True Justice


5 April 2023

Chief Ambassador Valerica Mircea was loyal to Her Excellency Justice Maria Lupu. Valerica was appointed by Lupu when she was a Chief Ambassador herself, before the Whitcher Coup had even taken place. After serving to smaller countries with limited relations with Aivintis, Valerica was only promoted into an assignment to Saintmagnus through the efforts of Chief Ambassador Lupu, who had arrested the previous Ambassador for fraud, and sent her formal recommendation to His Excellency Justice Muresan to appoint Valerica instead.

Saintmagnus was one of the smallest countries in the world, but it was one of the most important to Aivintis. Its banking industry dominated the Aivintian economy. Every Aivintian millionaire maintained a bank account on the small island to the south. In her time there, Ambassador Mircea made a name for herself protecting Aivintian economic interests by lobbying Saintmagnian Councilmembers and establishing a personal relationship with the King of Haven. Upon Justice Hutopila’s death in 2017, Maria Lupu was appointed to the high court by Chief Justice Whitcher, and granted control over the Foreign Council. Her first act was to appoint Valerica Mircea as a Chief Ambassador.

She owed her entire career to Justice Lupu. More than that, she respected the woman, who had incredible power and wealth, but used it sparingly, only to accomplish what was necessary for her position. She was a wise leader, and one of the most intelligent people C.A. Mircea had ever met. It was for that reason that the Chief Ambassador immediately went to Justice Lupu’s office when the Llygadian government banished Aivintian ambassadors from the capitol.

“Your Excellency, I apologise for the intrusion–” she began, pushing through the door. The Judicial Security Force contingent outside the private chambers didn’t stop her, but they tensed up, and one actually grabbed her arm.

“The Eye of God?” Justice Lupu guessed, looking up through her reading glasses. “I had heard. Captain, please release Chief Ambassador Mircea.” The JSF officer who had grabbed her arm let go and nodded. “Leave us, please,” Lupu continued, and the doors closed shut, leaving Valerica alone with her mentor.

“Your Excellency, the situation is quite tense, even within the Llygadian government. I believe this is above my jurisdiction.”

“I understand,” Lupu said, taking off her reading glasses and folding them up. “However, I believe you should discuss this matter with His Excellency Justice Byrne.” She folded her hands.

“Excuse me? Your Excellency,” she added.

Justice Lupu looked off towards a blank wall. “I have been thinking a lot recently, Chief Ambassador. The only reason I took this job was to protect my country from someone who would have seen it fall to someone I would rather not see it fall to. It was the only way, but I never wanted to be a Justice. I was ready to retire, and I didn’t agree with the new government. After he was killed by the mafia, though, I had become a part of that government. I became used to it. And in many ways, it became used to me. My diplomacy kept its legitimacy abroad.”

“Your Excellency, what does this have to do with Justice Byrne?”

“His Excellency is the future. Believe me when I say this, Chief Ambassador. Go discuss this matter with him. Consider his advice as if it were mine.”

“Your Excellency—”

“Go,” she said again.

Valerica left the room confused. She was not sure what had happened, or why. Justice Lupu was a proud woman. She didn’t bow to anyone. When the situation called for it, she stood up to the most powerful people in the country. She had yelled at Chief Justice Stoker before. She was not the type of person to give another Justice the power over her domain. Not after she had seen so many Justices fuck up so much of the country. Something had happened.

She stormed down the hall, not caring for the jittery looks of the Judicial Security Force that guarded Lupu. She got in the elevator, angrily pressed the button for the floor where August Byrne’s private chambers resided, and walked through the doors and a security checkpoint, down the hall, and to the door where six JSF guards stood in her way.

“I am Chief Ambassador Valerica Mircea, Chair of the Foreign Council. Her Excellency Justice Maria Lupu has sent me to speak with His Excellency Justice August Byrne regarding a matter of national security pertinent to His Excellency.” Valerica showed them her identification, they looked at each other, and one tapped an earpiece, speaking in low tones. A moment later, they opened the door and let her through.

“What did you do to her?” she demanded.

“I’m sorry, Chief Ambassador?” Justice Byrne asked, slowly, discreetly, opening a drawer in his desk, where a loaded gun lay.

“Justice Lupu. What did you do to her?”

The Justice furrowed his brow. “What did she say?”

“She told me to meet with you about a matter of diplomatic importance. That’s not your job.”

He smiled, and closed the drawer. “Her Excellency and I have had a conversation. We believe it to be important to work together moving forward.”

“If you think you can steal her job the way you stole Justice Grigorescu’s—”

“I’m astonished at the lack of formality, civility, and decorum in your tone, Chief Ambassador. Her Excellency would not be happy to hear that you treated a Justice of the High Court of Aivintis with such disrespect and malice. Reign it in, Chief Ambassador. I’d have thought a Council Chair would know better than that.”

“What did you do to her?” she demanded again.

“I had a conversation with her. We decided on a course of action that best suited all parties involved. I didn’t do anything to her,” he lied. “However, what is most curious, is that the course of action we decided on made no mention of consulting me on diplomatic relations. It was of a different nature. But I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Sit, Chief Ambassador. Let us discuss this like diplomats.”

“You have not been a diplomat in a very long time,” she observed. Perhaps a little judgmentally, but the worst of her hostility had faded.

“On the contrary, Chief Ambassador, I find that I have been a diplomat more and more lately,” Justice Byrne replied, in a low voice. “No matter. What is the issue?”

“Are you aware of the government structure of the Gweriniaeth Llygad Duw?”

“Vaguely. Tricameral legislature, multiparty system, left leaning politics, and there’s some debate about climate change and the national language.”

“That’s pretty much it,” she confirmed, not bothering to explain the full, complicated range of ideologies, parties, and issues surrounding the nation. “Anyway, the current majority is the LG-ELP coalition. They control Y Tri Phwyllgor, more or less, and have been friendly enough to Aivintis despite prevalent anti-colonial and anti-industry sentiments, due to linguistic leanings and desires to maintain mining interests. However, the Community of Boroughs have recently had an election. In the Disgybl y Llygad election, due to government mismanagement, the shifting tides of politics have granted the coalition’s biggest critics, Draig o Llygad, more power in the house, especially over that region.”

“The Community of Boroughs is . . .”

“The lowest house of the legislature, the one which—”

“Represents constituent districts.”

“Yes. And the Community of Boroughs is empowered to create law on a regional scale if it does not interfere with national laws. Furthermore, the Community of Boroughs often creates lower level committees to deal with local issues. The Draig o Llygad party has used its influence in the house to push through the formation of a committee dealing with the application of law enforcement to foreign diplomats in the capital.”

“That is not a local issue,” Justice Byrne argued.

“They framed it as one. According to the motion, the city has been struggling to deal with policing due to the massive growth of foreign relations under the coalition. It argues that diplomats disregard city law, and regional restrictions on foreign persons, regardless of diplomatic status, are necessary to address the needs of their constituents.”

“Why did the coalition allow this farce?”

“Some of their number are more left than the party itself, and sympathise somewhat with Draig o Llygad. They wanted to make a political statement to their constituents, who themselves have been voting for Draig o Llygad more and more, and to their party, who they believe has grown too moderate and soft. Between that, Draig o Llygad, and the full support of regional representatives, the motion passed. The first act they passed was a law expelling Aivintian diplomats from the capital, claiming Ambassador Mihai Ungur broke laws on foreign influence in campaign finance and spread misinformation regarding climate change. The law also explicitly cites his disregard for a law banning drinking alcohol in a public space.”

“This is a blatant overreach of authority, won’t the courts overturn it soon?”

“Oh, they’ll overturn it, but not soon. The Community of Citizens has to file a legal claim, and they move slowly, especially when the opposition party is fighting any attempts to do so. In the meantime, the event is getting national news attention in Llygad Duw, and our diplomats are practically exiled.”

“Where are they staying now?” Justice Byrne asked.

“A secure hotel in Cewri,” she responded.

“Oh come on,” he complained. “The former colonists are forced out of the capital and decide to stay in the city their country built? That hardly sends the right message.”

“That’s hardly the issue here.”

“What can you do? Send them just outside the jurisdiction of the committee. I don’t care if they’re sleeping in a boathouse, they should be on the shore. As close to the capital as possible. And open diplomatic channels with the Community of Citizens leadership. Threaten to withdraw from our economic treaty if they do not get our diplomats back in the capital. If they ask for concessions, fire Ungur. He’s a thug, and, worse, he’s bad at it. He has no place in the government. Actually, fire him anyway. Not now, unless they ask. Maybe a couple months down the line he retires.”

“Yes, Your Excellency.”

“I can do a state visit, if they want. I don’t think they do, though.”

“No, they wouldn’t want that. It would send the wrong message. Too much cooperation with the Aivintian Empire is bad press.”

Justice Byrne nodded. “Alright. That’s it.”

Chief Ambassador Mircea stood up to leave.


She tensed. “Yes?” He noticed that she left off the ‘Your Excellency’ this time.

“Your jurisdiction is Southern Gondwana, correct?”

“Uh, yes, Your Excellency. What does it matter?”

He shook his head. “It doesn’t, not really. Just . . . you’re the Foreign Council Chair. Why wouldn’t you oversee relations with UCA allies? It’s a far more prestigious and influential role, certainly.”

“Her Excellency advised me that the countries closest to Aivintis were the most important, if not the most glamorous. Our economic relationships there, especially those nations in the Gondwanan Community, are central to Aivintian foreign interests. They happen in the background, but they are essential to our nation’s prosperity.”

Justice Byrne smiled. “I see now why she sent you.”

“Why?” Chief Ambassador Mircea asked.

“It wasn’t for me. It wasn’t to give me more power. It was for you. She wanted to ensure that you had a place in this country after I finished my good work.”

Mircea took a step back. “What are you planning, Byrne?”

“Nothing less than the absolute destruction of the Kritarchy, and the establishment of a free and fair elected Republic.” The Chief Ambassador was stunned. The Justice stood, and walked around his desk. “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll see in time. You’ll see the castle fall before long. You’ll see the work I do and you’ll see the tyrants weep. But you . . . I misjudged you. I thought you a bureaucrat, someone to fall in line and do the work your government asks of you. You are something more. Lupu sees something in you, and I trust her judgement. She sent you here to make me talk to you, and to make me reconsider my disregard for you. She wants me to especially protect your station in the new regime.” He paused. “No, that’s not it.” His smile grew. “She wants you to take her place.”


“It is a lot to process. I understand. You are a Kritarch official, of course you’re experiencing some internal conflict. Like Lupu, however, you’ll come around. You are a pragmatist. You are a politician. She sees something in you. She’s smart. Smarter than I am, certainly. So I’ll trust her, if you’ll trust me. Shake my hand. Do as I ask. And you will be my foreign affairs representative. My Officer of Diplomacy. It’s an appointed position, you see.”

“You’re crazy.” She looked him in the eyes. “You’re insane. You can’t beat them. You can’t. Sto— he won’t allow it.”

“Shake my hand,” he said, holding it out. “Lupu trusted me. You can too.”

“You won’t—”

“I will.”

“Can’t I have time to think it over?”

“Shake my hand.”

She did.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

19 April 2023


Recordkeeper: This 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.

S: I call you all here today because I have noticed that our government is inefficient, and I wish to change that. I have spoken with many prominent business owners and governors. All agree that our bureaucracy is far too complex, and has reached too far in its power. I agree. Today, we will discuss how to fix this issue.

