Voyage of the Homebound

Book 1 - Sand
Part 1
This thread is intended to be paired with The Hourglass (1.1)

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

  The desert, unsurprisingly, was mostly sand, occasionally punctuated by small cacti or patches of grass whose roots prevent too much erosion from happening. Occasionally you could see a bird or small rodent, or if you were lucky, a solitary fennec. The fox, not the type of vulpine. Although, hey, no promises. They did live here, after all. But what Yufraan wanted to be seeing - quite literally any sign of sentient life, maybe an ATV or at least the tracks from one - did not appear to be popping up. They sighed, and set down the binoculars they were gazing through. They’d been at this for weeks, and they hadn’t managed to find a single sign of Alkhatawf, the Hook - the local resistance in Sayaduun.
  “Anything?” came a voice behind Yufraan. Omar Naciri, their advisor, godfather, and friend. Yufraan shook their head no. “Well, don’t worry, faara. There aren’t too many more places they can be.”
  “I hope you’re right. Any other places to scout today?”
  “Well…” he hesitates. “Yes. Two more.”
  “Then we’d better get going.”
  “Faara… it’s getting late. Don’t you think we should go back, get some rest?”
  “We still have an hour before sunset. Now come on… unless you can’t keep up, old man?”
  “I can outpace a youngster like you any day - bring it on!” But Naciri gives a glance over his shoulder, back to the town of Sahla where they’ve been staying. It’s only a 45 minute walk, but their current route is taking them even further from the town. And he knows that the carefree air that Yufraan is putting on is all an act. They may not be his actual child - he had never had any of his own - but he had raised Yufraan. He knew when they were putting up a facade. And he knew, more than anyone, that Ildarra had changed them.

  Omar had always been a firm believer in Dawra, but he was now almost sure that the mythos was right. He had often wondered, back when he himself was a naive university student, what Dawra was fundamentally about. After all, he believed the ideas were worth fighting for, but Omar had always been skeptical about all the rest - the existence of the Deities, the Spirit Realm, the Universal Song. He had come to the conclusion some 40 years ago that it didn’t matter, really, if Dawra was The One True Religion!™ because, after all, it had never claimed to be. It was the shared cultural heritage of his people, and the fundamental beliefs by which all people should live their lives even if they weren’t Dawrani themselves. But then, Yufraan had completed the Trials. Then, his kid had become the Mutadiit. And everything had changed.

  Sometimes, when Yufraan forgot they were near other people, they would cock their head or say something out loud, part of a conversation nobody else could hear. But even though Omar couldn’t hear it, he could sense it. An ethereal humming, the atoms all vibrating in unison, a small pickup of the wind inside a sealed building. And Yufraan would say, “But will she be able to handle it?” under their breath. The temperature would slightly go down on a hundred-degree day for no real reason, and Yufraan would nod. On more cynical days, he wondered if the peyote had more lingering effects than anyone knew. But on the inside, he knew the truth. Gods were real, or at least facsimiles of what sapients would consider gods. Beings beyond our understanding, and one of them spoke to his own child. On some days, he was proud.

  Usually, he was terrified.

  They had stopped walking by now, and Yufraan had begin setting up more surveillance equipment. He glanced at the sunset. Omar Naciri knew not to be exposed in the desert when nightfall came, but Yufraan was on a mission. And the only thing he could do now was help, or get out of the Mutadiit’s way. So he carefully began helping Yufraan set things up, and surveying the land.
  “See anything yet, aym?”
  “Not yet, faara. But we’ll keep looking. And eventually, we’ll find what we’re looking for, I promise.”

  Omar just hoped they were looking for the same thing.

Book 1 - Sand
Part 2
This thread is intended to be paired with The Hourglass (1.2)

Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Paterazam, Dabaab 16th, 412

  It had been over a week now, and Omar Naciri was genuinely starting to doubt Alkhatawf even existed. After all, the Sayaduuni were very passive, and despite their threatening name the Hook was too. In the 80 or so years they had existed, they hadn’t carried out a single noteworthy attack against Zakyn Petroleum Corporation, WEGEC’s subsidiary in the area. They hadn’t even incited mild resistance in the past 5 decades. Who knew? Maybe they had died out years ago, and he and Yufraan were out here in the desert chasing ghosts.

  It’s not like he hadn’t planned for the possibility, but to be honest, his backup plan wasn’t that good. In her communiques, Azniv had said March 20th was the likely date of the attack, during the Alnahda celebrations - which would mean Omar and Yufraan would have just over a month to incite a people to revolution. And while Yufraan could do it, they’d still need supplies, transportation, et cetera, et cetera. Overall, it wasn’t his favorite idea.

  For what seemed like the millionth time he looked out across the bare desert. He saw some saw palmettos in the distance, their vibrant green contrasting the soft yellowish sand and the bright blue cloudless sky. Silently, he pointed to Yufraan, who nodded. While saw palmettos could grow this far out, their presence usually meant a house; usually built around them. As they got closer, it became evident that this was a small homestead; a well was connected to a small irrigation system watering a variety of herbs, and a small house constructed from sandstone, wood, and adobe sat completing the scene. What was today again? Paterazam. Artisans like this usually went to sell their goods on Rahnam. Omar went up to the door and knocked one, two, three times.

  “Coming!” came the sing-songy voice of an old woman from inside the house. Omar stepped back, and the door swung open to reveal a bare Arres aurian. “Arham, my friends. I was not expecting visitors today, but I am glad to see people here.”
  “Apologies for the intrusion, mutj, but we were simply trekking through the desert when we noticed your homestead. My child and I simply wished to stop by; we know it can get lonely out here.” Omar looked at Yufraan to notice they had drawn a hood over their head, to obscure their identity. Probably for the best.
  “Well, thank you for your kind wishes. It has been rather lonely since my wife passed, and our kids moved out to the city. Please, come in, enjoy a cup of tea, will you?” the old lady said, opening her door wide.
  “Many thanks,” Omar said, walking into the small house with Yufraan following him.

