True Justice

OOC: June 25 2023. My fourth anniversary of TEP residency. The promised day of democracy in Aivintis since summer of 2020. It is coming. As a note offered for canonicity, this RP assumes Serdemia is a part of Aivintis. That is not technically canon until the completion of the RP, as determined by the cartography team in a help ticket. Instead of an expansion RP, I offer this as proof that Serdemia being Aivintian is important to Aivintian lore. Almost as if I’m gaslighting it into canon. In a few hours, the first post of this RP will be published, as the Earth completes its revolution. Dates for this RP may be confusing, as much of it frames the past as the present. If that confuses you, ignore it. I intend to post two parts a week, ending when the 50th part is posted on the day of reckoning. Do not post here.

A Shot in the Dark

27 September 2021

His Excellency Justice Petre Mardare stalked the dark alleys of the Low District, in the western side of Greater Asluagh, staggering through the lamplit cobbled streets as drunk as can be. He had no guards, having sent away his security detail to avoid being recognized in the poorest and most degenerate part of Asluagh.

He almost felt home - in the dark and the rain, the Low District was nearly indistinguishable from most of Derrim, the slum city of Aivintis. It was a world away, before the army, before the medals, before the Whitcher Coup. Now he was the oldest serving Aivintian Justice apart from His Exalted Excellency Chief Justice Stoker, and still he frequented the gambling dens and bars of the grimiest parts of Aivintis.

Mardare was sure any psychologist could have told him why - he probably could have himself, if he didn’t addle his mind with addictive substances as soon as he left sessions. He considered it a point of pride, actually, that he could offer level-headed insight and assist in duties affecting the entire nation despite his sins, his shortcomings.

There was no doubt in his mind that he needed to stop. He had visited several doctors, he had seen the medical reports himself. He was sick and dying, and the only glimmer of hope for his survival was to get his act together. There was no doubt in his mind that he wouldn’t. He felt like he could, but he didn’t want to. Years of decadence and corruption had left him a hollow shell of a person. He would crumble if he didn’t numb himself every day.

It was his addiction, ironically, that kept him from realising how useless he was to the country. He was a face, a figurehead. He provided the image of a war veteran, of a lower class citizen rising through opportunity and service to the head of the nation. He was a mascot, nothing but a tool of propaganda. It kept certain people from rising against Aivintis, and it kept Stoker from having to tolerate too many opinions in closed chambers.

Others could have taken his place, of course. Mardare didn’t know it, but His Exalted Excellency still kept a file with a list of potential replacements, all conveniently employed in political positions that could still be used as back-up plans should Mardare’s unsavoury habits become public, or should they lead to Mardare’s early demise. The Chief Justice didn’t, however, have any knowledge of Mardare’s terminal circumstances.

No, Mardare cleaned up his messes quite nicely - it was one of the reasons he was kept over any other candidates. His amassed wealth could more than afford key bribes and pay-offs, and when it came down to it Mardare was willing to bloody his hands to keep his brand clean. Without this trait, he would be an embarrassment, likely himself put down by Stoker. It allowed him the freedom he desired for his activities.

However, he was not the smartest man in the world, not by a long shot, and that is how Doris Romanescu had managed to map out his movements and collect substantial proof of his many illegal and degenerate dealings. It was enough to put him out of commission, but her search revealed more - murders, speciesm, anti-Serdemic hate crimes, more. She soon discovered that he had enough skeletons in his closet to fill a graveyard. She’d told Laurentiu, her leader, who’d told someone else, someone who had secretly been setting the movement along its path from the shadows. Someone with grand ambitions.

Even at 56, Doris was far quicker and far stronger than a middle aged man drunk out of his mind. More than that, she was smart. If needed, she could defend herself from Mardare. The movement had originally instructed her only to gather evidence of wrongdoings and use them to blackmail him into feeding them information, money, and influence, but the plans had changed. They didn’t have to know that, though. That was between her, the movement’s leader, and its secret benefactor. They’d be informed her mission had failed. They’d be none the wiser.

She could do it, of course, but was still unsettled by the whole affair. It’s not like she’d drawn the line at murder. Doris knew some people would die eventually. In the heat of combat, if needed, or in self-defence, mainly, yes, but Justice Petre Mardare deserved it. She knew he deserved it. He could always protect himself from being brought to justice in conventional ways. He would need to be put down. Still, taking a life changed people, she knew that even with clean hands. She might have refused if it hadn’t been such a sensitive matter.

As Doris Romanescu followed Petre Mardare down a side street in the Low District, she considered the implications of committing murder, let alone murdering such a high official. She would place herself in grave danger, and her hands would be stained with blood in the years to come. She faltered, and Mardare turned. Before he could call out, or run, she drew her gun and fired three bullets into his chest. The shots echoed in the alley, filling the night with the weight of what she’d done today. She lowered the gun.

Her hands shaking, Doris rushed to the corpse, her gloved hands searching for his wallet and any other valuables. She took them and ran as fast as a 56 year old woman could, into the night, away from the scene of her crime. She slowed as she reached a busy street, and melted into the crowd. No more than two blocks away, the Justice lay, bleeding and lifeless on the ground. He would be found soon. Not soon enough to catch her. Her job was done, and she had gotten away with it. August Byrne would be pleased.

Unholy Alliance

29 September 2021

“ . . . the body of His Excellency Justice Petre Mardare was found in the Low District last night, shot in an apparent mugging on an alley just blocks away from Dorian Boulevard. According to locals in the area, Mardare frequented the Low District every day, and eyewitness reports place him at five separate bars in the past month. The police have yet to release a statement, but His Exalted Excellency Chief Justice Eduard Stoker has gone on the record stating no knowledge of Mardare’s alcohol addiction, but saying that in the past few months Mardare had grown distant. Chief Justice Stoker denies claims of drugs, prostitution, and gambling, reassuring the people that Petre Mardare was a better man than that, despite his faults. His Exalted Excellency has refused to comment on Mardare’s replacement in the High Court. The coroner’s office will release the Justice’s autopsy report to the police soon, and Aivcast News will report updates as soon as we receive them. In other news, stocks of pharmaceutical company Braxon’s have dropped following the recent shortage of–”

Arthur Frost turned off the feed and sighed. He had not personally dealt with Mardare, but he was aware that the Aivintian Mafia was receiving large sums of money from the Justice in order to cover up a myriad of crimes and scandals. He hated such degeneracy with a passion, but he was never one to lament over good business. He was not sure how the Mafia would make up for the loss of such a high priority customer.

There was no use dwelling on it, Frost knew. The Mafia would recover, and there’d be more money flowing into his pockets before long. In the business, there were always accidents and “accidents” that led to losses of profit. The reason organised crime still survived was due to adaptability. It was how Frost cut short multiple hostile takeovers of his criminal empire, and it was how the Mafia had kicked his rivals out of the city.

What did concern him, however, was who pulled the trigger. His folks wouldn’t touch Mardare, he knew that much. There was no reason to expect new players, either, they would have strategically hit multiple of Frost’s clients, and likely sent some sort of message through the murder of one of his enforcers, or something similar. It could have been a random mugging, but that would have to be some insane coincidence, and the thought didn’t sit right for Frost.

