. Yaglian had to remind them harshly to keep covering houses and some of the mountain ridges around the town. His Platoon Sergeant assessed the man on the ground and determined that he was still alive. Wounded, barely breathing, and clutching a silver revolver, the assailant was an older man with dark hair and a wild beard. Ozanian looked around, raised his carbine, and unceremoniously shot him straight through the forehead.

“Don’t fuck with me,” he said just loudly enough that Yaglian could hear. It appeared he was mostly talking to the body. The Platoon Sergeant turned around and ordered: “We’re going to show them what happens. Either they follow the new rules, or we burn their goddamn house down. I need a lighter.”

A soldier next to him reluctantly reached into his pocket and tossed over a steel-plated flip lighter to Ozanian. Yaglian pushed his cap up from his forehead and watched, ambivalently, as his platoon sergeant gathered up the dry grasses and tinder in the Georgian man’s neglected garden, carefully arranging them in a pile on the wooden windowsill. He flicked it, opening the flame with a subtle whooshing noise, and set the pile alight. The fire started burning, slowly at first, then caught onto a support beam on the wooden house. The smell of burning wood filled Yaglian’s nostrils, as the whole platoon watched the flame creep across the faded green paint of the wooden walls. A few minutes of burning had rendered a corner of the home on fire, as Platoon Sergeant Ozanian asked for a placard and something to write with. Yaglian directed a soldier to the jeep, which had materials inside for marking warnings for minefields or other such hazards. Now, he was instructed to write in Georgian: “Do not attempt any attacks! This is your fate!”

The wounded man was dragged away to the jeep, stuffed in the side seat with a bandage pressed to his leg. The crew rushed him back down the hill towards the patrol base: the injury didn’t look too serious, but he needed to be sent to a hospital across the border for at least a few days to recover. Yaglian’s men kept staring at the fire curiously until he told them to stop and pick up their kit. Platoon Sergeant Ozanian had ordered them out on patrol again, through the winding mountain trails. If this assailant had any compatriots, they would be finding them. Silently, with only the rustling and clinking of gear, Yaglian’s section stood up from their positions and headed out. Another day of walking in the hot sun, amongst the green hills of Georgia. The smell of smoke permeated through the crisp mountain air even some distance from the village. From the ridges and hills around Patara Darbazi, they could see the civilians come out again. They gathered around the body and the smoldering house. Yaglian paid them no mind.

Sochi, Kuban Unorganized Territories

Natasha scribbled out details of a clearing in the woods on her map and notepad. She carefully noted the dimensions of the roughly-rectangular piece of land and followed her instructions. No large obstacles that couldn’t be removed or reduced like big rocks or tree stumps. As little uneven ground as possible. Not too marshy or wet. It had to be close to the city limits, but not too close. Her commanders had given her a general area of where to search along with potential points of interest: two of them proved to be too rocky for the specifications, but this one seemed just right. Anton crouched beside her, leaning forward while using the stock of his rifle to support him. “What do they need these clearings for, anyway?” he asked. “These are way too specific for paratrooper drop zones.”

Natasha shrugged. “Seems like they might be dropping commandos, if I had to guess. Smaller units, maybe. Specialized equipment that can’t get broken on the way down? We’re a long way from home, they might just be trying to make things extra safe so no accidents happen on the insertion.”

Her partner leaned back onto his heels and stood up as she finished writing the last notes in the margins of her book. She slipped it into a cargo pocket on her smock and shouldered her rucksack. The scouts trudged away from their objective, cloverleafing around to the other side to avoid walking through. They kept their movements slow and deliberate, avoiding sticks or crunchy leaves or anything else that could make the obvious sounds of people moving. Their next objective was a hill by the sea, where they were to post up and wait for the next phase of their mission. In Anton’s rucksack was a small mirror signaling device. An Armenian rescue team consisting of a cruiser and a seaplane tender were on the way from their naval base in Poti. Naval infantrymen were to storm predetermined locations on the beach near where the pirates were located and destroy the bandit outpost there. Natasha and Anton were to signal their information to the crew of the warship to let them know how and where to get the sailors back.