Grigorescu: I certainly agree, Your Exalted Excellency. Following my assumption of the Health Council, I discovered this firsthand. The government spends millions of crowns a year on illegal drug rehabilitation, when the perpetrators of these crimes should be imprisoned instead of treated with a nice spa. We also interfere with items which should be decided by the Trade Council instead, and, in my opinion, reformed to disentangle the government from private affairs - maternal, paternal, and menstrual leave is so long as to interfere with the operations of the economy, price caps on drugs like insulin unfairly restrict companies without considering inflation, and gender-affirming hormone treatments are restricted too much by outdated public safety mandates.

Byrne: I greatly regret not dealing with those last two issues while I held those Councils, Justice Grigorescu. I am glad you are taking care of them. However, to be perfectly honest, I do not think the first two are an issue, and I do not think any of these issues require sweeping governmental reforms. A couple new mandates, and the majority of these issues will be fixed. With respect, Your Exalted Excellency, piecemeal changes can be made ad hoc on lower levels of the government. I think the High Court is better tasked with matters of greater significance.

S: The idea is that we pass all necessary mandates at once, in an omnibus that addresses every internal issue in the government. Issues like those, which are one or two mandates away from solution, but have gone ignored for too long, must be taken care of.

Byrne: I— see your point, Your Exalted Excellency. No, that’s fair. Since Justice Grigorescu brought it up, shall we address the Health Council first?

S: Good a place to start as any, I suppose. For the issues he mentioned, I propose that funding for rehabilitation be pooled matters of health-related leave be left to the Trade Council, price caps be adjusted for inflation and increased in order to allow for fair market competition and growth, and that all gender-affirming healthcare be protected under a new category of regulation aimed at protecting the patient’s physical and mental health throughout the process of transitioning without infringing on their rights to receive such healthcare.

Byrne: Your Exalted Excellency—

Grigorescu: Your Exalted Excellency, I—

Byrne: I think the first matter should be reconsidered, as reh—

Grigorescu: Your Exalted Excellency, matters of health belong to the Health Council, not the Trade Council.

S: One at a time, for Ademar’s sake.

Byrne: I apologise, Your Exalted Excellency. Justice Grigorescu, you may precede me.

Grigorescu: Your Exalted Excellency, I must object to the section of your proposal dealing with leave. Matters of health-related leave are, ultimately, matters of health, belonging to my Council, not August’s. The Health Council is integral to the safety of all citizens, and I do not think removing this matter from Health Council authority is the path forward. Health Councilmembers are the most qualified medical professionals in the world.

Byrne: Didn’t you yourself say that they interfered with company operations? Sounds like a Trade issue to me. The problem we are trying to solve here is that the companies are being restricted. This gives those companies more of a say, per my own decree on business representation, and per the representation by economic experts in the form of Trade Councillors.

Grigorescu: I— Nevermind.

Byrne: However, Your Exalted Excellency, I do take issue with the redistribution of rehabilitation funds. Citizens who have fallen victim to addiction—

Grigorescu: Fallen victim? As if someone is forcing crack pipes down people’s throats? That’s gotta be a contender for the Johnson Prize in Comedy. These people are choosing to consume illegal, dangerous substances, despite heavy informative and persuasive materials against that stance, and despite strict laws and policing regarding it. They make the choice to break these laws. They are not falling victim to anything but their own judgement. If you intend to twist words like this for the rest of the session, we’re not going to get anything done. There’s no cameras here, August. Stop acting like there are.

Byrne: Mr Grigorescu, I think you forget yourself. As High Court Justices, we must maintain the utmost decorum.

Grigorescu: I— I apologise. Your Exalted Excellency, I motion to strike my untimely and unwise outburst from the record.

S: Curious. I do not grant your motion, but I will not consider it in my final decision.

Grigorescu: Thank you, Your Exalted Excellency.

S: Mr Byrne, you may continue.

Byrne: Your Exalted Excellency, citizens who are plagued with addiction are in great need of help. Punitive justice is not getting them that help. They can suffer withdrawal and death if they are imprisoned without proper rehabilitation, and may end up seeking the same illegal drugs, not because they want to take them anymore, but because they need to in order to prevent withdrawal and death. Drug rehabilitation is incredibly important in making sure addicted criminals can be turned into functioning, productive members of society, which is ultimately the goal of the criminal justice system.

S: Mr Byrne, your dissent is noted. However, I believe this is an issue, and I believe this is the solution. The proposal stands.

Grigorescu: Your Exalted Excellency, I’d like to further draw your attention to the Immigration crisis. It is my belief that we should halt all immigration from Southwestern Gondwanan Nations. We do not want to inherit their strife, and immigrants are seeking Aivintian residency and citizenship at a rate which overwhelms our current systems.

S: I expect Mr Byrne has an objection?

Byrne: More like a compromise. We can place a limit on accepted refugees, but we should not make it more difficult for refugees to find asylum. I also think that if we create another mandate, allowing refugees to use Aivintis as a stepping stone to another first world nation when the limit has been reached, that we can allow more people to find safety and refuge without overworking our government.

Grigorescu: This compromise satisfies me.

S: Interesting. Fine. That’s what we’ll do. Byrne, you’re pretty vocal, why don’t you go next?

Byrne: Yes, Your Exalted Excellency. In matters of trade, I believe antitrust laws are a bit outdated, restricting too much of the wrong thing and too little of the right thing. We can revise it to modernise the statutes in order to loosen restrictions on companies like Seier Enterprises and Vianu Consolidated Media so that the economy runs more smoothly. Furthermore, I think we should pass laws limiting the sale of private data to foreign information companies or even domestic companies of the same. The privacy of our citizens is an important right that we must protect, Your Exalted Excellency.

S: I’ll add one more thing. Recently, we passed a law allowing the unionisation of workers in all industries. Since we passed that mandate, our economy has suffered from strikes, worker negotiations, and delays in production. Furthermore, companies’ profits have declined as wage negotiations have occurred. It is clear that this decision is damaging our economic security and prosperity. I add to this omnibus a reversal of that mandate and a strict ban on unionisation attempts, punishable by fines or jail time, as determined by a court of law.

Byrne: Your Exalted Excellency, I strongly urge you to reconsider! Workers’ rights are fundamental necessities in our legal system. We govern for the people, and for this reason, we must protect the rights of the people.

Groza: I must agree with my colleague on this matter, Your Exalted Excellency. I have silently observed the debates thus far, but I must offer my voice here. Unions do not decrease productivity, they increase it. Happier, well-paid, well-treated workers work more and work better. With less complaint, with less dragging of feet, and with greater vigour.

Grigorescu: I’m afraid I have to agree. Allowing legal strikes is the way we prevent illegal uprisings. How can we expect to keep workers in line if they have nothing to lose? We’re arming enemies of the state with anti-government rhetoric. If the average Aivintian worker is ready to rise against us, we cannot reign in the PMJ terrorists with the same ease.

S: WHICH ONE OF US IS CHIEF JUSTICE? I did not say this was open for discussion. I did not say this was open for debate. I did not say this was open to a vote. None of you speak unless I say you can speak, so shut your goddamn mouths before I throw you all out. This mandate will go through. I don’t know what you did to Mr Grigorescu, Byrne, but if he’s on your leash then leash him the hell in. And don’t ever question me again. I am the regent. My judgement reigns supreme. You will all respect that. Now, Mr Byrne, are there any issues in your Military and Intelligence Councils that deserve attention?

Byrne: No, Your Exalted Excellency.

S: How has your transparency act been affecting things? Speak, goddamn it, I asked you a question.

Byrne: The transparency measures’ exceptions on national security have allowed the military and intelligence communities to operate without compromise.

S: If I suggest that they be excluded entirely from disclosure, will you disagree?

Byrne: No, Your Exalted Excellency.

S: Good. That will be added to the omnibus. Justice Lupu, you have the good sense to stay quiet when the situation calls for it, how about you go next?

Lupu: Our education system is strong. If I may, perhaps a modernisation of instructional materials is in order. We could allocate parts of the budget to education for this purpose, securing computers and modern equipment for all schools in Aivinits.

S: I would, but it’s just not in the budget.

Lupu: Very well. In Foreign Affairs, I think we could improve operations by granting more power to Chief Ambassadors to act unilaterally within their jurisdiction. Subject to Justice or Chief Justice veto, of course.

S: I’m not sure. Convince me.

Lupu: Chief Ambassadors are experts on their regional assignments as well as highly experienced diplomats and leaders. Decentralising the structure in this regard does no harm to centralised structure. Foreign policy as a whole is still reserved to higher levels. Only regional issues will be handled by the Chief Ambassadors.

S: Hm. I’m not big on it, but I don’t see any reason not to, so approved.

Lupu: Thank you, Your Exalted Excellency.

S: Justice Groza?

Groza: Something that has been kicked around in the Transportation Council is a high speed passenger train along the shore, connecting our major cities near the coast. Westhafen, Marnacia, Grandys, Waerham, Redmondburg, Castenor, Greater Asluagh, and Nisava all sit along a single line, and we can make use of this geographical feature to great effect.

S: Public transportation, Justice Groza?

Groza: I understand your reluctance, but it is the next logical step. We have a highway. We have a cargo train line. A passenger train could facilitate commuting greatly, allowing residents of small towns in the area to easily find work in major cities. It is a worthy investment for the economy, Your Exalted Excellency.

S: Byrne, do you agree?

Byrne: Yes, Your Exalted Excellency.

S: That’s to be expected at this point. Fine. I’ll allocate the funds. Anything further

Groza: Nothing in the Energy Council is extremely pressing. Someone has brought up a project to construct power lines in rural areas again.

S: I’m guessing you shut them down?

Groza: Yes, Your Exalted Excellency.

S: Good. Such a waste. Remove the next person who suggests that horrid idea.

Groza: Yes, Your Exalted Excellency.

S: My turn. Justice is sorely lacking. This country is a den of villainy and scum. Governors, from this point onwards, will be required to create detailed plans of action to deal with the mafia presence in their cities. Temporarily, judges will be required to deliver the maximum sentence possible for new convicts. Parole will be unavailable to any individual who worked with the mafia, unless they provide actionable intel on the mafia’s operations. I will allocate more funding to the police and to prisons, so that our criminal justice system can finally bring true justice for all Aivintians. Justice Byrne, did you have something to say?

Byrne: No, Your Exalted Excellency.

S: Good. To accommodate these new mandates, income and property taxes will be raised. Moreover, government seizure of criminal assets and exercise of eminent domain will be increased substantially. To prevent any harm to the economy, I will personally negotiate tax cuts and benefits for major contributors to the economy. Major CEOs, prominent philanthropists, and such.

Grigorescu: I very much agree, Your Exalted Excellency.

Byrne: Your Exalted Excellency’s wisdom knows no bounds. I will strive to work within the Trade Council to apply this policy, providing tax cuts for large businesses as well.

S: Good idea. Get on that. That is all for today’s session. The omnibus, as proposed, hereby takes place as an Executive Order. Copies of this session’s transcript will be delivered to Associate Justices for the execution of these mandates. 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 Whole World in His Hands

5 May 2023

Idrun Energy Chief Executive Officer Nicolae Engen had an easy life and an easy job. For a multimillion dollar company, setting strategy was a job which could be easily delegated to the Board of Directors. Executing that strategy was the job of the Chief Operating Officer. For Idrn Energy, all the CEO did was sit and look pretty. Consultants were brought in, underpaid managers were given more responsibilities than they probably should have been, and Nicolae Engen got to sit on his ass. He liked sitting on his ass.

