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Shattered Dreams

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"...day Twenty-Seven* of [/b][url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=83887"][b]The Siege of Acca Dacca[/b][/url][b], speculations abound as the Queen has yet to resurface..."[/b]

[b][i]<<The Nodic Muslim community demands answers after [/i][/b][url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=81231"][b][i]1,237 massacred infront[/i][/b][/url][b][i] of the Governmental palace in Marscury. Rebels continue to make gains against governmental forces in the now war torn region....>>[/i][/b]

[b]"...The [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=77405&view=findpost&p=2074475"]Omega Imperium Doctrine[/url] is ratified. After 20 years, the NoN now has an answer to foreign aggression..."[/b]

[b]"...Good morning, our lead story."
[b][i]<<The world was stunned today by the annoucnement of the destruction of the Sarnungian Republic. Everywhere, Nodic forces celebrated in victory, as this descent into Anarchy marks the end of open hostilities along and over the Sudanese border several months after the Sarnungian EMP terror attack. Speculation abounds as to what caused the fall, Nodic commanders expressed optimism as the first of several recalled armored battalions retu-...>>
The cafe was bustling with people. In addition to the regulars that frequented the small coffee shop, several outsiders had entered, looking at the news displayed on newly installed widescreen televisions. These were not the thin models most outside of the NoN were familiar with- the Sarnungian EMP created a noticable aversion, some might even say outright hostility to anything deemed 'too advanced'- they did not rely on solid state electronics, these were the newly minted and Ministry approved vaccuum diode models. The NoN was undergoing a subtle transformation, the widespread transition from EMP-[i]resistance[/i] in the military and outright vulnerablility in the civilian sector to national widespread EMP-[i]proofing[/i] across all branches.

A man brushed past a lone Nod Security Force (NSF) soldier with an audible clank. The NSF soldier did not display any signs of outward annoyance as the latest entry into the cafe- now at almost peak capacity- had accidentally knocked his briefcase against his metalic greaves. His chin remained up, his rifle shouldered. He did not even look at the man.

A series of quiet [i]"Excuse me"[/i] or [i]"Pardon me's"[/i] were issued as the man made his way through a large crowd of unpaying tenants intent on the screens. The man was a tall, dark young man. Despite his relatively young age he looked world-weary, a phyiscal trait that had unfortunately made its way to a large percentage of the Nodic civilian and military populations. Few turned to look at the man as they parted way for him, one lady, coffee already in hand, muttered as he made a space for himself at the counter.

[i]"Large please, black"[/i] the man said, frowning back at the inconsiderate woman as he looked down and dropped change on the table. He ignored the two news anchors as they read their latest stories. He was as uninterested with happenings in Asia and the Middle East as he was about stories closer to home. Recieving his coffee from a nonchalant server, he turned to leave, making his way back through the crowd towards the door.

As he left, he looked up glancingly at a widescreen hanging over the doorway. It had displayed a map of Northern Africa, now white where the former Sarnungian colours used to be. A red arrow was drawn from Rebel Army-controlled Egypt stabbing into the white space, signifying the protectorate status the latter held over the former.

The man entered the busy sidewalk and gazed at the even busier street. He watched as a commuter bus filled with passengers drove past. The man decided against crossing this busy street, as he saw a small compact cut off the bus as it pulled away from the curb, eliciting an angry honk from the larger vehicle. Instead, the man sighed looking up at the various billboards and the looped advertisements they played on screens of all sizes, colours and intensities. Almost every building across the street had a screen on it, the entirety looking like a giant collage of movie screens.

The man squinted at the reflections of light the screens scattered over his face. He kept his gaze as blind to the screens as he kept his ears deaf to the orchestra of sounds coming from the traffic. Honks, roars of engines and hundreds of conversations were of no consequence for him.

Making a left, he strolled down the street towards the intersection. He was immediately glad that he had decided against jaywalking infront of the cafe, as a pair of NSF, this time fully armoured with their faces shrouded crossed paths with him. While acting as nothing more than a civilian law enforcement patrol, the men were intimidating in their black armour, noticably fuller than the lighter dressed NSF he encountered inside the cafe.

[i]*Phew, I am not in the mood for another ticket...*[/i]

he thought to himself as he stopped beside a garbage receptacle. Ignoring the miniature billboard even this lowly object had on both its sides, he placed his now lidless coffee down as he rummaged through his coat pocket.

He watched a young couple stroll by, hand in hand as they made their own way to the cafe. Looking back, he noticed another couple, an older man and woman, engaged a conversation of their own as they began to board a taxi that had stopped right infront of the shop.

Theo did not see the bomb blast as he poured the tiny bottle of brandy into his coffee, but he felt it. The cafe erupted in a black cloud of smoke and shards of concrete that blew across the street with such force that the old couple was thrown into it, forcing a bus to brake hard to avoid them. Theo instinctively raised his hands in shock as he backed away from his now spilt coffee. Staring wide-eyed at the now overturned taxi and with his composure still not fully repaired, he tentatively stepped forward towards the burnt out cafe, wary of any secondary explosions that might occur.

It was at that point he heard the screams. Several fire alarms had gone off and the blast had sent car alarms ringing for blocks, but still, Theo noticed the loud, high-pitched and drawn out screams of several women inside the shop first and foremost. His hands began to shake as he saw a bicyclist writhing in pain beside the taxi, thrown off his steed by a piece of a coffee table. Bleeding himself, he was frantically motioning to a mangled form underneath the taxi. Theo watched as the two NSF he passed earlier ran back towards the scene. One had flipped up his faceplate in disbelief, gauntleted hands clutching his helmeted head at what he saw. His partner was more composed and placed a hand on his shoulder. With the other, he placed two hands near his temple and began nodding his head as if in a fevered discussion with someone. The conversation over, he muttered something to his partner before turning and running into the cafe.

The other man remained outside for a second before flipping down his faceplate and making his own way into ground zero. Theo watched as a group of men rushed to the bicyclist before heading to the taxi. It took several to turn the wreck over enough before another two men could yank a crumpled form from beneath it. A few stayed with the bicyclist as the rest entered the cafe at the behest of the NSF men beckoning at the destroyed doorway.

Theo could now hear loud sirens making their way to the scene. Several [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=59602&view=findpost&p=1741856"]military ambulances[/url] stopped infront of the cafe and soon several feminine figures clad in white jogged inside. Theo watched as one stooped near the bicyclist and began giving orders to the bystanders nearby, with authority. Soon, the mangled form underneath the taxi was rushed over to their waiting ambulance.

Theo suddenly heard the mechanical whine of hydraulics behind him, turning his head, he could see troops exiting from an [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=65298&view=findpost&p=2053545"]ABC[/url] that had stopped against traffic beside him. Several began ordering traffic around and away from the site, many a driver staring at the carnage they saw. Theo saw a pair rush over to two medical personnel infront of the bus. The elderly couple was being tentatively lifted to their feet, miraculously surviving the ordeal. The NSF men from the ABC carried a stretcher and soon the two [i]Ladies in White[/i] coaxed a loudly protesting elderly man unto it beside his wife. Theo could make out blood trickling from the man's ears- he was deaf.

After the pair was secured together, the men rushed the couple into the now empty ABC. Several more people were beginning to be loaded into it, the twin ambulances infront of the cafe having reached peak capacity long ago. It appeared the LW's had commandeered the military vehicle for their own use, and the NSF obliged.

