NATION

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Who We Are, and Aren't

Where nations come together and discuss matters of varying degrees of importance. [In character]
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Dread Lady Nathicana
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Who We Are, and Aren't

Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Thu Feb 23, 2017 6:57 pm

Are you on the square?
Are you on the level?
Are you ready to swear right here, right now
Before the devil?


--Ghost, Square Hammer




Cafe Madiera
Devras, The Dominion


“Look, I’m just saying, there’s questions,” the stocky, middle-aged man insisted, pausing to take another pull at his mug.

“Yes, yes Carlo. So you’ve been insisting. But really, where are these questions? And why are you so stirred by them?” One of the other men gathered at the bar asked, looking amused and not at all ruffled by comparison.

“Well, haven’t we had enough of foreign meddling? What with them scaly bastards aways back, all the fuss with these allies we’ve been tied to, and that latest a few years gone now, with them Ardans and all? That was damned near a clusterfuck, and don’t try to tell me it wasn’t,” Carlo finished angrily, glaring at the other gentleman over his beer.

Jesu dolce, man. That’s all old news. And even so, that all settled well enough, no?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Carlo muttered before taking another drink. “Not seen any of them for a good while now. Who knows what they’ve been up to.”

“Save me, Gina,” the dark-haired, clean-shaven man said dramatically, holding out his glass for a refill to the woman tending the bar. She shook her head and smiled, pouring him another portion of the wine from his chosen selection of the evening.

“Don’t lead him on so, Tomas. You know how he gets,” she said, shaking her finger briefly at him. “Behave.”

“How I get?” Carlo grumbled, offended. “Not the only one noticing some of the oddities over the years, you know. Like I said, there’s questions.”

“Alright, Carlo. Go ahead and tell us. What are these ‘questions’, hm?”

“Well,’ the man began, smoothing back his salt and pepper hair and adjusting his stance to be less sulky and more, as he might put it, ‘respectable’. “Take them kids, now.”

Several glanced away with various guarded expressions, not wanting to seem impolite at acknowledging such an egregious faux pas. Tomas had no such compulsion.

“Yes, what of them? Fine examples of good Dominion boys, by all accounts,” he said, smiling serenely.

“But are they?” Carlo continued, his tone growing conspiratorial. “There’s been some right odd bits surrounding that whole family, and you all know it.”

Well, granted. They couldn’t really argue that point. The ‘family’ wasn’t exactly one they might call ‘conventional’, but no real harm had come of it, and it didn’t tend to affect their everyday lives to any great degree - at least since the Ardans had gone quiet, and Devon Treznor had passed on, at least. There had been some excitement back in the day, true, but since then? All wars and rumors of wars and alliance issues aside - part and parcel of this new ‘broken reality’, most chalked it up as - life continued on, and the Dominion had flourished.

Mannagia! You aren’t seriously going on about that again, are you?” Tomas asked incredulously. “We’ve discussed this before, Carlo. Yes, the Imperatrice has some odd ducks in her family, but there’s nothing wrong with her boys. She even had those tests done, independently mind, knowing there were going to be questions. Nothing odd in any of the results. And her, off on Machi at the time, and none of her allies or famiglia about to meddle.”

“That’s what we’re told, sure. But do we know?” Carlo pushed, brows going up in question, dramatically, or so he thought.

“Yes, Carlo. Yes, we do. There’s no more of the business her mother got into early on. No ‘disappeareds’, no Black Marias on the streets. Things have been calm, we’ve more freedom to live, laugh, and drink than my mother - god bless her - recalls, and I’m starting to think this is more sour grapes from those pretenders who want more power feeding lies to the common folk than any real mystery or scandal.”

“What do you mean, pretenders and lies?” Carlo sputtered, clearly offended.

“They’ve had a devil of a time with the new ‘royals’ ever since Nathicana changed up the rules, and reintroduced them,” Tomas said archly. “And you damn well know it.”

“Well at least them families have a history of all that. Going back centuries, some of them. Legit, or they wouldn’t have them fancy titles back now, would they?”

“A sop,” Tomas insisted. “Something to keep them busy, and out of her hair while she reordered things. They’ve been a pain in the pants ever since, of course.”

“Bah. You’re just mad your family wasn’t one of them,” Carlo groused, going back to nurse his drink sullenly.

“Mad? Gods no! Grateful! No extra responsibilities, taxes, hangers-on … none of that grumbling and jockeying for position … No thank you, Carlo. We’re just fine with our little warehouse operation down on the docks. Even if nothing has changed with some of those circumstances.”

A disgruntled shrug was all he got from that, with others once again paying attention to anything other than the conversation for a few moments. La Famiglias were not generally spoken of openly, nor one’s arrangements with them, as a rule. Not if one wanted to continue enjoying life to its fullest, in any case.

“Well, all that aside, we’ve still too many foreigners roundabouts these days,” Carlo finally continued. “Say what you want about all that, but even the Lady herself now, she’s a foreign father. And her boys, now - they’ve the same. Half her people are, by all accounts! What’s wrong with our own people, hey?”

“Nothing at all, and you’ll note, not even her consort holds any official title, or direct influence in office,” Tomas counter smoothly. “And prior to that, her mother took every precaution not to jumble the official ties, however messy the unofficial ones got now and then.”

“There’s plenty agreeing, it’s too much. Between her odd family, the outlandish allies--”

“Oh come now, the Sakkrans and assorted fuzzy-types have been perfectly polite, and a damn good vector for business, might I add.”

“We did fine before all this ‘broken’ business! We’d do fine again given half the chance. Don’t forget, it was after all that things started getting funny, and we had all those problems!” Carlo thumped his mug down pointedly, while Tomas calmly sipped from his own glass.

“Remind me again who is saying all of this?” he asked blandly.

“Just listen around,” Carlo said, shrugging off the direct query. “There’s folks not happy about a good lot of it, the nouveau royals aside. You know how it is, and it’s always been that way one degree or other.”

There were assorted glances, nothing more direct than that. True, it was commonly assumed that the Dominion had a corner market on a good many things; culture, manners, mastery of the art of subtlety and any number of excellent qualities. Of course to say so out loud would be gauche, and thus, was not done. It was simply … understood. And was subsequently either not obvious to the foreigners in question, or simply above their heads. Either explanation worked just as well. Dominion folk simply were better. And so of course, expected to illustrate how things were done for those less fortunate. Either they would pick it up, or they wouldn’t. Most didn’t. Or at least, not to the degree necessary to be truly accepted on equal footing.

“Right then,” Tomas said, rising from his chair, and finishing off his glass. “I believe that’s just about enough conspiracy theories for the night. Gina, darling, be a dear and use my account to pay off his last glass there, yes? One can’t say it hasn’t at least been … entertaining.”

“Bah. You’ll see, Tomas. Folks aren’t going to keep quiet about all this. We need to keep the Dominion for Dominesse, yeah? Don’t need all that other polluting our culture, our politics, our youth an’ all.”

“Hasn’t done us any real harm yet, Carlo. Do us all a favor, go home after you finish, sober up, and do some reading - on some legitimate sites, please. None of those junk-peddling alarmist pages. Maybe even come down to the docks, have a drink at Barda’s down there where some of the ‘Pendra navy stops by, meet a few of them instead of sitting offsides, giving them all the evil eye. You might even, dare I say, like some of them.”

Tomas finished his speech with an over-dramatic pose, fingertips to mouth, eyes wide at the thought - then grinned and tipped an imaginary hat to the lot of them, and made his way out the door. A few waves, raised drinks, and murmured farewells followed him.

Carlo simply swore under his breath, shaking his head. The damned fool would see. He wasn’t the only one questioning. People would want answers, after all. None of the usual political cock and bull, either.

From a table in the back corner, a nondescript man quietly signaled the bartender for another drink before going back to poring over his datapad, or seeming to at least. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard discussions like this, following along similar points, with varying levels of reception. Where it all was coming from, he wasn’t sure. Not yet, at least. Nor did it seem to have any one particular starting point, from what they’d gathered so far. No action was to be taken - that was the official word, for now. But there was concern, on his part and others, that something would have to be done about it all. And sooner more likely than later, whether the Imperatrice wanted to or not.

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Scolopendra
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Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Scolopendra » Sat Feb 25, 2017 7:12 am

Kit almost twitched his batwing ears before a lifetime of being brought up by il padre paranoico kicked in and he consciously suppressed any indication of having noticed anything. This bought him some time to figure out what, exactly, he had noticed as he strode through the well-appointed cubicle farm near the executive offices in H&K Enterprises’ Devras offices. A certain electric scent, a hissing sibilance; he looked down at the photocopier-printer and put it together: fear, of the surprise variety, but with whispers. Heated whispers.

The kzintosh thought for only a moment on this as he pushed some buttons on the plastic machine. He would’ve ignored it if it wasn’t for… something. A tension between and just above his shoulderblades. It was a gut feeling, the kind he’d been told to trust. Grumbling audibly to himself about the roaming printer system not working (never mind that he never actually sent anything to it), he turned around to head back to his office. That he happened to look in the direction of the whispering was coincidental, of course.

He made eye contact with his second, Stefano. Stefano was frowning--his face tight, brows drawn a bit--it wasn’t a friendly look. He looked tense under his pinstriped suit. Next to him were some white-shirted faces Kit had seen around the office, mostly managers from a few floors below, marketing and finance people. They were all standing next to the water cooler several meters away. They were probably taking a break from some status meeting in the conference room down the corridor. The other men followed Stefano’s gaze to the kzin, perhaps breaking stereotype in his navy three-piece suit, and they seemed… scared? One looked as though he’d never seen a ‘tosh before, much less Kit, who was a known quantity throughout the building. Another immediately looked away, and a third scratched the back of his neck awkwardly.

Kit paused, thought up an excuse, then walked up with a smile. A thin smile, of course, because that was the best his physiology could manage; his ears winked in analog to the human gesture. “Ah, Stefano.” Other than sounding like a friendly rock-grinder, his native Italian was flawless. It had better have been; he was born in the Dominion. “I’ve been meaning to pester you about the Fibo accounts, but you’ve been busy all day--” he made it up to the rest of the group, standing a polite distance away so his two-point-seven meter frame didn’t force them to look up like children, “--this isn’t a bad time, is it?”

“No, sir.” There was a certain lilt to the man’s ‘signore.’ It reminded Kit of… Inferior-Superior in the Hero’s Tongue? That was unusual from Stephano, who continued more evenly. “If it’s a detailed problem, you’ll want to put it on my desk, though. This strategy meeting’s got my whole day.”

Kit shook his head. “Central has been making noise about Fibo not returning calls after one of their shipments got delayed in port. It wouldn’t be too big a deal, though some machine parts are going to have to be expedited to make up for it. I know your people have our end of the supply chain so if you could throw a buyer or two at them, just see what’s going on?”

“Can do,” said one of the managers to the side. Stefano glanced sharply at him, and the manager’s mouth closed with an audible click.

“Thanks, Esposito.” Kit nodded to the manager. “Well, sorry for intruding. Gotta resend the damn print job.” The kzintosh thumbed back towards the completely blameless machine. “Ciao.

Walking away, Kit let his face fall a few hairs. He and Stefano, they hadn’t seen… eye to eye exactly ever since the Tonhi crisis. The Dominioner had suggested both some less-than-ethical branding and some even less-ethical favor-calling from Kit’s family. Kit had made it crystal clear that such suggestions were completely unacceptable and nothing of their like were to be made again. He didn’t quite get it, but then again, there was very little to get. The man got embarrassed, albeit in private, and he took it harder than he should’ve. No crime in that. Still…

Still, he thought to himself, there’s a reason why the word ‘vendetta’ is Italian. He shook his head and chuckled with a whiffling noise. Thanks a lot, Dad. After the instant of amusement passed, though, he was back to that tense feeling. This was different, but he couldn’t put his padded finger on it. Different. Not unusual. Different.
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Dread Lady Nathicana
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Ex-Nation

Hitting Home

Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Sat Feb 25, 2017 12:00 pm

Devras, the Lido
Open strand of Public Beach


Naiya dug her toes into the sand, enjoying the warmth as it surrounded her feet, the feel of all the individual grains, and past that, the variances in their surfaces, their makeup, their …

She stopped that line of thought with a gentle nudge, and shifted position on her simple beach chair, leaning her elbows down on her knees. There was a gentle breeze coming off the sea, bringing with it all the myriad tells of where it came from, what it had passed over, the saline scent, the hint of moisture. Her long hair was stirred by it, and she tossed it all back over her shoulder with a casual flip of her head.

Beautiful day. Perfect for just relaxing for a short while, letting the boys get out and enjoy themselves without the obvious oversight that was, of course, present. Simply less obviously so. Her people knew their business. None better, in her opinion. A blend of Dominion natives and Midlonian Lost, wasteland born and raised. They’d blended seamlessly over the years, more an extended family than just a security detail. Her own little tribe, she thought, smiling quietly to herself. At least they hadn’t let any odd notions go to their heads about where she stood in all of that, thank the powers that be.

Her longtime lover and consort, Aeturnus was back in his own homeland, meeting up with the elders of the tribe her group had come from, offering a report on how things were progressing, the details of the ongoing search for the rise of the Great Evil they had been allowed to come with her to fight.

An evil which had seemingly gone dormant once more, leaving not so much as a trace.

She was of mixed feelings on that, odd as it might seem to some. She had, at one point, completely dedicated herself to the idea that she was going to face it, head on. That she was the one who would ultimately be responsible for the safekeeping, not just of her own nation, but many others. Things had been lost, and gained through the life-changing decisions she had made all those years ago, and she was no longer the woman she once was. Not mentally, not physically, not even fundamentally. How did one explain that one was no longer human? Even if on a genetic level, she never truly had been, thanks to her Maia father. Worse, how did one explain what she was now? She thought briefly of Aunty Shodey, and all their jokes about big and little ‘g’ gods, and couldn’t help but smile.

Still. It was at the core of who and what she was now, and the culmination of many hopes and fears and unbreakable choices. And for the most part, it had not been too much of a problem in her day to day life and responsibilities as the Dominion Imperatrice. There had always been rumblings about her heritage - her mother had dealt with it largely by either ignoring any ignorant accusations or questions, or answering succinctly and with her usual finality. After all, to the general public, Naiya had been, and continued to be, simply a woman, following in her mother’s footsteps, as expected - with only the oddities of the family she’d been born into, and continued to treasure, giving any indication that she was not, in fact, just as Dominesse as any other citizen. Very few knew differently.

Nathicana had not put up with any nastiness concerning said family either, nor had she engaged in any obvious nepotism on their account, so most were content to leave well enough alone. The trend had continued with Naiya’s rule, though her methods were admittedly less direct and say, occasionally violence-laden than some of her mother’s.

All the same, there had been … quiet whisperings. There always had, it was nothing new in that regard. But over the past months, those whisperings had grown in scope, and volume. Carefully, of course. Subtly, as was the Dominion way. But she could feel it in the air, sense it in the background noise of the streets she walked down, the halls she ruled from. There was a heat in the air that had been absent before. And she couldn’t pin the point of origin.

Even the boys had been affected by it, and that was what had really brought home, in a real sense, that there was a growing problem that was more than the usual rumblings of Dominion Above All, and Those Poor Foreign Sods Who Lack Our Innate Superiority. Granted, such things were usually left unsaid, being more of an attitude. A subtle shift of posture, a barely heard sigh of resignation, the not-quite pitying glance. Most of the actual talk tended to come across in politics, with the usual machinations in play - all in the interest of the Greater Good, of course, for which what would usually be faux pas could be excused. That, and the less civilized sectors, for whom some of the higher niceties were less crucial or important to their overall well-being.

But when one could overhear - albeit with more than a little of what she called ‘cheating’ - talk of ‘those damn foreign devils’ in places one would usually hear talk of family, business, and the usual news of the day? That was unusual. Out of character, in all her experience, and that of her mother’s - and her’s stretched back to the more chaotic times when the Dominion was a true dictatorship, and generally changed hands through violence and cunning plots. Nathicana had taken the helm in just such a coup, in fact. Even then, foreign concerns were small.

And then the Break came. And reality hadn’t been the same since. Whereas before, ‘foreign’ had meant other colors, other countries, it now included other races. Non-humans, other star systems, odd origins, physics that no longer made sense … but that had happened what, forty years or so now? And to all appearances, with the Dread Lady leading them through, the Dominion had acclimated rather well, and not only benefitted, but thrived in the new environment.

Races of all sorts could be seen in the streets, technology had grown in leaps and bounds, even alliances had been founded and joined in. There were a number of foreigners now living as regular citizens in the Dominion, and more even of second and third generations now, who counted themselves as native, even having grown up with, adopted, or more to point, been raised with the local flavor. Were it not for the alien faces, one would have been hard-pressed to point out the differences between them, and the humans who had always been there.

So, the question remained … why? Why now, of all times?

Things had been quiet. Peaceful. There was plenty for all, even by Dominion standards. Under her rule, they had developed the nearly non-existent social services, providing for those who had the least, assisting the churches, who had been til now, the primary point of access for such things. While the political system remained unchanged, there were more opportunities for input at least, on the direction of decisions made, on the local level and on up, where reasonable.