  The interior was extremely cozy, and Omar could tell it had been well-maintained even in the woman’s age. The main room had a small cooking area with a stove and cupboards, a drying rack, and of course a teapot. There was a sewing machine - non-electric, pressed against one wall, next to a small dining table with four chairs around it. A radio rested on a cupboard, playing some of the Urthvision XVIII finalist songs. There were two doors, leading to a bathroom and a bedroom. The most impressive feature was a grand rug covering much of the entryway, intricately woven in such a way that it seemed to glow gold as the sunlight hit it.
  “Please, have a seat, my friends. Tell me, what are your names?”
  “My name is Omar Isaawi. And this is my child, Malak Isaawi,” Omar said. He felt a little bad for using Sa’adah’s last name like that, but he knew she would’ve been fine with it. Spirits knew she had stolen Naciri enough times in her day.
  “Well… those are lovely names! I’m Najwa. Najwa Shariiq.” She pauses for a long moment as she goes to check the tea. “So, you’re going through the desert, are you? What’s your destination, if you don’t mind me asking?”
  “Oh, not at all. We didn’t really have a destination, we were searching for… a group of friends.”
  “Maybe I’ve seen them around. After all, people have a tendency to pop up around these parts. Tell me, what do they do?”
  “Well… I suppose they’d best be described as fishermen - you know, working with hooks,” Omar says tentatively. He doesn’t think Najwa is dangerous, but he still doesn’t want to give too much away, just in case.
  “Hooks, I see. Interesting. A bit odd, isn’t it, for fishermen to come this far out from the coast?”
  “For many of them, fishing is just a day job. They enjoy hunting, or… they did in the past, at least.” At this point, Najwa slithers over to the pair, pouring tea into their cups before sitting down herself.
  “This may sound familiar. And tell me, why might you be searching for them?” Omar thinks for a long second - he hopes not too long.
  “It’s our mothers - my mother, and the one of one in the group. They used to be very good friends, before circumstances drove them apart. But they’ve been in poor health for a while, and now… now the doctor fears that they may die soon. But we - my child and I,” he says, putting his hand on Yufraan’s shoulder. “We believe that if we work together, we may be able to find some sort of remedy, or even a cure.” Omar Naciri sits back, and hopes the metaphor did its job.

  Najwa Shariiq’s eyes dart between the two of them, looking each one up and down as it looks like she’s making a decision. Suddenly, her eyes light up, and she gently nods to herself.
  “Yes, yes. It all makes sense though. Yes, I know who you are looking for - and you can drop the act, Omar Naciri. And your companion?” Yufraan stands up with almost blinding speed, dropping the hood and revealing their face for the first time. Najwa looks up in awe at the young person whose face almost seems to glow with faint sunlight. “Mutj Mutadiit al-Ildarra Alaalahiiya! My apologies for not noticing sooner. Had I known, I would not have questioned you so.” Yufraan smiles.
  “Oh, that’s no problem. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” they say, extending their hand. “And please, call me Yufraan.”
  “I - of course, Yufraan,” Najwa replies while shaking Yufraan’s hand.
  “As you likely gathered, we are searching for Alkhatawf. We believe that WEGEC is going to launch an attack on the Mukarras governorate on Alnahda, and that it will coincide with a crackdown on people in the other four governorates,” Yufraan begins. “But we believe that our resistance in Aldaar, combined with an uprising here - which they’ll never expect - may be enough to defeat the Mirhaimians.” Najwa thinks for a second before responding.
  “Of course I will tell you where Alkhatawf is, and I wish you the best in your adventure. But be warned - Saarkis Hawk is very stubborn, and he hasn’t made a move against Zakyn Petrol in 50 years. He’s unlikely to start now. Then again, I hear he has a new second in command, some fiery young human. No offense,” Najwa says, nodding to Yufraan. “She may be able to help you convince him.”
  “Can you take us to Alkhatawf?” asks Yufraan.
  “Oh, my child, I wish I could. But my bones are weary, and even the trek to Sayaduun every Rahnam is starting to be too much. But come; let us sit, and finish our tea. I can tell you how to get where you need to be.”

Book 1 - Sand
Part 3
This thread is intended to be paired with The Hourglass (1.3)

CW - Strong language

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

  The one thing you learned to love and hate living in Aldaar was sand. Yes, it was coarse, it was rough, and it was irritating - and it got everywhere. But it was also the way the Aldaari people had made their living, it was the reason for their nation’s existence, and it was what had made Aldaar so strong. To be honest, though, Omar was starting to get tired of it.

  Omar Naciri was starting to push 60 at this point, and honestly, he was getting tired of a lot of things. Sure, in most countries, a large number of politicians were on the older side - but Aldaar wasn’t most countries. Everything here was a young person’s game, whether or not people realized it. Omar was a teacher, always had been - and a local business owner, a revolutionary hero, a celebrated politician, and most importantly, a father. And here he was, following his child to the lion’s den. Some people would say that that was bad parenting, but he knew he couldn’t control Yufraan, even if he wanted to - all he could do was support them and make sure they got through it safe.

  But Omar was worried about Yufraan’s safety, and not just because they were walking into a powder keg ready to explode - and trying to gently coax it to detonate right in front of them. No, he was more worried about what would come after.
  “How’s it going, faara?” Omar asks, breaking the dead silence of the dunes.
  “Good,” Yufraan responds succinctly.
  “Come on, Yuf. Talk to me.”
  “About what?”
  “Anything you want.” They stop walking for a second, and Omar realizes he can hear the wind starting to pick up. Under his breath, he quietly says “Talk about Aida. I only got to meet her once.”
  “Well,” Yufraan begins, starting to walk again. “I don’t know where to start.”
  “Why not the beginning?”
  “The very beginning?” Yufraan asks with a smirk. An old joke between the two of them. Omar smiles gently.
  “If you wish.” It’s turning to evening, and the desert has cooled down substantially, about to 40°. It doesn’t help that the wind has picked up to the point where it’s now creating minor sand flows in especially loose areas, and sending chills through Omar’s 'ashlaizila. Luckily, there’s still enough light to see by - but he does pull down his visor to protect his eyes from the sand.
  “I first met Aida when I was getting a coffee with some of my friends, from uni - remember Furqan?” Omar nods at this. He does remember Furqan - Omar wonders what he’s up to now. “Well, we were listening to this random girl on the street busking, and I mentioned how she sounded good. Now, Furqan is all, like, ‘If you like her so much, why don’t you -’” Yufraan stops short, and goes silent for almost a full minute. Omar lets them. “Anyways, we kept joking, and eventually Furqan dares me to ask her out. So, keeping with the bit, I go up to where she’s playing - and damn, was she pretty. She finishes her song and sees that I’m just awkwardly standing in front of her and she’s like, ‘Who are you?’ and I do one of the riskiest things I’ve ever done in my life, because I’m just like ‘Oh, I’m Yufraan, and my friend and I just thought your playing sounded amazing and I just wanted to ask if there are any other cafes you play at?’ to which she says ‘Not really’ and I’m like ‘Okay, so I’ll see you here tomorrow?’ and she’s like ‘Yeah, see you then’ and then, what I do next, I put some money into her guitar case but I also slip in a note with my number on it.” Yufraan pauses for a moment to take a deep breath. “She came back the next day, and she was so chill about it all. And not like Azniv is chill - like calm and collected on the surface but a chaotic dumpster fire underneath? Like, actually chill. She seemed to know everything she wanted out of life, and when something got in the way of that she just moved around it so… so easily. She was the perfect fucking Aldaari, and I’m not even sure that she knew it. She probably did though, considering she was really smart. She knew almost more about our people than I did, just in terms of new ways of thinking or random obscure facts. You would’ve loved her, 'ayn. But… but then they…” Yufraan cuts off, and Omar is sure he can hear them about to cry. “But then they killed her.”

