Rising From The Ashes (Huenya election and post-election RP, open)

December 18th
Huenyan Federal Election Commission Headquarters
11:00 am

"Today, Huenya truly begins rising from the ashes."

Great Speaker Texōccoatl stood confidently on the steps of the Federal Election Commission, addressing the media. "Today, Huenya marks a major milestone in our striding towards democracy and equality. When I cut this ribbon, the doors to our new election commission will officially open. One hour after that, at noon, early voting will officially begin in our first ever national, regional and local elections. At noon today, despite everything we have endured during the war and its aftermath, Huenyans in their millions will begin showing the world exactly what we are made of. With our resilience and determination unshaken, and our desire to join the ranks of the democratic and free nations of the world unswayed, the Huenyan Federation will complete the first free election ever held on Huenyan soil. We will turn the page on centuries of oppression and tyranny, and begin a new era. I hope that the rest of the world is as excited as we are for this monumental event."

With a slight flourish, Texōccoatl raised the scissors he was holding and cut the ribbon that was ceremonially draped over the doors. As the blue and gold ribbon fell to the ground, the doors to the commission swung open. The Great Speaker put down the scissors, cheering and clapping with everyone else in the crowd. 


Palace of Flowers, Tlālacuetztla
11:00 am

Watching the broadcast from Huenya, Calhualyana snorted in contempt. She took a sip of her morning coffee, before looking over to Tochuitli, her new Security Minister. "I assume IIA is ready to deal with this?"

Tochuitli smiled darkly. "Imperial Intelligence is already in touch with our 'friends' in Huenya. If the Huenyans want to have an election, so be it, but they will find it to be anything but a smooth one."

The Empress nodded, taking another sip of coffee. "Good. I want a daily report of how our operation there is going. Make sure our 'friends' there have everything they need."


Secret location, rural eastern Huenya
11:00 am

As he watched the broadcast from the main base of operations for the Golden Blade, Commander Mictlāntēcutli snarled.

"Mictlāntēcutli" wasn't his real name; he had taken the name of the god of the dead as a nom de guerre because it suited his intent. In his mind, anyone who supported the Huenyan government or opposed the Xiomeran Empire was a traitor. And traitors deserved only death. It was the intent of the Golden Blade leader to make sure that was exactly what the traitors earned.

While the name was fake, the title was real. Mictlāntēcutli had been a commander once, in the Xiomeran Imperial Army. After the war, he had two options: retreat back to Xiomera proper, like so many did, or stay and fight for what he considered his home and the rightful order of things. Mictlāntēcutli had never retreated from a fight, and he had no plan to do so now. The so-called Huenyans, and their foreign lackeys, would pay for what they had done. And someday, Huenya would indeed be united - under Xiomeran rule, as it was meant to be. The lands of Huenya had been bestowed on the Xiomerans by the gods, and he would fight to regain what he had been lost.

And if that was successful, someday, a restored Xiomeran Empire would punish the foreigners who had dared to help secessionist rabble tear apart his country for their own agendas. If he was fortunate to live long enough to see that day, he would help lead that fight also.

"Commander? The liaison is here to see you," one of his aides said. Putting his pleasant thoughts aside for now, the Commander stood up and walked with his aide to a nearby greeting area. "Good morning. Pleasure to see you, as always," the Commander said.

"The pleasure is all mine," Calxochitli replied with a smile. The agent with Imperial Intelligence handed Mictlāntēcutli a packet. "More supplies and equipment coming for your people. Shall we discuss the delivery?"

Mictlāntēcutli grinned eagerly, and gestured for Calxochitli to follow him.


Necuatexi, Necatli Region
11:00 am

The new leader of the Necatli people was watching the broadcast from Chuaztlapoc as well. He had mixed feelings.

Macochu, the son of Huacue, was now tasked with leading his people after his father's arrest for war crimes. Like many Necatli, he felt that the arrest and prosecution were politically motivated, or possibly payback for Huacue's role in forcing Yauhmi to abdicate. But Macochu knew something many Necatli did not: his father had committed the crime. Huacue had told him that he had ordered the execution of an unarmed, unresisting Xiomeran commander who had surrendered. What was more, Huacue had told his son that he had absolutely no regrets about it. "Even if they punish me for it, that man ran an internment camp where many of our people suffered and even died. He deserved death, whether I delivered it to him or some court in Chuaztlapoc did it. Whatever this court decides, I would have done it again," Huacue had said.

Macochu also felt that the Imperial Army commander who ran the internment camp did, indeed, deserve death. But he was not as sure that his father had been right to act as judge, jury and executioner. That's how the Xiomerans do things, he had thought after his father confessed to him.

He believed that the Necatli lands, and Huenya as a whole, had to be a place where laws were obeyed, and a just legal process followed, for any of its people to be free or for there to be true justice. But he wasn't sure if he could simply agree to let some court send his father off to prison, or worse. He also wasn't sure that he could support the people in Chuaztlapoc who would decide his father's fate, if they chose harshly.

On the eve of a historic election that would determine the future of Huenya, the new leader of one of its component states was finding his loyalties severely tested.


Election Commission HQ
12:00 noon

As the clock struck noon, with the cameras rolling, Great Speaker Texōccoatl pressed a button.

With a bright and cheery-sounding chime, a large digital clock came online at the top of one wall, showing a countdown to Election Day. Computers began running, and election workers began connecting systems to their counterparts scattered around Huenya. A combination of Huenyan technical know-how and foreign aid had put together quite an efficient election system.

As the election commission's network came on-line, early voting sites around the country began opening their doors, with tight security at many of them. Election workers and foreign observers began gathering at the voting sites, the day's work ahead of them. From noon to 8 pm for the next seven days, early voters would begin casting their votes.

Despite the misgivings and opposition of some, the moment that had been the subject of much anticipation, hope, politicking and campaigning for Huenyans for almost a year had finally arrived. The first election for a free Huenya was now officially underway.


HNTV exit polling - early voting
Tiacihitli (Unification Party) - 42%
Yucuyche (Green Party) - 36%
Acxopotl (Party of Huītzilōpōchtli) - 14%
Quauhxochuepo (Huenyan Centrist Coalition) - 5%
Fourteen other candidates - 3%

HNTV analysis: With early voting almost completed, some unexpected trends are occurring. Interim Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli, of the Unification Party, is locked in a surprisingly close fight with Yucuyche, the candidate of the Green Party. Both candidates were originally targeting the same core of center to left voters, but the Unification Party's lurch towards the right recently may have hurt its support among that core. After the emergence of terrorist groups like the Golden Blade, and the execution of Unification Party founder Cozamalotl in Xiomera, unrest within the Unificationists pushed Tiacihitli towards a harder stance. It remains unclear if this will hurt, or help, him on Election Day. Early voters tend to be those most eagerly committed to their policy stances, and the Unification Party has to be hoping that a more moderate bloc of voters will help them see a surge after early voting closes.

Another surprising result has been the strong showing of Acxopotl and his Party of Huītzilōpōchtli. The right wing, religious party appears to be benefiting both from a surge of religious revivalism among those following the Huenyan indigenous religion, as well as the poor security situation in the country. The unexpectedly strong showing of the Party of Huītzilōpōchtli appears to be coming at the expense of the Huenyan Centrist Coalition and their candidate, the moderate Quauhxochuepo. The HCC had been expected to strongly challenge the Unification Party going into the elections, but if the trends seen in early voting continue on through Election Day, the HCC will likely finish a disappointing fourth overall.

Xochuaxte Palace, Chuaztlapoc
December 24th

Great Speaker Texōccoatl waited in his office, his nervousness well-hidden behind his usual jovial expression. His military discipline and training served him well in that regard, but this meeting gave him good reason to be nervous. Depending on how he handled it, this meeting could make or break the Huenyan Federation. The stakes were the highest he had ever played for.

A sharp knock on his door interrupted his thoughts. The door was opened by a Shorn One, who stood at attention. "Majesty, Macochu, tlatoani of the Necatli, is here to see you." Texōccoatl nodded, standing up to invite Macochu in. As Macochu took a seat, Texōccoatl couldn't help but notice how young he was. He can't be older than 21, and yet, he now has to lead his people. This could be a very good thing, or a very bad one.

"Thank you for agreeing to see me," Texōccoatl said politely. "It is nothing, I had to come to Chuaztlapoc anyway. To see my father," Macochu said with a firmly direct gaze at Texōccoatl.

Right to the point, Texōccoatl thought with slight bemusement. He's definitely a Necatli - no small talk or subtleties. Texōccoatl decided to return the favor in kind. "The reason I asked you to speak with me is precisely because of Huacue's arrest. I know there are many Necatli who are angry about his being arrested - you are surely among them. But I am urging you to not let that anger drive you, or your people, to abandon Huenya."

"I see. That is what you wanted to ask of me. I have my own request, in turn, Great Speaker. If your CNR tribunal judges my father too harshly for what he did, I cannot promise the continued loyalty of my people. Or my own." Macochu folded his arms. "The execution or imprisonment of my father would not be acceptable to us."

"Your father committed a war crime, Macochu. You know this, and so do we," Texōccoatl sighed.

"Wars are nothing but crimes, Texōccoatl. One crime after another, until an entire people are guilty. As a soldier, you know that." Macochu's gaze was unwavering. "My father's crime, though terrible, was far milder than that of many of those who fought in the war. Including the crimes of that Imperial Army camp commander he killed. Why should my father die when so many escaped justice, just by fleeing back to Xiomera, or by having a favorable hearing before the CNR?" Macochu shook his head. "Or, for that matter, because he helped remove your mother from her throne? Both you, and your mother, committed crimes of your own before the war, yet no one is calling for your head."

"The Golden Blade would disagree with you on that suggestion. Our heads would suit them well," Texōccoatl replied. "My mother does, indeed, have her share of both sins and blessings to carry on her shoulders. More, perhaps, than most people do - of both. But today she bears the scars of torture so heinous that it turns my stomach to think of it, and bears the pain of those scars in private, where no one can see. She lost her home and her throne, forever. I believe that she has paid her recompense for her sins. As for me....I know many people do not believe it, but I was never part of the Xiomeran set that believed that power flowed from the barrel of a gun, or from the scalpel of a torturer. I have not committed the crimes you place on my shoulders. My only sin was tolerating the darkness that rested at the heart of Xiomera for so long, until it was too late to stop it. Be that as it may....one could well argue that my family, at least somewhat, has paid the consequences for our sins. Your father has not paid for his."

"I am not saying there should not be consequences for what he did. Even my father agrees on that," Macochu said. "But I do have the right to insist, for my father, that the consequences be fair."

Texōccoatl thought for a moment. "I do have some influence with the CNR," he said finally. "Influence? The entire apparatus of the CNR reports to you. Everyone knows that. It's the worst kept secret in Huenya," Macochu replied with a laugh. Texōccoatl shrugged eloquently, neither confirming or denying that statement. "Here is what I propose. Your father pleads guilty, sparing both his people and Huenya as a whole the spectacle of a trial. In return, he agrees that he will return to the Necatli lands, to remain in the custody of the Necatli people. He is to never leave Necatli lands, until the day he dies. And he is to have no political or leadership role whatsoever. But he will live."

"Your own mother was allowed to retain a ceremonial role as nantzintli," Macochu retorted. Texōccoatl sighed again. "If you want, Huacue can have some kind of ceremonial role of his own, and be some kind of figurehead for the Necatli people. But real power and influence must remain out of his hands, for the rest of his life. That is my price for his life. If he pleads guilty, and agrees to these terms, he can live and return to Necuatexi."

Macochu nodded after a moment. "This is acceptable." He got up to leave. "For the record, Texōccoatl, I had no intention of withdrawing from the Federation. Unlike my father, I remember history. The Necatli, and all the other tribes, fell to the Xiomeran Empire centuries ago because we tried to stand alone. In our arrogance, each tribe thought they could defeat Xiomera all on their own. That was our downfall, and Huenya's downfall. We cannot let that happen again. The only way Huenya is strong enough to stand against the Xiomeran Empire is if all the tribes stand together."

Macochu paused in the doorway. "But just remember.....loyal or not, I do not intend to be a pushover." With another nod, he closed the door behind him. Texōccoatl whistled softly to himself, once Macochu had left. No pushover, indeed. But unlike his father, he believes in Huenya. Thank the gods for that.

Oxtlacoal, southern Itotemoc region, Huenya
Oxtlacoal West Polling Station

Oxtlacoal is a small town in far southwestern Itotemoc lands. Early voting for the 24th had just begun, and Matzinena smiled as she sat down at her station and set her coffee down on the table. A line had just begun to form outside the polling station, and she warmly greeted the first voters entering the lobby. She was about to begin directing people to which lines they needed to go to when she heard the screams.

Loud shouting, accompanied by the sound of vehicles coming to a halt in front of the small polling station, broke the morning silence. Then came the gunfire.

The two Huenyan Army soldiers inside the station shouted to Matzinena and the other workers to get the civilians out the back; a third soldier went to accompany them as they rushed to the back door. The two other soldiers ran out the front, and the sound of gunfire intensified. "Quickly, come on!" Matzinena shouted, guiding the frightened people to the back. The third soldier opened the back door slowly, crouching to see if anyone was there. A burst of gunfire echoed out, and the soldier fell to the ground. Matzinena and the others paused, caught in the middle. The sounds of gunfire from the outside soon died down. The sound of boots echoed out in the stillness; men and women carrying rifles began to enter the polling station. All of them wore golden bandanas with a Xiomeran sun and dagger. A man with sharp features, and black hair graying slightly at the temples, was leading them. "Take them outside," he barked. The rifle-toting terrorists began forcing people outside to the front of the polling station.

As Matzinena emerged outside, she was stunned to see the two Huenyan Army soldiers who had rushed to defend them. They were sprawled out on the ground, riddled with bullets. Their Army vehicles, and an Oxtlacoal municipal police car, were on fire. Two police officers were also down, on the ground next to their burning patrol car.

The terrorists quickly herded the people who had come to vote into the middle of the street, separating them from the poll workers. The man leading the terrorists stepped in front of his horde. "I am Commander Mictlāntēcutli. I am the Golden Blade. We," he said, gesturing to his followers, "are the Golden Blade. We are the instrument of vengeance against those who split apart the Xiomeran Empire. We are the light of resistance against the false Huenyan regime and its foreign puppetmasters. And we," he said, his voice turning darker, "are the instrument of punishment for their collaborators."

The poll workers were lined up, in front of the burning vehicles. Commander Mictlāntēcutli eyed them, as they looked at him with a mixture of defiance and trepidation. "That one," he said finally, pointing to Matzinena. She was pulled out of the line, despite her struggling. Commander Mictlāntēcutli turned back to his followers, and nodded.

The last burst of gunfire was mercifully brief. When it was over, Commander Mictlāntēcutli turned back to the people of Oxtlacoal who had dared vote for a better future. "Remember what you saw here today. Tell everyone what you saw here today. This is the price for collaboration. And this is just the beginning."