The pair had reached the hill by nightfall, using the cover of darkness to mitigate the risk of speeding up their movements. They had traveled many kilometers over hilly and rough terrain and were eager for a rest. They encamped on the hill, which lay just a few hundred meters from the town at the northwest tip of Sochi’s area. There would be no campfires or much noise that night. Natasha dropped her rucksack off at the base of a tree on the north side of the hill, so that the crest of it obscured their movements from the town. She unslung her rifle and leaned it against her kit, using this opportunity to stretch out her sore and aching back. Quietly, she sat down and took off her boots: she recoiled at the smell when she stripped away her socks. “Jesus,” she muttered, unbuttoning a pouch on her ruck to take foot powder to her sweaty feet. A blister was starting to form on her heel: she cleaned and dried it to bandage it as best she could. Her feet throbbed with pain, but that was to be expected. All she could think about was how at least the boots were better than walking the streets in heels.

Before she knew it, she was asleep without even setting up her tent shelter. It didn’t look like it was going to rain, so she skipped that procedure and curled up next to her bag underneath her field blanket. Anton took the first guard shift, sitting and sipping his ration coffee out of a metal cup until three in the morning. He woke up Natasha, let her know that the most he had seen was a squirrel rummaging around a nearby berry bush, and gave her the watch. He fell asleep as soon as he hit his gear. Natasha stared out into the darkness for the next few hours, watching the moon move across the sky and the pink rays of dawn peek out from behind the mountains. The lights in Sochi turned on, one by one, as the stars faded away. She looked out into the sea, along the compass azimuth she had been told that the cruiser was coming along. They would reach by the daylight to allow Anton’s signaling device to reflect sunlight. In a few hours, she noticed the dark outline of a ship appear over the horizon. “Anton!” she whispered. “Set up your light.”

He took the little mirror from his rucksack and quickly set its tripod up between some rocks, positioning it and steadying it in the ground. Natasha dropped her book next to him with the information already bulletized and formed into easy phrases that were pre-made to send via Morse code. The first one was a simple greeting: he repeated the letters “NSS” into the device while Natasha watched the ship with binoculars. They were scanning the coastline looking for their position but finally locked onto Anton’s signal, and replied with a series of flashes of their own: “NAVY.”

Natasha smiled as she translated it back towards Anton. He flashed his own message at them: “INFO FOLLOWS.”

He looked over to the listed data points and flashed the letters and numbers slowly, consciously on the reflective light. All locations were marked in UTM coordinates. “PRISON: 37N-559197-4828043.”

He waited for the ship to flash back the coordinates to confirm. Natasha read them out one by one. Anton flashed back: “YES.”

The scouts began transmitting their long list of information and waiting for the responses. The ships drew in closer, preparing for their fight: the Russian pirates were no doubt scrambling for their skiffs and boats. It took several minutes of flashing back and forth to coordinate the location of the beach landing zones, landing areas, and relevant information. But the plan went off without a hitch, as Natasha saw the cruiser flash back a final signal: “INFO RECEIVED. THANK YOU NSS. BEGIN ACTION.”

On the sea, the seaplane tender that had been following behind the cruiser had peeled off to a safe distance away and began hoisting its attack planes into the water with a large crane on the stern. These smaller types carried two planes nose-to-tail on the stern behind a hangar for maintenance and refit. Each seaplane carried several bombs and a series of guns for ground strafing. It dropped the aircraft into the water, and they immediately began motoring out to their launch straightaways. Engines roaring and water splashing across their boat-like hulls, the seaplanes took off from the water and angled themselves straight to the town of Sochi. One took to flying up high, almost reaching the clouds, while the other prowled the waters. They weren’t aerodynamic enough to dogfight other planes, but they were perfect for sighting in on the pirate skiffs that now started swarming out of the harbor. A salvo of gunfire erupted from the Armenian seaplane that went straight across the deck of a skiff, starting a small fire aboard. Small arms reports sounded from the way as the pirates shot back.