Turning back to the cafe, Theo heard a loud commotion making its way outside. He could make out a figure amongst the still billowing smoke stumble towards him- it was the lady he had to move out of his way to get a coffee. She appeared dazed as she looked around with a hollow gaze, clutching her purse in her right hand.

Theo quickly closed his eyes and looked away as he realized what he saw. He began to vomit as a NSF and LW caught up to the lady and quickly dragged her back inside. That wasn't a purse she was holding, it was her arm.

OOC: Lots of people have made terrorist attack threads about their nations, here's the beginning of a saga i've been working on. Consider this to be me throwing my hat into the ring.

*I'm taking the 1 RL week==1 RL month scale.

EDIT: IC comments are welcome too, although I do not want any intervention, capiche?

Edited by Executive Minister
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[b]Seven years prior...[/b]

Benok's face was hard as he took a seat across from Theo. The head of the Sidamo Family's security said nothing as he looked down at his hands, clasped firmly on top of the table. Theo couldn't help but stare at the man's collection of wounds- the most profound being a long gash that started at the crown of his head and ended well past his eyebrow. The gash was an old one, a long healed trophy from a battle long past, that carved a great swath through the otherwise middle aged man's short black hair.

Theo desperately wanted to know why he was summoned to his family's main study. His house had taken up a rather alarming demeanor- everyone seemed restless, hushed whispers would echo throughout the hallways and corridors that made up the Sidamo Estate- soon after his father, the Lord of House Sidamo was sent west, to Kolfe.

Theo hated the tense atmosphere that the distant war had brought to his homestead. Whenever he could, he would leave the enormous Villa and find a quiet place to sit outside, amongst the acres of coffee trees and shrubs that made up the family's wealth and standing. Sidamo province was a rich and powerful one, located near the heart of the NoN, Addis Ababa. Theo had often heard that the province, who's name Theo's ancestors had adopted as their own some time ago, owed the level of influence and standard of living it enjoyed to the plants. It was with Sidamo province's enormous revenue that the Executive Ministry had deemed it appropriate to allow such... luxuries to be given to the sector.

Benok remained silent as he tentatively raised an eye to look at Theo. Theo, previously studying the wood grain the large, ornate table possessed, looked up with a start, straightening. While Benok was assigned to Theo's family well before Theo was born, becoming an honorary member of the House soon after, Theo could not help but feel a little intimidated by the large man. He had been trained in the ways of Nod, their rituals and war fighting. Theo inquisitively raised his eyebrows, tightening his lips as if to suppress the questions he so desperately wanted answered.

As if in a silent rejection of Theo's 'question' Benok sighed and resumed his gaze downward. Theo couldn't help but feel exasperated at the man his father considered a brother.

Benok's gaze did not remain down for much longer, as a sound behind the old wooden door to the study signaled that someone was coming. Being seated infront of the door, Theo saw Benok look up and suddenly stand, as if in a silent greeting to some unknown visitor.

"Benok... I just don't- oh, hello sweetie."

Theo looked up to see his mother standing beside him. She was a fair lady, having a thin face, full lips and a delicate expression. She placed both hands behind his head on the rim of his chair, her fingers hanging off and lovingly tapping the back of his neck.

This show of love held a dual purpose, however. Lady Sidamo was several months into her pregnancy and soon Theo's younger brother would be brought into this world-she had placed those hands on his chair for support.

Benok hurriedly offered his chair to Valora, quickly moving beside it.

"Please, my Lady-" he managed to say, only to have her raise her hand.

"Qurban, please do not coddle me," with a smile she added as if to soften her speech, "I am stronger than I look and you think."

Theo watched as Benok strode over to his mother without pause and carefully led her over to his chair anyway.

"My Lady, you cannot hope to fool me after all my years of service to you. Please, sit. It is the least I can do..." his voice trailed off as if deciding against telling her something.

Valora's hand was still in Benok's when the last of the visitors arrived. She had no time to seat herself properly, only to look at Theo's granduncle, his wife in tow.

Theo would often times find himself under the care of his grand aunt and uncle- they bore no children and treated Theo as an adoptive son whenever his parents were off to do business or otherwise preoccupied. The aging couple doted Theo, and Uncle Rahim would often take Theo fishing in Lake Tana when the boy was younger, forgoing all forms of security and protection in an unassuming row boat that Rahim insisted would not scare the fish away.

"Valora... I..." his grand uncle began.

Theo turned to his mother. She did not release Benok's hand, her eyes frowning before suddenly going wide, placing her other hand to her mouth. Benok placed his gauntleted hand lightly on hers, as if in consolation to a fact that had yet to dawn on Theo. Still unsure of what was going on, Theo turned back to look at granduncle Rahim.

"It's Emil, Valora... he was [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=61884&view=findpost&p=1673502"]killed at Kolfe district[/url]."

Theo heard a loud gasp emit from his mother, followed by loud sobbing. Theo turned to see her crying into Benok's arms, now fully wrapped around her. His face, a spiderweb of battle scars was twisted into a pain that not even the gravest of wounds could inflict upon the warrior. Of course he had known what Rahim was about to tell Theo and his mother, and even with time, the sight of his Mistress sobbing and wailing uncontrollably did much to break down whatever preparations he had made for the moment.

Benok gently rocked Valora back and forth in his embrace, and Rahim soon rushed to her side as well. The two men desperately tried to console the distraught woman on the chair, while Theo sat in a stunned silence. His father had always displayed a sense of invulnerability. He now realized that such wishful thinking was only the result of a young son's natural admiration and exaggeration of his father's abilities.

Theo watched Benok bite his lip, and soon Benok's eyes met his. Even across the room, Theo could see the knowing look Benok tried to send him. One of reassurance, but also one of worry.

Edited by Executive Minister
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Theo did not remember much about the moments immediately following the news of his father's death. The young man had become silent, the shock at the loss of the Patriarch of the Sidamo family visible on his young face. Theo had become a shell of his former self. The [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=61884&view=findpost&p=1744031"]funeral[/url] had been a blurr to him. The impassioned cries of a masked man that many had declared the de facto head of the NoN held no weight, merit or importance to him.

Theo had remembered when Benok brought him his father's armor- the same one worn when he was shot by a UMS sniper. Theo had run his fingers over the armor plating, hoping to see blackened scars on the metalic components- signs of a heroic last stand or struggle. Instead, he saw a gaping hole in the armor's lower abdomen, signs that his father had been hit by a single, high-caliber round. Theo tried to imagine the shooter, moreso the kinetic weapon that had so grieviously wounded the inanimate object he held in his hands. In a way, it was almost poetic to him.

This further disillusioned Theo. [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=65298&view=findpost&p=1782036"]News reports[/url] had lauded 'Elite Cadre Commander 117-AE' as a hero, one who's selfless actions saved thousands, if not millions of Nodic citizens. Theo made sure to never dispute this infront of his mother, even when the Executive Minister himself had arrived to personally thank the Sidamo family for its sacrifice. Theo had never held so much hidden anger for anyone more than he had for the man.

[i]'My father died for your beloved 'morals' and you won't even show your face to us?! What the hell are you hiding anyway? I'll never believe a word you say!'[/i] he so desperately wanted to shout at the EM, as he knelt down and spoke to him face to face.

