The Turning Tides

Zurab was the first in his sleeping area to wake up the next morning. The air struck a chill through his spine as he looked out the large window at the end of the room. The sun had yet to rise, leaving the barracks a near-homogenous mural of gray and black. The dreariness of the shared quarters drew out Zurab’s yearning for the comforts of home once again, a thought that increasingly entered his mind over the past year. A question popped in his head: ‘Should I leave and go home?’ In his heart he dearly wished to. His heart told him he belonged back with his family. It told him to return and fill the void left by his father. The Twin Gods knew how he hated that man for leaving mother. Zurab despised him for breaking her heart. He remembered how she would try to hide her bouts of despondency and indignation from him and his sisters; failed attempts at preserving their innocence. But even then at such a young age he knew all too well what mother was going through, and there was nothing he or his sisters could do but to comfort this woman who was by her very role meant to be their comforter.

A barracks-mate across the way tossed and turned in his sleep, the noise returning Zurab to the here and now. He once again looked out the window. Dawn was approaching as was evident by the pastel colors seeping into the dark sky. As soon as day broke, they were to be assigned to their next location, and a week from now the people in these barracks would be dispersed wherever they were needed in the war, likely to never see one another again.

“-must stop it!” The barracks-mate had woken up with a start, seemingly from his nightmare. The elven soldier panted for a few moments and sat up to regain his composure, not yet noticing Zurab. The soldier looked to be of similar age to himself, which is unsurprising considering where they were. From the little light there was, he appeared to have the archetypal tan of the Melit’hasa elves, his ash blonde hair trimmed to the unfortunate military fade just as with everyone else here. It was his bright and tender amber eyes that ensnared Zurab though. And then those eyes looked back at him.

Zurab quickly darted his gaze away, suddenly taking a keen interest in the shape of his fingernails. He could feel his ears heat up in embarrassment.

“I’m sorry, did I wake you up?” whispered the soldier.

Looking back up at him, Zurab replied, “Oh, no. I’ve been awake for a while now. Couldn’t sleep.”

“Ah, I see. Nightmares too, then?”

“Oh nothing like that, just…” Zurab looked back at his hands. He continued, “just been thinking about where I’m going next.”

“Mmm,” the soldier nodded pensively. “I’ve thought about that too. Kinda nerve-racking, right?” He asked, giving a small smile.

“Yeah,” Zurab replied, his face mustering a light grin. He looked down once again, and his thoughts began to trail back home.

“What’s your name?”

Zurab’s ears heated up again. He forgot to ask his name! His subconscious must have convinced itself that these soldiers were simply faceless side characters. He shamedly responded, “It’s… Zurab.”

“Nice to meet you, Zurab. Mine’s Yaeris.”

The two turned towards a sudden noise at the front of the barracks. The entrance door slammed open, clanging against the wall loud enough to wake up the rest of the soldiers. Zurab’s quiet solitude was squashed. Beast, the large elf in charge of their training, entered the room already washed, shaved, and ready to start the day. With his booming voice he shouted, “Alright you pathetics, ats’eva ats’eva! Today’s assignment day, and that means you’re getting out of my sight, thank Thaer. Get yourselves decent in ten minutes or you’ll be going through this hellhole again, and I guarantee I will not be as kind as I was this time around! NOW GET MOVING!”


Outside Nats’ichi, SPA-controlled territory…[/i]

Boris Herkovishvili loved the quiet before a storm. Though the oncoming storm this time was not of nature’s doing. This storm was to be of bloodshed and weaponry, a storm to be written in history books, and it was these moments that Boris relished most. He took a long drag from his tomahawk pipe, soaking in the colors of the pre-dawn sky. The glow of the horizon allowed for only the brightest stars to be seen, the ones that made up the constellations; Mortagra the Messenger, Kvebi the Mountainess, Pelid the Demeaning, and all the other Salovian fixtures of the night. The half moon Olune reigned high above the horizon, its pale shine illuminating just enough for Boris to see what lay before him and his encampment, that being the setting for the storm to come: Nats’ichi. A city carved into three portions by this war. It was unfortunate that such an historic Salovian city would fall victim to what was to come, but Boris accepted this sacrifice as necessary to restore Volova to glory. Soon, the repulsive fascist scum would be expunged from Volova, all thanks to Rikhelidze’s excellent relaying of intel, and soon Boris would be at the center of a new player in the Auroran stage.