It had to be politically motivated. That was the only answer that made sense to Frost. Two years ago, he wouldn’t have given a shit. However, now, he was a “Trade Councillor” and “Personal Advisor” to the Chief Justice. If someone was targeting the Kritarchy, it could mean something big, something unsettling, something that certainly was his business. He could be a target, given his influence over the economy and his wealth. He wasn’t spooked, necessarily, but concerned, yes. He would have to send someone to investigate - the only question was whether Arthur Frost would send someone or the Alpha would.

For now, however, he was content returning to his apolitical business - his company was currently in the process of hiring SafeSafe Incorporated to provide their services in securing some of their high end merchandise. He had previously employed a different company, one which specialised in armoured trucks and secure storage, but after a class action lawsuit for the prevention of unionisation and mistreatment of workers, their stock had plummeted.

The lawsuit wouldn’t succeed, of course, but bad PR was bad PR. Even with the inevitable countersuit, it wouldn’t be the same. So, Arthur had someone look into replacements, and he was presented with SafeSafe. It was practically a done deal already, but Arthur still had to arrange the budget and finalise the actual legal paperwork of it all. He was comfortable leaving a lot to his companies’ management, but he found pleasure in being closely involved, especially with big moves.

The noise of the printer almost drowned out the sound of the door creaking open, but many of Arthur’s pastimes had caused him to be more perceptive about his surroundings. It was his secretary, their chiming voice as cheerful and blank as always. “Mr Frost, there’s an August Byrne here to see you.”

That made Arthur very curious. Byrne currently served as the Governor of Castenor, a city which was far enough from Asluagh that the arrival of such a figure would be a big deal politically, which means it would have reached him. The fact that it didn’t meant that August Byrne was here without the general public’s knowledge, or even the knowledge of the government. The thought of a clandestine meeting with a major political figure excited him for a number of reasons. He loved being in on the action.

Arthur had worked with Byrne before - the man had been his lawyer in 2001 when multiple corporate whistleblowers had exposed some of Frost’s criminal activities. Luckily, no one had ever made the connection between him and the mob, but such serious crimes held actual weight before the Kritarchy, and Arthur was very grateful to the man for keeping him out of prison.

He hadn’t seen him much since, having taken much more care following the incident, but he had kept a close eye on his career. After his partner Aldulescu was arrested the year after and his other partner Nistor Grigorescu became a Senator, Byrne quit and took a job as a Senior Prosecutor working with the Duke of Castenor. When Whitcher took over the country in 2013, Byrne stayed close to power, working to smooth foreign relations following the coup and soon was awarded the Governorship of Castenor.

He was an important figure, very vocal in political spheres and always willing to speak to foreign journalists and concerned citizens, which made him unique among high officials. Frost knew he had refused to strike a deal with the mafia’s representative a couple months back, but he had no idea what his former lawyer was doing in his building. He realised he hadn’t yet answered, and quickly said, “Let him in.”

August Byrne wore his navy blue suit loosely, and had clearly ditched the tie at some point before entering. Despite this, however, he still looked well-groomed and imposing. Arthur mused that this was a constant for the Governor. He gestured to the open seat before his desk, and the politician sat down, smiling at him. “Hello, Arthur.”

“August, it’s good to see you. Belated congratulations on your appointment to Governor.” Frost kept his voice level, betraying no reaction to the strange circumstances of the visit.

“Thank you, Mr Frost, really. Now, I’d love to say that I am here for a social call, but tragically, I have business to attend to.”

“Business? Do you wish to invest in Seier?”

The man ignored the question. “Have you tuned into Aivcast recently?”

Arthur furrowed his brow. “The tragic mugging of His Excellency?”

Byrne gave a hollow laugh, his voice lowering. “We both know he was unworthy of that title.”

Arthur quietly and subtly put his hand on the gun strapped to the underside of his desk, finally guessing the perpetrator of Mardare’s assassination. “Are you coming to me for the influence required to take his place? Or to continue your crusade? Think carefully about your next answer, August, the goodwill that came from keeping me out of jail only goes so far.”

“I am not here to kill you, Arthur. But neither am I here to become a Justice. Or, well, not yet. You see, my ambitions go much farther than that.”

Frost laughed, but didn’t move his hand off his gun. “Don’t tell me Aldulescu got into your head.” Laurentiu Aldulescu hadn’t been arrested for some petty crime - he had organised a protest against the monarchy that had turned bloody. Even from behind bars, and indeed after he was released, he advocated for the Aivintian Empire to become a full fledged Republic for the first time in history. When Whitcher took power, he had gone into hiding, plotting acts of domestic terrorism against the Kritarchy.

“Aldulescu was – is – an experiment of sorts.”

“Ademar, Byrne, don’t tell me you’re actually in on his crackpot revolution.”

“MY revolution,” the Governor snarled. “And it’s not as doomed as you imply. The days of autocracy are over. The Kritarchy is a disease. It killed the Empire and puppeted its corpse. Stoker and his lot pose as regents because without the legitimacy of the Radu Dynasty they have no ground to stand on. I think they’ve even fooled themselves, but surely you can see how this form of government is unsustainable. We can’t go on with this, and we can’t go back to what we were, either. Forward is the only option. I want your support.”

Arthur leaned forward. “What makes you think I want Aivintis to last?”

August sighed. “Because I’m not a fool. I know how much you depend on Aivintian prosperity. More trade and more economic growth and more wealth in your pocket. Whether it’s your corporate or criminal enterprise.” Hm. Perhaps someone had guessed his involvement in the mob. Frost idly wondered when and how the Governor figured it out.

“Alleged criminal enterprise,” Arthur chimed in with a half smile.

“I do not have all day, Arthur. Do you want to extend the life of a dying government for a negligible term or do you want to sacrifice the oh-so-easily manipulated dictatorship in exchange for your country’s longevity?”

Arthur let go of his gun finally and narrowed his eyes. “What assurance do I have that you won’t turn on me to remove organised crime for good? Or succumb to communist hippy bullshit and ruin my legal businesses? Or both?”

“Just as you depend on prosperity, prosperity depends on you. Seier is a keystone species in the economic ecosystem. Take it away and Aivintis fails. I don’t want that. As for crime . . . I won’t say that you will function with full autonomy forever. But the new regime won’t oppose you for a long time. We’ll have more pressing matters. If that’s not enough, then I’ll kill you and replace you with someone who will listen.”

Frost laughed, unfazed. “I’d like to see you try.” Pursing his lips in thought, he added, “but, as fun as it may be, that won’t be necessary. What do you need from me?”

A wicked smile grew on August Byrne’s face then, and Arthur almost regretted his decision immediately.

Emergency Session

30 September 2021

“This Emergency Session of the High Court is hereby convened per the request of His Exalted Excellency Eduard Stoker, Acting Regent, Chief Minister, and Chief Justice of Aivintis, regarding the matter of a vacancy in the Justice position.”