  Omar has been through loss - he lost Sa’adah, just as much as Yufraan had, after all. He had even helped countless students deal with their loss, in the worst years of oppression when extrajudicial killings had been almost commonplace. But this felt different, and Omar knew why. Aida had been part of Yufraan’s family - his family. And he wasn’t sure how to fix that, even for himself - let alone Yuf. But at least, and luckily for him, speaking in public for nearly 40 years makes you pretty quick with a reply.
  “Oh, Yuf. I did love her.” He hears Yufraan fighting back tears, and is about to go comfort them -

  Which makes it all the more surprising when he feels the barrel of a gun pressed against the back of his head.
  “Hands up - in the air,” a gruff masculine voice says, just loud enough to be heard above the whipping wind. Omar does as he says. From behind him, he hears the crackle of a radio. “Two intruders found, over.” A brief pause. “Yes. Yes sir. Bringing them in now.” He presses the gun into Omar’s back. Out of his peripherals, Omar can see a man in black tactical gear doing the same to Yufraan. “Start walking, old man.”

Book 2 - Moon
Part 1
This thread is intended to be paired with The Hourglass (2.1)

Monday, February 6th, 2023
Arzaalnay, Dabaab 18th, 412

  Yufraan Abd’ildarra was sitting in a fairly comfortable couch in an uncomfortably-lit room, vaguely reminiscent of sitting in a school at 9 p.m., long after everyone who was supposed to be there had left. The harsh white walls and beige furnishings did nothing to dispel the feeling, either. Standing in the doorway, a young soldier was nervously apologizing, explaining that they hadn’t known who Yufraan and Omar were when they had been apprehended. They being Alkhatawf, the quote-unquote “rebel group” that the duo had been searching for for almost a month. And now Yufraan had just sort of… stumbled into them. A bit anticlimactic, they supposed, but they also certainly weren’t turning it down.
  “Yes. Yes sir. Loud and clear.” Yufraan’s focus shifts back to reality as the soldier puts up his walkie-talkie. “Colonel Hawk would like to see you now. Follow me.” Yufraan and Omar gave each other a quick glance, before standing up and following him.
  Don’t worry, Yufraan. This is not a trap - these people still respect me, came a voice inside Yufraan’s head. Ildarra, the great spirit of change. It was still sometimes weird, having a god in their head - Not a god. A deity. Right, right. Sorry, Yufraan thought. It was weird having a deity in their head - although Ildarra was also technically a god, because she was worshipped, and really isn’t that All right, all right, you’ve made your point. Don’t worry, I’m not walking into a trap, Yufraan responded. Although it will be interesting to meet this Hawk fellow. We have almost no information on him.

  The soldier led the mortal pair through a tight hallway up to a metal door. Yufraan figured they were in some sort of repurposed bunker, by the looks of things. A good hiding spot.
  “The colonel has given you an audience. Please stand back,” he said, and began to open the door. The inside of the room was large and dimly lit, and emanated a musty stench as if the door hadn’t been opened in weeks. At the far end was a crescent dais, with an elderly orcish man seated at its head, who Yufraan assumed was Saarkis Hawk, the leader of Alkhatawf. Standing to his right and slightly behind him was a young human woman, her features obscured by the darkness. Around the table were various other people, all in formal dress and all seemingly above the age of 50.
  “Arham kaawlbak, Mutj Mutadiit al-Ildarra Alaalahiiya.” Hawk’s voice is loud and booming, carrying throughout the chamber.
  “Well met, Colonel,” Yufraan says, giving a small bow. “My father and I have come to seek assistance in the fight against our oppressors.”
  “Very well. Make your case.” Yufraan takes a deep breath before beginning.
  “For a century now, the Aldaari people have suffered under the yoke of the Western Gondwanan Economic Company, and their subsidiaries - symbols for the oppression of our faith, our culture, our people. Here, in Sayaduun, Zakyn Petroleum has put harsh quotas on fishermen, disrupted all natural flow of trade, and put the same oppressive cultural repression laws in place that they did in every republic. But you all already know that - that’s why you’re here, after all. And likely, you also know what I am about to tell you next: In Mukarras, we were able to strike quickly and take the power back for the people. But WEGEC isn’t happy, and they’re coming back. And when they do, they’ll crack down even more, do anything to prevent us from rising up again. Which is why we need Alkhatawf. With your help, we will be able to drive out these imperialists. We will be able to take back our homeland. We will be able to protect our people. But we can’t do it alone. We need every willing person in the Anabat to stand with us, against tyranny. So I, Yufraan Abd’Ildarra, ask you - will you stand up and fight?” Several of the people around the table begin to clap, even lightly cheer, but Saarkis Hawk shushes them with a wave of his hand.
  “I have one question for you. Can you channel Ildarra, like the stories claim? Are you truly our Mutadiit?” Without even a half second of hesitation, Yufraan replies.
  “Yes.” Colonel Saarkis Hawk sits back in his chair, and strokes his chin in contemplation.
  “You have given me much to think about, Mutj Mutadiit. Tomorrow night, we will hold a banquet. I will give my decision then.” The heavy metal door opens, and the same soldier escorts Yufraan and their father out.
  That went rather well, I think, came the voice from inside Yufraan’s head. I agree, the young leader thought. Let’s hope it was enough.