(OOC: This first part’s gonna sound similar to a previous post lol, but I wanted to try my hand at taking a similar scene and writing it with a bit more TLC. Anywho lol)

15 January 2021, Briefing Room of the Tuvaltastan Chancelleriat Building

The bloodshed in Volova had gotten worse. Alyona could only watch the death and destruction through the sterile military drone footage shown at her daily briefings. The footage, filmed tens of thousands of miles above the surface, safely circling over Nats’ichi, did little to evoke the cruelty it played out. It looked so distant and separate from reality to the point of appearing like a diorama one would see in the home of a toy train hobbyist. But instead of the quaint, heartening figures of such a train set, the footage instead captured a brief snapshot of thousands of lives, all with their own stories of love and heartbreak and adventure and dullery, cut violently short by the scythe of war. As she looked on, Alyona felt a twang of guilt at her safe and privileged position as Chancellor of Tuvaltastan.

As the war to the north dragged on, these scenes became a regular occurrence at her briefings, and after seeing so many of them over her time as Chancellor, Alyona had grown weary. The general giving the briefing discussed the scenes in such a cold and unfeeling manner, equating the loss of life to something as mundane as the weather. The analytical graphs did little to enhance the experience. It made her sick to her stomach when she thought about it too long.

With the same stone-hearted demeanor he gave to the war, the general moved the briefing away from the Volovan situation towards an incident that played out a little while ago on the Marasaur Ridge, resulting in the deaths of a number of troops on both the Thalrian and Tuvalt sides. Though small in strategic impact, the perception of the attack had damaged Tuvaltastan’s reputation to some degree. The general mentioned this blow to the nation’s repute with a jarring level of gusto. In the back of her mind, she was disgusted that, of all the topics to show any passion towards, the general placed this egotistic issue above the lives of innocents. She despised the general for that. But she had a job to do, a nation to lead and to guide away from the very scenes she watched unfold in Tuvaltastan’s neighbors to the north. The violence and corruption needed to be contained, controlled. And to do that, she needed to appease the egotists and narcissists she was surrounded by at this table. She needed to coordinate and communicate with manic dictators like Lenski Sarinn and Boris Herkovishvili, no matter how much it pained her. She wanted to make them pay for their abhorrent lack of morality, but the time for that wasn’t now. Which reminded her…

Leaning towards her newcomer advisor, she asked, “What time’s my meeting with Sarinn scheduled, Luca?”

Alyona noticed Luca’s attempt to hide a side-eye. “This afternoon ma’am. At four. Why do you ask?”

She studied Luca’s face as she said, “I’d like you to join me. To take notes.”

More suppression of frustration; something she now had come to expect from him after a few months of having him on her team. But this time, there was something else in his eyes. Fear? Apprehension?

Regardless, Luca begrudgingly said, “Very well ma’am.”

“Thank you Luca. Your contributions don’t go unnoticed.”

Luca nodded his head in acknowledgement.

The rest of the briefing shifted away from military issues to the domestic politics of the nation. The far-right Akhali Salovelo party made inroads in the eastern province of Mort’anap’iri in their local elections, likely in response to SPA defectors vying for asylum in their province. Yuri Okhalishvili, one of the two Shagonar mayoral candidates, declared electoral victory despite only 48% of the votes having been counted. The scientific facilities in Tula had centralized themselves under one umbrella organization to protect their political interests against the rest of Tuvaltastan. Such issues were why Alyona ran for election. She relished being in the political thick of it, sparring with rivals and adversaries, all the while bringing her nation to new heights. And yet the domestic issues took a backseat to the chaos of war. The briefing ended soon after, and the executive council filed out of the room as quickly as they had entered. As Alyona left, she watched Luca trudge off down the hallway towards the advisory wing. She couldn’t help but wonder what caused Luca to react in such a way at the mention of Sarinn. Alyona continued to watch her newest advisor until he turned the corner to see if she could catch him doing anything suspicious, to no avail. She walked on towards her own office, dissatisfied with the day.

Meanwhile at the Tivotian Presidential Residence…

“A call for you, Madam.” The staffer held out his hand to offer the black burner smartphone resting in his palm to Tanya Tarasovna, the president-elect.

“Thank you, Aleksandre.” Tanya accepted the phone and held it to her ear. A woman at the other end questioned, “Progress?”

Tanya’s brow furrowed in bafflement. Forgetting her place, Tanya shot back with, “‘Progress?’ I’m sorry, did you expect me to somehow, in the span of one week, accomplish anything at all meaningful? I’m doing my best to get the votes!”

Tensity gripped the air for a moment. As her mind cleared from her frustration, Tanya’s face went flush, realizing she overstepped with her outburst. Her mind raced, afraid the woman on the other line would pull her financial support. What would become of her presidency without that money? It was too crucial to Tanya’s efforts. The thought drove a pit in her stomach.

Taking a deep breath, Tanya collected herself, and did her best to correct her outburst, responding, “Yes, I’ve made fair progress. We’ve secured a slim yet workable plurality; some negotiations and concessions and we can get it passed through.”