As the Golden Blade strike force pulled out of Oxtlacoal, Matzinena was roughly shoved into the back of a truck, blindfolded and tied up. She had no idea where she was being taken. She only knew that the terrorists were keeping her alive for some reason. That scared her almost as much as what she had just witnessed.


Approach to Ixtenco Airport, Ixtenco, Itotemoc Region, Huenya

Bjarne Torvaldsen and Erik Kristiansen both woke up at about the same time, as their plane was making its final approach into Ixtenco, Huenya. They were both part of the first-ever election observation team from Grundhavn to Huenya, which was a moment of pride for many Grundhavs. Their nation, which had previously mostly had interaction with other nations only in trade and commerce, was stepping on to the world stage and their influence was going to be recognized. Wags pointed out that Huenya was on a completely different continent (Caxcana as opposed to Hesperida) and across the Promethean Sea, so it wasn't surprising that this was the first-ever anything from Grundhavn to Huenya. Bjarne and Erik were both election workers in their local precincts who had been selected through a competitive process. They'd introduced themselves at the beginning of the flight, then both promptly fell asleep.

Bjarne spoke first. "Say, Erik, you know much about Huenya?"

Erik replied, "I know they used to be part of the Xiomeran Empire. But there was some dispute or other, a bunch of Huenyans and Xiomerans died, and now they're not part of it anymore. You'd think they would have had some sort of negotiated peace, payments for release of contract, mutual trade agreements, the usual. But you know people from the southern end of the IDU, all that sun makes 'em crazy hot-blooded. Acourse, the Emperor or Empress basically has all the power, so they didn't really have a tradition of democracy or self-government."

Bjarne whistled. "So this election really is important. They're going to be voting for the first time ever. Guess that's why they brought in so many folks from around the IDU."

"Yup," said Erik. "That's why we've got so many security guys around. The Lord Mayor really leaned on all the guilds to make sure we were safe."

Bjarne looked around. He'd seen the black-clothed guys toting weapons, but he hadn't noticed that they were wearing different armbands. There was the coin emblem of the Bankers' Guild, the rings of the Jewelers' Guild, the hammer of the Smiths' Guild, and many others. There were probably five times as many private security personnel as election observers.

"Are they expecting something?" asked Bjarne.

"I suppose they're ready for anything," said Erik. "You know sometimes we get thugs we have to boot out of the precincts, so there'll probably be ten times what we're used to, and I hear there are terrorist groups active in the country too."

Bjarne shuddered. "But we're in a big city. The regional capital, right? Surely there won't be any real danger."

Erik shrugged. "Well, the Federal Intelligence Services is headquartered here, so there'll be spooks around to supposedly stop things before they start. But I don't know that I trust them. There are probably spies everywhere. If anything happens, it'll be because of traitors within the FIS. New states, especially ones coming out of an empire, always have problems with corruption."

"Well, we fixed it, didn't we?" said Bjarne. "So who's going to fix it here?"

Erik snorted. "There's only one candidate with half a chance. That's Quauhxocheupo. Former economist for the Imperial Bank of Xiomera. She's a total professional; understands money, knows the importance of competence, and won't waste money on a gigantic military or generous handouts. Knows how to get out of the way of business too. The kind of person Grundhavn can work with. Ixtenco's a massive port. With the right kind of development and some Grundhavish capital, it could be a real center of trade and an investment that pays off for us."

"That's right, you told me you worked for the State Councillor for Economics & Finance. So this isn't just about making sure the election goes well for you," said Bjarne.

"Yeah, but keep it under your hat. I'm also supposed to do some evaluation of Huenya as a potential trade partner."

"So what about the other candidates?" asked Bjarne. He worked for the Hospital Workers' Union, so finance wasn't the only thing on his mind.

"Well, there's Tiacihitli," said Erik. "He's the Unification Party candidate. His major platform is national reconciliation, but he's also got standard centre-left ideas. You know, tax, regulate, spend. He's Itotemoc, so whatever precinct you're stationed at, he'll probably pull a lot of support. But there's also Yucuyche, the Green. He has a decent understanding of checks and balances, wants to build a culture of democracy, and he's been fighting for that against Xiomera for a while. But he's also trying to outspend Tiacihitli, so he's got no sense of fiscal responsibility."

"Hmm," mused Bjarne. "They all sound fairly normal. So why are we so worried?"

Erik frowned. "Well, there's still the possibility of Xiomeran interference, but this Acxopotl guy is troubling. His party's named after the war god and not only does he shrug off the possibility of going to war with Xiomera, but he wants to give their indigenous religion real power in the country. Kind of a barbarian, if you ask me. No telling what his supporters might do."

"Attention, we are now making our final descent into Ixtenco." A voice crackled over the loudspeaker.

Erik turned to Bjarne and grinned. "Better buckle up."

OOC: please note that any ignorance or offense on the part of Bjarne and Erik about Huenya can be taken as Grundhavish parochialism.

Jointly written with Xiomera

Election Day, Huenya

“They still haven’t found the terrorists,” Alana Gutierez read from her phone to Paul Ramirez, her fellow election observer. The Lauchenoirian pair were among many sent to witness the Huenyan elections and ensure that they were run in a fair and free manner. The Huenyans had been very inviting, but the more sceptical among the Lauchenoirians thought it was because they were just terrified of Xiomeran interference and hoped to chase their neighbours away. The news from elsewhere in Huenya seemed to point to that theory.

Alana and Paul were stood outside a polling station in the town of Canchaura and were very nervous after the terrorist attack during early voting. They’d been told that Lauchenoiria had assessed the threat and thought it unlikely that the terrorists would target foreign election observers. That didn’t make them any less nervous; Lauchenoiria had wrongly assessed many threats in the last few years. The town they were in was fairly small, with most residents being from the Itotemoc or Necatli tribes, with only a handful of Xiomerans and even fewer expats from other places.

So far, things were going smoothly enough, and the mood in the queue was hopeful from what Paul could tell; Alana spoke basic Huenyan but Paul didn’t know any. They’d taken turns watching the people in the queue, the ballot boxes to ensure no tampering, and the horizon for the threat of vans full of terrorists. It was hot in Canchaura, much warmer in this equatorial region than in the winter of Lauchenoiria, and both of them were wearing their summer clothes.

“I bet a Shuellian would pass out in this heat,” joked Paul, fanning himself with a leaflet some priests had insisted on handing him earlier that he couldn’t read.

“Ha, no they wouldn’t,” Alana shook her head. “They’d spontaneously combust.”

The pair both chuckled to each other, earning some curious looks from the Huenyans standing in the queue. A pair of Necatli, obviously a couple, were holding their baby and were playing with the child as they waited. Behind them, a young Itotemoc man only just old enough to vote was dancing from foot to foot in excitement, clutching a book about international politics written in English. Paul recognised the cover, he’d read it a few years back and thought it basic but good as an introduction to the subject.

Everything was going well, and the pair were beginning to relax, when things took a turn for the worse.

The “worse” began with the sound of heavy trucks and vans rumbling towards the polling station. The Golden Blade had targeted Canchuara because of its status as a city with a mixed population, and also because it was far outside the regions of Huenya that had strong support for the terrorist group. They wanted to show that they could strike anywhere in Huenya, even outside their normal range. The group also had another reason for coming to Canchuara. They had heard that there would be foreign voting observers present in the town. That made Alana and Paul prime targets.

But the people of Canchuara were more prepared this time around. They had learned from the example of Oxtlacoal.

As the Golden Blade fighters ran from their vehicles towards the polling station, alarm bells began to ring around the town square. A mixed group of defenders rushed to their positions - local police, Civil Guard, Huenyan soldiers, two armed prosecutors from the SIPS, a FIS agent, even some local civilians who had rifles and were perfectly willing to use them on some terrorists. The sounds of gunfire and shouting quickly rose to a deafening level; two of the local Civil Guardsmen quickly ushered the voters, poll workers and observers who were outside towards the polling station.

Alana and Paul were not happy with this turn of events. Though most Lauchenoirians were somewhat used to the sound of gunfire following their civil war, it was still an unpleasant thing to experience. The pair stayed close together as the Civil Guardsmen ushered them towards the door, wishing they could move faster and afraid of what might happen next.

As the fighting raged around the polling station, the Golden Blade terrorists seemed surprised at the unexpectedly strong resistance they were facing from the Canchuara defenders. Their initial goal of overrunning the polling station and repeating their previous act at Oxtlacoal was clearly not going to happen. Reinforcements from the Huenyan military and police would arrive before they could defeat the Canchuara defenders. So the leader of the strike group decided to do the next best thing. He pulled out a whistle, giving a series of sharp blasts in a repetitive tone.

At the signal, one of the Civil Guardsmen escorting people inside the building suddenly turned, shooting the other. The other one fell to the ground; the turncoat then pointed his rifle at Paul. As a van screeched to an abrupt halt nearby, the turncoat pushed Paul into the open doorway of the van, then jumped in after him. The van then drove off, gunfire from the security forces futilely peppering the ground around it. The rest of the Golden Blade terrorists began to retreat, laying a covering fire down to prevent pursuit.

“Paul!” screamed Alana, trying to run out behind the van. The young man who’d been so eager to vote earlier held her back away from the gunfire as she continued to scream his name in shock and horror as the terrorists retreated.

As the van sped away, and the sounds of gunfire retreated in the distance, a bag was roughly forced over Paul’s head and his hands bound behind him. A voice in roughly accented Spanish told him not to move or resist, or he would regret it. He was on his way to join the other poll worker who was in the terrorists’ custody.

Back in Canchuara, any idea of celebrating the town’s staunch defense of its right to vote was muted by the realization that there were turncoats in their midst - and that yet another worker was now taken.

Huenyan National Television (HNTV) 

Around 6:00 am Huenyan time on January 18th, the main mailroom at the National Broadcast Center was slowly coming to life. Techuaqui, a mail sorter, was looking through various deliveries when one caught his eye. It was addressed to Popana, one of the investigative journalists with the news division. It had no return address.

Techuaqui was instantly cautious. He looked up at a flyer that had been pinned to the bulletin board over his work area. On the flyer, a warning from the Federal Police about possible dangerous mail from terrorists, along with warning signs to identify such mail, was displayed. This package, he couldn't help noticing, closely resembled the ones on the poster. Techuaqui gulped silently.


An hour later, after the package had been checked out by the Federal Police and determined not to be a bomb or otherwise dangerous, the contents were delivered to Popana. The only thing inside the package was a flash drive. Another delay occurred while the Federal Police made sure there was no malicious software on it. After what seemed like an eternity, the drive was cleared and Popana inserted it into her computer. A single video clip was on it. When she clicked on the video, it revealed itself to be a recording inside a barren room. Two people were seated in front of a wooden table, gagged and bound. Anyone who had been paying attention to Huenyan news for the past few weeks would quickly recognize them as the two kidnapped poll workers, Paul Ramirez and Matzinena. Both of them looked haggard, but otherwise unharmed.

Behind the two prisoners, three men were standing. They were wearing desert camo fatigues, with the emblem of the Golden Blade on their shoulders. Masks covered their faces. The one in the middle spoke. "This is the Golden Blade. We have these tools of the illegitimate and fake Huenyan state, and its foreign masters, as our prisoners. They are unhurt, for now," he said deliberately. "Whether they remain unhurt is up to the Huenyan 'government'. For the return of these people unharmed, the Golden Blade demands that the Huenyan 'government' agree to cede the following lands to our control."

A map of Huenya appeared, showing multiple districts spanning from the eastern Tepiltzin region through the southern Itotemoc and Necatli regions, in a wide swath. "These lands will be designated as the State of Apozanolotl. They shall be independent and distinct from the so-called Huenyan state, and will be a homeland strictly for the Xiomerans dispossessed by the separatist Huenyan regime and separated from their ancestral nation. This is not a request, or a call for negotiation. This is a demand for what our people are due. And if it is not met, these two will die. Slowly. And painfully."

The terrorist speaking looked directly at the camera. "And if our demands are ignored, they will not be the last. Do not doubt us on this. Any attempt to 'rescue' these prisoners will also result in their immediate execution. Do not even try. The Huenyan 'government' has seven days to agree to our demands. If they do not, the lives of these two, and the thousands who will follow them, will be on their heads."

The video clip ended. Popana leaned back in her chair and sighed.


The morning news broadcast from HNTV led with the story, and the video. "The terrorist group Golden Blade delivered this video to us," Popana said. "They are calling for a separate ethnic Xiomeran state in Huenya, to be named after Apozanolotl, the goddess of purity. And they appear both willing and able to carry out their threats if their demands are not met," she continued in a sober tone. "The government has not yet made a formal response to this threat from the terrorists."


At the Tecpancalli Tonaltzintli, Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli was in an urgent meeting with his advisors. "We have no idea where the Golden Blade is holding the two hostages, or even where most of their bases of operations are." Xochica, the Secretary of Justice, shook her head in frustration. "The Federal Police have been trying to track them down, along with the FIS. But we're chasing shadows here. We need a more comprehensive approach."

"I agree," Ahuatzi, the Secretary for Internal Affairs, said. "We need to loop more people into this hunt. The stakes just got a lot higher. If that Lauchenoirian poll worker is killed...."

"Oh yes, I know," Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli replied. "That would be disastrous. We need to do whatever we can to prevent that. The two of you mentioned forming a task force. What would that involve?"

"We would combine the resources of the FIS, the SIPS, and the military to look for and eliminate these terrorists once and for all. Along with other possible resources that we are working on," Ahuatzi said. "Our first priority would be finding the site the hostages are being held at, and freeing them unharmed. After that, we would work to eliminate the rest of the organization. I am assuming, of course, that their demand for a 'homeland' is a non-starter."

Tiacihitli snorted in response, making it clear exactly what he thought about that demand. "Begin forming your task force. We need to move quickly."


Chancellor's Manor, Geminus
January 18th, 2022

Chancellor William Lancaster tapped his favorite pen on his desk, sighing heavily. The tide of nonstop morning meetings had finally abated, leaving a slice of time for him to actually accomplish some of the things he wanted to do before he left office. He straightened a copy of the Geminus Gazette sitting near the corner of his desk, the headlines exclaiming about Huenyan election results and Eirian political polls. Hmm. Might as well be neighborly and offer congratulations.

"Could you get Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli on the line?" He called to his chief of staff, who nodded and raised her phone. He followed suit, waiting for the line to connect. Let's see how much more we can get done before I'm out of here.

At the newly opened offices and residence for the Vice-Speaker in Chuaztlapoc, people were still in the process of setting the place up. Furniture, decorations and supplies were making their way inside in a steady stream. Luckily, the Vice-Speaker’s office had already been set up. “Good morning, Chancellor Lancaster. Good to hear from you,” Tiacihitli said, grateful that someone had already shown him how to work the new phone system.

Lancaster cleared his throat once before beginning to speak. "Good Morning! I wanted to wish you congratulations on your election, and on your party's victory in the legislative elections. I'm glad that our countries can remain prosperous allies in these trying times. The attacks on your polling stations were quite horrifying to hear about, and my sincerest condolences for all lost or injured by the Golden Blade."

