Across the bridge, a bulkhead door opened from the main station.
From the barricade, the strikers could see multiple persons at the door, but only a solitary figure started the long walk from the core station’s side over to that of Tower Nine.
Tower Nine was exclusively leased to Rhineametalle, and the entire tower was an absolutely massive steel plant. The steelworkers at Kreuzung were particularly responsible for manufacturing armor plate in a variety of dimensions and compositions, which would go on to be assembled into ships and divers. They also produced some ancillary construction materials for ships and stations, like interior walls with touch-enabled surfaces.
Those same products largely constituted the barrier the striking workers had erected.
Because they did not have control of the bulkhead into their side of the station, they used their equipment and whatever materials they had to create their own defenses. Kreuzung had forced the door to remain open, and sent negotiators, teams of scabs, and even a few strike-breaking attacks from the K.P.S.D– but with their tools and materials, the striking workers had maintained their hold on the tower. Rhineametalle had spoken against any further attacks– so for a time, the workers had some semblance of peace.
Even the core separation, frightening as it was, had not shaken them from their spot.
Now, however, the workers felt a bit of concern.
There was something strange about a single woman in a black uniform approaching them.
She took off her hat partway through her casual, ambling walk to the barricade, revealing a head of messy blond hair partially tamed by being wrapped into a long ponytail. She was tall, too, particularly for an Imbrian woman, with sharp, angular shoulders, and a frame that was somewhat lacking curves. Her uniform was slightly poorly fitted, with the all-black coat out of her pants and a bit too long, as well as unbuttoned, revealing the button-down shirt beneath which itself was not wholly buttoned, nor tucked in.
On one arm she had three separate armbands: all red and white, but one had a sonnenrad symbol, another a sword, and the third had an iron eagle.
Her easy gait and strange little grin, were eerie and a bit disarming.
As she approached, she introduced herself.
“Gutentag! I’m a 7th Fleet Stabswache officer, Untersturmführer Skonieczny, and I am only here to deliver a letter. I mean no harm! Please forward this as soon as possible.”
Her casual demeanor was additionally bizarre to the men behind the barricade.
Anyone else would have gotten a bolt launched at them by a pneumatic gun by now.
They allowed this lady to approach, and all she did was tiptoe to hand them a letter.
She turned around and left immediately, seemingly without any worry of a sneak attack.
To their surprise, she really did hand them a letter, stone paper, handwritten.
Suddenly unsure of what may become of their strike action soon, they passed the letter on.
Situated at the very top level of Kreuzung’s core station was the A-block of modules that represented the highest-end housing accommodations in the city, as well as the seat of the Eisental regional government. A-block was expansive and beautiful. Unlike other blocks, which were often situated side by side and with modules haphazardly placed like stacking blocks, A-block was one continuous module, that dominated a significant portion of the tower’s vertical space. There was a single main thoroughfare that branched into the walkways to several walled villas of varying designs.
At the center of A-block stood the government palace, a massive building with sweeping semi-circular wings connecting to a central, circular edifice with a brilliant domed roof. In the upper distance, visible from almost anywhere in the block, there were also several thick glass berths for the private seaport available to the A-block residents and the civilian government. Within the illusion of the sky, at times made it seem like ships were flying overhead in the horizon, as they situated themselves in their places.
All of A-block seemed to lead to the government palace, to reside in its shadow.
Kreuzung’s governor stood atop this edifice, and everything spread before him.
Within the palace, the Governor of Kreuzung had a sparsely furnished office that was nevertheless the site of some arresting designs. Because the walls were at all times projecting camera feeds from throughout A-block. Capturing sights such as the park gazebos and the small artificial lakeside enjoyed by the upper crust, the beautiful tended lawns of the most well-developed villas, and the vastness of the sky. It would appear to anyone walking in for business that the Governor of Kreuzung was like a God surrounded by windows into his vast domain. Situated the middle of all of A-block and able to see every direction.
If Governor Adolf Werner was a God, then he stood watching his downfall to mortals.
Surrounded by scenes of black-liveried electric trucks and black-uniformed paramilitaries.
Storming the villas, trampling the gardens, crossing the beautiful streets.
He was surprised that most of the troops combing A-block appeared to be Shimii.
Perhaps there was something karmic to that.
In this very office for nearly twenty years the Governor of Kreuzung had kept the Shimii separated and strictly controlled, and even he, who had promised reforms and liberalization, was consumed by the pragmatic calculus behind that injustice. He had let it go, because it was easy, and the Shimii were lesser compared to the peace that the Imbrians had begun to enjoy. Now, the Shimii dragged his Imbrian financiers out of those same beautiful homes they were denied and beat them on the street, with official sanction of the fascists.
Reform, of some kind, was slowly encroaching in armored cars down the one road.
Leading, inevitably, to him– and he could do nothing to stop it now.
Behind him, a door opened.
In walked a young woman in a white suit jacket and skirt, with black leggings.
Carrying a portable computer with a brand insignia– Rhineametalle.
She had an impassive expression. Her red-brown hair was tied up in an efficient bun.
“Governor Werner.” She said. She did not introduce herself.
Werner, taller, older, hairless, severe in expression. He looked at her with utter disgust.
They could not have been any more contrasts of themselves and the eras of their legacies.
“I assume it is not dangerous for you to be here, because Rhineametalle is a part of this.”
He waved at the screens, at the scenes of villas being broken into and combed through.
She ignored his implied accusations. They did not even cause a twitch in her countenance.
“I am here to convey Rhineametalle’s wish for a peaceful transition.” Said the young woman, delivering her stoic lines without once stumbling. “As an Eisental-headquartered business we believe this is the best outcome for the region’s economic outlook. We cannot support any decision by the government that escalates this confrontation any further.”
“None of this is peaceful, but if you are worried I will fight back, rest assured I cannot.”
In the aftermath of the Core Separation, Werner acquiesced to demands from the Volkisch Gauleiter to terminate the mandate of the K.P.S.D. Not because the fascists demanded it. They could fuck themselves. Rather, the K.P.S.D. had worked up tension with the Volkisch to an unconscionable degree. To continue to support them meant joining what was essentially their mafioso war against Laurentius tower. Werner had paid the mercenaries their blood money for too long– he cut them off. Without official support, any resisting K.P.S.D fought for a lost cause. Most of them gave up right away. Any stragglers were just doomed.
Therefore, Werner now he had nobody to defend him, nobody to defend the men who had ruled over Kreuzung for so long. Nobody to defend the Gods atop the mountain who had squeezed so much out of the people beneath their gazes. It was only now, as he watched the black shirts dismantle everything around him in real time, that he realized how low he had fallen. Whatever happened to the Liberal ideal? Freedom, franchise and fraternity for all men? His liberalism had upheld only the old fiefdoms, and changed nothing.
And now, the change was climbing the steps to his abode with gun and sword.
Werner felt embittered staring into the eyes of the young woman and reminiscing.
If all of the graft in Kreuzung was but a star, then Rhineametalle was entire constellations.
She could appear here and berate him, waiting like a dog to greet her Volkisch masters.
Because she had infinitely more power than he did. This was their town.
There would always be Rhineametalle, while liberal reformers came and went throughout Rhinea having failed to accomplish anything. Rhineametalle was the Prime Evil of Eisental, its warped influence followed only by the likes of Volwitz Foods and Lanz Erzwerke. She stood before this black and silver wind as an immovable titan. The more he looked at her emotionless face the more violence he felt in his old heart. He grit his teeth.
Stepping back from her, he walked around to his desk with a new clarity of purpose.
From a drawer, he withdrew an old Dreys pistol and raised it to the woman.
“This will earn you nothing.” She said, unwavering even when faced with the gun.
It only made Werner angrier. He was so helpless. All of his emotions swelled out of control.
Nothing of his spirit as a liberal elder statesman remained unsullied in that moment.
He was willing to throw away everything if he could have killed this girl.
Consumed in a terrible range to destroy the foul embodiment of his defeat.
He could not shoot at Rhineametalle, and the bullet would not redeem his Kreuzung.
He could, however, shoot this woman and sweep away her scrutinizing expression–
–but before Adolf Werner could exit the stage a murdering God, he was cast down.
When the door opened suddenly amid the confrontation to invite a new actor–
Her black gloved hand wielding a sleek black semi-automatic that preempted his next lines.
Hammer sliding with a thunder that echoed through the room, and again.
Five shots, neck, shoulder, sternum, belly, pouring bloody over his fine suit. His own gun dropped from the failing grip of his fingers and vanished under his desk. The old God of Kreuzung dropped back onto his chair, his role completed. Standing across the desk, the Rhineametalle communications officer Maxine Kramer shut her eyes for a moment.
It was the first expression she had made during this entire divine encounter.
Then, the second– she turned and smiled at the woman walking in from stage right.
Grinning back, the woman in the ornate black uniform and cape approached the desk, stepped behind it, and dismissively shoved the corpse of the old governor off of it. She then sat on his chair, on which there was just a little bit of blood– and put up her feet, hands behind her head, relaxing. She took a deep breath, twirling the pistol on one finger and catching it with the rest. She holstered it and appeared to be quite pleased with herself.
It was in that instant that Violet Lehner took her place in the grand opera about to unfold.
She was a curious sight in the black uniform.
Her skin was just a little bit ruddy, her eyes dark; facial features somewhat indeterminate, with strong nose and eyes with a slight angle, and yet striking in their overall configuration. She could have perhaps been a model or an actress had she been allowed an altogether different stage. Her hair was flamboyantly dyed, obscuring whatever other racial clues the fascist onlooker may have been predisposed to see. Whether she was blond, whether she was raven-haired, impossible to say. Though long, silky and straight, it was colored light blue and partially pink in a pattern reminiscent of the flag pins which hung from her earrings.
Average in stature and figure, thin and light of frame, more angular than curved, her limbs and shoulders and back were slim, her fingers soft and unblemished, with little in the way of pronounced musculature on her limbs. Nevertheless, her impressive uniform evoked the martial spirit that her training regime may have lacked. Her uniform, a black jacket and pants with a black cape, was decorated with every conceivable symbol of the fascists. Golden wolf’s-hooks, a sonnenrad medal, a reichsadler on her peaked cap, eagles and arrows, a hooked cross lapel pin. Her armbands had similar symbols. Atop her cap there were two silver protrusions like metal cat’s ears, and she wore a tail-like tassel on her belt.
Ruling over the 7th Fleet of the Stabswache, known as the ‘Zabaniyah.’
Violet Lehner grinned with an ambition as easy, in her mind, as taking a life.
Soon, her role of murderer would elevate, to ‘Reichskommissar’ of the Eisental region.
In this opening act, she had stolen the gold ring from the abode of the Gods.
While the drumbeat of truncheon strikes and the melodic wailing of the purge played all throughout A-block, casting from the mount the Gods for whom the audience’s sympathy was meant, her shadow grew ever more titanic in the background of the stage. Smoke and fire and great screaming horns heralded. Violet as devil, as son of a false king–
as player on the stage of Destiny.
–but while the Gods bellowed for justice, the player in black experienced only silence.
“You were so collected, Maxine. You should leave the corporate world and join us.”
“I’m afraid I can only present the facade of strength knowing that rescue was on its way.”
Violet and Maxine smiled at each other like old friends, minding not the corpse.
“What’s the temperature at Rhineametalle? Did you show your bosses my proposals?”
“I walked them through everything. They are initially cautious, but not opposed.” Maxine said. “They’ve been party to fruitless ‘labor reform’ talks with the liberals.”
“They haven’t seen it like I plan to do it.” Violet said, a grin on her face and a winking eye. “Soon they’ll be hearing about this strike being over without a further drop of blood shed on their precious factory floors, and they will have cause for celebration. Then you can ask them again what they feel about Violet Lehner. Not to mention what will follow.”
“With regards to labor, their ceiling is ‘neutral’ at best.” Maxine said. “They will never be happy to talk ‘trade unions’. But I have prepared the way for you as best I can.”
Violet finally put her legs down from the table and sat up straight.
“They will. I’ve already handed them a victory. One of my subordinates arranged a meeting with the leader of the strikers. I was informed just before my arrival here that the meeting has been accepted and arranged. You can formally announce to your employers that the strikers are coming to the table. They can do whatever with that information.”
“It’s too early to announce anything. But I will do my best to make it a media coup, and you can share the glory of it when the time comes.” Maxine replied. “There has been a lot pessimism in the business community. Unfortunately, your father has not been–”
“Don’t call him that.” Violet snapped. Her voice had risen almost to a breaking point.
For the first time, Maxine looked a bit surprised. She bowed her head. “My apologies.”
Violet sighed. Anger was unproductive. She stood up, and walked past the corpse.
“It’s fine. I am full of optimism, Maxine. I’ve crawled up from the gutter, all the way here.”
