The Hourglass

Book 1 - Sand
Part 1
This thread is intended to be paired with Voyage of the Homebound (1.1)

Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Rahnam, Daabab 13th, 412

  As dusk rapidly approached Mukarras, the amber gleam of sunset filtered through the window of a 23rd floor penthouse suite, bringing with it a kind of comfortable silence, a cool and gentle breeze, and a faint scent of floral perfume. It was almost springtime in Aldaar, and Azniv felt confident that WEGEC would make their counterattack during Alnahda, during the festivities on the 20th of March. For that reason, she had slowly been issuing warnings to travel agencies, and cautioning foreign dignitaries. There would be future celebrations, but she wanted minimum collateral damage.

  For what seemed like the millionth time tonight, Azniv looked at what Yufraan had left her - carte blanche when it came to expanding and supplying Aldaar’s military. A signature, essentially from god, saying that Azniv Haviiz had the complete - and only - authority to expand the ADF however she wanted. She wondered where Yufraan and Omar were; she could find out, easily, but she preferred not to know. There were some truths better left unspoken. Sighing, she stood up and went to her window. The city was beautiful tonight.

  The fate of all that - the entire city, and many more out in the desert - was in her hands. She had never wanted this. She wasn’t even technically from Aldaar; by birth, she was Packilvanian. Not that where you were from mattered in Aldaar, anyways, and the country had no official policies for borders or immigration, nor did it have any requirements for citizenship besides residency. And she had certainly lived here long enough; Azniv had only been 8 when her parents sent her to live with her extended family in the city of Nafaq, an oasis town surrounded by nothing but desert for miles. Even then, she had known that Golden Oil had too much power - they controlled literally every method of transport into the town, which was renowned for its vast orchards. It had been difficult to find modern medication, but Nafaq had been here for millenia and the people knew how to use herbs to their advantage - in order to help her, Azniv had had daily doses of a remedy made from green tea, saw palmetto leaves, licorice, spearmint, and peony flowers. But most important was the Tanshiit cactus, a cactus native to the Anabat that very few people knew of outside of Nafaq, despite its almost mythical abilities to enhance the power of herbal remedies. But Azniv was getting distracted, and mentally expositing herbalism was not what she needed to focus on. Hopefully, a shower would help her focus.

  As Azniv was showering, though, she couldn’t help but mainly focus on her body. After 22 years, Azniv finally really loved how she looked and felt, and how other people saw her. She had put so much work into getting her body to be… well, her body. Something that jived with how she saw herself. Going from her community’s herbal remedies, to smuggled modern medicine, to surgeries in some of the best facilities in the world. She had come so far in 22 years; from local nobody to national hero and multimillionaire, from horrifyingly ugly (she smiled at this injoke with herself, she had actually been quite handsome) to beautiful, or at the very least quite cute. She did a little pose to herself, and laughed.

  And there was still that carte blanche, waiting for Azniv. Don’t worry, reader, she’s getting there. Be patient with her.

  She quickly dried off and went back to her desk, once again contemplating the enormity of the weight that had been placed on her shoulders. But then she remembered her family and community, who had taken her in and supported her no matter what. And she thought of the thousands of little girls who were just like she had been, whose lives would be destroyed if they were unable to preserve Aldaari independence. And suddenly, Azniv realized that she wasn’t protecting Aldaar. In fact, Aldaar wasn’t even a concrete thing that could be protected. It was a people, a way of life, a set of ideals - and more than that, it was a thousand peoples, millions of ways of living, and throughout the desert, tens of millions of ideals. It was that Aldaar that Azniv needed to defend; the one that had accepted her and lifted her up, even when there was an oppressive force pushing down against them. And now, that same oppressive force wanted to come back?

  Hell to the no.

  Maybe Azniv hadn’t wanted this responsibility, but she’d be damned if she wasn’t going to do her best. And her best was better than almost anyone’s. So she sat down, and began drafting the proposals for Aldaar’s last stand.

Book 1 - Sand
Part 2
This thread is intended to be paired with Voyage of the Homebound (1.2)

Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Shuruq, Daabab 17th, 412

  The docks were especially busy today, with all the weapons coming in for the defense of Aldaar. WEGEC had tried to set up a blockade, but given both international and Mirhaimian law - suffice to say it had been less than effective. Azniv was standing with her aide, a pretty young boy named Zayn Malik, running through the list of things.
  “Rifles?” she asked.
  “9mm rounds?”
  “Shotguns and shells?”
  “You know it.” Azniv looked at him over her sunglasses.
  “AT mines?”
  “They’re on their way. Should be here within the hour.” Azniv walks over to a table laid out under a sand-colored army tent, with Zayn close behind. There’s a map of the city on the table, with small plastic figurines littered across it; the air smells salty, and she can hear the cries of seagulls in the air.
  “Any word on our request for AA to the Federation?”
  “Not yet, ma’am, but we’re on it when there is.”
  “Perfect.” Azniv sighs, and looks at the map. “Zayn, where are you from?”
  “The Kamii. To the northeast.”
  “Not a city boy, huh?” Azniv chuckles. “What made you decide to leave it all? To come here, to the city, and work for this government?”
  “Umm… I, I guess I just…” he pauses. “I guess I just thought it was the right thing to do. The tribes, you know, we don’t like to get involved in you guys’ affairs much, but… what you’re doing here? It affects all of us.” He smiles, sweetly, remembering home. “My mom, she didn’t want me to go, y’know? But… I told her I’m doing it for my little brother, so he doesn’t have to grow up in a world where we have to ever be scared. Because that’s what these people want - they want us to be scared, so we do what they ask, so we become who they ask.”
  “That’s very noble. When’s the last time you talked to your family?”
  “About… four months ago, now.”
  “Well, listen. Come Alnahda, I want you out there with them. And until then… help me make sure we’re still here when you come back.”
  “Understood. Ma’am!” Zayn stands stiffly and does a formal salute, and Azniv smiles.
  “At ease, soldier,” she says while trying not to laugh. “Alright, so, what can we do?”
  “Well,” Zayn starts, now thinking hard. "We can’t prevent them from landing, that much is for sure. Luckily, what AA we have - both the Federation’s and our own (which is technically Mirhaime’s that we stole last time) will be able to cover any airdrop spots, meaning we just need to worry about the coast. And the only place where a coastal landing is viable is either here in Mukarras, or in Khisib - besides, they don’t need to do an amphibious assault anyways, because we have no real navy for them to need to destroy first. So, that means as long as we can keep them in Mukarras and Khisib, we should have a fighting chance.
  “I agree. Khisib can be lost strategically, I think - evacuate the city beforehand, and bomb the roads on our way out. Hopefully, the conflict will be done before they can either repair them or walk to Mukarras; we know from our last encounter that their vehicles aren’t suited for off-roading.”
  “But they are suited for urban warfare perfectly. I assume you have a plan to make sure they can’t take Mukarras? Something to do with those?” Zayn points at a ship which has just entered port.
  “Well, of course.”
  “Where were you thinking of putting them?”
  “I’m sorry?” The two look at each other for a second, Azniv with a sly grin on her face.
  “You heard me. We aren’t going to use them - not very many, anyways.”
  “But… but why? And how?”
  “Well, we don’t want to go around blowing holes in our streets, do we? Unless… no, that’s a terrible idea.” Azniv had briefly thought about creating a construction business to deal with the aftermath, but that seemed too war profiteer-y even for her. “But we can make sure they know we have them. Maybe detonate one soon, get a Mukarras Times story out of it. Put some on the piers right before so they hit them when they land.”
  “But then how do we deal with their armor after that?”
  “Well, they’ll be so cautious of the nonexistent minefields that if they even use their armor, they’ll be second-guessing every route they take. From there on, we can use small explosives to take them out. We have the materials for IEDs, and those 16-gauges can actually be turned into improvised mortars.”
  “I don’t want to know why you know that,” Zayn says, to which Azniv just smiles.
  “And, if we want to, we can even steal some of their armor; at that speed we should be able to ambush it with small arms fire. We know the city better than they do, after all.”
  “Do you have a plan to actually push them out of the city?” Azniv remains silent for a long second. “Ma’am?”
  “Yes. Yes I do.” And with that, Azniv walks out, leaving a bewildered Zayn to continue the preparations.

Book 1 - Sand
Part 3
This thread is intended to be paired with Voyage of the Homebound (1.3)
The first part of this is a joint post with Stander (Mirhaime).

Monday, February 6th, 2023
Arzaalnay, Daabab 18th, 412
  Azniv sighs, and stretches in her chair. She’s had a lot of meetings, trying to secure the defense of Aldaar before Anahid gives a public statement about the upcoming invasion. Most of today was spent just with Pierre, organizing the logistics of the Federation’s support. And she still had to review all the data collected by Amenates. Luckily, her schedule didn’t have any more meetings on it, so she could sit back and -
  “Ma’am, we have some people here for you.” Damn it.
  “Tell them I’m busy.”
  “I really think you’ll want to talk to them.”
  “I really think I won’t.” Azniv looks at her secretary, directly in his eyes. “Ugh, screw me. Alright, send them in.”

  It was only a few moments later when, into the room, two individuals came in matching clothing - inconspicuous three-piece suits topped with a crimson-coloured tie for the man, a black one for the woman, and similar pairs of business shoes. Both the man and the woman were no older than Azniv herself, but the way they presented themselves, and the battle scars on their brands and their faces seem to suggest that they were more than simple civilians here to complain about something trivial.

  The man was the first to remove his hat, bowing down ever slightly to greet Azniv.
  “Pleased to be in your presence today,” he spoke, the language and the dialect of which he spoke seemed to suggest that he was an Aeter-born Mirhaimian.
  “Perhaps you had expected us,” the woman spoke, her voice prominent with a scent of Cathaine, following her partner in removing her hat and curtsying if only for the sake of formalities. “If not then, perhaps, you’d like for me to lay things out?”

  “I wasn’t expecting you, but what I do expect is that I know who you are and why you’re here. I must say, I’m impressed at the covertness; I didn’t hear of a single murder in the time you spent getting here!” Azniv says this all in Fefsen with a flawless Lorenian accent and a slight glint in her eye that tells the visitors she knows something they don’t. She probably knows many things they don’t, none of which are relevant to the meeting at hand, like the Mukarrasi Phoenixes’ batting average for the past couple seasons. Although, who knows, maybe they’re huge fans of obscure local baseball teams? Despite having met with many agents before, Azniv’s never seen these two; she assumes they’ve been sent here to replace any corruption that may have existed in KUSA’s Aldaar office, but she can’t be sure. “Have you been enjoying your stay? I hope you’ve gotten the chance to try Nihari - from what I understand it’s quite different from breakfast in Novaris, but it is delicious.”

  “Our restaurant serves it,” the man laughed, taking a seat for himself to sit down and lean back on, his hat resting on his lap, “Perhaps you’ve heard of Koran’s?” Soon followed by his partner, she nodded politely to Azniv before sitting down, and crossing her legs.
  “But we aren’t here to talk about food, are we?” She chuckled, pulling from the canvas bag that she kept by her side a folder of documents and placing it on Azniv’s desk. Within contained documents that they were to narrate. The nature of the documents laid out a proposal of cooperation between KUSA - the brutally effective intelligence agency subservient to the Crown itself - and the government that Azniv served. These were topped off with a few documents relevant to the upcoming battle - carefully monitored by the Kervarmohedh Umsedha during their ongoing operation in the country - as a sign of good will.

