25th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 DCE, Night
Solstice Dominance – Postill Square
A bonfire raged in the massive common square outside of the main barracks. Revolutionary Guard and KVW soldiers stood around it, staring into it, quiet, seemingly pensive. They threw badges, patches, identifications into the flames in protest.
Their old lives as part of the government were over.
Men and women looked on at their comrades before taking their turns.
There were similar expressions across every face, difficult to read, regardless of whether KVW or Revolutionary Guard. Both the black-uniformed and red-and-gold uniformed troops looked the same, and had similar training. They had similar opinions about the events in the city. Warden Kansal had given them orders, and they would follow them. It was impossible that a disloyal thought could cross their minds.
Those who were used to the eccentricities of KVW-conditioned people, though, could see signs of anxiety. Pacing, lack of sleep and loss of appetite, reluctant eye contact.
They were humans still, after all. They feared for the future.
Everyone resisting the Civil Council traveled to the far north of the city, assembling in makeshift barracks around Postill Square, a grand plaza dedicated to the Revolutionary Guards who had fought so bravely to defeat the White Army in the Ayvartan Civil War. Armaments Hill loomed in the background, opening its doors to supply them. Trucks were still arriving around the area, carrying police and Revolutionary Guards from across the vast capital city. An army growing to almost 200,000 troops built up, unit by unit, with the ten divisions of the Revolutionary Guards making up the bulk, along with several divisions of police rearmed as KVW soldiers, and the 3rd KVW Mechanized Division.
It was an army that could have conquered the city it had sworn to protect.
Instead, under orders from Warden Kansal, they abdicated their positions, essentially going on a mass labor strike. They would not abide the suspicious allegiances of the Civil Council – but they also did not mobilize to end it. They could not mobilize south to fight Nocht even if they wanted to – their rail capacity was at its limits, and any other mode of transportation would not be enough to ferry them. Their action so far was only protest.
There was only one enemy in sight, and they chose to fight it in a different fashion.
The Warden knew that the city administration was reeling from this mass betrayal.
The Civil Council had always loved the police and guards, so courteous and loyal, perfect in their demeanor and professional in their duties. The Civil Council loved obedience and order and they let their guard down around anyone after they obeyed enough orders and followed enough regulations. But who established them? Who trained them?
These things could not be removed by simply changing jurisdictions and making new uniforms. The Revolutionary Guard and Police accepted severance from the KVW because Kansal allowed it to happen. She allowed them to become part of the Civil Council, she allowed herself to become separated from her followers this way, because they were still loyal to her throughout. Warden Kansal’s trump card was always poorly hidden.
It was disbelief that kept suspicion at bay.
She counted on a lack of understanding, first and foremost.
She was always blunt. She hid only because people opted not to see her. Always those eyes had overlooked her for one reason or another. Perhaps because she was a woman; perhaps because in the past she had been injured, altering the functioning of her body. Perhaps because she seemed foolish and brutish and unsuited to scheming.
How could this one woman control hundreds of thousands of people?
How could she, with the snap of a finger, organize them to turn their backs on everything they committed themselves to for years without an inkling of visible rebellion?
Short of magic, it was simply not possible.
Across the last five years everyone was certain that the Police was the Police and the Revolutionary Guard the Revolutionary Guard. The KVW had been broken and shrunk.
Short of magic, indeed.
It was not magic, but much of it might as well have been. It had worked miraculously.
Now the Warden stared out at the consequences of her decision. From the guard tower on Armaments Hill, her temporary new home, she watched as the guardians of the city gathered in this strip of land below, to live away from their police stations, from their depots, from everything still nominally owned by the Civil Council. To protest; to strike.
An army, essentially, on strike; and a city visibly bereft of their stewardship.
Crime was always low, and grew lower the more people discovered that socialism was apparently here to stay, and that it was largely taking care of them. Would people revert to barbarity without them? Certainly not. But they would see the movement. They would understand that things were changing, and perhaps for the worse.
Perhaps, now freed from hunger, they would take notice of the politics around them.
There would be anxiety and tension; the violence of the world upon the human mind.
Violence could bring change.
Daksha Kansal felt that violence in her own mind, and it made it hard to understand her own thoughts. Other people could see a continuity of their experiences, and they could analyze the torrent of information that led them to action. Daksha’s whole life felt as if she could only see it through cracked glass. She felt an existential pain when she tried to think about what she had done, the faces she had seen, the promises she had made.
She thought of the people who stewarded her, and what they would think.
Fundamentally, she had failed Ayvarta.
“Among all religions, the Messians, the Ancestor-Worshipers, the Spiritists, the Diyam, the Hudim; all of them believe that the world was forged in fire. I don’t believe, but I understand what they see in that first flame, the World Flame, that their Gods used to forge what would become the world. I can see why they think we all rose from fire.”
Behind her, Admiral Kremina Qote looked up from a long table that had become her new desk. Despite how quickly Kremina spoke and how little she thought about what she would say, her words always had meaning for Kremina.
She gave her a subdued smile, looking wistfully at the floor.
“Well. One way or another, the whole world is likely burning now.” Kremina said.
“Indeed. Was this trajectory inevitable? Or, had we been stronger, could we have built something more lasting? I feel guilty that I allowed things to come to this.”
“Daksha, this is not over yet, we have not–”
Daksha raised her hand to stop her, all the while continuing to speak.
“As a child I saw people build and rebuild only to face continuing destruction. I perpetuated it myself. I have always felt myself drawn to violence and scarred by violence. I have committed horrible, horrible acts. Could the world be changed by anything else?”