The regent in question nodded graciously at the record-keeper when they had finished speaking. His face was calm and composed and his black robe was perfectly fit and tailored, his white dress shirt and black tie perfectly straightened underneath. Stoker was the centre of attention, at the head of the council table. As this was a private session, only Justices Crane, Grigorescu, and Lupu were in attendance, with the final seat for Justice Mardare empty.

Stoker spoke after a short pause. “Petre is dead. We have released a statement, but I can sense public opinion drifting away from us. Addiction aside, we need another champion of the people, someone they can get behind. I have a list of potential replacements, but I am unsure any of them can bring what we want to the table to the extent we need.”

Grigorescu nodded. “Have you considered appointing the Governor of Derrim?”

“Emil? I would prefer someone with no skeletons in their closet,” Stoker sighed.

Justice Crane chimed in, “That’s going to be difficult with the prevalence of the Mafia.”

Grigorescu was quick to reply, “Then we should come down on them. It would be a great PR decision.”

Stoker was shaking his head. “Not an option. Our position is failing, we can’t pick a fight with them, they’d win.”

Crane held up a finger. “What potential replacements did you have in mind, Your Exalted Excellency?” he asked, drawing attention back to an earlier comment Eduard had made.

“Governor Arden Blackburn, Governor August Byrne, Trade Councillor Arthur Frost, Chief Ambassador Varujan Groza, and Chief Ambassador Marceline Barnutiu,” the Regent listed.

Justice Grigorescu replied, “Not Blackburn. Their appointment might cause an internal power struggle over control of our soldiers.” He did not need to explain why. Governor Blackburn had been the Imperial Minister of War before the coup, and their support with the military had been essential to securing the Kritarchy. Their assignment in Marnacia, a city known for its history of rebellion was directly because of this, but if they came back to the capital, Justice Grigorescu’s jurisdiction over the military was in danger.

Stoker nodded. “I was thinking the same. I also don’t think Arthur is the best choice, although his business ties would be a great asset. I understand, Nistor, that your firm represented him in a major criminal case during Emperor Anton’s reign. That could lead to bad publicity. Which leaves Byrne, Groza, or Barnutiu. Justice Lupu, you’ve been quiet so far, what do you think?”

She cleared her throat. “Barnutiu got to her position by being ruthless, not beloved. She is good at playing politics, but too well known for the same. Between Byrne and Groza, I prefer Groza, mainly because of his status among the younger diplomats as a mentor. That could work to our advantage.”

Chief Justice Stoker considered that. “Hm. Byrne is on the rise, though. He’s only governed Castenor for a year and he’s making waves.”

Justice Crane spoke next. “I suggest you wait before making any appointments, Your Exalted Excellency.”

Stoker turned to him in surprise. “How do you mean?”

“Well, the investigation into Petre’s death is ongoing, and with wavering public opinion, it is very possible that certain key figures interpret this as our doing — Petre’s addictions were certainly a liability and if we have a replacement lined up mere days after his death, it may prove counterproductive. I’d suggest mourning and finding his killer, and then making the appointment.”

“I disagree,” Grigorescu cut in. “We need to make a show of strong leadership in the wake of an attack on our highest officials.”

“Strong leadership means justice to Petre’s killer above all other business,” Crane pointed out.

“It means decisive action, not waiting.”

“I think Justice Grigorescu has a point,” Justice Lupu replied. “If we wait to appoint a new Justice, it may appear that we weren’t ready for this, and won’t be ready for similar attacks on the Kritarchy in the future.”

Before Justice Crane could shoot back, Eduard Stoker held up a hand for silence. The chamber complied. Slowly, he said, “I will wait two weeks. We will all attend the funeral, and I want the Asluagh Police Commissioner personally overseeing the investigation. Then, I will announce that Chief Ambassador Groza shall receive a seat on the Court. That is all.”

“This Emergency Session of the High Court is hereby closed by His Exalted Excellency Eduard Stoker, Acting Regent, Chief Minister, and Chief Justice of Aivintis. The High Court shall wait a period of 14 days before appointing Varujan Groza as a Justice of the High Court.” The reporter finished transcribing the final words, and then they left the room. The Justices soon followed.

A Tainted Conscience

5 October 2021

Arthur Frost tapped his right index finger impatiently, the obsidian ring making a muted clink against his desk. As he waited for his appointment to arrive, he thought back to Justice Mardare’s funeral. So many people talking about his ‘struggle’ with addiction as if it was a thing he was actually fighting. Ademar, the sanctimony of the speeches sickened him. It was as if everyone there was pretending he was a noble man, a beacon of light and justice, rather than a depraved shit with no self-esteem or moral compass. His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden entrance of just the man he was looking for.

“Ah, Chief Ambassador Groza! It’s a pleasure to meet you. Please, sit, and let’s discuss your future.” His voice was quite underwhelming, not at all full of confidence or power, a fact which caught Groza by almost as much surprise as the identity of the man he was meeting.

“Mr Frost. Hm. I wasn’t expecting the richest Aivintian in the world to be the head of the Mafia, but then again, many of the largest companies in the nation are run by criminals of some sort or another.” He spoke smoothly, with practised guile. He remained standing.

“I’d say the nation itself, as well. Take a seat. We have much to discuss.”

Groza narrowed his eyes. “I don’t know if this is entrapment to ruin my political career or a genuine attempt to buy my favour, but I will not do dealings with the Alpha of the Aivintian Mafia.”

“Oh Ademar, how I hate that word. Alpha. I wish I could say it was because of the letter, but in actuality it was because of wolf sociology - I thought it was cool. Ugh. If I knew the . . . less than ideal connotations it would have on the internet, I would have preferred using my real name. It’s not even based in actual science, did you know that? There is no ‘wolf hierarchy’ or anything. It’s just that parents with more children have more of a leadership role in the pack containing those children. A 1947 scientific report just got it wrong. Which would be okay if it wasn’t so damn popular.” Arthur sighed. “It’s not like I could change it now. I’m already infamous by that name, not to mention the hassle of telling everyone and having them change the contacts on their phone.” Tapping his finger again, he gestured to the open chair in front of him with his left hand. “I’m not here to offer a bribe.”

Chief Ambassador Groza, thrown off by the other man’s weird, off-topic speech and then sudden focus, complied. Recovering, he asked, “Why am I here, then?”

“Because in nine days time, our Regent is going to appoint you Justice.”

Groza was shocked. “So soon? I mean I was promoted to Chief Ambassador only two years ago.”

“And in that time, you made yourself invaluable to the horrid regime in which you will find yourself.”

“How do you know this?” the Chief Ambassador demanded.

“I have connections as Arthur Frost and as . . . Ademar give me strength, as the Alpha.”

“Do you think that news is going to make me susceptible to doing your bidding?”

Mr Frost shook his head. “Of course not. I imagine your excitement, confusion, and nervousness only heightens your sense of duty to your country. You may even snitch to the cops, or to someone who actually isn’t on my payroll. Unlikely, I know. No, that was just set dressing. I think that your morals are going to make you susceptible to doing my bidding.”

Groza actually laughed. “What kind of twisted logic is that?”

“Well, the thing is, my bidding aligns with what is generally considered to be the right thing to do.”

“Doubtful.”