When August Byrne opened the Trade Council to business representation, though, he realised he was done sitting on his ass. He wanted to do something. Not his job, no, no, no, that was stupid. He wanted to do something more important. Or, not important. Influential. He wanted to do something that would affect more people. He joined the Council. Some companies sent strategists or assistant directors as their Representative Councillor. Idrun Energy and Seier Enterprises were the only two that sent their CEOs.

It had a tangible effect on the Council. Engen and Frost commanded respect like none other on the Council, save His Excellency. Yet, still, he would be called upon by the board from time to time to perform some key functions. His favourites were the ones that interacted with the government. When His Exalted Excellency Chief Justice Eduard Stoker had called Engen into his office on an undisclosed matter, he was glad to go.

His Exalted Excellency was typically an intimidating figure, his face worn with wrinkles and set in a permanent frown, but when he met with the economic powers that be, like Engen, he managed to find a smile from the depths of his vileness. He did so now, and enthusiastically extended a hand to shake. Nicolae complied. Two of the bloodiest hands in Aivintis, shaking. Idrun Energy’s destruction of the environment. Eduard Stoker’s destruction of the Aivintian nation. Two of the individuals most dedicated to ensuring a desolate future, in the same room. To say that it didn’t happen often in that office would be a lie.

“Mr Engen, it is always a pleasure to see you,” said Stoker. His voice was gruff and his words were clipped, but the brevity and simplicity of his speech concealed deep cunning, the cunning that pillaged a nation from a seat on the throne.

“Your Exalted Excellency,” bowed Nicolae.

“Please. Regent is fine.” The only concession in formality Stoker would ever make would be to the individuals who he relied on to keep the economy strong. Still, his concessions, as ever, were limited.

“Regent, the pleasure is all mine. Your guiding wisdom has brought an age of prosperity to our great country. I am honoured to meet with you. What is it that you desire, Regent?”

Stoker smiled, his ego sufficiently stroked, like an attention-starved puppy getting petted at the pound. “Mr Engen, your company is an economic powerhouse. My wonderful advisor, Mr Byrne, was aware of this, when he allowed you a seat in the Trade Council, a decision I fully supported. Idrun Energy is the lifeblood of this economy, and I hope it continues to provide my government and my country with prosperity and compliance with relevant law. I, too, am aware of this, I need you to know. By my authority as Regent, Chief Minister, and Chief Justice of the Aivintian Empire, as Council Chair of the Finance Council, and as the supreme lawmaker of the land, I would like to offer your company certain benefits and tax cuts as a reward for stimulating the economy. You, too, will receive heavy cuts in taxes. We must reward hard work and success in Aivintis. More than that, I know that the wealth will trickle-down and my country will prosper for it.”

“Thank you, Regent,” Engen said. “I am truly honoured to receive this great gift.”

“Hm. Well, I am happy to grant it,” the tyrant responded. “Your company has done great work. You have done great work. In my Aivintis, that is rewarded.” If Aivintis were a democracy, it would sound like campaigning.

“Thank you again, Regent. If there is anything you need, anything at all, just name it.”

“At this time, I have no need for favours, Mr Engen. Truly, the only motive of this meeting was to grant certain tax exemptions. I wanted to personally offer it to remind the world where power lies in this country,” Stoker said. He was afraid, Engen realised. Of the PMJ, maybe. Curious.

“I understand, Regent,” the magnate said, offering his hand again.

Stoker grasped it firmly and studied his eyes. “Hm.” Was that suspicion? It was hard to say. There was no way Stoker doubted Engen’s loyalty to the current regime. The PMJ stood against the establishment. Big business WAS the establishment. Nicolae was almost hurt. Almost. He was almost angry. But if Stoker had something to fear, maybe the castle wasn’t as unassailable as Nicolae had thought. He had noticed a tension in the air recently, in the halls of the capitol. Was it anticipation? What was coming?

He stepped out of the room, and felt eyes on him even after he closed the door and cleared the guards in the hall. He felt eyes on him even in the elevator. He felt eyes on him as he walked out the entrance hall. He felt eyes on him as he walked through the door, and as he took a black car down the road to a restaurant that served politicians more than the common folk. He felt eyes on him as he ordered, and as his food arrived. It was then that a dark shape filled the corner of his eyes. For a moment, he thought he saw white, feathery wings, extending from the black-robed man walking towards him, and a long scythe in his hand. When he actually turned, he saw only a man. August Byrne. The Justice sat down.

“Hello Mr Engen.”

“Your Excellency, it is good to see you. If I had realised you were eating here too, I would have greeted you at your table on my way in,” he said honestly, though a bead of sweat gathered on his forehead for a reason he could not explain. He felt delirious, like perhaps he was sick, and needed to lay down.

“I just got here,” Byrne clarified. He waved down a waiter. “I’ll have some water, please. Whenever you can.”

“Right away, Your Excellency,” the server responded, a little pale at the prospect of serving a Justice. He did not know what to expect from the autocrats that held his nation under their thumb. As he had learned earlier in this job, it was always safe and almost always right to expect entitlement and impatience of the highest degree. He nearly ran to the kitchen.

“Mr Engen, how did your meeting with Your Exalted Excellency go?”

The tycoon shifted uncomfortably, unsure what he was supposed to disclose. Something about Stoker’s words, something about Byrne’s abrupt appearance, something about the bleariness of his mind, something about the way the world seemed to be spinning, stayed his tongue.

“Mr Engen?” After his water appeared, Justice Byrne pushed it across the table to Nicolae, and requested another one. “Mr Engen, drink some water.”

“I apologise, Your Excellency, I think I may be coming down with something.”

“Drink the water,” Justice Byrne ordered. With his commanding voice, it sounded almost like a decree. So he complied.

“Again, Your Excellency, I apologise. I—”

“You feel unwell. I understand. The air is not right.” It was such a strange thing for August Byrne to say, but stranger too was that it made sense. Mr Engen nodded.

“The water is helping,” he said, between sips. “Now—”

“Your water, Your Excellency,” the waiter interrupted.

“Thank you,” the Justice replied. He took a sip. “You were saying, Mr Engen?”

“It is always good to see you, Your Excellency, but I was wondering if this is a meeting about official matters.”

“Right. You are coming from a meeting with His Exalted Excellency, yes?”

Again, Nicolae was unsure of what Stoker would have wanted from him in this situation, but, feeling healthier and thinking clearer with the water, he was beginning to feel foolish for being suspicious. “Uh, yes. Yes, Your Excellency.”

“We recently discussed tax cuts for major businesses. He named some. I agreed. But your company wasn’t on his list. He didn’t want to show too much favouritism to the companies which already had seats in the Trade Council. He also didn’t want to offer too much cuts to energy companies. The profit Idrun receives is immense, and tax cuts to energy companies are huge blows to our national coin purse. It required some convincing, but I managed to get you on the list.”

He wasn’t sure who to believe. He was suddenly aware that he had fallen into a trap. He was caught in a spiderweb. His mind had cleared, and he saw the cage erected around him. He sighed. Going on the offensive, he answered, “His Exalted Excellency told me otherwise. He told me he had made the decision to grant me the tax cuts.”

“He didn’t even make the decision to offer tax cuts in general. Mr Engen, I am sorry to say, he lied to you.” He drank some water. “About more than that, I’m afraid. He lied about Justice Crane’s death. His Exalted Excellency killed Crane, not disease. He lied about Mardare, too. He knew about Mardare’s addictions, gambling, alcohol, drugs, he knew it all. He has lied to the Aivintian people, and to you.”

“This is starting to sound treasonous, Your Excellency. I urge you to consider what you’re saying.”

“I know what I’m saying, Mr Engen.” When the businessman tried to stand up and call the waiter for the check, Byrne said, “Sit down. I’m not finished.” The man complied. “Mr Engen, you understand what he has done.”

“We have all done something, Your Excellency. We’re neck deep in shit, all of us. Every single patron of this restaurant, every single politician up the road. We’re all guilty. We’re all liars. You are too.” Byrne laughed. Still, Engen pressed on, “I don’t particularly care that he lied to me. I care about my head staying firmly on my shoulders. This conversation is not good for my health. I advise you to shut up and keep your head down,” he scolded sharply. “If you don’t mind, I’ll be doing the same.”

Justice Byrne pulled out his phone, opened the call app, and showed Engen. He pointed to the 1. When he spoke, he lowered his voice. “This dials His Exalted Excellency.” He pointed to the 2. “This dials Laurentiu Aldulescu, leader of the People’s Movement for Justice.” He pointed to the 3. “This dials the Alpha of the Aivintian Mafia.” He took his phone away, and held it in his left hand. “Which should I call? One call, it will take, Mr Engen. They all listen to me. Which one should I call to ruin your life? To tear you down and bury you in the ground? Which one?”

“Your Excellency—” he started to warn.

“I could call Stoker,” Byrne interrupted. “I could tell him you funded the PMJ. I could tell him you broke economic regulations. I could get you the corporate death penalty. Or the real death penalty. Probably both.”

“August!” Engen shouted. Some people turned their heads, and whipped them back when they saw a Justice of the High Court, burying their eyes and ears in their tables. The waiters were in the kitchen and would not come out for much longer. Byrne’s face contorted in anger. He did not raise his voice when he continued.

“I could call Laurentiu. You’d be surprised how easy it would be to sneak a bomb into your office. Or your bedroom. Or your car. Increase your security all you want. It will happen all the same.”

“Please,” Engen begged.

“I could call the Alpha. He would stake your head outside your company, take the money out of all your vaults and secure bank accounts, and implicate half your board in criminal activities. You know I think there’s a winner.”

“What do you want from me?”

“There we are. That’s all I wanted. Mr Engen, how do you want to change the world?”


“Mr Engen, speak when you are spoken to, you exploitative bastard. The man who burned a hole in the ozone so big an asteroid could fit through it doesn’t have a right to cower like a blind rat facing a tiger.”

“Just tell me what to do.”

“You want something more, don’t you?” August asked. “I see it in your pathetic little greedy eyes. You want more. More than wealth. More than power. You have that already, and it’s not enough for you. Never enough. Never enough. You want more. What do you want?” Silence. “Fine, don’t answer me. I’ll do it. I’ll tell you what you want. All you need to do is nod. You want to do something. You want to be something. You want your name etched on a rock that will never erode. Am I right?”

A nod.

“I ask nothing more than everything you have. You will commit all of it to this cause. All to me. You will say and do everything I tell you. Not forever. Just for a little while. Before you know it, I’ll be gone. By then, you will be on the pages of every history book in Aivintis. And when the dust of my departure settles, you will be in a position to change the world for the better. You will be free and powerful. Far more so than you are now.”

“What cause?” Nicolae asked.

“I am going to overthrow the government.”


“Did you hear me?”

“Yes.” There was a pause between them, until Nicolae Engen said, “I need you to know that I do not want to do this. I need you to know I hate you. I hate everything you are. Everything you stand for. You will win, I think, but then you will destroy this country. You will tear it apart and feed it to the wolves. Know that. Obviously, I will do as you say. I will do it with a smile on my face to please you, but one day, when this is all over, years from now, I will see you dead, and I will piss on your grave.”

“Do whatever you wish after I release you. Put a gun to my head if you wish. But until then, remember the terms of our deal.”

“Of course.”

“Of course, what?”

“Of course, Your Excellency.”