"Your father was a good man. You are young, and I know nothing I say will make your loss easier for you to bear, but know that the nation and people he died for are at a service to him and you. I humbly extend my hand to you as an equal and hope that one day you will understand... will accept..."

Theo remembered looking around the room with hate, although on the surface it appeared he was innocently looking at the occupants of the chamber. His mother looked at the two with reddened eyes, together with those of Rahim and numerous other family attendants. Theo looked up and felt Benok's hands contract and retract lightly upon his shoulders- a squeeze of reassurance. Finally, Theo looked towards the door and noticed a pair of guards stationed there. Their faces were covered in similar armour plating and Theo saw one twitch with anticipation- all eyes, visible or not, were upon him.

Theo had then reached up and took the EM's hand. He remembered hating himself above all others in the room for doing that. He had seen the approving looks and nods from the others, the smiles... but he felt like a liar, a coward. This self loathing had bubbled to the surface at dinner time, albeit in a different form- an insatiable urge for revenge. In private and in public, Theo Sidamo would never let anyone see his inner feelings. He was too good of a Sidamo for that.

They arrived at Uncle Rahim's estate- Theo was unrested, and his mother's eyes were still bloodshot and haunted. He could not bear to look at her as he went for an embrace- when the two of them hugged, Valora remained stiff for a moment before weakening and melting into a motherly embrace of her own. As they parted, Theo could see his mother's teary eyes again. Despite the physical dissimilarities that marked their separate racial heritage, they knew the bonds of love had nothing to do with appearance and everything to do with blood and the loving family experiences they had had in the past, before his father's death.

"I... I'm so sorry son. Its just, you have your father's eyes..."

She left to prepare dinner- Lady Sidamo always insisted on preparing family meals, household attendants could only aid her in the case of large meals- she did not believe in slavery.

One of the local merchants had imported fine wines from Italy- Valora had given one of her handmaidens a large sum of money and she had went out in the afternoon to get enough of the substance to add in some form or another to the meal she was to prepare. This departure left Theo in the company of granduncle Rahim and Benok. The trio sat in silence in the parlor- Benok had removed his Elite Cadre full helm and placed it on a nearby coffee table.

He sat in his black armoured carapace, similar to the one Emil Sidamo had worn when he was shot by the deep cover Molakian Sniper. Theo was in a contemplative mood, and soon noticed several tiny pockmarks- telltale signs of numerous impacts from small caliber rounds- upon the helmet. Years of careful mending, polishing and tempering by Benok, previously serving to keep such marks from view had been suddenly been reversed. Theo knew that Benok was a veteran of several conflicts, but he had never known the scale of such solemn achievements like he did now.

"Benok, please... if you will-" Theo had a nagging question that he wanted to ask.

Benok, previously sitting with his chin on his hand one leg crossed over the other, staring at a family portrait that hung on the mantle over the blackened fireplace turned to look at the young man. Adjusting his posture, he hunched over, elbows on thighs and nodded at his young master.

"Benok, what's it like to kill a man?"

The innocent question seemed to echo throughout the parlor. Uncle Rahim stifled a gasp as he turned to look at his grand nephew. The old man's white beard quivered as he tried to scold him.

"Theo, please! I'm sure good ole Qurban here would rather talk about something a little more uplifting, wouldn't you say?" the man shuffled in his seat to face Benok, and mirthfully tried to change the subject.

"Now, how about those [url="http://cybernations.wikia.com/wiki/Transvaal_Springboks"]Springboks[/url]? I'm sure Transvaal is in the running to be Champions of the Liga Mundo, wouldn't you say?" Rahim's voice trailed off, however, when he saw Benok's expression unchanged. He had not moved, but had lowered his head at Theo's question- ignoring Rahim.

"My Lord, if it is your will, I would like to address my young master's question." Benok's voice was restrained as he tongued the inside of his cheek.

Rahim sighed with resignation, easing back into his position on a lone sofa and nodded his head before leaning it against the sofa's back. He stared at the ceiling, as if imploring Emil to descend from the rafters and scold Theo himself.

"Master Theo... what you ask..." Benok sighed, as if at a loss for words.

"What you ask is impossible to describe objectively. I can only tell you the only thing I know about killing, and how I feel about it."

Theo nodded his head, finally happy he was about to get answers. "Please, tell me anything you know. I'm sure your years of experience will tell me much."

The 'your years of experience' was an innocent expression of respect and appeasement, yet Benok had taken it as a smack to his battle-scarred face. He responded tentatively,

"Human beings can be accustomed to anything... anything. In my [i]career's[/i] infancy, I was inclined to believe that murder was an exception... No... I desperately [i]wished[/i] for that to be true... I did not [i]believe[/i] it could be otherwise..."

He sighed again, shaking his head. He paused, letting his words sink in, before continuing.

"I now know, [i]know[/i]... that indeed, one can become immune to the shock of taking the life of another through my own personal experiences. I am not shamed of this fact... but I am not proud of it either. I know that when you kill a man, it is as if small part of you dies along side him. Some men have more to give to [i]Death[/i] than others, and unfortunately, I am one of those men who has allowed Death to claim a large portion of me, I have been in her company for too long."

"How terrible!" grand uncle Rahim was upright, his attention had become rapt by Benok's silent speech.

Benok looked at Rahim and nodded his head, before turning back to a silent Theo.

"Yes, my Lord... I can tell you that killing another is indescribable. Death is not a maiden one wishes to begin courting with. I have served as an agent of Death's for too long, now I am too far in to leave her. I have delivered too many to her cold clutches to be redeemed. Death is a woman that a man only goes to in desperation, or in coercion. No one seeks her willingly."

Theo frowned, this was not the answer he was seeking. A part of him wished that Benok had said something that would have aided him in what he was about to announce at the dinner table. This answer did no such thing.

"In short, I can tell you Master Theo, that [i]you do not[/i] wish to know what killing a man is like."

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  • 3 weeks later...

Valora Sidamo's meal was a fine one. Kitfo, a traditional Ethiopian dish taught to her by one of her many loyal attendants was a minced raw beef heated and marinated in a spicy chili powder blend and clarified butter infused with various herbs and spices, mixed with mild cheese and cooked greens.

As they ate the delicious and highly regarded meal, conversation at the table remained subdued and casual, avoiding any mention of war news. Theo looked around the table- everyone seemed to try their hardest to forget about the solemn ceremony they had just attended. This precedent had been at the behest of Rahim, and he led the charge, trying his best to keep everyone's moods bright like he always did in times of family crisis.

As they began to drink the fine wine, Theo could no longer withhold his announcement, or his questions. The war Emil Sidamo fought and died in still mystified Theo, and he wished to know. Nothing more, nothing less.

"Benok, please tell me about this East African war... what happened at Kolfe? Was it a victory, or did-" his voice caught "-did the enemy defeat us?"

No one made any reaction to Theo's question except for Benok, however Theo could tell that a sudden shadow had been cast over the occupants at the long table. Everyone from the lowliest of household attendants to Valora Sidamo herself had become silent.

Benok lifted his head, looking far away, "In the Training Facilities, we are taught there are to be no defeats. Only victories and... moral victories- I believe this war has ended at the latter category."