Book 2 - Moon
Part 2
This thread is intended to be paired with The Hourglass (2.2)

CW: Anxiety

Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Yaatiin, Dabaab 19th, 412

  Yufraan had to say, getting dressed up in a borrowed suit to attend a banquet had not been what they were expecting when they had planned their swashbuckling revolutionary desert escapade, but they figured they might as well roll with it.
  “Thanks for letting me borrow this, Raaj,” Yufraan said, talking to the soldier who had been guarding them previously.
  “No problem, Mutj. Hey, I wasn’t using it for anything anyways.”
  “You can just call me Yufraan, you know.”
  “Yeah, but, that’s more syllables,” the young guard says with a smirk, eliciting a laugh from Yufraan.
  “I guess you’re right.” There’s a pause before Raaj speaks again.
  "So, you really hear the voice of Ildarra in your head? That’s quite the feat.
  “I suppose so. Believe it or not, though, she’s actually quite… spirited.”
  “Well, the deities did make us in their image.” He thinks for a second. “You know, you’re really not what I expected from the Mutadiit. I guess Ildarra isn’t the only one who’s surprisingly down-to-earth.”
  “Oh really? What did you expect from me?” Raaj shrugs.
  “I don’t know. Some wizened old man who speaks in riddles and doesn’t talk to common folk. Suleiman.”
  “Well, Suleiman wasn’t exactly as he was taught in schools. Yes, he was a hermit near the end of his life, but he was old and too frail to go out and talk to people. It was one of his bigger regrets, actually.” Yufraan sighs. “Aldaari people have never been particularly regal, regardless of social status. The only Mutadiit who even really portrayed themselves as high class was Ismaat, and he lived during a time of general opulence for the Republic. Plus, he gets a pass imo for being by far the poorest to start his life.”
  “But that isn’t what the textbooks would have us believe.”
  “No. No it isn’t. Which is why we need to win this, and free our people.” All of a sudden, the young Mutadiit notices Raaj looking askance. “What is it?”
  “Well… Colonel Hawk is known for his inaction, is all. But I’m sure he realizes what’s at stake, otherwise he wouldn’t be our leader.” Yufraan is about to ask for clarification when they hear Omar’s voice coming loudly from down the hall.
  “Faara? The banquet starts in 10 minutes. We wouldn’t want to be late, now would we?” Yufraan rolls their eyes and gives Raaj a knowing nod, before going to join her father.

  As they enter the dining hall, the first thing Yufraan notices is how many people there are. They haven’t had a chance yet to get a good sense of how big Alkhatawf’s bunker is, but it’s clearly large enough to host a thousand people, maybe more - in other words, absolutely massive, although Yufraan has no clue -
  Pekuur Zakaar’s journals. Perhaps they have a clue? Pekuur’s writings were mad. At best they’re insane, and at worst they’re incoherent nonsense. Oh, and building a massive bunker in a country that’s never gone to war isn’t insane? Fair point, Ildarra. Fair point. But Yufraan would have to do more digging later, because right now there was music, food, and dancing to be had. But first things first, business. They grabbed Omar by the hand and led him over to the table at the head, where Saarkis Hawk and some other older revolutionaries were sitting.
  “Colonel. I offer gracious thanks for the invitation to the night’s festivities.” The duo bows, and Hawk responds with a curt nod.
  “The feeling is reciprocated, Mutadiit Alaalahiiya. Please, enjoy yourself.” With another small dip, Yufraan is off to see what kind of food they have, because as everyone knows the main point of a banquet is to eat free food. As Yufraan looked around, they realized that most of it was fish. Are you surprised? Literally the entire thing Sayaduun is known for is fish. Shut it. Yufraan picked up some shad, cooked in a qaliiya sauce, and was looking around for something a little less fishy. To your right, 19 degrees - what is that? Yufraan looked. Oh, that’s jello. Good eye. The label read date, which was good, because the heartiness of the date jello would balance the relatively light textures of the shad and the qaliiya. What is jello? Um… I’m not sure… wait, you don’t know what jello is? Okay, I was sort of gone for 180 years, so pity me. Okay, well, it’s basically… you know what gelatine is? Of course. Well, basically it’s just that with added flavors and sugar, made into a dessert. That… sounds… amazing! I need you to eat some. I mean, I was planning on it. But why? So I can recreate it for myself. Wait, you mean… you can eat? Of course I can, if I choose to. Having a physical form is optional for me, but you sapients do such fun things. Okay, that is… my mind is blown. That is just wild. I guess, the more you know from being a prophet? Yeah, yeah, you’re not that special. There’s quite a few Akuan brewmasters who know. Right. Yufraan grabbed some iced hibiscus tea and sat, contemplating the whole religion they were kinda sorta the head of. Spirits, once they were done with this whole revolution thing, they’d need to be a religious leader.

  Yufraan spent about the next hour dining on the (actually quite good) fish courses, listening to a literal god go on and on about jello (Did you know the brand that makes it is a portmanteu of gelatine and love? Yes), and dancing with random soldiers and workers who didn’t know who Yufraan was, or if they did had embraced the Aldaari tradition of not really caring about class when it came to social interactions. They caught sight of Omar a few times, who had mostly retreated to a corner table with a few other old people. They did one slow song, like at most parties (because honestly, “banquet” had just been Hawk calling for a party in that weird formal way of his), and Yufraan danced with Raaj - the song was “One Good Cry” by top Aldaari band Delta Rae, which is actually more of a sad song but people didn’t seem to mind. But after that, the music cut out, and Saarkis Hawk stood up.
  “Aten-tion!” he said with the force of a military commander. At once, the lively banquet hall went silent and turned to face him with a salute. “At ease. As you may know, our Mutadiit Alaalahiiya has given us the great honor of their presence for the past days, bringing the spirit of Ildarra with them. Truly, we have been blessed by the spirits.” To this, there was some minor clapping which quickly quieted. “However, that was not the only purpose of the Mutadiit’s visit. The reason that I am here, the reason that all of us are here, is to stand up against WEGEC and Zakyn Petrol. Those in Mukarras have already broken free at least partially to reestablish the Aldaari state in all of the glory from two centuries ago, under the Mutadiit themselves. However, WEGEC is still a threat. While Aldaar in its current state may be powerful enough to hold onto their land, they came to us for extra help. The Mutadiit Alaalahiiya pleaded their case, and I have made my decision.” Colonel Saarkis Hawk paused for a few seconds, but to Yufraan it felt like an hour as the apprehension built in their gut. “Here is my answer. I will not put Sayaduuni lives at risk for a conflict we may not win. Mutadiit Alaalahiiya, I am sorry, but you will not find any support from Alkhatawf.” There was an audible gasp from the majority of the crowd, as small conversations sprung up here and there, slowly becoming a gentle rumbling in the previously quiet room.
  “Please, if you would -” one of the other older leaders began, but nobody was listening to him. He was cut off by a young woman who stood up on a table and began to shout, temporarily quieting the room.
  “What is the point of this? I’ve given twenty years here, training, praying for the day the revolution will come and we will be able to free our people! And now that day has arrived, and you want us to do nothing? What kind of a revolutionary are you, Saarkis!?” And with that, she threw her beret to the ground and stormed out, with several other soldiers following behind, the vast majority still in a state of shock. With a small sigh, Saarkis Hawk stood up and went through a back door, where Yufraan could just barely see his assistant from yesterday gesticulating wildly. Slowly, the disheartened crowd began to disperse, as Yufraan stood in the middle of the room with a bottomless pit in their gut. Raaj said something, but they didn’t hear it. Their body went numb, and they could hardly breathe. Everything was going wrong. The entire thing was falling apart at the seams. They felt Omar’s hand on their shoulder, guiding them to a nearby chair, where they sat down and began to cry in the now empty room, with nobody else around to see the leader of the nation break down.