Wolves at Bay

10 May 2023

“Hello Emilija.” He sat down in the metal chair on the other side of the metal table in the grey room, in front of the one-way mirror behind which would usually stand three officers of the law. The police, however, were ordered away by someone with much, much higher authority. “My name is August.”

“I know who you are,” she said curtly.

“Emilija, I sent away the officers, and cut off the security cameras’ video and audio input. No one is listening but me.”

She didn’t say anything.

“I know you don’t have any reason to trust me on that. Or, even if you believe me, I know you don’t have any reason to trust me anyway. I understand that. I am a symbol of everything you stand against. These robes,” he said, gesturing by raising his arms, “are a symbol of everything you stand against. In your eyes, I am a tyrant. I wear the garb of the oppressor. I understand.”

“I am invoking my Constitutional freedom from self-incrimination.”

“I’m sorry. That freedom doesn’t exist anymore. The Constitution doesn’t exist anymore. But, Emilija, I am not here to gather evidence against you. I don’t think you’re as evil as they make you out to be. I know that’s no consolation . . .” he trailed off. “I just want to talk to you.”

“I am invoking my Constitutional freedom from self-incrimination.”

August sighed. “I told you, the Constitution doesn’t exist anymore.”

“The Constitution exists. As much as it ever did.”

He nodded, realising. “You believe that democracy before Whitcher was an illusion. I understand how you might think that. I read your file. You were fifteen years old when he destroyed our nation. You were personally affected by his authoritarian policies. You were hurt. Broken. Your worldview collapsed. I understand. You saw the worst happen, and because it did, you no longer believed in the best.” He sighed. “Emilija, just because Whitcher had the power to take over doesn’t mean the old regime was doomed. It could have gone better. It still could. You just need to have hope.”

“I am invoking my Constitutional freedom from self-incrimination.”

“Oh come on, Emilija, you think Stoker would allow me to come down here and interview you myself? You think he cares that much about your crimes to send a High Court Justice? To create an elaborate deception? Half of what I’ve said is treason. If there was any chance of your words being used against you, I’d be in the noose right next to you in a heartbeat. I’m not your enemy. We believe in the same things. I’m just trying to understand you.”

She looked him up and down with disdain. “So you pretend you’re better than everyone else by playing psychologist.”

“Goddamn it, Emilija, I’m trying!”

“Do me a favour and stop,” she replied harshly.

“Why’d you kill her?”

She laughed.

“Okay. Dumb question. I get it. I should be more specific. I know why you killed her, but why did you kill her? Why did you kill any of them? Three governors have been assassinated, Emilija, and one Justice. All tyrants. All bullies. However, what will killing them accomplish?”

“I liberate the cities whose streets I walk. I free their people.”

Now it was August who wanted to laugh, but he didn’t, for her sake. “Emilija, they die, and someone replaces them. Stoker has no shortage of puppets to put in power. There’s already new governors in Novoska and Westhafen. He already has a shortlist of replacements for Redmondburg. Her body isn’t even cold, and he is interviewing candidates to oppress the people you think you’ve freed. Does that sound like liberation?” He paused. “I’m sorry, that’s mean-spirited. I don’t mean it like that. I don’t— I— I’m not saying it right.” August stood up and began pacing throughout the room. “You are tumbling some dominos, but they’re spaced apart. The line won’t fall. You need to look at it differently.”

“And you’re so enlightened?” she asked sarcastically.

“I’m not saying that I’m above you, Emilija. I’m just saying that more can be done. I can accomplish something real and long-lasting. I’m only asking that you have faith in me.”

“I lost faith in people wearing black robes the day one sold our homeland. I lost faith in democracy the day it died. You can’t bring it back, Au— You can’t bring it back.”

He nodded. “I understand. You can’t bring yourself to hope. You’re afraid. I am, too. It’s hard to believe that this tyranny can be fought, that these crimes can be undone. It’s hard to imagine freedom when it seems like there’s nothing but decay and fear. But you have to try. What is there to do otherwise? You can run around killing Governors, or you can have something more than a rebellion. You can have a revolution. My revolution is coming, Emilija. I know it. Please, Emilija. Trust in me.”

“And if these words are empty?”

“Then nothing changes. But if they’re true? Everything does.”

She looked down, silent. Thinking.

“I know it’s difficult, but please trust me. Please have faith in me.”

She looked up. “Why do you even want me to?” she raised her handcuffed hands meaningfully. “I’m not going anywhere. It means nothing to your plan whether or not I believe it’ll work.”

“It means something to me.”

“Why? I’m nobody. I’m a killer.”

“You’re a person, Emilija. And you’ve suffered. That’s who I’m doing this for. And if people like you can’t believe in it, then it can’t happen. I can create the system, but I need the people to support and fuel it. If the Aivintian people do not have hope, they cannot have democracy.”

She looked down again, for longer, unspeaking. That time, though, it was not about thinking. It was about avoiding.

“Emilija,” he said.

She looked up. There were tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”

He nodded, his own eyes starting to tear up. He wiped them quickly. “You know what’s going to happen to you?” She nodded. She noticed how he avoided her question. She noticed how he looked at her. How he pleaded. She noticed how he revealed all his secrets, and showed her all his cards. He couldn’t let her know that. She wasn’t going to be set free. She wasn’t going to face trial, not even a pretend one. She was going to die. That day. In that cell. She knew it. “I’m sorry, Emilija.” He pulled a gun from his robes.

She nodded. She knew what had to be done. She did not blame him. She did not hate him. It felt strange. She hadn’t thought much about what it would feel like, to know she was about to die. If she had, she wouldn’t have guessed. “August?”

He pulled back the hammer, looking down. “Yes, Emilija?”

“Killing Mardare. It wasn’t me.”

He nodded. “I understand.” He aimed it at her. “I wish you didn’t have to go through any of this. I would give up everything I have if I knew it could spare you from the suffering you have gone through.”

“I understand.”

Before he pulled the trigger, she asked again, “August?”


“Do you think God will forgive me?”

“Yes, Emilija.”

“I hope so.”

The gunshot rang loud and clear. Within moments, the police had broken into the interrogation chamber. They froze when they saw the perpetrator of the murder of the Governor of Redmondburg dead in her chair, and His Excellency Justice August Byrne standing before her, a smoking gun in his hands.

“Give her a good burial. Tip whoever runs AivCast now that the assassin has been killed trying to escape custody. Don’t give them any details about her, though. Close the case. I’ll talk with your Superintendent, and then the Chief Justice. Good day.”

The Hand That Feeds You

17 May 2023

Are we live? To the whole country? Okay. Thank you. Guards, hold steady. Hello, people of Aivintis. My name is August Byrne. I am a Justice of the Supreme Court, a high official within this makeshift Kritarchy. The Aivintian Empire, as we knew it, is no more. I am ashamed to admit it, and indeed I tried to deny it myself for far too long, but our country is gone. It is dead. It did not die overnight. It did not die with the illegal coup d’etat of the tyrant George Whitcher in 2013. It did not die with the ascension of our current dictator, the tyrant Eduard Stoker. It did not die with one act, or in one moment.

Our country died slowly. With each act of dictatorship and authoritarianism, our country’s skin was slit and its blood was let. It has died a death by a thousand cuts, its bleeding and screaming gone unnoticed and unheard by our people. Instead, we keep our head down, out of fear of meeting the end of a police baton, or a loaded gun. Our country is dead, and so are we. For it is not living if it is living in fear. It is not living if we have no freedom, no safety, and no prosperity.

It started before Whitcher. It started under the rule of Her Imperial Majesty Mariana Radu, may she rest in peace. It started with her hospitalisation, when a nation entered churches in prayer for one woman, our great leader. It started with her appointment of George Whitcher to the position of Chief Minister, when he already held the title and office of Chief Justice. It started with his appointment of loyal cronies to minister positions. It started with his purging of the Supreme Court, and his recess appointments of those same cronies when he himself convened and forcefully adjourned the Senate. It started when the Senate bowed to him, and turned their backs on us.

It did not end when he seized absolute power. It did not end when his tanks rolled into our streets and the muzzles of his guns flashed in our homes and on the floor of the Senate. It did not end when he stormed our nation by force and occupied our homeland as a foreign invader might. It did not end when he declared himself Regent, upon the death of our beloved Empress. It did not end when he abolished the Senate, nor when he abolished the nobility. It did not end when our culture was torn apart and our government was subjugated by his tyranny. It did not end when he died and was replaced by Eduard Stoker.

We have continued to sink into the quicksand of despair and destruction. With each freedom the illegal Kritarchy tore away, we bled a little more. Now, the blood of our home stains our fields and dyes our rivers red. The God-on-Urth weeps in heaven for the loss of our homeland. Chief Justice Stoker has torn us apart. His government has raised our taxes and used our crowns to fund his occupation of our home. He has militarised the police and sent them to bully and extort our neighbours, to kill them in cold blood.

Eduard Stoker is a murderer. The blood of thousands is on his hands. Peaceful protestors. Non-violent minor criminal offenders. Government officials who dare to oppose him. People of Aivintis, that is not where his trail of bodies begins. I have obtained evidence that Chief Justice Stoker was behind the death of Empress Mariana Radu herself. Her cancer was real, and her hospitalisation was as well. However, I have received word that Chief Justice Stoker, on behalf of former Regent George Whitcher, was sent into the hospital room of our great Empress to sabotage her medical equipment.

He sold our homeland to that tyrant and WE paid the price. We the people of Aivintis, robbed and starved of our freedom. For this grand betrayal of the Aivintian people, he was rewarded! He was named the successor to the tyrant that ravaged our democracy and, when the time was right, he killed his own leader to pave the way for his ascent to power. George Whitcher is a murderer and a tyrant. Our nation is oppressed, and he is the oppressor.

He keeps order like a fascist, his police choking the country, and yet even so crime runs rampant. The mafia goes unchecked, its tendrils in every level of the government. As criminal as the government, the mafia rules our country just as strongly. Stoker does nothing about it. His mafia connections protect his rule, and so he is afraid to stand against them. He is a coward. Every day, people die at the hands of the mafia enforcers, and he lifts not a finger.

I thought we could still build something of this wreck. I thought I could do some good. But at every turn, at every crossroads, I was opposed by the Chief Justice himself. I had to bend my knee and beg him like a god to free our people, and when he was merciful and kind he granted me little victories. To keep me satisfied. People of Aivintis, I am not satisfied. I will not be satisfied until our chains are broken and our country is free. I cannot stand by any longer. I cannot enable this injustice any longer. I cannot sit in the highest court of the land, begging a tyrant for freedom and being denied day after day. I cannot endure this harsh oppression. I cannot endure holding my office any longer.

People of Aivintis, I am tired. I am tired of the bloody legacy of George Whitcher and the bloody rule of Eduard Stoker. I am tired of this illegal Kritarchy bleeding our country. Our broken country, the land where the great King Caius led his armies to unite our people under the banner of democracy. The land where the great King Teodor overthrew the tyrannical Aeternus. The land where the great Emperor Thaddeus shot the tyrant-to-be Petre Florens. The land where I now stand, a failure in their eyes, surrendering my life to the murderer. I hear him at the door. He will come in here. I think he will kill me. Goodbye, Aivintis, my great love.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Audacity of This Bitch

17 May 2023

“WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!” the Tyrant roared. He stormed into the room, his face contorted with rage the likes of which the world had never seen. His guards shot August’s, and they were dead before they hit the floor. The speed and ferocity of the Judicial Security Force was unmatched. The screaming television operators fled, and they were riddled with bullets, too. Still, in the flurry of gunshots, the Tyrant’s voice was all August could hear.

