48th of the Lilac’s Bloom, 2031 D.C.E

Ayvarta, City of Solstice — Armaments Hill

Premier Daksha Kansal saw the smoke trail from the Prajna shots trace the sky outside her window. She steepled her fingers on her desk, and waited for news. For the Prajna to fire required her authorization: she was informed of every target, of the ammunition to be used and the aftermath of the attack. Prajna ammunition was valuable and hard to manufacture. It was quite alarming then, that the Prajnas had been fired several dozen times since the Nochtish army moved within its 50 kilometer maximum range.

While she waited, she went over a packet of disparate combat reports given to her by her SIVIRA, the overall HQ unit for the Golden Army. There was no connection between the reports: a battle report from Sahr, a month ago; three weeks ago a skirmish between a patrol unit and an elven forward element around Kharabad; five days ago, a sniping shootout between a special agent of the KVW and a Jager from the Nochtish army.

There was only one connecting thread. All of the men and women highlighted in these reports for their heroics, gallantry, and exemplary bravery in holding back the enemy, had died cementing their legends. Daksha had to review each case so she could write a letter awarding them the title of Hero of the Socialist Peoples. It would have been an affront to them to simply send a form letter to their grieving parents. Every Hero Daksha crowned would receive a full accounting. Even if she had to spend hours and hours.

She never shook; she never wept. She had given every tear years and years ago. But she was not an automaton. It was exhausting work. Her eyes often wandered away from it.

Often she begged silently for any respite from it.

Sometimes, like on that day, there was a knock on the door.

“Come in.” Daksha said.

Through the double doors, a small entourage of blonde-haired, blue-eyed and blue-dressed Helvetians arrived, accompanied by a single Ayvartan staffer from the SIVIRA. Chief among them was Larissa Finesse, a comely blond woman with a cold expression, dressed in a bright blue coat and fur cap that seemed utterly out of place in the Ayvartan spring. She arrived, nodded her head toward Daksha and stretched out a hand.

Daksha shook with her at arm’s length, briefly and with a face just as dispassionate.

“You look professional, Premier. I am pleased with how you’ve made up.” Larissa said.

“Are you here to flirt? I’m not interested.” Daksha replied with a grin.

Larissa turned up her nose and crossed her arms at the jab. “I am not predisposed toward older women; at any rate it is not flirting, but relevant to my purpose.”

“You know the city’s being shot at? I thought you’d have run farther north.”

“I am staying here.” Larissa said bluntly. “I’m not some lend-lease bean counter, I’m a diplomat, and Solstice is a diplomatic nexus. I am unafraid to remain, Premier.”

Daksha had to admit, she thought low of Larissa, and this was turning her around.

“I appreciate it. So, why have I been blessed with a visit from so fine a lady?”

Larissa narrowed her eyes.

“Now who’s flirting?”

Daksha chuckled. “I’m married now, you know.”

“That has never stopped anyone.”

“You’d know?”

Both women seemed to then become aware of the staffers staring at them.

“At any rate,” Larissa finally said. “Helvetia is on a war footing for the first time in many years, Premier, and the Helvetian people are still very ignorant of our allies. I wish to run a series of propaganda ads and filmed shorts on both you and Stahl. I want to sell you to the Helvetians, and in so doing, sell your nations to them to build confidence.”

“And you’re starting with me? Stalh would have flirted you all through the night.”

Daksha always had to get in the last barb. It was not altogether untrue; she took this line of attack because while Larissa made a career for herself shouting hoarse about what a tyrant Daksha Kansal was, the Premier knew foreign diplomats tended to mingle in their work. And there was no more bothersome libel than one which was partially true.

Some of the staffers chuckled, while Larissa closed her fists and glared daggers.

“Don’t tell her I said that.” Daksha winked. It was bad diplomacy, perhaps, but Helvetians were irksome, and also too beholden to Ayvartans now to be able to begrudge anything.

Larissa scoffed. “Behind the makeup and the suit you’re still a vulgar bandit, I see.”

Daksha raised a hand to her chest, in a mock girlish way. “Larissa, you’ll find I possess many qualities beloved by the Helvetians, starting with my sense of humor. Why, I am also a strong advocate of human rights, and a complete, unrepentant féministe.”