The cruiser had angled its deck guns towards the developing situation and began to fire off rounds at the pirates as they slowly motored out of port. These slow targets were easy pickings for the gun crews, who exploded the small craft in brilliant showers of smoke and flame. The second seaplane had overflown its objective and circled back around to begin bombing boats still in port. These bombs penetrated straight through the wooden docks and exploded, rocking the moored craft and crashing them into each other. Hydrostatic shock ruined their keels and hulls, sinking many of them before their crews even got to them. In port, the Breadwinner laid unshaken by the outbreak of fighting. Workers scurried around on the shore for cover as a pair of old Russian trucks careened through the gate. Naval gunfire was quickly beginning to pound positions were the pirates were shooting from buildings and prepared defensive positions. A select few artillery guns from the Great War were now used as direct-fire weapons, taking shots at the cruiser as it steamed closer and closer.

The seaplanes circled back around to strafe anyone in the streets near the prison. It was unclear who was civilian or bandit, but with the volume of small arms fire coming for the planes it was assumed to be a free fire zone. The two planes danced around each other in unpredictable, zig-zag patterns. They retreated back up to altitude where they could come back in for their targets without being harassed by the rifle fire below. Small fires had broken out in several of the shelled positions, pouring out smoke that made it harder to discern what was going on in the town. The cruiser mercilessly shot at whatever tried to shoot at them, their small guns still pounding and concussing the NSS scouts far away. Behind the smoke from the cruiser’s armament, Natasha saw a key element of the plan beginning to form: landing craft were being hoisted over the side of the ship with its crane, filled with a platoon of naval infantrymen each. There were four of them: an entire company of troops was heading towards the shore of Sochi.

Natasha watched the landing craft form up and begin their sail to the shore. They swerved between gunfire and the smoking wrecks of Russian boats, a wide wedge cutting their way through the breaking waves. Through her binoculars, she could see gunners on the decks of each boat begin to lay down fire. The reports of the automatic small arms echoed across the coast shortly thereafter. Mortars, angled shallowly on the craft, launched out smoke grenades to the beach that hit and burst open to obscure their landings. The naval infantry had attempted to form a line and hit the beach at the same time, but one of the crafts was still being maneuvered into position and was trapped behind a Russian boat. The first three rushed ashore and dropped their ramps: soldiers charged out of the berths with rifles in hand, desperately making a run for cover as the pirates and bandits now began to take potshots at them. The fourth landing craft had to drop its ramp in the water, as its position was too clogged with debris, and make its naval infantrymen wade ashore.

Anton nudged his partner and slung his bag over his shoulders. “Let’s go,” he said, motioning towards the battlefield below. One of the seaplanes flew by, its engines cutting through the air, then dropped a bomb onto a street below. It exploded, shattering glass on the buildings just below the hill from them and forcing a concussive wave up onto them. Natasha plugged her ears with her fingers. Her ears rang and her vision was a little blurry, but she felt alright. She waited a moment to formulate her thoughts again: she felt like they had been scrambled like an egg for a second.

“Alright,” she answered. Bending over to pick up her own rifle and kit, she quickly donned her load-bearing vest and smock. Without a word, they left the hilltop to head down to the sounds of battle below.

Nakhichevan, Armenia

A pair of black cars, little Armenian flags fluttering from the front of the hood, stopped on a dirt road next to a rustic-looking building. The lowlands of Nakhichevan had a vibrant green tone to them. The farms around the outskirts of the city stretched for kilometers, growing wheat, barley, grapes, or orchard fruits. In the mountains beyond them, intricate and well-worn mine tunnels led to deposits of salt, molybdenum, and lead. Life here was peaceful and simple: the divisions that seemed to terrorize urban Armenians in the center were nonexistent. Despite the fighting that occurred in the Artsakh, the Armenians, Azeris, and Iranians of Nakhichevan never had any reason to dislike each other. Whatever Russian migrants came to the towns below the mountains were welcomed with Persian politeness: many were laborers working the fields. While different groups were fairly self-segregated into their towns and regions, everyone was fairly free to do what they pleased. The province was much too blue-collar to concern itself with the political problems of the day.