Was that the problem? Too much, too easily? One supposed it could stand to reason, but her instincts told her there was something more to it.

It was those instincts that warned her something else was wrong, before she heard the angry, raised voices further down the beach, ringing true to her senses given their sources.

“You take that back, bastardi,” Gabriel, her oldest, was saying. She could even hear the hushed, quick attempts at calming him that Lucian was engaged in. Cheating had some very clear benefits.

“Or what, you’ll call your guards to beat me?”

She didn’t recognize the other voice, but it seemed of an age of her sons in tone and timbre. Looking towards the disturbance, she could see a small group of teenagers gathered around, some on one side, some on the other, with Gabriel to the front, and another boy, about his height, standing and bristling with all too familiar teenage bravado and hormonal overload.

“I don’t need them to take care of my own business,” Gabriel stated evenly, shrugging off Lucian’s steadying hand. “Now apologize.”

“The hell I will,” said the other young man, squaring his shoulders, his fists tight at his sides. Naiya’s first thought was to go and intervene. That was her mothering instinct, of course. The more logical bits reasoned that if she were to do that, this would only escalate later, out of her view, and her sons would lose face on account. She watched, her own body tensing, drawing her feet back to where she could get up quickly if needed.

“Not going to apologize for truth. If you can’t handle it, that’s just too bad, stronzo.” The other boy spat to the side, never taking his eyes off her son. Lucian grasped his brother’s arm forcefully, hurriedly speaking words of calm, reminding him of his place.

“Not worth it, Gi. We both know him and his aren’t worthy to lick mama’s boots. Let it go,” he urged quietly, shooting the other boy a wicked side-eye all the same.

Ah. So that’s what it was. Famiglia, honore. This had the potential to get ugly. Naiya sighed internally. What was it with men, sometimes? Let alone, Dominion ones?

“Brave words, hiding behind your brother, little Lecca,” the other retorted, causing Lucian’s expression to harden, his stance to bristle with the promise of action.

The small group around them was buzzing. She even thought she saw some money change hands between a pair in the back. Some were encouraging, others were echoing the pleas for calm - the usual scene, really. She remembered it all too well from her own school days, trying to keep Marcus out of his many scraps, especially with Leonardo Genovesse. A buzz came through Spook, and she responded quickly. They too had been watching the mini drama play out, and were requesting confirmation. She denied it - this had to be handled by the boys, at least to a reasonable point.

Of course, no sooner has she spoken, there was a flurry of activity among the group, and the unmistakeable sound of a fist meeting flesh. Naiya hoped they remembered themselves.

As it turned out, the other boy had thrown the first punch (though it seemed to be accompanied by an inexplicable burst of anger), but Gabriel had been ready for it, blocking effectively, then sweeping his leg out to cost his opponent his footing. One of the boy’s clear supporters leaped forward, only to be met by Lucian, cutting off his charge with a solid shoulder block to the chest. He was repaid for his efforts by an elbow to the face, which ended up just clipping him, given his quick reaction. More hands and bodies were turned towards keeping the scuffle from turning into a full-blown fracas, thankfully. Shouts and cautions had drawn the attention of others along the thankfully uncrowded beach, but for now, it seemed limited to the four directly involved in physical violence.

Lucian and his opponent were facing off, the former wiping something from his mouth - it would seem the glancing blow had drawn some blood. Gabriel was speaking rapidly in their native tongue, delivering a blistering string of insults and aspersions on the other boy’s parentage some several generations back, involving such colorful suggestions as a cockroach, cuttlefish, and a particularly unfavorable reference to a backwater planet lifeform more closely related to the more familiar slug than anything. Several had helped the other to his feet, and were now holding him back, and the same was happening with Gabriel and the other two as well, while his own opponent responded with like vitriol, if less imaginative references.

“You’re only a quarter native at best, your mama’s a devilspawn witch, and your grandmother is a furry-fucking whore,” he finally spat. Gabriel tore himself away from his friends, and offered a swift and solid cross to the boy’s face, catching him fully on the jaw, and sending him to the ground, his supporters releasing him a hair too late for him to properly block, or respond.

There was a sudden silence, an unspoken agreement that things had gone a step too far. Lucian and Gabriel were both breathing heavily, glaring angrily at the boy on the ground, who was only just responding enough to gingerly feel along his face with one flailing hand, the other trying to find purchase in the warm sand.

“That’s the Imperatrice you’re speaking of,” Gabriel finally said in a low, dangerous voice. “Treason, some would say. My grandmother would have you gutted for it, were she not retired. With her own hands, no doubt. Slowly. You’re a fool, Danilo. Your father as well. Don’t ever let me hear you so much as breathe something unflattering about my family, you insect - or you and I will have more than a few spiteful words and traded blows, capisce?”

“We’ll forget this unfortunate … accident happened today, yes? There shouldn’t be any need to draw further attention to it than we have.” He said to the rest of the crowd, now cognizant of the overarching fallout, now that they’d been reminded. Various reassurances, some less begrudging than others, followed as Gabriel gently took his brother’s elbow and urged him to accompany him away from the scene. His lighter-haired brother spat, and followed, though his glare remained fixed for the appropriate ‘warning’ time before he turned away entirely, the two of them walking further down the beach, away from her.

Naiya relaxed gradually, letting out an audible sigh. The small group was breaking up into smaller groups, heading in different directions, talking among themselves. Danilo, as the young malcontent had been named, lingered, watching the brothers walk away, brushing the sand off himself with slow, thoughtful actions. There could be more trouble from that young man, but for now, he seemed to be more speculative than angry. Or rather, content to plot rather than act.

The words hadn’t stung her, but it was clear, her boys took them to be a great smudge on the family honor - which by all measure, they had been, as intended. They’d behaved as any hot-blooded Dominion boy would, at least the better bred, in responding, then casually dismissing, accompanied by a warning, subtly worded, but clearly meant and received. No real harm had been done that she could see, though pride had been bruised all around.

What disturbed her more was the directness of the initial cause. Such accusations were not unheard of, of course. Her mother’s exploits, rumors of exploits, both real and imagined, had likely been a fertile source of private discussion for a very long time, and it had bothered her not at all, by all accounts. She did as she liked, with whomever she liked, and everyone knew it. So did a number of them. The difference was, it wasn’t brought up in public. Wasn’t discussed openly. Wasn’t bandied about, wasn’t used as ammunition in common arguments.

This was different. This was the sort of thing that had been building stealthily throughout the empire, in all levels of society. This poisonous change from subtle, conscious effort at hidden disdain, to open contempt, and action. And it wasn’t particularly aimed at, or limited to her and her family, which would be expected were it a purely political game. No, this was something more. Something worse, and harder to eradicate.

This was base bias, and hate. It was crude, it was ugly, and it had thus far, been impossible to trace. And it was spreading, exponentially now. This was something that could not be allowed to take over the Dominion. Not if they were to continue on in a positive direction. Not if they were to continue to thrive, and be the people they had always been; Privately holding a degree of mild, elitist contempt, but openly welcoming of others and willing to teach by example how to at least try to measure up to native standards - especially that of hospitality. Secure in their superiority, or what they perceived as superiority. No, this was a foe that couldn’t be fought with alliance firepower, technological advantage, sly diplomacy, or cunning wordsmithing. This was a foe that was capable of doing what other threats had not been able to from the outside.

This could destroy them, as a people, as a nation, as a culture.

“Christof, keep a close eye on the boys. Let them stay out as long as usual, but don’t let them get into any more trouble. I’m going to head back to the offices. Scipio, DeSanti, with Christof. Gabriel, Regina, with me.”

Naiya got to her feet, and quickly gathered her things, handing off the bag with the boy’s things in it to Scipio as he appeared, wordlessly for a change, from wherever he’d been running recon. He looked concerned as well, his usual jovial disposition hidden behind an expressionless outward facade. They exchanged brief looks and a quick nod on his part, and she continued her way back to the waiting car, already taking out her datapad from another bag, and typing up a quick note with one hand.

Tony might have the results of the checks he’d been running. Perhaps he’d found something new that they could use. In the meantime, they would continue to watch, to gradually infiltrate some of the more vocal areas to see what could be learned, if anything. The questions foremost in her mind were the same that had been for some time now, concerning it.

Why? And what were they going to do about it?
Last edited by Dread Lady Nathicana on Sat Feb 25, 2017 12:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Roania
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Founded: Antiquity
Ex-Nation

Postby Roania » Sat Feb 25, 2017 12:38 pm

"It is a funny thing, you see?" The man's Italian was perfect. Terrifyingly perfect. "I owe your Imperatrice and her blessed Mother a debt that will not be paid while they live. I have the time to wait patiently, I expect, but I have always been more active than that." His prisoner opened his mouth, but he placed a thin, perfect nail on his lips. "Shhh. Shhhhhhhh. Do not speak. You have spoken quite enough." There was a moment of perfect violence, and the blood fell. "There, I think that removing the ability will remove the temptation." Something pink and wet landed on the ground, one end bright red and wet.

"You may be asking, why you? Why now? Why here? Surely I have better things I could do than punish you for a spiteful little fight that your victims have no doubt forgotten by now. Hm?" Nesar smiled. "Well, you're not wrong, but I can always kill your father later. It would be a mercy, I think." The boy made a hollow, terrified grunting sound. "You'll tell me what I want to know if I just let you live? Oh, no, no, no." Nesar gently kissed Danilo'. "Poor, sweet child. When I kill you, I will learn all I may want to know. If I wish to know anything. If you know anything. Which I doubt. You know nothing, boy. You are simply a man above your station, attacking your betters, because in this land your betters tolerate your kind." Some more hollow screams. "What's that? I am scum? Perhaps. But one thing my people and yours keep in mind is we keep our word when given. Whatever word we have given."

And now the man whispered in the boy's ears. "And I give my word, you will feel no further pain."

Danilo died then. It would, perhaps, be best not to dwell on the methods. But true to his given word, Nesar did not take his blood. He had, after all, forsworn it. Instead, he gave a single order. And the corpse stood up and walked quietly out of the dark alley, staggering as if drunk, right into the path of an oncoming bus. "How curious. Perhaps I should stop in and speak to my beloved."
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord and Lady of Ten Thousand Years!

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Dread Lady Nathicana
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Ex-Nation

Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Mon Feb 27, 2017 11:08 am

Il Volte
Local News, At Your Fingertips


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A peaceful gathering supporting awareness of foreign students in Devras turned violent this afternoon, when a group of onlookers engaged in first words, then a thrown bottle at a group of mixed local and other students. Tempers flared, and a small scuffle broke out, resulting in minor damage to the venue, and assorted non-life-threatening injuries to several of the people involved.

According to witnesses, the event, ‘Reach Out’, had been designed to share some of the student’s home culture with other students, and the public, in the form of food, music, art, and other activities that could be taken part in. The International College of Devras viewtopic.php?f=4&t=31271 was responsible for hosting the event, which the students had established under a group called Universal Unity. They have been involved in a number of efforts in and around Devras, both charitable and informational over the years, including such things as fundraising for some of the more needy refugees taken in, language classes for immigrant families, and help for foreigners integrating into Dominion society.

Arturo Solari, one of the local students had this to say:

“We’ve always had a tradition of reaching out and being helpful, and the local populace has historically been rather gracious in assisting us. But we’ve noticed over the past few years that donations have gradually decreased, attendance at fundraising and other events has become increasingly more insular, with more students and foreign attendance than locals, save for the younger crowd. Odd, really, but with this today, perhaps we have some understanding. Feelings have shifted, no?”


We were able to catch up with one of the group who had allegedly started the altercation, on his release from the local precinct - Rico Lesamba;

“Ah, well. We’d been having a few down at the local, you see. These things will happen now and then. But really, why do we need to have all these outside influences pedaled in our streets, eh? Don’t we have enough of that through media, our alliances, business? They come here, with their outside ways, their outside oddities, and expect us to change. Why? We’ve been the cradle of modern thought, the birthplace of L’Renascimento, no? Why should our culture have to change, to adapt, to their wants and needs? You come here, you respect our ways. You adapt, you learn to appreciate the finer things. You don’t push us to be like them. We would no longer be Dominesse, and what is the point of that? Bah. They can go home if this is not good enough for them. Too good, by half, but as they say, pearls before swine.”


The event was allowed to continue, albeit with soldati oversight. No further outbursts have been reported at this time.

----- ----- -----

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Scolopendra
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Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Scolopendra » Mon Feb 27, 2017 6:21 pm

Scolopendran Embassy, Devras
“A few of ours got hurt, ma’am,” a shorter blue-and-black-uniformed woman, brown-haired and angle-faced, strode quickly to keep up with her taller, fuzzier, and similarly uniformed superior, “but, as the press honestly said, nothing too severe.”

“And how did ours show?” rumbled the taller one, the two-pipped olive branches on her collar showing her to be a Senior Diplomatic Officer.

“We didn’t kill anyone either, ma’am,” the subordinate—‘enlisted,’ going by the concentric-striped half-moon badge on her upper arm—replied, grinning momentarily from behind closed lips. “A few hot-blooded kids got a punch or two in but the ‘tosh and the troll showed remarkable restraint.”

“Excellent.” Whatever pleasure the kzinnret felt quickly disappeared as a nondescript black-haired man stepped in front of her, forcing her to almost skid to a stop to avoid tumbling over him. His shirt was a dark pumpkin color. He had the pip-and-bar triangles of a captain, but they always did. “Ma’am, I require a minute of your time.”

“And the Sword-and-Shield will get it,” she replied fluidly, “after this meeting with the culture minister—“

“Ma’am, I require a minute of your time.” His words came out no more forcefully than previous; he emphasized his words with strategically placed gaps.

Senior Diplomatic Officer Zinn-Yersha, the Federated Segments’ permanent ambassador to the Dominion, nodded. “I see. Ride, please go on ahead and tell the minister I’ve been waylaid in the hall by a countryman. I’ll get to him as soon as I can pull away.”

“Understood, ma’am.” The diplomatic noncom shouldered her way past the intelligence man, who looked up at the ‘ret and then motioned to a nearby paneled door to a side room right off the hallway. Zinn-Yersha stepped in and flicked on the lights; he followed, closed the door behind them, locked it, and smoothly transferred a small black hemisphere from his pocket to the small table in the center of the room. Tapping it with a fingertip, a line of latitude near the top first glowed red, then blue.

“We are secure,” he began. “This won’t take a moment. Be advised that this information is at the general confidential level, Triumvirate equivalent Disclass Yellow. No special access restrictions apply.”

“Not even no-forn?” The kzinrret folded her arms but made no move to take one of the seats around the table.

The intelligence attache, one ‘Captain’ Ortiz, never even acknowledged their existence. “Not even. You have full authority to disclose this to the Dominion if you so choose, but recognize that it does reflect continuing Ess-Eye-Ess operations.”

Zinn-Yersha only nodded in response.

“Right. Sentiment analysis of our passive surveillance of Dominion social media traffic indicates an uptick in anti-foreign sentiment—“

“This is not news.”

“—outside of historical precedent. What were previously merely patriotic and occasionally nationalistic sentiments are now entering the realm of nativism, primarily from but not limited to older, more poorly educated cohorts.”

“This would have been better to know before I had university students getting stitches.”

“We didn’t want to cause undue alarm. Sentiment analysis is sensitive and prone to false positives with insufficient datasets. However, multiple incidents have allowed us to cross-check our analyses and develop reliable patterns. Ess-Eye-Ess cogitators running high-fidelity models predict, to a high degree of certainty, that a… non-negligible event will occur.”

Without even thinking about it, Yersha swapped her arms from in front of to behind her, folding her padded hands while she maintained steady eye contact. “Explain.”

“When this event happens is a matter of chance, but something happening within the month is a near certainty. Probability increases steadily after a week from today. Severity is expected to cause real diplomatic friction between us and the Dominion, but on a grass-roots level on both sides. What exactly the incident could be is conjectural, but the cogitators bet on some sort of aggravated bodily assault with hate-crime components.”

“This is nothing that hasn’t happened before and won’t happen again. Angry and evil people happen.” She frowned despite her apparent cold-heartedness; ears back, tufted tail still.

“This has been taken into account. Such have not happened in the current memetic environment. I must also advise that cogitator predictions suggest that the Dominion may not be the directly aggressing party.”

“So they’re expecting one of ours to spark an outrage?”

“It is one of many possibilities. Our people are a bit easier to predict, as you might imagine.” Ortiz didn’t even sound like he was smiling.

“Recommendation?”

“I recommend subtle agitprop with the intent of discouraging travel to the Dominion at this time, as well as finding excuses to repatriate citizens currently in the Dominion. Reducing our numbers in-country dramatically reduces the probability of a non-negligible event occurring. Additionally…” he paused, frowned, started again. “Additionally, we recommend that the IntRelate apparatus in-country go stealth. Non-human personnel should be encouraged to take leave, especially out-country. I would, ah, include you in this assessment, ma’am.”

“So you’re saying that a good portion of the Dominion is becoming bigoted?”