“Yes, well. Unfortunately, you will be allowed to make that rosy case.” Larissa said.

It was true that Daksha was still rowdy at heart, but she was a popular leader now.

To this effect, Daksha had changed just a little. She had her hair cut shorter, and she arranged it in a bun. She wore reading glasses, and even a bit of makeup. She felt like a strict school teacher, all prim and proper and dolled up. She wore the same uniform, but laden with impressive titles and awards that inspired confidence and served as evidence of her leadership skill. For once in her life, she was wearing her Hero of Socialist Labor medals. Her physical appearance had changed a little too. There were a few more lines of age creeping around her eyes, mouth and cheek, creasing the dark skin. Her hair was a little more white in places and less black in others. She was less fit; not lifting as much.

All part of her transformation into the metaphorical mother of the Ayvartan people.

Like Lena, she was to be a symbol of the motherland, a literal socialist mother.

Her wayward children were under her wing, protected, guided, provided for.

She received a starring role in posters and newsreels and other propaganda. In her customary uniform, with her hair in a bun and glasses on her face, looking sternly at cowards and thieves, smiling reassuringly at the injured, gazing solemnly at soldiers on the battlefield and grinning with delight at soldiers in battle performing heroic deeds. Premier Daksha Kansal: military leader, civilian star role model, and yes, mom to all.

Some of her propagandists went as far as to suggest she become a literal mother until she snapped and told them of both her lesbianism and the inability of even the notorious “gender miracle worker” Dr. Willhelmina Kappel to give a child to two sapphic women.

Despite the artifice, it was useful now that she had the eye of people beyond Ayvarta.

“I look forward to seeing what becomes of me once the footage is cut.” Daksha said.

“I’ve half a mind to edit them as I used to with my editorials on you. But I’ll be gentle.”

Larissa was hissing venomously now, which was music to Daksha’s ears.

“We should begin filming post-haste.” She said, once she had collected herself from her momentary anger at Daksha’s scandalous attacks. “Getting some war footage will show everyone the state of Solstice. They will be sympathetic and will cry with us for justice.”

Daksha lturned her head to get a quick glance at the state of the capital.

Since the “siege” of Solstice had begun it felt like the sky overhead was turning grey from all the shell smoke. Solstice was changing. It was becoming hardened to this state of war. Looking through the glass leading to the balcony, Daksha could see the sky and much of Solstice’s skyline stretching out below. Armaments Hill was one of the highest points in Solstice, and the city flowed outside that window like the texture on a complex painting, the bumps of millions of small houses, the sharp, thick thrusts of the city’s few ‘scrapers, ten and twenty stories tall, the deft twists of the brush that created roads, and the walls, the massive walls that protected them all, stone giants in the horizon standing sentinel.

Solstice was enduring a pounding today, but all of those trails in the sky that signified war, were also emblematic of resistance. They were fighting; and yet undefeated.

In that, Solstice had not changed. It was still The Invincible City in the red desert.

And Daksha had to make sure that it remained as such.

“Very well. But I’m waiting for the results of an attack. I should have them soon–”

Before Larissa had a chance to hear her defer the meeting, the double doors opened suddenly and without a knock for a rather mismatched pair of folk Daksha did not remember ever meeting. Larissa gave them a quizzical look as they walked up to Daksha’s desk, and bowed their heads together. She and her staff stood aside. Man and woman, but it was clear they had no connection. He was a Helvetian, blonde-haired, blue-eyed; blue uniformed, too. An older man with groomed facial hair and a beret.

She was a young woman, perhaps around Madiha’s age, svelte and fit, her skin a light tan, her green eyes folded in the way characteristic to easterners. Likely Kitanese, she was fairly tall, long-limbed, elegant, mature. She dressed in a refined, sleeveless shirt that resembled the top half of a mandarin gown, along with a pair of tight silk trousers and cloth shoes, all a resplendent green. Her hair was cut above the shoulder, brown and loose but fine and groomed, her bangs swept so as not to cover her eyes and the rearmost locks of her hair flared ever so slightly up, like a bird’s raised tail feathers.