Violet’s gaze met Maxine’s, standing side by side. She reached out and patted her shoulder.
“Destiny is on my side, and Endsieg is finally near to my grasp.”
Maxine nodded her head low in acknowledgement and deference.
“Of course, Reichskommissar. Rhineametalle looks forward to your success.”
With her cape flowing behind her and a stoic look on her face, Violet Lehner left the office of the Governor in its state of desecration, Maxine Kramer following dutifully behind her to their next stage. Speaking of the so-called Fuhrer of Rhinea, related so casually– it was unheard of to say within the 7th Stabswache. Because it angered Violet so–
the holes she had to crawl out of were dug by his hand.
Business was at an ebb at Madame Arabie’s Flowing Scarlet.
Her main clientele were either laying low, or catching a clubbing from the Volkisch.
Imbrians with money to blow on girls and dope had too much on their minds these days.
And wealthy local Shimii had hunkered indoors out of sight of a very bitterly critical public.
Kreuzung was not in a mood to drink and make merry. Their festival was over.
In the days following the Core Separation, the little people of the segregated Tower Seven began to look to their neighbors again. It was the mosques where people chose to congregate, rather than dance clubs and eateries. They gathered on the floor mats discussing the events, what the future might hold, or anything they could do as a community to prevent further tragedies. There was so much uncertainty looming over them. One especially concerning matter was that of missing persons. Several Shimii had tried to escape the tower, and in the chaos, people had been separated from each other, and there were already a few sadly missing. One shopkeeper named Hasim, rarely seen at the mosque otherwise, actually showed up to report a missing person, for example.
“There’s this girl– she came by my shop every day, one of my favorite customers–”
But nobody had seen the bob-tailed girl he described. Few people even remembered her.
There was an older woman who described another girl, who had assisted the crowd.
“Her name was Madiha. God guard her and preserve her. She was a brave one.”
Nothing. They could collect the names, and any descriptions or pictures, and report it–
–to whoever the authorities ended up being now.
That was all, and many people felt helpless and were frustrated at their situation.
And to those most embittered, the Scarlet, and Arabie, were particular points of frustration.
Weren’t those rich Shimii who owned everything supposed to be keeping them safe?
What good were they if they could never stand up to the Imbrians even to prevent deaths?
For now these thoughts remained private. The streets had emptied of crowds of people.
Outside the Flowing Scarlet, where it was once routine for crowds to gather in front, the street was empty. And for its emptiness, and the size of the building looming over that emptiness, it made the tower feel even more hollow. Guards had been posted out of Arabie’s paranoia for what may transpire– but there was no need. Not one person came to throw one stone, or any other petty delusion held by the woman in the higher stories.
But, just when Arabie’s mafiosi began to feel secure in themselves–
They heard the sound of wheels turning.
And stood in stunned silence as a black and silver liveried electric truck drove up.
Emblazoned on the side of the truck was a shield with the number 7 in thick font.
Surrounding the triangular shield there were two swords and three words–
Inside the truck were a dozen uniforms. Hitting the false pavement like a ramp, the door to the truck bed creaked as the men and women, all Shimii, all dressed like Volkisch, and all armed, stepped off and formed up. For the mafiosi, this was an insurmountable enemy that instantly defeated them. Those black jackets could have been mythical wootz steel, for the protection they offered. Arabie’s gang could abuse the public, rough up journalists, turn away detectives, and maybe even disappear a K.P.S.D. who got too in their faces.
Madam Arabie was powerful and had good connections within Kreuzung.
Madam Arabie’s connections, her social and financial power, meant nothing to the fascists.
The Volkisch Movement For The National Awakening played by its own insane rules.
They were the fiendish leviathan immune to the spell woven by the witch of Tower Seven.
It was even stranger that they were all Shimii. It gave Arabie’s men even more of a fright.
There was no thought of even reaching for the revolvers and pistols hidden in their clothes.
All of Arabie’s guards stood dumbfounded, and nobody made a move.
Then, from the passenger seat of the truck itself, another Shimii woman stepped out.
From the outset, it was obvious that she was a cut above the rest of the Volkisch here.
Her jacket had brighter and more impressive patches and pins to denote her rank, and on her ample chest there were several medals. She brandished no weapon on the street, but had on her hip a sabre in a sheathe as well as a revolver in a holster. Those looking at her were taken by her. She was beautiful, yes, with golden hair and lightly tanned skin and steely green eyes and striking facial features– but it was not her beauty, but her presence that captivated the onlookers. Her every step was as if taken by a titan, her gaze threw the weight of a storm wind, and when she spoke, her voice was thunder. They were instantly gripped by her.
“Step aside or you will all be arrested! I am not here to deal with you. Where is Arabie?”
Of course, they divulged the location instantly. The bouncers even handed over their keys.
All of them could feel that the current flowing through Kreuzung favored the fascists.
There was no use dying uselessly, for the woman drinking herself stupid up above them.
Almost without effort Standartenführer Vesna Nasser gained access to the Flowing Scarlet.
Her troops remained outside to watch over the men and the street.
She had business with the woman supposedly in charge of this depressing tower.
Nasser found her in the middle of a richly furnished penthouse.
Despite her age she was just like Nasser remembered her.
Lavishly manicured to hide the toll time had taken on her face, dolled up in fine clothing and pigments, hiding in a room that smelled of myrrh. She had come upon her in a vulnerable moment, however. Arabie was half fallen from a plush sofa and her makeup was running around her weeping eyes. Sobbing, kicking her feet; cans strewn about the room and white powder arrayed in messy lines on the coffee table. Wearing a loose purple robe that was off her shoulder enough to unveil an olive-tan breast with a dark pink tip.
Even without taking any care to hide her steps, Nasser managed to surprise her.
It took the dazed Madame Arabie a few moments to register a figure approaching her.
“Huh? Who? Leave– leave you idiots, I said I was busy–! I’ll– I’ll fucking kill you–!”
She sat up on the sofa and stared with glassy, still-weeping eyes at Nasser.
The Standartenführer was able to watch as if a time lapse, as the danger dawned on Arabie.
Her eyes drew wide, her ears folded, and her lips partially opened and remained so.
Nasser said nothing. To comment at all, would have made her angry enough to strike.
Even when properly dressed, Madame Arabie was a fallen being destined for the fire.
A whore; a drug pusher; a drunk. She sold her soul, and didn’t even try to pray for it back.
Without her high class airs, it was only more evident how impious she had become.
But she was convenient; and she would be necessary.
Nasser had to temper her frustrations.
“Who are you? Did you steal that uniform? I can’t smuggle you out.” Madame Arabie said.
Her voice was so gone. She was in an utter stupor.
“You’ve very well met fascist Shimii already. I am a proper Volkisch Standartenführer, just like Imani Hadžić. I serve in the ‘Zabaniyah’, the 7th Fleet of the Stabswache, with many of our kin. You know me, Leija Kladuša. I am Vesna, a member of the Nasser clan.”
Leija narrowed her eyes. Her body began shaking as if from the effort of that empty gaze.
“I– I’ve never heard of a Vesna Nasser. I did not know– the Nassers had a daughter?”
She was even more lost than Nasser thought.
“You drank your brain to death. But fine. You have heard of Vahid Nasser, haven’t you?”
Across from her, the sinner’s bleary red eyes blinked and then squinted at Nasser.
She could not possibly have been seeing any of Vahid in the Vesna who stood before her.
But her addled brain nevertheless made the connection.
She recognized her– perhaps?
“You’re– then– you’re the same as Homa? You took the medicines– to become–?”
“Homa? Who are you comparing me to? Leija, you need to cut the crap and clean up–!”
Leija’s tears welled up in her eyes again. She lowered her face into her hands.
“My precious kadaif— she was taken from me so cruelly– oh Homa! Homa!”
Wailing that name, she fell back onto the couch, writhing as if her skin was being burnt.
Not wanting to stare at that pathetic display, Nasser lifted her gaze– and saw something.
In the end of the room, a shrine had been put up.
The myrrh incense vapor machines had been set on a shelf along with an old picture, of a very young girl. There were flowers, sticks of cinnamon, colored gems, a haphazard assortment of little things. Memorials like this were impermissible for Shimii, but so was drinking, and dealing, and whoring– it no more damned Leija’s soul than any of her other sins. However, the haphazard placement of it inspired something in Nasser. She found herself pitying Leija for her loss in that moment. Leija was actually mourning.
She was surprised that this vile woman could care about anyone other than herself.
Hearing that name wailed over and over, and looking at the photograph–
My name is Homa Baumann. I’m from Kreuzung. Please don’t kill me.
And then– her wrath, the coming to blows.
Hatefully screaming Nasser’s name in an ever-fading voice as she died.
Nasser exhibited a brief shock that Leija was, thankfully, in no condition to notice. She would not acknowledge to Leija that she knew where her “precious kadaif” had ultimately gone.
Seeing what she had done to this woman, before her eyes. Her heart briefly wavered.
Nasser closed her fists as hard as she could. She dispelled a long-held breath.
It did not matter.
Many more families would be separated, many more young people killed, before Nasser’s ambitions would be completed. By her own hand, perhaps less– but she was not so deluded as to think the blood shed by her subordinates did not reach her. To end the feuds, once and for all, and unite the ummah, it could only be done by shedding blood. It was inevitable that Homa Baumann had to be killed for it. It was inevitable that Leija Kladuša had to suffer.
Ever since old Al-Khaybari turned his blade on the elder Nasser during Mehmed’s Jihad.
Ever since then– no, even before– ultimately they were all slaves to their Destiny.
Nasser bent and grabbed Leija by the shoulders and forced her to sit and look at her.
“Leija! I understand your loss! Were the circumstances different I would give you all the time you need to mourn. But not this way! Do you think Homa would want to see you like this? We shoulder the dreams of all our lost kin! You need to get a hold of yourself! We need someone here whom the Shimii will listen to. Fall apart once your duty to me is completed!”
Shaking Leija like a doll in her hands, as if it would rattle her back to her senses.
For a brief moment, the glassy eyes of that broken-down woman sharpened once more.
“Ugh– dreams and duties– talking big while you’re just some blackshirt!” Leija snapped.
Her eyes were still hazy. She was completely out of it.
And yet her words were so defiant and incivisive. Stupid woman.
Nasser could not help but to grin in response. In the grand scheme of things, it was true. Even when it came from the drawling mouth of this drug-addled fool. To the Rashidun, events were already Qadar— a divine destiny that was already known to God.
Compared to this truth, Nasser was indeed very small.
Nothing but another black shirt– but one with a heavy burden to bear.
When she awakened, the room was as dark as when Emilia went to sleep.
“Huh? I set an alarm. What happened?”
She had awakened naturally– there was no sound.
And the lights didn’t come on either.
She reached out her arm and tried to touch the wall just over the pull-out drawer beside her bed. After a few seconds of futile reaching to the furthest her arm would stretch, she woke up enough to figure things out and turned in bed. She instead touched the wall directly beside her. However, this too had no effect. Incredulous she touched the wall a few more times, but there was no response no matter how much she pressed.
Nothing lit up, no computer windows opened. The wall touchscreens were not working.
There was something just a little vexing about it.
Emilia forced herself up from the bed.
She grabbed hold of her blanket and wrapped it around herself.
Her room was so cold– everything must have lost power for some ungodly reason.
All of that Core Separation business was in the past, wasn’t it?
Emilia stood up and went to the door.
She groped in the dark for the physical switch that opened the door. Finally, it slid open, surprising her. She almost fell through the doorway and out into the hall in nothing but her blanket, a tanktop and shorts– thankfully she caught herself in time. But she was all the more embittered when she peered out, groggy and with fogged eyes.
All of her hall was in the dark. Several people were peering out of their own doors.
There was an electric torch set up at the far end of the hall, and a pair of men had pulled out a panel in the far wall and were working with tools impossible to discern. Something must have happened to the hall’s power infrastructure. Maybe it was a knock-on effect of the Core Separation, Emilia thought. At least it was being fixed. She was about to just sigh and turn back and lie around in the dark– but then her eyes were temporarily blinded.
A torch-light shone right on her face for an instant, causing her to grimace.
“Oh! I’m so sorry–! Please wait, I need to talk to you!”
Said in the voice of a woman, accompanied by clacking heels on the metal floor.
Emilia shielded her eyes and squinted and tried to make out the woman approaching.
When her vision returned, the woman had stopped in front of the door.
“Unter–?” She began to speak, but was not allowed to say much–
In response, Emilia grabbed her wrist, disarmed her of her torch and turned around.
The woman was taken aback. “–Wait! Ma’am, I’m– You– I’m here to–”
“I’m borrowing this. Wait here a sec, okay?” She said, sighing deeply.
She pulled the door shut behind herself, leaving the uniformed woman outside.
With the woman’s torch she could see into her room again.