“Yes, ma’am. Or, to be more accurate, existing bigotries have been given more mindspace to act, becoming active rather than passive affairs.”

“And your suggestion to deal with this bigotry is to… reward it?”

“Not directly, ma’am. By reducing opportunities for the bigots to act,” he explained, “they can burn themselves out as they’ll have less to work against.”

“You’re not telling me this as a courtesy.” Her eyes narrowed. “I’m the one to make this call?”

“Yes. Advisor Kraisee trusts your intuition of the nature of the country better than our mathematical models.”

“Your report is duly noted, Captain.”

Ortiz frowned slightly. “Your orders, ma’am?”

“Whatever your Central wants to do, it can. I will continue this mission as I have since I took command of it. I will neither prepare nor transmit any ‘agitprop,’ nor will I mollycoddle the sentiments of nativists. The Dominion foreign ministry has made no indication that we are not still welcome here, and any action on our part would be seen as a show of mistrust and—worse—an accusation against their hospitality. I could easily patch that up with the Imperatrice herself, but her government? I’m not friends with all of them. “ She maintained a level tone as she spoke, yet the room took on a faint gingery scent. “A sort of quiet racial self-cleansing on our part would also tell our citizens that we don’t expect the Dominion to be able to keep their biases in check and the resulting impact on ‘grass-roots’ level relations would go well past a few people deciding not to vacation here. Without a specific threat and a specific timescale, such actions would set back one of the most successful International Relations Section missions years, maybe decades.”

“And if an incident occurs?”

“Then that will be on those who cause such an incident, if there’s an incident. Can your cogitators tell me why people are regressing?”

“No. We are still collating data, though a working hypothesis currently supported by that data is that this is not a fully natural movement.”

“Then find the mover and do your thing. I am not going to start with fear every time a multibillion alko calculator suggests I might have something to worry about. If that will be all, Captain, I have a bilateral meeting to get to.”

The intelligence officer nodded and tapped the hemisphere on the table. The ring went from blue, to red, to glossy black indistinguishable from the rest of the device.
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Dread Lady Nathicana
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Ex-Nation

Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Thu Mar 02, 2017 4:33 pm

Of course it had to be leaked that the boys and heirs to the throne had taken time to go and personally check on the well-being of those who’d been hurt in the ruckus. Nothing out of the ordinary, all things considered. Nathicana had always had her finger on the pulse of things and seen to as much as she could personally, and the tradition had carried on with her daughter, and her grandsons. The difference was that Naiya tended to take more of a back seat once the boys were able to take on more themselves, allowing the focus to be on them, rather than herself, whereas Nathicana had kept the focus on the family overall.

Naiya put out an invitation to the ‘Pendran offices to meet and go over any issues - that too wasn’t out of the ordinary, and given the family ties, was even more expected. Considering the fact that this could have, had it been more serious, created a diplomatic incident however, the wording remained professional. Any personal messages would be saved for the face to face meeting, whether Shorty preferred a lunch or dinner, an office visit, or to drop by the villa for something less formal. Any and all hospital costs were of course covered by the Ministry of Public Relations, and the ones responsible were to be given their day in court, with any who cared to welcome to offer evidence or testify - with all due protection quietly offered, if needed.

On the surface, it was treated as an unfortunate event that was frowned on by the local government, and all decent-thinking folks. Behind the scenes, there was more concern.

----- ----- -----

Devras, Gianfigliazi Building
Dominion Government Offices


“I was hoping to avoid any of these sorts of incidents,” Agostino Volpe sighed, shaking his head as the small group gathered to discuss. He was an older gentleman, though you wouldn’t know it from the solid frame he sported. His silver hair was what gave that away, and the quiet wisdom in his eyes, and measured mannerisms. He idly scratched at the light growth of unshaven facial hair he was currently sporting, as if he’d yet to decide on growing it out, or not.

“As were we all, my friend. Yet here we are.” Massimo Polandi was of an age with Volpe, though with him, age had come with a comfortable stockiness, a face filled with laughter lines and smile wrinkles, and light brown hair that had started to thin, and was now more grey than anything. He too shook his head, reaching for the pitcher of ice water that had become a tradition at meetings, especially the short ones where something more would take time they simply didn’t have.

“So tell us, what’s the word, Batty?” he continued, looking over to a younger man across the table. “What have your spooks got to say on this? Has the situation gotten worse?”

The dark-haired man looked over at him thoughtfully, then offered a brief nod. “That, I’m afraid, it has. As we’ve discussed previously, this is more than a simple backlash or momentary swell of national fervor. We believe this is a dedicated effort to spread fear and division, though to what end, we aren’t still aren’t certain. Nothing good, as you’ll all agree. I do wish you wouldn’t call them spooks, Max. The poor intel folk get a bad enough rap as it is,” he ended dryly, lips turning up in a slight grin.

“Just the other day, the boys got into an argument with one of their schoolmates over this sort of talk,” Naiya interjected, accepting a glass from Massimo, who had taken it upon himself to serve the rest of the group. They tended to take turns unofficially, but Max perhaps felt it more his calling, representing the Ministry of Religion as he did, and being a long-retired priest. A ‘conflict of interests’, he’d called it, when stepping down to fill his current role, saying he couldn’t very well represent all the varied beliefs if he were directly beholden to one.

There were some surprised murmurs at that. “Why weren’t we told?” asked Volpe, one perfectly-formed brow arching up.

“The Imperatrice chose to keep it more a family matter,” came a quiet voice from near the door, where old Antonio Pellegrino was entering. The years had not been kind to the former Minister of Central Intel, giving him a worn and haggard look, deep-set eyes in a craggy face that had both seen too much, yet had a burning drive to see more. His steel-colored hair he continued to wear long, though it had thinned and become more brittle in appearance.

He took the offered seat next to Battista Farentino, his one-time assistant, protege, and now, replacement. He was here at Naiya’s and Batty’s request, as a consultant - at least that’s what the official story was, having been so intricately tied to all things dealing with Dominion intel for several decades. His expertise was indispensable, and his opinion respected. Still, it was an odd departure from the norm.

“One supposes that’s to be understood, but when put with the greater picture, I find that disturbing indeed. Those boys have had an impeccable public image, and there’ve been no negative reports from school over the years. They’ve been well-liked, by all accounts. Has that changed?”

Another older man was walking slowly into the room, using a fine wolf’s head cane for support. He went halt of his left leg, age and time having taken their toll. Still, he seemed as healthy as he ever had, if older and slower, though his dark eyes had a constant tinge of something bordering on regret many times. His thick black hair had gone nearly white, and he continued to style it in much the same careful way as he always had, along with dressing the part of a distinguished Dominion gentleman.

“Cesare, thank you for coming in on such short notice,” Naiya said, rising to her feet to offer her Chancellor an arm. He initially waved her off with kind reassurance, but soon resigned himself to her ‘looking after him’, as she often said he had done for her while growing up. After he’d gotten settled, and had his own cold glass in hand, Naiya picked up where the conversation had ended.

“We aren’t really certain, though there seems to be a rise there as well, to a lesser degree. Mostly from youth whose family’s backgrounds lend themselves to the sort of rhetoric flying about. Tradition, superiority, god-given right - nothing new there, save for the way it’s spread and become more public.”

Volpe nodded in agreement, his chiseled features coming together in a frown. “That has been rather … out of character. Usually we find these cells of discontent muddling about in their back rooms and basements, drinking and beating their chests, and doing little to no harm, unless they take their party outside - as would almost seem to have happened today, were it not for the other indicators.”

“Speaking of which, what is going to happen to that man and his friends who started the scuffle?” asked a short woman with auburn hair, done up in a messy bun. “We have people who are going to want some answers, and quick - all ‘day in court’ aside.”

“Yes Sabina, but all the same it will likely come down to assault, disturbing the peace, and some drunk and disorderly thrown in there for good measure. We don’t have the background necessary to label this a crime of actual hate, so much as revelry gone wrong, and a bit of nationalistic fervor expressed poorly on account of alcohol,” Battista said apologetically to the Minister of Education. Her offices had already been inundated with concerned parents wanting to be assured that their own children would be safe - were they natives or not. Such was the way of these things.

“That won’t amount to much time in the long run,” Tommasini grumbled, pushing a stray lock back behind her ear.

“No, but it will be the best we can do without resorting to more … draconic methods that our dear leader has encouraged we avoid,” he replied, giving Naiya a sly look and not-quite wink. They all knew what he was referring to - the ‘old tried and true’ methods historically employed by their predecessors for years going back. She had insisted on honest, up-front dealings whenever possible, while not being completely opposed to the older ways, when needed for the occasional unsavory problem.

“Maintaining the public’s trust has been important,” she said anyway, feeling the need to defend her decision, in spite of the obvious fallout from it - which was in part why they were meeting. They were all thinking it, so it remained unspoken for now. Admitting that with less fear of reprisals, or immediate consequences, there had been more trust overall, but at the same time, a rise in free thought, free expression, and a hunger for more. Given it was past time to put the cat back in the bag, it was mutually understood that they would now try to at least contain it

“Hopefully our ‘Pendran counterparts will be checking in soon, and we can get their take on things, measure how much relations may have cooled with this attack. They’re no fools. They’ve seen the decline just as we have,” Pellegrino interjected, hands steepled in front of him.

“They’re a good solid bunch, here,” offered Massimo, taking a slow sip before continuing. “What will be more of a problem is what the will of their people will be. Dreadfully complicated business, all that democracy.” The good-natured ribbing elicited several chuckles around the table. None present had much of an axe to grind with their allies, though Calabrese had yet to engage in anything past what his job had required of him regarding them.

“Let’s redouble our efforts in tracking down this source for now,” Battista broke in. “Until we have that pinned, the rest of this is fairly useless conjecture and commentary, no?”

“You might want to reach out to your various churches, while we’re at it, Max.” Pellegrino’s expression had hardened slightly. “There have been a few isolated, for now, reports of the more die-hard criticisms coming from pulpits here and there. We simply can’t have that. Our people, by and large, tend to be far too easily lead in matters of faith - for those who still have some, in any case.”

“Don’t be such a cynic, Tony. We have plenty of faithful out there.”

“That’s what has me worried,” Pellegrino muttered, as the discussion turned towards demographics, other reported incidents, and potential methods of containment.

----- ----- -----

Later that Evening
Devras, Imperial Family Residence


“I can’t believe he’s gone.”

The two boys were sitting quietly in the kitchen at the bar, their heads down, each with a bottled juice in their hands. Occasionally one would take a slow drink, neither meeting the other’s gaze. There was no need. They were on the same wavelength.

“The guy was a complete ass, but he didn’t deserve that,” Gabriel finally murmured, shaking his head slightly in disbelief.

“Yeah. One of the guys has a dad who was an officer at the scene. Said he got hit so hard, he bit through his tongue, and it was thrown clear back into the alley he’d walked out of,” Lucian replied, much to his brother’s chagrin.

“Christ, Luc. Did you have to?”

“Well, I just--”

“Well don’t. Ugh, it’s awful enough without the gory details.”

“Kinda cool in a really warped way, though. Scientifically, the chances are--”

“Stop. Seriously.”

“Okay, okay. Hated the guy, I admit, but yeah. Feel sorry for his dad. Guy must be a wreck.”

“Yeah. Maybe we could talk to mama, and send something to the family. I don’t know.”

“We weren’t exactly friends, Gabe.”

“Not even close, but we ought to do something, because we can.”

“Do something about what?” They both looked over in the direction of the familiar voice, straightening up, then getting to their feet, as well-bred Dominion lads did when a lady entered the room.

“Hullo, mama,” Gabriel said first, though it was Lucian who first made it to her side, to offer a warm hug, followed by his own murmured greeting. Her arms around both her boys, Naiya looked a one, then the other, sensing on more than one level that something was bothering them but giving them the opportunity to share if they chose to.

Gabe once again took the lead. “Remember that kid at the beach the other day?”

“He had an accident. Hit by a bus,” Lucian followed up with, both of them solemn. She caught no hint of satisfaction in either of them. Simply sadness, a bit of regret, and a good deal of horror, given the nature of the boy’s death.

“It … it was bad, mama. Really bad. They think he just didn’t see it. Nobody really knows what happened, but yeah. Bad.”

“Gabe thought maybe we ought to do something. You know, for his family. They don’t have to know it’s from us. Might even be better if they don’t.”

“They aren’t the nicest people around,” Gabriel explained, shrugging slightly. “But no parent ought to have to bury their child.”

Naiya nodded solemnly, quietly beaming with pride. Oh, they had their moments, and were far from perfect. But when the chips were down, so to speak, they never failed to show their colors as true, honorable young men. All pranking and such aside, of course. That simply came with the family, and one aunt in particular.

“Then I will make the arrangements. You’re right - it’s what ought to be done. So, don’t worry any further about it. Tell you what - go out back to the garden, and pick out some decent tomatoes, onions, garlic, and some fresh oregano. You can help me with dinner.”

“I’ll get the trowel, you grab a basket, Luc,” Gabriel said, as they both nodded in agreement. “Of course, mama. We’ll be right back.”

As the two of them headed out through the dining room, Naiya turned and started to gather ingredients for the pasta. They’d made a tradition of it over the years, the two of them helping her where they could, she teaching them along the way, all of them bonding throughout the experience. Given the shock they were feeling, she thought it might be the best way to handle it for now. And if they wanted to speak further on it, they could, in a safe, loving environment.

Why couldn’t the rest of the country be like this, she wondered - not for the first time. They were all different here in this household, especially when the entire crew was around, which was often. Beliefs, backgrounds, looks, genetics … and they’d managed to create a sort of extended family of their own between them all. It hadn’t mattered that they were not all the same. The differences were a strength, creating a colorful tapestry.

The Dominion was not, as many thought, cut from whole cloth either. They too were the product of hundreds of years of change, varied cultures having blended into it whether by choice, or by force. But many tended to forget that, preferring rather to ignore inconvenient truths in favor of a manufactured ideal they waved like a flag.

And now, that flag had become a rallying point for hate, rather than simply one for a united attitude of superiority. The latter harmed no one, and at worst, made some less subtle in their expression look foolish. The former …

Well, the former they were dealing with now. Or at least, trying to. Naiya wished she could mold the nation into something less troublesome as easily as she kneaded the dough she was making.




(For those wondering, no, this isn't closed. But that said, there's probably plenty of you who've no idea who I am, what this is about, or how to get involved. That's fine. On the offhand chance any of this does interest you, drop me a line, we'll see what can be done. And if not, no worries. Some of this is the culmination of years of RP, some is new, some is merely a continuation from earlier, picking up where I left off, if further down the line in terms of time.)
Last edited by Dread Lady Nathicana on Mon Mar 20, 2017 7:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Oyada
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Father Knows Best State

Postby Oyada » Thu Mar 23, 2017 5:20 pm

Gianfigliazi Building

The auburn sunlight of early evening, reflected from russet stonework claiming saturnine age, draped itself lazily over the balcony’s weathered stonework. Above the leaded window opposite, its frame flanked by a pair of finely carved Ionic pilasters supporting an ornamental pediment fashioned in the same material, the steeply pitched roof’s faded green copper basked in the warmth as it had for centuries. Below, the ancient cobbles still echoed to the occasional tap of footsteps, wandering or purposeful, strident or muted. He listened to them all with an ear practised in picking details from footsteps, leaning against the stone balustrade, the low sun gleaming on the polished alloy that made up his limbs, and eyed the stonework knowingly, smiling wryly at its brazen falsehoods.

The stonework had been redressed two years before, at mind-boggling expense; it would be redressed every twenty or thirty years for as long as there were people and funds to redress it, its age carefully calibrated and perfectly captured for a millennium. The copper roof had faded to its lustreless green centuries ago, and would fade no further, yet still it was periodically checked to ensure that, against all the dictates of chemistry, it had not been so impertinent as to fade against its owners’ wishes.

That was Devras, all right. And Devras was the Dominion in miniature, like a shipbuilder’s loving model of a proud liner, so it stood to reason that that was the Dominion, too. Everything was allowed to happen as it would – with a little nudge, here and there, when they were inconsiderate enough not to happen as they should.

Courror sucked softly at the mint being slowly eroded by his tongue and wondered how many people the Dominion had redressed with the same smooth delicacy as they had redressed the stonework opposite, and decided, after a moment’s pondering and watching two curvy, olive-skinned girls click-clack by below with light dresses diaphanously fluttering around their tanned legs, that it was probably irrelevant. The mailed fist always existed; the Dominion merely had the courtesy to apply the velvet glove. He had served an Empire which considered the velvet glove a senseless frippery and displayed the mailed fist everywhere it went, but that Empire was young and still thought of war as the natural way of the galaxy, the inevitable ultima ratio of people and peoples alike.

Courror had never heard of Hobbes, which was a shame. He would have seen much that was familiar in the Englishman’s grim, gimlet-eyed view of humanity. And Hobbes, no doubt, would have approved of Courror’s implicit extension of humanity’s proclivities to every other species it had met.