“Premier, it is an honor.” said the man. “And Lady Larissa, I did not expect to see you, I apologize, but I am fresh off the boat as I can be. I am Captain Hayter Durand of the Helvetian Naval Expeditionary Forces: East. I am glad I could make it here so quickly. When I heard Solstice was under attack, I feared the worst. Sorry about the short notice.”

Daksha chuckled. “It was such short notice that I wasn’t notified at all.” She said.

At Durand’s side the girl raised a delicate hand to her painted lips and laughed.

Larissa glared at Durand, and especially seemed to target his rank insignia.

“Excuse me, Premier, Lady.” Durand said. “I spoke with the war counsel, Chakma–”

“It’s fine, you’re here now.” Daksha said, quickly and bluntly. “I’m interested in why a Helvetian would leave the Eastern theater for the South, and especially why he would be in a hurry to meet in this besieged city. You are a long way from your post, Captain.”

“Yes, we would all like some explanation.” Larissa said, in a deliberate, venomous tone.

“Apologies. I was part of the task force assigned to transfer manpower requested from Helvetian commands to the Golden Army for Lend Lease.” Durand said. “As per the terms of the Pact. The Helvetian Expeditionary Corps has been fighting for some time already, but, Helvetia promised you an army, and we have delivered the rest of that army today.”

Durand nodded with a smile toward the young woman, and she bowed her head.

“I am Yanyu Zhuge, commander of the Kitanese 8th Route Army.” She said.

Yanyu spoke in a way that almost magic. Her voice was lovely, for sure, but it was the easy, fluent way with which she handled Ayvartan that was most captivating of all. It reminded her of when Madiha spoke foreign languages. It was almost as if she was not saying anything foreign, but instead was simply being understood no matter her speech.

There was an air of refinement and a breezy regality to her that was quite stunning.

“Zhuge, the star of the Kitanese communists. I’ve heard of your exploits.” Larissa said.

She crossed her arms and continued to glance between icily Durand and Yanyu.

Daksha blinked and looked over the girl. “I see. You’re far from home also, comrade.”

Yanyu crossed her arms over her breast and smiled easily at Daksha.

“Premier, it is because I recognize this is the true battleground of world communism.”

Durand seemed to shudder at the concept, but he aired none of his thoughts on it.

Larissa’s expression remained unchanged.

For Yanyu it seemed natural, every word she said. In fact, she seemed subtly eager.

“Your homeland is facing its own communist struggle. I don’t know that I can in good conscience accept your forces here, while your homes and comrades are in danger.”

Daksha did not really mean that. She would take any forces she could get. Not out of desperation, at least not yet, but to stack the deck. Every rifle was a good rifle where she stood. However, she wanted to test Yanyu. She wanted her to say something revealing. Daksha had little contact with the Kitan Red Guards since their inception. She had sent nominal aid, along with Svechtha, but both countries wanted to lay low on the world stage, and openly stoking the flames of Kitanese civil war seemed a fool move then.

She wondered whether Yanyu held a grudge. Whether Yanyu had an agenda here.

Perhaps it was because she just got done talking to a snake like Larissa, but Daksha was skeptical of this development. The Helvetians, bringing communists here to her? And Larissa seemed surprised and vexed by this. Surely this kind of thing was her doing?

Waiting for her answer, Daksha watched as Yanyu put on a cheerful, girlish smile.

It was a smile that reminded her eerily of another little daughter of the revolution.

It broke, momentarily, that air of reserved, mature, empress-like determination.

However, her words were just as easy, just as fluent as ever, even in that girlish voice.

“Premier, should communism fall in Ayvarta, it would have no hope in Yu. We read books from you and Lena Ulyanova in our schools in the mountains of southern Kitan. Nationalist tyrants burn your books as they burn our villages; Hanwan imperialists do the same. We have our own words and concepts and ideas, and our own identity as communists, and so we are aware that we cannot suffer the loss of Ayvarta. Our words aren’t being burned. Kitanese communism is patient and well-guarded. Do not worry.”