“Hear me out. You were chosen because everybody loves you. You’re everybody’s favourite boy scout. Now, that means that you’ll have a lot of support from the public, the diplomatic corps, and even foreign nations. With your quick rise to fame in mind, as well as your reputation for good faith and fair dealings, you’re the perfect choice to make Aivintis look good.”

“Flattery is less effective than favours, Frost,” Groza replied. “I’m a diplomat, remember?”

Frost smiled. “Not my point. My point is that for the same reasons you are a good PR investment, you are a terrible choice for Justice. Whatshisface’s addictions and criminal activities? Not an exception. Justice Crane is a big fan of nepotism and cronyism, as you may know with Ambassador Crane’s position in the International Forum. Grigorescu is a militant who lives for war. Lupu is the only one keeping Aivintis from falling out of favour with the international community, but is willing to say nothing in regards to the governance of the country because she secretly wishes she could be literally anywhere else. Stoker was planning to murder Regent Whitcher before cancer took him, and has already murdered nine high officials for his personal gain. Crane has regular dealings with the Mafia, and Stoker shows consistent bias to my company because he knows I am guilty of the crimes I got away with in 2001 and that he could put me away if he got a whiff of betrayal. Do I need to go on?”

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“You don’t. I have no proof. The next High Court Justice, however, will have access to proof aplenty.”

Chief Ambassador Groza laughed again. “The biggest criminal Aivintis has ever known is asking me to take down criminals, that’s rich. Say I play your game, and find proof. These men are untouchable. What do you expect me to do?”

Arthur Frost adopted a wicked smile. “Release it. I want regular leaks of evidence to me which can turn public opinion against the current regime. Target senior officials. Don’t let it be traced back to you in a way that jeopardises your position.”

“To what end? If you want me to do what you ask–”

“You’ll do what I ask. Because as long as you know what I know, you won’t be able to sleep at night without taking action. However, if you absolutely must know, I want you to eventually remove Justice Crane from office. That is all I need.”

“You want an in.”

“No,” Frost answered. “I wouldn’t touch that carcass of a government with a ten foot pole. I’m not the next Justice after you. Or ever. In fact, the person that will replace Crane is a lot more like you than like me. You’ll get along splendidly.”

“What will you do if I take this information to Stoker and have him imprison you?”

“I’ll break out. It’s not sustainable long term, but neither is your position. I love revenge, and I’ll get it. Maybe I’ll retire. I can escape to a country with no extradition treaty with my fortune intact easier than I can get out of this chair. In my defence, I do have a medical condition.”

Arthur Frost extended his right hand for a shake, and Groza studied his ring before offering his own. The crime boss nodded. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”

Interrogation Room

10 October 2021

Police Commissioner Dimir of the Asluagh Metropolitan Police observed the interrogation of Victor Torje from behind a one-way mirror. Her face betrayed her harsh scepticism. The man in the interrogation room was a scrawny, pathetic man, not at all the hardened killer Dimir would have expected from the man who killed Justice Petre Mardare.

Captain Cernat, the best interrogator in the city, sat across from this rail-thin excuse for a criminal. “Mr Torje, right?” His voice was taunting and arrogant, something that didn’t change when he was outside the interrogation chamber.

“Uh yeah. Victor. Victor Torje, I mean.”

“Where were you on the night of 27th September, 2021?”

Victor Torje sniffed. “I was at home. Hey, can I call my lawyer? I think she should be here for me.”

Captain Cernat shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“I thought I had a right to a lawyer when under suspicion of a crime, right?”

“That right does not apply during interrogation, only trial. Should you be on trial for something?”

“No.”

“Mr Torje, where were you on the night of 27th September, 2021?”

“I told you, officer, I was at home.” Victor was getting annoyed.

“Do you have anyone that can testify to that in court?”

“What? No, I live alone.” This wasn’t Victor’s first time in this room. He had been interrogated and imprisoned before. He always broke.

“Mr Torje, where were you on the night of 12th January, 2016?”

“What? Do you know how long ago that was? Why would I remember that?”

Captain Cernat cleared his throat. “That was the day you broke into the home of Dominik Wood and brutally beat him within an inch of his life.”

He stiffened. “I served my time for that.”

“Yes, four years, I recall?”

Victor nodded.

“Mr Torje, where were you on the night of 27th September, 2021?”

“I told you, I was at home.”

“Mr Torje, where were you in the afternoon of 30th October, 2008?”

Victor was not impressed.

“I’ll answer for you, Mr Torje, you were at your friend’s house in the Marcovici District, where you got into a verbal fight with him over a personal grudge. It got heated and you attacked and injured him. When his roommate attempted to pull you away, you drew a pocket knife and cut him across the stomach. You served six years for this crime.”

“Yes. I was troubled, officer, but I’ve been out for two years now. I’m different.”

“Mr Torje, where were you on the night of 27th September, 2021?”

“How many FUCKING times do I have to say I WAS AT HOME!” Commissioner Dimir narrowed her eyes. This was a development.

Cernat didn’t flinch. “Mr Torje, are you addicted to heroin?”

Victor sighed. When he answered, it was clear that his composure was fake. Hatred burned in his eyes. “Yes, officer. I am a recovering addict. I was a victim of the prison system and have been going to rehabilitation clinics and seeing a psychologist.”

“Yes, but that psychologist didn’t stop you from assaulting two people in 2010 and one in 2016?”

“I guess not,” Victor spat. “But I’m better now,” he added in a lighter tone.

“Mr Torje, why did you assault Mr Wood?”

“He owed me money.”

“Just a few hundred dollars, though, correct?” the Captain asked, his voice neutral.

“Yes.”

“So over this negligible sum, you still held a grudge which was so intense that it prompted you to break into his house and almost kill him?”

Victor was angry now. “I served my time for that. I demand to see my lawyer. I demand to be told what I’m accused of.”

“Shut the fuck up, you answer my questions and you don’t say anything else. Mr Torje, where were you on the night of 27th September, 2021?”

“I SWEAR TO ADEMAR I WILL KILL YOU!” Silence fell upon the room, and Captain Cernat let a satisfied look wash over his face.

“Mr Torje, we have footage of you on the night of 27th September, 2021, outside an illegal gambling den on Dew Street in the Low District. We have established that you are willing to commit assault and murder over petty differences. We also have a police report, filed by you, from last year saying that Justice Petre Mardare threatened your life. That anger festers quickly, Mr Torje. Petre Mardare was shot and killed the night of 27th September 2021, not far from the drug den which we can place you at. We have a gun with your fingerprints on it.” That part wasn’t true, but Cernat continued, “You can get the death penalty for this, no matter what you say or try. Or you can confess, and get life in prison instead. You’re a smart man, what will it be?”

Police Commissioner Dimir was thrilled that this investigation was finally over.

Justice Groza

14 October 2021

OFFICIAL STATEMENT
OFFICE OF THE REGENT
THE EMPIRE OF AIVINTIS

Seventeen days ago, Justice Petre Mardare was tragically murdered by a troubled addict named Victor Torje. This man eluded capture for almost two weeks before the good people of the Asluagh Metropolitan Police arrested him. Justice Mardare was a kind soul, though he himself struggled with addiction and I admit in the final years of his life I felt like I barely knew him.