Valora squeezed her eyes shut at this sentence, and began to eat her meal with a false vigor. Grand uncle Rahim looked daggers at Theo, a wordless request to drop the subject and retract the question. He had begun to seriously regret allowing Theo's inquisitiveness to go unchecked at the parlor. Nevertheless, Theo did not interrupt Benok nor did anyone else try to.

"This war was a long time coming, albeit this was not the outcome the Ministry and the [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revanchism"]Revanchists[/url] that populate it would have it end at.

You see, nearing the end of the Great Divide* our forces were looking at a pyrrhic victory- yes, the Kane Loyalists were all but annihilated following the Great Purge* but through the Islamic States of Africa's treachery, our borders were reduced to several hundred kilometers around Addis Ababa's city limits."

Benok sipped some wine, while Theo put his elbows on the table, leaning close to listen with rapt attention.

"This war was impeccably timed- the world was torn by a great European conflict resulting in the launches of several nuclear weapons across the globe. We counted on little to no outside interference against our crusade to regain all we had lost...

We were wrong."

Theo glanced around the table, the air had become tense and the delicious meal that sat in everyone's plate began to cool.

"The UMS objected to our moves, and engaged us on a wide front- furthermore, the Somalians had begun to move against our secured backsides, while the Somali's were defeated by their own madness, the Mechodamian drive had begun to threaten our Capital. In our arrogance, we had not counted on such opposition. We had thought the world did not have the warrior culture we had, no nation could possibly seek another war after the fall of the Nords...

Your father,"

Benok had paused to carefully choose his words. Valora had become deathly silent and still, listening for the explanation she had desperately wanted to receive but never got.

"Despite our best efforts, the Mechodamian drive had reached the city limits. Your father held Kolfe, the last obstacle before fighting would once again take place in our city. Our nation's heart. They sought to clear the only direct and intact path into Addis Ababa while the bulk of our forces were still North. He ferociously held the highway, even as they bore down on him and his battalion and took the northern and southern fords on either side of him.

His actions might have very well saved us all. If he had decided to pull back, they would have been able to send in more and more armor East and our Northern forces would not have been able to break through and link with the homeguard. It is that simple."

This news elicited an audible sigh from Lady Sidamo, as she lightly placed her fork down beside her plate. Everyone was unsure if this explanation was satisfactory to her or not. She had become oddly detached.

"Almost none survived-" Benok had begun to continue. Theo looked at him with a puzzled look, he had thought the story was over.

"-by an almost [i]divine[/i] miracle, Kolfe was held against the innumerable and advanced Mechodamians, yet it held a great cost. The Northern forces had arrived earlier than they expected, and peace had been brokered. The forces holding Kolfe had been fighting like madmen, and an overwhelming majority fell. But a lot of UMS had been destroyed as well. It was a sobering moment for their Patriarchy.

Unfortunately, most of Kolfe was trampled by the time we had arrived."

Rahim, deciding to give in to his own curiosity had remained silent, listen with as much attention as Theo. He did not understand war like Benok did, and was mystified at what he heard.

"How terrible!" he said, putting a hand on his bearded chin.

"[i]Terrible?[/i]" Benok looked at the standing Patriarch of House Sidamo, rolling the sound of the word on his tongue. "I cannot begin to describe what they saw. There was nothing to save of the district we were to rescue. Over 1,000 men had been lost, the entirety of the Elite Cadre and Heavy Infantry assigned to Emil. Kolfe was irreparably ruined, the hospital destroyed, no building taller than two stories was left standing."

Benok shook his head sadly, continuing "We [i]scraped[/i] together the remnants of the warriors who had survived the Mechodamian drive. No ones knows- nor do I want to know- the actual number of survivors we rescued. Kolfe had not fallen to the enemy, but it was of no use to us anymore."

He heaved a deep breath. Benok was not accustomed to speaking for very long. Like most veterans of the Nodic Militancy, he was a quiet, reserved man. He did not like being in the spot light.

"That is why we need to keep fighting!" Everyone looked surprised at Theo. Benok had given him the perfect segue, yet his bravery seemed tinny in his own ears.

"I wish to fight, like my father did, against all who would threaten our nation. The Militancy needs all the soldiers it can get. Its time for me to follow in Father's footsteps!"

Valora had awakened. Her eyes became wild and wide. [b]"THEO, I forbid you! I forbid you to go!"[/b]

She had gotten up from her chair with unprecedented speed. Shouting in an uncharacteristic manner. Everyone had their jaws agape at this sight. Benok immediately became apologetic, standing to try to calm her. He reached out a hand, only to have it slapped away.

[b]"No! You will not silence me! Look at what you did! LOOK AT WHA-"[/b]

Everyone had noticed there was a prominent puddle underneath Valora's chair. A young maiden immediately rushed to Valora's side and shouted, "She's broken her water! We need to get her out of here now! NOW!"

Theo's outburst had immediately been forgotten. Everyone was out of their chairs, and soon Valora was carried out of the dinning room and into the parlor. The previously silent Sidamo Estate was abuzz with worried conversation regarding their Lady's health.

Amidst all the commotion, Benok had walked over to Theo's side. Around the pair, the great sound of dozens of chairs scraping filled the room. Everyone had their attention on Valora and paid no attention to them- as if in punishment for the harm their words had caused.

"You do not want this, Master Theo," was his quiet answer, "but no one will stop you. You are a young man, and will need to sort out your own lot in life. Trust no one but yourself."

Benok left Theo alone in the empty dinning room with this thought, silently making his way to the parlor where everyone was gathered. Valora was giving birth, and he did not want to miss this crucial moment in his family's life.

Theo brooded to himself, and it was only when he heard the tiny cries of newfound life emanate from behind the closed door did he stop and enter the parlor.

OOC: *Something I've been meaning to write up.

Edited by Executive Minister
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[url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCP9sb4ihcw&feature=related"][b]Three Years Later[/b][/url]

[i]"There are dark places in our world, where few tread..."[/i]

The hooded figure spoke with an aged voice as she led the group of Aspirants out of the main lift and down a high catwalk. Those that dared look over into the abyss below would see a darkness that lasted countless meters, even though they had descended several dozen stories themselves on the lift to get here.

[i]"Ancient centers of learning, of knowledge..."[/i]

She seemed to speak to herself as she led the group. They followed timidly- dimly illuminated by several indiscernible sources of red light, the great Atrium deep below Temple Secundus was something akin to an Inner Sanctum of sorts. The air was still here, not unlike a holy place on the surface above, yet one could tell that this place was something far from holy.

[i]"Know that you will not walk alone... for our work... YOUR work... is meant for few, not one..."[/i]

Ahead, the group could see several darkened figures standing in rows along either side of the walkway. When they reached the figures, they moved forwards menacingly, emitting gasps from some of the already thoroughly frightened Aspirants. Nevertheless, their 'guide' did not heed them any attention. She continued to walk, passing between the hosts towards an unknown objective beyond. As the first students began to follow, the silent figures bowed, kneeling. This display baffled the Aspirants, who instinctively drew closer together for protection.[i]

"Do you think they seek to honour you, bowing as they do? Is it a show of welcome? Of fraternity?"[/i]

Their guide had begun to refer to them directly. Her voice seemed to echo amongst the throng of people on the walkway. She continued to speak, even as they continued to pass the bowing figures.

[b][i]"No,"[/i][/b] her voice grew louder as it stretched the relatively short word into a long and lingering message. While it was directed at the Aspirants, it sounded more like an accusation towards the still kneeling figures.