”Thank you very much,” the Vice-Speaker said. “The deaths and injuries caused by the terrorists were terrible, but I was pleased to see that our people were not deterred by that barbarism. We will just have to work harder to break these terrorist groups now that our government is formally established.”

"Yes, an established government helps. Well..." The Eirian leader trailed off, taking on a more joking tone. "Coalition building can be a nightmare now that you have a full legislature to work with. But with your party having as large of a plurality as it does, it seems you won't have as much trouble as we've had in the past. That's the 'fun' part of democratic politics."

”I am hopeful that turns out to be the case, but there will be some issues to sort out. The Greens could very well ally with some of the more left-wing parties and cause trouble. The Party of Huītzilōpōchtli could also decide to team up with the more right-wing parties, depending on the issue. But I am hopeful that we can get most, if not all, of our agenda through without obstruction. Any advice you might have on that would be great, seeing as how this is our first foray into legislative politics in….well, in ever,” Tiacihitli said with a laugh.

"Well, I don't have much direct advice on coalitions, due to our situational differences. However, the thing that I can recommend is to try to maintain a sense of respect in politics. Once you lose respect for your opponents, you lose many opportunities for coalitions and any sort of contingency plan in case something falls through. Also, be wary of standoff situations. With a country at stake, those situations can get messy." Lancaster sighed. "Especially when your coalition is locked in one."

”That is very true, and I will definitely keep it in mind. I do always try to respect all of my colleagues - even the ones who aren’t all that respectable.” Tiacihitli chuckled softly again, before his voice took on a more serious tone. “It’s appropriate that you mention standoffs though, because our government has been pondering one lately. The one we’re in with the illegitimate Aurian regime and its supporters.”

"Ah." The Chancellor's expression became stoic. "We should make some moves soon, before it is too late for any progress. The Lauchenoirians are clearing the way with additional hacking campaigns and a new no-fly zone. They demand action, and I can't say I disagree with them. The blockade has weakened their resolve greatly. If we can undermine the authority the coup plotters cling to, we may be able to save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives."

”I would agree, and sooner rather than later would be best. I fear we may have given the coup regime and its proxies too much time to entrench themselves already. Huenya will provide all possible support and assistance that it can to place increased pressure on the coup regime. I had planned to discuss that with Prime Minister Alvarez as well, once my cabinet is fully in place and we fully transition from the interim government to the real one.” Tiacihitli paused. “I need to reach out to the Milinticans as well, to see if they are ready to increase their own efforts.”

"That would be prudent. We need to move in unison if anything is to work." Lancaster glanced out the window in dismay. "This world is spiraling out of control. Wars, coups, tension. Where will it end? If we don't end this soon, we will all be at risk."

"I am afraid we are already at risk. Calhualyana isn't going to back down unless she is given no other choice. And she's hardly the only scheming tyrant out there. We need to begin discouraging their conduct now, while it is still possible." Tiacihitli sighed. "We will talk with the Lauchenoirians to see if they wish to use bases in Huenya to help with the no-fly zone. We will also look into beginning our own flights over Auria to assist."

The Chancellor adjusted in his chair. "And we will plan to do the same with our air force. We've also heard rumors of increasing resistance to Cordonnier's rule in southwestern Auria, so we may want to look into ways in which we can bolster resistance and potentially use the area as a starting point to retake the nation. Hopefully, once we have a potential invasion started, the coup government's legitimacy will crumble."

”That is a sound plan. I am not a military man, myself, but the Great Speaker was, as you know. He has been discussing plans with our Defense Secretary and they both agree that finding ways to increase resistance and unrest throughout Auria as a whole is the best way to stretch the resources of the coup plotters and their mercenary proxies. That should make them spread their forces thinner and make it easier to focus on one leverage point to hit them at. Stepping up the counter-propaganda against the regime should help that plan.”

"That's a very sound plan. I'd expect nothing less of the Great Speaker." The smile was evident in Lancaster's voice. "My military experience has been mostly resistance-based, and a number of my colleagues are resistance veterans as well, so we can help the Aurian resistance leaders get a foothold to help retake their nation. Once they have a foothold, it will be hard for the coup government to stop their momentum."

”Especially once we cut off access to their resources and support from Xiomera,” Tiacihitli replied. “Have your advisors recommended a timeframe for possible intervention?”

"The timeline for retaking the nation heavily depends on how prevalent the resistance force is in Auria. Establishing a connection with them should be our greatest priority." The Chancellor cleared his throat again. "We should mobilize our forces as soon as possible, so we are poised to strike if an opportunity presents itself. I know I won't be command in the near future, but I'm sure my successor will cooperate with you to their fullest capacity."

”I look forward to working with them,” Tiacihitli said. “Any suggestions or hints as to how best to interact with whoever wins?”

"Well, if it's Stendē and Morrin who win, I doubt you'll notice much of a difference compared to my administration. There may be more internal disagreement, but they are both highly skilled professionals, and they won't let internal division adversely effect foreign relations."

Lancaster thought for a moment before continuing. "If Vihrovs wins, you will likely see him attempt to withdraw from the CU, or at least withdraw from the economic portion of the Union. He recognizes the significant military threat Xiomera poses, and he won't endanger Eiria, no matter how much he dislikes the economic developments the Union would bring. He would still likely be on board with retaking Auria."

"Finally, if Ronis and Levefre win, they wouldn't withdraw from the Union, but you will see more resistance and hesitation to retake Auria. Ronis is very insistant on using resources efficiently, to the point where he would veto any plan that he thinks wastes even the slightest of resources. He's an economist by training, and is very much a perfectionist."

”That is very useful information. I thank you for it,” Tiacihitli replied. “Many in Huenya, frankly, will be sad to see you depart the Chancellor role, as you have been a good friend to us. But I am optimistic that your successor will be one as well.” The Vice-Speaker looked at some papers on his desk. “I also had another question. As you know by now, we have agreed to let the Sanctarians build a naval base in Ixtenco. I do want to reassure you that does not change our commitment to the Caxcanan Union. In fact, now that our new government has taken office, we wanted to raise the prospect of building joint bases in Huenya as a further deterrent to Xiomera.”

Lancaster nodded to himself, his clumsiness almost causing him to drop his phone. "I'm glad to hear that the Caxcanan Union will not be affected. I actually was glad to hear about the Sanctarian naval base. It will provide a helpful deterrent, as well as a semblance of insurance in case Xiomera plans to try anything. And I agree, building joint bases and beginning to form the framework of the CU would greatly help our situations." He paused. "I would also have to insist on forming civilian oversight bodies while joint bases are constructed. There is still a lot of hesitancy in Eiria regarding the abilities and independence of the military, and many fear that as a joint military is formed, officers could take advantage of regulation gaps. Plus, forming the official bodies of the CU would entrench the alliance."

”That is totally understandable. We are building our military from the ground up at this point, so we understand hesitancy. There is a fair amount of that taking place here as well. Oversight bodies are very much something we are on board with. Civilian control is something very important to us as well.”

"I'm glad to hear that. Judging by the state of things, an Eirian ambassador to the CU will be appointed after the election as a Cabinet official. They should help streamline development nicely. Of course, that's assuming that we don't partially pull out of the CU after the election." The Chancellor's nerves became evident in his tone.

”We definitely hope that does not happen. The CU is very important to deter Xiomera. Even a Sanctarian presence in the area might not be enough to completely deter Calhualyana or the XCP should the CU not be fully formed.” Tiacihitli tapped his pen as he thought. “If there is anything we can do to help make sure that outcome doesn’t happen, or to stress the importance of the CU to the voting public, we are more than happy to do so.”

"I appreciate the support, but I don't think that would be a good idea. It would only open up attacks on the CU's perceived 'Overreach'. We've already been working on promoting the CU from our side, so I think we are set. At least as set as we can be." Lancaster sighed. "It'll be weird, not being in this manor or the executive spotlight. I'll miss it, but at the same time, I could use some decent sleep for once."

”Normal sleep isn’t something I have had for a while, or am likely to have soon, so I can relate to that. I am glad you’re going to have that part of your life back now, though. And we’ll stay out of the political machinations and hope for the best.”

"Thank you. Again, congratulations on your election, and it's been a pleasure working with you. Hopefully, with a little luck, we'll have the chance to work together in the future. I know you'll lead your country into further prosperity." The Chancellor smiled to himself.

"The same goes to you. Always glad to help. Have a good day, your excellency." Lancaster placed his phone down with a content nod to himself. Now back to chaotic reality.


Situation Room, Buttercity, Lauchenoiria

“We cannot just stand by and let the Huenyans take control of the matter,” Pavía repeated for the fourth time in the last hour. “We all know that they will never agree to the terrorists’ demands, and while I agree that negotiating with terrorists is a non-starter I doubt their ability to rescue the hostages. After all, they haven’t been successful in dealing with the Golden Blade threat up until now, so why should things change on this short deadline?”

“Sending either operatives or troops to Huenya involves us long-term in a matter we would rather stay out of!” Rodrigo Montaña, Secretary of Defence, said, standing up. “We are already involved in the Aurian affair, we cannot go around pretending like we’re some kind of superpower, involving ourselves in every conflict out there. We are not. And we are still recovering from our own war.”

“Both of you,” Alvarez snapped, “are not looking at the full picture here. I would have preferred it if we could stay out of all foreign conflicts, but that is clearly not going to happen. If we do not stop the current trend of insurgency and violent transfer of power that seems to be creeping across the globe it will only get worse. I agree that we cannot afford to be militarily involved in two countries at once. We cannot abandon Auria; our message still has not been sent. Therefore, a military intervention in Huenya is off the table. Yet we cannot just allow our citizen to be killed due to Huenya’s incompetence.”

“Then what do you suggest?” Pavía asked.

“We insist on sending advisors to work with Huenya on the matter. We don’t take no for an answer, and we make sure that our people are involved in any operation. If their plans endanger our citizen; we need someone there to object. It’s the best we can do.”

“If they say no?” frowned Pavía.

“They won’t. And if they do, then we might need to introduce some extra tariffs on their exports to us, or cancel a few contracts, or any other number of things that will make them more cooperative. We would also need to ask why they are so unwilling to work with us while they are perfectly willing to let every other damn nation have a military base on their territory. No, they’d look like hypocrites so they won’t deny us.”

“I hope you’re right,” Pavía sighed. “Though next time, we’re not sending election observers to a quasi-warzone without extra security. Huenya can pretend all they like that the war is over and they’re living in peace but until they deal with the terrorist issue, the war is NOT over.”

“Very well. I shall contact the Huenyans immediately,” said Alvarez, her face hardening. “And I hope they will do as we ask. Or there will be consequences.”

Jointly written with Xiomera.

Josephine Alvarez was displeased with the most recent turn of events in Huenya. Anyone familiar with the Lauchenoirian Prime Minister would have been able to tell from the way she sat at her desk with her back perfectly straight, her feet both completely flat on the ground and her hands clasped together in front of her as she picked up the phone herself, dialling the office of her Huenyan counterpart.

"Good day," she said, her tone clipped, "this is Prime Minister Alvarez of Lauchenoiria. I demand to speak to Tiachihitli immediately. I shall not take no for an answer."

When the call from Lauchenoiria came in, Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli was in the midst of an emergency meeting with his security and defense team. He had headache medication and a glass of water nearby, listening to the Defense Secretary. “While we did admittedly fail to rescue the hostages, we did succeed in eliminating a significant portion of the terrorists’ capabilities. That should help us in future rescue attempts,” Acxopotl said smugly.

Future attempts? The Secretary is assuming that the Golden Blade won’t just kill both hostages now in retaliation for the raids,” FIS director Cuetlancaona said sharply in response.

“If we had been given better intelligence from FIS as to the location of the hostages, that would not have been an issue,” Acxopotl replied with an expression of disdain on his face. Cuetlancaona was about to reply when the intercom buzzed. “Vice-Speaker, Prime Minister Alvarez of Lauchenoiria is on the line. She is demanding to speak with you immediately.”

“Demanding? Who does she think she is? She has no authority here and no power to demand anything of the leaders of a sovereign state!” Acxopotl’s face had turned red.

“Perhaps if we had consulted her before the raids, as I had suggested, this would not be an issue.” Cuetlancaona gave Acxopotl a deliberately sarcastic smile.

“Enough. Everyone out. I need to take this call.” As Acxopotl huffed and prepared to object again, Tiacihitli glared at him. “Not a word. I let you convince me that we didn’t need anyone’s help on this. That was a mistake, one I will not make again.” As his advisors shuffled out, the Vice-Speaker soberly took the water and headache pills. After a moment of thought, he opened his desk drawer and took a hefty swig from a bottle of mezcal in a not-so-sober fashion. Steeling himself, he picked up the line. “Good morning, Prime Minister. This is Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli.”

"Vice-Speaker. I apologise for the lack of pleasantries, but time is of the essence," Alvarez began, her tone making it clear that her apology was insincere. "My people are demanding answers. Your government has jeopardised the life of one of our citizens with their actions, without consulting us beforehand. I am going to take it that you have not heard from the terrorists since your actions?"

”We have not. We expect, however, that some message from them will be coming shortly. I must apologize for not consulting you prior to our recent mission. Let’s just say….I received some bad advice. A situation I do not intend to repeat again.”

"I am glad to hear that," Alvarez replied, "because I do not intend to allow that to happen. Consider the situation from our perspective: we send election observers to ensure that your elections are free and fair, without bias to either side in this conflict. For this, one of our citizens is kidnapped. You act unilaterally, endangering the lives of the hostages, and we are expected to sit still as the terrorist problem grows. No, we shall not do that. Lauchenoiria will be sending our own people to Huenya to assist in the anti-terrorist operations, at least until our citizen is returned to us, safely."

”We would welcome the assistance, at this point. This problem is proving to be more intractable than we had anticipated.” The admission of that fact was painful for Tiacihitli, but the Huenyans had to face the truth: the terrorists would not be defeated without help. “What sort of assistance are you contemplating?”

Alvarez paused, not anticipating the easy agreement. Most nations she had dealt with would not have been so quick to accede to the demands of a foreign leader in this manner. "We intend to send a specialised anti-terrorist unit alongside some intelligence advisers who can liaise with your people on our work against the Golden Blade."

”This would be acceptable to us. We may seek additional outside assistance as well. I must be frank, Prime Minister….Huenya is not ready to deal with a threat as serious as the Golden Blade is turning out to be.” Tiacihitli sighed. “It would be foolish of us to continue to try to address this threat alone, especially since the terrorists themselves are not without their own support. We know that Xiomera is providing them assistance, but have not been able to prove that yet. But as long as Xiomera continues to back the terrorists with their ample resources, the Golden Blade will remain a challenge.”

"If you would like us to send extra personnel, we can consider it, but as I'm sure you've seen, the pacifists are already irate about Auria and we intend to make our move there sooner rather than later. Our military can only be in so many places at once."