I was glad to hear that the murderer of my old friend was brought to justice, just as I was saddened by the fact that Justice Mardare would never get a chance to make things right and overcome his vices. While those that knew him grieve him, those that didn’t should take his lesson to heart, that addiction is not a solution, but a problem, that our laws are in place for good reason, in the name of justice.

Although Justice Mardare’s early days in office were marked with humility and even-handedness, and I’m afraid to admit there were more than one occasions where my passion got the better of me and he was forced to remind me of my place as a servant of the people and a symbol of justice, I have spent some grieving hours wondering if I made a mistake somehow, in appointing him all those years ago.

Yet this is not a eulogy, as mine was delivered during his funeral a week ago. Since it finished, I knew in my heavy heart that there was not much time to grieve before it fell to me to appoint a new Justice. The grief of a statesman is only compounded when the rule of law and order requires him to replace a lost friend. I selfishly put off the task until the arrest and prosecution of Mr Torje, to put my mind at rest, but now I cannot wait any longer.

Mardare was born in poverty and he clawed his way into command on the battlefield and public office on the homefront so he could make a difference in his country. It satisfies me to know that his chosen successor is a fighter much the same. Chief Ambassador Varujan Groza has distinguished himself as a diplomat and as a leader. In each position he has held, he has proven highly effective, and has avoided scandal for ten long years in the public eye.

More than that, Chief Ambassador Groza is a kind and principled citizen. Even in one of the highest positions in the nation, he has kept humble, and is widely regarded by younger ambassadors as a mentor and friend. He has a strong sense of justice, and is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in.

It is for these reasons that the High Court has elected to appoint Varujan Groza to the bench of the High Court. Sworn in today, His Excellency Justice Groza shall serve for life. This news has been conveyed to the allies of the Aivintian Empire. I know Varujan shall do me proud, and I cannot wait for you all to see it happen.

In solidarity and humble servitude,

His Exalted Excellency, Eduard Stoker
Regent of the Aivintian Throne
Chief Minister of the Imperial Cabinet
Chief Justice of the High Court

Favour

2 December 2021

Arthur Frost was busy. He was always busy, really. He found it funny that he had two lives and he dedicated both of them entirely to his work. He had the vague thought of making a calendar entry scheduling him to laugh at this, but his secretary wouldn’t understand the joke. He definitely came off as eccentric, but he wasn’t at the point of virtual insanity just yet, and he didn’t want to ruin his image in their eyes. He quite liked them, more than any of their predecessors.

He had been contacted by August Byrne the day before about their “next move.” The correspondence was vague, mainly because it was done via email, which frustrated Arthur because he liked controlling meetings, and his lack of knowledge placed him at a psychological disadvantage. Psychological disadvantages were not good for business, nor his image. He had to be an imposing presence, filling the room with his power. Control and knowledge went hand in hand, and less of one meant less of the other.

If he was honest with himself, Arthur was uneasy about the whole affair. When he was typically involved in conspiracies (it happened fairly often), he was usually a contracted mercenary or an equal partner. In this, he felt like an asset. He didn’t have a complete vision of Byrne’s plan, and was only contacted when his help was needed. It was frustrating, but not unexpected. In fact, it was somewhat similar to how Byrne handled his defence in court.

He wasn’t going to back out because of it, though, which he secretly thought Byrne knew, and was taking advantage of for the purposes of his plan. Either way, he didn’t care. His wealth and power had reached a point where he was excited for change and intrigue, not to mention Byrne was correct in assuming that he had a vested interest in the continued wellbeing of the country. He wasn’t a patriot, not really, but he did like how his nation had a place for him, legally and illegally speaking. He belonged, and fit snuggly.

He was absent-mindedly typing out an email to a supplier when his secretary announced that August Byrne was here to see him. He instructed them to let him in and they did. Frost’s secretary was a factor many a co-conspirator had expressed concern over, and he had found great pleasure in passive aggressively reminding him that they had spent about five years as the secretary of a major crime boss and he still remained untouchable.

“Mr Frost,” came the greeting. That was strange. The Governor of Castenor never adopted a polite tone in his covert dealings with Arthur. Something was wrong. “I need a favour.” Ah. That’s it.

“Oh? Is my fortune and influence not enough for your . . . cause? I’ve been very generous.” There it was, that control was back in his hands. It felt good. Maybe he could get the other man to actually get on his knees and beg. That would be immensely fun.

“No, that’s not it. I, uh, well. I need you to collude with me in order to weaken organised crime in Castenor.”

“Excuse me?” He wasn’t expecting this, certainly. It caught him off guard, which meant control had shifted once again, and he hated that almost as much as he hated the idea of actually compromising his power for an old friend’s pet project.

Byrne held his hands up in supplication. “Hear me out—“

“How do you expect me to support your operations when mine are crippled? The control the Mafia has is essential to delivering you support. Putting aside my personal wealth, which is the centre to your little game, the mafia’s connections with black market dealers and corrupt government officials could make or break your mission. Not to mention the benefits of having a convenient mob hit or robbery every once in a while that could not be traced to any political movements. Need I remind you that none of that is possible without a steady income stream and busy workforce in all parts of the country?” He folded his hands in mock expectation.

“No, I understand. I do not mean for you to give up everything. I just need a few key arrests and some new statistics that I can work with.”

“Out of the question.”

“You can even manoeuvre some of your least effective and most hated lieutenants there! Come on, it’s two hares with one shot!”

“No.”

“Listen to me—”

“I agreed to offer my help because I trust you, August. Because I like your passion and I think you may succeed in this fool’s errand. I must admit I actually kind of want you to. I’m rooting for you. You got in my head with your grand talk of a dying giant. I’m happy to help you, really, I am. However, I will not slaughter my grass-fed hormone-free cash cow for your dinner party with autocracy. Even if I do minimise loss, and even if I’m okay with what losses I take, I will look weak. Both the other governors and my main rivals will be emboldened, and that can spell problems for me. Problems for me are problems for you, tamési.”

“I can ensure that it doesn’t happen. Plus, you can be emboldened yourself. With a less varied focus, you can increase the intensity. Not to mention you can kill people that try too hard.”

“I have said yes to everything you’ve asked of me. Take this one no.”

“It’s important, Arthur.”

“What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Follow in blind faith? Never been one for faith, maybe try asking your priest. You haven’t even told me your whole plan! Leaping before you look is how you fall into large pits filled with spikes.”

“Fine.”

“What?”

“Is that what it’ll take? Telling you my plan?”

Arthur made some confused noises.

“Do you want to know or not?”

“Yes. Of course I do. But why now?”

“I will sometimes ask difficult things of you. I need to know that I can rely on you to answer. I can see that not much can convince you of this, and so I’ll tell you. If you speak a single word of what I told you, I will cut off your head. Am I clear?”

“What if the word I speak is ‘the’?”

“Arthur.”

“You have my word. Haha. See what I did there?”

Arthur.

“Yes. Obviously, I won’t tell anyone anything.”