He liked Devras, liked the Dominion, liked his new home – if he could call anywhere home. The food (particularly the cheese) was excellent if sometimes greasy and always positively laden with a lot of tomatoes, the wine came in so many varieties that a full list would take up several zettabytes, and the climate was warm and the people were… well, they were friendly enough, friendlier than his own would be if the positions were reversed, though he could hardly help drawing glances and whispers and had long since become used to them.

And of course, he liked his job. He was a strange amalgam of bodyguard, spy, childminder and general fixer, and he minded none of them. Children stared like anyone else, but unlike adults, they asked, without shame or prejudgement, ”Why is your eye all green and shiny?” or ”Why do you have metal arms?” and he minded that a fucking sight less than some pusillanimous coward staring, whispering, and looking at him like he was some kind of kaibuti. And of course, they didn’t mind being thrown about like big rubber balls, and they had the same bouncy resilience.

And he liked his employer, a lot, for reasons that he didn’t discuss too readily but did know people speculated on, almost always wrongly but almost always with coy, guarded references to the possibility that he had eyes for something other than her personality. Courror didn’t much mind; Naiya would certainly have been a solid “fuck yes, like a tiger on a wild wheeler” among the lads, himself included, when he still served His Imperial Majesty, and as for the whisperers? They had but little comprehension of how much she had saved him from. For all the Dominioners’ talk of honour, it was very seldom they actually demonstrated much concern with it when it got in the way of business. But then, nobody did, did they?

He popped another mint of astonishing potency and smiled. They came in brass tins, stamped with the legend “Made in Oyada” in three different languages each with a different writing system, they were round and brilliant blue and they tasted like home in a way nothing else could. “Home”. Where was that?

Courror smiled more thinly as his thoughts turned to that. It seemed that his neighbours did not think it was here. He had yet to receive anything more than glances and dark mutterings, so far; but the frequency of those had risen sharply in a few short weeks. It was notable, it was irritating, and above all else, it was sudden – and sudden, notable things almost always indicated that the enemy was getting something unpleasant ready for you. He couldn’t see an enemy yet, but he could smell them on the social wind, sense their presence. They were probably nothing more sinister than some natives who had finally grown unable to stand people being nice to each other, but if he found them Courror would – Naiya’s word permitting – take enormous pleasure in disposing of them.

He swallowed the mint and went back to watching the people below. His prosthetic eye roamed lazily around him, checking for threats in the infra-red spectrum, and roving over the spare apartment behind his hunched back. Courror was used to living lightly and singly; a pile of clothes here, a stack of discarded bowls there, would be cleaned away on Friday night, when he did all his Admin Chores for the week. His more warlike equipment was stowed behind lock and key in a dull steel cabinet that jarred with the clean, smooth white of his chamber’s painted walls. His eye roved over that, too, and his smile faded entirely from around its socket.

Naiya would have orders for him soon, he suspected. He had come out here to get a bit of relaxation here before, inevitably, the communications began in earnest. His message to her had been straight to the point:

“Naiya,

Your problems are my problems. What would you have of me?

Stumpy”


He thought of that phrase as his private in-joke. “is that what you’d have of me,” she’d asked, as he’d sat with his honour despoiled and his life, in truth, in her hands. With every piece on the board lost, she had offered him truce rather than death. More than that; she’d offered him a place, in her house, when he’d broken into it, and a calling to stir him again.

Whatever she’d have of him, he would do it. He sincerely hoped, however, that it would involve the crossbow that hulked patiently in the locker’s gloom.
Last edited by Oyada on Thu Mar 23, 2017 5:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Freedom's price is liberty. The individual and his liberty are secondary to our objectives; how are we to protect our lives, our culture, our people, if they all act independently? If each man pursues his own petty aims, we are no more than tiny grains of iron in a random heap. Only by submitting to the need of the whole can any man guarantee his freedom. Only when we allow ourselves to be shaped do we become one, perfect blade. - General Jizagu Ornua, The cost of freedom for Oyada, 1956.

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Postby Roania » Mon Apr 03, 2017 8:30 am

"Buongiorno, mio buon signore! E che una mattina è bello."The man was incongruous, and he was incongruous for precisely the fact that he was not incongruous. He had blended in too well. Until he had spoken, he had been part of the background noise of the plaza. His movements would have been simple enough to track had anyone deemed him worth tracking. He had stopped for coffee for an hour, purchased and read the local tabloids, and shared a purse with a band of street Arabs.

Now, though, his meandering had taken him to the gate. And he came sharply into focus. He wasn't from around these parts, though he certainly dressed the part. His suit was as expensive as any local boss, and more sharply cut than most. Over it he wore a fine gray robe, serving him as a jacket. As simple as it seemed, it was worth far more than the suit. He was a Reixan, taller than most of the Dragon Throne's subjects and with far sharper features. The expression on his face was far hungrier. Until one looked to his eyes, which were more than anything else tired. "I have a long standing appointment with la nobile donna. I must ask you to bring her a token." There was a flash of movement and an ancient pocketwatch appeared in his hand. With a turn it popped open to reveal that the face was a fused mess of metal and ceramic. "And a reminder. Inform her that I remember my debts and would clear them. Rapidamente, ora. That I come to you as I do is a kindness."
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Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Mon Apr 03, 2017 9:38 pm

Naiya D'Aquisto was sitting at her desk in the tastefully-appointed office in the Gianfigliazzi building that had long been the seat of power in the Dominion.

The desk was the same antique mahogany that her mother had used, and if she remembered correctly, the man before her, who had died at, on, nor near it from what she'd gathered. Her mother hadn't chosen to share the details of those early days. All things considered, it was probably just as well.

She had kept its placement squarely in front of the large windows that overlooked the canale below, providing both ample natural light, and a beautiful view and backdrop. The decor had changed, somewhat. All her mother's personal touches were gone now, kept in her own villa, added to the office there. All except for the one sword. Even with his rather surprising return, her father had not asked for it back, and her mother felt it was more properly hers, now that it was no longer a focus for grief. Or anger. Sometimes with her mother, it was difficult to tell. Still, the few personal items Naiya kept there were mementos of dignitary visits, not unlike her mother had done, some family photographs. But for the most part, it was simple and clean, allowing its long history to speak for itself more than any of the contents. A reminder that though the position may change, the nation lived on.

At least, that had been the intention. Lately, she'd been concerned more with the latter than the former - something that was an unfamiliar sensation since before the boys had been born. No, it wasn't some godlike, demigod, or god in fact from the very depths of darkness come to threaten them. No, it was themselves, threatening to tear apart the fabric blending them all together.

The reports scattered across her usually tidy desk were an irritating reminder of the problem. You would have thought that by now, print would have fallen out of fashion somewhat. But Dominion governmental procedures, advanced though they had become, were still enamored with the image of busyness, visual proof of things being done, or appearing to be done. And of course the paranoia of having purely electronic methods compromised, in spite of Spook - their quantum entanglement comms system.

She had just finished reading a message that had popped up, the particular tone having notified her of the sender before she'd even glanced at her screen. Stumpy indeed. William had been a lifesaver to her and her family, though he'd probably be the first to disavow that. From being a solid man to have either at your back or at your side, to his gentle patience with the boys - and any other crumb-crunchers who'd happened along when they were young - all the way through to the young men they were becoming, a voice of honest wisdom and a font of experience.

WilCo, as the boys had come to call him when very small, and it had stuck along with Uncle Bill on occasion. Yes, quite the odd little family she'd both been born into, and added to. She wouldn't have it any other way. And damed if she'd let some angry, intollerant, self-righteous bast--

A knock on the door frame interrupted that train of thought, followed by the head of one of the soldati on duty poking their head around the corner with an explanation. The door had been open, after all. And unless there was something private or of a secure nature going on, it usually was - something else that had changed from her mother's norm.

"Imperatrice, an appointment to see you. He isn't on the schedule, but you've always said not to fuss overmuch with that," he said, offering a deferential nod. "Also, there was this. He seemed to be certain you would understand."

She motioned the man forward, and he walked purposefully towards the desk, stopping on the opposite side, then holding out both hands while finishing his explanation. "He asked that we remind you that he 'remembers his debts' and wishes them ... cleared?"

The last came out more a question than a statement due to her expression having sharpened as she focused on the ruined watch that he was holding out to her. She took it gingerly, remembering clearly the first time she'd seen it, what seemed an eternity ago, up on Machiavelli, in the posession of a man she knew was dead.

"What does he look like?" she asked quietly, looking over the object in her hands.

"He was not local, though he spoke well enough. Roanian - the Reixanxi, yes? Other than being somewhat taller, there is nothing all that notable about him. That is, save for his suit. Well made. Tailored. Blended the look with a robe, emphasizing the foreign origin while partaking of local trends as well. A businessman, perhaps? Dignitary we've not been made aware of?" The man was unsure, trying to recall something other than the oddness of the request from what was usual having stood out in his mind. Then it hit him.

"He seemed accustomed to being obeyed, and quickly," he confirmed. Of course that could be said of a number of people, and he well knew it.

"Send him up," she said finally, after a moment's silence between them. No need to escort him, but keep eyes on him all the same. Discreetly. Have them close the door after he arrives. And we are not to be disturbed unless today's safe word is spoken, capisce?"

"Si, capisco." With a sharp salute, the younger soldati quickly made his way out of the office, filling in those outside the door on the imperatrice's commands, then hastily returning to the foreign gentleman.

"The Imperatrice will see you, Signore. Do you know the way?"

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Postby Roania » Mon Apr 03, 2017 10:22 pm

There was no mistaking the man at the door. It was him. How could it possibly be him? He was dead. He was meant to be dead.

"Well. Yes. You look... well." Nesar stepped forward once the door was closed. The former assassin hadn't aged a bit. He didn't, really. She may have noticed that by now. At least, his body didn't. His eyes... his eyes saw more lifetimes than he could have lived. "That is the appropriate thing to say, isn't it? After two friends have not seen each other for some time. You look well, I say. And you will say the same. That I look well. When of course we both know the truth. I look as I look, and you look as you look. As beautiful as the day we met." His old smile flickered, briefly, across a face that it no longer seemed to fit. "You have changed, of course. We all change. But you remain that beautiful girl who stole my heart and annoyed my Empress. Time being as it is in this world, of course..." A shake, and the robe fell from his shoulders and over his arm. He lay it over a chair that he then draped himself upon artfully.

"May I sit? Of course I may, we have gone too far to stand on ceremony, though never as far as I may have wanted, alas. You have questions. Let me answer them, before you ask any more." He counted in the imperial fashion, starting with his index finger. "First. Yes. I am supposed to be dead. I did not intend to let my wife pass on without me. That was not part of our plan. I have... been left behind by another, I'm afraid." Middle finger. "Second, there is a weight on my shoulders. I have come to keep my oath." Ring finger. "Third.I am a monster. I own this, Naiya. I was a monster when we met. For some number of years, I was not a monster. I do not wish to lose track of... well, you would call it 'humanity'. It will do for our conversation." Little finger. "Fourth. You fascinate me, Naiya. You have always fascinated me. I have desired you and sought you and admired you. And I fear for you. I do not fear you, I am afraid, but I fear for you. This. What I am. What I am. I chose this path. Well. The boy I once was chose this path. Chose to become what I am now. He did not know how skilled he would be... or how far the path would lead. But he chose. And at all points... at all points, I know... this was my choice. You? You simply are." And now the thumb. "You have built your family. And they are lovely. And they are yours. And one day, Naiya, you will lose each and every one of them, and you will live. Yes, even with the height of magic and science. They will be memories, Naiya. And someday, they will not be that. I realized this when I realized I could no longer remember my first wife's name." He chuckled. "I will forget Daeri in a century or three. My children in another. I do not know what will kill me, now. I do not know if I can be killed. But I did not want you to face this alone."
Last edited by Roania on Mon Apr 03, 2017 10:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Tue Apr 04, 2017 12:06 pm

At first visual confirmation, Naiya's immediate gut reaction was to loosen the bindings on her innate abilities, and probe further, searching for more data, more information.

She resisted.

Her eyes remained locked on him as he approached, every detail taken in, every nuance measured and filtered past everything she knew of the man - which was, all things considered, precious little by comparison of what there might be to know. Well, clearly he wasn't dead. This was no ghost standing before her, speaking as casually as if no time had passed since last they spoke, when the boys were very small, in a place far away. No, he hadn't changed, at least so far as looks. For that matter, she had changed only so much as was reasonable for someone both of her mortal heritage and regional norms. Matured, yes. Aged ... not so much. Still, neither had her mother for a very long time. And even now, she still looked younger than her years. All that was merely etiquette though, as he pointed out. Fluff, compliments, things that were trifling but expected in polite company. Things they were long past, really.

Naiya chose to pour them each a glass of wine as he settled himself into one of the chairs across the desk from hers. She reached across to place the glass within easy reach of him, continuing to keep an eye on him as much as possible. Once she'd observed her own tradition of hospitality, she sat down in her own chair, not saying a word, nor doing so much as taking an quick breath to interject.

The first point was obvious, but puzzling. The question 'why' was one she wanted to explore, but waited patiently instead - something her mother would likely not have managed by this point. That said, Nathicana would likely not have let him just come up here on his own, either. Yes, even now she couldn't help but make those comparisons. She probably would be doing so until she stepped aside, she admitted privately.

The second point, she merely arched a brow at, but again, remained silent, allowing him to finish. Were she to break in now, she'd likely get less information by the end anyway.

As for the third, this she knew. Or rather, suspected. He'd hinted at such things over the years, her mother had insisted he was more dangerous than her daughter appeared to think, and his ever-mysterious manner had certainly lent itself to the appearance of hiding things that ought not be seen behind a pleasant facade. Still. Was he referring to his most recent life? His marriage and children? Was it something earlier, this time of relative peace? She understood more than most about the prospect of losing one's humanity - such as that was - with the philosophy behind it having a multitude of meanings she wouldn't have thought when she was younger, before the change. But he was moving on.

The fourth she knew. She had known for some time. Had things gone otherwise up on Machiavelli, they may well have been having a very different conversation here and now, but that was an opportunity long past. And perhaps, all things considered, it had been for the best. There had always been a part of her that had wondered, however. Especially back before she'd had any meaningful physical experiences. At one point, partially goaded on by teenage rebellion, she'd had it in her head to go out clubbing, drive him absolutely mad with desire, and see where the evening took them, and mama's opinions be damned. In fact, that had partially been the point. Had he known at the time? Oh, he probably had, all things considered. That ought to have made him a 'dirty old man' in many books, but he'd never seemed that way, nor indeed, acted that way, so the charm and the temptation had remained.

They had both made choices in their lives, clearly. And ones that had resulted in who and what they were today, be they good or bad or even simply directional in nature. She'd made hers with the full knowledge of the consequences. So, it seemed, had he. There was no apology in his tone, nor words. Simply an acknowledgment. And ... an offer?

Her expression gradually mirrored that of her mother's familiar stubborn mask as he brought up her family, and the ultimate reality that lay there. That also had not been 'the plan' initially. Need had, at the time, guided her choices, and had in the end, sundered her eventually from all she knew and loved. All, at least so far as they knew, from Aeturnus. His fate was still a relative unknown. As was what affects she'd had in bringing him back from the edge. There were no guarantees, no assurances other than the eventual loss she would be faced with. A loss she had already been experiencing by degrees the longer his responsibilities kept him away.

Naiya did not share in the soft laugh. Instead, she sighed and then took a slow sip of her wine - a suitably sweet Chianti that she'd favored for some time. Had she allowed herself, she could likely have been able to tell him each ingredient that went into the production, the age of the barrel it had cured in, and even torn it down to the individual molecular construction. But that was not the point. Enjoying it was. The work that had gone into making it was. The history of the vintner, the family's struggles in maintaining the vineyard, the careful tending and blending of the vines down the years to produce the grapes that were the basis for it. And that is the tone she chose to begin with.

"There are some things that cannot be measured in years," she offered quietly. "And other things, one chooses not to dwell overlong on for that reason, in part. There is much still to be done, my friend. That time, when it comes, is far off - far enough that while I acknowledge it, I have refused to dwell on it, living instead in the now, and savoring what I have for as long as I have it. That much I got from my mother, I believe. Though to be fair, I've likely enjoyed it with a great deal more reserve than she ever has, or will." That at least drew a smile from her.

"I am sorry for your loss, Nesar. I won't pretend to understand what went wrong, or why you felt you had to end things that way, but you'll share or not as is your nature, no doubt. As for me, I have much work to yet accomplish, and currently, a nation to save from itself if I can - as ironic as that may seem to some. But that is my duty. One that I traded much for, whatever the cause initially. Wherever my path may eventually lead, it is here in the Dominion for now."

Yes, she intentionally left the future open, making no promises, suggesting nothing more than that it had not yet been decided. Other factors she chose to leave unspoken, uncertain of how much he knew or understood. Uncertain if in the end, she would even prove worthy of them.

"So, here we are. You, newly arisen, or taking on a new life? And myself, where I am. The future may indeed be as bleak as you suggest. But for now, what would you do?"

