Two Flashes in the Night

“The Älemsi Maritime Infantry have used the decades following the First Yeralik Crisis to establish a small but effective amphibious warfare capability. At present reporting, it operates six landing ships and two amphibious transport docks, and is altogether capable of deploying a battalion-sized light infantry force on short notice. Any hypothetical conflict will almost certainly see the Maritime Infantry used to seize Yeralik Island.

Given the uninhabited and demilitarized status of Yeralik under the Amrakh Agreement, such a landing will presently face opposition only from poor weather and the harsh environment. The Special Warfare Directorate proposes to alter these circumstances via the covert movement of Special Naval Infantry units to Yeralik. Such an action, even if detected, is unlikely to create any further provocation that would not otherwise be found. It is the General Staff’s current assessment that the Älemsi leadership desires a quick, quiet, and bloodless seizure of Yeralik that utilizes minimal force. The proposed SNI deployment will ensure that such an action does not go undetected as it initially did in 1957, and will allow for a swifter response from the Tynam Defense Area.

I must, however, note the limitations of this approach, in that it will not change the calculus of a wider conflict should Amrakh Gazarv choose to pursue one. In the event of a full-scale war, Älemsi planning is open to further occupying Juha and even Kalle should the opportunity arise. Given the present state of the Tynam Defense Area, there is a significant risk that the CDF will be incapable of adequately defending these outlying islands and their populations. Under the General Staff’s present analysis, attempts to threaten Baltu or the Tynam Peninsula will be a reach too far for the Maritime Infantry, particularly as RCRAF and RCRN assets reconsolidate to protect these core areas.

In this most extreme scenario, the ANM will instead seek to neutralize Cryrian air and naval assets in southern Tynam while an occupied Juha and Kalle would be used as bargaining chips to end the conflict on favorable terms. Älemsi submarines can be expected to venture west of Tynam should Cryrian forces in the area become sufficiently degraded. While the National Navy’s submarine arm consists only of four vessels, it has the capacity to create significant disruptions to vital sea lines of communication in the eastern Loopian Sea. Conversely, the vessels of Älemsi surface fleet, though numerous, are unlikely to survive engagements should they move beyond the range of shore-based support. It is likely then that the bulk of the Älemsi National Navy will be focused on supporting operations east of Tynam.

Given the current lack of intelligence indicating that such a dire course of action is likely, the General Staff cannot at this time recommend the wider redeployment of forces needed to alter this balance. Nonetheless, the General Staff is now reviewing plans to reinforce the Tynam Defense Area on short notice should circumstances change.”

- Sigurd Holgerssen, Chief of the General Staff, speaking before the National Security Committee

Kehsi Manor, Grimvik

“Who comes before Ademar’s Gates?”

“Mikael Maravel comes before Ademar’s Gates.”

“Who comes before Ademar’s Gates?”

“A son.”

“A brother.”

“A husband.”

“A soldier.”

The King’s voice cracked a little when his turn came.

“A friend,” he murmured, before turning away and returning to his place.

One by one they all stood before the deceased, defining his life with whispered words, every utterance scribbled down by the gloved hand of the 109th Cardinal Leidenstad. But it was not the Cardinal’s face which looked out over the gathering, but that of Ademar Himself, His likeness set into the reflective mask through which Leidenstad now gazed.

A Cardinal’s hand, guided by Ademar’s eyes. Such was how it had always been, and such was how it always would be.

But behind them all lay Leidenstad’s own mind.

Ademar’s eyes rested on the departing royal and found his sorrow to be genuine. The Cardinal’s hand recorded it as such. And Leidenstad’s mind mused that it would indeed be a valuable time to privately counsel the King on his grief.

The last man stepped forward and looked down at the sealed casket. There would be no stately repose for Mikael Maravel. The corpses that had been recovered from the Consulate in Charlottesborg had been charred beyond recognition, and that of the Consular-General had been no exception. Maravel had been lucky all the same - Tynam, Widfross, and half of the rest had not even a body to mourn, nor even a scrap of flesh to perform the last rites.

They too, perhaps, should be spoken to with due time and tact. Times of mourning and strife were important times indeed for the Church, as they like no others reminded the faithful of their desire for a righteous path.

Marlberg was placing a white flower atop all the others, though a wind blew through an open chapel window and scattered the roses. Cardinal Leidenstad could feel the cold even through his heavy white robes. Even for a Cryrian, Grimvik was far north, and indeed by all rights this ceremony should have been left to one of the local priests, or a closer Cardinal. But Mikael Maravel’s death had been of great import, and had drawn many important people too. It was only correct that the highest member of the Clergy should perform the last rites for one whose passing may well have shifted the course of history.

“A good man,” Marlberg said quietly. That one had proven to be a very good investment. Perhaps the best that Leidenstad had ever made. Was that a sign of guilt on his face? A sense of responsibility, for the deaths of so many? Or for the crises that wracked the Kingdom under his oversight? Well, Marlberg had always known where to seek advice.

The Prime Minister returned to a pew next to that of the King. The Queen’s face was stony, and she had not said a word today. Perhaps she still resented Mikael’s role in arranging her unhappy marriage? Erland Maravel had seemed more conflicted at their brother’s passing.

These ones will bear watching, the Cardinal mused. Ademar’s eyes came to rest on the red-haired child that sat beside the Queen. Ulrika was a spitting image of her father. Even amidst the solemnity of the moment she fidgeted with quiet impatience until a masked priestess placed a cautionary hand on the Crown Princess’ shoulder. The caretaker had been carefully selected, at Leidenstad’s advice. Soon, perhaps, he would advise again on the heir’s further education.

It was, after all, ever so important that a righteous hand be at the tiller.

No others came to speak, and Leidenstad’s hand set the final words to paper.

“Then,” the Cardinal intoned, “He was enough.”

That was the cue for a column of masked clergy to begin the silent procession to the crematorium. Outside, beneath the open skies, they would watch as Leidenstad rasped out the final prayers, and then placed his scribblings atop an open flame. Smoke and incense rose up to the heavens, soon joined by the black columns belched up from the incinerator.

In his eighty years of life, Leidenstad had witnessed Kings and Queens, ministers and governments. Death had ever been their tool - The swift death of a Securitate bullet, the slow death of a castle dungeon. The death of the mind upon the Tomorrow Ministry’s lobotomy pick, the living death of the Health Ministry’s neglect.

Of all the arms of state, it was the Church alone that drew power from eternal life. Not from finality, but the promise of forever after. And as he had so often done, Leidenstad watched as all the movers and shakers in Cryria silently awaited his word.

“Oh Ademar. Open thy gates.”

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“We believe that the House of Tynam has opened independent communications with the Gazny Autonomy through preexisting back-channels. The CID believes that Tynam wishes to gauge where Gazny Khot will stand in the event of conflict over Yeralik Island, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely. It should be noted that previous meddling of this kind by the House of Tynam has offered results which were both mixed and bloody."

- CID Director Edgar Evert, speaking before the National Security Committee

Governor’s Mansion, Gazny Khot

The mood at Gazny Chīrén’s council of war was as black as the weather outside. The old man himself was as calm as ever, but Zamira could sense an alertness about him. It should have been heartening, but it also meant that they had now reached a dangerous juncture.

“They will draw us out and eat us alive,” her father was saying, one finger jabbing down at the documents delivered by the good General. Yerzhan had been shown to his quarters, ostensibly to rest after his long journey. But he had given over his missive first - Directly from Speaker Nayan himself. Amrakh Gazarv felt it was time that Gazny Khot mobilized.