Hovik Idratian stretched his legs in the back of the car, tucking the fabric of his shirt into his trousers. A wave of slight embarrassment washed over him when he felt the soft rolls of fat across his stomach: his wife had been scolding him to start running more and lose some of the beer belly, but long hours at the office had replaced whatever free time he had for exercise. Luckily, however, his suit was tailored in a way that was about as flattering as it could get. Despite this, he wasn’t allowed to button it: his publicist had recommended he wear a simple brown coat and pants with no tie, something to ground him more with the locals in this farm town. A photographer sat next time him, fiddling with her camera flash and talking nonstop about what kinds of angles and types of lenses she needed to get the best shots of him. Both Idratian and the bodyguard in the front seat paid no attention. She was probably just nervous, after all: it was her first time following someone as high up as the Vice President. The state-run Armenian News Service routinely furnished journalists and reporters to cover what the government was doing but they often had experienced veterans behind the camera.

A crowd had gathered in front of the wood-paneled town meetinghouse, with the village’s officials arriving outside. An older man in a boxy, well-worn dark grey suit sported a purple tie just like the President’s along with male-pattern baldness and a smile showing crooked teeth. Beside him was his town police constable: another older man, slightly darker in complexion with close-cropped brown hair and an elaborately thick mustache, who wore high riding boots and a low-slung revolver belt atop the classic blue police uniform. Everything was shined and polished, or as much as it could be. The townspeople were the definition of rough and tumble, almost picturesque rural farmers with stoic, weathered faces. Their sleeves on their flannels and shirts were rolled to their elbows, and even the women in their threadbare dresses looked like they could easily beat Idratian in a weightlifting competition. The officials shook hands with the Vice President and his entourage, before the man in the grey suit identified himself in a cheery voice: “My name is Vasif Shahbuzi! Welcome to my village, it is very exciting to have a visit from Yerevan.”

Idratian smiled: the mayor went along, almost skipping down the dirt road as he followed. The photographer behind them rushed into position, bent over and peering down the sight of her camera as she rushed from angle to angle like someone was shooting at her. The mayor explained what the name of the road was, where people lived, and how they lived. A stray goat crossed the road being chased by a girl in a green dress. The mayor chuckled at her, and so did Idratian. A mother came walking up from behind, hollering at her daughter to grab the goat’s collar and get it back to the pen. It felt scripted, like a scene from a movie, but the rural Nakhichevanis had a penchant for the dramatic. Eventually, the daughter threw herself towards the frightened goat and grabbed ahold of its collar before triumphantly returning to the road. She noticed the mayor out of the corner of her eye and turned to him: “Mr. Shahbuzi! The goat jumped the fence again!” she pouted. The photographer, sensing her opportunity, started snapping pictures. The click of the camera was rapid-fire. The mayor knelt next to her and the goat as the mother came up to thank him.

“See, if you really want to keep him under control,” the mayor said helpfully as he moved his grip to yoke up on the collar and to the back, “you have to hold him like this. Otherwise he slips out and runs away, and he doesn’t have any collar.”

The little girl nodded, her wide brown eyes following the mayor’s instructions. She tried it herself, smiling as the goat bleated. “Thank you!” she said, before turning her attention Idratian. “Who are you, mister?”

The Vice President looked down at the mayor, who answered: “Well, he helps the President run the country. He’s the Vice President, actually. The second-biggest man in the country.”