  “It’s clear that you’re educated in Mirhaime, after all, you speak our language flawlessly,” the woman said, leaning forward with her arms crossed, “Then perhaps it is safe to assume that you understand Ymirodraeth’s precarious standings with the government which you oppose?”

  “I do understand them; as a matter of fact I have already helped provide Alane the means with which to deal with the worst of them. Which is why I believe we can work together; the Aldaari people are quick to forgive and move on, after all, and even after we secure our independence I believe we can still work together. That being said, we may be forgiving but we still don’t give something for nothing - so let me hear your proposal.”

  “We never did you wrong,” the woman chuckled, leaning back against her seat, “WEGEC did,”. She turned to her partner who she trusted firmly knew the details well enough to relay it as flawlessly as her.
  “Perhaps you’ve heard of the term ‘Alarism’ being thrown around quite a lot when it comes to the studying of Mirhaime post Great War,” the man spoke, “It necessitates the experimentation of the Commonwealth Systems in order to sustain the mainland itself through means preferably…non-exploitative. Alor was the one who proposed the voyage to West Gondwana and Ciorstaidh - a name you might be familiar with - was the one who proposed the structure of the state that had kept your people under chains for a century.”

  Stopping for a moment, his eyes turned away to the window on the side of the room - one that he knew for a fact was facing East - before turning back to look at Azniv. “While others in Arcturia became successful democratic states, Aldaar had the misfortune of becoming the shadow state that it’s known now, and we’ve been trying to get rid of it for decades. The student movements of the nineties all the way to the recent debates,” he sighed, biting his own lips as he thought of how to present the words that he had in mind, “Perhaps we could assist one another. Your Army’s lacking the hardware and the expertise to wage a conventional fight, and the technological gap has plugged most of the advantages that the deserts here have given you. If Aldaar is to be free then by large decisive conventional engagement it must defeat its foes.”

  “There are details of our task forces currently operating in the Western Gondwanan Theatre,” the woman opened up yet again, gesturing towards the document before Azniv, “A battalion’s worth in strength, and veterans of unconventional and conventional warfare alike. They might have what your Army needs along with some supplies courtesy of the Mirhaimian taxpayers.”

  “I see,” Azniv says, chewing on her lip. “We know the WEGEC-loyal forces can’t make any headway from inland or the air, thanks to the Côtoise’s help. But while most of our coastline is too rocky for an amphibious invasion, there are a few areas that need at least a spotter. In addition, Alkhatawf is planning something big - I know, it was news to me, too. But they need somebody who can access every computer tied to WEGEC’s system to help spread a message. For the battle of Mukarras, we need somebody with a navy in order to stop our enemies from being reinforced; I assume we both want this over as quickly as possible. And lastly, we need your people in Loren ready to move on the ringleaders of this whole shabang. Questions, comments, concerns?” Azniv finishes.

  “We should be the one asking you that,” the woman said, her eyes inconspicuously looking downwards to her left wrist to see the time on the watch that she wore, “We’re way ahead of you in working with KUSE to file a case for their arrests. The playground’s ours with the Aeterite Armada’s blockade, anything in or out without authorization and they’d be gone. We need a designated zone to drop our specialists, operatives, and supplies though so I trust that you’ll arrange that soon enough?”

  “Of course. There are a few places that work, I’ll have my assistant get on that; but at first thought I would suggest using the airport in Bohyate, since Mirhaimian planes land there all the time without any scrutiny. From there it’s a short drive to Hasa where our own operatives can deliver it where it needs to be.”

  “If that’s the case then you could expect the first planes carrying supplies and operatives to arrive by next week,” the woman said, standing up as she prepared herself to leave along with her partner, “If you need us, our cell’s in Koran’s. Try the food there, maybe you’ll like it.”

  “I’m sure I will. Oh, and by the way; I was educated in Nafaq, and I dropped out of high school. Thank you for the compliment, though. Now, if you don’t mind, an advisor’s work is never done… even with nobody around to advise.”

  “We’ll keep that in mind,” the man said, a friendly chuckle escaping him to break the tense atmosphere as he turned his back on Azniv and retreat from the room along with the woman, both of them not forgetting to tip their hats as a small sign of courteous respect before breaking out if sight.

  And so, into the streets of a liberated Mukarras they disappeared, the scenery of a changing time equally worrying and fascinating to their eyes. The free having broken off their chains roaming the streets beneath bright banners denouncing the invaders, to militia preparing themselves for a battle of titanic proportions yet to come. This wasn’t an Aldaar that they were familiar with but alas one they accepted as necessary - after all, for freedom, no cost is ever too great even to the malevolent eyes of the organization they serve.
  “What a strange place, isn’t it, Aran?” The woman asked, holding her partner’s hand as she walked the street with him.
  “Strange and familiar at the same time, Cadhla,” Anrai said with a smile, “Strange and familiar.”
  “Strange to think how long we’ve been here,” Cadhla said, her eyes turning away from him and back on the road they were walking.
  “We saw everything with our own eyes and yet we could scantily believe it,” Aran smiled, "But that’s enough politicking for a day, let’s get back and open the shop, shall we, honey?
  “Yes, darling,” Cadhla smiled warmly, “Let’s.”

  Meanwhile, Azniv was beginning to relax. The more things change… this wasn’t her first time working with KUSA, after all. But now, the roles were almost reversed. Of course, she knew what was in it for the Fefsen - good press, destroying Alane’s opposition, and all without even abandoning most of their strategic needs. A perfect partnership for both sides. A win-win. And yet… Azniv still felt like she was missing something. Like there was still a puzzle afoot, a clue or piece of evidence she had yet to consider.
  “Why now?” Azniv wondered aloud.

  After all, while most of the government had been kept in the dark, KUSA had known. They had always known. Maybe she was just being paranoid, but Azniv felt like there was something that those operatives hadn’t told her - hell, maybe something that the Mutadiit hadn’t even told her. No, something else was happening in Aldaar. Azniv Haviiz was sure of it.