“There is no legitimate basis for these orders,” her father pressed on, “Calling upon the Autonomous Militia to deploy on the other side of the Negdel is nothing more than an open effort to deprive us of our manpower and deplete our finances. It provides no military value whatsoever.”

“It is a test of loyalty,” Khasar mused. Zamira’s uncle had always been a quiet, brooding figure, but perhaps more thoughtful than most present. She imagined that her grandfather had once been much the same.

“We may refuse these commands, and be technically in the right, but it will cement the view that we hold our partnerships with Leidenstad over the good of the nation as a whole,” Khasar went on, “Or we may follow, and weaken ourselves while also endangering that very same partnership which brings wealth to Gazny Khot.”

“Nayan wants us to defang ourselves voluntarily, or else risk being dismantled by force.”

Zamira looked over in surprise when she heard her brother speak. They were invited here to listen, and learn, but never to take part. She felt a flash of annoyance when Khasar nodded, however.

“I hold some inkling that no small part of the Amrakhii’s goals in raising these tensions is to capture us in exactly such a dilemma. Yeralik has always been something for the Kapan to care about, and Yisugei Nayan has long relied upon their support. But the Amrakhii are prepared to offer their support and will sacrifice a little in order to see us sacrifice a lot.”

And so, two of the three kingmakers are aligned against us.

Oh, to be sure, there were over forty autonomies, each with their own little squabbles and desires. But the Kapan, the Amrakhii, and the Gazny - these were the ones that mattered most in the end. That their old allies in Amrakh Gazarv had drifted away was yet another artifact of this accidental, ill-suited marriage with Tynam. Nurai’s tryst was suddenly a weight that threatened to drag them all down.

Her grandfather finally spoke.

“We will do as the Speaker wills,” Chīrén said, “It will be expensive, but it will also limit the actions that can be taken against us. If we were targeted by our compatriots while dedicating our resources to this common effort, it will delegitimize Nayan’s position. This, I think, is something he has forgotten, in his expectation that we would refuse.”

The old man tapped the table thoughtfully, “But there is no reason to be too hasty in acting all the same. These things take time, after all. Yekei, do see to it that the Militia is very well-prepared. Be careful with Yerzhan - He is smarter than you, and was no doubt sent to prevent this sort of dissembling. But do your best all the same.”

Her father’s face tightened at the remarks, but he nodded all the same.

“Khasar, see that our friends in the National Broadcasting Service are sufficiently enticed to present a more positive narrative regarding our involvement here,” Chīrén went on, “I trust that our representatives on the Grand Mazhilis will play their part as well.”

“It will be done,” Khasar readily agreed.

With that, the immediate problems had been addressed. They had reacted to the circumstances presented.

But no more than that.

“And what of after?” Zamira said aloud before anyone could call the meeting to a close. She paused as all eyes came to rest on her.

“What of after?” she repeated, swallowing her nerves. What was that phrase Turi had been so fond of? Seizing the day? Well, it was midnight over Gazny Khot now, and she may as well say her piece.

“The Kapan will never stop at anything short of reclaiming Yeralik, and Nayan will have no choice but to follow just as Tynam will see to it that the Cryrians have no choice but to refuse such a demand. And if our predictions are correct, the Amrakhii will continue to fuel the situation in order to undercut us. Stalling buys us only time, we must surely do something with this?”

Chīrén snorted, and spoke before her father could respond, “So the girl has a voice, eh?” he remarked, “Well, it sings cleverly enough. Very well then. What do you propose?”

Ah hells.

It had been easier to ask the unpopular questions, but Zamira had certainly hoped she would not be called upon to give an answer as well. But here, there was only one good answer to give.

“We cannot change the Kapans’ minds,” she said simply, “Nor can we pull the Speaker away from them. The Yul is ill, and cannot be moved to intervene either. Thus, the Amrakhii must be persuaded to abandon this course. We can offer them little… But Leidenstad may yet make an offering on our behalf.”

“Leidenstad persists in negotiating with the central government alone,” Khasar observed, “This has always been their policy.”

“Then they must be advised to change this policy, and it is surely within their interests to do so now,” Zamira stated, “Leidenstad requires guidance which we are suited to provide.”

Quiet fell over the table until Chīrén spoke again.

“Very well. Let us guide them.”

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“The Autonomies are little more than a collection of upjumped crime families and warlords who bartered their way into political legitimacy and are now tied together by the shared knowledge that the rest of the civilized Urth views them with deserved contempt. And after a thousand years the Tynami are hardly a hair better! You can call it a duchy and pretend it is Cryrian, but I will say aloud what everyone knows at heart - They have never accepted our religion, culture, or language and are a gangrenous sore through which Älemsi corruption seeps into our society in the form of Tynami votes and Tynami money. How many times has the House of Tynam drawn us into Älemsi matters now? Perhaps if they feel so invested in such things, they should see fit to join them on a more permanent basis!”

- Beatrice Drakenberg, author of popular Tomorrowist blog Drakenlya

Chauşam, Duchy of Tynam

Nowhere could worlds clash so clearly as they did here. White-and-blue Cryrian flags flew over gently sloping Älemsi roofs. Cryrian street signs stood beside Älemsi-lettered storefronts. Even the sidewalk lamps were different - Not the sphere-topped rods of Leidenstad, but instead the hanging-lantern styles just as easily found in Amrakh Gazarv.

Say one thing though, the food was better for it.

Oh, to be sure, the many venues of the Emerald Waterfront scarcely bothered to hide their links to the Gazny Family these days, but Tore had grown quite fond of the place. Hells, you could almost forget that the seaside neighborhood had once been a hotbed for smuggling, back when the Crab Wars had been in full swing and Cryrian-Älemsi trade links a far more tenuous thing.

Politely ignored smuggling, that is.

The House of Tynam’s connections to Gazny Khot had never been particularly subtle either, and though the aristocracy could claim no authority on paper, in practice… Well, the Duchy was the smallest of ponds, and the Egendom was the biggest of fish. Sometimes it was good for Leidenstad to not ask too many questions about Synmingborg’s tortuous web of relationships with the Älemsi.

Because sometimes, they yielded results.

“I think I should preface this by saying that none of this is even remotely official and that I can agree to and provide assurance of absolutely nothing,” Tore began.

“Naturally, naturally,” Tomas - or Sagra, depending on who you were - smiled. Most of the local Älemsi kept two names, a relic of a time when a Cryrian name could do wonders to speed official paperwork through, among other advantages. Tore had known the Duke’s advisor long enough to discover his other appellation.

Though perhaps it is more accurate to say the Duchess’ advisor.

It was no secret how much that particular marriage had gone sideways, even the household staff in Synmingborg were said to have picked sides these days, or been pressed into one anyways. But some imperatives could unite even the two quarreling leaders of the House of Tynam. Avoiding a war in the Straits, as it turned out, was one of them.

“In that, we are all in agreement,” the woman said smoothly. Gazny Zamira - One of Chīrén’s spawn, from what Tore knew. There had not been enough time to ascertain her precise role in Gazny Khot, but politics was always a family business over there, even moreso than in Leidenstad. And if the Governor had sent one of his own, then at least he knew they were having a serious conversation.

Convincing anyone in Leidenstad of that is going to be another question, Tore mused. The Duchess had contacted Foreign Minister Reitz directly to set this up - No doubt a bit of guilt-tripping had been involved, after the death of Tynam’s son and all. But Tore knew that those in Karsholm were always wary of any discussion with the individual Autonomies. Älemsi clan politics may have become a relatively bloodless affair over the past century, but they were still slippery, complicated, and prone to damaging relationships with the central government in Amrakh.

“Though we will trust that our words, through you, will reach Leidenstad’s ears,” their fourth and final companion remarked.