He prayed. “God-on-Urth, creator of mine, forgive my transgressions and accept my flaws, as I, child of yours, devote my life and death to the teachings of the great prophet Ademar and to the good word of truth, faith, and kindness in this mortal Urth, see my—”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOU PATHETIC FUCKMAGGOT.” The Tyrant pushed over a television set and stomped on it repeatedly. He slid his arm across a table of computers and sent them crashing to the floor. He drew a gun from his black robes and shot the camera until there were no more bullets left in his chamber. He punched His Excellency Justice August Byrne across the face, the man’s hands together in prayer, and he began savagely beating his loyal servant with the butt of his pistol and with his own fists.

“WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?! I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING!” He stopped short of knocking the man unconscious, and pulled him up with all his strength to throw him into a folding chair. The Tyrant took deep, heavy breaths, sweating from the exertion of his unbridled destructive frenzy. His fury did not lower with his voice. “Which fucking slime told you about Whitcher and Radu?” When August groaned in pain, he shouted “ANSWER ME!”

Byrne spat blood onto the Tyrant’s face, but when he drew his fist back to kill the Justice, his guards held him back. “Your Exalted Excellency, he cannot speak if you beat him to death.”

The Tyrant glared, but dropped his arms to his sides, smoothing the folds in his robes. The blood did not stain the robes, dark as they were. “Mr Byrne,” the Tyrant began, his voice shaking as he tried to calm himself. “Tell me who told you about Whitcher and Radu.”

“I had a suspicion,” Byrne panted. “I checked the medical files. They were all gone. What was left was heavily redacted. It doesn’t take a genius, Stoker.”

“Don’t say my name, you prick. You will refer to me as ‘Your Exalted Excellency.’”

Byrne laughed, and wheezed with the effort. “Heh, it hurts– You know, I have all the power here.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you? Is this a joke to you?”

Byrne nodded. “A little bit,” he managed.

The Tyrant clenched his fist and released it. “Just because I can’t kill you now doesn’t mean you have power over me. I’ll throw you in a dark cell. I’ll starve you. I’ll come short of killing you. You will simply suffer. As the Justice in charge of Intelligence, I’m sure you are familiar with the enhanced interrogation techniques our nation may employ from time to time.”

August was laughing now.

“What’s so fucking funny, you asshole?” the Tyrant demanded.

“By Ademar, watch your language, Stoker!”

“Are you ready to move to that cell, then?”

“Heh, you won’t throw me in prison,” August said.

“Bold claim. Please do enlighten me as to why,” the Tyrant smiled.

“Because–” he coughed. “Because I just turned the world against you. If you punish me for that, then the world will know it. Your promise of freedom of the press is abolished. I mean, sure, you don’t give a shit about that, but that’s not all. I have a following now. I imagine the People’s Movement for Justice was praying for something like that speech of mine. They have the resources and message to rally behind my call, certainly if you make me a martyr of some kind. Aldulescu knows me, too, he can use that. He’ll probably get the support of the International Forum. Even our allies will probably rally behind him, given the optics of it all, and of course, given the relationships I have built with our diplomats and with foreign nations. Not to mention all the Trade Councillors and other Councilmembers who owe me favours or just, you know, like me better than you. If this turns into a big thing, Mr Stoker, then, well, I’m not sure which of us will suffer more from you throwing me in a cell. Do I make myself clear?”

“I’m going to kill you one day,” the Tyrant said.

“Sure you will, buddy, but first you’re gonna walk out of this room and go back to your sad little life. Am I clear?”

“You won’t get away with this. You have committed high treason and sedition against the legitimate government of the Aivintian Empire. You won’t be a martyr if you’re on guard 24/7. You’re off the Court, too.”

“Nuh uh uh, not that either, Mr Stoker.”

“You can’t fucking expect me to let you continue to have a say in matters of governance,” the Tyrant said.

“Fine, then. Keep me out of your little echo chambers. Keep me off my own councils. Firing me is just as bad as imprisoning me. I’m still a martyr. Tell you what. I laid the seeds for my own resignation. I’ll do that for you. Just give me a month. We need to prove I’m doing it out of my own free will. Let’s say July 1st.”

“You piece of shit,” the Tyrant said, shaking his head.

“Sounds like you agree to the terms.”

“Fuck you.”

“Good. Now scram.”

His Exalted Excellency left the room somehow angrier than when he entered, his guards following suit. August stayed on that chair, his face bruised and bloodied, the corpses of his colleagues strewn around him, in the wreckage of the television equipment. After a few minutes, he pulled his phone out and called the first number on his speed dial.

It rang. After a second, he heard a voice say, “Hello?”

“Marc,” he breathed.

“Au— Your Excellency? Is everything okay? I . . . saw the news. Are you okay? Are you safe?” His voice was frantic.

“Increase the garrison.”

“What?” the voice choked.

“Increase the garrison. Wait for my order.”

“Your Excellency . . . what is happening? I’m— I . . .”

“You promised, Marc.”

“Yes . . . yes, I know. I understand. It will be done, Your Excellency.”

“. . . thank you.” He hung up.

No Rest for the Wicked

1 June 2023

“Thank you all for coming,” said August Byrne to a room of the most wanted criminals in the country. He did not wear his black robes, instead opting for a white dress shirt and black pants. His tie was loose, his hair dishevelled.

“Some interesting characters in this room,” Arthur Frost commented, his own purple suit and combed hair flawlessly put together.

The other people in the room were somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. None were so groomed as Frost, but neither did they look as homeless and beaten as Byrne. Laurentiu Aldulescu wore a blue button-up. His Excellency Justice Varujan Groza wore a black suit with no tie. Among the others gathered there included Nicolae Engen, sweating in his blue suit, Chief Ambassador Valerica Mircea, whose eyes were shining with curiosity, and Trade Councillor Victor Tarus, who was attempting to get a read on the others in the room.

“Within this chamber lies the Inner Circle of my planned coup d’etat. Following my stunt on national television, we now have thirty days before Stoker expects my resignation. It is my belief that, before that time has passed, the Kritarchy will be toppled.” While everyone in the room pretended that was normal and not shocking to hear, he continued, “For that to be done, however, we need to take care of a few matters.”

“Such as your shadows?” Laurentiu asked.

Byrne shrugged. “Not exactly. They are easy enough to lose when I need to get somewhere quickly and quietly, for a short amount of time, but yes, they are a problem. What is more pressing is not these few members of the Judicial Security Force, however, but the entire unit. They will defend Stoker and the palace to the last. Unless . . .” he looked meaningfully at Frost.

“I don’t know what that look means. You want me to bribe them or beat them up?”

Again, the Justice shrugged. “Let’s say you have creative freedom. Don’t get caught. Deliver me the JSF. I have loyalist members, but they’ve been reassigned. Stoker has been moving them around. They’re not familiar with their Justices at the moment. Mine are with Groza’s, Groza’s with Lupu, Lupu’s with Grigorescu, and Grigorescu’s with Stoker. His own zealous freaks are watching me. Take advantage of that unfamiliarity. Infiltrate. Threaten their families, maybe kill one of them in a mob hit, and give the rest an offer they can’t refuse. I don’t suggest destroying the unit, though, Stoker will get too suspicious. We can’t reveal our hand too early.”

Frost nodded. “I’ll work something out.”

“Next up, local police. Groza, when the fighting begins, I need you to assign them to evacuate the Templar District and set up a perimeter. They need to keep the district isolated and the innocent people out of harm’s way. Comms will be down, so you need to send trusted messengers. Anyone not sent by you should be detained or dispatched if necessary. We cannot have the police responding to our coup. Use my name and seal. Use my personnel. Keep yourself out of it. I want you insulated from potential fallout. At the end of the day, I’ll have blood on my hands, and I want yours clean.”

“Understood. It will be done. I may need Arthur’s mafia connections to get it done.”

Again, the criminal overlord nodded. “I can have my underboss for the district spread the word. I’ll call in as many favours as I need to.”

“Thank you, Mr Frost,” Byrne said. “This would not be possible without you.” Turning to the centre of the dimly lit table, he added, “It would not be possible without any of you. Your assistance is appreciated,” he thanked, with a lingering glance at Engen. The threat was clear enough.

“Next on the list,” the Justice continued, “is the foreign response. Comms will drop, and foreign nations will take notice. We need an immediate statement reassuring the international community. We keep them out of this at first. I’m preparing a statement for when the castle falls, but I need every single diplomat we have to personally offer reassurances that we are a legitimate successor government, that stability is maintained under our regime, that freedoms and democracy will be protected under our regime, and that their relations are still very important to us. The UCA, especially, should be contacted, we need Mr Hodge to be on top of that. Mr Fielding is in my pocket, but I can’t say how thrilled he will be at our coup. Ms Mircea, can I count on you to do the fieldwork on this? Her Excellency Justice Lupu will be providing much of my support and some of the grand manoeuvres, but I want you behind every diplomatic response. Is that satisfactory?”

Valerica paused, then smiled. “Yes, Your Excellency. I have a few ideas on how to get it done. I have connections, you have connections, Her Excellency has connections, and anyone remaining will be suitably informed of the potential consequences of not falling in line.”

“If you need any help from me for further legitimacy, let me know,” offered Justice Groza.

“No,” August said. “It’s too involved. Instead, Mr Engen will fund paycheque advances and bonuses where needed. While I’m on the topic, Mr Engen, you will also wire two million crowns into the bank account of one Junior Admiral Sinclair, and one million to every member of the War Council. We need to tie them to our crimes, and we need them to see what we have to offer.”

“Wait, August,” Arthur interrupted. Giving the Justice a strange look, he asked, “Even Senior General Alupei?”

August was suddenly extremely aware of all the eyes on him. Carefully, he enunciated, “Of course.”

Mr Frost kept eye contact for a little while longer, his face questioning, before he nodded and resumed his aloof expression. Justice Byrne coughed, then turned back to Engen. “I also want you to contact your business partners and assure them the transition will be smooth and the country will be stable. Mr Frost, you too. I cannot let the stock market collapse. Councillor Tarus, you’ll get word to the Trade Council as well. All the Councillors and the Business Representatives should be informed and brought together to plan economic recovery. We need to halt stock trading and close banks for the first week or so of the new regime. We need statements and plans. This meeting should take place while I storm the palace and continue afterwards. Is that possible?”

“Yes, Your Excellency,” said Mr Tarus.

“Mr Engen, Mr Frost?”

“Yes, Your Excellency,” both said in unison, although Frost spoke far more confidently than Engen.

“Laurentiu, your PMJ will be outside the Templar District. With comms up for you, I want all of the PMJ, every single cell, to be contacted and informed that the mission is complete. Let them know any information you feel they need to know in order to keep them satisfied and assured. I want coordinated protests the second the comms go down. I’ll talk with the Governors. There will be no arrests. Any PMJ members in Asluagh should stand just outside the police perimeter. Peaceful protests, Laurentiu. No bombs, no guns, no smoke grenades. No masks. No running. We stand strong for democracy. The people of Aivintis will be bullied no longer.”

“I can do that,” Mr Aldulescu said with a smile. “I will lead them.”

“Good. Thank you. This is the endgame. I want all our cards on the table. I need overwhelming public support. Whitcher took power with APCs driving through our streets and screams echoing in our halls of governance. I will take power with the people joining hands and singing Kumbaya if I can help it. Do you understand?”