[i]"They are mocking you... mocking the notion that we are to serve ones such as you... those that are unknowing..."[/i]

The previously kneeling figures rose. The Aspirants could look upon them now, and look upon them they did. Their eyes went wide, frightened at the grizzly hooded beings. Their faces were shrouded by terrible bone-white [url="http://theforce.jaymach.com/images/NihilusMask.jpg"]masks[/url] highlighted by what could easily pass for blood. The masked figures did nothing as the group walked past but stare, like wolves would at sheep.
"Know that those above, the celebrated and vaunted 'Soldiers of Nod' are nothing more than the servile beasts they are trained to be... their only purpose to [u]support[/u] our nation's wishes by force..."[/i]

The group had finally made it past the eerily silent figures on the catwalk. A collective sigh of relief escaped their throats, only for a particularly nervous Aspirant to enlist sheer terror once again amongst the group. He had turned back to look upon the masked 'greeters' behind them, only to find that they were gone, into the shadows and ominous red glows.

[i]"Know that you are to be molded into greater beings... you will become, in time, agents of fate... Know that your purpose will be to [u]influence[/u] our nation's wishes..."[/i]

This cryptic statement elicited puzzled looks from the Aspirants behind her. As if noticing, she continued.

[i]"It is difficult for unknowing ones such as yourselves to step back and gain perspective on Death and its importance in our lives. We are not tools, like the masses that emerge from the Training Facilities above... our kind utilizes a tool so versatile, with consequences so far reaching... Assassination."[/i]

She paused, letting the newfound purpose of the Aspirants sink in. For a moment, the young group listened to their footsteps as they carried over the catwalk, the echoes travelling endlessly, unable to find their destination.
"Know that I have seen the removal of single target to have irreversibly changed the face of a nation, of a world forever... Know that even the smallest, most worthless of lives... whether dead or not, can have profound implications on history itself."[/i]

She was silent for a while after that statement. The group finally crossed the catwalk, over the abyss that made the lower half of the great Atrium. It had become a threshold of sorts to them, and now there was no going back. They began to travel downwards, as best as their senses could tell. They saw others along their path, but none stopped to speak or even look at them. There were many faces, seeming to come from all walks of life. It became clear that this was no formal military center, where individualism was suppressed, recruits becoming molded into a unified force. They only thing that all in this dark place held in common was attire. Looking down, the Aspirants felt naked, garbed in gray. All who had already been indoctrinated in some form or another wore either a black or deep scarlet robe, tunic or combination.

After a time it became apparent that they had reached their destination, passing through a labyrinth of dark corridors and passageways. They had heard the almost endless whispers as they traveled the endless paths that were made into the walls of the great Atrium- the remnants of conversations long ended. The edges of the great drop that made the Atrium seemed to be honeycombed with endless compartments and rooms.

She had stopped, turning finally to face her group for the first time. Motioning to an open door, they could make out a darkened barracks or dormitory of sorts. They entered, passing row upon row of plainly made beds, a large, open archway greeted them to an enormous clearing devoid of any discernible furniture. Red candles and torches were the only sources of light in this place, yet still they could see the catwalk barely visible countless meters above them. This seemed impossible, as they did not feel themselves as tired as they would have been had they walked the long distance downwards to the bottom of the Atrium.

She finally showed her face, revealing an aged form. Her figure did not hold the noticeable frailty of the senile, instead it gave off an air of power and knowledge. The years did nothing to take away from the sharpness of her mind.
"The journey has been a long one... you, no doubt, have many questions...

I am Master Arren, and I would be a poor teacher if I did not give you the answers you seek here, now..."


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  • 3 weeks later...

[b]Sometime Later[/b]

The bottom of the Great Atrium was a flurry of activity. Those traveling on the high catwalk above would see what appeared to be a number of random flashes of light down in the great abyss below. Upon closer inspection, however, one would hear the faint cries of several Aspirants as a number of them dueled in the darkness. Their voices carried upwards, but this view from above did not do the ferociousness and gravity of Master Arren's latest [i]lesson[/i] any justice.

The Aspirants were grouped up and each lot was sent to various locations upon the wide open clearing of the bottom of the Atrium. The groups were ordered to form a ring, as all the members of the ring looked inwards, toward each other, tables were rolled near them. Upon them lay a wide assortment of weapons. They were not practice models, dulled not in the slightest. Even in the darkness, and red glow of a number of candles and red paper lanterns, their metallic sheen glistened.

The Aspirants had been warned of Master Arren's... unusual teaching methods. Many had said that the students that emerged from her care became pariahs, and that they should be wary of even the quietest of her statements. Each and everything she said was important, and vital for survival and eventual graduation.

Master Arren had strode past each group, beginning her lecture. The clearing was silent, save for the sound of her echoing footsteps. Soon, her voice spoke out softly, the sagely sound of her words magnified by its echo,

[i]"When one relies on sight to perceive the world, it is like staring at a darkened room through a crack in the door..."[/i]

It was after this rather vague statement that the lesson began. As she passed the groups, she picked out a pair of Aspirants from each to step towards the middle of their ring. Each pair was then instructed to pick a weapon from the designated table. A wide variety of choices presented themselves to the chosen Aspirants anything from blades, to stilletos, blunt instruments, axes... there was something for everyone's preferred style. The only thing each weapon had in common, the Aspirants would soon find out, was that their combat edges were treated with a pyrophoric coating- any contact with another weapon or hard surface would emit a bright flash of sparks and light.
"You are to use the instruments provided to you. Nothing more, nothing less, however... know that if you are to truly understand, then you will need contrast, not adherence to a single rule or ideal. You may begin."
The duels soon began and the sounds of steel upon steel rang out across the maw of the Great Atrium. Aspirants gritted their teeth and squinted harshly as blow upon blow was traded. It was upon training and skill alone that an Aspirant would not be wounded. Training in the NoN was real, casualties and mortalities were prominent. Older students had informed the Aspirants, half mockingly, that the Great Atrium, specifically the bottom of it where their barracks was in plain view, was the site of a number of suicides. Disillusioned or distraught members of their Brotherhood had taken to jumping down from the high catwalk above on several occasions- remorseful over some deed required of them in the career they were all collectively striving towards, or in conclusion to a revelation that life was not worth living any longer- the reason residing wholely upon the individual.

This fact was at first taken with a grain of salt- much that was told to the Aspirants was not wholely for the sake of warning a fellow student- the Aspirants were constantly derided, mocked and played with. It was part of a collective effort to reinforce the fact that they were outsiders who were not yet fully indoctrinated and accepted in their order. Nevertheless, many an Aspirant found themselves jumping at any sound emanating from the clearing at night while they slept in their alcove, adjacent to its surface.

A particularly ferocious battle was taking place at the center of the base of the Great Atrium that day. A pair of female Aspirants were locked in a duel that was a storm of glistening blades and flashing sparks. Soon, other students had taken to watching them instead of combat taking place in their own circles.

One duelist lunged forwards, hacking at her opponent with three blows from her thin longsword. She was immediately answered with three flashes of light. Armed with twin blades, her assailant parried two of the strikes up and to the left of her head, bringing the second under and over to block the third aimed at her thigh. Immediately following up in a counter attack, she lunged forwards herself, the blades twirling as they swung up in three strikes of her own.