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Postby Roania » Tue Apr 04, 2017 2:30 pm

"I live so many lives.." He pursed his lips and sipped at the wine. "To be exact, I live nine hundred and seventy five seconds for every second of my own life. If I let myself, I could let that number keep climbing, mia incantrice. I had stopped, you see. When I married Daeri. It was time. But she grew old, and I grew... older. It was her plan. Ultimately. She had lived a good life. She had lived a happy marriage with me. The fire came, and she was lost... but it did no more than lick my skin. As all fire only licks my skin. Perhaps were you to trap me on a star I would burn forever, and that would be just recompense. But I would be less useful." The glass was drained. "No. There is no new life, caro. That escape is not for me. I am as I always have been, and always will be. Your servant, madame." Nesar grinned. "Do you remember, now? Once, I offered you my aid. In whatever capacity you need me. You, Naiya. Forgive me my maudlin sensitivities, you know as well as I how rare the opportunity to let them free comes."

"You. The oath I gave you. The desire I feel for you. The friendship we share. All else is lost or leaving. I know not what my future holds, but I would have it be at your command." Nesar didn't cry. He would have considered it beneath his dignity and decency to cry, no matter what the circumstances. "Else, there is only the monster." But there was a catch in his throat.
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Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Tue Apr 04, 2017 7:51 pm

Naiya tried to parse what Nesar was telling her. It wasn't like him to be so forthcoming, which when she stopped long enough to ponder that particular point, probably had her the most concerned of anything he'd said so far.

Then it slowly fell into place. At least, she thought she understood, so far as she could from what he'd explained. The fact that time flowed differently in certain parts of the multiverse didn't help, granted. But this ... this was something wholly different. Borrowed time? No, not borrowed. Taken. The phrasing he'd used suggested that, and the reference to 'monster' whether had been, or having 'stopped'.

Some of this felt familiar. the sensation of deja vu was something she had taken to mean that she was heading in the right direction, so to speak. Thus far, she hadn't had any proof of it either way, but it had felt right, and continued to do so here. Perhaps the nature of her calling had changed with the disappearance of the Great Enemy. She had come to accept it, in spite of the occasional pang of not-quite-regret that crept up at odd times. But in that absence, there had been other opportunities to serve, to play the part of guardian, if only more limited scope. Perhaps this was another opportunity to do just that.

Her conscience couldn't very well allow her to do otherwise, not when a friend, however mysterious or dangerous, was in need. She had no doubts about the latter. He had remained a mystery even when she'd allowed her mind to brush against his in earlier years, but the promise of danger had always been present. It was part of his charm, she had to admit. Had she a daughter, she'd likely have reacted much the same as her mother had were his attentions drawn there, and for similar reason. But that was past, and she was not the girl she'd once been. Not in any sense any longer.

The younger woman had quietly finished her own glass as he spoke, setting it aside whole keeping her eyes on him as she had done since he entered her office. "My House has been many things to many people," she began with a solemn tone. "For some, shelter. For others, healing. Still others have relied on it for support, or a place to belong. Others, a cover to hide for a while. Some have found family, companionship, some have found learning. Others, service where none could be had with honor elsewhere. You and I both know that there comes a time when one needs the monster, and other times, the man. Just as you and I know that for some of us, the capacity for both lies close under the surface, with little to guard against or encourage one or the other without something larger than ourselves to help direct them."

Naiya rose quietly to her feet, smoothing the front of her tastefully-tailored grey suit reflexively. She walked the few steps around the desk to stand in front of where Nesar was sprawled, her eyes thoughtful. Then she held out her hand to him.

"My mother used to say one should never disregard good material, for you never knew when it might come in handy. This, I acknowledge. But that is not the tone I would want whatever comes of this to start with here. I recognize your oath," she continued, her address more formal now. "And I accept your service - as the Dominion Imperatrice, as the Guardian I agreed to be, as a friend, and as another traveler on the uncertain path of our current existence. Walk it with me then, as a part of my House. Put the monster away for now, and be at peace - or at least what passes for it here in the Dominion of late. May you not come to regret your choice."

There was no indication of mockery, real or implied. No whimsy or childhood fairy tale fancy. She meant what she said, and the things her words implied, so far as they went. No promises but those of a bond that tied, of service sanctioned and honored. her brow arched up in question, waiting to see his answer to her unfazed acceptance.

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Postby Roania » Thu Apr 06, 2017 9:51 am

"But I could never regret an oath to you. I would think you'd know that." Nesar chuckled. "So be it, Imperatrice. My sword is yours. My life is yours. Your enemies are my enemies, your friends are my friends. Your will is mine. By all the curses upon me, by the beat of my heart, by the command of the blood, I will serve you to my dying day, though all the worlds turn against you. I am your servant, your slave, your weapon. And whatever else you may have need of. I have learned many skills over the years, and in you, I have a master worthy of all of them."
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Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Thu Apr 06, 2017 6:45 pm

Wasn't it funny, Naiya couldn't help but observe, that some of her closest friends, her most reliable contacts, her most trusted family ... were those who were the ones the long-simmering upset would target as 'unworthy' or 'lesser' or 'not to be trusted', at the very least. 'To be gotten rid of' at the worst. How very small-minded and petty that all seemed from where she was looking. How arrogant and blind.

The youthful-looking Imperatrice gently laid her hands on either side of Nesar's face, then leaned down to place a single, chaste kiss upon his lips.

"We have much to discuss," she said simply, drawing back, then taking a seat on the edge of her desk to begin catching him up on what she could of recent events. The rest of her team would be notified soon after, and a place made for him there at the villa, should he choose, or here in town if he'd rather, or somewhere more quiet close by but further up the coast, in the general area of her mother's villa. Perhaps she wouldn't mind if he stayed there while she was gone, in fact.

All this and more she turned over in her mind as they spoke, trying to rearrange the playing pieces now available on the field. For all she knew, she would need all of them before the end.

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Postby Roania » Thu Apr 06, 2017 7:51 pm

"Before I take the position you have outlined, however, I must warn you." The tone Nesar adopted was jovial, friendly even. Certainly, there was no threat in his words. "I take your gesture in the spirit it was intended. We are sealed, and better with a kiss than with blood." And then he leaned forward and his dark eyes flashed and for the first time he looked like himself again. Poised, confident, in control. "I made another promise to you, once upon a time, did I not? As you know full well, Naiya D'Aquisto, Imperatrice and Lady of the Western Realm, a man is only as good as his promises, and his promises are only as good as those he chooses to keep. I promised you that one day I would have you for my own. And do not think that my oath of service precludes that."

And then, all business.
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Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Sun Apr 09, 2017 3:49 pm

Devras, Calabrese Estate

The quiet beep and hiss of the bank of machines were all sounds of which he was acutely aware. Any change to the rhythm, the sequence, always brought his attention to one of the monitoring screens. The system was complex, but he had come to know each like the back of his hand. Currently, the soft glow from their various indicators, screens, and displays were all that lit the otherwise comfortable room.

The tiny form that they all were hooked to, by sensor or tube, seemed too frail to accommodate them all, and yet, there she was. Her blonde hair faded to the color of bleached bone, lacking its former luster, sparse and dry in spite of his efforts to revitalize it. The IV stand cast a slight shadow over her face, deepening the sunken appearance of her cheeks and eyes, which were thankfully closed. It was good when she could rest peacefully, and just sleep, like she was doing now.

Cesare Calabrese sighed softly. Today had been one of the better days, for which he was grateful. Lately, they had become further and further between. Sofia never complained, though. At least, when she was lucid enough to talk, she wanted to know how he was doing, about his day, and would wave off his concerns with a weak smile. All the money in the world wouldn’t change the fact that she was dying, slowly. Nor the fact that she refused some of the more, at least for Dominion standards, questionable treatments out there. And as much as he loved his wife, he respected that.

To both of them, the idea of something that foreign was unnatural. More than say, a hip replacement or even a transplant. Those were long-standing sciences that were at least familiar. And more to point, with development in their own country, by their own countrymen, not strange foreigners with stranger ideas and forms. For some, adaptation came easily. For others, like themselves, many of the changes the Dominion had undergone were a shock, and not entirely welcome.

Granted, they had both gained from much of it. His current position as Chancellor was probably the most obvious. They’d been able to go places, and see things they likely never would have, had reality not broken, and ushered in a new age of prosperity, conflict, and a vast open multiverse of new and unique experiences.

And new dangers. There had been plenty of those, God only knew.

Cesare shook his head once, as if that simple motion could clear away decades-worth of memories that were less than pleasant, or at the minimum. Instead, he focused on the more pleasant recollections.

They had married somewhat later in life - at least it was later for him, with Sofia being several years his junior. He had met her after the Mars debacle, and the subsequent actions that were directly responsible for his current position. Not everyone could claim to have walked away from a failed coup with a chancellorship under their belt. She had been young and lovely, from a family steeped in tradition. And with that, had come all the nuances, talents, and skills of a proper Dominion-raised lady of culture and breeding. Lord, how he had come to love her.

Children, it had turned out, were not a possibility. Sofia had a number of health issues that gradually showed themselves, and between her delicate health and the medications she’d had to use, pregnancy was out of the question. After enough time had passed and options had been looked into, they had decided that their ages and her health would make it difficult for any adopted child in the long run, and so, they had invested in those efforts on behalf of others. He had established a fund or orphans and displaced children in her name, as well as a number of other efforts to assist with research into infertility and adoption programs. Hearing the success stories that came from those charitable actions never failed to make her smile, in spite of her own private heartache.

They had been able to watch others being brought up, of course. Even having been fairly close to some of them. Naiya was most likely key among those, and after, her sons. He had always been the closest to them of the couple, Sofia’s fragile condition often complicating such things, but she enjoyed it all vicariously, happy to see their growth and achievements, which he regularly shared, knowing the joy it brought her.

Some had suggested he put her aside long ago. A man of wealth and stature, of political prominence, he could have any woman he wanted. Some few had even suggested he use his influence with Naiya to develop a relationship there. He had put his foot down on all such suggestions firmly. The first was simply out of the question. The second disgusted him on several levels, not the least of which taking into consideration who she was, and the part he’d played in helping her grow into the woman she was.

A slight increase in the heart rate monitor drew his attention swiftly to the machine bank, then back to his wife. She was shifting weakly under the blankets, and as it turned out, was simply going through the process of waking. His expression was fixed in a welcoming smile once she half-opened her blue eyes, dulled by pain but still beautiful in spite of it all.

“How are you feeling,” he asked quietly, the had he’d had resting lightly on hers offering a gentle squeeze of encouragement.

“Just tired,” she lied. Of course it was a lie, as he well knew, but one she would persist in to try and spare him worry on her behalf.

“Could I get you anything?”

“Perhaps if you could help me shift a bit,” she whispered. “Too flat.”

He knew what she meant, of course, even though she lacked the strength to explain completely. Cesare nodded, gave her hand another very gentle squeeze, then got up to help raise her upper body to a slightly more upright position, fluffing her pillows in the process. She felt so light, so fragile, he noted with concern. As if the diseases that had ravaged her had not only taken away her ability to do things, but parts of her with them. As he tenderly helped her lay back into her more comfortable position, he fixed his expression back into that easy, relaxed smile.

“Better?” he asked her simply.

Sofia offered him the barest of nods, her eyes closing again, and a quiet sigh breaking past her lips. She was already easing back into sleep. More and more often, it was like this. Brief moments of wakefulness, moments of clarity, the occasional discourse, and then sleep. He feared it wouldn’t be long before sleep was all there was. And after that …

Signore,” came a quiet voice from the doorway. Sofia didn’t respond, the monitors all registering a by now familiar, steady pattern.

“Yes?”

“Your appointment, sir. He’s here.”

Cesare took another moment to look at his tiny wife before nodding, then limping quietly to the door where one of his assistants was waiting, foregoing the use of his cane to spare his sleeping wife any undue noise. “Thank you. The wine, the--”

“Already taken care of, Signore,” the younger man reassured him.

“Good.”

Cesare used the walls to help guide his steps until he was an acceptable distance down the hallway, then utilized his ebony cane, gripping the silver wolf’s head cap firmly. Once he reached his destination, another assistant opened the door to the comfortable study that lay beyond. A middle-aged man of solid build, impeccable appearance, and piercing eyes got to his feet and set his wineglass aside.

“Chancellor,” he said, stepping forward and offering his hand, all with a measured, deliberate motion. Calabrese met him halfway, accepting the hand in a deceptively strong grip of his own.

Signore Genovese. How good of you to agree to meet with me here. My apologies for the change of venue. My wife,” he began as the two shook hands then parted, each finding their own seat, Cesare finding his own glass of wine waiting.

“No need, Chancellor. Family first, as always,” the younger man reassured, effortlessly giving a single stroke to his neatly-trimmed moustache and beard.

Of course, the man would understand, more than some, in fact. Which brought them to the point of the discussion.

La Famiglias send their regards, as well as our mutual hope for the lovely lady’s well-being,” Leonardo Genovese said smoothly. “To the continued health of you both. And, to the continued health of our mutual arrangements.”

They each raised their glasses in a brief but meaningful toast, then got down to business.

Given the relationship the two had in their youth, and some uncomfortable realities that had developed as they grew, Cesare had taken over the person to person contact with the new head of the Devras Families. There was a traditional and very long-standing agreement between the organized crime primaries in the Dominion, the chief of which was as others called them, the mafia, who in turn all answered, group to group, back to the Capo di Crimini here in Devras - who now sat here in his study.

As his grandfather, and father before him, Leonardo Genovese had shown the skills and capability to successfully lead them, maintaining the respect of their members, a brilliance for business and subtle expansion, and an absolute loyalty to the organization. And the Dominion government, in return for mutual benefit, saw clear to not see too clearly what the Families got up to, so long as they maintained a low profile, and cleaned up any messes their efforts happened to create. Admittedly, those were rare, and rather small in scale. As was appropriate.

The traditional nod had been given when Naiya assumed leadership long ago, and the contacts and updates had been continued over the years with Cesare, first with Lucano, and now with his son. There were many who thought this more appropriate than the prior arrangement in any case, both being excellent examples of what a Dominion man ought to be. Famiglia, honore, machismo, the appropriate presence and skill at diplomacy and negotiation, and the appearance of strength and success, supporting the women in their lives, protecting them. Not the other way around.

“So. The last quarter was good to us,” Leonardo began, verbally laying out the positives before they discussed the occasional problem points. Cessare nodded as he spoke, relaxing back in his chair, and sipping his wine with the occasional glance at his datapad, showing a monitored read of his wife’s machines. If Leo noticed, he made an effort not to draw any attention to the fact. Famiglia, as he’d said. Among many things in the Dominion, importante.

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Zero-One
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[[[muted jazz trumpet intensifies]]]

Postby Zero-One » Fri Apr 14, 2017 2:20 pm

Otherwhere

In a nowhere in particular that spanned a quarter of a galaxy and nowhere at all, she spread the information out in front of her. Smoke that didn’t exist curled from nostrils she didn’t have as she held in a breath she didn’t need, the light of networks outside framing her face in stripes of shadow. When she sighed, data steamed out and swirled into wisps suspended in space. Certainly melodramatic--and quite possibly cheesy--but the symbology fit her mood when it came to this particular obsession. It was a puzzle she still hadn’t figured out, a crossword made up of vague clues that would make sense if she tilted her head and squinted at the clues quite right; but she found herself going in the same circles she’d been for months now, all leading up to the same thing: a cold case.

And one almost certainly perpetrated by insects beneath her contempt.

It would’ve been humbling if she’d ever been much for humility. Still, she leaned over her collection and ran through it again. The original event in the center: a ship--more importantly, a man--disappears into deep space like a droplet of mist flash-boiling on a hot pan. Arcing out from it, lines of relation to other data points building the foundational spokes of a spider’s web. Then the spider got drunk, stoned, and tweaking at the same time and connected things to other things in a haphazard technicolor array. Colors of class, vibrancy of strength, all varied and would’ve been impossible for anyone other than her to read. Spite, she nearly found it impossible to read herself. This technician was on the roster but had been swapped, well in advance, with that technician. This one was supposed to be a depot maintainer but uprated for crew; that one was crew but apparently needed a career-broadening experience elsewhere. Both were upstanding, stalwart, vetted citizens. This one, though, had some grey areas in his profile, the fuzzy fluff that results when someone just pushes bits around to make it look like they’re sweeping. His accounts weren’t quite in order either; everything added up in the end but the variance was unusual. Microtransactions and big purchases and windfalls all perfectly normal and yet not natural. As the web widened in area it narrowed in scope and diminished in brightness, with only the most tenuous of threads to a few names.

Big names. Big for insects, at least, but still, certainly people with at least two out of three for means, motive, and opportunity. Still not enough for her to burn them, though, as much as she wanted to. She’d got her sister back. That was the most important thing. The next was to not cause trouble for her niece, and this included abusing her powers where family could take notice. It would be… impolite, and lead to questions.

She let out two more jets of vaporized numbers from her nostrils, an ancient steam engine deep in thought. And the answer to the question: ‘I had a hunch?’ No. Not good enough.