This, Tore concluded, was the reason why they didn’t deal with the Autonomies. Gazny has something to say to Leidenstad. Gazny goes to Tynam, Tynam goes to Karsholm, gets them all together just to reveal that they were both actually here to play intermediary for Amrakhii Ukhuna. And everyone at the table was a stand-in for someone who wished to remain as distant as possible from the discussions which were about to transpire.

Which was why they were all seated in a private room at this lovely little teahouse on Khorilartai Avenue, as unofficial and obscure as could be. Honestly, the place so thoroughly reeked of pleasantness now that Tore almost missed the days when wearing the wrong colors here meant waking up in a dark room minus a kidney or two.

“That much, I can guarantee,” Tore agreed readily, “Though I am obligated to clarify who my words will be reaching. I don’t need to remind everyone here about Leidenstad’s position on conducting direct relations with sub-national entities. Neither of you represents state actors, in my government’s eyes.”

“We might someday need to elevate your government’s understanding of this region, Mister Wallin,” Zamira smiled, “But that is a discussion for another day. What you say to me will reach the ears of my grandfather, the Governor of Gazny Khot.”

“And I am here directly on behalf of the Amrakhii Elder Council,” Ukhuna said bluntly. Tore hid his surprise but felt it nonetheless. The man clearly felt the need to establish his credentials here, such as they were. Clearly, Ukhuna wanted this meeting to be a fruitful one, though Tore could not yet say whether that was a good thing.

“And I, the Duke of Tynam,” Tomas said readily. He, at least, had no reason to hide that.

Zamira smiled, and clasped her hands on the table, “Well, gentlemen. We all share a common cause here, and, I think, a common observation - There has been a series of terrible missteps and misunderstandings which have led to the current set of circumstances between our collective people. Some might call this an intrinsic feature of our relationship that is now at last bearing its inevitable fruit.”

“But I think we can do better.”

Tomas was nodding along, and in his mind Tore began to understand the structure of things here. Tynam and Gazny Khot both held a vested interest in avoiding a conflict, which could only be averted by the will of Leidenstad and the Amrakhii. Thus, this was in truth a carefully orchestrated first contact between those two, as represented by himself and Ukhuna.

“The Amrakhii are optimistic about that assessment,” Ukhuna said next, “But truthfully, we have always been optimistic about that assessment, only to receive a series of unfulfilled agreements and half-measures. Any future accord must be built on more stable ground. I will be blunt Mister Wallin. I am here because the Elder Council is willing to consider once again halting the slide to catastrophe as it did nearly fifty years ago, and to that end I am initiating this contact with you in the hopes that our respective superiors can verify each others’ willingness and ability to deliver results. But this time our efforts cannot be forgotten, nor can the demands of the rest of the Negdel be wholly ignored.”

“Else I fear the past shall remain our future.”

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November 10, 2002

Älemsi Leader Presses Claims on Northern Tynam

Battluut, Kalle

Chauşam— Last week, Khagan Ashighemur Mukhali of the Kapan Autonomy suggested that Älemsi Negdel should not limit its territorial claims to Yeralik Island. In a lengthy address before the national legislature, the Khagan called for the Negdel to “Reassert sovereignty” over the islands of Juha, Kalle, and Baltu.

The three northern islands have been considered an undisputed part of Tynam since the 13th-century and make up roughly half the Duchy’s population. The Khagan’s statements stand in opposition to the official Älemsi stance, which has long contested ownership of neighboring Yeralik Island as well as disputed maritime areas near Zavital Khümüüs, but has never claimed the remainder of the Tynami Archipelago.

In his speech, Mukhali extensively referred to historical Älemsi ownership of the Archipelago as well as its large Älemsi-speaking population.

The Archipelago is primarily home to the Ay ethnic group, which fled the Älemsi mainland in the late 13th-century and voted against unification in a 1922 referendum.

As leader of the Kapan Autonomy, Mukhali holds considerable sway within the highly decentralized structure of the Negdel and commands his own military forces. In the past, the Kapan Autonomous Militia has conducted independent campaigns of harassment against Tynami trawlers and other vessels.

Despite this, some analysts have cautioned against placing too much weight in Mukhali’s words. Elis Paulssen, a Professor of International Relations at the University of Leidenstad and the former Ambassador to Älemsi Negdel has noted that Mukhali’s sentiments were “Not broadly echoed by the rest of the Grand Mazhilis, nor the leadership of the other Autonomies.”

“The Älemsi people and the Älemsi state remain solidly in favor of redrawing the Absolute Era maritime boundaries in the Loopian Sea,” Paulssen explained, “But a wider campaign of invasion and occupation across northern Tynam is very far beyond what other decisionmakers in the Negdel signed up for.”

However, Paulssen also admitted that the Khagan’s aggressive statements could risk destabilizing the already tense situation.

“It’s certainly true that the Kapan Autonomy has a history of independently escalating regional tensions. We should be careful of ascribing the same degree of decentralization to the modern Älemsi state, but leaders in Amrakh Gazarv are going to have to consider the possibility that if they should continue pressing their claims on Yeralik, they might also be dragged into the maximalist goals outlined by the Kapan.”

The Khagan’s remarks spurred a harsh response from a Karsholm Palace that is still grappling with multiple crises created by the Volscine Civil War. In a public statement earlier today, Prime Minister Charles Marlberg warned that “Threats to Cryrian lives will not be tolerated.”

“This was demonstrated in Charlottesborg, and if necessary will be demonstrated again in Tynam,” the Prime Minister continued.

In a separate release, Foreign Minister Helena Reitz stated that “We have no reason to believe that the Khagan is representative of Älemsi foreign policy, and we will continue to pursue discussions under the auspices of the Amrakh Agreement to bring about a peaceful resolution to this matter.”

The Älemsi Foreign Ministry made no comments on the Khagan’s statements, but has reaffirmed its “Commitment to rectifying the unjust, colonial-era demarcation in the Loopian Sea.”

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“Mister Marlberg, do you believe that there is no possibility for a mutually beneficial resolution to the Northern Waters Dispute?”

“Disputes over territory are always a zero-sum game. Land is no longer in production, gentlemen, and the Kingdom’s air, sea, and terrestrial spaces are held in trust by the government for the eternal benefit of the Cryrian people. It is this fact which is enshrined within our very constitution. Yeralik Island forms a part of Tynam’s cultural heritage, and thus it is a part of our national heritage as well. The Prime Minister is rightfully barred from making the cessations he has proposed, and rather than accept this he is instead choosing to undermine our constitution and in doing so undermining the rights of the Cryrian people as a whole.”

- Charles Marlberg, interviewed during the 2002 Cryrian General Elections

On a Train to Zavital Khümüüs

“This was not how things were supposed to go” Battsetseg muttered as he rearranged the grainy photographs on the table, each one showing small landing craft disgorging Cryrian Sjöinfanteri onto Yeralik’s beaches. Despite the rough quality of the images, the soldiers’ movements across the island’s rugged terrain were clearly visible. It was difficult to accurately estimate their numbers, but the helpful annotations from Maritime Intelligence suggested that there were around a hundred of Leidenstad’s finest on Yeralik at the moment.

“The eternal refrain when grand plans go awry,” Amrakh Ajai commented, his voice just unsympathetic enough for Battsetseg to believe that the man was being honest today.

And Gods know, that’s a rare thing.

The Foreign Minister sighed and glanced out the window at the Älemsi steppe. A vast, breathtaking expanse of rolling hills and grassy plains now covered in a deep layer of powdery snow. The stark white landscape was dotted with occasional clusters of hardy trees and shrubs, as well as the occasional herd of livestock braving the elements. Out there in that rugged beauty, Battsetseg knew, was true solitude

Nayan and the others had already retreated to the dinner car, leaving the Foreign Minister and Ajai to speak privately as the train hurtled on towards Zavital Khümüüs.