”I understand, and I do not think additional military personnel other than your proposed team would be necessary at this time. What will be more effective, we think, is to place more pressure on Calhualyana to stop supporting the Golden Blade. Sanctions, diplomatic pressure, assistance with patrolling the Gulf of Epeloc and the Canal Zone to cut the supply lines between Xiomera and the terrorists. Without Xiomeran support, the Golden Blade would crumble. But a price has to be imposed on Xiomera to force Calhualyana to stop backing them.”

"Our parliament is scheduled to debate such measures on Monday. As for the Canal, we shall be contacting Laeral about whether additional personnel is needed in the Zone as a priority. However until the Aurian situation is resolved, there will be little else we can do with the numbers we have. Our people will arrive in Huenya tomorrow. Let us hope that the terrorists do not retaliate against the hostages for your actions," Alvarez finished, adopting a warning tone. "For everyone's sake."

”That is our hope as well,” the Vice-Speaker replied. “When your team arrives in Ixtenco, they will be delivered to the FIS headquarters to meet with our new Federal Counter-Terrorism Task Force. FIS director Cuetlancaona is coordinating our response to the terrorists.” Coordinating it solo from now on, and Acxopotl can go polish his missiles, Tiacihitli thought.

"Good. I am glad that you see the necessity of our own intervention. I shall be in touch further regarding Auria at a later date. For now, let's just focus on getting the hostages home safe," Alvarez said firmly.

”Agreed. If there are any other questions or concerns, feel free to contact me. I admit that I made a mistake on this last operation, Prime Minister, but I tend to learn quickly from my mistakes. From now on, I’ll ensure that we keep open lines of communication about matters that are of concern to both of us.”

"Good," Alvarez said finally. "Perhaps we will get through this without any further conflicts after all." On that note, she immediately hung up the phone. Let him think on what I mean by that, she thought to herself. In truth, further conflict somewhere was inevitable: Auria. And Lauchenoiria was preparing to make that clear to those behind the coup very soon indeed.

As the line clicked dead, Tiacihitli put the receiver back down with a thoughtful expression. Part of his emotions - a small but nevertheless present part of them - was annoyance at being treated in such a high-handed fashion. But he knew better than to indulge that emotion. Huenya couldn’t afford the luxury of a pouting head of state. He instead sighed, and picked up the receiver again to inform Cuetlancaona of the impending Lauchenoirian arrival. Given what was happening both in Huenya and around it, his country was going to need all the help it could get.

January 30th

The daily broadcast of Huenyan National Television was interrupted by the bright, flashy graphics and dramatic tones of a news segment. "Good morning, I'm Quizlacui, and this is a breaking news update. The terrorist group Golden Blade has just placed a video online, responding to the recent operation against them by the government. We're going to play part of the video now."

The broadcast shifted to a video, showing the same three Golden Blade terrorists who had been in the earlier video, once again standing behind the hostages. The man in the center began speaking. "The government's operation against us has failed. We are still here, and still fighting against the illegitimate Huenyan regime as the Army of the State of Apozanolotl. The government has only succeeded in one thing, with their weak strikes against us. They have ensured the death of one of these two."

The terrorist on the left of the group of three began walking around to stand in front of the hostages, who were now blindfolded. Paul was seated next to Matzinena. The terrorist slowly and deliberately snapped open the cover to his holster, withdrawing a pistol, as his leader continued to speak.

"We warned the government not to attack us. They did not listen. And one of these people will pay the price for the government's disobedience." The terrorist with the gun raised his hand slowly, pointing it at both of the hostages.

At this point, the video froze, and the news anchor began speaking. "We are not showing the rest of the video, as it is extremely graphic. However, we can confirm that one of the hostages, a poll worker from the city of Chuantalte named Matzinena, was shot and killed by the terrorists. The other hostage, a man named Paul Ramirez from Lauchenoiria, remains unharmed to our knowledge. We will now play the audio only, with the statement from the terrorists."

The voice of the terrorist leader began playing again. "One person is now dead, and her blood is on the hands of Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli and the government. If they disobey us again, the other shall die as well. Any further attacks upon us will result in his immediate execution. However, in the interest of peace, we will extend our deadline two more weeks. If the government refuses to meet with us to discuss terms before then, there will be no further extensions and the other hostage will die. We would also urge the government of Lauchenoiria, if it wants its citizen back, to convince the Vice-Speaker and his administration to begin talks with us, seriously and in good faith. The life of Paul Ramirez may well depend on how convincing his homeland's government can be."

The anchor resumed speaking. "The video ends at this point. The government has not yet issued a response to the Golden Blade's latest demands. We will keep you updated with the latest news as it happens concerning these tragic events. This has been an HNTV breaking news update."


At the Tecpancalli Tonaltzintli, Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli silently watched the video. Unlike the viewers of the morning news, he had the unedited video, and made himself watch it.

When it was done, Tiacihitli put his head in his hands. His shoulders shook silently as tears slid down his cheeks. After a moment, he recovered his composure and wiped his eyes. As much as he was growing to hate the terrorists, they had just taught him a valuable lesson. In his new job, there was little margin for error, and little time for on-the-job training. For the sake of his country and its people, he had to get the government's next moves right. He picked up his desk phone and dialed a number. "Tell the Great Speaker his plan is a go," he said softly.


At Xochuaxte Palace, Texōccoatl and Tlalmaxxi had also watched the video. After a moment, Texōccoatl closed his laptop. His eyes were grim. Before he could say anything, the phone rang. He picked it up, listening. He then put the receiver back down. Texōccoatl looked at Tlalmaxxi, giving her a nod. Tlalmaxxi stood up, walking out without a word. An innocent woman had just died because she had dreamed of a free and democratic Huenya, and tried to help it become a reality. Now, another Huenyan woman was on her way to Ixtenco, to make sure the terrorists paid their own fair share.


(Joint post with Lauchenoiria)

At the same time as a ship carrying 97 Lauchenoirian specialist anti-terrorist operatives arrived in Huenya, the Prime Minister of Lauchenoiria prepared to make a phone call that, if the Huenyans had known of it, would have caused them to turn the ship away immediately. In her office, Josephine Alvarez sat with Sandra Pavía as the pair prepared to implement an insurance policy in case their operatives in Huenya failed - or in case Huenya decided to act unilaterally once more.

Unlike during the call to Tiachihitli a few days earlier, Alvarez intended to follow protocol, allowing her assistant to make the call and waiting for the connection. In this instance, the Lauchenoirian Prime Minister understood that she certainly did not have the upper hand, and if she wanted to save Paul she would have to play this smartly and carefully.

"Do you think she will be receptive?" Alvarez asked Pavía as they waited for the connection.

"She will do what benefits Xiomera," Pavía replied, poised with a notepad. "Xiomera needs allies more than it does enemies, and the Empress believes that Lauchenoiria can be turned away from Huenya. She will encourage that."

"Perhaps. Even so, perhaps especially since... this is a dangerous game," Alvarez warned. "I've chosen to trust you; do not make me regret it."

Pavía nodded as the line clicked, signalling that the call had been connected.

At the other end of the line, the Attendant to the Golden Chamber answered. She raised an eyebrow slightly in bemusement, although she maintained her professional tone of voice. The call was soon patched through, and the recipient raised her own eyebrow in a mirror image of her servant. A smile crossed her face slowly as she took the call.

“Prime Minister Alvarez. This is an…..unexpected pleasure,” Empress Calhualyana said.

"Empress Calhualyana, thank you for taking my call," Alvarez replied, her tone carefully neutral. "I trust that affairs in Xiomera are going smoothly?"

”Indeed. Things are proceeding quite well here,” Calhualyana responded. “We seem to be making progress towards our policy goals even faster than I had hoped. I hope that things in Lauchenoiria are proceeding as well,” she said with an exquisitely honed blandness of tone that sounded perfectly sincere but at the same time, clearly was not.

"Well, we are certainly doing our best to serve the people of Lauchenoiria," Alvarez responded. "A difficult task, to be sure, especially when there are certain... bumps in the road that cannot be avoided."

”Yes, those bumps in the road can be quite difficult. Especially if one ends up losing their way because of them. Or ends up on a road best avoided.” Calhualyana double-checked to make sure the call was being recorded for future analysis, before smiling a bit wider. “Serving one’s people and their best interests is a paramount concern for any leader, though, so I can relate to your difficulties.”

"Our present difficulty involves your neighbour, Huenya. Their growing terrorist problem is certainly a cause for concern," Alvarez paused, "especially since they have begun targeting neutral nations who simply wish to observe elections to ensure their legitimacy."

”Ah, yes, that unfortunate incident. I am sorry for the situation that your citizen finds himself in. The instability, growing terrorism and lawlessness in Huenya is certainly a problem for us all.” The Empress sighed. “I don’t imagine the Huenyans have been much help to you, either. They can be rather stubborn at times.”

"Huenya appears to be under the same misguided impression as the terrorists are. That our presence at the election was an endorsement of their government, rather than an attempt at observing the procedures of a fledgling state," Alvarez took a deep breath, then spoke as if adding an afterthought. "Of course, I'm sure the Golden Blade would regret their actions should they serve to force us into taking action against them where previously we were neutral."

”I imagine they would,” Calhualyana said calmly as if they were discussing the weather. “Such an action would not benefit anyone, especially if it did reinforce the misguided impression that the Huenyan government has your support.”

"We have always been neutral with regards to the conflict which culminated in the creation of the Huenyan state, I hope that has been clear," Alvarez spoke with false concern. "Alas it is a pity that the Golden Blade expect us to work with the Huenyan government on this matter, despite it being our citizen in their hands. If only there was a way to resolve this situation without the barrier of the inexperienced Huenyan government standing in the way."

”Their inexperience and incompetence is definitely making things worse. I don’t blame you for wanting to find a way around them. If there was such a way…..how would you make use of it?” Calhualyana deftly kept the triumphant tone out of her voice that her smile was demonstrating.

Alvarez had to suppress the urge to groan in humiliation. She could not believe she was doing this. She cursed the day she had first heard of the country of Xiomera. Nevertheless, she continued. "It is in the interests of Lauchenoiria that we are able to contact the Golden Blade directly, without Huenya's knowledge. They, of course, have ideological concerns that they prioritise over the safety of our citizen. Our priority is his safety, and we are willing to consider an arrangement which can secure that."

The Empress paused for a long moment. “I am not, of course, stating that the Xiomeran Empire has any connection to the terrorist organization in Huenya. But we may be able to facilitate a deal that would bring about the release of your citizen, or at least open a line of communication between your government and the terrorists. Imperial Intelligence does have its resources. We would normally be pleased to offer such help as a gesture of goodwill, but to be honest, we have not received much goodwill from your own government as of late. It was just a few short months ago that you imposed sanctions against us. ‘Enough is enough,’ I believe you said…and that you would ‘stand against us’. We can certainly help in your dilemma, but cooperation works both ways, Prime Minister. What arrangements are you willing to consider, in that light?”

From across the room, Pavía looked pointedly at Alvarez, who rolled her eyes in response before returning her focus to the call. "I regret that we had to take such a stance in public, after the rumours spread by Milintica following the IWC. It, of course, has been a strain on our economy as well, and perhaps it is time that we re-prioritised the economy over... media perceptions, by removing such barriers from trade between our nations."

”That would be a welcome sign of goodwill, and one we would be happy to reciprocate.” Calhualyana sighed slightly. “There is, of course, one other matter in which our nations have been on opposite ends of lately. The situation in Auria.”

Alvarez swore internally. She had been hoping Calhualyana would be satisfied with an end to sanctions, and the ability to one-up Huenya by dealing with the problem they could not. Unfortunately things hadn't gone according to plan.

Pavía slipped a bit of paper in front of Alvarez as she hesitated. The Prime Minister scowled, then sighed, then bowed her head in resignation. "Another situation we had hoped would have been resolved by now. I'm sure you know of Suleman Chaher? Then you'll know why my people consider it a danger when violent transfers of power occur. Why they insisted we take action."

”I can indeed understand your concerns in that regard. I daresay that has also colored your views on what has taken place in Xiomera over the past year or two, and how I came to power.” Calhualyana adopted a slightly warmer tone. “We may not ever be particularly comfortable with each other as nations, but we need not be enemies either. I hope that your government is open to a solution to the situation in Auria that does not require conflict nor the forcible overthrow of yet another government there. If avoiding violent transfers of power is our mutual goal, surely using force to remove King Andrew is not desirable.”

"Andrew is not the legitimate king any more than that filthy Aurora Charissa Clarke was the legitimate Prime Minister of Lauchenoiria," Alvarez said, before thinking. Pavía reached over immediately, hitting against the desk and shaking her head in warning.

"Uh, my apologies, Empress, I think someone dropped something in the corridor. As I was, uh, saying I simply feel that it would be better for all concerned if we could all agree that governments need legitimacy. And the present regime in Auria does not have that. It is a pity that they have taken no steps to show they are not insurgents with no right to rule or lead."

Pavía passed another note. You're talking too fast. Flattery gets you more places than insults.

Alvarez took a deep breath. "What I mean to say is, after the unfortunate matter of Xochiuhue you ensured you had the mandate of the people of Xiomera, in a referendum. King Andrew has yet to prove to the world he has any right to sit on the Aurian throne. We surely cannot recognise a claim without proof, especially in light of the threat Auroras pose to all civilization, as evidenced by our own civil war in 2018. Who knows what else they could be up to?"

Calhualyana found herself even more amused as she listened to Alvarez growing more flustered. But her remarks about Auroras had given the Empress a useful clue. “I very much agree with you, which is why I haven’t retained or tolerated an Aurora presence in Xiomera the way the Huenyans have. It is rather odd, how they have done so. At first, I thought it was simply one of Yauhmi’s affectations. But she is out of power, and yet, the Auroras remain in Huenya. And they seek to find and house more of them, even now. It does make you wonder what the intentions of the Huenyans are.” Calhualyana paused. “In any event, you are correct, there should be a mandate for the seat of power in Auria. Perhaps the King needs to demonstrate that his government does in fact have support as we did in Xiomera a year ago.” And if he can’t….perhaps someone else I choose can, Calhualyana thought.

"It is of great concern to us, Huenya's affinity with Auroras," Alvarez agreed. She practically spat out the word 'Aurora', as if its very presence in her mouth was somehow offensive to her. "My people are merely concerned about the trend of coup after coup spreading across the globe like an infection. We do not wish to dictate to the Aurian people who should be in government there; we merely have concerns over the how of them gaining their position. I think we should all be concerned about the present leadership in Auria... after all, their actions have already proven they cannot be trusted. By anyone."

”I have similar concerns,” Calhualyana said. “I know that, politically speaking, it would not be feasible for Lauchenoiria to simply withdraw from the blockade. I only ask that you be open to the possibility of allowing new leadership to take over. And, perhaps, suggesting to your fellow participants in the blockade that supplies for non-combatants be allowed to reach Auria if a new leadership takes over. Allowing the people of Auria to suffer for the acts of the coup leaders does not help anyone, after all.”