The little girl nodded, even if it was clear it wasn’t entirely sure that she knew what the position meant. Idratian at least thought it was a cute exchange, and asked her name. “Ivanka!” she replied, cheerily. “And this is my mother.”

The mother, by contrast, appeared quite nervous. She introduced herself by her family name as Mrs. Ali and politely excused herself. She took Ivanka and thanked the mayor for his time before bringing the still-stubborn goat across to their house, taking it behind and through a waist-high chainlink fence. The mayor and the Vice President continued their stroll down the packed dirt road. It sloped slightly downhill, the houses thinning out before plots of orchards took up more and more space. Ripening fruits of the late summer hung temptingly from the trees, as a few villagers picked them off the branches to assess their coloring. In one orchard, the father of a family was apparently satisfied enough with his apple that he bit into it and directed his teenaged son to gather a bucket to start plucking the fruit from that particular row of trees. The mayor explained the type of apples there and that this was their specific month for harvesting. It would be the last first run of the year, with more and more of them becoming ready in the autumn before the winter months.

Idratian nodded along, smiling and offering his own inputs on the kinds of agriculture that his family had fostered in the west. The Idratian family, long members of the poorer class of their village, found their luck in the late 19th century when an uncle passed away and left a large herd of cattle to them in his will. The family’s wealth increased significantly as they could sell more animal products at the bustling market. Their political life started modestly, as respected members of their bucak township at the time. Eventually, after service in the Fedayi during the Revolution, the Idratians soon found themselves as mayors of their hamaynkner town political division. Their popularity only grew from there, becoming a political dynasty of down-to-earth, common workers. His father made the rounds in the new Van marz, eventually elected governor in the 1930s. It was only natural that his son Hovik picked up the mantle: but only after finishing courses at the Agricultural University of Van and working the fields just as his father and grandfather did.

The soft, wet earth of the irrigated fields felt familiar to him, as he had walked across hundreds of similar ones during his campaigns. Although a long way from the pastures of his hometown, the rustic sights and smells of this village brought him back to Van. By his feet as the pair walked, water trickled through a beaten aluminum pipe and occasionally sprayed into rows of yellow-white wheat. Another villager, ever watchful, picked apart the grass and inspected the bushes’ readiness individually. Mayor Shahbuzi reminded Idratian that there were still a few weeks or so before the grain harvest. Idratian picked a kernel off one of the stalks of grass and bit gingerly into it, concurring. “Although it’s a shame you didn’t take me through the barley fields,” he remarked jokingly. “I keep Nakhichevani beer in the fridge at the Presidential Palace.”

Their tour finished back at the meetinghouse where it began, with the mayor and the constable both conversing with Idratian on the steps of the porch. With his hands in his pocket, Idratian surveyed the village again. They had been there for an hour or so, the sun was starting to reach its noon peak. They were due for a lunch before he ran off to more meetings with administrators in the Nakhichevan urban center, but the Vice President had pulled Mayor Shahbuzi and his constable to the side away from both of their entourages. “Mayor,” Idratian began, looking around. “I know things here aren’t as… visible to the Yerevan government as they should be. If you have any suggestions, let me know and I can try to make things happen. Totally candidly, of course… you and I both know what it’s like, the National Assembly gets too tied up in its own big-picture issues.”

Mayor Shahbuzi nodded along, stroking his chin pensively. “Small problems from the small people,” he mused poetically. “So far, we’ve been seeing a stagnant increase in wages. People just don’t make the same amount of money as they used to at the market and we’re starting to struggle.”

The Vice President reached towards the small notebook he kept in his pant pocket, flipping open the well-worn cover to scribble in some notes as the mayor talked. “I think it’s the industry,” Mayor Shahbuzi continued, becoming gravely serious. “Those subsidies are starting to push out the village folk. I don’t know what it’s like in the west or in the Artsakh, but we’re feeling the pinch here because we’re not heavy industry.”