Book 2 - Moon
Part 3
This thread is intended to be paired with The Hourglass (2.3)

Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Rahnam, Dabaab 20th, 412

  With a light whistle, another desert camo army jacket went flying across the room in Alkhatawf’s underground bunker, where it landed in a crumpled heap on the bed next to Yufraan Faruuk’s backpack. Even though they had renamed themself to Abd’ildarra, the same name Suleiman had chosen, they still thought of themself as Yufraan Faruuk, their family name before… well, everything. They had reached out to Ildarra, but naturally, she had gone silent. Real great timing, Yufraan thought sarcastically. They looked at Omar, who had been packed before Yufraan even woke up - not that they had ever really gone to sleep, to be fair. They had been up all night thinking about the night before - the banquet, the dancing, and everything Hawk had said. They were mad, but… well, what could they do? They didn’t have the time to convince him, especially given how stubborn he seemed. If they had to incite a revolution by themselves in just 40 days, they would need to start now. Yufraan didn’t know what on urth Saarkis had been thinking, honestly. After more than a century of oppression, and this rebel leader didn’t want to fight in a rebellion? At least they could take solace in the fact that many of the people who had joined Alkhatawf seemed ready to fight and would probably take up arms with them. And maybe… they could even get some of the Council on board? Yufraan looked out of the window. They had replaced Raaj with a new guard, ostensibly for their protection - but after last night, Yufraan figured it was so they couldn’t covertly incite anything. Unfortunately for Hawk, that’s exactly what Yufraan was planning on doing. They considered all their options - there were a million ways this could go down, and they needed to pick the most efficient one.

  So, after clubbing the guard in the head with a mallet while Omar was using the restroom, Yufraan quickly dragged her body into the room so nobody would see, feeling like the main character in a stealth game all the while. They had thought about appealing to the guard’s better senses, or feigning an emergency, but they thought just knocking her out was probably the most efficacious. Yufraan had tried not to cause any permanent injuries, at least. Looking quickly up and down the hallway, they snuck out, darting quickly to the corridor leading to the council’s chambers. About a third of the way there Yufraan ran into some guards who were chatting, but they just walked right by Yufraan without noticing. Yufraan breathed a sigh of relief, and continued through the maze of pathways and corridors until they reached the big steel door that they knew led to the council chambers. And just as they were about to lift the bar…
  “Mutadiit? Aren’t you supposed to be in your room?” Frick. Yufraan turned around to see who had caught them - it was that girl, the one who always followed Hawk around. Damn it. Rapidly searching for an explanation, Yufraan sheepishly offered up an unconvincing
  “Oh, uhhhh… really? I was just, um, searching for the restroom, and I, uh…” The girl’s eyebrow was raised in knowing suspension and what seemed to Yufraan like palpable disappointment that that was the best the grand Mutadiit had come up with. Welp, time for Plan B. What was Plan B, again? Oh, that was right, there wasn’t one. So seeing their plot clearly foiled, Yufraan just shrugged noncommittally and hoped that that would do… well, anything, really.
  “You’re here to go behind Hawk’s back and encourage the council to help you.” It was less a question than an accusation. Yufraan shrugged again. “Hawk is many things, but a risk taker is not one of them. Believe me. But I know him, and I think I can convince him to help you. Just stay for two more days, and I promise, you’ll have what you need. Although… it wouldn’t hurt if you could use that time to put together a detailed plan complete with estimated statistics. He won’t trust an emotional appeal from you, even if you are the Mutadiit… but he can’t argue with warm, soft, vaguely-estimated facts,” the girl said with a chuckle at her own play on words. Yufraan glanced around, looked back at the door, and sighed.
  “Fine. Two days. But if this doesn’t work…”
  “I know, I know. Just… leave it to me.” After a period of hesitation, Yufraan started to walk away, before turning around one last time. “Wait! What’s your name?”
  “Talia. Talia Jaziri.”

Book 2 - Moon
Part 4
This thread is intended to be paired with The Hourglass (2.4)

Friday, February 10th, 2023
Ayuunay, Dabaab 22nd, 412

  Late in the afternoon, there was a knock on the door of Yufraan’s cell - it was hard for them to think of it as anything else - and Yufraan jumped up, startled. Their hair was a mess, and they had been up for forty-four of the past forty-eight hours, planning for any possible line of questioning from Hawk. They had made a flowchart. Half of the issue that was causing them stress was having to deal with the bunker’s crappy internet, which they had tolerated for a full three hours before switching entirely to paper. The negative effects of this became especially apparent as they went to open the door for Talia when they pulled their thumb just the wrong way, causing a jolt of pain as their hand cramped up.
  “Hey, Talia,” Yufraan said through a grimace.
  “Mutj, I was just coming in to remind you that your audience with Colonel Hawk begins in two hours…” the young woman said as she scanned the Mutadiit up and down. “You look like hell. Are you okay?”
  “Everything is finished, and I’m prepared to speak.”
  “That isn’t what I asked. Where’s your father?” Yufraan shrugged. “Mutadiit alaalahiiya, being prepared is about more than just knowing what you need to.”
  “I’ll be fine.” Talia looked at Yufraan for a second, before turning around as if to leave. Just as Yufraan was about to breathe a sigh of relief, they swung around to complete a 360 and flicked Yufraan in their still-cramped hand. “Ow! What was that for?”
  “Making my point. You have two hours. Get a shower, I’ll bring you a meal. Not much we can do about the sleep… I can at least bring some concealer.”
  "But - "
  “No buts.” And with that, Talia walked away, closing the door in Yufraan’s face. Well, that was embarrassing, came the voice. Shut it, Yufraan replied.

  Twenty minutes later, after a quick shower, Yufraan could almost have been described as clean. Then again, in a sprawling bunker underneath desert scrubland, very few things were ever truly clean. The water had been freezing, but at the very least the extreme temperature had woken Yufraan up a little. Not much… but any bit helped. They threw on their usual clothes - tan cargo pants and a forest camo military jacket, along with a t-shirt that had some sort of Norgsveltian saying on it. Of course, Yufraan didn’t actually speak Norgsveltian, so for all they knew it could’ve been extremely rude and offensive, but they had been assured by Furqan years ago that it was benign. In retrospect, that wasn’t the most positive sign, but it was the last clean shirt they had, so they just prayed to Ildarra that Saarkis Hawk did not speak Norgsveltian. He does not. Oh. Okay. It’s not that offensive, either. Well, at least there was that. After getting fully clothed, Yufraan once again sat down to review their notes. They briefly contemplated the notion that they were obsessed, which they laughed off. Of course they were! But there were far worse things to be obsessed with.