"On that we can certainly agree," Alvarez replied. "And we would rather avoid a long and deadly war in Auria. Should new leadership emerge in a more peaceful manner, most of our concerns would be alleviated. And then we would be glad to no longer feel the need to partake in the blockade."

”That is an acceptable compromise to me. Along with the removal of sanctions by both our nations, of course. With that agreement, Xiomera would be most pleased to intervene and ensure the safe return of Mr. Ramirez. I believe you will find Xiomera to be far more effective than Huenya at making that happen. I also hope that this will set a foundation for mutual cooperation in the future, should a similar unfortunate situation arise.”

"We are grateful for your support in ensuring the safety of our citizen," Alvarez replied, her tone neutral but her face gave away her embarrassment. "I shall endeavour to keep relations between our nations more positive going forward than these last few months."

”I will do so as well. I am glad that we were able to work together on this troublesome issue. Our government shall begin working on the release of Mr. Ramirez and you should hear from us shortly. Is there any other way that I can be of assistance to you?” Calhualyana inquired, tilting her head slightly.

"That should be all for the moment," Alvarez closed her eyes and tilted her head back as if praying for some kind of salvation. "Thank you for taking my call, Empress."

”Of course! Please feel free to contact me if Xiomera can be of assistance to you again. Have a good day, Prime Minister.” Calhualyana ended the call, and once she could do so unheard, gave out a long, slow laugh that was absolutely delicious to her. She then made another call, to the director of Imperial Intelligence.

Once she'd checked the call was definitely disconnected, Alvarez let out a groan and sunk back into her chair. "What am I doing?"

"What you have to," Pavía replied. "Xiomera may have won for now, but we will take precautions so we are not in this position again."

"The travel advisory won't be enough," Alvarez sighed. "Keeping our people out of Huenya doesn't change the fact that Lauchenoiria is seen as a weak pushover, and that there seems to be nothing I can do to change that."

"Yet," added Pavía. "There's nothing we can do to change it yet. For now, let them think that. It means they'll underestimate us. Now, should I go and make sure the travel advisory is issued?"

"Go," nodded Alvarez, sitting up. "There's nothing else we can do just now."


Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli looked down at the latest reports from the Defense Department and FIS. They were not what he had been hoping to read. The situation was, in fact, even more dire than media reports had indicated.

The anti-terrorist mission he had launched on January 26th had initially been quite successful. Multiple Golden Blade sites had been overrun on the ground, or destroyed from the air. The Federation Army and Air Force, working in concert, had been steadily clearing the way for FIS and the Federal Police to move in behind them and secure the areas where terrorist activity had been occurring. But within a week, things had begun to stall. The Golden Blade had begun to use the government's attack as a rallying cry, recruiting increasing numbers of disaffected, right-wing ethnic Xiomerans into their forces. At Xonacatlán, the operation had run into a wave of resistance, and ground to a halt.

And then, slowly but surely, the gears had been thrown into reverse. The Huenyan forces, which had previously rolled forward with little trouble, now found themselves being forced into total retreat. Xonacatlán, and its entire surrounding muncipality, evaded government control. Then resistance had spread to nearby Huatulco, and then Yelapa. The three municipalities, between them, formed a tight core of territory which Huenya had completely lost control of.

To Tiacihitli, staring at the map, the three municipalities resembled a cancer, trying to devour an otherwise healthy body. To keep it from spreading to the rest of the body, there was only one thing to do to a cancer.

Finally looking up, Tiacihitli asked his advisors for their opinions. Acxopotl was first to speak. "We need to mobilize everything we can spare and throw it at Xonacatlán. End this threat once and for all," the Defense Secretary said. "The longer we allow it to linger, and the weaker we seem in combating it, the worse it will get."

"I am not sure that is the best plan." Cuetlancaona, the Director of FIS, shook his head. "Our analysis is that the anti-terrorist operation is actually giving the Golden Blade recruiting fodder, and helping them convince other disaffected nationalists to join them. We could be sparking a much larger civil conflict by pushing harder."

"That may be true. But we may have had the same outcome no matter what we did," Texōccoatl replied. The Great Speaker nodded at the map. "The terrorists never intended to really negotiate with us. Their ultimate goal is to end Huenya, not coexist with it. They now have a base of land, and people, to pursue that. My personal belief is that allowing them to remain in control of this territory would be a disaster for us, and that we have to eliminate this threat. But you are the elected leader of Huenya, Tiacihitli. I will not attempt to force your hand. The decision has to be yours."

In previous months, Tiacihitli may well have stayed his hand. He was, by inclination, a compassionate man. But the image of Matzinena, the murdered poll worker, still haunted his dreams at night. Would compassion and negotiation have saved her? Did the strikes against the Golden Blade doom her? Was he responsible? Tiacihitli was not sure.

What he was now absolutely sure of, as he pondered the image in his head, was that any door leading to a peaceful resolution was closed either way now. Even if his orders had led to the death of Matzinena at the hands of terrorists, it was those terrorists who had taken her captive in the first place and pulled the trigger that ended her life. And they would do it again and again, unless someone stopped them.

The Vice-Speaker sighed. "I've made my decision. If the Legislature approves it....."


An hour later, the Vice-Speaker of Huenya was standing at the podium of the Chamber of Deputies. Around him, the elected representatives of the Federation waited for him to speak. He had no written speech. He already knew what he was going to say.

"A group of violent and ruthless criminals, under the command of the terrorist group known as the Golden Blade, have seized control of our land. Many of you, seated here, have asked me what my administration plans to do about that."

The volume of chatter in the Chamber rose, as some legislators shouted demands for action while others jeered the Vice-Speaker.

Tiacihitli raised his hands. "I've heard all of that, believe me. But it is not these words being shouted which sways me. What sways me is the image of those who have died at the hands of the Golden Blade, because they dared to help us build a free country. What sways me is the image of the terrorists and the separatists, in Xonacatlán, who have brought this death and chaos to our country. And it is those images that have convinced me that the time for discussion, for negotiation, for a hands-off approach have passed."

As the chatter in the Chamber grew louder, Tiacihitli's expression grew flinty, jaw set. "What I propose is simple: that Huenya take every possible and necessary measure to end this unlawful revolt against the Federation. I am calling for a full mobilization of our security and defense forces, to go into these terrorist controlled areas and put down the terrorists and their supporters and restore peace and order to those places. I am further asking to be given emergency powers to pursue the end of this terrorist insurgency with immediacy. This may seem extreme, legislators, but Huenya is indeed in an emergency. These terrorists threaten the very survival of our state. They threaten the peace that has been won between Huenya's peoples, and threaten to unleash ethnic cleansing and nationalist violence upon us all. We must not allow this. The future of Huenya itself is at stake. A full military operation to defeat these terrorists, followed by deployments of prosecutors and investigators from the Special Investigative and Prosecutorial Service to pacify any further terrorist and nationalist sympathies for good, is the only thing that will ensure Huenya's survival at this critical moment. We have just held a free election, and we are on the path to building a free and democratic state. We must not let the terrorists, their separatist allies, and their foreign supporters like Calhualyana derail that effort. We must save our fellow citizens who are trapped in areas controlled by these terrorists. We must save Huenya itself!"

The next words of the Vice-Speaker were drowned out by a tidal wave of cheering and applause. Even those who had previously been jeering Tiacihitli for being weak were now roaring their approval. The following vote of the Chamber of Deputies was a formality. Out of 240 legislators, only 45 - all from the Greens and more leftist parties - voted against the Vice-Speaker's plan. Even the Communist legislators voted in favor, breaking with the leftist bloc.


As he watched the live coverage of the vote, the leader of the Golden Blade smiled slightly. Commander Mictlāntēcutli downed a shot of mezcal, then lit a cigar. He watched Tiacihitli speaking at the podium, his smile growing. If you want a war, Vice-Speaker, bring it on. We're waiting.


And in Tlālacuetztla, as she watched, Empress Calhualyana turned to her husband. "The idiot took the bait," she told him. Xiyāōtl grinned as he shook his head. "It was pretty predictable, but I'm still surprised."

"I'm not surprised," Calhualyana replied to him. "Everything is proceeding exactly as I planned." And a smile crossed her own face.


Lauchenoirian Cabinet Meeting Room

“Those fools!” Pavía slammed her hands against the desk, shaking her head as she watched the Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli address the Huenyan Chamber of Deputies. “They’re playing right into the terrorists’ hands. Anyone with half a brain can see the propaganda victory the Golden Blade will have against Huenya after this. We were right to go to Calhualyana about Paul Ramirez; Huenya is out for blood and seems to care little about whose it is that spills.”

“I think you’re naive to believe it’s one-sided,” scoffed Samantha Clavell, Pacifist Party leader and, thanks to their paltry presence in the ruling coalition, Minister for Culture & the Arts. “It saddens me to say this, but I do not believe either side of the Xiomeran Civil War ever truly stopped fighting. Huenya may want vengeance, but Xiomera wants their empire back. Nobody can win in their situation. We need to stay neutral.”

“I agree with Minister Clavell that we should not get involved militarily, but it is clear that we cannot just allow Xiomera to get away with these clear provocations,” Deputy Prime Minister Lucie Scott of the Green Party replied. “The Prime Minister’s dealings with the Empress only prove that Xiomera controls the Golden Blade.”

“Which is why we should steer clear,” Clavell argued. “I may not agree with Alvarez’s decision to contact Empress Calhualyana, but if we wish to be taken seriously then we need to keep our word and not move against Xiomera.”

“Gods, how did you ever get anywhere in politics?” laughed Juanita Oritz, Minister for Business and Economic Development and a devout Zongongist. “That’s not to say I disagree with you; war is the last thing Lauchenoiria needs right now.”

“I am inclined to agree,” nodded Defence Minister Rodrigo Montaña. “Though we are steadily rebuilding our military following our own civil war; we are already engaged in the blockade of Auria and we cannot afford to fight a war on two fronts right now. If we were to intervene in Huenya, then we would need to withdraw from Auria.”

“We may need to do so anyway,” Alvarez sighed from where she sat at the head of the table. “If we are to keep our word to Calhualyana.”

“Absolutely not,” Adelita Caballo shook her head. The Minister for Domestic Affairs shuddered as if a cold wind had suddenly blown through the room. “What kind of message would that send to our own people, who support the Aurian intervention in large numbers? The one thing all Lauchenoirians agree on is that we cannot allow this so-called “plague of coups” to continue spreading. Huenya is far more controversial. Surely as soon as Ramirez is on Lauchenoirian soil, Calhualyana has no hold over us?”

“If she keeps up her side of the bargain, and doesn’t decide to keep a few bargaining chips of her own,” Alvarez warned.

“One life versus the safety and security of our entire planet in the years to come?” scoffed Caballo. “Look, I feel for the man, I do. But think of just how many deaths have been caused by all these civil conflicts. Lauchenoiria; Xiomera and Huenya; Mallacaland; the Kaijan affair; now Auria. With each new coup attempt, more would-be insurgents are emboldened to plan their own takeovers. We need to send a strong message that such attempts will end badly for those who try, or we will end up in a patchwork world war; everywhere having their own simultaneous civil conflicts linked together by the propaganda each new terrorist uses from those who come before.”

The Lauchenoirian Cabinet all fell silent as Caballo finished her speech, standing up from her seat, leaning against the table and having to catch her breath slightly after her long final sentence. The Minister had been a backbench Liberal MP at the outbreak of the civil war in 2018 and had been among those who spent the duration locked up by Suleman Chaher in conditions that had worsened the greater the Kerlian influence on the Junta had become. It was no secret that she was on medication for PTSD, along with a good third of the country.

“I understand your position, Minister Caballo,” Alvarez began gently.

“Don’t patronise me,” she glared. “No need to be gentle, I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t handle it.”

“If Empress Calhualyana deals with those behind the coup in Auria herself - and before you interrupt, yes I know she sponsored them in the first place - then the message is still sent to those who would follow.”

“Even if she does,” Caballo replied, “the message is not ‘don’t stage coups’ but rather ‘avoid asking totalitarian dictatorships for help unless you want new overlords’. All it shows is that biting the hand that feeds is a mistake; not the insurrections themselves.”

“We cannot decide how to act until she shows her hand,” Pavía interrupted. “To withdraw or not to withdraw is a question that we cannot answer until we know how the Empress intends to hold us to our word.”

“She may take our word on trust,” Samantha Clavell said, causing a groan to pass around the room. “Oh, stop being like that, not everyone is as cynical. And if she does, we should keep it; it will improve our relationship in the future and may help usher in a more honest politics.”

“Perhaps not everyone is as cynical as us,” chuckled Rodrigo Montaña. “But Empress Calhualyana sure is. Trusting us? No, the Empress does not trust anyone, and leaves nothing to chance. She is probably already five steps ahead of us, and knows exactly how to force our hand on Auria. If we want to get the upper hand over Xiomera, we need to do the unexpected.”

“Do you have a suggestion?” Alvarez asked, curious.

“Not as such, but I have an idea. Minister Pavía, however, may not be keen.”

“We’re not involving Kerlile,” Pavía snapped, glaring at him. “We’ve been over this.”

“My idea has nothing to do with Kerlile,” Montaña chuckled, smiling slightly. “No, rather it involves Ambassador Chēmā’s old nemesis.”

“Me?” Pavía replied, puzzled.

“WOE. The Warriors of Our Earth, the activist group you were so desperate to classify as terrorists in order to gain the favour of the Empress we now seek to undermine.”

“How do eco-terrorists benefit us?” Alvarez asked, impatient.

Montaña smiled, and leaned forward to outline his plan.

State Government Complex
Xonacatlán, State of Apozanolotl (formerly Xonacatlán Municipality, Huenyan Federation)
February 21st, 7:45 am Huenyan time

With the standoff between the Golden Blade and the Huenyan government rapidly spiraling into a full-on civil conflict, Commander Mictlāntēcutli had come to a decision. The second hostage that they had taken no longer had any value.

The Lauchenoirian government, to his irritation, had not interceded as forcefully with their Huenyan counterparts as he had wanted. They had not convinced Tiacihitli to come to the negotiating table. In fact, Lauchenoiria had sent a team of anti-terrorist specialists to help the Huenyans. His eyes in Ixtenco had reported as much. And with the Huenyan government poised to launch everything it had at his breakway state, it was clear that the time for discussion had passed.

He cheerfully whistled a Xiomeran nationalist song, which the State of Apozanolotl had adopted as its anthem, as he walked with two of his trusted guards. It was not a long walk. What his breakaway state was grandly calling the "State Government Complex of the State of Apozanolotl" was, before the revolt, the government palace and related facilities of the municipality of Xonacatlán. The small city hall was now the "Capital Building"; the former municipal police and court building was now the "State Justice Center". They were separated by a few hundred feet across a small courtyard.