She put it up on the pull-out bedside drawer, the beam shining up at the ceiling. It was so strong– Emilia flicked the tab on its handle down two notches to reduce the brightness. Now she felt like she could finally see comfortably in its presence. Immediately, she caught sight of herself in the room mirror, which was part of the pull-out drawers.
Grumbling a little to herself, she gathered up a haphazard fistful of her blond hair and a hair tie she had left on top of the drawer. She tied a quick and messy ponytail, and brushed her bangs by running her own fingers through them. It was a little bit messy but probably not too unsightly. Across the room from her bed, she found the catch to open the panel into the bath stall. She washed her face, gargled some water, brushed her teeth.
Another mirror. She saw herself in it. Auburn eyes. Her lips were a bit dry. She did not think she was necessarily beautiful, but she was pretty, she had a young, girlish spark– right?
She queried herself. She did not hate how she looked. It was acceptable.
Back at her drawer, she applied some chapstick. She fluttered her eyelashes.
Running through her mental checklist.
She wouldn’t even bother with makeup– she was so bad at it anyway. She had showered last night. She had not eaten, but this was a temporary room with no cooking furnishings, so she would need to grab something on the way to the Gau office. Uniform was a given; but she recalled that she should take her pills. She couldn’t keep forgetting.
“Good morniiing~ Emiliaaa~ It’s Emilia’s pills time~ pills that make her dick soft~”
Singing in a silly voice. Her good mood was starting to return.
It helped thinking about that woman’s face when she disarmed her.
After swallowing all of her day’s medications at once, against the instructions printed on the bottles, Emilia opened another wall panel to extract her uniform jacket and pants, as well as a button-down shirt and a tie. Her armbands were hanging on hooks. Everything smelled dusty and a little bit sweaty. She had to pay money for the wardrobe to maintain her clothing, and the prices had become ridiculous the past few days. In prison they just had a synthestitcher pop out a cheap jumpsuit for her whenever warranted.
Her uniform consisted of a black peaked cap, black jacket and pants, all with silver trim.
On the collar of the jacket there was a tab with four wolf’s hooks denoting her rank.
Untersturmführer— in the old Rhinean Navy she would have been a ‘Leutnant’.
Leutnant was so much easier to say.
But she was not part of the old Rhinean Navy.
Her armbands were red with a white circle, and inside each circle resided a different symbol including: a sonnenrad, a black sun disc; the Handschar, a Shimii sword; and the Reichsadler of the Volkisch Movement for the National Awakening on the third armband.
She had to wear all three. One for the Esoteric Order of National Socialism; one for the 7th Stabswache Fleet; and the third to denote that she was a national socialist party member in good standing. That last one was perhaps the most personally amusing of the armbands– but it was annoying to wear all three. She felt their presence conspicuously.
Emilia buttoned down her shirt, pulled up her pants, threw on her jacket, and put on shoes.
She left the cap where it was, in her enthusiasm to finally meet the woman at the door.
“I am ready! Sorry for the wait– I had to get decent.” Emilia said.
Opening the door, she found herself face to face with a pouting young woman.
Pointing her own torch back at her causing her to avert her gaze a bit.
Emilia instantly thought– this one was a bombshell.
A sleek jaw, a straight nose, sharp blue eyes and lush lips, all with precise makeup the likes of which Emilia could not have hoped to imitate. Her hair looked so silky, and it had a sheen in the light of the torch, dark, deeply black as her jacket and garrison cap, cut straight at the shoulder with perfect symmetry. Her body was fantastic– the uniform flattered her. Same as Emilia’s, but with a skirt and black tights. Had Emilia not been a degenerate who was on the way to embarrassing herself, she would have definitely tried to make a pass.
Instead, she simply smiled and held out her hand for a shake.
“Untersturmführer Emilia Skonieczny.” She said.
For a moment the woman at the door eyed her, with a slight bit of contempt.
Then she shook her hand, firmly and without reservation.
“Hauptscharführer Christina Fink. I am here to assist you in command duties, ma’am.”
Her voice was strong. She had a very no-nonsense energy to her.
“Assist me?” Emilia was confused. “I thought you were going to escort me to the Gau?”
“To the Gau? What for?”
“You don’t know?!” Emilia was suddenly shocked. “You didn’t come here to take me?”
“No? I did not come to take you to before the Gauleiter. Is something wrong?”
Emilia felt like, if she could say nothing, and continue to look normal–
–no, it was hopeless. She wouldn’t fool this (beautiful) woman for long.
“Err– Ah, well, you’re about to find out anyway– See, I did some jail time, so that’s still stuck on me today. I am having those old charges officially commutated. So I have to show up at the Gau office. Technically, I’ll still be a federal offender– but I can have this commutation, to then work toward acquittal thanks to some– let’s say ‘friends in high places’.”
“May I ask what the offense was? Was it something spurious?”
“Ah, yeah, I mean, I sure think so. It was for Sodomy. See– that’s still a federal offense.”
“Well– that’s– I see. I am glad the Gau office is assisting you, Untersturmführer.”
No! Her respect for Emilia had hit rock bottom! It was clear on her face!
Ah well– such was the fate of a degenerate, no matter her rank, service and deeds.
“So– you were sent to assist me? Are you from the 7th Fleet too?” Emilia asked.
Christina shook her head. “I’ve been working in Kreuzung, as a Gleichschaltung officer. My job was once to analyze communications from A-block– but this is no longer necessary, so I am being seconded to the combat fleet now. I am to work as your adjutant.”
Emilia nodded her head in acknowledgment.
Gleichschaltung meant coordination— the Volkisch sure loved their High Imbrian.
In this case, it was the idea that the liberal institutions of Rhinea had to be forced to accept total Volkisch rule. In places like Kreuzung where it would be too costly or chaotic to go after the liberal government in a violent purge without cause, the Gleichschaltung process began with the establishment of a Gau office that acted as a Volkisch civil authority.
Working with the Gau office, analysts like Christina spied and scrutinized the liberals, opening opportunities for the Volkisch to attack officials and policies, demand the alteration of laws or issue their own legal proclamations. It was a slow political war of attrition.
But liberal Kreuzung had fallen. The Gau’s decrees were the law of the station now.
And soon, Violet Lehner would be law and order of the entire region.
Knowing all of that– Emilia smiled a bit more awkwardly.
Christina now looked like a very frightening woman behind that steely composure.
“So– if you will, I’m headed to the Gau office.”
“Yes.” Christina said. “I will follow you. You should get something to eat too.”
Christina then stepped forward and reached for Emilia’s chest.
Taking her tie in one brusque sleight of the hand– and tying it appropriately.
Then also buttoning her jacket correctly, her long fingers, one button after another–
Emilia became as stiff and dead as all the LED posts that didn’t work in the hallway.
She tucked her shirt in, buttoned her coat, did her tie. With stoic precision.
Then Christina finally retreated, with a final swipe at Emilia’s shoulder to pat off dust.
“I want to assume you do not care about your appearance for lack of time and energy with which to do so.” Christina said sternly. “So I will assist you in maintaining an appropriate standard. From now on, you need to maintain decorum as an officer. You do not represent solely yourself, but us, the unit, the fleet, the party, and the fatherland.”
Emilia felt like she was being called an embarassing pervert in code.
“Yes. You’re right– I’ve just been busy, and tired.” Emilia replied, averting her gaze.
All lies that they both saw through, but it was the lies Christina wanted to hear.
“Very well. Lead way, Untersturmführer.”
Christina was such a presence.
She was the armbands but hundreds of times heavier.
Since arriving at the station, a few days earlier, Emilia had been afforded a rather plain room in D-block while she waited for her transfer and the commutation. It was not ‘hers’ precisely and she would neither keep it nor miss it when it was gone. Especially since the hallway was having electrical problems now. However, it was convenient, with elevators going farther down or straight up, easily accessible by turning the corners. She and Christina made their way around the hall, and rode the elevator up to a street module in C-block.
There were shops, grocers, cafes, all in quaint little buildings connected by a false cobblestone road under a gentle, false blue sky. It was like a little town road.
Nervous glances shot their way from every direction after they stepped onto the street.
There was no hiding within a crowd wearing the black uniforms of the Volkisch.
Standing out was the point, as much as Emilia disliked it.
She tried to smile and wave at anyone who stared for too long, but it only scared them off.
It was foolish to think she was anything but an intruder in this place.
Emilia was fooling herself about a lot of things– but that one was far too glaring.
On one street corner, Emilia spotted another black-uniformed woman.
Tall and fair, with brown hair– and a pair of rounded cat-like ears atop her head, between which she wore her garrison cap. She had a simple submachine gun that resembled a grease gun, on a sling around her shoulder. It was unloaded, but she had visible magazines on her person and could have reached for one easily in response to a threat. Her bushy tail swung behind her as she stood, leaning back against the corner, looking bored.
“Sturmmann!” Emilia called out the girl by rank. “All quiet on the front?”
The Shimii woman raised her eyes off the floor when addressed.
“Yes ma’am. Nothing to report.” She said. Her hands were completely off her gun.
“What is your name?” Emilia asked, quite curious.
At her side, Christina looked a bit annoyed with her, but she did not say anything.
“Sturmmann Ajna Jakupović.” The Shimii said. “Is this an inspection, Untersturmführer?”
“Not at all!” Emilia said. “I was just greeting you. I haven’t gotten out much, you see.”
“Well. There’s not much to see. Everything is quite normal, and the street is peaceful.”
“Hopefully we can scale down posts like this soon then? Don’t you think?”
“I could not say. I take up my post as I am ordered, and I will continue to do so.”
Quite a dour girl.
Emilia felt like she was surrounded by very tense people in the Volkisch.
Despite her insistence that everything was quite normal, in fact, she herself represented a change for the people of Kreuzung. Even if they had gotten used to a black uniform here or there; now all of the policing was done by black uniforms. No more K.P.S.D guards.
Armed black uniforms on every street corner. Must have been terrifying.
Not to mention the majority of them were Shimii, once a segregated people in Kreuzung.
When Emilia and Christina got to walking again, Christina cleared her throat.
“Untersturmführer, please do not trouble the patrol officers.” She said.
“It won’t matter anyway. I’m bound for the sea again soon.” Emilia replied jovially.
“Be that as it may.”
She did not follow up that remark and Emilia did not respond to it either.
They simply walked, amid the morning crowd that was going to work or preparing for it.
Partway through their trek to the Gau office, Christinia tapped on Emilia’s back.
They both stopped, and she led the Untersturmführer off the street and into a little café that was sharing space with a bar which was closed. Both halves of the venue could sit customers for the café, and the café was serving coffee out of the half that constituted the bar. But the coffee was a rather shocking price, for such a thing that just came in the fighting rations of Diver pilots like Emilia– instead, Christina bought the two of them cups of breakfast tea, along with breakfast potatoes, grilled with cheese and sausage.
“I take it Kreuzung hasn’t recovered from the recent shortages yet?” Emilia asked.
As she did, she stirred sugar cubes until they dissolved in her tea.
“You’re– rather curious, aren’t you, Untersturmführer?” Christina said.
“I see it as my duty to understand things, Hauptscharführer, not merely accept them.”
Christina let out a little sigh. “I rather meant, you’re different from other officers.”
“In that too, yes. Possibly for the best, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps. It’s too early to tell.”
Christina took a long sip of her tea as if to forego further conversation on this topic.
Emilia tucked into her potatoes. They were salty, fatty, almost unctuous.
Rhinea was known for potatoes. Potatoes, black bread, gritty sausage– all those foods that the Imbrium Empire exalted as traditional and cultural and staples of a hardy working class, they were grown in quantity in Rhinea. And these were the foods exalted by the Volkisch Movement as befitting the masculine and vital Volksgemeinschaft of the national socialist man. Probably soon, the Gau would start promoting these foods and politely criticizing restaurants and establishments that continued to drive up demand for luxuries.
Just like in her native station of Weimar, a few months ago, just before she left.
Before she was deployed to the front as penance for her degenerate bisexual ways.
“You can call me by name.” Emilia said. “Can we chat for a little bit?”
Christina looked up for her plate. She ate quite slow and delicately.
“Alright. What about?”
“Anything really. I just haven’t had a human conversation with someone in so long.”
“From reading your file, it did seem like you have been shuffled around a lot of posts.”
“It’s because the ships kept sinking.” Emilia said. “But I kept surviving. I made no friends.”
“Reports spoke highly of your combat abilities. So– I expected a different sort of person.”
“I’m kind of flattered they did not mention the penal conscription and sodomy and all that.”
Emilia looked up from her food and smiled quite cheerfully at Christina.
The adjutant looked quite disarmed by the sudden look on her face.
She averted her gaze.
“Here I am. Not like the reports.” Emilia said. “Except that I’m good in a pinch, maybe.”