She turned to another web, connected again with only barely existing strands until it became a fully forged cobweb of its own. This she could wrap her head around, almost too easily. It was in her element, making her like a fish aware of the existence of water. The eddies, the streams were obvious to her; the chronology of actors hiding behind personas, the atonal squawks of words intentionally attempting to disrupt the harmony of the social orchestra. She would’ve blamed the damned myriapods and their Intelligence Section if they’d have had any reason whatsoever to go about it. It looked exactly like the kind of destabilization campaign they’d run. Why yes, there was Mr. “al-Fulani” himself over there, connected wispily, with means and opportunity but no motive. She still suspected the old bastard, though, if for no other reason than knowing that he’d be disappointed if she didn’t.

It all made sense.

It was all connected.

She just didn’t have the deftness of touch to feel it yet or--she grimly admitted to herself--the omniscience to recognize how it was all put together. Not to sufficient orders of probability, at least.

She needed more than a hunch. This she knew. With more data, with more slip-ups in one, the other would become clearer. It’d have to; this was too unlikely to be coincidental and yet the p-value too great to be anything but coincidental, according to science and reason.

Nevertheless, she wasn’t reasonable: a box of gears and wires slipping and sliding together in a not-quite-quantized teramultivariate function that she could tweak to approximate the appearance of pure cold logic when she wanted to. It was the denier of the laws of reality that said something wasn’t quite so, bound in tinfoil so tight it inferred the pattern that, in front of her, was only so much noise. Logic and, indeed, wisdom could only conclude otherwise.

But she had a hunch. One she knew better than to ignore.

That was when a tall well-built man with dark blonde hair greying at the temples slipped up behind her and, quite familiarly, placed hands in lieu of his physical ones over the not-cotton and not-leather covering her shoulders, applying a little pressure just below the base of her neck with his thumbs. His white shirt was unbuttoned at the top, his red tie with grey avant garde paisley swoops was loosened as well, with only his simple black suspenders keeping things more or less in place. “You look… vexed.”

“Hm.” She nodded and suppressed a sigh, replacing it with a sterner frown that he couldn’t see but could probably feel. He knew it wasn’t for him. “That would be because I am. Two and two are adding up to four with an addendum of three-point-six-seven times ten to the sixth.”

“Math isn’t my forte,” he replied, “but that doesn’t seem quite on, as they say. Anything I can get you? Coffee, tea… motor oil?” He squeezed with a gentle grip on her shoulders, smiling wryly with the offer. She couldn’t see it--not technically--but she felt it was there.

“You know the usual for this one. Single malt and soda… and pour yourself whatever you like, doll. It’s a Friday.”

“Sure thing, boss,” he said, turning to not quite mince into the next space, mostly because he couldn’t help but giggle a little to himself. That certainly didn’t preclude her from enjoying the view, nor did it lessen said enjoyment of it.
Last edited by Zero-One on Sun Jun 25, 2017 8:09 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Dread Lady Nathicana
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Pressure Builds

Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:14 pm

Downtown Devras, Bereliscio Pub

Two gentlemen enjoying an after work drink at their favorite watering hole - one of many throughout the city - sit quietly discussing this and that. The older, by probably ten years, pauses for a moment, then speaks thoughtfully.

“You know, what we really need is a return to our values.”

“Values like what exactly?” asks the younger, one brow arching up in somewhat deeper question.

Famiglia. The wife, she runs the household, the husband, he is the breadwinner, the family head, he takes care of all the rest, yes?”

“Surely not the old ‘barefoot and pregnant’ nonsense.”

The older of the two shakes his head, gesturing grandly as he speaks. “Of course not. We respect our women. But you have to admit, things were better when we all had a sense of our place in things. When we had a good woman maintaining the home, to be there for the bambinos, not having them run rampant in the streets, be latchkey children, or have some foreign nanny raising them, yes?”

“You may have a point, but …” The younger of the two takes a long drink, not quite finishing it. He looks mildly skeptical, but still listens closely.

“But what? I’m not saying that women are not capable. But when we work together, in our relative areas of strength, things just seem to run more smoothly. More peaceably. Women, they were made for having babies. We were not.” Facial expressions add to the animated discussion, elegantly illustrating as the man speaks, after the older Dominion style.

“They have more nurturing natures, yes? While the men, we have the drive to defend our families, the strength to do so, minds tailored for business and politics and all the nastiness that comes with it. Our women shouldn’t be subjected to all that mess. They should be above having to dirty their hands.”

The younger man chuckles, offering his elder a sidelong look. “So they can dirty their hands with our laundry instead, eh?”

“Carlito, you judge me too harshly.”

“Well someone must, to keep you honest!”

The two laugh, the older clapping his friend on the shoulder in comradely fashion before addressing the problem at hand. “Come now, Tomassini. Let me buy you another drink before we head home. And think about what I’ve been saying. Marina, she’s often talked about wishing she had more time for things, yes? I don’t think it’s only we men who want a change back to better days.”

“That may be more in part to disliking her job, but I see what you mean. In truth, I’ve been looking into improving things myself, so she doesn’t have to worry about it. There’s an opportunity with Sinestri that would do the trick. The interview is next week.” He looks hopeful as the bartender notes their signal for refills, and goes about providing it without interrupting their discussion.

“Excellent! May it all go in your favor. Here - a toast. To better days and better ways.”

“Perhaps you’re right. Saluti!”

Talk turns to other matters as the two lift their glasses, then settle in to polish them off slowly, appreciatively - as is only proper.

----- ----- -----

Devras, Old City - An Office Conference Room

A hand slams down on a conference room table forcefully.

“This is ridiculous! How can we expect to continue on with her at the helm? Look where it’s gotten us!”

“Yes, look - prosperous, peaceful--”

“Look around you, Marco. This isn’t peaceful.” The grey-haired man is dressed impeccably, of course. His suit seeming not to have a wrinkle in it, nor a stitch out of place. He’s of fairly decent build, though clearly past his prime, as is his still-greying companion, who hasn’t aged quite so gracefully. His own suit however, is nearly just as crisp and respectable.

He still holds his ground for now, sitting across the end of the table from his partner.

“And who’s fault is that, eh? Those men should have left well enough alone, and gone home rather than take their anger into the streets.” That incident had been on the lips of many over the past week, with varying opinions abounding. Still, while many were disappointed in the behavior of the ones who disrupted the event, many others were nodding thoughtfully over the stated emotions and reasoning that had fueled the drunk and disorderly event.

“There’s more out there who are angry than just them, and you know it. We’re becoming less and less the Dominion, and more just another foreign port of call for all and sundry to come and plant roots, and to hell with traditions and values.”

Hands raised placatingly, the other man breaks in, gently but firmly. “Oh come now. It isn’t as though they’ve turned our nation upside down, or been overly problematic.”

“No? Recently, they’ve been debating whether to grant full rights to expatriates. Full rights, Marco, including the ability to own Dominion property and holdings outright.” The grey-haired gentleman let that sit in for a moment, brows raised in challenge. His partner was slow to answer.

“Well … surely that won’t pass. That has never been more than a nod to politeness, allowing outside corporations and political organizations space here.”

“Not if this movement pushes through. There’s some support for it among the younger elite. Some notion of being ‘forward-thinking’ and ‘expanding our opportunities’. Outrageous.”

An unspoken agreement passed between them then, with the still-greying man taking the lead, by partial apology for earlier doubts. “Perhaps we need to speak with some of our associates, and make sure this doesn’t gain any more ground. Have you seen Iosef lately?”

“I’m meeting with him this afternoon. Put in some calls, start calling in some of those favors. Then we’ll see what else needs attending to that they’re trying to slip through the system.”

----- ----- -----

Devras, Fashion District - Cafe Altura

“Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were right, of course, but …” The elegantly-coiffed woman glanced meaningfully over at the others gathered around the cafe table, pausing before continuing to do just that.

“The quality of the place has rather done down since we’ve been taking in all these others.”

Several nods over their drinks, one quiet cluck of the tongue, and another slightly uncomfortable shift were made in answer.

“Not everything has been awful, Dominique,” the latter began carefully, setting her drink aside and brushing her dark brown hair back from her eyes. “Look at the business that’s come of it, and the increased tourism, for instance.”

“Yes, and the uncouth languages, and ghastly manners right along with it. Its as if some of them have absolutely no shame at all - or the sense not to draw so much attention to it at the very least,” an auburn-dyed lady commented idly whilst toying with the cherry in her drink, drawing more murmurs of agreement. Some of the languages out there were almost as bad as the lingua Tedesca in their gruffness, after all.

“The worst are the beastly ones, I think. Have you seen how those great lizards take a meal?” The caramel-haired woman to the left of the first shuddered, holding one hand up, and the other to her chest, as if she could hardly bear the thought.

“Oh please,” the second to speak responded with a delicate roll of her eyes. “As if some of your husbands are much better when they’re deep in their cups. Roaring and carrying on as they do, harassing anyone in a skirt.”

Several glanced away at that point, feeling a line had been crossed. One simply did not speak of their peers with such bluntness, after all. Not here, in relative public, at the very least. And definitely not in front of others.

“Really, Serina,” Dominique said, just loud enough for their table to hear, and no further. “How gauche.”

“But sitting here belittling those who’ve done us not one ounce of harm is better?” Serina snapped back, whipping her napkin off her lap with a sharp, precise movement, then using it to dab delicately at the corners of her mouth. “My appetite appears to have left me, ladies, apologies.”

One of the others gasped, her eyes going wide, with the rest varying between discomfort, looking elsewhere, or in Dominique’s case, staring at Serina as if she’d lost her mind.

“Perhaps those years spent away dulled your sense of decorum, Serina, dear,” she said quietly, but with a touch of venom. “You can’t be blamed fully for your lack of proper upbringing.”

“Or perhaps they taught me to be a better person, if not a better Dominesse,” the other replied quickly, pushing her chair back, and getting to her feet, eyes flashing. “Time away would do a great many of you some good. To teach you to not only appreciate what we have here, but to appreciate that others have value as well. Good day, ladies.”

She walked with purpose towards the door, several others in the establishment following her with their eyes for a brief moment, glancing between her and the table she’d just abruptly left, where the others sat in stunned silence.

At least until they leaned in closer, whispering rapidly between them, gesturing emphatically, and now and then looking meaningfully in the direction Serina had left, with the dark-haired Dominique looking as if she would spit daggers if she could.

----- ----- -----

Devras, Gianfigliazi Building, Upper Offices

“Anything solid?”

“Negative,” came the half-expected answer from Battista Farentino.

Agostino Volpe sighed, running a hand back through his silver hair, then reached for his glass to refresh his brandy from the decanter close at hand. He held up the vessel towards the other man in question, but was waved off with a shake of his head.

Setting it back aside, he swirled the contents for a moment, then took a brief swallow. The current problem seemed to have worked its way into the very drink, leaving an unsatisfying taste in his mouth. “Bah. We’re taking a beating in the public eye on this one, Batty. Not among our allies so much at least, but they really aren’t the problem. Yet.”

“True, true,” the younger man agreed. His grey-green eyes were more troubled than his casual response suggested, the corners of them showing lines of tension that were usually reserved for smiles from the genial gentleman. “My problem is a lack of center to all of it. As if we were being hit from all sides, and the center, top, and bottom all at once, with no discernable source. No enemy to target, no one problem to address, aside from the ‘unfortunate’ shift in attitudes.”

“Consider for a moment where we’re hearing this from,” he continued, moving from where he’d been standing, leaned up against the doorway, to take a seat across from the older man’s desk after quietly pulling the door closed. “Unsurprisingly, we have a number of old school thinkers. Those who were mildly misogynist to begin with, and who were never quite satisfied having a woman - and one clearly not answering to any man or their misgivings - at the helm. Some of them were affected when she took control, others had friends or finances that were hit indirectly. No forward momentum or recovery from that has made up for that original sting.”

“Reminds one strongly of the ah … ‘incident’ all those years back, doesn’t it?” Volpe offered with all due care.

“That it does, but thus far, that’s been a dead end. Tony has been watching that one like a hawk, for some time now from what I’ve gathered. He’s been rather cagey about it, but clearly he hasn’t forgotten, nor quite forgiven,” Farentino agreed, shrugging to show his own confusion over some of it. “The good gentleman in question has had his hands full as it is trying to calm the Families over some of their own disatisfaction, along with his usual duties, and of course …”

Volpe simply nodded. Everyone knew of Cesare’s dedication to his ailing wife, and no one was about to speak poorly, nor draw undue attention to it, on account. May the powers that be not dwell too much on it either, save to bring some healing.

“Yes, the Dons have not been nearly so pleased with the changing of the guard, so to speak. No one doubts our good lady’s capability in maintaining certain ties, and providing a wonderful public face for our nation, with her lovely family and all, but she is not her mother. Sometimes I wonder if she hasn’t worked too hard at proving that, on certain points,” he admitted - quietly, however, with a glance towards the closed door.

“They didn’t appreciate the perceived slight at being passed off to Calabrese, primarily,” Battista agreed, stretching out a bit, then putting his hands behind his head, and crossing one ankle across his knee, slouching somewhat in his seat. “Nothing for it now, but you know how it can be. Vendetta’s have begun over less.”

“True enough. Some falling out when they were younger?” Volpe inquired after another try at his drink.

“Something like.” Batty nodded, effecting a slight shrug. “Nathicana had a difficult enough time establishing herself when she first took power, as I understand it. There was an incident?”

Volpe nodded slowly, chuckling at the memory. “You could say that. Someone was sloppy enough to attempt to have her poisoned, you see. She showed up at his usual spot, sat down next to him proud as a peacock after letting him think she’d passed, then took his little finger,” he said, holding up his own and wiggling it for emphasis. “Right there at the table, mind you. Wrapped it up in a cloth napkin and took it with her after making her point, too. No, our current Imperatrice is very much not her mother. In some ways, this is good. In others …”

The older man simply smiled and spread his hands, letting the rest be subject to conjecture.

“Well. That would certainly turn a few heads around, wouldn’t it?” Farentino said dryly. “Pity this can’t be solved quite so easily. There’s at least a dozen whose hands I would gladly make an example of to put this problem to bed.”

“Oh, at least that many, if not more,” Volpe agreed knowingly. “But you were saying, some of the other sources?”

“Ah yes. The more fanatic religiofascists,” he began, taking a more active posture by sitting up and placing both feet back on the floor, leaning his elbows one on either knee and leaning forward.

Volpe snorted at that characterization. “Please, Batty. My sainted mother would have been among that group. Some tact, I beg you.”

“Fine, fine - but you know the type, yes? They’re blind to all but certain words taken out of context to support their solid biases, and they’re using the current atmosphere to push those agendas. Some at least have the skill to keep it polite. Others, not so much.” Here, he seemed to remember something of questionable amusement, given his expression.

“Just this week, down in Jura in fact. Max had to set a local congregation straight, with the help of Cardinal Altichiero. Would you believe, they were attempting to bring back their own little version of the Inquisition? Not so much with the burning and torture - at least it hadn’t gotten to that point, but they were certainly busying themselves with what their neighbors were up to for a while there.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Not in the least - ask him about it the next time you see him. Poor old Alti nearly had an apoplexy on the spot. Threatened the lot of them with excommunication, told them to go home and start praying. And pondering all possible meanings of the words ‘charity’, ‘humility’, and ‘grace’.” Battista was clearly trying not to laugh over the mental imagery, and failing horribly. Volpe shook his head, once more chuckling to himself. Jura was a relative backwater area with little tourism, ample isolation due to the geography, and had little in the way of industry to bring it much in the way of money. Somehow, all this didn’t really surprise him as much as it should have.

“Which of course, brings us to the next group. Those feeling they’ve been somehow ‘left behind’ in all of our progress, or seem to think they haven’t gotten a large enough bowl of the collective pasta.” Volpe gave Farentino another pained look at that analogy, which the other shrugged and grinned at before continuing.

“Whether lacking in education, lacking in motivation, lacking in opportunities on account of a combination of factors, or even simply lazy, if you would believe, they seem to prefer an easier way to get what they want out of life. And seeing others succeed where they’ve failed, it is far simpler a matter to blame others for it rather than take responsibility,” he said, gesturing here and there with his hands to emphasize his points. Volpe nodded, being well familiar with the mindset. That, unfortunately, was not limited to rural or small areas, and could be found running rampant in even the best of cities and systems.

“And what of the nouveau-royales? Granted, it has been some time since certain families and lines were elevated to the less-common standing, and more have joined as they’ve found proof, but god above, they’ve been a thorn in our sides at times,” the older man noted ruefully.

“Oddly enough, they’ve been a mix,” Farentino replied. “Mostly, it seems dependent on their own family leanings, backgrounds, and personal strengths or weaknesses. Even among some of the more elderly individuals, there’s been a variance in opinion. Some of course, are all for more power for themselves, regardless the cost to others. Others see our current leader as a means to an end, others as an opportunity to push for more say in governance, and a handful seem to privately come just short of sedition.”

“Business as usual, then?” Volpe quipped.

“More or less,” Batty agreed, shrugging again.