Commander Mictlāntēcutli and his guards walked into the "justice center", descending to the basement where the detention cells were. They soon arrived at the cell holding Paul Ramirez. One of the jailers opened the door, and the other three men walked inside. Ramirez was shackled to his bunk. He looked up, eyes widening, as the three stopped in front of him. At a gesture from Mictlāntēcutli, one of them took his pistol from his holster. Paul realized, with shock, that it was the same terrorist who had shot Matzinena, the other hostage, in front of him. He raised the pistol until it was pointed squarely at Paul's head.

"Stop!" Another person had walked into the detention block, shouting and raising her hand. The three men turned, ready to attack, but stood down when they saw who it was. "We need to talk," she said, gesturing for Mictlāntēcutli to follow her. The Commander gestured for his men to wait, as he followed the new arrival outside the detention block. "What is this?" he demanded sharply.

"You cannot execute Ramirez. The Empress has made a deal with the Lauchenoirians. I am here to take him into custody." Calxochitli, the Golden Blade's liaison with Xiomeran Imperial Intelligence, handed a document to Mictlāntēcutli. The terrorist leader frowned. "The Lauchenoirian is my prisoner. His death will warn the Lauchenoirians, and the other foreigners, to stay out of our fight. And I made no deal with the Lauchenoirians, or anyone else. He will stay here."

Calxochitli raised an eyebrow. "You did make a deal with someone. Empress Calhualyana. And you know as well as I do how she reacts to people who break their word." The Imperial Intelligence agent smiled. "It would be a shame if we had to stop supplying you with the intelligence, money, arms, and provisions you're currently using to push the Huenyans' army back. You saw Tiacihitli beating his chest on television; you know what is coming. How will you fare when the airstrikes come, without the anti-air missiles we're providing you? How will you hold back the Huenyans' armor without the anti-tank weapons we supply? How will you supply your army without the guns and ammunition we send you? Or, for that matter, without the fine 'volunteers' from CSSC and the XCP that are bolstering your ranks and helping push the Huenyans back?" As Mictlāntēcutli frowned even more, Calxochitli smiled more sympathetically. "Let's be reasonable. If you kill the Lauchenoirian, you'll just bring Lauchenoiria into this fight against you. That's trouble you don't need. The Empress does value the.....cooperation that exists between the Empire and its kin in the State of Apozanolotl. Hand over Ramirez, and I am sure we can find more support for you as you fight the Huenyans."

Mictlāntēcutli laughed slightly when Calxochitli said cooperation. He knew as well as anyone what the Empress considered cooperation.

"It is nice of you to phrase it as if I have a choice. Very well. Take the Lauchenoirian. Freeing him will show we are reasonable."

"That's the spirit," Calxochitli said brightly, walking over to the jailer and putting her hand out expectantly. With a nod from Mictlāntēcutli, the jailer handed the agent the keys to the detention cells.


Tecuala, Xiomeran Empire
February 21st, 11:15 am Xiomeran time

At the port of Tecuala, in southwestern Xiomera, both local and international media had gathered expectantly. The Imperial government had called a press conference, only telling the media that a major announcement concerning the unrest in neighboring Huenya would be made.

At 11:15, the media were surprised to see Prime Minister Toquihu walk to the podium. "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending this press conference. We know it was very short notice, but the events leading up to this occasion were also on short notice. But we have news to deliver that I think will make many people very happy."

The Prime Minister gestured to a nearby dock, where Xiomeran medics and police were escorting a man from a passenger ship. "Paul Ramirez, who was being held as a hostage in Huenya, has been freed, thanks to the personal intervention of her majesty, Empress Calhualyana. We are glad to be able to assist in freeing Mr. Ramirez from his imprisonment, and will be delivering him immediately to Lauchenoirian authorities so he can return home." Ramirez waved to the crowd, clearly a bit torn between being grateful to be free from the Golden Blade, and nervous about being in Xiomera.

"It is our hope that this gesture of humanitarian intervention on the part of the Empress will help to restore relations between our state and Lauchenoiria, as well as to show that even in these difficult times in Caxcana, that people of good will can still come together and resolve issues. Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli of Huenya is about to launch unrestrained warfare against his own citizens, who have risen up simply because they are not heard by their government. His bellicose rhetoric and violent actions caused this crisis. The Xiomeran Empire is glad to rescue Mr. Ramirez from the consequences of the ill-considered actions of the Huenyan government. Xiomera still believes in peace built upon mutual understanding of each others' needs and robust discussion. We are still willing to come to the table and talk, even when others are not." The Prime Minister smiled, patting Ramirez on the shoulder, before waving to the crowd himself.


Heart of Huenya
National Government Complex of the Huenyan Federation

At the Tecpancalli Tonaltzintli, the subject of the Xiomeran Prime Minister's criticism was meeting with Great Speaker Texōccoatl when their meeting was urgently interrupted by his secretary. "Vice-Speaker, Director Cuetlancaona of FIS is on the line. He says something is happening now that you both need to see." Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli took the call. "Cuetlancaona, what is it?"

"Turn on XIN's news channel," Cuetlancaona replied. "Seriously? Why would I watch that propaganda mouthpiece?" Tiacihitli replied, confused.

"Sir...just turn it on." Cuetlancaona sounded defeated.

Tiacihitli did as he was asked. As the two men in the room watched the XIN news coverage of Ramirez's release triumphantly unfold, Tiacihitli slumped back in his chair. Texōccoatl slammed his fist into the table. "Well....we have fair confirmation now that the Empire is influencing, if not outright controlling, the Golden Blade and their terrorist proxies. Calhualyana somehow convinced the terrorists to release Ramirez, to gain favor with Lauchenoiria," the Vice-Speaker sighed.

"Or, perhaps, even worse," Texōccoatl replied. "What do you mean?" Tiacihitli asked.

After a long pause, Texōccoatl grimaced. "I do not trust the Lauchenoirians. I do not trust Alvarez, in particular." The Huenyan monarch stood up abruptly, pacing the room angrily. "My distrust of them, as I am sure you imagine, began after the Lauchenoirians interfered in my mother's selection as Empress, spreading hateful lies about her."

"But Prime Minister Alvarez apologized for that, from what I was told by FIS," Tiacihitli said.

"Oh sure, after my mother taught her a lesson she wouldn't forget," Texōccoatl laughed grimly. "But that's not the only reason for my distrust, lest you think I am merely airing the grievances of a mama's boy. They did nothing whatsoever when our own civil war happened. When Laeral, Eiria, Kerlile and Milintica stood up for us, the Lauchenoirians stood back. They can't seem to decide on when and how to have a backbone - they back down to Shuell and to Sanctaria, show their teeth to Milintica and to us, and only stood up to Calhualyana when it became absolutely necessary to do so." The Great Speaker sat down again. "I do not trust people whose conscience and determination are a matter that is changeable with the winds. I do not trust them with the situation in Auria - a far greater threat to Huenya than to them. I do not trust them to really stand against Calhualyana when it matters. I think Alvarez will sell us out in a heartbeat if she thinks it's in Lauchenoiria's interest to do so. In fact....I think she already has."

Tiacihitli finally grasped Texōccoatl's meaning. "She would not have done that. She would not have made any kind of deal with Calhualyana to get Ramirez released. Surely she knows that would only empower and embolden Calhualyana further."

"Would she?" Texōccoatl said quietly. "Would she care? Whose lives are more important to her? One Lauchenoirian's, or thousands of Huenyans? That's the question. I don't know the answer to it, but I'm afraid to find out. And if I were you, I would send those Lauchenoirian anti-terrorist agents home." The Great Speaker stood up and walked out of the room, leaving Tiacihitli with a dilemma.


Tecpancalli Tonaltzintli, one hour later

Tiacihitli's response to the release of Paul Ramirez, in a brief press conference, was to the point.

"We are grateful and happy to see that Mr. Ramirez has been freed by the terrorists who held him hostage, regardless of how it occurred. We are glad he is able to return home and see his family, friends, and loved ones. That is a happy occasion and one to celebrate, no matter what. However, the chain of events in his release clearly proves that Empress Calhualyana, and thus the Xiomeran Empire, have far more influence over the terrorist separatists who are currently occupying part of southeastern Huenya than the Xiomeran regime has previously claimed. It is clear that this group is merely acting as a proxy for the Empire, seeking to cause dissension and chaos in Huenya and possibly splinter off territory from our nation."

"It is our belief that this 'State of Apozanolotl' is simply the same play that the Empire pulled out of its playbook in Auria. Using proxies to overthrow legitimate authorities. Importing mercenaries into a neighboring state to further support their proxies. Using those seized lands as a springboard to further the ambitions of Calhualyana and the XCP to rebuild, and expand, their old Empire. The Xiomeran regime is clearly trying to seize land, resources and power from neighboring nations it views as weak or easily defeated. This is only the beginning, if it is not stopped now. Auria, and Huenya, are the first nations to fall victim to this strategy. We will not be the last, unless it is stopped here and now. It is our hope that, now that Mr. Ramirez is freed, that the focus of the world can turn to the very real threat that is emerging in plain sight."

"Whether it is with the support of other nations, or alone, Huenya will continue its fight for freedom, justice and democracy against the Golden Blade, its proxies and its supporters. We hope that the rest of the world will choose to stand with us, now that the threat is clear, and not allow Calhualyana to pursue her design for totalitarian tyranny across a continent. While one life was saved by this intervention, the fate of thousands of people - their freedom, their dreams, and their very lives - now hangs in the balance. Let us work as hard to ensure that their fate is positive."


Haven House
Huānoch, Milintica 
One hour after Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli's press conference

President Matōchmizalo stood at a podium draped in the Milintican flag, greeting the media with a sober expression on his face. He raised his chin slightly as he began speaking.

"The People's Democratic Republic of Milintica, and its people, have always believed in fighting for what is right, no matter what the odds or the risk. We have always done so, whether here at home or anywhere else people are in need of help. And so, it shall be once more. We have heard the words of Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli of Huenya, homeland of many of our ancestors. And we will answer that call."

Gesturing to a group of Milintican militia in uniform behind him, the President struck a resolute pose. "Milintica will stand with Huenya to defeat this attempt by Xiomera and its proxies to steal its land. Cadres of Popular Militia are, even as we speak, traveling to Huenya. Soon, they will be on the front lines of this so-called 'State of Apozanolotl', fighting alongside our Huenyan friends. Let all people who believe in freedom raise their hand against the terrorists! The Milintican star will lead the way, as the vanguard of the force that will save Huenya from this threat. And we will not rest until that threat is defeated."

Matōchmizalo stood straighter as he continued. "We are also willing to extend our assistance to the brave souls in Auria who are fighting the usurper regime there. Milintica stands for defiance in the face of the tyrant and the fascist. Let all nations who also believe in freedom unite to crush the plots of imperialists."

The group of Popular Militia began shouting their unit cadence, as the President raised his fist for the cameras.


Josephine Alvarez was sitting in her office, playing the recording of Prime Minister Toquihu’s press conference about the release of Paul Ramirez on a loop. It was well past office hours, and she should have been in bed but she felt trapped by the video, unable to disengage her attention from it no matter what. The video felt like an admonition, like a warning made especially for her to call her out for her sins. She stared at the screen with a religious fervour, feeling the eyes of the gods watching her and not liking what they saw.

She originally angered Yauhmi by trying to oppose tyranny (in a rather backhanded way, admittedly). It was accepted that Alvarez’s negative view of Huenya was due to her view of Yauhmi. Yet siding with Calhualyana over Huenya for even a moment sent the opposite message than that her original interference had been designed to send. As a result, the conspiracy theorists in the dark corners of the internet were already convinced that the animosity between Alvarez and Yauhmi dated from before the Great Selection; that all of this was just the continuation of a grudge that transcended ideology.

This was false; the situation had lasted no longer than what it seemed on the surface. There was no conspiracy; even if the truth was far less logical than the stories. Alvarez was frightened, but not of Yauhmi. Rather, the fear that fuelled her dislike of Huenya was her fear of civil wars.

Empress Calhualyana was obviously the bad guy; and that made her a known quantity in many ways. Huenya was new. It had no history; it was a collection of peoples who had escaped Xiomeran oppression trying to form a new united identity. Yet identity formed out of animosity towards another always, in Alvarez’s opinion, falls apart when there is no longer a conflict. To keep that unity, there has to be an enemy. Huenya was a state born of war, and if they were not careful war would become its lifeblood, without which the state would crumble and fall apart. For the time being, there was no risk of peace, but if Xiomera was ever defeated, Alvarez doubted Huenyan unity would last beyond a few years.

Alvarez was not, in fact, obsessed with Yauhmi. Alvarez was obsessed with war. She felt guilt over her Great Selection interference; not because of sympathy for Yauhmi but because it would have been a strategic disaster if she had succeeded, and Cozamalotl had won. The timeline for the coup in Xiomera would have been pushed forward; Lauchenoiria would have felt a duty to get involved at a time when they had barely exited their own period of civil strife. It would have destroyed Lauchenoiria, and when the coup did, in fact, happen Alvarez had hoped to stick her head in the sand and watch it pass by.

But Xiomera led to Mallacaland, and Auria, and threats across the globe. The plague of civil wars had begun, and she could have made it worse. The thought would not leave her alone, so she had to find a way to make sure nobody else could ever unintentionally do the same thing. She had to stop these conflicts, and Huenya’s very existence all but set future civil wars in stone. And a high enough concentration of them, with other states interference, would lead to a world war. It was the instability, not the monarchy, that she despised in Huenya.

When the coup had happened in Auria, it had been horribly reminiscent of the day Chaher seized power in Lauchenoiria. At the time of the Xiomeran coup, the memories were too raw. With time, they’d grown stronger and even more sinister. The executions had represented an escalation, in her eyes, of the tactics of those who considered coup d’états a legitimate way to transfer power. It was getting worse; and perhaps a short war now would prevent more in the future. Yet the others had not acted and the longer the blockade lasted the less convinced she was that they were taking the correct course of action, even as the rest of Lauchenoiria pushed for an invasion.

When Ramirez was captured, she had tried to convince Huenya to hold off on their assault of the Golden Blade to give her time to find a solution that would not ignite her fear. Of course, they attacked anyway, leading to the death of one hostage and as a result, everything but a guarantee of a war. Lauchenoiria’s Anti-Terrorist Operatives had been sent to Huenya not to aid in a war, but to try and prevent one. She had contacted Xiomera to try and rescue Ramirez so that war no longer seemed imminently necessary to the Huenyan leadership, but by the time Calhualyana acted, it was already being prepared.

No matter what she did, war was always looming on the horizon. Every act calculated to push it back brought it forward instead. Interference or neutrality; both seemed to be the wrong choices at the wrong moments. Open actions and backroom dealings seemed to push the buttons on one side or the other so that Alvarez had become paralyzed with doubt every time she needed to make a decision. If it seemed that she was playing both sides, the truth was that she was trying to be on neither and it simply wasn’t working.

The world was determined to go to war. And Lauchenoiria was running out of options.