Daksha felt almost moved. Some part of her was still on its tiptoes, claws ready, subtly wondering if she was being deliberately disarmed. Yanyu looked completely innocent. She was telling the truth, Daksha thought. She believed, like Madiha believed. She talked like that girl did. Raised on the red books, selfless in sacrificing herself for other’s sake.

She glanced at Larissa, who in turn closed her eyes and seemed to take a step back.

“Very well. So this army is part of the forces Helvetia promised.” Daksha said. For now she had to hold back her latent drive to praise and cheer the young, and remain neutral toward Yanyu. Instead she addressed Durand again. “However, Kitan has never been part of the Pact agreements, since its recognized government is unwilling to speak with a communist nation. So I must ask where Helvetia stands on using the Kitanese for this.”

“I would comment, but it seems I have been circumvented.”

“I apologize, Lady Larissa. This was part of the wishes of the Kitanese under Helvetia’s charge, and a decision of the Helvetian GQG.” Durand then turned to Daksha. “There’s not just Kitanese people in this army, Premier. Lady Zhuge should explain this–”

Yanyu joined in. “A sizable part of the 8th Route Army are communist volunteers from other parts of the world. Communists from every continent are among us: Aglians, Ayvartans, Borelians, Yuans, Occideans, and even a battalion of Nochtish communists.”

“So Helvetia started a volunteer drive for us?” Daksha asked.

Larissa openly and disdainfully shrugged.

“Negative, Premier.” Yanyu said. “These were people inspired to fight for Kitan based on their own convictions. Many have fought imperialism for a decade now. They organized among themselves and decided to leave when the 8th Route Army left Kitan and came to fight here. Not all of them ascribe to our views. Some are liberals, I’m sorry to say; some are anarchists; and so on. But they have traveled with the struggle for longer than I.”

“So they’re irregulars.” Daksha replied, a bit coldly. That detail mattered, and she was not as happy to have received from Helvetia a dozen battalions of ragtag fools with a poor materialist analysis of the world as opposed to a modern Chasseur division or three. Was it not lady Tsung herself who said to struggle against liberalism? This was disappointing.

“Don’t worry!” Yanyu waved her hands in front of herself as if to dismiss the concern. “We’re all disciplined and we will follow your rules. Besides, the volunteers are only one division and I’ve got three. My reliable Red Guards compose the other two divisions.”

Had Daksha never met Madiha before, Yanyu would have looked ridiculous, a girl not even out of her twenties talking about her divisions like she knew what war was. However, Madiha and her entire warring generation existed. This was their war, a war that young people fought and led in. Yanyu felt like her country’s miracle worker.

Which made Daksha feel almost guilty when she decided then and there to keep her.

“Alright, I appreciate the aid, Yanyu Zhuge. It is an honor to have you here.”

“Premier, do not thank me yet. I have not yet been useful to you, and furthermore, I lend my aid in part because I would like to ask a favor of you.” Yanyu said. “And I believe Mr. Durand’s GQG friends have a favor to ask from you also. You are welcome to decline.”

Daksha blinked, and leaned forward, steepling her fingers once more. “I am listening.”

“I would like to meet Madiha Nakar.” Yanyu said, her voice suddenly serious.

“That’s all? You could have met her for free. She’s like my daughter.” Daksha said.

Yanyu looked a little surprised and a bit red in the face and averted her eyes.

“Lady Larissa, and Premier Kansal.” Durand said with a more serious air than before. “My message from Army GQG is this. Helvetia is right now fighting the Nochtish forces in the Arctic ring and we are also preparing for land invasions of Mauricia and Afarland. We hope to be in Lubon in a year’s time. We absolutely require Ayvarta’s help in creating another front, this one in Kitan and the far eastern sea, if Solstice survives the year.”

Daksha tapped her fingers together in the steeple. This was sudden.

It would not be the last sudden thing that day.

Before Larissa could vent her growing outrage at this demand and her lack of a role in its inception, and before Daksha could say even a word in response, the air in the room grew very still and thin. All sounds they wanted to emit were then stifled and quenched.

In front of them, Yanyu’s eyes glowed.

Green rings appeared around her irises, and she seemed to shake in place.

She’s coming.” Yanyu said, as if in a trance. “Madiha’s in danger.”

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