The one with the single blade was at a disadvantage, yet both struggled to gain an upper hand over the other. While not matched in terms of the number of weapons they held, they were at par with one another, despite the former's tendency for brutal hacking blows and the latter's fluid and beautiful strokes.

The two backed a distance from each other. One appeared to be visually panting behind her single blade, the other began pacing the outward perimeter of the ring of onlookers non-chalantly as she twirled her weapons slowly, as if waiting. Although one could not see the other's face underneath their hooded garments, it was apparent that this contender had an air of haughtiness about her.

With a loud bellow, the single bladed duelist charged, her war cry echoing over the din of the other duelists. Soon, the clashes and clanging from the other circles stopped. Master Arren had taken an interest to the pair in the center of the clearing, and the others soon grouped around this central ring. All eyes were silently upon them.

Her victim remained aloof as she beared down on her. Emitting a loud cry of exertion, the long blade came down with a fierce crash. The two began grating their blades together in earnest- an enormous shower of sparks emanated from their weapons as the two intersecting blades refused to part one another, their masters willing them to overpower the other.

In danger of her smaller blade being overtaken by the longsword, the twin bladed woman placed the other blade in support of the other. Soon, the three weapons began leaning towards the left. Noting this apparent change in momentum, she took it upon herself to push forwards with both blades crossing, throwing back her frustrated opponent.

This strike threw her opponent off balance. While her opponent was still reeling from the push, she could do nothing as the twin bladed woman threw up a booted kick. her victim did not see the heeled boot as it came crashing towards her face. This unceremonious conclusion to the duel threw her to her knees a ways away, her longsword clattering towards the edge of the ring.

Her hood thrown off from the force of the blow, a young [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=79872&view=findpost&p=2153547"]Daniela De Falco[/url] looked up at her opponent, her eyes burning an inferno of fury and hot tears of pain.

Edited by Executive Minister
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[b]"Damn it!"[/b] Daniela cursed to herself as she watched her only lifeline skitter to the edge of the ring, sparking along the cold stone floor as it did so. In the fading light of her weapon, she could just barely pick out a hooded male figure stooping as if to pick it up and give it back to her. This rather misplaced act of kindness was immediately cut down by Master Arren,

[i]"You would be wise to drop that weapon at once, Aspirant..." [/i]

Master Arren spoke in a firm, chiding manner. It appears it was a moment such as this that she was waiting for amongst all the duels that had taken place today. It seemed her lesson was about to be given its final example.
"... For you will all soon learn that in most cases, one does more harm with open hands than with a clenched fist. Be ever wary of charity and kindness..."[/i]

As Daniela's potential savior reluctantly dropped the weapon, she gritted her teeth in frustration. Still on her knees, she resorted to flinging her shock of red hair in defiance as she stood to meet her opponent. She could see that her twin bladed adversary was content in her victory, pacing around the ring slowly towards her. Like a wild cat intent upon wounded prey, she was once again twirling her blades in anticipation. Daniela could barely make out her position by the sounds of her assailant's footsteps.

As if noticing some remaining doubt or unrest amongst the other Aspirants, Arren continued,

[i]"What, have all of you developed compassion for this one? She has done nothing to earn it, yet here you are... When I spoke of sight before, there is a similar handicap that tends to occur amongst those with proficient weapon skills. They begin to neglect their other abilities, relying solely on cold carbon and steel. This dependence on technology has been the folly of many, as you are about to see here."[/i]

Daniela clenched her teeth harder, [i][b]*I'm glad that my death will help you push some stupid lesson on us, you vicious hag*[/b][/i] Daniela thought as she watched her opponent grate her blades together, creating a shower of sparks that illuminated her lithe frame for a moment, before she disappeared once again into the darkness.

[i][b]*Stupid !@#$%**[/b][/i] she thought, watching the taunting gesture.

[i]"...take the greatest warrior, strip away their weapon and what remains? They begin to rely on it, depend on it, more than they know. Watch now as a killer such as yourselves, one with much faith in their armament is reduced to nothing more than a woman-- or a man. A child..."[/i]

She finished her tirade with an expression of ennui,

[i]"I grow tired of this needless apprehension. You may start where you left off. Do not hesitate in the task you must do, Aspirant..."[/i]

Daniela pounded the ground with a fist. She was not about to let herself become a lamb lead to slaughter. Taking a combat stance, Daniela desperately tried to calm the rapid breathing she had just noticed. She closed her rather useless eyes, and began listening for the telltale signs of booted heels clicking on the stone surface. After a brief moment, she found it.

She heard the blade's whistling cry before she saw it glisten palely in the dimness of the Great Atrium. She heard it just in time to feel its bite mercifully fly inches from her face as she instinctively ducked and weaved to evade her assailant. Even in the midst of such a metal storm, she could hear her adversary exerting herself- annoyed that her prey was not proving as easy to dispatch as previously thought.

After a particularly powerful downwards chop, Daniela began to counter attack. Using nothing more than her fists and feet- a clear breach of the rule Arren laid out earlier, she side stepped the blow. Stomping on her opponents lead foot to stop her forwards momentum, she brought the same leg to her opponent's hooded face. Sparing no quarter, as Daniela was now dangerously between both blades, she grasped her assailants right hand desperately. Using all of her might, she dropped all of her weight downwards in a twisting motion, emitting a loud cry of exertion as she did so.

With a shrill cry just as loud, this move sent her opponent toppling head over heels in a controlled move to prevent her forearm from snapping. Daniela rejoiced as she heard and saw the telltale sign of a blade striking the ground a ways away. Daniela began contemplating on whether or not she should retrieve the blade for her own use- it was nearer to her than it was to her opponent, still struggling to get up herself. She decided against it, however. Such a move would prove costly if she was attacked while in the vulnerable position of retrieval.

"Master, she is cheating!" Daniela heard the laughable whining statement from her duel partner. It was a cry of indignation, wrapped in a rather obtrusive Italian accent. It was also a clear indication that Daniela's success in surviving so far was an embarassment- a wrong much graver than being sent to her knees. Daniela suppressed a laugh as she saw Master Arren do nothing.

Leaving no reservations behind, the woman charged, not bothering to replace her own hood over her rather long, dark hair. Daniela gritted her teeth as she finally realized what she must do to survive.

As her weapon came slicing in from the left, Daniela raised her left knee to the hilt of the weapon, sending it askew. The the woman's chopping blow, in conjunction with such a well placed strike from Daniela, sent the last advantage of her opponent sailing through the air, clattering with an explosion of sparks against a far pillar- well over the heads of the now ducking audience.

It was now Daniela's time. Unceremoniously snatching a black tuft of hair that had presented itself, she yanked as hard as she could, sending her opponents face to her rising right knee. Again and again, she pummeled her opponent to a pulp whilst still clutching at the strands of hair until she heard her opponent's muffled cries echo around the wide clearing.

[i]"Enough! I hope all of you have learned something today. Well done, Aspirant..."[/i]

Daniela took this as a sign of all clear. It appeared that Master Arren was addressing her the entire time, not the pityful mess that was now mewling in agony at her feet, and especially when she lectured earlier.

"Master, she cheated!" was all her defeated opponent was able to whine.

[i]"And? We are not the honour bound Militants that walk the surface. In combat there are no set rules, no abstract boundaries one must abide. As assassins, purveyors of death and destruction, you will come to learn- take advantage of this."[/i]

Addressing the rest of the Aspirants, she finalized the lesson.