“Unter– Emilia,” Christina said, “might I ask– do you have any ambitions in the military?”
Perhaps a tricky question for someone who had been forced into this horrible situation.
But Emilia had thought about it well, and for a long time, having gotten this far.
“Since I’m here now, I would like to retire with decent benefits. I’m tired of struggling.”
Christina looked at her with further confusion. “I see. I suppose you didn’t have a choice.”
“I’m making the best of it. I’ve thought about everything– I had tons of time to plan it out. If I fail, I just die– that ends up solving all the problems anyway. But in the military I can get a pension, health benefits, lifetime housing, the works. For a wastrel like me, it’s great. Being conscripted was fine for my prospects. I’m too scandalous– not a lot of equal opportunity.”
“I see. You really have given it a lot of thought, Untersturmführer. It’s– a worthy goal.”
Emilia did not see it as particularly worthy– but it was attainable! That mattered the most.
“But what about you Hauptscharführer? What attracts a woman like you to the navy?”
Christina looked down at her tea. Her own perfectly applied makeup looked back at her.
“I suppose it is similar– maybe even the same. As you say– there is ‘equal opportunity.’”
“In times of hardship, the nation would rather allow homos and women to jump in front of the steel, than fall on its own sword purely out of pride. Suffering makes us all equal.”
Christina looked suddenly sad. “You have a certain way with words, Untersturmführer.”
Clearly she was uncomfortable with the rhetoric– but Emilia didn’t care.
She was hitting her stride. Her heart was soaring, even. God was in his heaven, to her.
All of the worst things that could be done to Emilia Skonieczny– they already had been.
So anything that happened from now on was acceptable. Things were truly looking up.
In fact, it was a thrilling puzzle. War. Surviving. Winning, even, the few times it happened.
All of it was a gamble where only something worthless was at stake– her own life.
And certainly gambling was one of Emilia’s vices, among many.
After eating, and having gotten to know each other– at least more than not at all– Emilia led Christina to the Gau office on the far end of the C-block street module from the cafes. The building was set against the wall of the module, with a roundabout road in front of it, such that it felt like the terminus of the C-block. All roads led to the Gau office. It was three stories tall, so it was taller than all the two-story shops and offices on the street.
A steel Reichsadler decoration in front looked over the passersby.
Through the door into the building, there was a lobby and waiting area with pull-out chairs.
Emilia and Christina sat down together until they were called.
Though they were entirely alone in the Gau office, it took almost fifteen minutes.
At a counter, behind bullet-proof glass, a very young receptionist confirmed their identity. She was thin and blond and small– at most she could have been an older teenager perhaps.
“Take the stairs, and it’s the third door. Thank you for visiting.” She said without emotion.
There was a buzzer, and one of the doors leading further into the building opened up.
Emilia and Christina walked inside.
For the building where the downfall of the liberal government of Kreuzung had been planned and underway for months now– there was nothing about it that was out of the ordinary. Thick plastic walls painted in a faux-brick style, stagnant air that smelled like the vents it passed. Gloomy halls lit by rows of centrally-installed white LEDs on the roof. It was rather eerie. It felt like a dentist’s office more than a nerve-cluster of fascism.
Third door, upstairs. Inside there was a small office, with a desk and two chairs.
A blond man who tried to smile bid them to sit down. One of his armbands had a symbol of a wrapped stack of arrows– this denoted support personnel and civilian service workers within the National Socialist Party of Rhinea. Unlike Emilia, this man’s battlefield was this desk, or any other desk he was given, but he still had his markers of service to the National Socialist Party. Emilia saw his eyes appraise her quickly, but he never stopped smiling falsely.
“Emil Skoniecszny, correct?” He said. He passed Emilia a portable computer.
There were documents about her loaded into the device. Many had glaring errors.
Surname frequently misspelled. Different names used. Wrong national ID numbers.
“I had it changed.” She replied. “Before I ended up in jail. A bunch of this is wrong.”
“Ah, yes, the government was not so efficient before as now. You would be aghast at how many of these documents we must amend.” Said the man, still trying to put up a smile. “How about this, officer. Tell me the correct ones, and I’ll see to it we fix them all. No need for paperwork or anything silly– everything has been authorized to the fullest extent.”
“That would be lovely.” Emilia said. “So then– I will get my commutation too, right?”
“Of course, of course.” Said the man. “The Reichkommissar’s signature guarantees it. You will no longer be considered to be serving a sentence through labor. Then we will process a formal acquittal after a brief review by all parties. You’ll be a free woman soon.”
All of the parties involved– Emilia knew they would be amenable.
After all– they had come to have need of the murderous skills she had exhibited.
While the man began editing the documents, Emilia found herself looking at the ceiling.
Somewhere, far up above, Violet Lehner was in the process of changing everything.
After only two days in Kreuzung, the vanguard of the 7th Fleet of the Stabswache had secured control of the station in its totality, facing little resistance. Already the first reforms were beginning to roll out of the new government in A-block. A purge of local administrators was underway, along with an expansion of the Gau government seat and the reorganization of Eisental as a Reichskommissariat, a Fascist-led regional administration that was the fiefdom of its Reichskommissar, in this case the self-appointed Violet Lehner.
No one had heard of Violet before, but the surname Lehner rendered them quiet.
Elections were suspended indefinitely. All appointments were by decree from the Gau or Reichskommissar, and served indefinitely until promotion, resignation or dismissal. More reforms were then planned– including a rumored desegregation of the towers. But it was not all bad. Prices had gone back to normal, particularly for Rhineametalle subsidiary goods along with Volwitz Foods products. It was a sign of esteem from the corporations.
Whoever Violet Lehner was, business seemed to approve of her accession.
Volkisch presence continued to grow exponentially in Kreuzung. At first the vanguard was composed of a dozen ships, but it would swell to over 200 vessels. Aside from the core of the 7th Stabswache, Volkisch militia were summoned in droves, along with a constellation of ancillary paramilitary organizations that had also rallied to Reichskommissariat Eisental.
Once bordering on the outskirts of the Volkisch power structure, groups appeared such as the Silver Wolf Brigade of once-oppressed Khedivate loup; and stranger Esoteric Order paramilitary fighters like the Black Sun Valkyries who were not the right kind of fascist for Adam Lehner’s neatly micromanaged central government. On the civilian front, all manner of new age polemicists, such as scientific atheists and technology supremacists, flocked to Kreuzung from places like Thuringia and Weimar, hoping for intellectual sympathy.
Adam Lehner had tried to paper over the bizarre, fractious nature of his coalition.
But Violet Lehner seemed to revel in the grand universe of niche fascists surrounding her.
And it was a universe which was daily accruing more twisted stars within its firmament.
Knowing all of this, Rhineametalle labor leader Josef Kohler decided to follow the letter which he had received from the barricades. He clutched it in his hands as he walked.
He knew he was accepting a poisoned chalice, but he was afraid at the daily appearance of more fascist military ships, and of the rapid collapse of the liberal Kreuzung government. It felt like this was his last and only chance to achieve something tangible for the shop floor. So he donned his suit, left the barricade with the signature of the new Reichskommissar in hand, and made his way cautiously to the heights of the core station.
He had been warned that there was chaos in A-block, but by the time he arrived, everything appeared to have long been sorted out. No arrests or beatings in progress. There was a single checkpoint staffed by Shimii in uniform, that he easily crossed. All of the villas and parks and the gorgeous lakeside, appeared untouched, just like in the pictures and television programs. There hung numerous banners with strange symbols now, but it was exactly as alien to Josef as the tastes of the previous owners, so it did not perturb him.
When he arrived at the government building, he showed the receptionist the letter.
It felt like all the hustle and bustle he expected to see in the street had been pushed into the government palace in A-block instead. There were hundreds of people coming and going, taking boxes of things out, bringing boxes in. Bringing in furnishings and taking them out. There was a metal painting in the process of being hung on magnets in the walls of the lobby. The painting depicted the Eisental region, but with subregional separations that Kohler had never seen before. He was ushered away before he could examine it.
“Please wait here. The Reichskommissar will see you shortly.” Said the receptionist.
“Wait, the Reichskommissar? I thought I would be meeting a negotiator or–”
Without listening to him, the receptionist simply left and closed the door behind her.
Kohler stared speechless at the door. He then took a seat.
This was a small, ancillary office, nothing but a desk and some chairs, if it had been decorated to any further extent before then those decorations had been stripped, probably loaded into a box and taken out with the rest of the junk. There was nothing particularly intimidating about it, the place was extremely ordinary. It felt like he was visiting the tax office or the licensing bureau, except he was not waiting for some functionary.
Why would Violet Lehner come talk to him in person?
When the door opened next, it took all of Kohler’s power not to stare or make a gesture.
A woman walked right past him, her wildly colored hair clashing with her black uniform.
She was breezy and confident in her gait, casually taking her place behind the desk.
As if this was any other event for her, as if her presence was so natural.
“Mister Kohler, I am glad my letter reached you. Let’s talk about ending this strike.”
Her voice was a little bit nasal– Kohler thought it was unusual for a woman.
In terms of stature, Kohler was taller, his limbs thicker, even in his suit, he was the working class man in the room. Across from him, Lehner was almost wispy in her figure, like a dark fairy who might vanish the moment he took his eyes off her. She had a strange but captivating beauty. He couldn’t keep himself from staring at the colors of her hair. It was almost ridiculous to him that this woman was now the master of the station and the region of Eisental at large. But clearly, if she achieved that– she was formidable.
And he thought, when she moved, when she spoke, that she had a certain presence.
Her every breath betrayed her belief in her own power and advantage, exuding confidence.
Kohler was dealing a girl much younger than he, a girl who looked almost unserious.
Yet he was immediately pressured and rendered cautious by her gaze and voice alone.
“I strongly believe that this meeting can be mutually beneficial to us. To start, I would like to hear from you the motivation behind the strike, and your demands in full.” Violet began.
“Yes.” Kohler said. “Months ago– after the elections–” He paused to gather his breath. He had found himself about to stammer and he had to project confidence. “Rhineametalle instituted productivity targets that demanded intolerable work hours on the shops in order to fulfill them. When some of the veterans complained, they fired all the old hats, and hired a bunch of younger guys and girls. But trying to train those kids, it was impossible to meet the targets. And then the targets were set to go up again, because of demands from the government. That’s when we’d had it. Even younger workers joined the strike. That was how bad it was, Reichskommissar. They were practically demanding we live in the shops.”
“I don’t disagree that in those conditions, the production targets were set carelessly.”
Violet agreeing with him, even mildly, came as a staggering surprise to Kohler.
“We either need wages to go up, and more guys and machines in the shops– or we need the targets to go back down and our work hours to normalize again in turn.” Kohler said. “They can throw out all the guys they want, and they can hire all the kids they want to replace them. Even if they replace all the guys with new machines that can shove the metal into themselves and stitch it all themselves perfectly and then shuttle it themselves out of the shop– they aren’t getting out a Dreadnought’s worth of plates every day.”
“I agree. And replacing you all with miracle-machines would take up space that we don’t have in those shops anyway. So the realistic option is to talk things out as humans.”
“Listen, Reichskommissar.” He had gotten so used to calling her by her title. But it felt too surreal to call her Miss Lehner or anything else. “I’m– I’m not political here. None of the guys and girls in the shops are being political about this. We all respect the government, we live here. We just need a fair shake for once. We’ll go back to work, as soon as we have a contract that makes sense. We’re not gonna work ourselves to death failing to meet targets that keep rising in desperation and getting punished for it– not for last year’s wages.”
“All of that sounds acceptable to me.” Violet said. She steepled her fingers and smiled. “Here’s my proposal, Mr. Kohler. I looked through the production totals for the Tower Nine plant going back two years. Productivity was steadily growing– until the start of the war, when production targets grew immensely. I want you to agree to work out a plan for a 4% increase in weekly productivity in ninety days, but based on last year’s production scheme, with a guarantee that hours and totals will revert to that scheme and will not rise haphazardly. This is incumbent on immediate resumption of deliveries.”
That was much better than Kohler expected. Only 4% was doable with what they had.
He felt confident to push a bit. Violet seemed amenable.
“Ma’am, I am almost positive that we could get you a 6% increase on last year– if you could agree to the reinstatement of some of my trade union boys that got fired before. We got some kids who joined the strike, and a lot that didn’t. But I got guys with families ma’am, good guys, who you could bring back, and we could do so much more. With only the greenhorn kids, I don’t know that I’ll get you 3%. What do you say to that?”
“Very well. But I have an additional condition to add as well.” Violet said.
“I’m listening.” Kohler said. He felt safe– he thought he was winning her over right now.
Across the desk, Violet put on a cheekier and even more conceited grin.