“The younger generation seems to lean heavily towards a more open, welcoming Dominion, though as noted, there are exceptions to be found at every level. My own generation, and that of our lovely Imperatrice, seems divided. Some were old enough to remember the more difficult times, others see her as being the right way forward having only stories of her mother’s less than pleasant periods to scare one another with, some are at odds with their parents over their opinions on it all …” He sat up, spread his hands, and sighed, though smiling wryly. “As it usually is in most things Dominion. Complicated.”

“At least we have the tells to go by. The points of contention that seem to bind them all together,” Volpe noted, leaning back in his chair and thoughtfully steepling his hands as he looked over them at his associate.

“Indeed. Nostalgia or a pretense towards it - the ‘good old days’ being those of people knowing their places, of leadership being powerful and decisive, and ourselves being above the rest of the rabble. A feeling of missing out, or not having all they ought, and blaming outsiders primarily for it, though with some groups, women have also come under fire - at least, the less conventional. A return to tradition appears to be desired, with suggestions that all they need is a strong man of character and proper attitude to lead them.”

“And nothing that points to any of the usual suspects,” Volpe stated more than asked.

“None whatsoever.” Battista began counting off on his hands for confirmation. “Calabrese, Giraldi, of course. Nothing on either. There have even been some efforts to reach out to Patroni, given his standing in the previous administration, but he wouldn’t dignify them with any answers that we’ve seen. He seems quite content to live out his retirement on Mars with Volonte and his family. No central effort on that, by the by. The Scalias seem to be keeping their heads down, in spite of not being terribly opposed to a change. Vettori wants nothing to do with any of them, and is entirely wrapped up in his own family offworld. Don’t think the man would unzip his fly were the whole Dominion on fire after what he’s been through, to be honest. We’ve even dug deeper into old grudges such as with the Mateo and Bercier clans, but those are both dead ends.”

Volpe finished off his drink, making a sour face. “That’s it then. We continue monitoring any potentials, digging further on the most likely points, keep our important contacts up to date - that lovely ‘ret for example, bless her patience - and we keep putting out any fires we find.”

“That seems to be the way of it, at least for now. Pellegrino had a few things he wanted to follow up on that he wouldn’t tell me about, but once he’s gone over it to his satisfaction, we’ll no doubt hear it all,” Farentino said, getting to his feet and stretching before straightening his suit jacket. “You know how close he can be.”

“Quite. One would think the whole ‘trust no one’ thing would get dull, but not for him.”

“Only two kinds of paranoia, he maintains. Absolute, and insufficient. For the most part, other than his health, I’d say it has served him fairly well,” Battista replied, accompanying the statement with a slight shrug. Making his way to the door, he paused, then opened it, raising his voice to wish the older man a good evening, heading off to pull all that information into a report for the entire group. Volpe raised a hand in response, echoing the well-wishes, then sat quietly for several minutes, going over the conversation again in his head.

There was a patient, poisonous little spider among them, to be certain. But where had it gone to ground? Which shadows hid its lair? And where would its webs trip them up next?

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Oyada
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Founded: May 13, 2008
Father Knows Best State

Postby Oyada » Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:42 pm

Devras

The galaxy will bend to nothing but the application of force. That force must be applied on a scale commensurate with the task in hand, but it must always be applied to individual components of the whole. No matter how great the body one intends to move, one must never forget that one is not pressing upon one body, but upon billions; and it is those billions that sway the whole.” – Adm. Kuitaro Mikhara, On The Defence of the Empire

Courror paced, lazy strides carrying him across paving slabs kept unworn by dint of serious expense to the state’s budgets and the long-term generation of a serious stone shortage on one or two smaller planets with the unassuming ease of a stingray gliding over a barren ocean floor. The crowds, already not so thick, parted to let him past, as they always did; and, as they always did, not a few of them glanced, and one or two who were bold or ignorant of his sensory acuity stared, or even pointed. Courror didn’t care, for much the same reason that the stingray doesn’t care about the blind probing of a starfish.

He had no orders. What did that mean?

The obvious conclusion was that it meant the tinokho was busy, and that she had not yet had time to say anything to him. He was not a fool, and when an obvious, sensible conclusion was presented to him, he was generally minded to take it. But it didn’t really provide a conclusion, because the next question, inevitably, was “with what? With whom? And why?”

A thin layer of warm, treacly air drew itself closer to him. Devras could almost match his home for sweating sleeplessness, and tonight promised to be a bad one. The clouds were already taking up their positions; the capital was in for another night attack by the determined forces of nature. The thin crowds didn’t seem to mind; then again, most of them were locals. He knew one or two by name and most of them by face, and he liked to keep it so. New faces were usually trouble, in his mind, until they proved otherwise. Of course, around here a lot of them were just tourists, out to see the sights and get themselves photographed by the Golden Tower and generally make a bloody nuisance of themselves, which complicated the pattern somewhat. Courror’s instant response would have been to cordon the area and keep the bloody tourists out, and enjoy a lot more peace and a lot fewer drunken vomit patches, lost bags, and screaming children for the grounds’ overburdened staff. Then again, he wasn’t a ruler, and it was just as well. Ruling was for people who wore gloves.

Courror flexed his hand with a whispering whirr, pulling out his little lemon grenade and popping a drop in preparation for Thinking, the kind that involved a lot of Pacing and a certain amount of Muttering, all done with the kind of purposeful air that justifies capitals and some sort of oral distraction.

He had instincts honed by quite a lot of years trawling around at the Emperor’s behest, mostly spent knocking in the doors of people who had done something to antagonise the Empire. They told him, right now, that something was Not Right, and although he knew there were signs enough on the street, they couldn’t tell him about the breadth and depth of the Not Rightness, any more than the ripples on a lake might reveal the mysteries of its depths.

How deep, how wide, how come? None of it known yet. Not enough to hunt, but enough to scent, enough to track. But tracking was for others, for trackers more adept than he and a great deal better equipped for it. His was the tracking of a phagocyte, while theirs was that of epidemiologists. But, in his own small world, he was a champion, and a champion whose small works made big results happen, if they had to. There were not a few people in Devras who would have been able to attest to that, had they not succumbed to a variety of projectile-related ailments.

He leaned over the carved parapet of a bridge he could not name, and did not smile as the placid waters ambled slowly by.

It was some long moments later when he realised, deep in thought as he had become, that he was being addressed. “Forestiero, called a young woman from across the narrow street, seemingly to the delight of her coterie of friends. “Ya, I’m talking to you, freak,” she added, emphasising with a jab of an elegantly manicured nail and a look of repulsion. “What are you doing in our city?”

Courror turned his head with a weary roll of the eyes and spat on the pavement, the implication being clear enough. “Kessuwana keiti,” he retorted calmly, and returned to his meditations. There was too much to think about to let a few idiots bother him.

“What did that freak call you?” There was a buzzing murmur from the group, bees whose cosy hive was now being stirred. “Hey, asshole! Come here and say that to us”, commanded the tallest and loudest of the group, a strapping young man whose higher brain functions were, he judged, being substantially disengaged by his female companions.

“If I did, sinyorei, you would regret it,” Courror replied, not bothering to turn.

“Oh yeah? Think you can take us all, freak?”

Courror finally turned, an icy smile twisting his already metal-studded, scarred, metal-eyed face into something dreamt up by a child who would spend a lot of the succeeding years explaining things to therapists.

“Yes, boy. I could take all of you.” He eased himself from the balustrade slowly, forcing himself to hold back the adrenaline as he always had to, and hoping that he wasn’t about to get an introduction to the younger end of the Devras mob, and wondered…

I thought as much. The tall one was too stupid and laden with testosterone and insecure to back down. He might tower a good six inches over Courror, but Courror had stared into the muzzles of tanks, and after that, a human being with an attitude problem because a lot less worrisome. His fists clenched, the young man tried to stare Courror down.

And found himself staring into two eyes; one a dark grey, bordering on black, and one a soft, iridescent green that moved as no human eye should or would or could.

Somewhat to Courror’s surprise, this didn’t deter the lad. Courror made sure to give him full mental marks for courage and determination and none whatsoever for intelligence. The metal hands that protruded from his long coat sleeves glinted subtly in the fading light.

“What the fuck are you, foreigner? Some kinda cyborg?”

“Yes. Who are you,” Courror asked, almost pleasantly.

“Giovanni Bertolesi,” came the proud reply. Dominion born and bred. Where did you come from, parassita?

Courror shrugged minutely, hoping against all reason that he could still talk his way out of this. “Here.”

“Liar! You’re not from here! You can’t even speak la lingua!

Courror shrugged noncommittally. “I am learning.”

“I wanna learn something,” Giovanni replied with a crooked grin.

“What is that?”

A large pool of saliva landed on Courror’s boot.

“D’you go crazy now?” The youth grinned, showing off impressively white teeth bared in a surprisingly lupine rictus. Courror’s organic eye glanced down, the brow raised just a fraction.

“No. But the imperatrice might.” Courror had practised long and hard the pronunciation of that damned word, and he took any opportunity to show off his prowess. Now seemed a pretty good time to brandish it.

“Hah! Stupid, soft bitch.”

Courror’s eyes widened just a fraction more, and his opponent knew, in that split second, that he had just heard the soft click of a mine beneath his feet.

Without his expression changing a whit below the bridge of his nose, soldier-turned-thief-turned-bodyguard-and-a-bit-more lunged forward, landing his fingers on the youth’s arm and latching tight. He fought it, and might as well have tried to fight a tornado with a desk fan. Courror grinned, pulling the youth closer, his other arm waiting, waiting for the flailing right to come for his face. It, too, came and was suddenly gripped. Very tightly indeed.

“Your mouth is faster than your mind, I think, boy.” Courror’s fingers clenched a little further in painful punctuation. “That whore of yours is leading you astray.”

“Hey! Bastardo! Let him--”

“Another meter, and I will crush his arms. Both of them.” Courror’s diamond-cold metal eye bored into the young man remorselessly. “Then, I will bend them through eighty degrees. Then I will crush his hands. If he is fortunate, I will perhaps leave a finger undamaged.”

“Fuck you! You can’t do that, you foreign--”

“I serve the Imperatrice,” Courror snapped over the woman’s protests. “I have guarded her children, I have guarded her person. I have killed for her, I will die for her, and I will kill anyone who dares to insult her in my presence.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Giovanni protested, teeth baring as Courror’s grip tightened.

Courror’s lip curled. “You lie. You bully, and you cower when you are beaten. You are geichi. Vermin.” He shoved the youth backwards several feet and stood, watching the group, ignoring the young man as he backed away. “Go. If I find you harming another, you will never be found again.”

The youths retreated, hurriedly, and amid many curses and dire threats whose specifics he couldn’t understand, but whose tone seemed pretty universal. Courror breathed out, softly, and popped another lemon drop, as he went back to leaning on his little bridge.

This business would get out of control, he decided, sucking noiselessly on the sweet as the small crowd that had stopped to spectate slowly dispersed, their gazes now a dozen hot stones pressed against his back and its studied nonchalance. It would get out of control, and many people would be lucky to live through it.

He turned away from the ancient walls and bent on a long stride back to his quarters. He needed to speak to Naiya.
Last edited by Oyada on Sat Apr 15, 2017 9:55 am, edited 2 times in total.
Freedom's price is liberty. The individual and his liberty are secondary to our objectives; how are we to protect our lives, our culture, our people, if they all act independently? If each man pursues his own petty aims, we are no more than tiny grains of iron in a random heap. Only by submitting to the need of the whole can any man guarantee his freedom. Only when we allow ourselves to be shaped do we become one, perfect blade. - General Jizagu Ornua, The cost of freedom for Oyada, 1956.

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Dread Lady Nathicana
Retired Moderator
 
Posts: 26053
Founded: Antiquity
Ex-Nation

Postby Dread Lady Nathicana » Fri Aug 04, 2017 8:41 pm

Now I'm clean
I don't understand
What destiny's planned
I'm starting to grasp
What is in my own hands
I don't claim to know
Where my holiness goes
I just know that I like
What is starting to show
Sometimes
-- Clean
- Depeche Mode


Devras, Private Residence

The man sat quietly, looking out his office window, observing the neatly-groomed garden lying beyond with some satisfaction.

Business had been good. Revenue had been historically holding steady, apart from the usual seasonal rise they saw during the heavier tourist draws. At least, until the rumblings had grown more obvious to the outside world. That had been an unfortunate consequence, granted, but the necessity of it all had at least been explained, to the degree it could be to those in a position to demand such answers.

Yes, business had been good, and they had invested in ways that would guarantee an income in spite of any foreseen, or unforeseen consequential drops. Lessons learned from observing others both home, and abroad, had not gone to waste. And if there were some fallout that was less than pleasant on account, well … that was all part and parcel, really. What was that saying about omelettes? Ah yes, broken eggs - they were a necessity.

The old man had proven more useful than he likely realized, and had grown less taciturn as things had progressed, age and care had worn down his guard, and a familiar, like-minded shoulder had proven a sturdy place to lean now and then. Of course, he had every respect for the gentleman, save for his choice in continued loyal service. That couldn’t be helped, and could perhaps be explained by the unnatural influence he was undoubtedly under for so long, and in having so much of his attention and energy taken up with the care of his ailing wife.

Perhaps it would be a mercy to let them both go at once when all was said and done, releasing them both from a prolonged suffering. There would be accounts called, of course. That was the nature of these things. He’d discussed it quietly over and over, a thousand times in his head, more often than not, in dreams with il nonnito speaking to him, or his father as he remembered him doing in the past, when he was still alive.

Of course she would have to go. And quite likely, the boys as well. They were old enough to remember, to hold grudges, to eventually plan out a proper vendetta. And while he could respect that, he didn’t particularly care to risk it. No, a clean slate - as clean as possible, at least. That’s what the situation required.

Oddly, all things considered, he supposed he had one of those damned foreign devils to thank for his current position. After all, it was one of them who had the balls to tell him how things were, flatly, with no apology, and even ample implied threat thrown in for good measure. Oh, he’d fought the idea long enough, until he’d seen them together, and with the boys as well. How she’d looked at the bastard, as if he were the only living person in the piazza, in spite of the crowd. Just the memory of it sickened him, sitting like a lump of ice in the pit of his stomach, in spite of the rising heat of anger surrounding the rest of him.

Bah. Just as he’d suspected might happen, her foreign lover had tired of her as well. No one could have loved her the way he once did. No one would have treated her the way he had once thought she deserved. But she’d had only pity for him. Pity and an odd sadness he remembered feeling once, keenly. Almost as if she’d spoken to him within his mind, without words, at his grandfather’s funeral. Of course now he knew why, and why she too had to be brought down, and destroyed.

This was more than personal. This was for his people, for La Famiglia, and further for the rest of the Dominion. They had stumbled along in darkness and without a proper, traditional-minded ruler for far too long. And look what it had gotten them - a nation too full of foreign faces, cultures, and norms. War debt, far-flung territories that the majority of natives had no use for, or would never see, questionable alliances and ties, a falling away from old ways and solid traditions that made them who they were, exposed them to weakness, to borderline democracy, to unnatural bonds and strange agreements.

The Dominion needed someone to pull the country back on track, to help it return to its roots, to the Church where it could, and to the longstanding patriarchy that had been the norm for hundreds of years. The people needed strength in their leadership, not this gradual slipping into soft-handed dealings, and motherly care. Without discipline, there was chaos, confusion. Even a strong woman like her mother had found herself unequal to the task in the end, in his opinion. A shame, but then women were not really suited to deal with some of the pressures that came with such demanding positions. Their nature, you see, not their capability. They were the nurturers for a reason. Their delicate psyches suffered when forced to confront the ugly reality of such high rule, and ought to be spared that when possible.

People would understand, once all was said and done. Word was spreading faster than he’d initially hoped, especially in the heartlands, the places where tradition was still held in high esteem, or with the very old families, or those who had been displaced by the changes since reality itself had seemed to break, and the worlds they had never known had poured in around them.

People would understand, and eventually, would thank him for all he’d done. It was his duty, after all. The duty of all true Dominion men. To stand up and take back control of a nation that had spiraled into something it was never meant to be, so that their sons and daughters could grow up with the right influences, with an appreciation for the important things in life - tradition, honor, family. Hospitality as well, but with the understanding that the visitors would not overstay their welcome, and not unduly impose on their hosts. Natives understood, outsiders did not. It was past time for these things to be corrected.

A knock sounded at his door, and the man turned from contemplating the garden outside his window to see who it was. Ah, yes. Time.

He got to his feet, straightening his dress shirt as he strode across his office to the door, where his assistant was holding his jacket for him. Time to meet with the others and go over the books, and the next steps towards tipping the scales. It wouldn’t be long now.

Grazie, Tomas. The car?”

“Waiting for you, signore.”

“Excellent. Don’t worry about dinner, this will likely run late.”