[i]"Again, I hope this Aspirant's task has shown the lot of you to be more insightful to predicaments fate may provide you. May it be a boon, or an ever present dagger hanging above your heads, I do not care. Leave me now, the lot of you. We are done for today..."[/i]

As the Aspirants slowly dispersed, Daniela tentatively limped towards the barracks. She looked at her opponent- she was quite bloody, and missing a few tufts of hair, but she would be salvageable in a few days or so. Being helped to her feet by an almost equally beautiful woman, the two were conversing fervently in Daniela's native tongue. She did not miss the slurs thrown in her direction by the pair, and instead reveled in the fact that she was broken, defeated by an unarmed opponent.

"You did real good there lady," a voice called after Daniela. "The only place I've seen a better beating would have to be at a hockey game."

Daniela looked up to see a young man approaching. She said nothing as he drew near.

"You know, for a minute there, I was going to jump in you know," he half joked, "I mean, I thought you were a goner for sure when Arren didn't let me hand back your blade back there."

[b]"I didn't know chivalry existed down here,"[/b] Daniela muttered, rolling her eyes. As she began to limp away, she heard the figure run up behind her.

"-hey, hold on a sec, your leg's bleeding pretty bad, here lemme get you to sick bay."

[b]"Why don't you $%&@ off Lancelot?" [/b]Daniela snapped, [b]"I don't need your damn charity."[/b]

"Fine, just don't blame me when you fall down the stairs and break your neck!" he called after her as she struggled to ascend a nondescript staircase. She began to climb up gingerly- her feint did not work nearly as well as she had planned. There was a long gash from her thigh to knee, and soon she felt her leg was slick- a sanguine smell wafting up to her nose, nauseating her.

She was about to fall backwards before she felt rather rough hands grab at the back of her knees and shoulders. She could do nothing as her rejected savior began the long ascent up the staircase with her in his arms. Soon, the monotony of the steady click of boots on stone served to pacify and make her lose consciousness better than any sedative ever could.

Edited by Executive Minister
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Daniela opened her eyes to gaze at a dark stone apse. For a moment or two, she was removed from the events of the world, tracing the rough edges and fine lines in the almost Gothic architecture. Remembering where she was, she quickly shut her eyes and shook her head out of its stupor. With effort, she willed herself to sit upright. Carefully placing both hands on the cold stone platform that served as her resting place, she prepared to lift herself up, only to hear a voice coming from a far corner.
"Ahh, it is good to see you awake..."[/i]

Tensing up with a start, Daniela looked up to see Master Arren walking towards her across what Daniela could only guess was one of the many alcoves dug out of the sides of the Great Atrium. Looking to her side, Daniela could see through a wide lancet a number of tiny specks of light across the deep drop of the Atrium- no doubt other members of her order milling about in their business by candlelight.

Not wanting to seem weak, Daniela twisted her body to stand up from her perch. Such an act was terrible in the pain it brought her. Looking down, she could see that the leg of her body glove was cut off at her thigh, the deep slash from before sealed with a number of staples and stitches.

[b]"$%&@,"[/b] she muttered under her breath.
"Your wound is but a physical thing... it will heal in time. Know that this was necessary, for some things may only be learned through pain and conflict..."[/i]

Still favoring her leg gingerly, Daniela answered.
"Yeah, and what did I learn today?"[/b]

If Master Arren was peeved in the slightest at Daniela's disrespectful tone, she did not show it. With a dismissive wave of her hand she answered,

[i]"Perhaps it is not a tangible thing, the knowledge this 'lesson' has brought... Awareness on one's own capabilities is not something to be taken or understood by another..."[/i]
"Thank you, Mistress for this wonderous opportunity. I think i'll be leaving now,"[/b] Daniela turned to leave.
"Do you seek to hide your discomfort from one such as I? Even with your facade I still see you hold many 'feelings' for our sanctuary. I am in a charitable mood, perhaps I may serve to ease some of your questions?"[/i]

Daniela slowly placed a pair of crutches she held down on the stone bed. Arren's offer was too good to pass up. She turned back to stare at her old Master.


[i]"Ask, and I will answer, as I have already done so."[/i]

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Daniela, being the outsider that she was, hesitated. There was much that she wanted to learn of her new home- so much, in fact, that she had no idea where to begin. As if sensing this momentary distraction, Arren spoke.

[i]"Perhaps you wish to be privileged with knowledge on the history of our culture? The foundations that support our Nation are deep ones- many of our most prized scholars doubt its veracity. It may be that our story requires an outsider's perspective to gain the recognition it deserves..."[/i]

[b]"I think I'd like to hear anything you feel the need to tell me,"[/b] Daniela responded curtly, carefully suppressing any outward notions of irritation. Master Arren was a skilled and well versed teacher, yet in the years under her tutelage Daniela couldn't help but feel that the whole 'cryptic, mysterious act' was nothing more than a quirk of a senile old Lady. While this information was not exactly what Daniela had in mind, it was a good start and a first step towards satiating her nagging curiosity.

[i]"Tell me, Child, are you familiar with the story of the first murderer? Would you disagree that our Order, nay, our entire Nation, continues that misguided man's work? Grows stronger because of it? Directly descends from it?"[/i]

Daniela's eyes opened wide. Master Arren was crazy, and if the rest of this damned country thought the same, she thought, she'd buy the first ticket out of here.

[i]"Ahh... then it would appear that it is a tale you already know well... Perhaps the most fervent members of our Order and 'Militancy' are mad, the scholars correct in their assumptions? Would the fear of such a 'truth' be a burden far too heavy for even a Nation to hold on its shoulders? Give me the answer you are now struggling to keep in the confines of your throat..."[/i]
"I... err, I'm sorry, but that IS little 'out there', don't you think?"[/b]
"You answer a question with a question. You may find success in the future as a Diplomat. Such is not a dishonourable fate- indeed, it has become the fate of many who have walked these halls. Perhaps you will find some acclaim in this..."
Daniela immediately caught what she believed was a veiled insult, a chiding remark that was unbecoming of her, [b]"Just... get on with the story."[/b]

[i]"...Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is your brother Abel?'

'I know not,' he replied. 'Am I my brother's keeper?'

Then He said, 'What have you done? Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground! So now you are cursed from the ground that opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood you have shed. If you work the land, it will never again give you its yield. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.'

Then Cain went out from the Lord's presence and lived in the Land of Nod, East of Eden...

There has always been a secret portion of the Nation of Nod, one that has never forgotten the weight upon which Kane's first act admonished us to uphold. Yet it is in struggle that we find ourselves victorious, ever able and willing to rise to the challenge...

I will not attempt to glaze over our rather tumultuous past. From the beginning, we were little more than parasites, burrowing our way into the civilizations that haunt Africa, the birth place of Humanity. Forever wandering and ever fearful of discovery, we would depart a host nation whenever we grew tired of them or the need presented itself.