Idratian continued to scribble. In the margins of his notebook, he wrote down something about subsidies and money flow to the Nakhichevan marz. “Makes sense,” he said. “We haven’t had anyone bring it up before… usually the main concern is obviously the Turks. Tanks, tanks, tanks. Guns, guns, guns. Railroads, cement factories.”

“Going to Georgia didn’t help either,” he added quietly before flipping the notebook shut. The mayor nodded and shrugged.

“That would go a long way to the problems we have. Leaky irrigation, old tractors, everything else. Bring more money to the people and we can fix it better. Or at least we could buy more duct tape and spare parts.”

“Alright,” agreed the Vice President before quickly moving to shake the man’s hand. “I’ll bring this to President Assanian.”

With gracious words of thanks, Mayor Shahbuzi waved the photographer over. Coming out of her place like a stalking animal, she moved to take a picture of the smiling handshake. He announced that they were ready for lunch, adding in that the Vice President’s favorite Nakhichevani beer would be served at the table since the brewery was so close by. The doors of the meetinghouse swung open, two aides flanking the wooden steps, and the politicians entered into the plain one-room structure. Atop a wooden table lined with rows of hand-carved chairs was a feast of local meat and grains. The chefs who prepared it stood proudly at the end by an Armenian flag hanging over the fireplace. They waved the Vice President in and sat him at the end of the table where Mayor Shahbuzi took the head. When all of them were seated, a toast was called for. Everyone in unison lifted their glasses of wine or beer as Mayor Shahbuzi and Vice President Idratian stood over them. One after the other, they toasted for Armenia.

“For the fertile valleys of Nakhichevan!” announced Mayor Shahbuzi.

Idratian finished the rest: “And for our mountain Fatherland: Armenia!”

Nation Name: Royal State of Unified Saraya

Type of Government: Constitutional Monarchy

Head of Government: High King Angara Kassaji I

Economy: Economic developments are regionally aligned. Mining and heavy industrial outputs are concentrated around the western border and the mineral-rich mountains and hills. The southern coast is referred to as the industrial heartland, with shipbuilding and heavy industrial factories prevalent there. Service-based, modern economic functions like banking and finance exist in the central coast near the capital and other affluent cities. Education and other service sectors are most prevalent in the central and northern cities, which form an urban corridor along the coast. Farming and agricultural production is centered along the river valleys and in the central grasslands of the country, while lumber and forestry is focused on the jungles to the northeast.

Unique Technologies: I guess I’ll figure this out.

Primary Species: Human

Population: 27.7 million

Culture: Sarayan culture is generally described as mellow. Laid back and relaxed, it is usual to find coffee and conversation in cafes and households across the country. There is an intricate respect-based system of nicety and politeness, derived from beliefs of equality and humility and supported by the religious pantheon. There is little racial or gender-based difference in society, as the country was formed from a quorum of tribal entities that brought diverse viewpoints and experiences into a melting pot. Gender roles do exist in the world but are typically flexible and it is not unusual to see working women or stay-at-home men. Most outright discrimination occurs with non-human outsiders, but centuries of dealing with the Verdasou have nullified problems with “humanoid” races such as the mer-creatures. The official language is Sarayan, also known by its dialectical name of Jazadi (after the capital city of Jazad.)

Religion and Beliefs: The official Sarayan religion is referred to as the Navari Pantheon. The Pantheon consists of the worship and written lore of a dozen deities and their stories. The Pantheon is heavily-based on the ancient writings of the Old Sarayan tribes, who focused their worship towards fire. As a result, most temples are fire temples and many of the gods have a direct connection with fire despite representing facets of the world. Magic use is directly related to the Navari Pantheon, as it is related to the ceremonies and miracles of the gods. Clergy often occupy important roles in the tribal and rural areas of the country, and function as local mages and miracle-workers for villages and towns.

Location and Territories: Southwest Pandyssia, south-southwest of Verdasou and directly east of Anglonia-Eirein. Stretches inland for about a sixth of the continent. (Plot #9.)