August sighed. Then he told him everything. The other man listened politely, passively, not interrupting him once. He listened until the end with the gravity his collaborator would have wanted, and then he asked calmly, “Have you seen a psychiatrist lately?”

“It will work. I know it will. I am certain.”

“Certain?”

“Certain.”

“You know how crazy that is. It would be easier to just do a regular civil war! Old reliable!”

“No it wouldn’t,” Byrne replied. “In the modern day, actual civil wars are impossible to pull off in any country with even a single proactive ally, without allies of your own. The web of defence alliances Aivintis has in place would destroy us, unless we take help from our enemies, and I don’t want this revolution to completely overturn Aivintian foreign policy. Besides, war is messy. It’s the difference between walking and running on a surface with broken glass. At least if you walk, you can manoeuvre in such a way as to not cut your feet. Even if we manage to do it quickly or strategically enough to avoid the bulk of the Kritarchy’s allies, and have the luck needed to defeat the rest, we will have no legitimacy, and we may be vulnerable to counterattacks.”

“Fine, I see your point, but still. This level of specificity? It’s a beautiful plan but it’s a microchip. A grain of sand could undo it.”

“Arthur, do you remember what I said before your trial began?”

“Something along the lines of ‘trust me’. I imagine you’ll tell me the exact wording, and use it as an inspirational message of sorts.”

August sighed. “I said, ‘Your odds are bleak, but I can improve them. If you let me do my job, I estimate a 68% chance of victory.’”

“Right! And I said, ‘Can you improve it by just one percent?’”

The Governor decided to ignore him. “I am telling you now, Arthur, if you let me do my job, we have a 100% chance of victory here.”

“Oh come on.”

“I’m serious. I can ensure everything goes according to plan. I can promise you there will be no grains of sand.”

“Fine. I’ll do as you ask.”

“Thank you.”

A Matter of War

29 December 2021

RECORDS FROM THE COUNCIL OF THE UNION OF COMMONWEALTH ALLIANCES. CONFIDENTIAL. UNAUTHORISED VIEWING CONSTITUTES A SEVERE CRIMINAL OFFENCE.

Oscar Nordheim: This discussion is one I wish I never needed to begin. [sigh] On the 10th of December, an extremist right wing terrorist group known as the Iron Front, along with nationalists from Helslandr, attacked the town of Litengrunn, which resided next to our border with Helslandr. The terrorists were equipped with fully-automatic assault rifles, incendiary grenades, and chemical explosives. I’ve received estimates that nearly 500, almost all civilians, are now confirmed dead. I’ve already ordered the mobilisation of 80.000 troops, along with the Pledonian Air Force, in order to eradicate these terrorist groups in Helslandr. Along with the nationalists’ insurgency. I will not let the blood of my people go unavenged, nor will I change my mind about the mobilisation. But this is not what I came here to discuss. I humbly request your nations’ support in order to finally end this conflict once and for all. My people cry for retribution. Do I have your support?

Tiberio Imburgia: Most concerning. Our government is willing to consider this tantamount to a declaration of war, and will support UCA intervention in Helslandr.

Alksearian Representative: This terrorist group. Have they caused problems for your nation before? And how much do you know about them? Are they directly linked to the government of Helslandr?

Tiberio Imburgia: [clears throat] Um. There isn’t really a government in Helslandr right now.

Oscar Nordheim: We’ve noticed their presence for the past while, mainly in Helslandr. They aim to unite Vestrava under a single banner, under a single man. From what intel that’s been gathered, that man is Tirlid Kvirkdelen, the ringleader of the nationalist insurgency.

Alksearian Representative: That’s more than enough for me. Alksearia will stand with Pledonia.

Akslav Metanik: [sigh] Well, on the matter of it being a declaration of war, the Durakan government takes the position that the ‘Nationalists’ aren’t a recognisable state-adjacent entity, and can therefore not be considered in waging war. They are insurgents and nothing more.

Tiberio Imburgia: Likewise. This doesn’t merit a declaration of war as much as an authorization of use of force, in my opinion. This is a military intervention intended to stop genocidal terrorist insurgents.

Oscar Nordheim: Thus why I’ve only militarised troops. I have not requested a declaration of war from the Stortinget, nor have any intention of doing so.

Akslav Metanik: Then, since it is an Authorization and not an Obligation, it should be reasonable that not all of us are willing to get our hands dirty in Western Yasteria. I don’t need to tell you that a certain nation’s actions in the region have proven that such efforts can turn sour when states that are not directly involved decide they must direct force against their enemies.

Representative Saewine: It certainly wouldn’t be the first time an intervention to stop genocidal insurgents started without a declaration of war. Speaking of which, this is the second time this year that Tretrid has gotten entangled in this kind of stuff.

Alksearian Representative: Alksearia is close enough to Yasteria to justify helping any and all UCA members in the Yasteria-Arcturia area. It would be stupid for Alksearia to not assist any UCA member in the area.

Tiberio Imburgia: Lapinumbia would be willing to contribute troops, if Pledonia is willing to receive them.

Oscar Nordheim: Any and all support we can get is welcomed.

Representative Saewine: In light of recent events in Novaran politics, we believe it best to keep most of our forces in Tretrid in case any unfortunate incidents in the Bay of Atlantia need responding to, but we’d be willing to send a small force to help. We’re also still cleaning up the mess in Hawa, so a fair amount of RTAF troops are engaged there.

Akslav Metanik: Durakia is, as my government has requested of me to note, not willing to be dragged into further conflict. We have paid in blood for a freer Balistria and Vakarastan, and it is not our business to let more men die on a matter that is not our jurisdiction. You have our endorsement to do as you will, but we are not willing to put men on the ground.

Mr Hodge (AUTH): Aivintis weeps for the innocents needlessly slaughtered by those monsters masquerading as men. Diplomatically speaking, our nation is fully behind Pledonia, and supports this effort entirely. However, our military forces are stretched thin and there is unrest in our home. The so-called People’s Movement for Justice have begun rioting, and one of our Justices has recently been murdered. If we could spare the soldiers, we would not hesitate to offer our Pledonian allies what they need. Unfortunately, we cannot.

Tiberio Imburgia: Out of curiosity, would Durakia be willing to send logistical support or perhaps supplies? There’s many ways to help in a military operation besides sending soldiers to active combat.

Akslav Metanik: That would have to be a matter to discuss with General Kirov, I assume. I’ve not been given the liberty to deviate from what expression my government has allocated. Though, if I am to guess, at the very least, our stockpile is wearing thinner than liked these days.

Oscar Nordheim: If you cannot spare anything, I won’t hold it against you. I know your decision isn’t harboured in ill-will.

Antavo Telan Dovrasta: [sigh] The Kingdom of Tavaris, er, I apologise, I am receiving direction from the Prime Minister in real time as we speak. Tavaris, uh, Tavaris is committed to answering the call in Pledonia and meeting its obligations as a member of the UCA. However due to, ah, various current military engagements, as well as, as well as, contingency plans we have in place for potential, er, I have been directed by Nuvrenon to not explain the exact circumstances, but I trust that anyone who has been keeping up with the news can perhaps imagine why I am about to say what I am about to say. Due to pre-existing concerns regarding Tavari security on the, ah, home front, our response will require the activation of reserve forces. This will take some time. We are planning to activate between 500 and 2.000 members of our Army Reserve based in Elatana. This will take between 30 and 60 days. In the meantime, as ever, Tavari facilities will be made available to all UCA allies for refuelling and other logistical needs as we prepare our response.