There was a pause. The short moment of silence was deafening, thick with apprehension. Her mouth had become dry in her anxiety.

“You know how delicate your situation is, Tanya. You know what’s at stake if you don’t get this done before autumn. Amass the votes. Or expect consequences. I will call back in exactly three weeks.”

The other line hung up abruptly.

Consequences. The word ricocheted in Tanya’s head…

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That same day…

The smell of cedar was a source of calm for Rikhelidze; the wood scent emanating from the incense he lit had transported him to distant, serene memories of his childhood. The urthiness suspended his hotheadedness, keeping his mind clear even if just for a moment. Such a state of mind for him was fleeting, especially when under such stresses as being deep in the council of the enemy.

“What time’s my meeting with Augusta scheduled, Luca?”

His boss, the insufferably priggish woman who had asked that question roughly an hour ago, was chiefest among the enemy; his boss the Chancellor of Lovelia. Of course referring to Alyona Petrovavich as “boss” was stretching the term some, considering his nature as a for-hire agent of international subterfuge and espionage. His true employer had recommended him to this assignment, citing Rikhelidze’s prolific career in the 70’s and 80’s. He would not have accepted the assignment had it not been for the exorbitant amount of money he’d been promised by his benefactors. So he dragged on with acting as a newcomer to Alyona’s team, confident that this contract would fund his retirement and beyond.

“Your meeting is this afternoon ma’am. At four. Why do you ask?”

Petrovavich had wanted him to come along. Something about learning tools of the trade and getting to know the political landscape. After all, he was playing the part of a newbie member of Petrovavich’s cadre; knowing the in’s and out’s of what she needs done day-to-day was vital to her success. But that same knowledge could be used to dismantle her career just as effectively.

“Very well, ma’am.”

As far as Rikhelidze was concerned, there was no choice in the matter. Not much to lose, too much to gain. And of course there was the added implication from Petrovavich’s tone that Rikhelidze was going regardless, so his feelings on the matter were moot one way or the other.

He watched the incense on his desk burn for a few more moments, the embers at the tip morphing to ash before the delicate weight of the thing came crashing down onto the incense holder below. Who knew destruction could be so peaceful?

He lifted his arm to read his metallic wristwatch. He had about an hour before the meeting with Augusta, meaning he would need to meander his disheveled self over to the conference room to prepare. Rikhelidze ran his fingers through his oily black hair in an effort to tidy up some, standing up from his chair in the process. As he collected his notepad, pen, and other meeting materials and placed it all in a small duffle bag, it occurred to him just how quickly his desk had become so disorganized in the span of a few weeks. He’d need to get to reorganizing it at some point, maybe tomorrow. For now, he approached the door to head out. As he went for the door, a bright orange envelope slid under it. An update to his assignment; so early? Picking it up, he obediently opened the file to read its contents…

Your timeline has moved up. You now have seven months to complete your mission. Do not miss this deadline, or expect appropriate retribution.
-The Employers-

Ominous. His success must be quite important for them to threaten “retribution” for missing such a distant timeline. He took note of the wording and checked for any other hidden messages, finding none. Satisfied with the lack of ulterior motives behind the letter, he stored it in an inside pocket of the deep green coat that hung on the back of his desk chair.

He finally opened the door and walked through the hallways, passing by statues, paintings, and other artifacts from Salovian and Lovelian history. He recalled learning that this building was once the palace of elven King Aluminaera, the first elven king of Salovia. The building was the official palace for only his reign, and was quickly abandoned and neglected for centuries after. Only with the founding of the Salovian Republic was it revitalized and renovated as the home of the Chancellery, surviving on as the Lovelian executive building into the present. As he walked past these artifacts emblematic of the layered and antiquitous past of eastern Aurora, he wondered how much of it was true. As with everything, the victor paints themselves the savior. Fittingly, the last painting he had passed was a depiction of King Odelfv, more commonly known as Rorik the Conqueror, founder of the Salovian monarchy. Being of Lovelian blood, he’d resurged in modern days as a popular figure of pan-national unity, though the Lovelians would never say that out loud for fear of chastisement from certain international neighbors.

Rihkelidze arrived first to the empty conference room. An air of kenopsia gripped the room whose sole purpose was temporary in nature; meetings lasting at most a few hours only to be emptied and re-emptied day after day. The dense oaken conference table dominated the space, with equal-quality chairs lined along the flanks. Chairs of a lesser nature hugged the side walls, creating the effect of a makeshift pathway looping around the table. There was no television installed for this room in unexpected defiance of the Information Age and its spectacle: A security measure. No internet-enabled devices were allowed in the room during the course of the meeting either.