“Perfectly, Your Excellency,” came the levelled response.

August Byrne sighed. “Okay everyone, this is it. We are coming upon the culmination of all our efforts. We cannot fail. We cannot falter. We cannot, and we will not. We will emerge victorious. We will overthrow Stoker. We will be a democracy once again. It is a certainty. Anyone and anything that stands in our way will be eliminated from the equation. You will all do your parts. Is this known?” His quiet, steady confidence inspired the others. It was not just a speech, they could tell. He was absolutely certain that the revolution would succeed. It was comforting. They all voiced their agreement and, to their surprise, they all believed it.

Quid Pro Quo

11 June 2023

Eight Governors sat in a room. In the city of Castenor, Governor Sofia Parasca reigned, occupying the office once held by His Excellency Justice August Byrne. She had summoned these eight Governors to her office. A makeshift meeting room was set up. Trusted guards stood outside. Inside, nine chairs had been arranged in a circle around a table clearly taken from somewhere else in the building. It tore at the expensive carpet. To Governor Parasca’s right, an empty seat was studied closely by the other seven Governors.

Eduard Stoker had no idea these Governors were meeting. Invitations were discrete, and the Governors themselves were monitored closely to ensure that the national government did not get wind of the meeting. Excuses were made, fake appointments jotted down on calendars, and nondescript vehicles commissioned. The Governors were informed the meeting was highly secretive, and any individual with unapproved knowledge of it was in danger.

It should have been a red flag. Especially following Justice Byrne’s statement on live television. Something was wrong, and they all knew it. The Governors, however, were more concerned with knowing what was coming and protecting themselves from it than they were with keeping themselves outside of the conflict. There was not a single Governor who shied away from conflict. All of them were ambitious and dangerous. It was why they had been brought together in that room.

The keenest among them realised why certain governors weren’t present. The Governor of Marnacia, for one. Arden Blackburn. They were ruthless, strong-minded, and completely loyal to Eduard Stoker. Their exclusion from the meeting did not go unnoticed. Other major governors were missing as well. Waerham, whose elderly Governor was an absentee figurehead appointed due to a close friendship with George Whitcher, and whose government was largely run by practically independent bureaucrats. Grandys, whose Governor was more concerned with art and science than government and power. Westhafen, whose Governor was one of the Chief Justice’s personal advisors. Hagen, whose governor was a retired Senior General who was frequently invited over for dinner at Justice Grigorescu’s house.

It was clear that only those with true power and weak connections to the centre of power in the country were invited. Obviously, the Governors’ first thought was that the meeting was arranged by Justice Byrne. Of course, their opinions on why were different. Emil, the Governor of Derrim, was determined to believe Byrne would apologise for his actions against the Kritarchy. Governor Violeta Filotti of Thaddea assumed it was an attempt to rally support to keep his job on the High Court. The newly appointed Governor Dana Selymes of Novoska, however, had a strange suspicion that they would be brought into a civil war against the Chief Justice.

“Thank you all for coming today,” Governor Parasca began. “Your presence here today is noted and appreciated.”

“We know you’re not behind this, Sofia,” Cornelia, the Governor of Warris, scoffed. “Where is he?”

“Relax, Cornelia,” Governor Zoran Simic of Nisava admonished. “We are guests here. I’m sure our curiosity will be satisfied just as completely in an hour as now. We can wait a little bit longer.”

Governor Parasca cleared her throat. “Right. We are indeed waiting for another guest, but he seems to be running late.”

“You’re not fooling us, Sofia,” Cornelia called, still impatient. “We’re not stupid. We all know who you’re talking about.”

“Of course,” the Castenian conceded. “You don’t get to be a Governor by being stupid. I am just maintaining discretion. I would rather he explain himself to you all than have me do it. I am not his puppet. I am not his secretary.”

Someone scoffed. No one seemed to notice who. Sofia kept her face neutral. There was no need to worry herself with the opinions of power-hungry fools. Out of the eight of them, probably only two had ever done any good with their position. Even then, barely. They were every bit the cutthroat politicians they shouldn’t be. Arrogant, jealous, and corrupt. Really quite detestable. Justice Byrne hated most of them, and disliked the rest. Even Sofia was a bit ruthless, albeit loyal and determined to look out for her people, which is why he chose her.

His entrance was slightly dramatic, the sweeping of his black robe grand as he entered to the watchful stare of all eight Governors. His gaze was hard, and his face was set. Evading his personal escort was a lot more challenging than initially intended. It took a trip to church, the guise of confession, and a little pleading before he managed to slip out through the window. It was easier getting to Castenor than getting to the Governor’s Mansion, specifically. From there, he took a back entrance Sofia had left unguarded, and snuck through the corridors to meet the Governors.

“Mr Byrne, they’ve all been assembled,” the Governor of Castenor greeted curtly.

“Thank you, Governor.” Looking to the table, he acknowledged, “Governors.” The Justice, who had stopped for the brief exchange, swept further into the room, and took his seat with speed and grace. He did not walk so much as he glided, like an avenging angel on invisible wings. “Thank you all for coming. I understand you may be feeling confused, or, perhaps more pressing, suspicious about the nature of this meeting, and the future of the country as a whole.”

“Understandably so, don’t you think?” suggested Zoran.

“Governor Simic,” Byrne said pleasantly. “I’m sure you of all people have much to worry about. In the wake of my attack on the Serdemic Independence Group, many terrorist cells have turned to the increasingly unified and far-reaching People’s Movement for Justice. Nisava is on a precarious precipice. This is a crossroads for your city. For all of your cities. Our cities. Our Aivintis.”

“Grand statement,” Cornelia replied sarcastically, “but I don’t think you’re convincing any of us. What are you even trying to convince us again?”

August smiled. “Indeed, I have been quite vague. Well, let me clear it up for you. I’m certain you all have your theories, but I’m not quite sure any of you fully guessed at the true intentions for this meeting and for my little stunt on AivCast news last month.”

“Keep us in suspense, why don’t you,” muttered the Warrisian.

Another smile from the Justice. “I am planning something of a . . . remodelling of our government. I think we can agree that Chief Justice Stoker has gone sour. He is quick to anger, slow to logic. He rules with emotions and right now the only emotions he feels are fear and anger. He’s gotten sloppy and we need to correct that. Now, I’m taking steps, but I need your full support and influence in order to get away with it. I mean everyone can see that I’m a better fit for the Regency, beloved man of the people that I am and pragmatist to boot, but the powerbrokers of this country are slow to change. They stick to the established order. As they should, change is dangerous and should be managed carefully. I, however, am a very careful manager.”

“You want to be Chief Justice?” Suddenly, the previously silent Governor of Asluagh, one Simon Rosewall, exclaimed. “I— I don’t know about this, Your Excellency. This is treason.”

“It wouldn’t be my first time,” the Justice said sharply.

“Come now,” Dana Selymes said, annoyed. “You can’t really expect that to be an excuse. Simon brings up a good point. There are legal ways to reach the top. You specifically chose the path of treason. What good does that do us?”

“It’s quicker,” was all the Justice said.

“Oh fuck off, are you serious?”

“Come now, Governor. You can’t think letting Stoker be in charge until he dies or retires is actually a good idea, do you? Because he’s not going to retire, that weasel, and by the time he dies, it will be too late. How about we take Novoska as an example? Your people squirmed under the iron fist of your predecessor. That is, before he was assassinated. Do you think that was not Stoker’s fault? He squeezes too hard, pushes too hard, whips our backs too hard. It’s noticeable. It’s unmasked. It’s naked cruelty and authoritarianism. Think about the optics. How do we look in the world’s eyes? Come on. He’s old news. Our country is dying under his rule. Assassins, rebels, why do you think they have risen? The people don’t rise against the government unless the government fails. It’s basic social contract theory. Eventually, they will storm the gates. Unless we give them what they want, or rather what they think they want. We stay in power, the country doesn’t burn, and the world celebrates our generosity and nobility. How does that sound?”

“You’re insane,” Emil whispered. Everyone knew of their connections to both organised crime and the Chief Justice. They weren’t a very effective governor, either. “You’re insane. You’re gonna get us all killed.”

“No. I’m not. In fact, no one’s going to die. Not even Mr Stoker. No, no, no, every revolution in our history has strewn corpses in the streets of the capitol and ran the Asluagh Bay red with blood. I’m not going to have that. I kill where there is no other option, but Mr Stoker is going in a box. I know that’s not what you mean. We’re not going to get executed, Emil, don’t worry. It’s far too late for him to stop us.”

“What does that mean?” Zoran asked. He only received a smile in return.

“This is just a formality, isn’t it?” asked the new Governor of Redmondburg, realisation dawning. “We can’t stop you, can we? We can only make it easier or harder on you.”

The smile widened.

“Oh fuck. I’m right, aren’t I? Oh shit.”

The Justice stood up. “You have a choice to make. Emil?”

“What?” they asked, disdain clouding their voice.

“Care to be an example? Oh, what am I saying, you have no choice. The mafia has a strong presence in your city, doesn’t it?”

“The fuck it matter to you?”

“They have things on you. Evidence, real or fabricated, of your many crimes. They have things on everyone here. They can get to your family. Your friends. They can destroy you. If any of you go to Stoker, they will. The Alpha is in my pocket. Think about it. All you have to do is stand by, clap when I win, and not resist the changes I will bring.”

“You were never trying to convince us of anything were you?” Zoran asked, astonished.

“I mean, I feel like I’ve made a convincing argument, have I not?” He threw his hands up. “Doesn’t matter. I don’t need you to be convinced. I’d like you to be, of course I would, but I don’t need it. I can see it in your eyes, though. You all know I’m right. Some of you don’t want me to be, but that doesn’t change anything. I have to go. They’ll be looking for me in a bit. Think it over. Hell, fucking talk it over if you must. It won’t change anything. You’ll go along with it. Or else. But please, go through the motions. I’ve given you everything you need. Use it wisely. Goodbye.”

With that, he left, again moving like a ghost. The door closed behind him and His Excellency Justice August Byrne was gone.

1 Like

The Object of Power

20 June 2023

His Excellency Justice August Byrne suffered a boring life under what he essentially perceived as house arrest. Members of the Judicial Security Force, most now on the take, of course, but many still reporting to the Chief Justice, swarmed his house. Under His Exalted Excellency’s orders, regular searches were conducted. Drawers were pulled out, closets turned inside out. Even his bedsheets were torn off. Everything Byrne did was written down on a holistic report of his movements, which was reviewed weekly by Chief Justice Stoker. Every phone call he took was recorded and every text message he sent or received was copied.

It wasn’t so bad. He would still communicate with his allies when preparing for the revolution. That was through a different phone, though, now, one a particularly impressionable guard held onto for him. And he could still go places. Stoker was well aware of the position he was in. He couldn’t stop the Justice from anything, really. But, still, guards followed Byrne wherever he walked, keeping close behind. Listening to his conversations. Anything to give His Exalted Excellency the appearance that Justice Byrne was no threat. Anything to let the bastard sleep soundly at night. August went through the motions, without complaint, without fail, except for the times he would secretly slip away to conduct quick business that the JSF could not be present for. He would have thought he’d mind more, but really, the detail was just background noise, after so long.

People noticed, of course. It was hard not to. From waiters at restaurants to cashiers at groceries and really any Aivintian citizen walking past Byrne on the street or in a public place, the stares were obvious. The whispers were loud. He knew what they thought of him. Of course, there were stares and whispers before, but typically it amounted more to “I think that’s a High Court Justice” rather than “That’s August Byrne, the traitor.” He was less comfortable with them now. Being famous, it wasn’t what he thought it would be. Of course, it was more about the reason he was famous than that he was, but there was no other way he wanted to make a name for himself. It just . . . wasn’t what he expected, was all.