Book 2 - Moon
Part 1
This thread is intended to be paired with Voyage of the Homebound (2.1)

Tuesday, February 14th, 2023
Yaatiin, Daabab 26th, 412

  “I’m sorry, we need to do what?” Anahid Terzian could’ve shrieked, but she held it together for now. In front of her (and a good distance below), that damn vulpine looked serious - as well she should, considering what she was suggesting.
  “You heard me. We need to make preparations for evacuation, should people wish,” Azniv repeated.
  “And why is this my job?”
  “Because I’m busy planning for, you know, the actual invasion of our nation by a foreign force that wants to oppress our people? And Naciri’s off with the Mutadiit. Plus, journalists fall under your jurisdiction anyways.” Anahid sighs.
  “Alright. I guess I’d better get to it, then. Anything specific you wa-” but Azniv is gone. Damn it.

  Anahid wasn’t used to any of this. She was never a politician, she was a celebrity - revolutionary only in the fact that she was a native born Aldaari. Sure, she hadn’t liked the Golden Oil government, but she had never directly criticized them. The problem was that the Amanshii caste had been absolutely devastated under Golden Oil, and while the Kauda had mostly returned to a healthy membership, becoming Amanshii required time and education. When the ten or so people who comprised the First House had unanimously agreed on her as their representative, Anahid had originally been honored, but as reality settled in it seemed a little more like a curse than a blessing. With all the running around, she had barely had any time to work on her poetry - or finish her screenplay, which had previously been coming along quite nicely. Anahid was well aware that she had the needs of many others in her hands now, but she was a person too.

  Anahid thought back to when she’d first learned to love the arts. Her parents had managed to retain most of their wealth despite the occupation, and one day for her birthday they’d bribed a Guardsman to let them across the border into Sayyed. Anahid’s parents had taken her to a movie theater in Assalaarqa, a city filled with magical lights and that never fell asleep - or at least, that was how it had seemed to her as a little girl. They’d gone to see some arthouse film, generally not the best for little kids, but Anahid had loved it. The storytelling, the cinematography, the pure exhibition of what was possible even with limited resources when you put your mind to it. She began looking into it, reading books far beyond her age, fiction, biography, philosophy, poetry. She’d started writing her own poetry when she was 11, and at 14 she’d won a local poetry competition in her hometown of Murad. By 16, she was directing and acting in short films with her friends, things not that far off from what she’d seen in Assalaarqa. She’d gotten a grant to Yuulii-Suulii (Author’s note: The colloquial name for the University of Suleiman, derived from Staynish) in Hasa, giving Anahid free reign to satisfy her voracity for creation. This was back in the early 2000s, before the revolution. That hotheaded little fennec, Azniv, had only been a year old.

  Anahid had never been a revolutionary, or at least not an anti-government one (although some had said her filmmaking was revolutionary; really it wasn’t, she knew.) And she had always known Golden Oil was evil - one doesn’t have to be a direct victim to recognize that. She hadn’t wanted to get involved with politics, but here she was - a storyteller, directing a story that was just a little too real. But ah well. Anahid would do her job, and she’d do it damn well, too. And if anyone could spin up a convincing evacuation speech, it would be Anahid Terzian, now wouldn’t it?

Book 2 - Moon
Part 2
This thread is intended to be paired with Voyage of the Homebound (2.2)

Thursday, February 16th, 2023
Askiiz, Daabab 28th, 412

  Anahid is standing in front of a mirror in her makeshift dressing room, silently psyching herself up for the next hour or so. She’s done a million press conferences, but she still always gets nervous like it’s her first time. Her makeup has been done by her assistant, accentuating her lilac eyes, and her simple black dress works to contour her body without being distracting. Everything is perfectly planned, perfectly put together - and so is she.
  “Are you ready, Mutj?” Anahid’s assistant asks. The Advisor takes one more deep breath and plasters on her well-practiced smile.
  “I am.”

  As Anahid beings to walk on the stage to the small podium, cameras begin flashing, creating a sea of blinding lights because for whatever reason people don’t know how to turn off flash - or they do, and they just don’t feel like it. As Anahid stands silently, the hubbub slowly dies down until the room is silent. It doesn’t stay that way for long, however, as Anahid begins to speak.
  “Journalists, citizens, and friends, almost [three months] ago our people rose up and stood against our oppressors, spearheaded by the courageous work of the Mutadiit Alaalahiiya Yufraan Abd’ildarra and many others who were crucial to the resistance effort. The revolution allowed us to reclaim our culture, our religion, our independence, our liberties, and most importantly, our freedom. Our freedom to make our own way in an ever-changing world. Our freedom to love one another and be loved. Our freedom to be the authors of our own destiny, as so many Aldaaris before us. However, the forces against us will not be content in our victory. We have known this from the start, and we now know that our worries were right. WEGEC is coming back for us, this time utilizing more force than they did during the Aldaari Spring.” As Anahid says this, a murmur quickly spreads through the assembled crowd, which silences as the advisor raises her hand. “However, while WEGEC may be better prepared, more well-armed, and with more experience in the horrific art of suppression, they are not the only ones that have grown. The nation of Aldaar has gained access to professional-grade arms, great military strategists, and the assistance of powerful international backers. But I am not here today because of arms, or strategy. I am here because unlike WEGEC, we care about the people of the Anabat, the people of Aldaar. This battle may be costly - freedom always is. We, of all people, should understand that. But that cost should not fall to you, the people. This burden should never have been forced upon you, and though under WEGEC there was no other option, we are choosing to alleviate it. For the past several weeks, the government has been preparing an evacuation plan towards the east of the country, where our intelligence shows that WEGEC will not be able to reach. As the fight for our freedom continues, the people will be safe. You have our guarantee.” Anahid takes a deep breath.