  After a few more minutes, Talia returned with a sandwich and some tea, as well as some makeup. At first, Yufraan had worried that the makeup would throw them off, but then they had looked in the mirror and the extremely noticeable circles under their eyes had told them that the extra weight was probably worth it. Yufraan and Talia ate quickly, and as Talia began gently applying the caramel-toned concealer, the duo began running through scenarios and rehearsing exactly what Yufraan would say. They quickly refined any weak points in Yufraan’s argument, and before long the two hours were almost up. As they started walking towards the audience chamber, Talia asked,
  “Are you ready, Mutj?” For some reason, Yufraan laughed. They really were tired.
  “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
  “Anything could happen in there.”
  “Nothing I’m not prepared for.” As they reached the large metal door for what Yufraan knew would likely be the final time, they saw a familiar face.
  “Arham, mutj. They reassigned me here after the banquet - I think they were worried about the guards conspiring. But hey, they also gave me a raise, so I’m not complaining. Hey, Yuf!” he blurted out as the door began to creak open. “Good luck in there.”

  “Arham kaawlbak, Mutj Mutadiit al-Ildarra Alaalahiiya.” Hawk’s voice is loud and booming, carrying throughout the chamber.
“Well met, Colonel,” Yufraan says, giving a small bow. “I have come to seek assistance in the fight against our oppressors.”
“Very well. Make your case, once again.”
  “Colonel, I admit, there are many reasons to doubt me.” Hawk raises his eyebrow, and Yufraan continues. "I acknowledge, too, that you are in a difficult position - a stranger comes into your home, claiming the power of Ildarra, and asks you to sacrifice the people you have been granted the privilege and responsibility of protecting. With them, they bring the promise of a plan, the hope that everything will turn out okay. But you have been on Urth long enough to remember the last time people had hope, and how poorly it went. In your judgment, this is the same. And wisely, you will not risk it again. But I am here to tell you that this time, it is different.

  Starting with sheer numbers, the ADF - solely consisting of those in Mukarras, numbers at 225,000, with another 25,000 coming from the other republics in the hope of liberation, including warriors from Sayaduun. Meanwhile, our immediate opposition is scattered pockets of disillusioned and only moderately trained officers, numbering only a couple thousand. Once we strike, Mirhaime will send more - but we have garnered many allies, including those in Mirhaime themselves, to ensure a swift end. Of course, this is the situation in Mukarras, where we have already won once. But in Sayaduun, too, we can emerge victorious. Yes, our forces are smaller, and the enemy is larger, and more cohesive. Indeed, we also must contend with an entrenched Volunteer Guard, well trained as they are. But we have several things they do not. For one, we have the element of surprise to throw them into disarray. But more importantly, we have the hearts and minds of the people. And the people will be our strongest weapon, more forceful than gun or blade. There are millions in Sayaduun who will support us - even if only 1% of them decide to take up arms, they will easily overrun the contented WEGEC officials in many cities and factories, leaving us to focus on major areas - where the enemy will have already committed many of their forces to Mukarras. We will overrun them. We will succeed.

  “But, Colonel Hawk, there is one last thing I leave you with, one final appeal. And that is you. Allow me to be candid - you couldn’t stop me, after all. You are a revolutionary without a revolution. A fighter, without a fight. You have led Alkhatawf for decades as Colonel, and seen less combat than some privates. Your soldiers are not here for you to protect them - they are here because they wanted to be the protectors, to help those of their siblings who could not help themselves. They came here, knowing they may die, hoping they may have the chance. Until now, they have been denied. Their lives, once full of spark and passion, have dulled with the years of being part of a Hook without a point. But now, we have a chance for all of it to be over. It won’t be easy, I will guarantee that. Some will die. Sacrifices will be made. But don’t you believe that there is no greater honor than to die saving one’s people from oppression. I do. And from what I’ve seen here… so do they. So now the only question is… do you?” And with that, the Mutadiit Yufraan stepped back and waited. And the room was silent, and the colonel was lost in thought.

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Book 3 - Stars
Part 1
This thread is intended to be paired with The Hourglass (3.1)

CW: Arson, Murder

Monday, March 13th, 2023
Arzaalnay, Dabaab 54th, 412
One week until the revolution

  Colonel Saarkis Hawk was old, but even he was not old enough to remember the beginning of the occupation. His parents hadn’t been either. And even his grandparents had only been children when Zakyn Petroleum had swiftly and surely established their vise-grip on the Republic of Sayaduun. Unlike in Mukarras, there was no fighting. Unlike in Bohyate, there were no deals. The Sayaduuni people simply let it happen. They were fishermen, not fighters.

  Of course, that didn’t mean that Zakyn Petrol was any less harsh than Golden Oil had been. Far from it - in fact, they had taken the Sayaduuni complacency as a sign they could do whatever they wanted. With no oversight, no resistance, and only the directive to profit as much as possible, Zakyn too people from their homes at night, brought them to labour camps, and made them do whatever Zakyn needed to be done. Saarkis had been thirteen when his own father was taken. Back then, nobody knew what happened to those who disappeared - the last time somebody was reported coming back home, their house had burned down the next day, with them and their family inside. The AVG declared it an accident. Nobody believed them, but everybody pretended they did. That’s what you did in Sayaduun in those days - if something was wrong, you pretended it was right, and hoped against hope that it wouldn’t be your family next.

  When Saarkis was 16, he had run away. He had been tired of pretending everything was okay when it wasn’t, and he had wanted to make a difference. He had heard of Alkhatawf, The Hook - founded by the mythical Habuub herself. They kept to the shadows, making graffiti, stealing from the AVG, helping those in need, building up their power slowly. They weren’t soldiers, but fishermen have their own sets of skills too, after all. When Saarkis had made it there, he had wanted to fight. They had guns, why weren’t they using them? So he and some other young revolutionaries had trained and planned. Eventually, they brought their training and planning to the council, and the council let them carry it out.

  The first time Saarkis had taken a life was at a labor camp near Sahla. They had snuck in, scaled the walls, killed guards without making a sound. Saarkis didn’t feel the guilt until later - they were complicit, after all. Most of the time, they didn’t have families, or people waiting for them. Their deaths would be celebrated, not mourned. It was a massacre - not a single guard remained. They got the trucks, the prisoners, the money, the weapons - they took it all. Not a single casualty, except for Taamir’s sprained ankle, but he got that from being an idiot so it didn’t really count. A massive success, all things considered.