“I want all of your union members present and future to join the Eisental National Socialist Party, which I will soon chair, as our first National Socialist Trade Union. Through the Party, we will organize all future labor contracts. Before you balk at this, know that I won’t demand you attend any pointless political theater for the sake of the party. Those are simply my own numbers which I must meet, and you will help to meet them. In turn, you can have as many of your men back to work as the new hires who did not join the strike. Deal, then?”
Kohler was stunned. “Ma’am, all due respect– that is a bit of a pill to swallow.”
Violet leaned forward a little bit on her desk.
“Mr. Kohler, I am willing to cooperate with you on this endeavor, in a way that nobody else is going to do. Rhineametalle won’t; and Adam Lehner won’t. Before I arrived nobody was trying to help you. I am not your friend; everything is incumbent exclusively on your results. I am taking this risk, at great personal cost, because I have crunched the numbers and the numbers do not lie. I know you can make these numbers and I know it will benefit us both. Those numbers will be met, whether by you and your trade union buddies or by someone else. But I don’t want to replace you. Please make the rational choice, just like me.”
Violet slowly drew back and laid against her chair, looking relaxed.
While Kohler felt himself sweating just a bit.
“Think about it.” She said. Her voice sounded almost sultry. “Destiny awaits.”
Kohler found his expected poisoned chalice, but now golden and studded with gems.
It was so much more difficult to turn it down or to argue against it.
Because if he could survive the poison, he had the gold and gems right in his grasp.
He was not lying to Violet. Few if any of his workers viewed themselves as activists first.
They made their living in stitching and shaping and treating steel that was then to be used in weapons for the Empire. They were part of the war machine. Had they all been ideologues, they would have quit the job when Rhineametalle quietly continued making weapons for the National Socialists. Had any of them been commies or pacifists, they would have quit even before that. All that they wanted was to live comfortably with their families. Their jobs were rare in that they were in constant demand and paid well and had perks.
None of them wanted to end up as contractors.
But he would have to surrender the union to the Volkisch. Could he do that?
Kohler imagined himself in a black uniform, with a sun disk on his chest, an eagle armband.
Some part of him was repelled by it– but his pragmatic mind told him it didn’t matter.
Getting paid and continuing to live mattered more than keeping his conscience clean.
Was the Volkisch Movement any worse than the Emperor and all that, anyway?
And Violet Lehner seemed so reasonable. She actually believed in the workers.
“Reichskommissar, soon as I see that deal in an official stamped document, we’ll sign it.”
He reached across the desk. Violet took his hand and gave it a curt little shake.
“Fantastic. I will get my Reich Ministry to put it all into a contract for your review. I’ll expedite it– I of course expect you’ll continue to man your barricade in the meantime.” She said.
“I’ll stay here until it’s ready and take it back to them, if that’s what it takes.” Kohler said.
“Splendid. We’re planning big things here, Mr. Kohler. I’m happy you’ll be on board.”
Kohler tried not to think about how ominous any of this sounded, nor meet Violet’s gaze. He was a member of a National Socialist Trade Union now– but god damn it, he’d be a fed and clothed member of a National Socialist Trade Union. He’d have a job and benefits.
He wouldn’t be out on the street.
In his eyes, that was a victory for labor.
Violet Lehner could have had any of the villas in A-block as a home, having purged most of the local politicians and men of influence who had taken up residence in the shadow of the Kreuzung central government. Of the vacancies, she preferred one of the smaller and more out of the way plots. On the opposite side of the lake from the main road, there was a small white house. While it was two stories tall, it consisted of only a foyer, a dining room, kitchen and a bathroom and bedroom on the upper floor. No sweeping wings with dozens of bedrooms. It was a little square thing that was almost cute to look at.
After working until 2000 hours, Violet finally retired from the office to her new home.
Having spent all day in meetings about every conceivable aspect of Kreuzung, arranging new appointees, speaking with the corporatins, as well as looking through Kreuzung’s records with her own eyes and coming up with her own ideas of how it should be managed henceforth– she was exhausted. All of the shouting and speechifying was bouncing around in her skull. She wanted to eat, and to sleep, and to be alone with her thoughts.
She was quietly driven out of the government palace, around the lake, and left at her home. Two armed guards would take the night shift guarding her home. She welcomed them to have dinner, but they declined, having already eaten. They requested to be able to pray, instead. Violet agreed wholeheartedly, and she left them to do so on her porch.
Inside, the house was sparsely decorated. Unlike some of the other villas, this one had been unoccupied, it was up for sale, and Violet had purchased it. It was a drop in the bucket compared to the windfall that Kreuzung had repossessed in its sweeping purges of the liberal government and their ill-gotten gains. Violet hung up her cap, cape and jacket near the door, and undid the top buttons on her shirt, removing the tie. She ran her hands through her colorful hair and sighed deeply, making her way to the kitchen.
She had only two major kitchen appliances: a refrigerator, and a dehydrator. She had a pantry, a cupboard, and she had a mortar and pestle out on small island.
Violet wandered over to the dehydrator. A tall metal box with nine racks inside, designed to perfectly hold temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees centigrade. She opened the box, and there was already a rack where she had been warming up some nuts all day. She left them on the island while she gathered herbs and garlic from her refrigerator. From the pantry, she took a small bottle of olive oil. With everything assembled, she pulled up her sleeves a bit and got to pounding the ingredients in her granite mortar and pestle.
There was something therapeutic about the action.
Her mind practically emptied as she smashed the herbs, garlic and nuts along with a bit of flaky salt, periodically splashing oil into the mix until she had a loose paste.
Then, she withdrew some mushrooms with big caps from her pantry, the stems having already been cut off, and she spread the paste on the underside of each mushroom cap like pieces of buttered toast. She put four such mushrooms on a plate, paste-side up, and took her light dinner to the dining room table along with a glass of lemon water.
She sat down and took her first bite. She already knew it would taste good, but she was still surprised at how fresh and hearty it felt every time she had it. Vegetal and earthy, with a fresh, bright taste from the herbs, this was real food, living food. In her mind, something like a fried sausage was like eating cancer. It was a pity that they could not feed the soldiers a diet like the one she had. They did not understand its virtues, and it simply was not cheap– promoting raw vegan food was a longer term project for Violet. For now, she had to accept the political realities, but someday. Someday everyone would eat only like this.
It would be a better world, a healthier world, a corrected world.
A perfect, superior world.
A world of truly modern humans enlightened by a scientific yet mythopoetic political ideal.
That ideal was Fascism, in the particular expression Violet herself championed.
Halfway through her dinner, she heard the front door open.
It did not worry her.
Someone put up a coat in the foyer. There was the approaching clack of heeled shoes.
Around the corner appeared a familiar figure, smiling as she took her place at the table.
Vesna Nasser, loosening her own tie and undoing a few buttons on her shirt.
Violet smiled back at her.
Nasser was a sight. She was tall and beautiful, with a strong gaze and countenance. She had an amazing figure, like the treatments they both received had brought out three times as much of a woman from her body as from Violet’s. Her blond hair and golden ears and tail only added to Violet’s interest. Already predisposed to Shimii, Violet thought that Nasser was the most perfect example of the grace and wild beauty of her kin.
Everyone else was deeply afraid of her majesty.
“Want some?” Violet asked, pointing to the last mushroom cap on her plate.
“I already ate, but I appreciate it.” Nasser replied.
“You’re missing out.” Violet said, with a little grin.
She picked up the mushroom cap and took a bite. Some of the spread got on her lips.
Nasser reached out and smudged the paste over Violet’s lips, grinning back.
“I’m not a convert to your silly diet, you know.” She said.
“It’s not silly– it’s scientific. Someday we must all eat like this.”
“Tell me, how does a dehydrator not constitute cooking? I still don’t understand that.”
“Heating up food past around 47 C kills all the nutrients, but just warming it up will inhibit bacterial growth while expressing some of the living flavor compounds.” Violet said.
“If you say so.” Nasser’s ears twitched. Her smile spread even farther, and she chuckled.
Glaring at her, Violet ate the last of her mushroom in one big bite.
“How was your trip to Tower Seven? How are the people there?” Violet asked.
“Badly abused, but resilient.” Nasser said. “Leija was a disaster, so I could not get anything important done. I left a few people with her to force to her clean up. I need to make sure she is in command of the place, before we begin serving carrots and swinging sticks.”
“Good idea. Don’t feel too rushed. Every Shimii stronghold is worth the effort for us.”
“I will keep that in mind, Reichskommissar.” Nasser said playfully.
Violet narrowed her eyes at the tone with which she pronounced her title.
But she decided not to make anything of it. She would just get teased even more.
This house and their stay in it was not for productive conversations about work anyway.
“I’m tired, Vesna. I’m going upstairs.” Violet said.
“Mind if I join you? We haven’t had the privacy to just chat for some time.” Nasser said.
“Oh, of course I don’t mind. My home is your home, always.”
They made their way upstairs.
Up a quaint-looking set of steps in the little foyer, empty save for their coats hung near the door. Violet began undoing more of her shirt’s buttons with a mind as empty as the surroundings, with each step taken up to the second floor. She felt Nasser’s hands lay on her shoulders and rub them, and she thought idly about taking a bath before deciding to do so in the morning, before she headed off back to the palace to continue her work.
As soon as she crossed the door into her bedroom, she felt Nasser’s grip on her tighten.
In an instant, Violet found herself nearly hurled onto the bed, face-down.
Nasser was on top of her just as quickly.
One hand running through Violet’s hair and grabbing.
And the other hand forcefully pulling down her pants from over her ass.
Violet did not resist.
She was bleary with anticipation and the forcefulness of her partner.
Her shirt was falling off her shoulders purely from the brusqueness of how she was handled.
“Quiet.” Vesna said, gentle but authoratative.
Violet went silent.
Vesna leaned forward, putting her weight on Violet.
Her lips left sucking kisses on Violet’s neck, her back, her exposed shoulders.
Then a bite that felt deep enough to leave red.
Violet cried out in surprise.
She heard and felt Vesna pulling down her skirt, and it sliding off onto the bed.
Felt her pants finally come down.
A hand slid under her belly and urged her to lift her hips.
“I love you, Vesna.” Violet said, her voice fading in the midst of her lovestruck stupor.
Vesna’s voice in her ear. “I’ll imprint how I feel right into your skin, mein Schatzi.”
In one of the cleaned-out rooms in the government palace, a holoprojection-capable table was arrayed in the middle, and it became a tactical room and the embryonic nerve center of the Reichskommissariat’s fleet activities. Barely a few days into Eisental’s transformation, its architects gathered in the room and around the table to formally commence the next phase of their operation. Kreuzung was their stronghold, but all of Eisental had to be taken.
Projected between them was a map of Eisental’s regions, stations, and projections of ship traffic between them. Stations were displayed by size and type. Business traffic was simulated in real time as it was known and regulated. Around Kreuzung was the ever-growing fleet of “Player Black.” In the far northwest in Aachen, close to the continent and Ayre; in the east near Khaybar; in the northeast around Stralsund group of towers; appeared the theoretical fleets of “Player Red,” “Player Green,” and “Player Yellow.”
It was “Black’s” turn to move.
At the head of the table was Violet Lehner, flanked by her dutiful adjutant Vesna Nasser. On accession of Violet to Reichskommissar, Nasser was promoted to Oberführer.
Opposite her, stood a woman with very orderly dark-blue hair, holding her cap in her hands. Her tail was extremely bushy and a little bit messier than her hair, and her cat-like ears were rounded-off at the tips. She wore her jacket off her shoulders, with her arms out of the sleeves. This was Standartenführer Imani Hadžić, a wealthy and intelligent follower of Nasser’s ideals. On that night, she met no one’s eyes and had a distant expression.
Beside Imani Hadžić, an exceedingly stuffy-looking dark-haired woman glared at her.
Her eyes seemed to take particular umbrage with the way Imani wore her uniform.
Along with this woman was a bubbly blond smiling in a way Violet found stupid.
This was Untersturmführer Emilia Skonieczny, whose career was a peculiar interest.
Then the sides of the table. Violet looked to each, examining their countenances.
On one side was a serious-looking Loup woman, with a long mane of brown hair. Broad-shouldered, tall, and with large hands, a scar cutting across the bridge of her nose and another extending from the side of her mouth near to the peak of cheekbones. She looked the most like a warrior of anyone in the room, but her scars and ruggedness had a sort of romantic and tragic beauty to them, itself evident in the softness of her gaze.
This was the Loup warlord Sushila Hatta of the Khedivate Loup “Silver Wolf Legion.” She was given the rank of Obersturmbannführer and a corresponding uniform within the Eisental fascists, having left the backwaters of Southern Rhinea to join their cause.
Standing beside her was a woman who was also rustic, large and tough — though nowhere near Hatta’s level — with a great quantity of silky brown hair and an unfriendly expression on her pretty young face. Her girlish beauty was yet untouched by war. This was Heidelinde Sawyer, Sturmbannführer in charge of the Volkisch militias. As a kind of insult she was subordinated to Hatta temporarily– Violet did not trust her for a second. She would find a more permanent home for Adam Lehner’s personal attack dog soon enough.