  “I will now open the floor for questions.” The flashes of cameras once again begin going off, as an aide selects journalists to ask questions.
  “Rajiiya Zaman, the Mukarras Speaker. Is the government sure that these evacuation facilities will be able to supply the needs of so many people?”
  “These facilities have undergone countless tests by our engineers and analysts, and are guaranteed to be able to supply those assigned to them. There are other destinations for evacuation programs which will be released within the next week.”
  “Morau Stepanian with the Dawrani Post. Where can citizens go to get these assignments, or where can more information found?”
  “The official government website at evac/gov.ald has information on in-person options near you, as well as a line to call to remotely apply.”
  “Haiidar Bakiir, with the Aldaari People’s Daily. Is there anything that Aldaari citizens can do to fight WEGEC or help with the war effort?” The question caught Anahid off guard, as she ruffled through her notes.
  “I - well - hmm,” she said, musing on the question, and stepping away from the microphone to think. “I suppose if people wanted to help, there are crucial roles in logistics or engineering… theoretically one could join the ADF, but that requires training which we don’t have. But do I -” she starts when her phone randomly starts ringing. She looks at it. Azniv. Sighing, she answers. “This is not the -”
  “Put me on.”
  “They’re asking about ways they can help, right?”
  “How do you… yes.”
  “That’s my jurisdiction. Put me on.” A very confused Anahid, figuring it couldn’t hurt, shrugs and returns to the mic. This is unorthodox, sure, but as all Aldaaris know, orthodoxy is lame.
  “To answer the question from the Aldaari People’s Daily, I have Advisor Azniv Haviiz who oversees the military.”
  “Thank you, Advisor,” Azniv starts, her voice crackling through the phone speaker. “The Mutadiit Alaalahiiya has given authorization for me to create the Aldaar Militia Service, which will focus on giving willing participants non-combat service roles. We do not expect anyone to sign up; the job will be dangerous. However, should you truly wish to serve your people and you believe you have a set of skills that will be beneficial to the war effort, that option is now available to you. Thank you very much.” And she hangs up. As the crowd of journalists begin to talk in hushed tones, Anahid stands onstage concealing her feeling of utter shock. Because, like, what just happened? Yufraan wasn’t even in the country right now. Did Azniv have some quick way to contact them? Or was something else at play here? That damn fennec was as inscrutable as she was smart, and Anahid couldn’t tell whether she was a powerful child playing with forces beyond her control, or whether she was some supergenius with plans stretching years in advance. Either way, the thought scared Anahid. Lucky for her she was a great actress. As she processed whatever had just occurred, she began to corral the journalists.
  “Attention! Yes, if we could please have the room’s attention at this time?” Anahid asked with a harsh voice and a sweet smile. “We will now resume questions.” And so Anahid spent the next 10-15 minutes answering various questions ranging from independence plans to clarifications to the official stance of the government on Mirhaime, careful on all to maintain the strictest professionalism. And as Anahid reflected on the day’s events while leaving the press conference room, she tried to take a rational approach to the events. Likely, the militia would be a flop. Probably no more than a couple hundred people would sign up, and it wouldn’t matter whether this was a genuine help or a ruthless power grab, because either way it would fail.


Book 2 - Moon
Part 3
This thread is intended to be paired with Voyage of the Homebound (2.3)

Monday, February 20th, 2023
Arzaalnay, Daabab 32nd, 412

  “So, how many people have signed up for your little militia?” a tired Anahid started to Azniv at their weekly meeting.
  “Thirteen thousand,” Azniv responded with a sly grin, to which Anahid looked up in surprise
  “I… hadn’t expected that many.”
  “A day.” A day?

  “Excuse me?” Anahid wasn’t sure she had heard her right. That would mean… more than fifty thousand people had signed up to help. “Don’t tell me you were offering some sort of incentive.”
  “Besides basic pay, benefits, and recognition? No… although the benefits are pretty good.”
  “But then why would that many people sign up?” Anahid asked. She felt stupid, and if there was one thing she hated, it was not understanding something. It was clear that Aldaar was a sinking ship - sure, they would try (it was their job after all) but it wasn’t like it really mattered. Why didn’t they run away, try to save themselves? Why were people so willing to lose everything? Anahid looked up, and saw Azniv wearing that same grin. Just like a fox, Anahid supposed. Her fellow advisor whispered something she couldn’t quite hear, and then spoke up.
  “Come with me.”

  Two hours later, and an extremely regretful Anahid was sitting in Azniv’s car listening to the new album from The Eclectics, a popular Aldaari electro-pop band which it seemed like the young vulpine loved, given that she was able to perfectly sing along to all their songs from memory. Azniv was a surprisingly good singer, too, and Anahid had no clue how she was able to hit the lower notes considering the band was all liintat - Aldaaris preferred their own word, because the Staynish term kinda sucked and was some weird acronym or something. At least Azniv’s car was nice, a baby blue convertible custom-fit to travel around the harsh desert in style. Anahid’s family had been well-off, but never this rich, and it was quite nice. Eventually, Anahid saw their destination on the horizon - the Nafaq Oasis, although she still had no idea why they were going there. On the open road, they had been going close to 80 with few other cars around - despite being a highway between two major cities, the conditions of Aldaar meant that flying between the cities could end up being cheaper in the long term, and travel wasn’t massive anyways. People tended to stay within their communities, and would often die within a few blocks of where they had grown up. Out west, anyways, where they were.