“The Speaker did not tell me that we already had scouts on Yeralik,” Battsetseg admitted reluctantly.

What else have you been keeping from me, Nayan?

The fact that the Amrakhii leader knew something the Foreign Minister did not was concerning, but not surprising. Ajai had supported the renewed effort to reclaim Yeralik, but only as a means to put Gazny Khot in its place. There were likely members of the Elder Council who were having sleepless nights now that the situation was spiraling towards a confrontation.

Battsetseg was a veteran of the byzantine affair that was Älemsi politics, and right now, he felt, Ajai was a man looking for a way out.

The Amrakhii shrugged with an air of indifference, “The Cryrians fancy themselves the only ones capable of taking the initiative,” he said, “We had troops on Yeralik before them. Only a handful, to observe and guide in our other forces. Naval Command withdrew them when the SSI deployed.”

“So they remained undetected?” Battsetseg pressed.

Ajai shrugged again, “We have not received any protests from Leidenstad. Either they never knew we were there, or they do not wish to raise the issue. It matters not at all in either case

The Foreign Minister cursed under his breath. For a few moments there was only the rattle of the train to fill the silence. Then Ajai spoke again.

“This is not where things went awry, of course.”

“No indeed,” Battsetseg said grimly, “We all agreed there would be no backing down this time. This is no more than a tripwire force. The Cryrians still do not grasp that this is no longer 1957, and that Nayan is prepared to shed far more blood than this.”

“Our willingness to do so has always exceeded our capabilities, until now,” Ajai agreed, “ And now that our capabilities have grown, it seems that the greed of certain parties has expanded as well.”

Certain parties.


Ajai nodded, “He is overstepping, and threatening to drag the rest of us with him. Do you really think he will not push for more once blood is spilled on Yeralik?”

“You know my position, Councillor-”

“I know that there are forty-two Autonomies represented in the Grand Mazhilis, and forty of them did not agree to some mad grasp for Chauşam,” Ajai interrupted, “How do we use Kalle and Juha as bargaining chips for peace if Mukhali decides to annex the damn things.”

The light flickered briefly, then returned to strength.

“Mukhali is not the decisionmaker there,” Battsetseg said obstinately, “That is the Speaker’s role.”

“The Speaker has made his decision. Look around you!” Ajai gestured about the empty traincar, “This train is packed full of everyone who’s anyone, all going to Zavital on the eve of war. Nayan is laying the groundwork to support Mukhali’s claim - He told me so himself.”

Battsetseg was speechless.

“I am his Foreign Minister,” he growled, “I would know if such a decision was made…”

“Unless you were not expected to be around for much longer,” Ajai finished meaningfully, “I convey all this to you out of friendship alone. For what it’s worth, the decision was Mukhali’s. He always felt you were too moderate towards the Cryrians, and Nayan had no choice but to give the Khagan what he wanted. Believe me as you wish, you will see when we reach Zavital anyways.”

“Oh, I believe you,” Battsetseg said darkly, “The bastards. Has Nayan gone mad?”

The Foreign Minister paused, “It’s Schauman, isn’t it?”

“Oh, I do not think we can blame everything upon the former-Prime Minister,” Ajai said carefully, “Not everything. Mukhali is overambitious, Nayan is dependent on him, Schauman’s removal from power, well… It gives the Speaker a reason to believe everything Mukhali Says. That Cryrians are both dangerous and weak.”

“Leidenstad has not helped with that,” Battsetseg mused, “Not with their nuclear program.”

“They have not,” Ajai agreed.

“But to go so far as Chauşam… the Cryrians will break their fists against us, but they’ll break our skulls too,” the Foreign Minister continued, “They won’t have any choice, and we won’t have a way to end the war.”

“Perhaps,” Ajai said carefully, “It would be better if it did not start at all.”

Battsetsef looked down at the table, and then up again, “This is dangerous ground, Councillor,” he warned.

Ajai made a dismissive gesture, “I am already treading it, and you will not be around for long either if we do not act. If war begins, all power be in the Speaker’s hands. There will be no votes, no chances to safely remove him.”

“No reason to think the Cryrians will stop fighting just because we wish to,” Battsetseg finished. He needed to know they both agreed on that much - Nayan was a disaster waiting to happen, but Leidenstad was the enemy here.

“They will not,” Ajai nodded, “They won’t be able to. Not if Nayan has poisoned that well by annexing their populated territories.”

“So what do you need from me?” Battsetseg demanded, “You have the power to vote him out now. If Amrakh withdraws its support, Nayan’s government will fall.”

“It will,” Ajai agreed. He paused, then continued, “It is the future which concerns me more. The Amrakh and Gazny Autonomies have been secretly negotiating with Cryrian representatives.”

“What?” the Foreign Minister demanded.

“All unofficial and deniable, of course,” Ajai raised his hands, “But the threat Nayan poses to Leidenstad is still a useful tool to persuade the Cryrians to offer certain concessions. The new government must be one that resolves this crisis favorably

“The nuclear situation,” Battsetseg reminded, “That will not be easy to deal with.”

“And that,” Ajai smiled, “The Cryrians created that problem, now it is up to them to placate us. But you see, Minister - When Nayan is gone, someone must take his place. It cannot be someone from Gazny Khot, nor one of the Amrakhii, certainly not a Kapan or a Yisugei, but you… You are Altani. And you are a known quantity to us and a friendly face for the Cryrians.”

The table fell silent as Battsetseg considered his options.

“I want to be kept in the loop for all negotiations,” he finally said, “The Autonomies cannot pursue independent foreign policies like this. Someone from the Foreign Ministry will lead them going forward - I’ll choose someone reliable.”

“Done,” Ajai said readily.

“If I take the reins, this will need to end, Ajai,” Battsetseg warned, “All of it. No half measures, no kicking the can down the road. And that means the Kapan get their pound of flesh too.”

When Ajai nodded, the Foreign Minister knew that they were in agreement. No matter what came now, the Yeralik Conflict would not be inherited by one generation more.

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“In the past 72 hours the Directorate of Military Intelligence has received mounting evidence of a full-scale mobilization by the Älemsi National Military. The Autonomous Militias have been placed under central command in Amrakh Gazarv, and a significant number of air and naval assets are being assembled in the Kapan Autonomy. Previous estimates indicated that it would take up to 30 days for the main force of the National Military to be combat-ready in the Far Western Theater, and as many as 180 days for the Autonomous Militias to integrate and reach full strength.

However, the National Air Force and National Navy have both traditionally maintained higher degrees of readiness than the rest of the military, and any operation in northern Tynam will primarily consist of these branches. Taking this into account, as well as the overall trend towards increased readiness that has been observed in recent months, the General Staff believes that the National Military will be able to launch limited offensive actions within the week. This assessment is supported by our partners in the CID.

It is important to note that the current scale of Älemsi movements in the Kapan Autonomy far exceeds past instances of saber-rattling. The Autonomous Militias have never before been federalized outside of scheduled exercises, and there are reports that blood supplies are being requisitioned from hospitals in Zavital Khümüüs for military use. Taking these factors into consideration, the General Staff no longer harbors any doubts regarding Älemsi preparedness for a campaign to seize northern Tynam. Given these circumstances, the General Staff no longer doubts that Älemsi is preparing for a campaign to seize northern Tynam. The only remaining question is whether their ultimate goal is the reclamation of Yeralik Island and the establishment of a favorable balance of power in the Rotantic, or the revival of expansionist aims to annex the entire region. In this regard, we have observed conflicting statements from leaders in Zavital Khümüüs and Amrakh Gazarv.