Lancaster Manor, Nordjura Province
February 21st, 2022, 8:23 PM

Senator William Lancaster sat on the couch of his suite, going through the TV menu idly. He and Jacob were staying at the Lancaster Manor, the large manor turned hotel his parents ran dutifully. The pair had been staying at the manor while they looked for an apartment to share around western Nordjura Province, although with Will's Cabinet nomination, they began looking at New Riga as a potential hometown. The former Chancellor was due to present his credentials to the Senate in a couple days, so in the meantime, they had some rare time to relax.

Will settled on watching a news channel while his husband prepared snacks for their first official "Movie Night" in several years. The tradition had fallen by the wayside while they lived in the Chancellor's Manor, forced out by Cabinet meetings and press conferences. Will read the flashing news headline as it blinked across the screen. "Lauchenoirian Golden Blade Hostage Released". Thank God they found him. Wait, "Released"? What the hell?

He fumbled for the remote and turned the volume up, listening to the ENN Newscaster narrate the situation before cutting to Prime Minister Toquihu’s and Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli’s speeches on the release. Why would Calhualyana intervene? That’s a lot of leverage over Lauchenoiria to give up wantonly. Unless…

As Jacob brought out the bowl of snacks, his husband sank back into the sofa, processing what he just saw. Please, God, say that this is some vain effort by Calhualyana to gain favor with Lauchenoiria. But would Calhualyana really be foolish or naïve enough to negotiate release for no visible gain?

As he turned the channel to a recent Eirian Science Fiction movie, only one thought was on Lancaster’s mind.


In the Chancellor’s Manor, surrounded by Ministers and Aides, Chancellor Leah Stendē had met the same conclusion. “If this is true, how much of a dumpster fire will we have to put out between our allies?” She asked her gathered advisors after a sigh, almost fearing their answers.

Alice Lancaster stood on the Chancellor’s left, pacing the small area with her arms crossed. “Let’s just say it won’t be pleasant. If Lauchenoiria negotiated with Calhualyana, she would’ve asked for something to gain in exchange. Whatever it is, it could possibly weaken our Aurian coalition right as we need them to be strong. Plus, if Huenya and Lauchenoiria come to blows, we could be caught in the crossfire. Which means that we have the responsibility to clean this up, if this situation further degrades.”

Stephen Bruin, the recently-confirmed Minister of Defense, was seated on the right side of the Chancellor, scratching at the stubble on his chin. “According to our most recent intelligence reports, the Cordonnier Regime is facing heavy public unrest, due to resource shortages and martial law impositions. They have increased their propaganda output and conscription laws, but the Aurian people are still in uproar. We may have the perfect opportunity to stage an intervention in the coming weeks. But if our allies are too busy fighting each other, we may lose this opportunity.”

Zoe Provost, the new national security advisor, and Julius Riekstins, Stendē’s Chief of Staff, sat between the two Ministers, both with varying shades of concern on their faces. “It’s a very uncomfortable situation, one that the Xiomerans are sure to exploit. Between Auria and the Golden Blade, we are already running the risk of being spread too thin. Huenya and Milintica will devote more resources to fighting the Golden Blade, and with Lauchenoiria’s potential conflict with Huenya, the two largest allies in the Aurian coalition may be out of commission.” Provost paused, adjusting in her chair. “We should contact our allies now, and try to put out at least some of the fires.”

Riekstins shook his head. "If we contact our allies now to talk about the subject, we run the risk of exposing the whole situation. Right now, the Huenyans and Lauchenoirians aren't publicly at odds. We should remain alert for any potential tension and deal with it as it comes. It's pretty much all we can do. Calhualyana will attack any crack in our coalition she can see, so let's not give her any more weak points to exploit."

Chancellor Stendē pursed her lips. "All of this is presuming that Calhualyana struck some deal with the Lauchenoirians, and didn't just offer it as a gesture of peace." The silence from her four advisors made evident what they thought of that possibility. Stendē sighed. "I know. Calhualyana, despite being a megalomaniacal bitch, isn't stupid. It's not very likely that she would give up a hostage without solid gain. We need to watch Huenya and judge any sign of visible conflict with Lauchenoiria. I'm not sure I trust them not to make a rash decision and begin a destructive domino effect."

"The 'Whether with support, or alone' line from the Vice Speaker's address was a clever attempt to send Prime Minister Alvarez a message. I'm not sure he'll go further than just a hidden message, and only time will tell." Riekstins paused, trying to assemble his thoughts. "But this whole situation is dangerous on another level entirely.The entire public sees these news headlines and veiled speeches. How long will it take before the public or the press begin to connect the dots? They could set the whole thing into motion and force the Huenyans and Lauchenoirians apart."

"Then we'll have to move on from it. Make it yesterday's news. It's the only thing we can really do at this point." The Chancellor nodded to Minister Bruin. "Develop different options for an intervention in Auria within the near future. We need to strike while the iron is hot." Bruin nodded and started for the door while the Chancellor nodded to Lancaster and Provost. "You two should monitor public relation information from Lauchenoiria and Huenya to examine for any growing hostility. Also, make sure Calhualyana's not stoking the flames with malicious news or social media campaigns." The two women turned and followed Bruin out the door, leaving the Chancellor and her Chief of Staff.

"Do you think that Alvarez will pull out of Auria? Do you think that's the deal she made?" Julius stood and stretched his legs, his expression solidly neutral.

"I… I don't know. Lauchenoiria is a wild card. It was almost jarring, seeing how they reacted to the Aurian coup versus the war in Huenya. The first to insist on military action in one situation, yet unmoving and indecisive in another." The silence of the study was unnerving, causing Stendē to continue talking quickly. "Between the 'Neutrality' and this possibe hostage trade, I don't know how reliable Lauchenoiria will be as an ally. I guess we really only have one option now: Move on, stay prepared, and keep fighting."

The man nodded and slowly walked to the study's door. "Have a good night, madam Chancellor." Stendē didn't respond, instead focusing on her thoughts. This situation could have the power to tear our network of friends apart. And no matter how much she thought, one question kept bugging her.

If worst comes to worst, who's side are we on?


Palace of Flowers

Empress Calhualyana and Prime Minister Toquihu were enjoying a light breakfast, discussing the most recent results of their labors. "So the Lauchenoirians are withdrawing from the blockade," the Prime Minister said approvingly. "Imperial Intelligence has also informed me that the Huenyans and Milinticans are withdrawing some of their own ships and planes, to try to interdict the shipments we are sending to the Golden Blade. This should make our efforts to keep our Aurian 'friends' supplied much easier."

"Indeed. I am going to enjoy running the Eirians ragged as they try to maintain their little blockade. I believe we can shift to small supply runs with fast ships, and push at multiple points of attack. Let's see how well the much-vaunted Eirian Navy does at plugging up the holes their erstwhile allies have left behind in the blockade line," the Empress replied with a soft laugh. "We shall do the same with our supply runs across the Gulf of Epeloc to the Golden Blade. The Huenyans and Milinticans are thankfully too inept to intercept most of those resupply runs."

"Do you trust Alvarez to keep her word and stay out of the Aurian matter, now that Ramirez is safe?" Toquihu asked, earning another laugh from the Empress. "Of course I don't trust her. But for now, she is being compliant. I fully intend to gain as much leverage from the situation as I can, while our good fortune lasts. And if she does break her word, I have my response planned already. Speaking of responses..what has Imperial Intelligence reported about Operation Teixcuipani?"

"The operation is proceeding as planned," the Prime Minister replied, hand in chin as he pondered which of a selection of pastries to have with his coffee. "We are inserting negative commentary, media coverage and social media content into the Lauchenoirian, Milintican, Huenyan and Eirian media spaces. Our intelligence analysts believe that the operation will help sow more doubt between the so-called allies against us, as the Huenyans and Milinticans are already questioning what happened concerning Ramirez. Some Lauchenoirians already are too, considering the protest Alvarez just dealt with. Widening the cracks forming between their alliance can only help us."

"Confusion and dissension. I love it. Let them have their fill of it," the Empress purred. "In the meantime, we will continue to cement our presence in Auria and in Huenya."


Xomaxtli Hill

"Heads up! We got an incoming delivery," Mecuitli barked as he stuck his head in the door. The volunteers and members of Yauhmi's personal guard quickly sprang to work as several trucks came rolling through the front gates of the estate. It was the latest work of the Deliverers, the lifeline for people needing to escape Xiomera. The trucks sighed to a halt, and people began disembarking from the back of the vehicles. Volunteers began offering them water and food, and directing them to where they could find spare clothing, necessities and shelter.

Among the crowd of political refugees, a quartet of people was especially bemused to be here. Maloxili, Eyatzin, Margaxi and Quetia hopped out of the back of one of the trucks. It had been a long ride from the shore of eastern Huenya. Their trip had been further complicated by the fact that the Golden Blade now controlled much of the eastern coastline that the Deliverers had once used as escape routes. But they were now in Huenya, alive and in one piece, something none of them had been especially confident of achieving on their harrowing and rushed escape from the Imperial authorities. "So.....food?" Margaxi asked, looking around.

Before the four of them could begin searching, however, Mecuitli walked up to them. "Greetings. I am Mecuitli, Shorn One in command of security here today. You are the Mocentlalia Four, correct?"

Maloxili winced at the nickname which had been given to their group after their disruption of Calhualyana's wedding had become known. "I suppose," she replied.

"Excellent. Your exploits have been greatly enjoyed here in Huenya. I was asked to make sure that your immediate needs were all met, and once you are taken of, the nantzintli would like to personally welcome you to Huenya." Mecuitli gestured to them to follow him, only for Maloxili to stop the group. "We're not any more deserving of a special welcome than anyone else here. These are all refugees."

"The nantzintli will be greeting the other arrivals as well and making sure their needs are met," Mecuitli replied, seemingly confused by her resistance. Margaxi placed a single large hand on her shoulder. "It's allright," Margaxi reassured her. Maloxili snorted slightly, but began following Mecuitli and the others.

After the four were given food, new clothing and supplies, they were shown to a set of portable shelters set up on the grounds to leave their things. They were then led into the estate house itself, into a large sunroom at the back. Yauhmi was sitting in a well-padded chair, reading. She put the book aside and stood up as the group entered. "Welcome to my home. Please, have a seat and make yourselves comfortable." The four of them sat down, somewhat unsure how to conduct themselves in the presence of royalty. After a bit of small talk, however, the four were able to relax as Yauhmi was hardly insistent on ceremony. "Your actions in protest of Calhualyana were most impressive," Yauhmi said, offering them tea or coffee as they relaxed. "I wanted to meet you in person, to express my personal admiration at your inventiveness. Whose idea was it to do the drones, by the way?"

"Um...it was mine, your majesty," Eyatzin squeaked, before coughing his way into a more normal tone of voice. Yauhmi smiled. "That was an especially brilliant maneuver. And please, we can skip the fancy titles. At this point, I am only the nantzintli. My son gets the joy of the fancy titles now. And the burdens of them," she added with a small laugh. "Well. I am sorry that your protests have led to you being forced out of Xiomera. But Huenya has pledged to be refuge to anyone fleeing Xiomera, and given your bravery, I would say you've well earned a place of safety. You are welcome to stay here as long as you like, while the government processes your asylum applications and helps you get settled in and started on a new life here in Huenya."

During the meeting, the four had presented decidedly different reactions. Eyatzin had been both slightly nervous and awed. Quetia had been polite and conversationally friendly. Margaxi had been even more awed than Eyatzin to be in the presence of the former Empress. Maloxili, by contrast, had been quiet and withdrawn. When Yauhmi mentioned the four of them starting a new life in Huenya, Maloxili set her cup down with a sharp click. "With respect, Yauhmi, you misunderstand our intentions. Or, at least, mine. As soon as possible, I am going back to Xiomera."

The other three of her group stared at her as if she had just caught fire. Yauhmi set her own cup down, far more softly. "I truly do admire your bravery, my dear," she said. "But if you go back to Xiomera, it is likely a death sentence. We all saw what happened to Cozamalotl. I cannot allow you in good conscience to risk a similar fate."

Maloxili sprang up from her chair. "I am not yet a Huenyan citizen, so I am not yours to command. And whether or not I am free to do as I choose will determine whether or not I ever even want to become one."

"Calm down," Margaxi grumbled, trying to pull Maloxili back into her chair only to be shrugged off. "While we sit here and chat in this lovely sunroom of yours, Yauhmi, people are rotting in prison cells in Xiomera. People are dying in Xiomera. I know you lost a lot from the war, but you and your family are here, safe and comfortable. You all left us behind to face Calhualyana alone. You escaped from Xiomera and maintained your privileged positions. The people close to me are not so lucky. I will not leave them behind. I am sorry, but you cannot possibly understand."

"The woman you are talking to was tortured for months by the very people you are fighting now. Even now, she and her kin are having to fend off assassination attempts from the very same people. I think she can understand more than you think," Mecuitli said in a firm voice from behind them. Yauhmi raised her hand to cut him off. "It's not a contest of suffering, Mecuitli," she said gently.

Maloxili turned red with embarrassment at that, but remained standing. "I get that you want us to be safe. But I can't just stay here and do nothing. I can't enjoy safety until everyone else can." A slight shuffling to her right made her turn and look. Quetia had stood up as well. "If you're going back, I am too. Can't let you do it all alone," he said with a crooked grin.

Eyatzin coughed slightly. He remained seated, but had a similar expression on his face. "You'll need my help too, then. Gods know you're all hopeless with tech, what would you do without me?" Maloxili gave him a pleased smile, which caused Eyatzin to blush slightly.

Margaxi finally stood up. "Empress - and I call you that because as far as I am concerned, you're still the Empress and screw Calhualyana - we appreciate your concern for us. More than you know. But Cozamalotl died because he didn't understand our enemy. Words and beliefs are great and all. But Cozamalotl showed us all how much people like Calhualyana care about words and thoughts. Only resistance will stop her. Both outside Xiomera, and inside it. Xiomera needs people on both sides of the border who are willing to fight the regime. And, yeah, I'm going back too. These three won't last long without my muscles to protect them," he finished with a laugh.

Yauhmi eyed the four of them for a moment. "If you are all truly determined to go back, I cannot stop you any more than I could stop Cozamalotl. But I can at least prepare you better than he was prepared to return. You're right, Maloxili, I am a privileged person. But the thing some Xiomerans, like Calhualyana, always forget is that privilege can be used for good things as well as bad ones. So. I have money, and access to more supplies and weapons than you could ever possibly use. I'm sure you can figure out the best way to take advantage of that." As the four stared at her, a bit stunned, Yauhmi continued. "I will, however, make one suggestion to help you shore up your skills. There are, as you probably noticed on your way into Huenya, some terrorists being supported by Calhualyana's regime. We need to clear them out to make sure the escape routes from Xiomera that we use for the Deliverers can run safely. My men will train you, I will equip you, and then you can practice on the Golden Blade. A trial run before you take on the real bad guys back in Xiomera. Does that sound like a plan?"

Maloxili nodded wordlessly. "Excellent. I suggest you all get some rest before you begin. We will talk again soon." Yauhmi stood up, and the four were ushered out. Once they had left, Mecuitli sighed. "Their leader is quite disrespectful of your position, nantzintli."