“Are you going to overthrow them?” Kremina asked suddenly. “I would support you.”
Daksha paused. She broke eye contact, staring at a candle on the table.
“I don’t want to. I wanted revolution to end the violence. But I can’t seem to escape it.”
Daksha’s mind was like a cipher but Kremina was closer to earth. Her feelings were tangible. Kremina felt ashamed of herself for a moment, but she also felt strongly that this violence was necessary. When she was younger she thought she saw virtue in compromise, but tension now cut through her restraint and made her optimism appear naive.
She hated the ridiculous government that had needled its way to influence over Ayvarta. She hated the passivity she felt in interacting with them on their level. Were they not revolutionaries? Why not murder them all? Why not run right into council, and excise all of those irrelevant fools from the world. What was the worth of an election where people chose between hacks who had simply swapped into a new political aesthetic?
“We need to put a stop to this while we still have land to fight over.” Kremina insisted.
“People need to be spared this cycle.” Daksha said. “People cannot grow like I have, feeling what I do. They need stability. When the world changes they need to see it that it is not just fire that does it. People aren’t phoenixes: they can’t keep rising healthily out of fire and ashes. They should not have to burn to a crisp to see the world grow better. This is why we are merely striking. I want to believe we can change this without more war.”
“I know your trepidation, Daksha, but in this case I am coming to believe that more radical action might be required. We need major changes. The Collaborators sympathize with Nocht: I can feel it. Their ambivalence is only that if Nocht takes over, they have no guarantee that it will be their Empire again. Kaiserin Trueday will not spare them. They don’t care about their own people; all they want is to reposition themselves for privilege, morphing to take advantage of whatever environment they’re in, like chameleons.”
“That might be a little harsh.” Daksha said. She was treading lightly.
It felt very fake and unlike her.
Kremina scoffed at this. “Can we be truly so sure? Don’t you also feel this from them?”
Daksha turned away again, her eyes fixed on the black, moonless sky overhead.
Even the stars were bleak. Light from the bonfire stretched far across the square and shadows stretched with it. Passersby put on a play on the walls with their every movement across the great fire. Even now she was trying to protect Kremina. Between them there were many dynamics clashing; they were lovers, state partners, military minds, comrades. They had been so many things together and occupied so many roles toward on another. Kremina thought Daksha’s distance misguided. But she said no word of obvious criticism.
“What will it take then for us to take action?” Kremina demanded.
“I want the Council to collapse and make way for us to take over and conduct this war right.” Daksha said. “But I don’t want a mass murder to carve that path for us.”
“It’s not a mass murder! It’s a revolution!” Kremina said.
She could tell Daksha was not listening to her in full.
The Warden had a tired, dreaming look in her eyes.
“I am putting my hopes on Nakar. I’m not religious, yet I foolishly desire a sign from her. She showed us a sign before, didn’t she? As a child, we saw in her the power to destroy something that seemed eternal, and to erect something better in its place.”
“She forgot everything.” Kremina said. She spoke in an almost pleading voice. “Her powers might have died along with the Empire. You are elevating her to a position that we are not sure she can take; or that she even wants. We are an army, Daksha!”
“I know. I know it is irrational. But I will give her time, down in Bada Aso. I will give her time to win for us. Upon her I want to pin my humanity. It is unfair to use her again like this, after all we have done. But I want to believe that there can be something for us other than a second civil war with an even greater foe waiting to pounce upon us.”
Kremina gazed upon her lover with pain.
Both of them buckled under the weight of this crisis.
“I understand that. But if you won’t do what is necessary, then I might have to.”
Daksha smiled. Kremina stood resolute.
“I don’t wish that blood on anyone’s hands.” Daksha said.
“When the time comes it will be my decision. We tried our best for all these years to work with them, and to try to rationally reconcile all of our positions for the good of people. We have housed them and fed them, but have we truly freed them? Or are they simply waiting in the interim between one set of tyrants and another burgeoning set? That is my fear, Daksha, when I speak to these councilors and when I engage their politics.”
“Let us wait for a while. Worse comes to worse, I promise I will be history’s monster.”
Her attitude changed easily when others swore themselves to extremes. Daksha was still protecting her, still trying to be the first to die and still making herself the monster, the face of the evil the world saw in them. Kremina saw her then as she had seen her over twenty years ago, when they made their secret pact.
She was a low-ranked naval officer, slim and untouched by the world. Daksha was tall and strong, her skin a warm brown like baked leather, her hair black as the night. One of her arms had been broken and now it moved with difficulty. One of her legs was stiff from injuries. She was awkward in pure motion, but with her own grace, taken in aggregate. Strong, passionate; that was the Daksha she knew.
But she saw herself always as the monster.
“Can we wait? Kremina?”
She reached out her hand. Kremina took it.
Their fingers entwined. Irrationally, they would wait.
As these two souls tried desperately to see through the fog suddenly surrounding each other, suddenly clouding the world they thought they knew, ambivalence reigned around the capital. Everyone wanted to see a future ahead of them. As the patches of the police and revolutionary guards burnt in the bonfire outside, everyone waited, almost religiously, for a sign that might justify a course of action, for better or worse.
Their eyes fell on Bada Aso.
Perhaps there was another monster there in whom they could all count.
There was still a chance that Madiha Nakar could win in Bada Aso.
Her victory would be a victory for Daksha and Kremina.
Then the Council would have to acknowledge that success, and their own failures.
It was either that, or another bloody civil war.