In accordance with the CDF’s preplanned contingencies, the 7th Air Wing will disperse to its operational airfields. Army and navy elements are also redeploying to enact a new defensive strategy in southern Tynam. Units currently available to the Tynam Defense Area include…”

- Sigurd Holgerssen, Chief of the General Staff, speaking before the National Security Committee

Karsholm Palace, Leidenstad

“Well, go on then,” Marlberg spread his hands, “Tell me what broke today.”

Helena all but glared daggers back at him, “This is serious, Prime Minister,” she grated out, “Come back when you are as well, if you’d like.”

Marlberg’s face tensed at the rebuke, but he refrained from responding. “Go on, Foreign Minister,” he said.

Reitz looked like she hadn’t been sleeping well lately. Who could blame her, with everything that had been going on? The news was still dominated by the Volscine Civil War, the aftermath of Charlottesborg, the economic crisis.

The Lokia quarantine too, he had to remind himself. And now this little corner of the Rotantic seemed determined to set itself alight as well.

Tynam. Tynam. Who gives a damn about Tynam? Those were words he’d been strongly advised to not say out loud, but at some point the Prime Minister had to wonder if they weren’t fair to think about all the same. The little territory at the edge of the world had turned the seas red with blood more than once in its history. And now that Helena had pulled him into her office, she was sure it was going to be more of the same.

“The Älemsi have contacted us through backchannels,” Reitz said, confirming his suspicions. “They have been contacting us for some time,” she corrected herself, “At first we weren’t sure if it was serious. But discussions have developed to the point were I think you be informed.”

Marlberg exhaled heavily, “So, Nayan brought us this close to the brink just to talk?”

“Nayan isn’t involved,” Helena responded, “Leaders from the Amrakh and Gazny Autonomies, along with their allies.”

“Oh, for Ademar’s sake Helena,” Marlberg muttered, “Secret talks with the Autonomies aren’t worth the paper they aren’t written on. It’s always been more trouble than it’s worth.”

“Amrakh Gazarv and Gazny Khot working in combination could well become the Älemsi government if they wanted to,” Helena snapped, “It has happened before. They weren’t ready to fight Nayan’s war, so now they’re willing to replace him.”

“Provided we give them something,” Marlberg finished.

“Naturally. Nobody wants to look like a government of traitors,” Helena said simply, “They want to ensure that any coalition they form can claim credit for a victory, or something approaching that anyways.”

Marlberg sighed, “And what, pray tell, will they be wanting?”

“A permanent resolution to the Northern Waters dispute. The current maritime boundaries will be abolished and redrawn based on current international conventions. Yeralik Island will be recognized as Cryrian territory, with the restrictions outlined in the Amrakh Agreement upheld. The Adya Shrine will be considered property of the Älemsi state and will have extraterritorial status on Yeralik, although the specific terms of this are still being determined,” the Foreign Minister listed off.

Marlberg waited for a moment as though he expected more. “Is that all?” he asked sarcastically.

“Hardly,” Helena said drily. “There are various economic details to iron out… But mainly the nuclear program. The new government will want assurances.”

“What kind of assurances?” Marlberg asked sharply.

“I’m not sure they themselves know the answer to that yet,” Helena said grimly, “The Foreign Ministry is putting together some proposals, and I intend to raise this at today’s Security Committee meeting as well. But I felt it was important that you know first where things stand.”

“It doesn’t sound like things are standing anywhere good,” Marlberg said bitterly. “They’re making demands without even knowing what they want. Like always. But at least they’re talking… Some of them, at least.”

“For now,” the Foreign Minister agreed. “I’ve been informed that Foreign Minister Battsetseg is being replaced. He’ll probably be gone in a couple of weeks - Evert will confirm at today’s Committee meeting. But he’s been the strongest voice against war in Nayan’s cabinet, and I expect he’s using his position in the Foreign Ministry to support our talks. When he’s gone…”

“The guns will do the talking,” Marlberg finished.

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November 17, 2022

Tynami Leaders Reject Älemsi Claims as Militaries Hold Competing Exercises

RCRNS Andeväsens Klagan on patrol in the Loopian Sea

A group of Tynami parliamentarians have signed an open letter rejecting Älemsi claims on the Duchy’s northern archipelago. The seven Riksdag members represent all of Tynam’s elected representatives at the national level. They were also joined by a coalition of other local leaders including Duke Ögge of Tynam.

The Tynami lawmakers warned Älemsi leaders against “Embracing a violent, nationalist narrative that seeks to use military means to bypass the will of the Tynami people as expressed in the 1922 Referendum and in every moment hence.”

The statement, issued in Standard Älemsi, went on to make a direct appeal to the citizens of the neighboring country.

“The Älemsi Peoples have always understood the value of their sovereignty, and we caution them against falling prey to those who claim that they are alone in this sentiment. We hold our homeland as dearly as the Amrakhii, the Gazny, the Kapan, and the many others with whom we share a heritage, history, and culture. Our commonality in this regard should be a pathway to mutual understanding and cooperation, not a cause for conflict.”

The letter, which included the signature of former Cryrian Prime Minister Övid Cederström, ended with an appeal to Leidenstad and the Kingdom as a whole.

“[The Tynami People] have shed blood and served with distinction and without hesitation in every Cryrian conflict since the Scouring. The People of Tynam are the People of Cryria, and have been a part of the Cryrian story since its inception as much as all the peoples of Cryria have been part of the Tynami story. It was under Lielsta’s own oath that we were declared a part of the eternal Cryrian homeland, and we call upon our leaders in Leidenstad and in every corner of the Kingdom to recall the words scribed across our nation’s soul.”

“Remember Her Promise.”

The letter marked an unusually public and fiery communication to a foreign government by a group of Riksdag members acting independently. It comes after the Speaker of the Grand Mazhilis, Yisugei Nayan, visited Khagan Ashighemur Mukhali in Zavital Khümüüs along with several high ranking cabinet officials. Mukhali has previously called for the seizure of Tynami territories

While neither Nayan or his government have made any public statements backing the Khagan, the widely publicized conference is seen by many analysts as a tacit endorsement of the Kapan leader. Shortly afterwards, the Älemsi National Military announced that it will be joining the Kapan Autonomous Militia’s ongoing exercises in the west of the country. The statement comes with the unprecedented order to federalize all forty-two Autonomous Militias across the country.

The Speaker’s aggressive move has drawn backlash from within the Grand Mazhilis, and Älemsi Foreign Ministry Altan Battsetseg has announced his intention to resign at the end of the month. The mobilization has also drawn unusual criticism and warnings from former officers of the fiercely apolitical National Military.

“We are urging the Speaker to enter into the consultations already requested by twenty of the forty-two sitting members of the Grand Mazhilis,” a statement from the National Veterans Association read, “And we hope that the Speaker will exhaust all options at every stage of escalation.”

The mobilization of the Älemsi National Military has triggered a response from the Cryrian Defense Forces across the Tynam Straits. Shortly after the Speaker’s announcements, the General Staff announced that it will begin its own exercises in Tynami air and maritime spaces.

“The forces assigned to the Tynam Defense Area and the Försvarsmakten as a whole are fully prepared to conduct First and Second Pillar Operations in the Rotantic and anywhere else we are called upon,” a CDF spokesperson said in an early morning press briefing. First and Second Pillar Operations refer to portions of the CDF’s assigned mission concerning the defense of Cryrian sovereignty.