Akslav Metanik: I believe in this case, we’re at least fair to see this isn’t a UCA wide matter. Those states which cannot be expected to provide forces will not, and a task force can be created of those nations which are inclined to participate. Surely it is fair to say Tavaris is in no place to focus on matters in Western Yasteria at the moment.

Western Provinces Representative: The Western Provinces cannot offer much, either. We are, erm, rather on high alert for matters on our borders for well, obvious reasons. I suppose we could request Vistari forces if the UCA deems it required.

Johanna Sverdrup: [sigh] As you know, Norgsveltian soldiers already are fighting against the nationalists in this civil war in Helslandr, they have also died fighting when helping PLedonia to protect its border in the 13th of July, when nationalist soldiers spilled over into Pledonia. 100 Norgsveltian soldiers died fighting them. We have tried just giving limited support to forces against those fighting the nationalists, we tried just strengthening Pledonia’s border during this civil war. Yet it’s clear it’s not enough, and with the intel that the nationalists have tried to commit a genocide against the Nekomimi population in Helslandr, it’s clear that we must do a full UCA intervention. Not just because it’s a duty of this alliance to protect our members, but it is a moral duty for those who are suffering under the nationalists. You have Norgsveldet’s full support, I have already discussed with his majesty what we can give in terms of military support. I can assure you, we are ready to send 90.000 more troops at the shortest notice, including a large air support, at least 100 fighters of the Imperial Realms Airforce, and several hundred drones to get rid of this threat once and for all. With coordination with the United Front in Helslandr, which is made up of the royalists and republicans, and the Eyjarian Defence Forces, we can hit them from west and north. If the Western Provinces can request Vistari forces, that would be highly appreciated, though as I’ve heard, some members are limited in what they can send in materiel, and as such we must get help from other allies. Though I want to state this clear for the rest here, even if your nation can not send men or equipment, you have your diplomatic words. This is a UCA issue, and as such this intervention into Helslandr is a UCA intervention, and as such will have the diplomatic backing from all members in the UCA. Is this understood?

Western Provinces Representative: If you’ll please excuse me for a few minutes, I can get someone from Vierbak on the phone.

[NOTES FROM MR HODGE: THE UNREST THROUGHOUT THE UCA NATIONS IS NOTEWORTHY AS IT SEVERELY LIMITS UCA CONTRIBUTIONS TO MEMBERS IN NEED. I RECOMMEND A CONFIDENTIAL EVALUATION OF THE GEOPOLITICAL LANDSCAPE IN THE UCA TO ENSURE THAT ITS SECURITY AND RELIABILITY IS NOT COMPROMISE, SHOULD AIVINTIS NEED ASSISTANCE WITH THE PMJ.]

Condemned and Censored

31 December 2021

OFFICIAL MEDIA RELEASE OF AIVCAST NEWS, AUTHORISED BY CHIEF AMBASSADOR BARNUTIU, OFFICIAL OF HIS EXALTED EXCELLENCY EDUARD STOKER. MARKED FOR PUBLICATION.

Yesterday, on the 30th of December, the Andoran Union of Journalists in The Constitutional Corric Kingdom of Casilló and Réal condemned the Union of Commonwealth Alliances for its intervention in the Heslandr Civil War. The monarch of this Novaran nation, King Sebastian II, declared the UCA’s intervention in this conflict as “militarist and imperialist interventionism,” a clear and undeniable corruption of the true motives behind the war in Helslandr. This statement notably glosses over these true motives, barely offering half a sentence to discuss the terrorist attack in Pledonia. Since Casilló y Réal refuses to discuss it, Aivintis will discuss it instead.

On the 10th of December, an extremist right wing terrorist group, supported by nationalists from Helslandr, slaughtered nearly 500 innocent civilians with military grade weaponry in the Pledonian town of Litengrunn. Right wing terrorist groups such as this Iron Front are a scourge on the world, a disease that needs to be eradicated. Aivintis believes the death of hundreds cannot go unpunished, cannot go unavenged, cannot go unnoticed. The Union of Commonwealth Alliances agrees. The King of Casilló y Réal disagrees.

His statement that “military deployment is simply to seat the already-Queen Consort of Nilovia at the head of whatever state emerges from the Helslandr Civil War” is uninformed and misleading. In the halls of the UCA, the ambassadors from member states, including Mr. Hodge of Aivintis, resolved to fight against right wing terrorism in Helslandr. No individual in the UCA, no nation, not even Norgsveldet, suggested the UCA take over, or colonise it. No one. Never did it even cross our minds. We were solely focused on bringing justice to the parties responsible for this tragedy. Norgsveldet did not even propose military action in Helslandr, it was the representative from Pledonia themselves. That is the simple truth that Casilló y Réal conveniently ignores.

Aivintis believes it should be the solemn, unassailable duty of every virtuous nation on Urth to oppose right wing extremism and fight terrorism whereever, whenever, and however they can. That the Corric Kingdom would be so brash as to suggest that the UCA are puppets of colonialist Norgsveltian wars is outrageous enough. That it would go so far as to take the side of the terrorists, to take the side of the monsters that massacred nearly 500 innocent civilians unprovoked, to denounce the Union of Commonwealth Alliance for intervening in the name of justice, is detestable.

It is the solemn and unassailable belief of the Aivintian people that there should be no mercy for the savages that butchered these innocents. There should be no hiding from the light, no hiding from the forces of justice. There should be no forgiveness for this evil. The people of Pledonia cry for retribution, and yet the Corric King spits on the memory of the victims of this injustice, condemns the UCA for offering this retribution, and ends diplomatic missions with any nation that dares challenge extremist terrorism. There shall be no forgiveness for this, either.

In response to this reprehensible statement by the King and the subsequent publishing thereof by the Andoran Union of Journalists, the Aivintian government has made the decision to institute full censorship of the Andoran Union of Journalists within Aivintis as long as they continue to support and publish this false propaganda. This action will be reversed only if the Andoran Union of Journalists issues an official apology for the slander of the UCA, and publicly disagrees with or declares full neutrality on the King of Casilló y Réal and his pro-terrorist statement, specifically. This action is made in accordance with the spirit of Emperor Thaddeus I Stuart’s 1912 mandate banning all “destructive and abhorrent ideologies” within Aivintis and the 2013 Executive Order permitting the censorship of any foreign or local media espousing slander of the Aivintian government.

Corric diplomats, or “Commissioners”, from Casilló y Réal will not be turned away to negotiate this position, but the Federal Kritarchy refuses to conduct any other diplomacy with the Kingdom until an official retraction and apology is issued by the King or any future head of state. Aivintis does not take these PR attacks on its nation and allies lightly, and will continue to oppose anti-UCA and anti-Aivintis propaganda whenever it may arise. We stand strong and unthreatened in the face of such deceitful, underhanded publicity stunts.