  Saarkis was 19 when he saw his father for the first time in six years. Alkhatawf had continued to green light more and more operations, and Saarkis had even been promoted to sergeant in just a short three years - a meteoric rise people were sure would put him at the top. They had been right, but… anyways, they had been raiding a camp out east, near the border, when Saarkis Hawk saw his dad. Gaunter, ribs poking through, and dressed in rags, but still unmistakably the same man he had been when Saarkis was still a child. Saarkis had taken a small step forward. ‘Son?’ his father had said in disbelief. And then his father had been shot.

  It wasn’t the first time a mission had gone wrong. It wasn’t the first time they had gotten into a firefight, and it wasn’t even the first time they had lost some of the hostages they were freeing. But it was the first time it was personal for Saarkis, and it had felt like a three-year joyride coming to an abrupt halt when one of the wheels flew off and everyone in the car was catapulted into the scorching sand - simply put, not very fun.

  He had gone to tell his mother the news, like an idiot. They followed him. They knew who he was, they waited, and they followed him. She hadn’t been there when he got to her house - all that was left was a formal notice, stating she was to be hanged. He had gone to stop them, but it was too late. Months later, Saarkis had found out that Taamir had been the traitor. Saarkis had shot him in the back of the head the next night while they were drinking. He didn’t feel remorse. He just worked his way up the ladder.

  In the 80s, the oil dried up. Zakyn had drilled too deeply too quickly, and now their hubris was their downfall. They tried to reopen the fishing docks, but any fishermen had died of old age decades ago. And so the taxes and the protection money got harsher. Businesses could reopen - but if you were in the red, you disappeared. Zakyn tried mining copper, but it didn’t sustain them. When he was 28, Saarkis became the youngest councilman that Alkhatawf had ever seen. He stopped doing raids, thinking that Zakyn would die on their own soon enough. He was unwilling to risk what he did, and even less willing to make others do the same. Forty years later, they were still here.

  Saarkis Hawk hadn’t been around when WEGEC came, and he hadn’t expected since the death of his father that he’d be around when they were destroyed. So when Yufraan Abd’ildarra, the voice of god herself, told him that with his help the battle would soon be over - after more than a century! - he had been scared. He had been in this fight for too long to believe that it could be won. But god had been right. Surrounding him were soldiers, young and dumb like he’d been once been, eager to fight, and eager to make sure that their families would never end up like his did - even if it meant their own death.

  Wouldn’t he have taken that chance?

  In. Out. In. Out. His breath, steady as a fishing boat at calm sea. But now he had the chance to catch his white whale, as the expression went. He opened his eyes to see the faces of his comrades, just like it had been 52 years ago.

  “Alright then, let’s get started making this plan. What’s our point of entry?” And with that, the true revolution began.

Book 3 - Stars
Part 2
This thread is intended to be paired with The Hourglass (3.2)

Thursday, March 16th, 2023
Askiiz, Dabaab 57th, 412
4 days until the revolution

  It had been decades since the bunker had been this busy - fighters running this way and that, the constant crackle of radio chatter, the faraway sound of gunfire at the ranges. Saarkis had to admit, he had kind of missed it. But his old ears did appreciate how much of the sound faded away as he stepped into the command room and the heavy metal door slid shut behind him.
  “Good to see you here, colonel,” said the Mutadiit without looking up from the report in front of them.
  “Likewise,” Saarkis responded. “Status report?” Talia kicked off from the wall in one of those spinny chairs and turned around to face him.
  “We’ll definitely have enough guns - they may be old, but the upside of sitting on our a - I mean, lying in wait,” she corrected to a nod from Saarkis, “has meant that they’re in pristine condition. Munitions are a different story, but we have enough to take the ADF depot here -” she said, pointing forcefully at the map “- and resupply from there. Our reports indicate that they also have enough heavy munitions to cause some havoc. After that, we can strike the President’s office here and the Zakyn HQ here. If we can get both of those secured, we’ll have won in the city.”
  “Perfect. And how is the training going?”
  “Considering our people have been doing nothing but training for 40 years, I’d say pretty well,” came the pointed reply. Saarkis shrugged it off - not much he could do about that now. Besides, it had clearly worked out pretty well for them, hadn’t it.
  “And our allies?”
  “We’ve got operatives in key places ready whenever we give them the go ahead. Our people back in Mukarras have cracked Zakyn’s code and we’re ready for radio takeover. Hopefully, it won’t take much to sway the people to our side. After all, Zakyn has already done most of the work for us on that front.”
  “Agreed. And finally, how is the countryside looking?” The Mutadiit takes this one.
  “Good. We’ve smuggled some arms into key work camps. We have operatives waiting to ambush convoys on the way to the capital. Everything is just as planned,” they say without once looking up from their dossier. Little weird, but that’s fine. Besides, the Mutadiit is probably having very important conversations with Ildarra, or something. He wasn’t sure how exactly that whole… situation worked, but so long as the soldiers believed in the Mutadiit, he didn’t really care.
  “Colonel,” Talia began, getting his attention, “would you mind if we had a word privately?”
  “What about?” the old orc responded, in his classic gruff manner.
  “I’d rather not discuss it quite so publicly.”
  “You should go, Colonel,” piped up the Mutadiit. Well, fine then. Saarkis walked into an adjoining room and beckoned Talia in.

  “You can’t seriously be considering going to Sayaduun,” Talia started irately as soon as the door was shut.
  “So that’s what this is about?” Saarkis responded with a raised eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t I go to Sayaduun?”
  “Go, sure, but… with the first strike team? Are you insane? That’s too dangerous.”
  “I’m a soldier.”
  “You were a soldier! There are bigger things at stake now than your honor.”
  “And how will it look to the people if I stay here, where it is safe? We all know the Mutadiit intends to make me governor when this is all through - they’ve all but said it in the past weeks.”
  “How do you expect to be governor if you’re dead?”
  “I’d rather die a hero’s death than govern without the respect of the Sayaduuni people - my people.”
  “The people will understand!”
  “Would either of us have understood?” Saarkis said, leading to a painful silence for several seconds, before the grizzled veteran spoke again. “When our homes were taken from us, would we have followed someone who pulled strings from the shadows?” Talia takes a seat, and they stay there in silence for a full minute. Maybe more.
  “I don’t want to lose you, dad,” Talia says, crystalline tears forming like dew on her eyelids.
  “Don’t worry, miikha, I’ve always found my way before.”

Book 3 - Stars
Part 3
This post is intended to be paired with The Hourglass (3.3).

CW: Violence, Death

Monday, March 20th, 2023
Arzaalnay, Zuhraan 1st, 413
0 days until the revolution.

  The revolution started at dawn.