Eyewitnesses in Tynam have reported the movement of troops and equipment from CDF bases on the Peninsula and Baltu. The Ministry of Defense has directed that for reasons of operational security, no further information on these movements be distributed.

Leaders in Karsholm and the Glaspalats have also been quick to reassure their Tynami colleagues.

“The Government remains committed to finding a peaceful resolution to the long-running disputes around Yeralik Island,” Prime Minister Charles Marlberg said in an impromptu press conference, “But we are even more strongly committed to the protection of Cryrian lives and territory. I have every confidence in the capabilities of both our diplomatic and armed services in this and every other regard, and I believe my counterparts in the Negdel will understand the catastrophic consequences of any action that would imperil our citizens in Tynam.”

The Cryrian News Network has received individual reports that the Ministry of Defense has begun collecting updated contact information and personal details from reservists across the Kingdom.

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“The General Staff has prepared revised casualty and damages estimates for a hypothetical conflict in which Älemsi Negdel pursues its maximalist goals of territorial expansion across the Tynami Archipelago.

It should be noted that even under such a scenario, the intensity of any conflict would be limited by the remoteness and difficult environment inherent to the expected theater of operations. These estimates are based on the existing balance of forces, which favors the Älemsi National Military and makes Juha, Kalle, and Yeralik indefensible.

The current strategy calls for an initial defense centered in southern Tynam, followed by operations to eliminate Älemsi air and naval presence in the Loopian Sea and the systematic retaking of territories seized by the ANM. Based on previous exercises, the General Staff estimates up to 1,000 military casualties and up to 7,000 civilian deaths, representing around 1% of the Duchy’s population, over at least two months of combat operations. This is based on the assumption that Älemsi forces will target the local population in Juha and Kalle for assimilation and that Kapan Autonomous Militia units assigned to occupation duties may carry out ethnic vendettas in northern Tynam.

Intelligence indicates that the ANM plans to target Tynam’s energy grid to force a ceasefire once its offensives culminate, which could prove lethal on a wider scale during the winter. The potential for retaliation is unlikely to deter Älemsi forces, given the support of much of the nearby civilian population in the Kapan Autonomy for the war. Nor would retaliation against civilian energy infrastructure cause the same degree of damage, given that much of the Kapan population continues to use wood and coal burning house stoves for heating.

In light of the near-certainty of conflict in the region, the CDF has already begun to strengthen its position in Tynam under Operation Hagenshand. By the end of this month, the Tynam Defense Area will be sufficiently reconstituted to defend the archipelago in its entirety, potentially deterring an invasion entirely and greatly reducing these estimated losses. This does, however, also set a timeline by which the Älemsi must begin offensive operations if they wish to accomplish their goals…”

- Sigurd Holgerssen, Chief of the General Staff, speaking before the National Security Committee

Amrakh Gazarv

“Now that, I call a bold move.”

“You should have seen the bastard’s face,” Battsetseg smirked, “Nayan looked like I had just slapped him.”

“I almost wish you had!” Khasar laughed. Gazny Chīrén’s youngest was lounging on an armchair, wrapped in the green-gold shapan of his eastern homeland.

“Ah, one day, Easterling, one day,” Ajai offered a throaty chuckle as he poured out another mug of Arakh for Khasar. “Till then!”

“”Till then,” Khasar accepted the mug and turned back to Battsetseg, “But as I say, a bold move. The Speaker certainly did not expect you to resign.”

They had all gathered in Battsetseg’s living room, the three of them. The Foreign Minister kept his home near the city’s center - A modest residence, but one with all the accouterments of modernity that were still lacking even in parts of the Amrakh Autonomy. The interior was warm and welcoming, with thick carpets and factory made chairs. Even an Aikkian table as a centerpiece. It was certainly a far cry from an impoverished backwater like Altan.

“No, he did not,” Battsetseg agreed, “It is why I did it. Nayan wanted to remove me on the spot. But firing a… dare I say, respected Minister after he announces his resignation date? That’s just a poor showing.”

“And you’ve bought yourself a couple weeks too,” Ajai observed, “Though I will admit, I worry that the Speaker might wonder how you knew of your impending termination…”

Battsetseg quickly flashed a reassuring smile, “Come now Councillor, you saw the fuss I made. Resigning in protest and all. As far as he knows, I just don’t care for how he’s been governing. And I don’t.”

“It is good,” Khasar agreed, “Such a high-profile rejection will weaken his position… And the Grand Mazhilis can no longer stick its head in the sand about the war Nayan plans to give them.”

“A war we will prevent,” Ajai said with renewed confidence. He poured out another mug, this time for the Foreign Minister. “And ah… How are we coming along on that?”

Talks with the Cryrians had almost entirely fallen into the hands of Ambassador Tugan of the Leidenstad embassy. He was Battsetseg’s man, through and through, and though they could not trust the rest of the embassy staff yet, Tugan’s position gave the negotiations an air of legitimacy, which was important for keeping the Cryrians on board.

“We have progress,” Battsetseg said, “The Cryrians are prepared to yield on the maritime boundary, and their tariffs, which will placate the Kapan when we make our move. And we’ll be able to present extraterritoriality for the Adya Shrine as a victory for all Älemsi people, which will please Yul Saran. We’ll have to recognize Yeralik as Cryrian territory, but we’ll have the most important rock on it."

“But there are also problems,” Ajai guessed.

“Always,” the Foreign Minister nodded, “The nuclear program. The Cryrians cannot give that up, so we must decide how to benefit from it best. I intend to force them to proceed with the construction of the CDU reactors we were promised and then denied. It will salve the national pride… and this time it will come with the full transfer of technical knowledge to Älemsi operators. As for the rest, well… Khasar will explain.”

The Gazny man proceeded with gusto. “The Cryrians progressed on their armaments program as swiftly as they have done because of their existing civilian program,” he explained, “That was their strategy, after all. To be close enough to a nuclear arsenal that they might as well have one. I would see us placed in a similar position. Nuclear weapons or not, the Cryrians will not dare threaten us again for fear that we might do as they have just done. Until we’ve made appreciable progress in that direction, the Cryrians will accept limits on their delivery systems - Which is to say, they might as well have none - And the presence of our observers to enforce the matter.”

“You would maintain peace through proliferation,” Ajai observed. Khasar just shrugged, “I have a gun, my neighbor has a gun. Nobody is happy, but everything is peaceful.”

“Aye, but our gun would have not bullets in it,” the Amrakhii frowned, “The Cryrians may not keep their word on this, and you assume far too much of our own capability to mimic them. You are too comfortable with giving them this power, Easterling.”

“Then we will know,” Khasar said simply, “Just as we knew when they first began their program. They might lie, we might lie, this is the risk we took when we started this journey.”

“And the reactors would be build in the Amrakh Autonomy,” Battsetseg was quick to remind, “Your people have wanted this dearly for some time, Councillor.”

“Yes, we have.” Ajai nodded slowly, and Battsetseg could see that the man was convincing himself. But it was Khasar who sealed the matter

“We are also running out of time.”

“Very much so,” the Foreign Minister nodded gravely. “The CID has been quick to inform us that if we should fail to come to an accord and remove Nayan, we will have little usefulness to them. If the war starts, they will be quick to make our backroom dealings public, and watch us hang for treason.”

Khasar shrugged again, “That is the way of these things. They will hold on to that bit of blackmail for as long as they can, but perhaps not so long as they think. The Cryrians rather overestimate the similarities between our system and theirs, sometimes.” It was easy enough for the man to say. Gazny Khot was already on Nayan’s chopping block, so what was one more set of daggers pointed at his back? Ajai too did not seem overly concerned, and Battsetseg could guess why. The Amrakhii had been quite pleased to hand the negotiations over to the Foreign Minister, and had done nothing but distance himself from direct contact with the Cryrians since then. They all knew who here had the most to lose, and it was not the illustrious leaders of Amrakh Gazarv or Gazny Khot. The axe would land on the weakest one first, if it landed.