As a preemptive statement addressing the news article released earlier today by the Andoran Union of Journalists, the government of Aivintis denies these additional false claims that our UCA allies are reacting as if this condemnation is the same as economic sanctions. We are reacting as if this condemnation is a public attack on the principles of our nations and our allies, because it is. We are reacting as if these comments denouncing our fight against terrorism are as repulsive as they are. Foreign news organisations and foreign affairs agencies may contact Chief Ambassador Barnutiu for further clarification.

Silent Protest

1 January 2022

It was raining. It was almost always raining in Redmondburg. Aivintis itself is a very cloudy, cold country, but Redmondburg had a reputation even within it for gloomy weather. Storms happened far too often for most people’s comfort, and flash flooding was prominent. Summer was the only break they had. Today, however, it was only drizzling. It was a good day to go out, and, in a way, that’s what Luca Serban was doing.

He had joined the People’s Movement for Justice two years ago, when his boyfriend was arrested for “practising journalism without a licence”, after he posted a video of a police officer pushing an old man to the ground on Pigeon. He always knew his country was one of the least free in the world, but hadn’t cared all too much. He always thought things were okay enough, or would sort themselves out. Once it touched him personally, however, he finally understood. He managed to track down someone who knew Laurentiu Aldulescu, and he got into the PMJ.

He wasn’t sure they all trusted him yet, and he hadn’t even met Laurentiu yet, but the members he met seemed to be incredibly kind individuals, expressing sympathy for his anger and encouraging him to investigate the crimes against freedom committed by the Aivintian state. Their attitude was what convinced him what they were doing was right. The silent protest was his idea, partially. He recommended a public event, unaffiliated with the PMJ itself, to gauge public engagement with efforts for change. It was Doris who suggested a silent protest, however, an older lady who wasn’t actually going to be present for it.

He put on a light raincoat, bright red. All the PMJ members would be wearing one. It allowed them to identify each other without drawing too much attention. The tape they’d be wearing across their mouths was black, though, and had been distributed to over a hundred people so far, although more than four hundred expressed interest. They expected a lower turnout than promised, of course. A lot of people struggled with follow-through, especially faced with the reality of standing up to all-powerful tyrants.

He boarded the train from his district on the line that led to Toma Nord Square. The city of Redmondburg was notable for its large open plazas and squares, where cars were prohibited, trees were plentiful, and stores were quaint. Foreign newspapers often praised its pedestrian-friendly design, but it didn’t change the fact that these squares were so close to highways and busy streets that you could never escape the Aivintian automobile epidemic. Toma Nord Square was one of the biggest and busiest, so it was a natural choice.

Toma Nord himself was an Aivintian hero, credited with the implementation of the first constitutional monarchy and parliamentary form of government in Aivintia, an act which would inspire Teronia two decades later, and eventually be the basis for the United Kingdom of Aivintis. It wasn’t far enough, though, and the PMJ demonstration there would make that clear. The people cried for freedom and popular sovereignty. They would not settle for half measures. That was the message they intended to convey. That was the reason Luca signed up for the PMJ.

The train arrived, and the automated voice said to stand clear of the closing doors after Luca stepped out into the station. It was only a short walk to where the demonstrators would be, and he already saw a crowd of fifteen or so people gathered at the centre, near the Toma Nord statue. None were wearing a red coat. He was the first PMJ member to arrive. He said hi to a few, and struck up some conversation, careful not to reveal his involvement in the protest’s organisation. If something happened, no one could be held responsible. That was the plan.

The next PMJ member to arrive was a man by the name of Viorel, whom Luca had never seen before. He mentioned he would be leaving before the protest started, but wanted to wish everyone luck. Something about him looked familiar, but he didn’t say anything. After Stan and Florina arrived, he curtly nodded and then walked towards the train station. There were only a few minutes left by that point, and there were only thirty or so protestors still. Some people started to take notice, but Luca prayed to the Great Architect that they wouldn’t end the protest before it began.

Three more PMJ members arrived with a group of about a dozen people, which heartened Luca. He couldn’t help but feel incredibly optimistic about the whole affair, now. It wasn’t a lot by most standards, but it was a start, and it meant more people wanted change than just the PMJ. It wasn’t just a fringe group of extremists. There were a lot of people interested. As people started putting on the tape, Luca checked the social media app which they used to organise the event, and saw dozens of new notifications about people dropping out and having last minute doubts. Disappointing, but he was sure it didn’t mean they stopped caring about their future. They were just scared. They all were. They had to understand that, together, they had nothing to fear.

He put the black tape over his mouth and picked up a sign. There weren’t many, and he was the only PMJ member holding one, but he was willing to take that risk for his own safety. It read, “STOP SILENCING JOURNALISTS.” A woman a few metres from him held one that said “YOU CANNOT SUPPRESS THE TRUTH.” He didn’t need to read the rest to know what they said. “FREEDOM OF PRESS NOW,” “WE STAND AGAINST TYRANNY,” “NO MORE PROPAGANDA,” and “WE WILL NOT BE MANIPULATED.” He wrote some of them himself. He was quite proud of it. By the time everyone took their places, multiple people had come over to see what was going on, probably expecting a street performance of some sort. Cameras flashed. People muttered.

He pretended it did not kill him when a few protestors tried to quietly slip away. They could not afford to falter, not with the whole city looking at them. This was a statement, crying out to the world. Silently, they were screaming for freedom. For true justice. Together. If they were not together, they would not win. Holding fast to their morals, their convictions, was the only option. He couldn’t bring himself to think of what might happen if their united front wavered.

The first police officer to check on them was a young elf who was clearly new to the force. He looked somewhat confused, as if he didn’t quite know what to do. Also a little embarrassed. Luca’s heart soared. This was amazing luck. It would definitely extend the protest. Then, the young officer spoke into his radio, that puzzled look still present. He didn’t leave. He just stood there. As if he was monitoring the situation.

About ten of them came in total, clad in body armour and armed with riot shields and shotguns. They stopped just by the young elf officer, who scurried away with what looked like shame. Five protestors fled at the mere sight of the police, one of which dropped a sign that had the word “FREEDOM” on it in large letters. One of the cops, probably a sergeant, called out with a megaphone for them to disperse. By then, a huge crowd had formed, and there was even a camera crew. Many people had their phones filming, though. Good. Let the whole world see what happened here today.

Many of the protestors had fled by then, but a core of about 35 people still remained. As little as it was, Luca was glad that it wasn’t just people in red raincoats. That had to mean something. The officers began to slowly approach, holding up their riot shields, but some burst of adrenaline from the fear kept the people in front from fleeing. The officer told them to disperse once more, and then shouted something that Luca couldn’t hear. Then, he heard a hiss and saw white smoke rising from a canister on the ground near him.

Through his tears, he saw the police officers knocking people to the ground with their riot shields, and heard bones cracking. Ten more police officers, wearing gas masks and body armour but no riot shields, had arrived and begun handcuffing people. He ripped the tape off his mouth and screamed for everyone to run, before he felt his head hit the pavement and his arms pulled behind his back with incredible strength.