"Perhaps. But her spirit is exactly what we will need to win, both in Huenya and in Xiomera. I used to think that I deserved a certain level of respect....the past few years have taught me that everyone does. So, if a few rude words aimed at me are the price for gaining people willing to fight for our future, I'll pay it." Yauhmi nodded firmly, sitting back down and taking another sip of her coffee.

Another Shorn One walked into the sunroom, carrying a small box with holes in the side. "Nantzintli, we have another rescue from the latest Deliverer convoy. I rather think you will enjoy this one. He set the box down, opening the wooden door. "Apologies, but we couldn't secure a proper carrier in time." When the door popped open, a black cat sauntered out, sniffing the air. "Necuametl?" Yauhmi said, hastily putting her cup down. The cat turned to her, head cocked in an expression that clearly said And where have you been? before popping into her lap. Yauhmi petted the black cat, a rush of emotion greeting her at the sudden arrival of a piece of her lost home. Black cats were supposed to be bad luck, but Yauhmi was choosing to take this as a good omen.


Anaxtec, Huenya

Anaxtec was a small farming town in what was normally a placid, bucolic corner of southern Huenya. Today, it was a town on the front lines. The Golden Blade and their State of Apozanolotl had just pushed into town. Their advance, however, had met with sudden resistance. A force of Milinticans had arrived, bolstering Huenyan government forces in the area. The rather grandly named "Ihualco Vanguard Cadre of the Popular Militias of the People's Democratic Republic of Milintica" had significantly stiffened resistance on the battlefield. Commander Axotetl, leading the 1st Battalion of the State Army of Apozanolotl (a rebadged Golden Blade wing), was not amused by this. Nor was he amused at how the Milinticans were whittling down his numbers. Contrary to popular belief, when given weapons and equipment that weren't either obsolete or broken, the Milinticans could actually fight well. And the Huenyan government had plenty of weapons and equipment, left over from the Imperial Army's retreat a year earlier.

Axotetl needed reinforcements. And he knew just how to get them.

Around Anaxtec, and its neighboring villages and farms, posters and signs began to appear. They depicted the Milinticans as violent hordes of thugs waving red banners and menacing innocent Xiomeran civilians. "The Communists Have Come To Take Your Country! Don't Let Them - Join The State Army Today!" was one slogan. "Beat Back The Red Menace And Its Huenyan Lackeys!" was another. There were many more in the same vein. All of them were guaranteed to light a fire under any right-wing ethnic Xiomerans who hadn't already decided to rebel against the Huenyan government. Communism was one of their great fears, and the arrival of the Milinticans was sending that fear into overdrive.

Soon, the Golden Blade would have many more eager recruits.


“We have no choice,” Tiacihitli said quietly for the third time.

The man seated across from him snorted. “We have a choice - either to slink away with our tails between our legs like whipped dogs, or fight for what is ours. You’re about to make the wrong choice.” Acxopotl, the Secretary of Defense, tapped the Vice-Speaker’s desk. “I have ten thousand new troops ready to go today. We can surge the enemy front lines and hit them hard, push them back.”

“There are now Imperial soldiers in the separatist territory, supplementing the CSSC troops already helping the separatists. If we attack now, we would have to engage Imperial forces directly - which means the war starts again. And while I share your admiration for the bravery of our soldiers, I am also a realist. Troops need supplies, ammunition, weapons, artillery, armor. Things we still do not have in sufficient quantities to challenge the Empire.” Tiacihitli sighed. “For now, we need to negotiate a cease-fire. Words, rather than weapons, are what I should have resorted to in the first place.”

“That is surrender!” Acxopotl exploded. “We have allies, don’t we? The CU can come to our aid. Milintica already has soldiers in the area, and can send more. Eiria can send soldiers. For the gods’ sake, Tiacihitli, we can’t just surrender our land! What message does it send to Calhualyana if we won’t even fight when she steals from us?”

“If you’re worried about emboldening Calhualyana, here’s some news for you. She is already emboldened. As for attacking Imperial forces directly, don’t you see that is exactly what she wants us to do? If we attack Xiomeran forces, she can argue that we broke the peace treaty, not her. She could then unleash the entire Imperial military against us. Huenya cannot withstand that, not yet.” Before Acxopotl could object, Tiacihitli continued in the same even tone. “As for our allies, Milintica is too small to help us defeat the Empire in the long term. Both Eiria and Milintica are engaged in Auria, as well. Do you think they will be so eager to send yet more soldiers off to die, especially if it means going to war with Xiomera…..and especially if we are the ones to start the fight?”

Acxopotl stood up, face red. “You’re a coward. I should have never agreed to form a coalition with you. If you do not implement our plan of attack, I will resign my position as Defense Secretary.”

Tiacihitli stood up as well, eyeing Acxopotl coldly. “Since you won’t fall in line with me, and with the goals of my administration, you needn’t bother. You are fired.”

Acxopotl turned even redder, fists clenching. For a moment, it looked like he might punch the Vice-Speaker. Tiacihitli’s two guards coolly stepped forward to escort Acxopotl out. With a snarl, he left the room.

Tiacihitli sighed again, sitting back down. I hope this is going to work out.


The announcement that Huenya would halt offensive operations against the separatists of “Western Xiomera” and seek a cease-fire went out an hour later. It sparked an immediate backlash.

Protests outside the Federal Legislature and the Vice-Speaker’s home, both for and against the decision, intensified. 

But even more troubling for the Vice-Speaker was the announcement soon after that Acxopotl, having been fired, was withdrawing the Party of Huitzilopochtli from its coalition with the Unification Party and seeking a vote of no-confidence in Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli. Acxopotl had lost his job. Now, he intended to take Tiacihitli’s from him.


(Joint Post with Xiomera)

Chancellor's Manor, Geminus
Wednesday, August 10th, 2022, 2:37 PM

To say that Chancellor Leah Stendē was worried about events in Huenya would've been an understatement. Her nails, usually neatly clipped and uniform, were chewed raw, and she kept running her hands through her jet black hair every few seconds. For Angel's sake, how the hell do you fix this? We are an inch from losing our strongest ally in the region, and there may not be a single damn thing we can do about it.

The videos of protests outside Huenyan government buildings played on loop on her laptop, but she had stopped watching minutes ago. Reports from her security and political advisors were opened on her desk, both of them saying the exact same thing. If the Huenyan government falls, we may be a prime target for Xiomera next.

She glanced down at her desk for a brief second, before snatching her desk phone and pausing, waiting for her secretary to answer. "Get me a call with Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli please." Stende sighed as the dial tone came back, presumably to give the secretary time to find the number and place the call. At this point, we really ought to have them on speed dial.

When the call came through, Tiacihitli quickly put aside what he was working on. He was facing the biggest crisis yet of his administration, and Eiria had been a close ally. Hopefully, this call would throw him a lifeline.

“Chancellor Stendē, thank you so much for calling. How are you doing today?”

"Well, Your Excellency, I'm doing well, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned. Recent events, at least from an outside angle, have appeared drastic and potentially catastrophic if escalated. And although I do not wish to step on your toes, so to speak, I was just wondering if Eiria could provide assistance in any meaningful manner. Given the looming threat of Xiomera, I believe we could all benefit from united action." Stendē chose her words carefully, in case the Huenyan executive found insult in what was supposed to be an extension of help.

”It is undeniable that your day is going better than mine,” the Vice-Speaker replied with a laugh. “And we can, indeed, benefit from united action. I am glad you called, because there is one thing Eiria could do to assist us in this situation. Statements of support for a cease-fire, and for my administration and our chosen course of action concerning the separatists, would be of huge benefit right now. Most Huenyans want peace, but there are certain individuals among us who want to go to war with Xiomera again. They believe that Eiria and our other allies will come to our aid if we go back to war. If you could make it clear that sending troops is not an option, it would greatly weaken the argument of the pro-war faction. And if you and other influential Eirian leaders were to speak in favor of my position, that would help as well. Many Huenyans have a positive view of Eiria due to your help during the civil war. Your words could help greatly.”

Stendē noticeably eased, the simplicity of the request a surprising respite. "We would be happy to speak out in support of your decision. And, I agree, sending troops right now is really not a good option. We're already stretched thin logistically, and we can't afford to fight a war on two major fronts. Plus, members of our own governing coalition are wary of additional troop commitments. We've already disturbed many pacifist-leaning voters, and an all-out war with Xiomera would be impossible to justify, unless as a last resort." The Chancellor paused, an interesting thought coming to her. "Does the Huenyan public have a high enough trust of Eiria that our words would have a positive effect? If our words appear like we're attempting to 'meddle' in Huenyan affairs, they may have an opposite effect than the one we're intending it to have."

”I don’t think it would be perceived as meddling. Sure, there are some Huenyans who see all foreign intervention as meddling, mainly because of the years we spent under Xiomeran rule. Some are wary of coming under foreign control again, and there has been a little grumbling here and there about the help we get from Eiria and Laeral, but it’s a very tiny fringe of the population. Most Huenyans are very grateful for the help we have gotten. So I believe your words would be well received. Acxopotl’s side may not like them, but that’s their issue,” Tiacihitli added with another laugh.

Stendē politely returned a laugh. "That's great to hear." Her smile slowly faded, replaced by her signature look of determination. "However, I do have another question. Do you believe that our endorsement will be enough to survive a vote of no confidence? Governmental dissolution is something that Xiomera would be quick to take advantage of, and I'd like to do everything in my power to assist you, in order to not give them that leverage."

”As long as my own party remains behind me, and we retain the support of the anti-war faction, it will be close but we will prevail. Acxopotl does not have the majority of votes in the Legislature, unless he somehow breaks the unity of my own party. The other parties in my coalition tend to be quite a bit further left than the Party of Huitzilopochtli, so I can’t see them being willing partners to put Acxopotl in a situation where he could somehow become Vice-Speaker.” Tiacihitli paused. “If you and your fellow leaders could quietly reach out to the legislators within the Unification Party and help me keep them on side, that would be another way to ensure this no-confidence vote fails.”

"That we can do. I'm sure we'll have quite a few enthusiastic volunteers in the Senate, given the gravity of the situation. Most of us would prefer to have the leadership of the UCS united on this matter, before we get trapped in a war that we can't fight and didn't want to start in the first place." Stendē gave herself a small smile, imagining the wave of statements and calls from Senators who would support their cause.

”Those two things are the best things that you can do for us right now, and I am grateful for the help. If we can get this situation stabilized in southeastern Huenya, it is entirely possible that we could once again resume participation in the coalition in Auria. I think that would be greatly appreciated by those on the front lines there,” Tiacihitli replied.

"Absolutely. This could be the turning point of the War in Auria." The Eirian leader's mood had improved considerably. "I'm very glad to hear that. We'll waste no time in declaring your support, and I'll make it known among Unity Alliance Senators that they should follow suit as well. We may overwhelm the journalists with too many statements, but hey, no one will accuse us of half-assing our assistance, if you'll pardon the phrase."

”That is definitely true,” Tiacihitli responded. “I know that the assistance will be highly beneficial.”

"It definitely will." Stendē glanced at her watch, calculating her daily schedule in her head. "Well, I'm glad to have talked to you, Your Excellency. If Eiria can assist you in any other ways, please, do let us know." After the call disconnected, Stendē wasted no time, grabbing a nearby portfolio and scribbling a few notes, before walking into her chief of staff's office. Julius Riekstins immediately stood from his desk, reading the expression on his boss's face. "What do you need, kurena?"

"Could you have the press core gather in the briefing room in thirty minutes, please? And afterwards, I'll need to make a few calls to coalition whips and party leaders, as well as Minister Lancaster. Actually, both Minister Lancasters. You'll see why after the briefing." She thought for a few seconds. "Could you get Fournier and Bennett in here as well? I'll need their help."

And with that last request for her Press Secretary and Head Speechwriter, she walked back into her office, the door drifting shut behind her.


Thirty minutes later, the Chancellor's briefing room was packed full of curious journalists and live cameras, per her request. As Stendē took the stand, the room was suprisingly quiet, except for the occasional camera shutter sound. She cleared her throat, glancing around the room, before beginning to speak, her light Geminus regional accent subtle, yet apparent.

"Good afternoon. I apologize for the short notice, but what I've called you all here for is quite important. As you all know, there has been a large political disturbance in Huenya. The Party of Huitzilopochtli has left the governing coalition, putting the current ruling government at risk of a no confidence vote. This was brought on by Vice Speaker Tiacihitli's announcement of a cessation of conflict with the rogue state of 'Western Xiomera'."

"This political rift is a dangerous one, and the safety and security of Huenya and Caxcana as a whole will be put at risk if we devolve into political chaos. Now, while the state of 'Western Xiomera' is a blatant attempt by Empress Calhualyana to skirt around the Jinyu Agreement, I must be completely frank: I agree with Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli's decision to negotiate a ceasefire."

She paused and examined the reactions of the press core members, before continuing. "In an ideal world, we would have the capabilities to fight against the machinations of authoritarian rulers on multiple fronts. However, even with the combined strength of Eiria, Huenya, and Milintica, we cannot seek to liberate Huenya from Xiomera's clutches and defend our own flanks."

"It has come to my attention that some politicians in the UCS would like to re-enter open conflict with Xiomera, under the assumption that we will have enough strength to gain ground against Xiomera. And while these politicians may have good intent, more outright conflict is not the answer at this time."

"Our troops have been truly dedicated, fighting against Xiomera directly, before fighting in Huenya and Auria. We've put them through three major conflicts, one of which is still ongoing, without the respite of peace. Many of them gave their lives for the prospect of freedom throughout Caxcana. Actively restarting the war against Xiomera would gamble their sacrifice and all that they have given on the misguided idea that we can fight the enemy on several fronts. I cannot and will not risk the freedom of millions of UCS citizens on the vain hope that we perhaps can gain a little more territory. A war of that scale just isn't feasible at this point."

Stendē stared straight into the TV cameras, accentuating her speech with visible confidence and dedication. "Citizens of the Union of Caxcanan States, whether Huenyan, Eirian, Milintican, or Aurian, I must ask you to examine your situation, and ask yourself 'Does my leader want to restart the conflict with Xiomera, instead of handling the issues we currently have?' I encourage you to make your voices known. Contact your representatives, shout in the streets, post on social media! Don't let the harrowing conflict in Auria be put aside by politicians with lofty ambitions."

Stendē's tone relaxed as she entered the conclusion of her speech. "Both the state of Huenya and the UCS as a whole are testaments to how far democracy has come in Caxcana. We must protect these institutions, for the sake of our descendants. But destabilizing Huenya in order to resume all-out war is not the way we will make sure our democratic legacies live on. I stand with Vice-Speaker Tiacihitli, I stand with the leaders of Huenya, and I stand with the Union of Caxcanan States in this matter. I hope that you all, wherever you may be, will do the same, regardless of political affiliation or nationality. Giving ourselves the time to recover is the only way we will continue to stand strong and united in the future."

"Thank you for your time."


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