Opposite them was the final member of this group of conspirators. She was a very pale woman, blond, so blond her hair was almost white. Her icy blue eyes and icy-blue lips were twisted in a euphoric expression. Around her neck she wore an enormous medallion with a hooked cross, and she was bedecked in jewels, gold and earrings besides. She was perhaps the oldest woman in the room, with crow’s feet and a lot of makeup. But she boasted a grand and refined beauty, like an actress still slaying the lead role in sensual romance films well into her 50s. Her busty, ample figure was flattered by the uniform.
She was the first one to speak while everyone else was getting settled.
“Aaah! Such powerful auras! I can feel the divine feminine coursing in this room! It is touched by the sign of Venus! It is a site of Ying energy! Here the sun falls and the moon shines in its magnificence! We are pregnant with the future and giving birth to power!”
Everyone stared at her in complete and utter confusion.
Violet narrowed her eyes at the pagan’s rambling, as the woman began to hug herself.
“Divine feminine? I would be very surprised to find any of that in this room.” She said.
Perhaps the strangest of Eisental’s military forces, this chirpy and unwell woman was Luciana Waldeck, head of the Black Sun Valkyries, an all-woman female-spiritualist paramilitary. Like Hatta, she had been given a rank in the Volkisch, but hers was only Sturmbannführer. Violet eyed her skeptically. Her family had once been ennobled, and she threw a lot of money at the Volkisch Movement over the years, and she was now eager to throw even more money and manpower at Eisental. Violet was not particularly fond of her, mainly because she just could not tell whether Luciana knew about Violet’s particular form of femininity–
but she wouldn’t bring it up. That conversation could only be annoying.
Let this idiot proselytize and throw money around, and let her deluded followers die for Violet’s schemes. That was perhaps the best place and the best end for such people.
“It appears that we’re all here.” Hatta said. “I await my orders, Reichskommissar.”
“Indeed, indeed! Let’s talk uniform-type business! I’m so excited!” Luciana added.
Hatta stared at her like she wanted to bite her.
“Very well. Nasser, disclose the situation and preliminary assignments.” Violet said.
Nasser touched the table with her index finger and swiped across.
More information appeared overlayed on the initial map. A prepared set of regional colors.
“Prior to the declaration of the Reichskommisariat, the Eisental region was only loosely governed from Kreuzung. Despite this, most of the region has fallen in line to support our administrative reforms. One notable holdout is Aachen, an industrial station in the north. Over time, Aachen was allowed to grow into a powerful center of administration, commanding large amounts of resources from western Eisental. Aachen is the only other station with political power and economy on par with Kreuzung. Most Western stations are primarily engaged in the harvest of raw materials. Eastern Eisental is mainly Agrispheres with traditionally large Shimii populations. Kreuzung is the most important part of the southern portion of the region, and already under our control. Other than that, the South and Southwest contain many Rhineametalle facilities and a few luxury habitats.”
“Now that you know about the region you can guess what the problem is. We have communicated the changes in status to Aachen and requested acquiescence.” Violet said. “They claim they wish to confirm with the Reichsgau in Thurin before they recognize us. Of course, I don’t believe this is the case.” Violet touched the table as well, tapping on the red units that were located around Aachen. “I am almost positive Aachen is plotting some resistance and stalling for time. They have many reasons not to accept our rule.”
Nasser followed from Violet’s statements naturally. She pushed up her glasses.
“We have good intelligence from a Katarran mole with ties to Aachen, that a constellation of leftist protest movements and paramilitary groups are mustering in the north. This mole also assisted us in predicting the Core Separation– the Cogitans refused the so-called ‘United Front’ and launched their own failed attack which we were able to repulse. So we can trust their information. We can surmise that this United Front is disorganized and its many groups are ideologically divided, so their cohesion will likely be very poor even without the Cogitans. But they could nevertheless constitute a threat if they are allowed to go to ground. Eisental still has the potential to break down into a greater crisis if the leftists get organized.”
“Labor is a big issue. To bring temperatures down and weaken the labor movements, we will establish several centrally-governed National Socialist Trade Unions.” Violet said, following up easily from Nasser. “We will negotiate softly and cautiously cede demands, incumbent on continuation of work, and thus slowly calm the antagonistic animus that Eisental’s labor has toward the corporations. I want to get goods moving to the Rhinean heartland again– however, our goal is also to divert labor and materials preferentially to Rhineametalle. Rhineametalle will get first purchase on all materials, and will work more closely with the Trade Unions than any other corporation. They will then give Eisental preferential buyer status for weapons and technologies. Allowing us to build up our own power.”
“Outside of Trade Unionism, our next potential problem,” Nasser continued from Violet, “Is Eisental’s history with the Shimii people. Shimii are the largest non-Imbrian ethnic group in Eisental, and they have historically been segregated in station towers as well as forced out of industrial work and into the agriculture sector. This is a boiling pot that could explode at any time. However, as you can see all around Kreuzung, our 7th Fleet is a largely Shimii formation. We can court the Shimii into our Trade Unions, and recruit them as a source of manpower for the ‘Zabaniyah’, and equip them with newly-purchased Rhineametalle weapons. Then we’ll use them against our enemies to prevent any further spillage of chaos in Eisental.”
“However, this is all pointless if the leftist forces are allowed to overturn the pot, so to speak. We will send an advance party to suppress the dissidents in Aachen.” Violet said. She touched the table again. Some “Black” units began to move toward Aachen, overlapping the “Red” units. “This will be our first major military maneuver as a Reichskommissariat. Imani Hadžić will be in command, with her flag on the Mrudah. She will have the assistance of Sawyer’s militia, and will have Diver tactical command under Skonieczny. The Mrudah is a new type of vessel and Skonieczny is on the bleeding edge of Diver warfare. I have the utmost confidence that Hadžić can make the most of these assets to crush Aachen.”
Across the table, Imani looked up briefly at Violet before averting her gaze.
Her reticence was a bit confusing– but Nasser trusted her, and so Violet did too.
Sawyer continued to hold her hands behind her back and made no expression.
If Imani could get her killed somehow it would be so much the better.
Emilia Skonieczny put up an extremely forced-looking smile and a thumbs-up.
She looked like an idiot– but if her thesis was correct, Violet would profit mightily.
Aachen would be the proving ground for all of them. No more needed to be said.
“North, West and East Eisental will be divided into Wehrkreis until they are fully pacified, with defense responsibility split up among our forces. Appointments will be formalized after the Aachen adventure. Preliminarily, Hatta and Waldeck will move east and west respectively to begin setting up our new Gau and most importantly, to assert our new economy. Hatta’s Loup follow Rashidun Shimiism so they are the best choice for now to control the east. Waldeck can employ her family’s business acumen to get the west producing again.”
“I am honored to be entrusted this command.” Hatta said, partially bowing to Violet.
“I will miss the amenities here, but I will follow orders.” Waldeck replied snobbishly.
There was more to discuss, but that was the meat of things. Everything was now moving.
On the table, black pieces departed from Kreuzung to each and every station, and slowly, the black filter extended over all of Eisental. From Kreuzung, to Bad Weissee, to Stralsund; to the manufactories of Rhein-Sieg-Kries and the Agrispheres of Baden; to Aachen in the north. In weeks, they would have control of the entire region. In a month, their economy would be back on track. In less than a year, perhaps, Eisental would surpass the heartland in power.
All of it played out on the table, under the widely-grinning face of Violet Lehner.
Her Nationale Volkskrieg had begun– and Endsieg was finally visible in the distance.
Deep in the bowels of Kreuzung, another group of conspirators awaited their own time.
Overhead, a glass observation dome in the baseplate exposed the massive Imbrium ocean. Directly beneath it, with the light of a few LEDs casting her shadow over her subordinate, sat Enforcer I of the Syzygy, Avaritia, atop a small crate in the damp chamber. She loomed over, statuesque, laughing to herself. Fawning over her at her side, with her head on Avaritia’s lap like a very dressed-up kitten, was Enforcer III, Gula. Avaritia gently stroked Gula’s long hair while looking down at a woman kowtowing in front of her and copiously weeping.
“Please, Exalted, my troops did all that we could. I beg you– if you must punish anyone, punish me alone for my weakness. The Wizard class was supposed to have the blood and instincts of powerful tacticians, and I have disgraced it. Please– punish only me.”
Wizard III begged, crawling shamelessly in front of Avaritia’s feet.
“Wizard III– If I were to spare only a single one of your troops. Please name one.”
Avaritia spoke in a cruel, uncaring tone of voice.
Wizard III felt a jolt of terror directly into her heart. Her lips quivered, teeth chattered.
She felt almost insane to be responding to this awful question.
Insane to know her answer.
“Vanguard IX.” She said. “She fought most valiantly of all of us. Please spare her!”
Avaritia suddenly started laughing.
She bent down, reached for Wizard III’s head.
And softly and condescendingly patted her hair with a cheery grin on her face.
“My darling, did you hear that? Wasn’t it romantic? Wasn’t it so unlike Wizard III?”
Gula rubbed her cheek on Avaritia’s lap, giggling.
“Darling, it was exceedingly romantic!”
“Wizard III, you failed me, but I am proud of you nevertheless. I could feel it in that instant. That little bit of humanity in you– that little spark of greed. It was worth making this trip just to see that become a part of you.” Avaritia’s eyes formed their cross-hairs again and locked on to Wizard III. In turn, she withered at the attention of her exalted leader. She put her head low to the ground and continued to bow without daring to look up, terrified.
“Of course, we will reward such romance! Besides, we need the troops intact anyway.”
Gula said, before extending a very long tongue out to lick Avaritia’s hand.
Avaritia’s fingers absentmindedly toyed with the long, slender tongue like a little toy.
“Indeed, indeed. But, there is one action I must regrettably take, in response to all of this.”
Avaritia lifted the hand that was toying with Gula’s tongue. Casually, she reached down.
Then effortlessly ripped Wizard III’s arm out of its socket with a horrific wet crunch.
Wizard III gritted her teeth, groaned, struggling to hold her bow. Her entire body shaking.
“Please use this to assist Vanguard IX in recovering. She needs an arm more than you do.”
Through the dizzying pain, Wizard III continued to bow. “As you command, Exalted.”
She held that bow valiantly, never collapsing even as the blood flowed.
Avaritia toyed with the arm a bit and pondered.
In all likelihood they would be a little late to the conference in Aachen, but that was fine.
All of their plans had become longer-term than any of them wanted.
But what good was a Destiny devoid of romance? Their destination was set, so why hurry?
“I am curious what more the hominin are capable of– let us watch them for now.”
Avaritia smiled in the darkness, her cross-hair flashing.
And her shadow stretching across the room as a hundred-limbed, serpentine horror.
“I’m telling you, I’m fine now.”
Majida al-Khaybari cast a tired glance at Raaya al-Shahouh, who was fussing over her.
She stood at the side of Majida’s bed with her arms spread out, preventing her from rising.
“You need to stay in bed.” Raaya said. “Please. Just a few more days. For me.”
“Raaya. Please step aside.” Majida’s breathing was troubled. She broke into a sweat.
“What happened to me being your wife, Majida? Sometimes wives must do these things.”
“Not so loud.” Majida moaned. She dropped back into bed, defeated.
Had Raaya made any more of a fuss, Mawla Asma or someone else close to her could have heard, and then they would both have some very awkward explaining to do.
Unlike Majida, bedridden and ill, the Mawla had a rare and blessed streak of good health and was engaged in inspecting the various tunnels and modules of Khaybar. Though Majida was not the “ruler” of Khaybar, she still felt a strong sense of responsibility for the community and as she lay in bed, she only grew more nervous of what the Mawla might think. Majida had been accruing more and more military resources while making only humble improvements to the life support and food systems. The Mawla might disprove of her ambitions.
Seeing Majida drop back into bed, Raaya sighed and sat down at her side.
“Everything will be fine.” Raaya said. “You’ll get to terrorize the world again soon.”
“Funny.” Majida replied sarcastically. It did little to lighten the mood.
Around them the room was fairly dark. In a corner of the room there was an improvised lamp of LED bulbs wired into a battery, but it was rather dim. The entrance to Majida’s simple abode was a physical door with a lever-catch. She had no possessions except her bed, and a chest for her clothes. Anything else she needed was outside that door, with the ummah she cherished. Her only precious treasure in that room now was Raaya herself.
Majida turned her head and looked at the rock wall of their room.
Her mood took a dark turn as she imagined the Mawla making the rounds.
All of these people whom Majida had sworn to protect, to save; to uphold their justice.
She had promised the old warlord al-Khaybari that she would protect everyone.