But Battsetseg had played dangerous games with his life before. One did not escape Altan without doing so.

What was once more?

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“The Säkerhetspolisen has been proactively prosecuting its counterintelligence role against its Älemsi opposition. To date we have provided the Foreign Ministry with a comprehensive listing of Älemsi intelligence operatives based in the Negdel’s Leidenstad embassy and Tynam consulate. While it was previously beneficial to simply monitor the activities of these individuals, it is now the SÄPO’s firm recommendation that these individuals be declared persona non gratae and expelled in short order. This is based in part on the potentially imminent conflict, which calls for short-term actions that will disrupt Älemsi intelligence capabilities within the Kingdom. However, the SÄPO also notes that the presence of these intelligence officers could prove harmful to the Foreign Ministry’s clandestine discussions with Älemsi moderates.

Pursuant to this same reasoning, the SÄPO will be launching a wider operation to target suspected Älemsi operatives within the Kingdom. We believe that these agents are meant to play key roles in guiding the main offensive in Tynam and disrupting industry and infrastructure in core Cryrian territories. Through cooperation with our partner agencies, we have a thorough understanding of Älemsi networks within Cryria and I am confident that we can now dismantle them in a controlled and effective manner.”

-Säkerhetspolisen Director Linnea Rehn, speaking before the National Security Committee

Where it All Began, Leidenstad

The maps were off his walls, at least. One lonely poster still hung up, proudly bearing that most grim slogan.

“For a Better Tomorrow.”

Marlberg had been wary of displaying his old connections to the Tomorrow Ministry - Any sane person would have been. But by God and Ademar, the Ministry’s iron fist would have never allowed for the sorry state of affairs that now surrounded him. The thought of yielding on Cryrian territory had once been an anathema, and the mere idea that foreign nonhumans might run riot in the streets of Leidenstad would have earned a lobotomy. And the Lokia Quarantine? Another day’s work. But now there were only festering complaints and troubles abound.

Someday, perhaps…

“Ademar’s blood, sometimes I wish I lost that vote,” Marlberg sighed and tore the poster off the wall.

“Then we’d all be worse off for it,” Evert said gravely, “Imagine Schaumann trying to navigate any of this.”

Marlberg couldn’t help but laugh at the thought. He had invited the CID Director, over for tea, but both of them had been caught up in one emergency meeting or another, and it had been nearly midnight by the time they were able to sit down. Nonetheless, they had regrouped in Marlberg’s living room for drinks instead. These were the times to appreciate old friends, after all.

Though even now after so many decades, Marlberg was not sure whether he could call Evert a friend. The recent stresses had clearly started to take their toll on the man. Only recently appointed to head the CID, he was clearly putting on weight, and balding. Despite this, he still carried those snakelike eyes of his, always far too sharp for comfort.

“Would you have even let him?” Marlberg chuckled, but a hard look from Evert cut him off. “Don’t joke about these things,” the CID Director warned, “We’ve got enough people whispering that the election was a coup as it is. And Schaumann hasn’t exactly been helping to quell those rumors either.”

Marlberg grimaced. Part of him wanted to inform the man that the Securitate had nobody to blame but itself for fanning such paranoia, but he could hardly claim to have clean hands in the matter either. They had done what they needed to do, and what was done was done. That, Marlberg prayed, was a sentiment he might one day hold towards this tumultuous year.

As if reading his mind, Evert nodded towards the crumpled up poster, “There’ll be time enough for all that,” he said, “Nothing is remembered quite like strong leadership in a time of crisis. You inherited these problems from your predecessor. And as a man who saved the Kingdom? Why, you’ll be able to do anything you want for a generation or more.”

Marlberg had to snort again.

“She is far from saved, Director.”

“She often is,” Evert agreed, “But we do our best all the same. And sometimes we come close.”

Marlberg sighed heavily and sank back down on an armchair, cradling his wineglass. “Was that what you did,” he mused, “When you encouraged the Duchess of Charlottesborg to consider secession from Volscina in favor of a union with Cryria?”

Evert’s eyes narrowed, and Marlberg knew he’d hit the mark. Or rather - Reitz had. There was another one who was too sharp for their own good. All the better to play these two off each other.

“The CID had an awful lot of assets already on the ground in Charlottesborg to assist in quelling the mutiny,” Marlberg went on, echoing Helena’s own reasoning, “I suppose we were fortunate in that - Though I wonder if the Mutiny would have occurred at all, if the rebels hadn’t learned of the Duchess’s contact with you."

Evert was quiet for a moment and then sat across from the Prime Minister.

“Our agents in Charlottesborg had some communication with the Duchess on this matter,” he admitted. “The possibility of uniting with the Kingdom in the event of a permanent dissolution of Volscina was discussed, but I fear the Duchess clung to that idea like a drowning person. She was exactly that, in many ways. That was what triggered the Mutiny, in part. Panariello and his ilk believed Leidenstad was far closer to seeking a union than we ever were.”

The Director shrugged, “Desperate and damned people do damned and desperate things. It’s not a lesson I will soon forget.”

“People paid with their lives for that lesson,” Marlberg said scathingly.

“They did. They likely would have anyways - Charlottesborg was a disaster waiting to happen. But they did.”

The Prime Minister exhaled and shook his head. He had heard what he wanted to hear. For once, he had the upper hand on the CID Director and the rest of the Securitate. Whatever came next, he wouldn’t wind up like Schaumann or any of the others who ran afoul of these most dreaded institutions.

Not willing to give up the initiative now, Marlberg shifted the conversation.

“You’ve heard of the Älemsi proposal, I assume?”

Evert watched him carefully now. “I have,” he said tersely. The Prime Minister gestured for him to continue. “And your thoughts?” he demanded.

Evert’s expression grew tense. “Älemsi state ownership of the Adya Shrine. Rectification of maritime boundaries in the Negdel’s favor. The dismantling of trade restrictions. The transfer of nuclear technology and expertise and the curtailment of our own program until Amrakh is satisfied.”

“All for an end to the Northern Waters Dispute.”

The CID Director stood up and paced. It was clear he knew the correct response to give, as much as it pained him.

“I said I’ve learned something of the damned and the desperate,” he finally said, “We’re starting to look damned desperate here ourselves. They know we could tear them apart. They also know we can’t afford to.”

“Take the deal, Prime Minister. We’ll be no worse off if our Älemsi friends fail to come through - If nothing else, it will make some chaos in Amrakh.”

“That is the official assessment of the Securitate, then?” Marlberg asked wryly. No, he would not wind up like Schaumann, stymied by his own security forces and civil service. Not this time.

“As official as one can get over midnight drinks in a private residence,” Evert said dryly.

“Why Director,” the Prime Minister exclaimed, “That is about as official as it gets!”

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“In light of Speaker Nayan’s failure to address the questions posed by this body or the concerns of civil society at large, I am hereby initiating a motion of no-confidence.”

-Altan Battsetseg, speaking before the Grand Mazhilis

Karsholm Palace, Leidenstad

“So it’s done then.”

“Is anything ever done, Prime Minister?” Helena snapped her briefcase shut. The Älemsi Ambassador had just departed after informing them both of the change in government, and the desire to reopen negotiations over Yeralik Island.

As if there was anything left to negotiate.

Oh, they would go through the motions now, but all the important conversations had taken place long before this point.