  They traveled across the cracked and potholed desert roads, with nobody there to stop them. When the explosions had started in Mukarras seven hours earlier, the AVG had gone south. After all, there was no revolution in Sayaduun. Not yet.

  In the back of the stolen APC, not a sound was made - as if the traitors could hear them from across the sands. The silvery whistle of the wind, the erstwhile howl of a coyote, the rattling of the engine in the dust. This was their battle anthem - the sounds of the Anabat itself, beckoning them to bring freedom in their wake.

  Well, Talia had headphones in, so presumably her battle anthem was something else; probably one of those Delta Rae albums. Still, it was a nice thought, and Saarkis Hawk cherished it. There wasn’t usually enough time for nice thoughts nowadays. Hopefully, in a few days, when the dust had settled, he would be able to relax for the first time in some fifty years. Kick back by a pool, and sip on a margarita. Saarkis chuckled to himself, quietly breaking the silence. He knew that margarita would probably be sitting on a pile of paperwork. Ain’t no rest for the wicked, he supposed.

  “5 minutes,” came the driver’s voice. Go time. Saarkis swung his Ríngicéir-made assault rifle around the front of him - the thing was manufactured in the 80s, but it hadn’t ever been used and was still in peak condition. Similarly, Hawk – despite his age – was still as strong as he had ever been, and now that he was about to go into the field again he had to admit, he had missed this feeling. The rush of adrenaline, the feeling like he could do anything. It was like an old friend Saarkis was seeing again for the first time in a long time. He steadied his breath, met his daughter’s eyes, and nodded. She nodded back. They didn’t need words to express what they wanted to say.

  Good luck.

  Arham kaawlbak.

  The truck had stopped - but Saarkis didn’t need to check where they were. He knew the plan inside and out. Wearing fatigues stolen from the AVG (albeit with their own symbols on it), using weapons stolen from the AVG, in a truck stolen from the AVG, it would be pretty simple to catch the lazy bastards by surprise. Opening the doors to the back of the APC, he quickly spotted two guards at the doors to the radio station, one smoking and the other looking at his phone. This… was going to be easier than he thought.
  “Hey, what are you doing here?” asked the phone guy, looking up at Saarkis. “We weren’t expecting any -” Pop. Pop. And both guards were dead. Well, okay then. Saarkis went to the back of the APC and silently beckoned the people inside out - Talia, the Mutadiit, and the 8 or so more soldiers accompanying them, led by a Sergeant Raiis. Confidently and quickly, they walked up to the front door and simply went through it.
  “Wael, what are you doing? Wait…” said the woman at the front desk. “You’re not -” and she was dead too.

  Over the course of the next few minutes, the strike team cleared the station of the few remaining Guardsmen, with no casualties on their own side. Unsurprising - the AVG in Sayaduun weren’t exactly top quality soldiers. Why use your best if you aren’t defending anything from anyone? Any common thug can beat up a commoner or burn a village, and that’s all that they had needed in Sayaduun for 40 years. See, look - Saarkis had been right to wait all that time. Sure, this hadn’t really been his goal, but the history books would probably see it differently, and all’s well that ends well. Of course, assuming it ended well. But Saarkis would burn that bridge when he got to it - for now, they had work to do.

  Of course, they hadn’t sent their most important people to capture a random radio station just for the fun of it - they were here to send a message. As they spoke, the eggheads back in Mukarras were hacking the few digital things in Sayaduun (well, Saarkis hoped they were, anyways), and soon, everyone would know that the revolution had started. Sayaduun, Mukarras, Bohyate, Mirhaime - with some luck their message would be heard all the way in Kæra’zna. As he helped with moving things into position (and trying to get blood off of the microphones), he went over the outline for his speech in his head, which was basically just “talk from the heart.” An easy enough plan, which was why he had made it. As he speed-drafted some impressive lines in his head, the work went quickly. Soon enough, they were ready. Saarkis wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing, so he just sat down in front of the mic as the people who did know how to run a radio station did… that. Soon enough, Sergeant Raiis looked at him.
  “You’re on.” The wizened orc breathed in deep, and spoke.

  “Attention, citizens of Sayaduun. Citizens of Aldaar. Citizens of the World. I am here tonight because I have felt loss, and I have felt the pain of not just losing those you love, but having them taken from you.” His voice was just above a whisper, but into the microphone, and carrying with it the power and authority of a thousand lifetimes, his words were crystal clear. He continued. "It has been one hundred and three years and two hundred and thirty-six days since a divided and weak people were put under the thumb of the Western Gondwanan Economic Company, a sacrifice made to avoid starvation and death of our people. But in the aftermath of that choice, we have suffered pains and injustices far greater than any sapient being should have to bear. Mothers slaughtered in the streets, fathers sent off to camps to work themselves to death, homes burned to ash and children robbed of their family and culture by a cruel regime that only cares about their money and their power. My own father was taken from me when I was a child, and the last time I saw him was as he was shot in the back by a so-called “Guardsman” of the corrupt and inept Aldaari Volunteer Guard, a disgrace to the name they stole!" As Saarkis spoke, his voice grew, louder and larger, filling the room with his rage, passion, and guilt - for the things he had done, but for the things he hadn’t done as well. It was their absence that weighed on him the most heavily. "Aldaar knows change better than anyone. We know the shift of the winds, the turn of the seasons, the change of the times. Let me tell you, citizens of Aldaar - the Western Gondwanan Economic Company has built themselves a castle of hatred, lies, and blood. But hatred, lies, and blood do not make a solid foundation - and every castle crumbles over time.

  My name is Colonel Saarkis Hawk, Leader of the Army of Sayaduun, known as Alkhatawf - the hook. For forty years, I have stood by as your grievances have mounted, and I have done nothing. And for that, I will be haunted for the rest of my days. But my parents - may their souls guide our path - taught me one crucial thing about Aldaar: we live with change. We make change. We are change! And now, sixty years later, I stand before you, telling you - there will be change. And we are not alone. Already, our siblings in Mukarras stand strong against the weight of injustice. With us in Sayaduun is Mutadiit Yufraan Abd’ildarra, the architect of our path. Mirhaime itself has disavowed our enemies. And most importantly, we have you. Citizens of Aldaar, we have you!" Saarkis closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “No more blood. No more fear. No more tyrants. Today, on the first day of this holy new year, the revolution begins and ends with us. I am here today to make a change, for myself, for my family, and for all those I failed. And citizens of Aldaar - I ask that you make that change with me. Thank you.” Saarkis stepped away from the microphone and looked around the room. Looking at Sergeant Raiis, who gave a thumbs up, he cracked a grin.
  “So, pretty good?” he asked. The Mutadiit chuckled.
  “Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty good. Now let’s get a move on - I don’t want to miss the fireworks.”

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