For all they noticed him, they didn’t say anything about it. Everyone still called him “Your Excellency,” except Arthur Frost, but that wasn’t anything new. They still talked about his reforms. No one mentioned his public outburst. No one mentioned his new contingent of security guards, or the fact that they all seemed more intent on watching him than watching everyone else. The news outlets didn’t even cover it, too afraid of what might happen if they did. What Stoker might do to them. They didn’t need to. Everyone had seen. They knew enough. Instead, it was discussed only in low tones, at dinner tables or private messages and group chats. Some brave internet forums.

August Byrne was quite the polarising figure by all metrics. In some circles, he was praised for the way he stood up to the corrupt elites who ruled the country in their own self-interest. In others, he was condemned for the way he introduced more instability into a country plagued with strife. He was called a traitor in one house and, a house over, he was called a hero. They spoke of his accomplishments as a Justice, before he largely vanished from public view. They spoke of what Stoker might do to him. They spoke of why he might still be alive. His Excellency was a popular subject, and no one in the world was quite sure what was happening with him, save a select group of traitors themselves.

And so he went about his day. He went through the motions, he lived like a man who had failed, quietly fading into obscurity before he quietly fell into oblivion. It would have been sad if he wasn’t also meeting with businessmen, governors, and politicians of all kinds, making promises and receiving some in return. Moving all the pieces into play. Five days . . . To the world, his plan was over. It ended. It failed. This was the aftermath. In truth, it was far from it. His Excellency Justice August Byrne was building up towards what would be the single most important event in Aivintian history. His magnum opus, his grand finale. Where the world saw a decrescendo into silence he saw a grand crescendo into a swelling, triumphant solo. No one in the world expected what was yet to come. Of course, save a select group of traitors themselves.

Mr Byrne had just met with one of these traitors. Arthur Frost had been a partner for a very long time, since shortly after the first domino fell, but now more than ever he was key to the success of August’s plan. Regular meetings were the only way he could ensure that his vision would be effectively executed. They had set a date. Five days. Now, all he needed to do was wait. Every hour felt like a year. It was late. So late, in fact, that, before long, it would only be four days until the revolution. He entered his house, which was an hour’s drive from the Templar District, and flicked on the light switches as his personal annoyances followed him into the house. Some had stayed on guard, and these ones dutifully greeted him as if he was still “Your Excellency” in their eyes.

Justice Byrne removed his shoes and walked up the stairs, only two guards following him up to his room. When he paused in front of the door, his hand resting comfortably on the doorknob, he turned slightly, and asked, “Are you boys gonna stay outside or would you rather watch me undress?”

One scowled. The other looked down, embarrassed. A little unprofessional, but August met his eyes and winked. The guards turned around, leaving him to slip into his dark room, and close the door behind him. He turned the lock, and shed his Justice robe, still wearing his expensive clothes underneath. He tossed the robe at a chair in the corner, and someone caught it and tossed it aside. A barely perceptible motion to some maybe, in the pitch black of his bedroom, especially faced away such that he was, but Justice Byrne had grown incredibly paranoid since he began to wage war against the Kritarchy. He knew instantly. Someone was there. They were in his room. They were here for him.

Quietly, he asked, his voice trembling, “Have you come to kill me?”

A feminine voice responded. “No, no I don’t think so.” It sounded familiar. Someone he had spoken to before, someone from the palace.

“What, then?”

“I’ve come to have a chat.”

Under his breath, the Justice muttered, “Is this what it feels like to be on this end of it?”

“Excuse me?”

“I asked if I could turn on the lights,” he lied. “Unless you’d rather brood creepily.” In the darkness, he saw a worried head turn to the door. “Don’t worry about them,” August added. “They won’t hear us. Besides, I locked the door,” he smiled.

“Fine. Turn the lights on.” She thought about telling him not to scream for help, but he seemed to understand how this little power dynamic went. He’d probably done it before, she thought.

He took a step to the right and flicked the switch. When he turned back to the intruder, he was not surprised to see she was holding a gun in her hand. It was small, easily concealed, but one that anyone could have gotten. Unlike the ones he employed, it was clearly not stolen from the military. Maybe she had even bought it. However, he was surprised, although only slightly, to see who was holding the gun. Chief Ambassador Marceline Barnutiu was rash and stubborn, a dangerous political enemy, but he would have never expected her to hold a gun to anyone. Things had changed, he supposed.

“It is good to see you, Chief Ambassador. We have not spoken in far too long.”

“You mean since you ripped AivCast from my hands?” she asked rhetorically, anger flaring in her eyes.

“Okay, now I see how you might look at it that way,” he said, holding up his hands to placate her, “but I never intended it as an attack against you. It was about the people. The country. State-run media, it’s just not right.”

“I know. It’s never personal, no, no, no, that would be too easy. It’s about your ideals! Always your ideals! Everything to you is a fucking philosophical question, isn’t it? God-On-Urth, you’re fucking pretentious. Not everything is about freedom and justice, Your Excellency. Stop making it about that. Just stop. Some of us are just fucking people.” She sighed. “Do you even hate His Exalted Excellency? After everything he’s done to you? You don’t, do you? What is wrong with you?”

“What, you don’t think I have emotions?” The Justice shouted. The guards outside heard him. They did not move a muscle. They were under orders from the mafia not to disturb the Justice under any circumstances. “Of course I do. Of course I do! I’m not some emotionless husk. Why do you think I’m doing this? My soul aches every day knowing what some people in this country go through. Every day I feel the pain and fear of millions of people, trapped in a burning building. If I can put the fucking fire out, you bet your ass I’m going to do it. I do this because I feel. I do this because I cannot bear the weight of the guilt that crushes me every moment I swipe my credit card or every signature I put on an official document. Knowing that I have power. Wealth. Privilege. Where so many others have nothing but suffering. I can’t live with myself if I don’t do something. That is why I do this.”

She laughed. “So you feel guilty? For benefitting from a corrupt system you didn’t even create? Which you had no choice in?”

He shook his head. “No. You’re wrong. I do have a choice in it. Just because I didn’t build it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t bring it down. If I have the power to deconstruct the systems of oppression which wrap their tentacles around the hearts and minds of my people, I will do it. I don’t care what I have to do in order to accomplish it. I don’t care that you lost your little bit of extra power. I don’t give a shit. Who do you think you are? The fucking entitlement sickens me. Oh boo fucking hoo, you lost your job as the media coordinator. You’re still a Chief Ambassador. You’re still rich and powerful. But no. Like everyone else, you want more. You’re never satisfied with what you have. You will continue to press your boot down on the necks of eighty million people so you can squeeze just a drop of extra privilege out of their screaming corpses.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Bold words for someone with a gun to them.”

“What do you think killing me will accomplish?”

“It’ll probably stop you from finishing your plan.”

August froze. “Excuse me?”

“You don’t think I know?” She laughed and laughed and laughed. “Oh, Your Excellency, you’re dumber than I thought. Of course I know. That wasn’t your last play. I know it wasn’t. I’ve dealt with you before. You always have something else. Something hidden. You’re planning something. Something big. I had a sneaking suspicion. So I looked at some records. Multiple government officials have been wired large sums of money from various offshore bank accounts. Bribes. Of that calibre, though, that much money to that many people. That’s a lot. Few people can accomplish that. Arthur Frost might be able to. The same Arthur Frost that has been in your pocket in the Trade Council since you were appointed a Justice. It’s quite damning evidence, you know. So I figured, what could August Byrne possibly be planning? With your little speech on AivCast, well, it was obvious by then. You’re planning to overthrow the Chief Justice.”

He sighed. “What do you want?” he asked. Ay, there’s the rub. Because of course she wanted something. They all wanted something. Only the People’s Movement for Justice ever did something without some expected reward. He admired them for that. It was a shame he’d have to arrest them all. They had served him well.

“What do you think I want?”



“You’re a filthy venomous snake, you know that?” She was wrong. He did feel hate. He hated her right now.

“What do you have to offer me, Your Excellency?” she spat, speaking the last two words like a curse.

“Here’s the deal. You keep quiet. More than that, you fucking help me. You do what I say, when I say it. Unfortunately there’s no media office in my cabinet, but I’ll tell you what. You like sneaking around in everybody’s private financials? Fine. When I take over, I’ll make you Officer of Finance. How does that sound? Running the government budget, that’s a lofty position.”

She smiled. Her eyes gleamed with greed August had seen in the eyes of every politician he had ever met, save perhaps Varujan Groza. It was better than a handshake, in August’s opinion. It was a pact. She would do as he said. And he would make her powerful. He shuddered to think about it.

“Pleasure doing business with you, Your Excellency,” the Chief Ambassador said.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

25 June 2023

August Byrne toppled the Kritarchy on 25 June 2023. Over the course of two years, Byrne had gathered a large group of supporters who, for various reasons of self-interest or for the sake of the country, had pledged their support in his coup d’etat of the regime which dominated the Aivintian Empire from 2013 to 2023. Although the so-called Kritarchy only lasted ten years, it had been largely successful in stripping the rights and freedoms of the people. For this reason, the People’s Movement for Justice had formed, a popular resistance group which aimed to revolt in the name of democracy.

Although no historical evidence shows whether or not the People’s Movement for Justice was part of Byrne’s coup d’etat, Laurentiu Aldulescu, an old legal partner of Byrne, led the resistance group, and the knowledge of the PMJ’s operations was likely prominent in the planning of Byrne’s coup. Its fight for freedom was a polarising issue for contemporary Aivintians, especially as it employed methods of irregular warfare which led in the death and injury of many police officers, government officials, and, occasionally, innocent civilians, but few deny that it was key in stoking the revolutionary flame in the hearts of the Aivintian people.

On the day of the revolution, the People’s Movement for Justice led a mass protest in eight major cities of Aivintis. In the cities of Novoska, Nisava, Thaddea, Castenor, Warris, Derrim, Redmondburg, and the capital city of Greater Asluagh, members of the PMJ, identified by their red shirts, stood in public squares. They held up signs demanding the resignation of Eduard Stoker, the second and last Regent of the Kritarchy, who concurrently held the positions of Chief Minister and Chief Justice in order to declare all his acts Constitutional and maintain his control over the government. Other signs demanded the reformation of the Senate and the restoration of the Constitution.

Many PMJ protests had been held before this period, but these ones were different. Unlike all others, these protests were broadcast to the world. Unlike all others, these protests were not broken up by the police officers of the cities. In fact, testimony from some officers and certain public records show that the Governors of all eight cities had ordered the police explicitly to not arrest or harass the PMJ in their protests. These Governors were among the many government officials that supported August Byrne’s actions on the 25th and allowed for his rise to power.

The police officers of the Templar District precincts of Greater Asluagh, specifically, had received orders for very different operations. At the beginning of the day, an EMP attack by August Byrne left the internet and all electrical communications dead within the Templar District, where the Imperial Palace housed the government. Although this attack did not result in any injuries or death itself, the police were tasked with evacuating the district of all government personnel, staff, and all others in the area. The only people that remained in the palace, determined to see the fight through, were the Judicial Security Force and the Chief Justice himself. Police officers also stood on guard preventing all entry into the district.