Was it even possible to protect them? Living in this cave, with hunger and sickness?
Confined here eternally, and for what? For the sin of believing differently?
In a sense, was she any better for the ummah than that bastard Radu?
Was she really just an illusionist then? Another false hope for their beaten people?
Majida felt a rare swell of emotion.
She began to weep and she hated herself for it. She felt so weak and so helpless.
In her mind, she envisioned the man whose DNA she was cursed to bear.
“Raaya, was I born to bring misfortune? Was Mehmed truly so evil that I must suffer too? Can I do nothing? It feels as if I was destined to struggle fruitlessly. I am afraid for us.”
Raaya smiled gently. She reached for a bucket of cool water and dipped a towel in it.
“My father used to say that ‘to believe in Destiny is to disbelieve in justice’.” She said.
She laid the towel on Majida’s head. It provided some relief from the heat she was feeling.
Even more relieving was the gentle gaze and comforting touch of her companion.
“I like that.” Majida said softly. She smiled bitterly. “I want to believe in that.”
Raaya tenderly laid down at her side. “Majida, I truly believe you are living proof of it.”
Majida shut her eyes, comforted by Raaya’s presence.
She wanted so dearly to believe that, in spite of everything, God loved her.
That God loved her people too– and that they were not cursed to die in this place.
She had to recover soon. She needed to get out there again and fight for them.
If it was against such a cruel Destiny– Majida would curse and fight it with all her strength.
“Ha! Ha ha ha! Incredible! A Core Separation? How inventive! And they still lost?”
Laughter boomed through the room and out into the adjacent hallway.
“Such trick was only necessary for lack of martial prowess! A sign of weakness! Pathetic!”
Seated on an collection of colorful inflatable chairs, for one cushion along was not enough to hold her stature: Labrys Agamemnon. A “representative” of the Mycenae Military Commission of Southern Katarre, she had suddenly burst out laughing at some news.
She laughed at the thought of the terror Kreuzung must have gone through, and the folly of the Cogitans who still failed even after such an audacious gambit. Truly the Cogitans were the weakest race on the planet, reliant always on trickery. Only the Imbrians were truly war-like and mighty enough to rival the Katarran race in any way, she thought to herself.
Labrys lounged in a penthouse prepared for her in Stralsund, one of Eisental’s few luxury habitats. Unlike Kreuzung, which was a tower-type station, Stralsund was an arcology, with a domed structure and vast underground works. Stralsund’s upper level, under the dome, had free-form construction, with streets and discrete buildings, and it was a gorgeous and racuous pleasure resort. Standing at 3 meters tall, Labrys was not going to be comfortable anywhere but the upper level, where there was “sky” overhead, rather than a ceiling scraping against her horns. And only a VIP suite with a sliding glass ceiling would do for her pleasures. Seated on her cushioned throne, holding a bottle of fine wine by the neck, with a tray of charcuterie meat balanced on the flat and broad side of the axe-shaped tip of her tail.
“I thought the audacity of the method would appeal to you. Perhaps give you ideas.”
“Hah! You still don’t know me very well, Asan. If you’re trying to suck up, try harder!”
“I am simply concerned about our position.” Replied the annoyingly curt Shimii.
Labrys suddenly leaned forward, eye to eye with her inexpressive subordinate.
“Being concerned isn’t your job. But I could give you something to be concerned about.”
Asan did not waver in front of Labrys, despite the gargantuan difference in size. A slender, fair and almost cute Shimii woman, purple hair and a little lab coat, all made up in pigments; versus the Colossus of Sebbenytos, red and orange hair like flames, clad in golden armor, her muscled figure lacquered bronze, whose very tail was a deadly weapon. It would have made for a farcical scene had it not been for the sheer power and menace Labrys exuded.
In deference to that power, and the control it had over her life, Asan stepped back.
She dropped to one knee in deference to the warlord.
Labrys grinned and leaned back.
Raising her wine bottle and nearly downing it all in one gulp.
While Asan waited to be either dismissed or addressed once again.
She was lucky she was so useful– anyone else so out of line, Labrys would have beheaded.
Talking back to a superior was close enough to sin for a death sentence in Mycenae.
“Tell me, how is our little Warlord doing? You should be here to talk about your actual responsibility, rather than bringing me fucking news, don’t you think?” Labrys snapped.
“I apologize for my impudence. Her review is nearly complete. The troops respect her.”
Labrys smiled, bearing all of her many sharp teeth.
“Of course they respect her. She was created to rule. It is her inalienable genetic Destiny. Neither of us would be alive and here if she could not command basic respect.”
She reached out her enormous hand and prodded Asan with one large, sharp finger.
Again Asan locked eyes with Labrys without expression.
“But her creator is perfectly fallible. She could fail me yet. And I’d hate for that to happen.”
“Physiologically, Astra’s body is without flaw.” Asan said. “She has not shown any signs–”
“I’ve heard this once before.” Labrys said, moving her tail, plate and all, close to Asan.
Before Asan could offer a rebuttal, or shy away from the blade, a door opened behind them.
Both Labrys and Asan quieted, since the subject of their discussion had just appeared.
They quickly shed all hostility and tension and awaited acknowledgment from the girl.
Dressed in a uniform that was gold with black trim, festooned with medals.
Their new arrival was a short and slight woman with a confident gait, incredibly beautiful features, very fair and regal, with copious pale hair that almost touched the floor. In her hair there were several thin black antennae interspersed within it, with a few of these structures stiffly arranged in something like a four-pronged crown at the back of her head. Infrequently, a spark of electricity would crackle from that crown. Trailing behind her was a pair of spindly, eel-like tails that could be manipulated, but were currently just dragging.
As a Panthalassian, she had inherited features from the DNA of a– rare– donor animal.
Perhaps one of the rarest and most dangerous in the world.
It had to be that way– had she been born any lesser, Mycenae would have rejected her.
That superior DNA contained the oaths that kept Mycenae together.
When she looked upon her, Labrys could almost see Katarre reunited again too.
“Long live the Palaiologoi! For the Golden Age!” Labrys said, putting her fist to her chest.
That fist still clutching the nearly empty wine bottle, even in the presence of her lord.
At this scene, the Mycenean Warlord Astra Palaiologos II simply smiled.
She was young still, and forgave the excesses of her great and terrible mentor quite easily.
Or at the very least, she mostly ignored them.
Labrys loved to see that beautiful little smile on her face.
That naïve, malleable smile.
“Lord Agamemnon. I have completed my inspection of the troops. It is satisfactory.” Astra said softly. “Even those rambunctious mercenaries seemed to be falling in line for me. Spirits remain high too, even in the circumstances. Many seem excited for what may come.”
“Of course! It is in the blood of every Mycenean to see opportunity in chaos.”
Labrys reached out her enormous hand and patted Astra on the shoulder.
Asan averted her gaze as Astra looked eager in the presence of the dark Colossus.
“We stand to make a lot of money, my liege.” Labrys said. “Our time is soon to come. Just give the Eisental pot a few more degrees. It is bound to explode, and so will our profits.”
Astra nodded her head. She said nothing more. She was a quiet girl, often with her thoughts.
That part of her, Labrys wasn’t too keen on. But it did not matter.
Quiet was fine as long as she remained compliant.
Soon, this patch of the Imbrium, including that girl, would all be dancing on her palm.
Labrys knew for certain it was her Destiny to ascend to ever greater riches.
And maybe even power. Over Mycenae– over all of Katarre.
That was the unalienable truth inscribed into her DNA.
On an enormous television in the middle of a lavish pink room, a soft couch full of big, fluffy teddy bears watched scenes of carnage that played out in a distant place on a distant day. The Rhinea News Network had been playing the events of the Kreuzung Core Separation nonstop. Opinionated guests urged citizens to throw their full support behind the Volkisch Movement, and referred to the Core hijackers ominously as “the alternative” to the Volkisch law and order. Every day a new reason to fear arose. Weakness from the Liberals allowed crime or terrorism or extreme communist violence or another abstract demon to slip into Kreuzung’s core. And your home could be the next one attacked by the madness.
From the midst of the plushies, a slender and fair hand made a gesture in the air.
The television shut off with a quick command from a remote.
“It’s incoherent, but it will scare the oldsters who still watch RNN.”
Gloria Innocence Luxembourg spread her arms and yawned, leaning back on her couch.
All of this was quite sad– and she felt a touch of regret about it all too.
She had been watching days of this mess playing out in the media, while waiting for the delegates to the United Front to arrive at Aachen. It was not the media narrative itself that troubled her– the RNN’s right-wing slant was well known. Even the RNN’s accession to the premier media of the Rhinean government would not do much. Most of Rhinea was composed of apolitical liberal Imbrians who did not suddenly become fascists just from having one news network that was known to be toxic put in their faces.
What did haunt her– was the sheer enormity of the situation at hand.
Twelve ships of the Cogitan remnant fleet caused a monumental event to transpire. They very nearly destroyed an entire station, and could have killed hundreds of thousands. They attacked the core of an Imbrian station. Violated the taboo and nearly eliminated a human habitat. In her mind, that felt massive. It exerted its own gravity that felt crushing in its weight. Humanity could have been reduced. They could have lost Kreuzung as land.
Gloria was not just planning for hypothetical conflicts anymore.
It was actual war now. War that could become apocalyptic.
Soon, such decisions would be in Gloria’s own hands as well.
They would be her duty. Everyone would expect her to be decisive.
Everything on the television had felt so distant, once upon a time.
Other people’s problems. Outside the walls of her beautiful gardens.
Now, war and violence was hurtling toward Gloria, or Gloria herself hurtling toward it. Headlong, without pause. She had set into motion events that could not be taken back and written pages that could not be ripped. The “Red Player” on the board. The little rich Princess on a vast stage. Hundreds of lights would shine demanding upon her soon.
Her hand on the remote trembled.
She thought of words she heard Kremina Qote scream at the crew of the Brigand.
There is no United Front without Daksha Kansal.
Could Gloria Innocence Luxembourg give more to the world than Daksha Kansal?
Could she give more than Leda Lettiere– could she give her entire life for this?
Gloria remembered, so long ago, when her eyes met those of Leda Lettiere–
She hugged one of her plushies close. Hugged it extremely tight.
She smiled to herself. Whatever was she worriying about?
A few tears shed from her eyes. There was no turning back. It was done.
She was trapped in this and could do nothing but accept it.
No– she had been hurtling toward war for a long time now.
More than just the thought of Leda Lettiere and what she had meant– her school days were days of loss and transformation that revealed the world as too evil for her to endure.
Those days overturned ideas of power and nobility that she had long held.
Since then, she knew she had to claim the gold of the Gods for her own wicked self.
From the moment that Leda Lettiere met the gallows–
Gloria Innocence Luxembourg had received her inevitable Destiny.
At the top of the main building of the Rhinea News Network in Thurin station, the Fuhrer Adam Lehner had a private office, decorated to his liking, from which he ruled the country. At his back the wall was entirely glass, his window into all of Thurin below him. Furnished with a tall leather executive chair; a desk made of real wood; glass cases with models of ships on the walls. On that day, the model on his desk, which he had just recently assembled himself, was a Ritter-class Cruiser from Maximus Models’ “Highest Grade” line.
It was assembled without its various gun turrets, and partially painted blue.
Lehner stared at it for a few minutes while waiting for a visit from his officers.
He reached out an index finger and nudged it ever so slightly.
Enjoying the cooler angle that it had from his vantage, when poked a little to right.
Without the guns, it had such a sleek profile. And the guns were annoying to glue anyway.
Then an LED blinked on his desk to alert him to someone at his door.
Lehner cast a bored look at the door then returned his attention to the model.
Through the door walked two figures in black uniforms.
One was familiar, the Chief of Staff of the Rhinean Navy, Walther Weddel. A round-headed, very sweaty man with a rather wan and pathetic expression– Lehner felt almost disgusted to look at him sometimes. He was so disappointing. Lehner had told Weddel that he needed to put on some muscle, and if Weddel was even trying, it was impossible to see. However, the person next to him, despite being a woman, was the far more impressive one.
It was this woman that caused Lehner to lift his gaze from his sexy model ship.
All of the gallantry Walther lacked as a man, Hedwig von Treckow seemed to possess. She was taller than him, leaner, with sharper facial features, and particularly long and attractive legs. Her dark, shoulder-length hair had a fantastic sheen, long and wavy with a slight curl in the ends, and an ornamental braid on one side. Her makeup was perfect– Lehner paid particularly attention to her lips. Outside of the recent promotions Lehner had heaped on Violet and her freakish clique, von Treckow was one of the very few self-made female admiralty of the Volkisch Movement, with the rank of Brigadeführer. Female admiralty in the Volkisch movement wore a pants uniform rather than a skirt, and it only made Treckow look all the more comparable to Weddel, and again, absolutely not in his favor.