  Modern poets had often compared Aldaar to the ocean floor, which Anahid had always thought was weird, because the Anabat is, on average, the driest continuously inhabited place in the world. While the coastal areas, like Mukarras, could actually get up to 20 inches a year, which was pretty high, many inland areas only got up to 3 inches a year max. But Anahid supposed there was some beauty to the comparison itself - the thought that, despite the massive and obvious differences, there was still some unifying factor between even the most disparate things. But even more so, in some ways the comparison rang true. Both were mostly unknown to the wider world, for one. And both were some of the weirdest and most diverse places on the planet. Even in a rural towns, you didn’t need to travel far to find a Norgsveltian, or a Tretridian, or a Packilvanian, or someone from a myriad of other countries, other worlds - some who had been here for centuries, others who had only arrived last month. It didn’t hurt that, of course, Aldaar had no caps or requirements for refugees or migrants. Aldaaris didn’t need to travel the world; the world had brought itself to Aldaar. It was a beautiful notion (One Anahid was sure to incorporate into a film) and seemed especially apparent as Azniv’s car slowed to a crawl as they began to enter the city of Nafaq. Horns were blaring, people were talking in… at least seven different languages, all as the smell of kibahb wafted through the streets. A small group of felines seemed to recognize Azniv and ran through the busy, but luckily now stalled, traffic, to the car where the advisors were sitting.
  “Arham, min amesol!” Azniv yells at them, in a language Anahid recognizes as Packilvanian. “Silnazrapor mibayeet, khawayar mupramaanarud nethul!” A young girl from the pack nods, and Azniv turns to look at Anahid. “Come with me,” she says, climbing over the door and handing the girl 2,000 Muhaarat, or just over 100 Kiribs, with Anahid quickly hurrying after her.
  “Thanks!” the girl yells in accented Asahri, as the two Advisors quickly scramble off the busy road while Azniv gives instructions in some Asahri-Packilvanian creole to a man who Anahid infers to be the leader of the group. As they get off the road and into the shade of a tight alley, far from the hubbub of the main road.
  “What… just happened?” a slightly dazed Anahid asks. “Aren’t you worried she’ll steal your car?”
  “Of course not. Theft is bad for business.”
  “So… she just takes your car somewhere?”
  “Yeah, people pay them to deal with the traffic. You can tell the real ones because they’ll be in groups, like those were. I did only pay for a pretty nearby place, though I left about 6,000 more muhaarat in the dash and gave her a note.”
  “Well, chances are with a Packilvanian group that leader guy is taking about 60-70% as his ‘cut.’ That way, only she gets it.” Azniv says all this like it’s completely natural, and it is here that Anahid begins to realise just how little about the world she knows, even at 44 years old. How little about her own country she knows.

  After weaving through back alleys for what seems like forever, Anahid and Azniv finally emerge into a wide open clearing filled with trees in neat rows amid a pristine field. Azniv stops for a brief second to turn around and look at Anahid, who has almost collapsed from all the exercise. She isn’t exactly athletic, even though she tries her best, but… how is that vulpine even still standing? she wonders.
  “We’re almost there!” Azniv pipes up cheerfully.
  “Almost… where?” Anahid asks, doubled over, but Azniv has already started walking. With a sharp gasp for air, Anahid follows her. It’s only another minute or so before they walk around to the front of a small single-family home, attached to the orchard they had seen. As Anahid drags herself over to a bench to sit, Azniv knocks on the door.
  “Arham!” she cheerily says, and a woman’s voice responds in kind.
  “So glad to see you again, miikha.” Wait, miikha?
  “Good to be here. I’ve brought someone for you to meet.” As Anahid realizes what’s happened, an older vulpine woman steps out of the doorframe. “Mom, this is my coworker, Anahid Terzian. Anahid, this is my mother.”

Book 2 - Moon
Part 4
This thread is intended to be paired with Voyage of the Homebound (2.4)
CW: Explicit Language

Monday, February 20th, 2023
Arzaalnay, Daabab 32nd, 412

  “So, dear, Anahid is it? I love your poems,” started the graying vulpine woman - Nuur, her name was. She poured the two advisors some tea with a type of grace Anahid could only admire, that of somebody who had learned to carry out a mundane task with sheer perfection.
  “Well, thank you. Always good to meet somebody who appreciates exploratory art forms, especially…” she trailed off.
  “From my generation?” Nuur said, finishing Anahid’s sentence. “Oh, no need to worry, I’m well aware of my age,” a grin crossing her lips. “Now, miikha, I imagine there’s a reason you dropped by, as you do so rarely?”
  “Shiima, you know I’m busy!” Azniv retorted with a smile.
  “Bah!” Nuur crossed her arms. “If you’re so busy, then why are you here? Isn’t there a war you should be preparing for?”
  “We’re here because she thinks I need to figure out what I’m fighting for,” Anahid blurted out, staring off into the middle distance. That came out of nowhere, she thought to herself.
  “Well? Do you?”
  “I…” Anahid glanced around looking for her oh-so-gracious host, who is nowhere to be found. Where’d that damnable fox go?

  Nuur tapped her foot with something between curiosity and impatience.