He went to work preparing the room, placing eight paper copies of the discussion points for the meeting, paired together with overly elegant pens and notepads to boot in front of the eight chairs circled around the table, one for each key member. Making minor alignments here and there to ensure all looked sufficiently professional for such a high level encounter, he proceeded with his real work. Pulling a compact toolkit and a series of suspiciously large-headed screws from his duffle, he pulled away the nearest chair to him and crouched underneath the table to find the wooden brackets that connected the beautifully-crafted tabletop to its more utilitarian foundations through a series of screws, nearly identical to his own screws. The brackets were spaced out equally along each side of the table with enough room for the eight chairs to fit neatly, a sign that this whole room was meticulously designed for perfection. One by one he pulled away the chairs from their positions and removed each bracket screw, putting them in his duffle as he went, replacing them with his large-headed ones. He could feel his wrists becoming increasingly sore as time wore on. The spy was a few screws away from fully rigging the room when he heard footsteps: High heels. They metronomically clacked the floor, getting louder and louder with each step. Part of him hoped the footsteps would simply stamp past the door, but Luca’s gut told him otherwise. He continued his work to get the remaining few screws installed, but a bit quicker now. His knuckles were raw from grazing against the rough wood of the underside with each turn of his weary wrists. The warmth of the room was getting to him as beads of sweat formed on his forehead. He tightened the final screw when the footsteps suddenly stopped. Then, a voice.

“Luca? Is that you under there?”

It was Trimola Eknol, the senior-most member of Petrovavich’s staff, and more notably known as the Lovelian representative to the UNAC in the Auroran Council. He didn’t know her too well aside from the paragraph or two in his personnel briefs, but obviously Petrovavich kept her trusted right hand well-informed and seemingly always watching, considering she already knew his name.

“Ah, Ms. Eknol! Apologies, I’d dropped a pen and, well. You know how that goes when you lose a pen. Disappears into the void.” The agent of subterfuge forced a jovial smile on his face.

Eknol returned the smile, saying “Oh of course! I can never keep a pen longer than a week myself. Either I leave it in a conference room or I ruin my clothes with the darn things by washing them. Such a hassle sometimes. Makes me wish we used pencils.”

‘Pencils aren’t permanent. Easily redactable,’ his mind wanted to reply. Instead he nodded in polite agreement.

Probing, Rikhelidze asked, “Well what brings you all the way from Aura? It’s one hell of a plane trip to cross the continent, isn’t it?”

Eknol replied bluntly, “This meeting, actually. Alyona called me about a week ago requesting I attend. She wouldn’t say why she needed a council member for such a standard meeting. But here I am, as she requested.”

Eknol let out a resigned sigh, one that implied that yes, she doesn’t want to be here, but she’d do just about anything for Petrovavich. Whether that loyalty was professional or personal, Luca couldn’t determine.

“Well, it’s a pleasure to finally meet the Chancellor’s right hand. I’ve heard stories from Ms. Petrovavich about your escapades together.” Mostly a lie, but you needed to stretch truths in places like this.

Eknol’s eyebrows flashed upwards for a moment at the implication of ‘escapades’ before correcting themselves to their default state. Perhaps there was more to the relationship than met the eye.

“Escapades, you say?” she asked.

Pulling from his limited information about their professional relationship, he responded, “Oh, I mainly speak of your efforts for Mrs. Tarasovna in her election as UNAC President. She’d mentioned it had been a stressful time for you both. I remember watching the Reunification events unfold, and it’s quite an amazing feat you’d pulled off to get your candidate in the position, considering how divided the UNAC members were at the time.”

Eknol had become visibly more relaxed upon learning the “escapades” were nothing more than public events, replying, “Oh yes, Mrs. Tarasovna was the perfect person in our eyes; stern, decisive, open minded. Couldn’t ask for someone better in my opinion. The Chancellor and I both felt she was perfect for the spot, and I think Aurora has been better off for it.”

‘A trio of hypocrites. That’s what you are.’ He thought to himself. But he retained his warm countenance and said, “Oh absolutely! She’s been a stabilizing force in the chaotic politics of late.”

“Indeed,” Eknol said, lightly nodding.

Conversation with the UNAC representative petered out as the two took their respective seats, Rikhelidze on the sidelines and Eknol at the oaken table. As the meeting time approached, more individuals entered the room, with Jane Augusta and Alyona Petrovavich entering last. The door was closed by a woman nearest to the sound-blocking door.

Petrovavich began, “Good afternoon everyone, let us begin.”

Rikhelidze took out his notepad and started a set of notes by writing the current day’s date at the top. He sat tight, and let his devices do the reconnaissance he needed for his mission. This was a perfect start to his waiting game.