Among the individuals evacuated from the Templar District were three Justices of the High Court. Nistor Grigorescu was handcuffed by Asluagh police following a tip, likely from Byrne’s associates, about the many illegal dealings he had made with the mafia and other criminal elements. He was tried and found guilty in the following months, although sentenced only to three years of prison based on a plea deal he made with the prosecuting Officer of Justice, Martin Costiniu. Maria Lupu was escorted out of the city. She eventually settled in the city of Castenor, after she tendered her resignation to August Byrne. Varujan Groza was relocated to a garrison of the 1st Army in Greater Asluagh. While most historians agree he was uninvolved in the coup, he was a fervent supporter of August Byrne and worked closely with the man in the institution of a democratic government.

The 1st Army garrisons themselves were largely lacking in soldiers. The force, which was garrisoned in the capitol in case the Kritarchy needed to defend itself from invasion or revolution, was led by Senior General Marc Alupei, whose personal connections to August Byrne are confirmed by news outlets, yet still unclear on the specifics. Alupei had increased the garrison a month prior, without the knowledge or approval of the Chief Justice, but on the day of 25th June, he led many of the soldiers into the Templar District itself. Gunfights with the Judicial Security Force were brief, and many of the force surrendered to Alupei immediately. Chief Justice Stoker remained in a panic room in the palace.

Meanwhile, the cruiser Sasha Radu, named after a former Queen of Aivintis, led the naval contingent which occupied Asluagh Bay. The Aivintian Navy, much like the Army, was under the command of August Byrne through his role on the War Council. Junior Admiral Sinclair, a rising star in the navy, had been appointed as its commander. In this role, Sinclair acted under the orders of August Byrne to block all entrance and exit to the Asluagh Bay by any ships.

With news crews on site, many cameras spotted August Byrne entering the Imperial Palace. He wore his black robes of office. Accompanied by a squadron of Alupei’s soldiers, he went inside following the defeat of the JSF. Beyond this, little is known of August Byrne’s coup d’etat. What is known is that his office as a High Court Justice likely granted him access to the Chief Justice’s panic room. After twenty minutes, Alupei’s men left the building, with captured JSF officers in tow. An hour later, August Byrne stepped onto a balcony of the Imperial Palace, with Chief Justice Stoker behind him, handcuffs restraining the leader of the country, and announced the establishment of the Greater Republic of Aivintis. Only two living souls know what was said in the panic room under the Imperial Palace, on the day of revolution.

“Your Exalted Excellency,” August greeted mockingly. He stood over the Chief Justice, who sat on the floor with his hands raised, almost to protect himself. Byrne held no weapons. Marc’s men had dispatched some of the JSF, arrested others, and taken them away. August had wanted to be alone with the man who he had sworn to destroy.

“What have you done?” the Chief Justice asked, exasperated. Disbelief clouded his voice.

“What is necessary,” August replied curtly. His voice was more confident than Stoker remembered. Maybe he just hadn’t noticed.

The tyrant looked at August Byrne and all he could see was an Angel of Death, with a long metal scythe and wings of blackest night. “You’re going to ruin it all!” he shouted. His own voice was shaky, coloured with fear.

“You’re the one that ruined Aivintis, Eduard. You and George Whticher.”

“Don’t call me that,” he begged. “Don’t call me Eduard. I am Chief Justice Stoker.”

“You’re nothing. You’re a pathetic, sad man.” Disdain rolled out from the Justice in waves.

Stoker coughed. “Whatever. I— I won’t even see the sun again. I . . .” his eyes teared up. “I’ve done so much. Why is this happening to me? What have I done to deserve this?”

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” screamed August. “YOU CRUEL MANIPULATIVE BASTARD. YOU SICK SON OF A BITCH. YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING. OUR COUNTRY IS DYING AND YOU ARE KILLING US. Don’t worry,” he said with a sick smile, calming himself. “Judgement has arrived.” In Stoker’s delirium he saw Death raise His scythe.

“PLEASE!” he shouted. “Please. Please . . . please.” His tears flowed freely. “Please. I don’t want to die.”

“Oh don’t worry, Mr Stoker,” August said. “I’m not going to kill you. No, no, no. Hell will come for you eventually. I can hardly wait to see the flames lick at your soul. But not today. No, not for some time. I’m not going to kill you,” he repeated. He pulled a pair of handcuffs from his robe and tossed them on the ground. “Put these on.”

“What . . .”


Stoker complied.

“Stand up. Get on your feet, bastard.”

Stoker tried, but with his hands bound and his mind swimming in fear, it was far more difficult than he realised. Taking pity, August pulled the man up by his arm. “You’re a disgrace,” the Justice said.

“What are you going to do to me?”

August grinned. “I’m going to put you away for the rest of your life. You are going to live in a box. Do you remember that threat? Oh how the tables have turned, Eduard. Let’s see. Treason. High Treason. Sedition. Extortion. Bribery. Murder. Fraud. Eduard, I have it all. All your financial records. All the High Court meetings. Everything from the past ten years. Since you killed our Empress. All the people you killed, or had killed, but what’s the difference, anyway? All the political rivals you’ve silenced. All the taxes you’ve not paid. All the times you have openly admitted to violating our Constitution and laws. Eduard, with even a quarter of the evidence I have on you, you would be getting the death penalty if I hadn’t abolished it. You’re welcome for that, by the way. With all of it combined, though, I wonder how many life sentences you’ll get? Without parole, obviously. But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? First, I’m going to drag you in front of the world. You’re going to resign. You’re going to name me Regent. And I’m going to give my inaugural address.”

Do You Hear The People Sing?

25 June 2023

People of Aivintis! Many of you have seen the news. Many of you know of the communications failures in the Templar District of Greater Asluagh. Many of you know the police evacuated the district and, later, the army marched into the Imperial Palace. Now, I have come to tell you that the danger has passed. The actions I took on this day were completely safe. No one was harmed in the temporary silence I brought unto the district. No civilians were harmed in the storming of the palace. The only people to have lost their lives today were armed combatants who refused to surrender. I have taken great care in ensuring the safety of all involved, and now I am here to announce that I will now be charged with ensuring the safety of all of Aivintis.

The raid I conducted on the Imperial Palace was a procedural operation carried out by the military in order to arrest Regent, Chief Minister, and Chief Justice Eduard Stoker for high crimes against the state. The evidence I uncovered of his crimes, due to the nature of this raid, have now been made publicly available in the name of transparency and accountability. Eduard Stoker has been arrested and, now, he has resigned from all offices and transferred power into my hands. As the new Regent of Aivintis, I promise to prosecute Mr Stoker for his innumerable crimes.

I am Regent now, but know that I will not be Regent for long. I hold this office not because I desire it, but because it is necessary for what I truly desire. I will not be the kind of leader Eduard Stoker was. I will not be the kind of leader George Whitcher was. I will do my best not to rule, but to serve. To serve the people of Aivintis, and your wishes for our future. To serve the memory of Empress Mariana Radu, and what she would have wanted for her homeland. To serve the ideals of justice, peace, and freedom that I live by.

Effective immediately, I am reorganising the government of the Aivintian Empire and authorising, through the emergency powers granted to me by the state of emergency we have found ourselves in for the past ten years, the establishment of democracy in Aivintis. I hereby issue an executive order reforming the Senate of Aivintis. Free and fair elections will take place as soon as candidates can prepare themselves and their campaigns for public scrutiny. Furthermore, while I will continue to hold the Office of Regent for as long as it takes to transition into a democratic nation, I will resign from office as soon as I am physically able so that elections may be held, for the first time in Aivintian history, for the Chief Executive office of the nation.

These are big promises, I know. After our history of false promises, illegitimate regimes, and widespread oppression, I understand you may be hesitant to accept that I mean our country the best. However, these are not just promises. You will see, in time, that my actions will speak louder than my words. I will do all I say and more. I will lead by example, I will bow to the will of the people, and I will dedicate my every waking moment to the betterment of our society. My second act to this end, following the re-establishment of the Senate, is to reinstate ALL rights and freedoms afforded by the Constitution. No more will freedom of speech be suspended. No more will the rights of the accused be trampled upon. We will have liberty in our time.

Our country has suffered more than most in the past decade. While our closest allies have enjoyed freedom, we have known only oppression. While the rich and powerful elites of the country have ruled with no regard for the wellbeing of the Aivintian citizen, that Aivintian citizen has suffered poverty, crime, and a lack of faith in their government. Many have left our country seeking greener fields. Most of you stayed, determined to not let their corruption, their WEAKNESS, tear you from the land of your ancestors. I see your bravery and your faith, and it will be rewarded with a brighter day.

We have gone through cycles in our history. The unification of our country under the United Kingdom of Aivintis was followed by the moral depravity and religious extremist fanatics of the Aeternal Empire. The rise of the Radu Dynasty in opposition to this evil was followed by the domination of the Order of Enlightenment of our everyday life. The rise of the Empire, under Emperor Thaddeus, and the freedoms he brought with him, were followed by the Kritarchy, and the selfish acts of our current government. It seems that our past is cyclical. If that is the case, then now is the time for a regime that cares for its people, and protects them and their rights. Yet even still, as history melts into the present Aivintis has trended towards more open and fair governments. I am confident that the Aivintis I will build will be built to last.

The Aivintis of my dreams will be one where all people live free and equal. Without the oppression of the government. I dream of an Aivintis which protects all its people in every way. An Aivintis with a government that does not overreach its authority. An Aivintis with a government that listens to its people. That changes when the people want change. An Aivintis where popular sovereignty is maintained. An Aivintis of democracy and freedom. I dream of an Aivintis which Aivintians can be proud of. I will respect Aivintian business and Aivintian cultural tradition. I will respect the personal freedoms of every person in the nation, and the collective freedoms of minority groups. I will create a nation where competition is encouraged in business and in elections.

Aivintis is changing for the better. Our future is bright, and we need only to work towards it to reach it. We are entering uncharted territory but we are entering it cautiously and gladly, because it is a frontier of freedom. We do it with the spirit of Aivintis in our hearts, with our eyes pointed towards the horizon. And we do it because we must. Because someone has to secure our future. Because someone has to defend our rights. Because someone has to build a better world for ourselves, for our neighbours, and for our children. We must work together because only together can we undo this past decade of misrule and corruption.

The government of Aivintis is unified on this. The most loyal supporters of Chief Justice Stoker, those who cannot bear to see freedom and democracy for our people, have been or will be arrested. Those who have shared in the crimes and sins of the Kritarchy will face justice. Those who stole from our country and murdered our people will face justice. It will not be the justice of the Kritarchy, with its bailouts, half-measures, kangaroo courts, and privileged immunity. It will be true justice. Blind justice. Fair justice. The kind of justice our nation was meant to hold in our hearts and minds as we ruled.

I have spoken to the governors. I have spoken to the Chief Ambassadors. I have spoken to the Trade Councillors. I have spoken to high officials in every part of our government. We agree that it is the time for change. That it is the time for democracy. This is not the declaration of a civil war. This is not the beginning of a revolution. This is the end of one. This is our final result. Today, we have proven that the social contract can still be upheld, that the will of the people can lead to change in the ruling class. We have proven this to ourselves and to the world. Aivintis is a nation of progress.

Enough of words. It is time for action. With the full support of the Aivintian government and people, and with the power granted to me by my office, I hereby declare the end of the Aivintian Empire and the formation of the Greater Republic of Aivintis! Long may our glorious Republic last! Democracy now! Freedom for all! True justice for our people! Thank you all. Now, I must get to work.

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