Climate: Coastal temperate leading inland, with lush river valleys along the two main river inlets leading towards dry, semi-arid grasslands on and beside the mountains in the south and western edges of the country with the border to Anglonia. While not type-classified as mountains, sizeable hills break up the topography before jungle begins at the western border. To the north, forests turn to tropical jungle environments along the Verdasou border. The interior is mostly calm and temperate with lush forests and wider grasslands. Many of the tropical storms arriving in Verdasou make their way towards the northern regions of Saraya but are usually weaker after spending some time over land.

Military: The Royal Sarayan military is based around modern principles focusing on the Land Forces, Sea Forces, Air Forces, and National Gendarmerie. The Land Forces maintain their area of responsibility for defense of the national borders and land-based foreign expeditions. The Sea Forces patrol the coastline and international waters, while the Air Forces provide air-based support to all of these services. The National Gendarmerie focuses on internal law enforcement and domestic security at the national level. Specialized units like the Border Corps, Amphibious Corps, or Royal Guard Corps are typically sub-unified branches roughly attached to parent services yet with their own independent structures.

The regular military is commanded by a quorum of Joint Service Chiefs with a head picked by the government while royal units (particularly the Royal Guard Corps, as authorized by the Constitution) are commanded by the High King. Various lower-level structures exist, including a national conscription reserve and militia element used to raise tribal levies on demand for conflict. These function as inactive parts of the regular military. Imperial tradition has resulted in the presence of several “elite” units generally independent of central authority, despite constitutional attempts to nullify the High King’s power over them. They have been mostly merged into the Royal Guard Corps, but subdivisions remain as independent regiment-sized elements across the country.

Magic Prevalence and Usage: Magic is heavily present in religious ceremony and cultural events. Many of the Navari clergy are adequate magical users, using them from summoning spirits at sermons to healing and providing alms. Gods of the Pantheon have imbued or dispersed magical powers, blessings, and abilities, albeit somewhat mysteriously. Average people are exposed to magic in their daily life as professionals such as doctors use it alongside traditional forms of medicine. It is taught in universities or special mage collages. The military has an organized training program for battlemages in combat and support roles. Usually most effective in the hands of the appropriately studied and skilled, magical power and imbuement finds a way into every facet of society from construction to entertainment.

History and Background: Saraya has a long and complicated internal history. Shielded by jungles to the west and mountains to the south, tribal culture and governments have existed since antiquity. In the early years of the 1st millennium, however, High King Yahani the Unifier established an alliance of tribes under the banner of his council. This alliance established a kingdom, dubbed Saraya after visions of the deity fire queen of Sara (referring to the head) encouraged acceptance and unification. The kingdom thrived on the southern coast of the Pandyssian continent for hundreds of years, establishing a national identity and embarking on campaigns to penetrate deeper into the heart of the continent in search of territory and imperial glory. Dynasties thrived, rose, and fell as the ages passed.

Ancient Saraya most famously clashed with the jungle-people in the center of the continent in a massive war. After decades of war, their victory was decisively won when an ancient Sarayi army descended upon their capital and razed it to the ground, going so far as to carry the very bricks of their buildings back to Jazad to form a new wing of the High King’s palace. The jungle eventually reclaimed whatever was left of their civilization, and the rest of their identity was lost to history. The only records that remain name them as the Rustosi, but much of their way of living is now so obscure and shrouded in lore and mystery that scientific and archeological evidence is difficult to prove.

Eventually, a national Sarayan identity was formed and used to rally nation-state ideals around. Tribal powers were quickly subsumed into an ever-more powerful High King, who ruled as an absolute autocrat for hundreds of years. Through good and bad, development of the country stalled and stuttered or progressed with the influx of new technology and ideas. Yet in the mid-1500s, the first of the Sarayan Revolutions was ignited by a belief that the monarch had consolidated too much power and the rest of the country was corrupt and undeveloped. Tribal forces rose against the High King and deposed him by 1564 after a decade of brutal fighting. Left scarred and ruined, the Sarayan people began the road to recovery with a new dynasty of tribesmen promising to pick up where the former king had ignored them.