  Looking out the large windows of the alcove they were sitting in, all Anahid could see were the date trees that traced the edge of the oasis and the water itself, an azure blue and sparkling with drops of sunlight. The street was mostly empty, except for a carpet vendor setting up their wares. Beautiful, to be sure. But beauty exists everywhere - what makes this beauty special?
  “I don’t know.”
  “Hmm,” the older woman said, mulling things over. “Tea?” she asked, although it didn’t sound like a request to Anahid.
  “I -”
  “Perfect,” Nuur interrupted, moving to pour Anahid some tea. The poetess let it happen. After pouring herself some more tea as well, she asked Anahid if she could tell her a story. Figuring it didn’t matter what she said, Anahid gesticulated in an obliging manner. “When I was a young girl, I was a seamstress. My parents died when I was very young, and although it put a burden on her, my adult sister decided to take me and my brother in, as my dawlaayat were all much too far to travel in those days. In order to help support the two of us, I turned my hobby for sewing and weaving into a profession. There was enough to eat and drink - and smoke, when I got older - and we were happy.” She took a sip of her tea. "When I was a slightly older girl, the AVG found out what I was doing. They sent some men to knock on my door, and tell me what I was doing was illegal. I didn’t have the proper permits. When I asked what the proper permits were, they laughed. They said they ought to arrest me, but because I was a child, they’d have to arrest my sister instead. But they might be able to let us go… for a price. So we paid them, that month and every month after.
  “I’m sorry you had to go through that,” Anahid finally managed to say. But with a sparkle in her eye, Nuur just responded with
  “Don’t be so sorry yet. Now, where was I? When I was a young woman, I met a young man, and we fell into love - but not so deeply that we were irrational, mind you. We tried to make a life for ourselves, but the restrictions were harsh and we didn’t have the money to get around it. So my raykhaat took a job far to the north, in an oil refinery. Jobs were scarce then, and Golden Oil kept it that way so that no matter what they did, they’d have people begging to work for them. Conditions were bad. Pay was bad. And we both suffered without each other. And a few months after he left, I miscarried. It was the worst time of my life.
  But things got better, as they always do. I recovered enough that I could continue with my work, and Tawaabah gaining some more power meant that the AVG was distracted, enough that they no longer harassed me more often than every couple months. My raykhaat worked his way up through sweat and blood, and the lives taken and given by the revolution - then just a piece of lit kindling - meant that WEGEC ensuring profit margins meant letting native Aldaaris climb higher than they could a few years prior. And then the love of my life fell in with some union organizers and was killed.”
  After a few seconds of silence, a stunned Anahid finally managed to spit out a “Wait, what the fuck?”
  “What do you mean?”
  “Well… what, that’s it?”
  “It certainly was for him.”
  “Oh my god!”
  “That was almost fifty years ago. I’ve moved on.”
  “So… so what, he just… just… what’s the point of this?” Anahid sputtered out.
  “After his death, I struggled for many years. I forgot what it even meant to live. I was despondent, barely eking out a living.”
  “Then what broke you out of it?”
  “Eighteen years ago, my brother sent me a message from Bingol, asking me to take care of his child, fearing it wasn’t safe for her in the country. I knew I had to make a choice, but I wasn’t sure I had the strength to.”
  “So what did you do?”
  “Simple: I went to al-Bawdikaal Mountain. I hiked up it. And I saw all I could see from the top of the world.”
  “And you think this will help me?”
  “Yes. But, a piece of advice, dear?”
  “I saw how out of breath you were when you came in. I’d recommend driving.”

Tuesday, February 21st, 2023
Yaatiin, Daabab 33rd, 412

  One thing was for sure, Anahid was getting her steps in. Azniv too, but that little fox seemed to have endless energy. They had parked as close as they could, but there was still about a three-mile hike to the peak. When they finally arrived, Anahid looked as far as she could. It seemed like she could see the entirety of Mukarras, the lights of the cities, the brewing sandstorms and the verdant fertile fields.

  Mostly, though, Anahid Terzian saw a whole lot of nothing.

  And the poet inside of her recognized that that was the point.

Book 3 - Stars
Part 1
This thread is intended to be paired with Voyage of the Homebound (3.1)

Saturday, March 18th, 2023
Baterazam, Daabab 59th, 412
23:39 PM

  Overlooking the city of Mukarras from his window vantage point, a young man clad in all black clutched a radio.
  “Yuraab Mission Control, we are in position and ready to commence operation when we receive all-clear, over.”
  “Roger, Yayn Mik. You have permission to begin at zero hundred on the 60th, over.”
  “Roger,” the soldier finished. Suddenly, another voice came from behind the young man.
  “Relax, sarge. We’ve trained for this. We’ve been over the plan a million times. If anything goes wrong, it wasn’t our fault.”
  “Yeah,” said a contralto female voice in a teasing tone, the woman who sourced the voice coming over to the young man and leaning on top of his head, before the young man shrugs her off. “Chill out, Kaminski. It’s just the fate of the entire country resting on our shoulders. No pressure, of course.”
  “Cut it out, AJ,” a third more masculine voice chimes in. “Ildarra knows he doesn’t need the added pressure. Don’t let’em get to you, sarge.”
  “I, for one, am excited. You don’t get to liberate a country every day,” came the final voice in a high register. And on that note, Sergeant Ethan Kaminski of the ADF stood up and turned around to look at his squad.
  The first voice belonged to Khosrov Barsamian, a tall and thin, but well built, orcish man in a medic uniform. This made sense, given that he was the squad’s medic. Ethan and Khosrov had been friends since basic training, and the sergeant was glad to have him here now - he was dependable, and he knew his stuff.
  The second voice belonged to AJ Kaminski - his little sister, but more importantly, a damn good markswoman. Skilled with every gun Ethan had heard of, and several he hadn’t, she was someone you wanted by your side in a firefight.
  Third up was Salah Ali, an expert hacker, tinkerer, tech wizard, and user of various explosives. Guy was a genius, and Ethan knew that there wasn’t a situation he couldn’t get himself out of with some duct tape and chewing gum.
  And then there was Sally. She was the new girl, and at first Ethan had had his reservations about this ursine woman with a butterfly pin in her hair and the voice and general vibe of a middle school girl, but then in training she had punched down a door and handled a minigun with the ease one might handle a ribbon or piece of light cloth, and Ethan had decided not to press the issue. She was unusually strong, especially for her size, and he was just glad she was on their side - partly because he knew he wouldn’t want to take her down, and mostly because he knew he wouldn’t be able to.
  Finally, there was him. Sergeant Ethan Kaminski, Nystatinne emigrant, top of his class in officer training, perpetually cool, calm, and collected. He just hoped he would be able to make it through the next day. Maybe become a war hero while he’s at it?