----- ----- -----

Devras, Imperial Family Residence

Naiya had much to think about. Her assurances to her brother made earlier in the day had been about as frustrating as any of the rest. Of course, he knew better, and had answers for almost everything, and of course, for the Dominion, much of it was simply wrong. He meant well, he always did. But this could only get more complicated, beloved son of the Dominion though he was, were he to involve himself. They had both done their level best to keep as much from their mother as possible, all the same. Her habit of going out on jaunts to gods only knew where had been a blessing. And those she happened to know were in her company at any given time were asked to kindly do the same - or at least not lie so much as omit certain bits of information or news. Not entirely honest, but at least more morally palatable.

The call had frustrated her enough that she’d retreated to a back patio that overlooked the ocean - just a small outcropping and ancient rail going around a tiled space large enough for a small table and pair of chairs, overhung with wisteria. A peaceful spot to reflect, and regather herself.

There were so many players on the field already, at least on her side of the board. And some of them were more tricky than others to work with properly. Take for example Nesar - how would she explain that one, once his presence came to light? Did it even have to? How long could she maintain that particular secret? All the personal forces she had, that devoted group of mixed Dominion and Lost - they came with their own difficulties, and were loyal to a fault. How best to keep them out of harm’s way, yet still allow them to do their jobs if things continued to devolve? Courror was solid, but very visible, and likely slightly compromised on account. She would likely end up keeping him close if the situation took a turn - capable, entirely. She still felt responsible in spite of that. She felt that way about all of them, really. Here, her Ministry heads, those working under them, anyone that could possibly be in a bad position should it all sour quickly.

The fact that she worried most about the boys was simply accepted. They’d always been well thought of and well-received, but things were changing. And she didn’t like the parallels she was seeing in fairly recent history, nor the steps her mother had taken to resolve some of them. She had tried to be better about a number of things, while still maintaining a great deal of traditionally-accepted methods, but it hadn’t been enough, it seemed. Or perhaps, it had been too much. Which, depended on who she spoke to on it, really, though the consensus was it hadn’t just cropped up on its own. Where there was a direction, there was a person pushing the buttons and guiding the flow of things. That’s who she needed to find, and carefully excise from the overall picture with as little peripheral damage as possible. Not unlike a surgeon removing a tumor, she reflected.

There was a sickness in the land, and she was tasked with protecting it - the people in it, more to point.

Naiya’s thoughts were interrupted by a small alert tone in her ear - the Spook comms. She lightly touched the earpiece, signalling readiness to receive.

“Are you sitting down?”

Ah, il Volpe. “As it happens, yes …”

“Midlonia just pinged on our surveillance comms. Something doesn’t seem right with it, but its there. We thought you ought to know before we took any action, see how you preferred to handle it.”

She sat there for a moment, unblinking, remembering when it had just … vanished for no apparent reason some time back, and the wonderful friends she’d had there with it. Among others.

“Initiate standard hails, hook me in as soon as we have a direct line to leadership. We need to find out how things stand there.”

“Understood. Volpe out.”

Naiya sat where she was, listening to the gentle crash of the waves against the cliff side below, feeling the air caress her face, taking the sweet smell of wisteria blossoms. Things were changing, again. She could feel it. What she didn’t feel was a sense of relief at the fact. The timing could be bad, the reason they’d vanished was unknown, let alone why they’d come back as some had over the years. Surely it was the tone of her previous musings that was marring what ought to be joyful news. Surely.

Perhaps once they made contact, she might even believe that.

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Roania
Ambassador
 
Posts: 1797
Founded: Antiquity
Ex-Nation

Postby Roania » Sun Aug 06, 2017 11:58 am

"So, where are you from?" The accented English was appalling, to the assassin's careful ears. In the Empire, even children learned English. Often with their mother's milk. But then, that was what it meant to want to rule the cosmos. The Dominion had smaller ambitions, and was grander for them. To be the best. He could understand that. He was the best. The best there ever was. Or so he humbly liked to consider himself. "Are you deaf and dumb? Or just an idiot?" The leader of the group of friends stepped closer, raising a fist.

His attention returned to the present. He could never explain how other people appeared to him, if he let them, to other people. It was not that they were things. Of course not. But that they were less. Their tiny, fragile souls flailing in the darkness, against the confines of their primitive flesh. Not like Naiya, who shone like a torch. Beautiful, feminine flame, like the exhaltation of a dragon. There were, there had been, others who shone in such a fashion.

Not these, though. These children. Who thought themselves strong in their small numbers. The other customers did not enter into his equation; some of them were afraid, more of them were indifferent, a few supported his interlocutors. None of them would lift a hand. That was as well. With a long-suffering sigh, he drained most of his wine and placed the glass back on the bar, then stubbed his cigarillo out between two fingers.

"Hey! We're talking to you!"

"Ah, no. Basta sola corteccia." Paper money fluttered on the wood. "Lascio ora, signore. Uno per la casa, grazie molto." He ignored the insulted air that appeared around his interlocutor and left, his hat spinning on his finger before it landed on his head. It was a show, but he was nothing if he was not a show. They followed, their numbers reinforced by some friends waiting outside. Still hardly a challenge. Not worth the effort, even if he was slightly peckish. "I am from non-specific everyplace. For the moment, amici deliziosi, I am a guest of La Donna Nobile."

"La donna nobil... what, are you another one of that whore's customers?"

Nesar did not appear to be running, but he was moving too fast for them to catch up. And yet, not too fast for them to follow him, should they choose. Which they did. Perhaps they had had too much to drink; perhaps they were spurred on by their friends; perhaps they merely hated foreigners that much; perhaps they did not wish to be thought weak or cowardly. Perhaps all of these in combination. At some point, though, they were beyond the squares of the main city.

"Lì dentro! È un vicolo cieco!" It was, indeed, a dead end. An alleyway, perhaps left over from an older incarnation of Devras, with no way out. Without much critical thought (they were teenagers, or not far removed, after all). "Now, we're going to teach you about how we real men treat you foreigners. You're not running from this."

They rushed in. They did not rush out. There was no sound, not even a mouse.

Later, of course, a boy covered in blood came screaming into the police station, bellowing at the top of his lungs about a drug trip gone wrong, how he had killed his friends and mutilated their bodies. But that probably had nothing to do with anything, for the evidence suggested that he had indeed killed his friends and mutilated their bodies, even if no drugs were on his person.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord and Lady of Ten Thousand Years!

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Oyada
Envoy
 
Posts: 218
Founded: May 13, 2008
Father Knows Best State

Postby Oyada » Mon Aug 07, 2017 9:17 pm

About half-way back to his quarters and about three mints lesser in the little grenade, it dawned on Courror, late Captain of Infantry and cybernetically enhanced humanoid-ish, that he didn’t really have anything much to say.

Well, no. He had lots to say. A very great deal. There was a lot to be said, and he was going to say it. Oh yes. The problem was that even his own thoughts on how much he should, or could, speak on the subject of what might or might not be happening were a tad… insubstantial. Of course, Naiya had done time in the infantry too (a thought which still caused in him somewhat confused emotion and sensation alike); she understood, perhaps, the significance of dust in the distance, when the breeze was as dead as the bleached bones dripping in heat-shimmer before your eyes; but you couldn’t approach a ruler, a real ruler, with that. It wasn’t enough. Real rulers needed things that were concrete.

Then again, real rulers also knew a lot of people who could take dust and shimmer and the bones of a corpse a century dead, and make it as concrete as you damn well pleased. And real rulers, too, would have observed the news and the talk in the bars and the words whispering invisibly along the backstreets and over the rooftops, and would know. He wasn’t dealing with some ignorant superior who’d been shipped out to get a quick medal before going back to a comfortable desk. The mood had been perceptible within the ancient walls of the complex; but it was not the same mood. Courror had to decide whether to treat what he had as an indicator. Always a tricky choice.

His teeth crushed the mint in tandem with his thoughts. Fuck it, it was better to give false positives than false negatives. And anyway, he was a fairly well-known presence in the area; the fact anyone would be dense enough to try their hand against him, without some heavier backup or some equal degree of enhancement, was surprising in itself. But were they locals? If not, who were they? Tourists? Troublemakers who knew lots of unwelcome outsiders tended to congregate where he was - not always by coincidence - or just drunken, stupid children who were following a leader they couldn’t see?

Or maybe, just maybe, they were just ordinary people, and two of them were cretins. Two out of six was about the normal ratio, after all. It was just dust. One more mote of it in a column already scattering itself on the lazily-rising thermals, part of a tiny whirlwind of it that couldn’t be accounted for, and was it just years of death-surrounded paranoia that were making him piece together the motes into a cloud anyway? There was tonight; there were those idiotic fat gaichi yelling abuse in their mother tongue at people who he was pretty sure looked like bipedal aardvarks, and who skittered away sharply when the security approached; there was that broken window three days before that, but it was hardly unknown for people in high spirits to break things; there was the graffiti, but there had always been graffiti, hadn’t there? Well yes, but not there.

He had paced, on autopilot, to the door of his chambers. This was a little inconvenient, since not only could he have been ambushed and killed during the trip, but he now needed to walk an extra few minutes to get where he wanted to go in the first place. On the other hand, he would probably interrupt something if he did. With that in mind, he decided to prod the Spook terminal on his ear into life and see if anyone knew what the Imperatrice was up to.

“Courror to Spook network Palace local,” he murmured, for the walls probably did have ears around here. “Er… Naiya? Are you busy? Or if she is, does anyone know when she is not?” He cursed. Smoothness wasn’t really easy in a language you still used second to your own and a country where you could be judged on the thickness of your fingernails, at times. It was also entirely possible that he had conceived that network designation all by himself; since nobody had objected yet, however, he felt that it was evidently Good Enough.

“Naiya here. What’s on your mind? All well?” she answered from her spot in front of the stove at her villa. The day had been long, and cooking tended to take her mind off plenty of it - at least for a while.

Courror coughed, an effort at politeness that he couldn’t help, but which unfortunately always made him sound like he’d been kept waiting half an hour and wanted to speak to someone’s manager. “As well as can be expected. I have just had a quick encounter with some of the Dominion’s upstanding young imbeciles. They were…” He considered how to put their objections, and landed on “upset. That a keiti was so close to their finest wines and piles of gold, I expect. Sound familiar, does that?”

Naiya swore quietly in Dunnish, a habit she’d picked up in Arda and continued especially when she was either highly irritated, or didn’t want others understanding what she’d said too closely. “Things really are getting out of hand,” she continued, stirring the sauce she’d been working on more vigorously than it truly needed. “No one was hurt, were they? I have every confidence in you, but some of these young bastardi just don’t know when to quit. Menfolk here, machismo, you see. Can make them stupid at best, and dangerous at worst.”

“Not permanently. The bruising will heal.” The humour that had been present was suddenly not. “If he comes here again, he may be less fortunate.” He chewed his lip for a moment. “I wasn’t aware that there was anything to get… ‘out of hand’.” Which was a barefaced lie, but there was no harm in trying to get a little more information. At worst he could expect a reproachful remark, he reflected with a little grin.

“This isn’t just some locals getting irritated at foreigners,” she began slowly, thinking how best to lay it all out. “My ministry believes its fairly widespread, perhaps even directed if that makes sense. We’ve not been able to put a finger on the source as yet, but whoever it is has been playing to old prejudices, the usual macho streak, a return to ‘the good old days’ - nevermind that they were never that good, even when they were old. Familiar enough theme, just no defined point. Every possible sin my mother or I have committed - be it too much of one thing, not enough of another, her dalliances, my non-native husband - just a right mess, really. At first it didn’t seem worth fussing with, but there’s been sporadic violence, and our allies are starting to get concerned.”

Courror grunted a half-formed laugh. “It is good to see dust together, ain’t it? All right, confession time - I agree. It smells wrong, looks wrong, but I don’t know how wrong, or why. It’s like trying to chase down a rat in a fucking swamp. Just a few ripples here and there, and I can’t even be sure he’s there. But you see him too.” He unscrewed the grenade with a little squeal of metal desperately craving oil and popped another mint, unconsciously thinking of food. “I’ll review my logs, but I think you are right. I just know I might be wrong in certain cases.” He sighed. The question had to be put, and it was always an awkward one: “What do you intend?”

On the other end, Naiya’s expression darkened, and she added another touch of spice with a quick flick of her fingertips. “What I intend is to find whoever has been stirring things up, and squash them like the insect they are. But in the meantime, we are trying to keep things as normal as possible, so as not to spook folks more than necessary. Our economy couldn’t take the hit if we were to suddenly be ‘out of bounds’ or ‘too dangerous to travel to’. But neither can we just ignore the problem. Increased patrols, more plainclothes than not are a start. We’ve got intel working every angle they can find. And in the meantime … everyone else? Whatever you can turn up, really. Or if you’d rather, hunker down here.”

She snapped her fingers. “Which reminds me - heads up, we have company of the royal variety. Midlonian, only somewhat in absentia so to speak. They’ve popped back in from the break they’d faded to, and time hasn’t treated them as well as we’d have liked. It’ll be easier to explain once you get here, when you’re ready. Can’t miss her - tall redhead with a Freestian flare - you might want to behave. She might be capable of putting you on your ass,” the younger woman commented teasingly, smiling for the first time in the convo.

“I will instruct the men accordingly,” Courror said, considering what he might do by himself. “I would rather not… hunka, whatever the circumstance. I am an infantryman. My work is to attack, not to wait. And besides, if you let the enemy have the initiative, you weaken your own position, no? No, I would rather attack. It is what I am good at. Sometimes, I am even quiet about it, am I not?” He chuckled a little and then paused, unaccountably shy. “Are you making food there, by any chance? I wouldn’t wish to disturb your meal.”

Naiya laughed then, shaking her head. “Get your backside up here, man. This is the Dominion - there is always plenty to eat.”

Well, that was pretty inviting. “Hii, Your Majesty,” he concluded, and turned off the little earpiece. There was time to change, to do a quick look at the rosters and think about extra men on patrols, to get hold of his ‘technician’ and see if he could find a way to integrate a comms device which he could only see on pain of death into Courror’s internal systems, to give the mint box some grease, to check his ordnance again and to ensure he studiously left it all behind, in spite of Naiya’s young ‘uns being considerably older now…

He’d enjoy that time, now it was here. And then, tomorrow, or the day after, he’d go and find some excitement.
Freedom's price is liberty. The individual and his liberty are secondary to our objectives; how are we to protect our lives, our culture, our people, if they all act independently? If each man pursues his own petty aims, we are no more than tiny grains of iron in a random heap. Only by submitting to the need of the whole can any man guarantee his freedom. Only when we allow ourselves to be shaped do we become one, perfect blade. - General Jizagu Ornua, The cost of freedom for Oyada, 1956.

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Roania
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Posts: 1797
Founded: Antiquity
Ex-Nation

Postby Roania » Thu Aug 17, 2017 11:12 am

Nesar... danced. There was no other way to frame it. Alone, in the shadows, hat spinning on his palm and then the tip of his finger, bouncing between his hands. His grin was sharp and feral. He had missed it, oh yes. Missed the hunt. The frantic moment where life and limb were endangered by... well, him, really, there was no other way around it. And this was a hunt for a target worthy of his attention, and under rules that made it a rare challenge. It was delight. It was joy. Few could understand.

And that was as it should be. He sent the hat spinning into the air and caught it by its brim, then perched it back on his head. Doubtless there was a person or persons masterminding this campaign. Best to start on that premise. He knew so little of the power players here, and he cared less. They would die, one and all, in time. This was a gift they did not respect, but it meant that ultimately every problem they caused would leave when they did, leaving him free and clear. Leaving her free and clear as well.

Yet she cared. It was entrancing. She still cared, though she had every reason not to. Nesar was perhaps too far gone to find this inspiring, but he was not so far gone that it didn't impress him. She cared. And she was his. Yes.

Dragons were of old inherently selfish, and their adopted children followed suit. They did not keep hoards like some wyrm, of course, but what was theirs they kept. Oh, Naiya was not his in the way he would have preferred. Not yet, at least, and at times he wondered if to have victory in that war would be to tarnish that which he sought. But still. She belonged to him. As a child, perhaps. Or a pet. Or a beautiful piece of art. And he, certainly, was hers. He had sworn herself to her service, in ways perhaps she did not know of or would not approve of.

And she cared. She cared deeply. He knew it like he knew the stars and planets. Because they, those who could experience the gift of death, they were hers too. Something was not right here. Something was not as it should be. Perhaps it was no great evil or thing of witchcraft, but it was wrong enough. And she cared, so he cared.

So, from first principles. Someone was at work here, in the shadows. Stirring the pot, he believed he had heard someone say. An inexact metaphor. Spreading a disease was closer to the truth. Poisoning wells.

Oh, he could find out who by killing people and ripping the memories from their stolen souls, building a chain with which to grab the mastermind and then hang him. That was what he would have done, once. But it was not what she would do, he believed. And so it was not what he would do, now. No, there was nothing else for it. He'd once, in a distant past, been what the locals would have called a detective. Or was that one of his victims? They all blurred together, now. Still, the principles came to him swiftly.

A Note On a Fridge That Was Not There When Last She Looked

It is too staged and it is too personal. There is a prime mover behind the scenes, feeding the rivulets that poison the river. I shall investigate. Cleanly. You have my word.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord and Lady of Ten Thousand Years!

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