Lehner almost wanted to crack some kind of joke that Treckow should just become a man and replace Weddel in the high command for optics; but it made him think about Violet and all that assorted scandal and he did not want to promote further thinking along those lines. So instead he sat back in his chair and crossed his arms, bored and awaiting the two of them to report. He knew some of the points they were going to bring up already.
“We’ve got good news and bad news, don’t we? Start with the good news.”
“Heil, Fuhrer,” Treckow said, speaking before Weddel, “we have arranged a ninety day ceasefire with the Royal Alliance’s main force under the Brauchitsch admiralty. A few mercenaries and stray bannermen attempted to take parting shots, but were easily repelled without the main force of the nobles. The front is already quieting down as we speak.”
“Sorry doll, that’s bad news for me.” Lehner said. He groaned. “That’s news that makes us look weak. I didn’t say ‘no’ when this was proposed, and I could’ve, because I’m the guy, but I don’t have to like it. Put that under bad news and tell me something else. How are those royal bastards holding up? They can’t possibly still have parity with us, can they?”
“In the final accounting, we did just a bit more damage to them than they did to us.” Weddel said, taking over for Treckow. Lehner already wished Treckow had continued speaking. If Weddel wasn’t such a good manager, he would have demoted him to staff mailman just to avoid having to see and hear him. “And they have far less ability to recover long term. We have Rhineametalle and Skuld Armaments and all that– we have corporations with developed industrial pipelines. They only have whatever bits of Bruckwaldt Armorers that managed to flee to Yucatan with the clan. We will whittle them down long term.”
“Long term doesn’t matter!” Lehner said. “I wanted these puffed-up queers dead yesterday. We should’ve had all the metals and food they’re sitting on! If I did, then I wouldn’t have to lose sleep over Rhineametalle and those corporate bastards you trust so much!”
“Sir– I’m– Well–”
Weddel looked at a loss for words.
Treckow cleared her throat and interrupted his stuttering.
“Fuhrer, I have a proposal to turn the ceasefire to our advantage.” She said.
“Now that is what I like to hear.” Lehner said, his eyes suddenly interested in more than Treckow’s legs and chest. “See, Walther, that’s initiative. You’d do good to dig some up.”
Weddel frowned. He eyed Treckow as if to bid her to please continued speaking.
“Sir,” Treckow continued. “The internal situation of the Royal Alliance is deeply complicated. There are multiple competing interests within their stronghold in Yucatan. During a hot war, these factions do not have opportunity to seek their own advantages– issuing a ceasefire is necessary for their military wing to reorganize, but it will give their political factions the space to further feud. We can use the time to infiltrate, reconnoiter and exploit the political divisions of the Alliance to weaken it from the inside and make it easier to destroy.”
Lehner sat in silence for a bit, blinking, a vacant look on his face.
He then clapped his hands.
“Fantastic! Finally! Look, Weddel– a winning mentality! Please, Treckow, tell me more.”
He put on a smile and stared even more intently at Treckow.
She continued to fix his gaze without making any undue expressions.
Lehner had almost wanted her to blush or act girlish but it apparently just wasn’t her style.
“There are three main weak points which we can target to weaken the Alliance. We should begin to sneak in Sicherheitsdienst and Stabswache agents into the Yucatan to take advantage of this. I would like to plan to do so in the upcoming prisoner exchanges.”
“Draft a proposal, and Weddel, take everything she says very seriously.” Lehner said.
“Of course– I’m the one who brought here, I cosign everything–”
“Shut up and let her talk, Weddel.”
Treckow continued speaking as if Weddel and Lehner were not feuding.
She held up three black-gloved fingers.
“First point: recently the Sedlitz and Lothair families formalized a merger through marriage between their young scions, in order to provide the Alliance with a ‘king and queen’ and a ‘royal court’ to replace the Fuellers.” Treckow said. “Sethlitz and Lothair were the 3rd and 5th houses in the Imbrium Empire as the Fuellers led it– but of course, the lower houses are not all necessarily accepting that the Fueller status quo should be reproduced within the Alliance. We could potentially find and promote a competing royal couple from the lower houses to sow discord within the aristocrats. It would be especially useful if we could disrupt the 8th House too, Brauchitsch– they are responsible for training and strategy.”
“This one’s a tricky idea.” Weddel said. “We don’t necessarily have an in here–”
Lehner spoke up. “We have aristocrats right in this room.” He said. “Treckow, you are part of the Treckow family– or you used to be– correct? They were the 9th House, once upon a time. Surely we have more former aristocrats around who could infiltrate the Alliance.”
Treckow shut her eyes. “I will do as you command, for national socialism. Never has a Treckow officer abandoned her leader and duty– save for my disgraced clan–”
“Please don’t send Treckow away, Fuhrer. It’s– It’s so hard to get good help–”
Lehner bared his teeth.
“I didn’t mean Treckow specifically! You dolt! Ugh. Treckow, what’s point two?”
“Yes, Fuhrer,” Treckow said, “Point two entails the preponderance of mercenaries in the Royal Alliance. Katarrans, Loup and certain Imbrian adventurers have been fighting as monarchist soldiers of fortune. These forces are smaller than the core of veterans that Brauchitsch has been leading for the Alliance, but they are significant enough. If we could turn them at a crucial moment, it could shift the tide of the war in our favor. Alternatively, we can at least pay them enough to look the other way at our initial infiltrations.”
“I’m not buying any mercenaries.” Lehner said. “If there’s anything the Royal Alliance has it’s money– all those fucking nobles are loaded with diamonds and gold and shit. I’m not gonna match whatever exorbitant price they are asking to fight for these losers. Not for what, 10 or 15% of their armed forces in total? It’s not a good deal, doll. I only take the best deals.”
“We should consider at least paying for smuggling and informants.” Weddel said.
“It’ll go out of your operational budget.” Lehner grumbled. “You have one, use it.”
“Very well, Fuhrer. Next point, Treckow?”
“My final point, and perhaps the most volatile: the native people of the Yucatan, the Campeche or ‘Campos’.” Treckow said. She launched into a history lesson that lost Lehner near immediately. “During the Empire’s expansion into the south, Imbria assimilated the Campos, who had created a militarily weak state. Yucatan remained largely dominated by the Campos since its location near the continent walls made it rich in minerals as well as growing materials for Agrispheres, so it was a region dominated by workers and corporate managers. The Alliance represents a massively extractive and domineering force over them.”
Lehner started gesticulating as if to say ‘get to the point’ but Treckow never picked up on the gesture until she was fully done speaking. Finally, the Fuhrer sighed and put his hands over his eyes. “What you’re saying is, we could try to instigate a native uprising? How? I don’t think the Escabeche people are going to be receptive to national socialism.” He finally said.
Treckow and Weddel ignored the flagrant mispronounciation.
“They might be. Nationalists exist everywhere.” Weddel said.
“And revolutionaries everywhere need a source of guns.” Treckow added.
“Guns? What’ll they do with guns?” Lehner asked, incredulous. “Brauchitsch has fleets.”
“We can sneak in Divers to them. Even Sturmvolkers, properly deployed, can make retaking any stations the Campos overturn painful for Brauchitsch.” Treckow explained.
“We don’t care about the ultimate success of the Campos, just the chaos they can sew.” Weddel said. “The Campos are the Alliance’s workforce, Sedlitz is cooked without them. And with all those conceited nobles around it will not take much to stir up a conflict.”
“I was on board at first, but the commercial went on too long.” Lehner said. He sighed. “Seriously, I don’t believe any of this will or can work– but it doesn’t feel like it costs me too much to take a gamble on it. It’s not like we’re in any condition to just break the ceasefire right away. But my priority is reorganizing the frontline– alongside all this spy nonsense, I want someone with brains like Treckow to plan a blitz ninety days from now.”
“Yes sir.” Treckow said. For the first time, her tone sounded just a little crestfallen.
“Weddel– keep on doing what you’re doing. Dismissed. Send me all the plans you make.”
Lehner waved his hands dismissively, as if shooing two dogs out of his office.
Treckow and Weddel hailed victory and left the room.
Once they were gone, he reached into a drawer for a pack of cigarettes and lit one.
Not some electric vapor pipe thing– real cigarettes.
Hundred marks a pack. The good stuff.
“Honestly. I get behind all this ubermensch shit and not one of them is superior to fucking anything.” He took a long drag and ran his fingers across the surface of the cigarette. A concrete, vital object, not some necrotic facsimile. That’s what he wanted the Volkisch to be– but at every turn, he conceded living vitality to further erosion.
“All of this is a goddamn fucking nightmare.”
He was distracted by the red LED lighting up on his desk again.
“Come in, but it better be good! You didn’t schedule this!” Lehner shouted.
When the door opened, a sheepish Volkisch communications officer walked in.
Her beret was practically falling off her head with how much she was shaking.
“What’s the matter now?” Lehner asked, exasperated. “You can speak up!”
“Fuhrer,” said the girl, “We have a report of recent events in Kreuzung. It contains some– irregularities. We believed you should be consulted on the situation before it was officially disseminated to other analysts. I have the papers in this portable computer, sir.”
She approached the desk and deposited the computer on it.
Lehner looked down at it skeptically, for merely a second.
“Just tell me what it is!” Lehner said. He was getting fed up with his subordinates.
“Sir!” said the girl, straightening up as stiff as she could go. “It appears Kreuzung ended the Rhineametalle workers strike. They have struck a deal– details forthcoming– but apparently the deal was struck by Vladimir Lehner of the 7th Stabswache, acting as Reichsk–”
“Violet Lehner.” Lehner said suddenly. His reaction even surprised himself for a moment. However, he was too elated for introspection. “Finally, someone around here has displayed a shred of competence. So what’s the irregularity? You just got her name wrong?”
“Um.” The communications girl paused for a moment. “Well, sir, that was– one–”
“So what’s the rest then? Am I going to have to read all of this? Really?”
He picked up the portable computer and let it drop from his hand back on his desk.
The thudding sound caused the communications girl to shake. She finally continued.
“Sir, Kreuzung has declared itself the seat of a political unit called Reichskommissariat Eisental. It has also declared that Vlad– Violet Lehner is its Reichskommissar. Sir, it was the understanding of the Sicherheitsdienst that these proposed land divisions and governing positions were only to extend to future conquests, not to Rhinean regions.”
Lehner blinked, hard. His cigarette hung in his fingers untouched for seconds.
He brought it to his lips and took a long drag. Then he smashed it against his desk.
“Send for your boss. I want Haus right here, now. Bring every communication and report from Kreuzung for the past month. And get me a meeting with this Reichskommissar.”
Violet– his scandalous offspring was doing too fucking good a job right now.
And it had just then begun to deeply concern him what she might be capable of doing.
Maybe he was worrying for nothing– he was her father, surely she would not–
But maybe she had the ambitious bastardry of a Vladimir rather than a sweet Violet.
Or worse– a born and bred Lehner.
“No– No, don’t leave me here– please take me away–”
Violet mumbled in her sleep. Nightmares. It was an almost nightly occurrence.
There was nothing she could do to protect her ward in the warped realm of her mind.
Nasser held tightly onto Violet, who felt so thin and small in her grasp just then.
She grit her teeth, overcome with dread as the players began the fated performance.
They had been playing house in Kreuzung for a bit– but those days would soon be over.
Sometimes she wanted to take Violet and run away for good.
But there was no use to that. There was too much at stake for both of them.
Normal lives were not meant for them.
It was impossible to outrun it, ever since they first laid eyes on one another.
Nasser, nothing but a wicked mercenary tasked with handling some forlorn girl.
Violet, a seed of hatred and scandal who nevertheless could not be allowed to die.
Ever since then, they danced upon the cruel, immense, and inescapable stage of Destiny.
For the future of Imbria.
For the future of the Shimii.
For their own futures.
Without their politics, and their blood, and the power they conferred, there was nothing.
There were a lot of people Nasser could curse. But there was nothing she could do.
Mehmed’s rebellion was crushed by the predecessors of the Volkisch in Rhinea’s navy.
Al-Khaybari’s people were confined to his mountain, to die with him.
Nasser the Elder died cursing the Mahdists for a hundred generations despite his “victory.”
Mogliv Omarov exiled to foreign lands to die. Radu the Marzban but a shadow of himself.
Who would be the next Hero whose ambition would overturn these lands?
Who would be the next one to fail and to be buried, leaving behind only grudges?
Nasser could not afford to fail as they had.
In order to have a future, she, too, had to realize Endsieg.
“I’ll be strong for you.” Vesna Nasser said. “I have to be strong. I have to be.”
For the Heroes whose feud she had to continue.
For the Order that she needed to construct.
And for the woman that she saved, and used, and now painfully, that she loved.
Vesna Nasser had to become a king worth the favor of Destiny.