  “Alright, Yuraab Squad. It’s time to get prepped and get this show on the road. Khos, you verify our targeting coordinates. Salah and AJ, you two get the mortar set up. Sally, let’s you and I get everything ready to move and then get down to ground level. We all know the plan?” The four of them nodded. “Perfect. Let’s get to work.” The next several minutes were a blur, checking and double checking numbers with HQ, stuffing things into various bags, trying to make sure the shells didn’t explode, and each of them making some last minute adjustments to their gear. When Ethan checked his watch, it was 23:58. “Alright, let’s head down,” he said, to a nod from Sally, and a solemn ‘good luck, and arham kaawlbak’ from all of them. They were on the 30th floor and were each carrying around 150 pounds of gear, so Ethan and Sally decided to take the elevator down, with some gentle and soothing elevator music to go along with it.

  They arrived on the road, and Ethan checked his watch. 00:00. He grabbed his night vision and looked down the street. Dead center and due West was a cruiser flying the flag of Mirhaime - right on cue. He held up the radio.
  “Yayn Lay, you may fire when ready.” He heard a whistling sound, he saw the explosion on the deck of the ship, and then all hell broke loose.

ADF Sergeant Ethan Kaminski overlooking the city.

Book 3 - Stars
Part 2
This post is intended to be paired with Voyage of the Homebound (3.2)

CW: Violence, death

Mik - Ethan Kaminski
Kak - Khosrov Barsamian
Sohn - AJ Kaminski
Lay - Salah Ali
Khaamza - Sally

Sunday, March 19th, 2023
Shuruq, Daabab 60th, 412

  By now, the mines that the ADF had strewn all over the seafront had mostly stopped going off, although some of the very few mines placed within the city itself still popped every few minutes. Thank the deities they had made a map of them beforehand. Luckily, though, the mines had done their job: the forces from Mirhaime had been ground to a screeching halt as they were still too paranoid to move their armor at full speed. In addition, Yuraab Squad and the other teams like them dotted around Mukarras were still peppering the Fefsen and AVG forces with mortar fire. Enemy air support wasn’t an issue, at least not in the city, as the Federation’s anti-air was doing the job of deterrence. Or maybe WEGEC’s allies in Ymirodraeth hadn’t managed to get any air support for their operation. Both were distinct possibilities. Even still, though, Ethan Kaminski’s team was constantly on the move just in case enemy artillery were able to pin down their position.

  Ethan, of course, was the one to jinx it. They had been in a building about a mile southwest of where they had started when Ethan realized that, despite the fact that they and their opponents were advancing towards each other, they hadn’t spotted each other yet. And then, of course, his radio crackled.
  “Hey Mik, we got ADF forces on the way, over,” came AJ’s voice. Gods damn it, that couldn’t have been timed better if he was the character in a story and the author needed a semi-compelling way to start the conflict. But that, of course, was absurd. Ethan shook off his brief existential crisis and looked out the window. Sure enough, there were a couple of enemy soldiers headed up the road from the west. Using his binoculars to get a better view, he relayed what he saw to his squad.
  “I’m looking at two engineers and three infantry. Lay and Kak, you keep working on the gun. Sohn, I want scopes on those soldiers. Over.” He turned to Sally. “Let’s get down to ground level. We need them taken out, stat,” to which the ursine girl nodded. Ethan grabbed his fed-issue SB15S5 from where it was resting, slung it over his shoulder, and headed down the stairs, with Sally close behind.

  As they exited the building, Ethan hugged the wall and took cover behind a pillar, motioning for his compatriot to do the same. Just as he was about to risk a tap code to AJ, an explosion sounded from the distance, and he took the chance to dart across the narrow intersection, and hide in a market stall not far from the ADF soldiers.
  “Damn,” said one of them in a deep voice, taking a drag off their cigar. “Glad that wasn’t us.”
  “Will you be quiet, Rakiim?” another one piped up with a heavy twinge of paranoia. “We haven’t run into any rebels yet. You know there’s going to be one right around the corner, any second now!” The first one sighed heavily.
  “Fine, I’ll keep it down, mom.” As this exchange was going on, Ethan looked up from his stall at the building that he and Sally had just come from. Checking that none of the ADF soldiers could see him, and hoping AJ could, he gave a countdown on his fingers.




  Suddenly, Rakiim’s head exploded, and he began to crumple. Not waiting another second, Ethan vaulted over the front of the market stall while drawing his combat knives, and swiftly and deftly sliced one soldier’s achilles tendon and slit another’s throat. On the other side of the narrow street, Sally simply grabbed the remaining two soldiers by the heads and slammed them together, knocking them both out. Suddenly, Ethan was deafened by a gunshot, his vision started to blur, and his head felt like it was about to split open. Luckily, he had heard the shot, which meant he was still alive, but none of his senses were having a particularly good time. He spun around and forcefully threw his knife directly into the soldier’s skull, but it was too late. Any other soldiers nearby would’ve for sure heard that, and they’d be running to investigate. Run, he tried to say, but no sound came out. As Sally just stared at him, he grabbed his own pistol and finished off both of the soldiers she had knocked out. What felt like 30 minutes later, but in reality was only about 10 seconds, the ringing left his ears, and he could finally
  “Run!” He shouted, louder than he meant to. He tore his combat knife out of the body, and started running to the east, as Sally nodded and followed close behind. Energetically grabbing his radio, he pressed down the button and yelled into it. “Sohn, our position’s been compromised. What’s the ETA on that mortar, over?”
  “ETA is approximately… now,” his sister’s voice crackled back. And sure enough, right as she said that, Ethan saw the smoke of the mortar from the top of the building, and heard the explosion from about a mile and a half west.
  “Roger that. Make your way down however you can and rendezvous at Site D.”
  “Understood.” Ethan clipped his radio back to his belt and looked over at Sally. “Let’s get moving. We should be able to outpace them, but we should take the alleys just in case.”
  “Got it. Should we prep for a firefight?”
  “Not yet. But… be on guard.”
  “Sure thing, Kamma.” And with that, they kept running to the north.

  Those were the first shots of the war, but unfortunately for everybody involved, they would not be the last.

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