A distrust of foreign power had developed as foreign influence crept into the country. These tensions simmered for centuries, sometimes breaking out into small conflicts that left Saraya utterly humiliated yet never totally conquered. These decimated the military and prestige of the new dynasty, forcing the country into its century of shame. Trade and openness eventually petered out, before the country closed itself off for the first fifty years of the 18th century. Eventually, internal strife forced the monarch to reopen the country in order to secure food and resources for a growing population, but a strong distrust of foreign powers remains to this day.

This dynasty survived for another two hundred years, before falling into the same traps as before. Just as the previous cycle fell, the second Sarayan Revolution established the Constitution of 1800 and installed the Padvian dynasty as rulers bound by oath to a new government. This was seen as a highly progressive move at the time, generated as new ideas surrounding democracy and government power were increasingly in vogue. These Padvians would rule an increasingly modernized empire as technology and money flowed from newly-opened trade between Anglonia and Verdasou. Jazad became a modern capital and the north coast of Saraya turned into an urban corridor. Industrialization took hold as the Padvians declared a strong military and industrial base the future security of their regime against foreign power, departing from tribal relations and magical-based might.

1927 marked a change in world power as the volcano explosion utterly decimated the northern hemisphere. In the south, the damage was not as severe, but climate change and a collapse of the international system led to hunger and internal unrest. The Padvian dynasty abdicated in early 1929 after two years of famine and rioting led to an attempt on life of the king that left him scarred and deformed. Almost a year of struggle led to the installment of High King Angara Kassaji. Kassaji, formerly a general officer in the Padvian military forces, utilized his connections to regiment and distribute food and resources to the people in the rural areas before marching on Jazad with an army of defectors and peasants. Kassaji declared the empire “Unified” again in December of 1929.

The climate began to normalize and the situation improve, while Kassaji managed a reconstruction effort. Bound by the Constitution, revived in 1930 after falling by the wayside with Padvian corruption, Saraya is poised to compete with the Pandyssians as the north proves prime territory for foreign intervention. Relegated to a second or third-rate status for most of their history, High King Kassiji and the Sarayan people welcome the destruction of the north as an open door for their country. Millenia of lore and identity have coalesced into a resurgent state, their people hoping and trying for greatness in a new era.

National Relations: Saraya retains diplomatic relations with several countries.

Southern Verdasou: Southern Verdasou is an important trade partner to the north, providing significant loans and economic support to the Sarayan industry. However, diplomatic disputes around the presence of the former High King Padvia IV in the Coral City have been a friction point in the relationship. While technically not seen as a threat or issue by the Kassiji throne, Padvia maintains a residence there that is often the subject of protests and disruption. The new Kassiji dynasty is also met with some skepticism by Verdasou's government, who are still assessing the new regime. However, positive progression in recent years with racial acceptance have smoothed previous issues regarding immigration and discrimination that was marred by allegations of human favoritism.

Anglonia-Eirein: Sarayan and Anglonian relations have typically been distant, yet amicable. While there is significant overlap in ethnic population, especially near the border, internal disputes in both countries have resulted in more of an internal focus. Despite this, they maintain a mutual understanding as they both have undergone significant modernization in order to reduce their vulnerability to outside partners. They have participated in trade, technology, and doctrine exchange to further "northernize" their economies and strengthen the political power of their nation-states.

The Flotilla: The Flotilla maintains a docking and trading agreement with the Sarayan government in the southern city of Kuzom, which has constructed docking infrastructure and logistical support networks significant enough to take on the massive fleet of airships. Flotilla citizens are allowed in this exclusive economic zone but are typically met with hurdles if they try to travel throughout the rest of the country.

Peep it and lemme know problems.

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