“You don’t think they’ll follow through?” Marlberg asked. By all accounts Älemsi forces were still on combat-footing in the Kapan Autonomy. But what was it that Evert had said?

We’ll be no worse off. If nothing else, we’ve made some chaos in Amrakh.

The General Staff was certain that the Tynam Defense Area would soon be sufficiently reinforced to dispel any notions of an easy offensive into the Tynam Archipelago.

“Oh, they’ll keep to it, I think,” the Foreign Minister said, “For the moment, anyways. They got most of what they wanted without having to fight for it. And the new government’s in no position to start a war so soon.” Helena shook her head, “No, I think our new counterparts up there have every intention of holding to this accord - And holding us to it as well.”


“But,” Helena agreed, “People have had good intentions since the beginning of time. Life has a way of sending us awry. We’ll see where things stand in six months. A year. Two decades.”

Marlberg snorted, “I’m not sure I’m in a hurry to stick around for that long. Not anymore.” Helena just shrugged in response, “I know I am.”

“There was a time when I’d have objected to that,” the Prime Minister mused.

“As I said. Life has a way of sending us awry.”

To that, Marlberg could only nod his agreement, “They won’t be alone in that. Our own people will say we gave up too much for nothing.”

“They will,” Helena agreed, “It will be the Conservatives, your own supporters who say it first, no doubt. I hope you will take no offense when I say that you made your bed on that one.”

“And if the restrictions on the nuclear program become public-”

“The program that will never officially exist, even should we complete it?” the Foreign Minister seemed bemused, “Well, Prime Minister, the purpose of atomics was to protect Cryrian sovereignty in a time of chaos. This agreement protects Cryrian sovereignty not under any hypothetical scenario, but in reality. It is worth more than any mushroom cloud.”

“Some would say we have surrendered Cryrian sovereignty. Ceding maritime boundaries, the shrine - All the legal maneuvering got us around the constitution, but it won’t change the facts.”

Helena scoffed, and then put her briefcase back down on the table. “Maritime boundaries and a rock? Is this what Cryria is now? Or is it the thousands of Tynami lives we have saved? Best your allies in the Riksdag learn how to answer that.”

Marlberg said nothing for a moment. “We’ll all have houses to clean when this is over,” he finally decided.

The Foreign Minister nodded, but her expression stayed serious. “You need to do something about Evert,” she warned, “No matter your past connections to the man, by now you must realize that he is trouble. I know you spoke to him in private.”

The Prime Minister exhaled. Reitz had been on his back about this for weeks now, ever since she’d informed him of the CID Director’s actions in Charlottesborg. And perhaps she was right. But all the same, Marlberg reasoned to himself, Evert half long been an ally - Still was one in many respects. And now he could be controlled. The same could not be said of a potential successor.

“I am looking into it,” he promised. Reitz, the career diplomat that she was, gave away nothing, but the Prime Minister could almost taste the mistrust radiating off her.

“Don’t replace one problem with another,” she cautioned, now walking to the door, "And do not delay on this. There are other people I can go to. I will suggest that the formal signing take place on the solstice,” the Foreign Minister called over her shoulder, “The Älemsi will appreciate that, I think.”

“Why? So we can make the new Speaker miss the festivals?” Marlberg laughed.

“So that the atmosphere cannot get any colder.”

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Where Waves are Still Measured in Courage

… And the depths in terror.

That was the old sailor’s saying, first uttered when the ancient Cryrians had departed the freezing Yasterian shores for the vast unknown. There had once been a time when to sail upon the waters of the Isles had been an act of defiance against nature itself, a lone crew’s war upon the same God-Under-Seas they had then worshiped. Captains left behind locks of hair for their families to burn in funerals, and a ship that dipped below the horizon may as well have sunk for all the world knew.

Those had been savage times, and these were civilized ones. Yet in some far corners of the Kingdom the old terrors still held strong - To ride the wind and waves was to dance with death itself. Few sailed by distant Fara, but those who did - Rotantic trawlers and naval enforcement squadrons for the most part - Played with their lives.

Lina Hagström had played with her life before. Once, in another age, the Generalmajor had joined an advisory mission to the Serramali military. There she had witnessed every manner of casual brutality and communal violence that could be born from a society in disintegration, and it was there that she had discovered an everlasting love for home. The monstrous edifice of the Drifting Throne, the faceless bureaucrats and security agencies, the moldering aristocrats, all these she had come to loathe from a childhood in Ellesborg. Loathed them in their highrise towers on the riverway, loathed their arrogant tourists wandering from hotels to casinos and loathed their puppet militiamen who marched the streets. Loathed them even as she had surrendered her name to become one of them.

But now, Generalmajor Lina Hagström loved the Kingdom, not for what it did to others but for what it did for its own. Here there was peace, stability, the knowledge that all could sleep easy knowing that tomorrow would be the same as yesterday. Let Serramali villages burn, let the Zapolese languish and the Älemsi rage. Here, she could raise her family, coddle her grandchildren, kiss her husband goodbye on his way to work without worry. Because she was one of them now, and not one of the horrors she had seen could ever follow her here across the seas and skies.

The shield was cracking now. She could feel it in her bones, even if so many did not see what was in front of their own eyes. In Charlottesborg, they had learned that they were mortal. In the riots of Leidenstad and the quarantine at Lokia, they were reminded that entropy cared not for seas or borders. In Tynam, the Älemsi had shown that the sanctity of territory only lasted as long as the force that protected it while the economics of the Volscine Civil War had strangled as surely as any blockade. Chaos was on their doorstep now, knocking upon the door of Lina Hagström’s changeless Kingdom. This would not end, no matter what so many in the Riksdag thought and said. They had entered a new world, and the threats would remain - Conventional ones they could not fight, unconventional ones they could not deter.

The seas were once again measured in courage.

“Observation craft are in position, Ma’am.”

Lina nodded, her eyes running over her little command center here. Even indoors, it always felt a little chilly on this windswept island at the end of the world.

“The Evighetsdans warned off a pair of trawlers at the edge of our economic zone yesterday,” the man continued, “Älemsi-flagged. We think they were probably intelligence-gathering ships.”

Lina nodded again, absently. That was a matter for the Navy to deal with. Hell, most of this was a matter for someone else to deal with. By all rights, the Generalmajor didn’t need to be here at all - The final reports could just as easily find her back in Älmark. But this was her child. She’d incubated the latency program when it had been all but forgotten, she’d nurtured the Ademar’s Gate project while the rest had been running in circles putting out fires.

She’d be damned if she missed the moment.

From the sounds of it, the Älemsi felt similarly. Oh, Amrakh had accepted that this was happening, and they were profiting from that acceptance every step of the way. But they weren’t happy about it. Lina had scarcely held her fury when she’d learned of the restrictions placed on the program by the Solstice Accords - The ones that hadn’t been published, that was. The curtailment of delivery systems, the Älemsi observers in Tynam, and no doubt a few looking over her own shoulder too now.

But these things came and went. It was a small cost when she offered eternity to her deathless Kingdom.

Oh, Mister Marlberg, I hope you know what you have gotten yourself into here.

She’d all but cautioned the Prime Minister against this direction at the time, and in retrospect it had felt like a painfully naive thing to do. But times had changed since then, and the man at least had an honest assessment of where this road might lead, and the considerations he must now make.

“Five minutes to the detonation, Ma’am.”

There was no blast in the end, not for her. No fire and thunder. All that lay far out to sea, and soon the reports were flooding in from their observers.

And high up in the void, those with the care and capacity to look at this distant Rotantic corner some two-hundred kilometers from the island of Fara would witness the characteristic double-flash of a nuclear detonation.

Oh Ademar, Lena breathed a silent prayer.

Open Thy Gates.