In time, our people had begun to carve out a society of our own, yet even then we leeched off of others. We had become little more than a series of scattered mercenary and bandit tribes, turning and converting those who were worthy of our cause and preying upon, destroying the weak. Such is the foundation of all Empires and in the end, one was able to unite us, conquering the scattered tribes and factions of our kind while the world remained ignorant to our lingering presence."[/i]

Daniela remained skeptical of what she heard, yet the the old woman's solemnity begged to differ. Nodding her head, she decided to play along and soon began asking questions.
"You said Cain or Kane... whatever, was misguided, why?"[/b]
"Upon seeing the black raven scratching the ground, the Bringer of the First Burial, he expressed regret. Our nation has come to hold... or did hold... the fervent belief that regret and similar emotions belong to the weak and are in kind weaknesses to be exploited by the strong. Such a change is no doubt a casualty of Time's causality."[/i]

[b]"Time's causality?"[/b]
"Time is a catalyst that all succumb to, it is the way of things.

I fear our people are becoming... 'soft'. Since the time the one now known as the Executive Minister united our people, settled them in the Land that the First was cursed to wander, we have grown complacent. We still continue to boast that we alone are privy to the Ultimate Truth of Humanity, and yet we have started along the path that leads to erosion. Honour, Loyalty, Faith... the tenets of the Militancy above are the byproducts of our slow and lingering demise, they are omens of a drawn out death that will last decades... perhaps centuries if we are 'lucky'...

Perhaps you might serve to aid or hinder this transformation? Only Time will decide..."[/i]

[b]"What is the Ultimate Truth?"[/b]
"...that we are all, in our purest form... evil. Those of the 'Civilized' world will call us a Nation of the Bloodthirsty, barbarians and brutes to be slowly re-educated... tamed... Know that only under the whip of Cruelty and the lash of Oppression has humanity surged forwards the farthest. Those who accept the Ultimate Truth are enlightened. It is only after this enlightenment, after one has ceased the struggle against the desperately fought and denied nature of humanity... has given in... has accepted, will they be able to achieve what is rightfully theirs... They deny their darkness, but we revel in it, allow it to fuel our strength. We are the manifestation of humanity's darkest urges, and therefore we cannot be stopped. The Ultimate Truth is the pinnacle of the teachings of Nod, long lost to the masses, and coveted by the few... the Knowing..."[/i]

[b]"The EM, who is he?"
"I do not know... those closest to him only know of his title, his name is another victim of Time. Know that his betrayal of Kane during the Great Divide was a turning point from which we can never go back. For good or for ill I cannot say. Know that he is the strongest of us, and the strongest only rule, if only until one who is stronger can take it from him. The length of his governance speaks volumes... or perhaps it is the blind faith the Militancy holds for him that places him on an untouchable pedestal upon which no harm can be brought upon him?"[/i]

[b]"You really don't seem to like the Militancy..."[/b]

[i]"Ah, the Soldiers, Warriors of Nod? Our sworn protectors? I admit that men such as those have their uses, but I shall also admit I hold disdain for a number of their teachings. One who follows the Teachings of Nod is not a mule, all endurance and no brains. One of the Knowing would fight for his life, the costs be damned. We are taught that Death comes to those, who are easily swayed by their faith. To remain true to your nature is to find yourself rewarded... They preach that thoughts of individuality and uniqueness generate thoughts of loneliness and rebellion.

They are little more than a band of household canines- loyal and faithful to a sickening degree. We once believed in survival of the fittest; You must always be on guard and lean in for the kill. We promoted it, and grew stronger for it... They have burdened themselves with tradition and the protection of the weak and ungrateful. They are pitiful and misguided."[/i]

[b]"The Teachings of Nod?"
"There are many tenets that all true followers of the ways of Nod adhere to. To orate them in a single sitting is unbearable... Know that while their role in our society has diminished somewhat- they are no longer revered as they once were...Most have found their place in our way of life and in some form or another, have become inseparable from our identity. I take solace in such a truth. Some have been lost forever, or worse, have become perverted. I will speak no more of them."[/i]

Taking this to be her cue to leave, Daniela hobbled over to her crutches. She took them under both her arms before remembering something else.

[b]"You said I'd be able to help or stop something..."[/b]

Arren peered with a knowing look before answering, [i]"Perhaps...


[i]You may leave. You would be correct in your assumption that it is unwise to show weakness here. Speak of this to no one."[/i]

With effort, Daniela managed to begin her long flight down the stairs, her mind heavy with answers she did not want to hear and a task that would have to present itself at a later date.

Master Arren remained 'alone' in the stone infirmary, its emptiness deafening. She smiled as she began speaking to a hidden figure, silent for the entirety of her visit to Daniela and their long conversation.

[i]"You wish to spend time with that one...? But that is not such a striking thing- she is a skilled warrior, strong... beautiful..."[/i]

A figure stepped forwards from a dark corner, where he stood for some time, observing. "I don't think you know anything about me."

It was the man that had brought Daniela to the Infirmary. He had not left her side after taking her, that was apparent.

[i]"Indeed... Nevertheless I would caution you to be careful of your interaction with her. She is not as... tempered as you."[/i]

"I'm leaving. I don't know what the hell you want with a girl like her... you have tons of others lying around here that would literally kill to do what you're asking her to do now."

The man stepped towards the door, only to have Arren stop him,

[i]"Before you go - a word of caution..."[/i]

Despite his better judgment, he stopped, facing away from her. As his footsteps ceased, she spoke. It was an odd conversation, as they were both facing opposite directions.

[i]"...spend time with her if you must, but recognize where your true loyalties lie..."[/i]

"I don't need a lecture from you, thanks. I get enough of it from your 'training'" was what he snapped back with.

[i]"Lectures?"[/i] Arren's voice was tinged with amusement. She was a master at manipulation, and she enjoyed toying with the emotions of others.

[i]"No, merely an observation... obviously, I was mistaken."[/i]

He began to walk again, only to have Arren's silvery voice call out to him in barely a whisper.
"Never have you wondered what it would mean to Daniela, and yourself, if she had accepted your offer of aid? If, perhaps, she would give in? 'Surrender' herself to you?"[/i]

Arren's implications were as they sounded. He stopped, putting his head down for a moment.

[i]"There are few thoughts you can hide from me, young one. I was not born 'old'. Know that such thoughts, such passions are not strengths, but weakness to be exploited."[/i]

"Maybe you should keep your 'thoughts' to yourself. What the hell do you think you know about me?"

[i]"No?"[/i] only Arren could take such a small, simple word and turn it into such a huge mockery. She ignored his rebuttal and instead took his silence for an answer he did not need to speak.

[i]"Then perhaps I 'was' mistaken after all...[/i]

[i]Whatever your intentions towards her, keep them restrained. Whether mercy or lust, you have time for neither. You had better gather your wits about you boy, or you will not last long in the task you are to undertake. Do you understand?"[/i]

There was a pause, before he spoke. "Yes... I understand."

[i]"Good,"[/i] Arren's voice was genuine delight. [i]"Know that there are those who do battle, and those that follow them. You are a crude thing, Aspirant, but you have your uses to me. You will serve her... until I release you."[/i]

He said nothing. Arren's second task was going to be fulfilled. He would do nothing to fight her orders.

[i]"Wipe the fear from your mind. You will not find blind obedience a difficult Master... you would have done well had you been brought to the Training Facilities above. Your spirit, however diseased it is, will not allow you to give up, no matter what threats you two will face... whatever ruin you leave behind you."[/i]

"Why her?"

[i]"No- I have wasted enough time here. Leave me, Aspirant, and be silent."[/i]

He left, his footsteps echoing rhythmically as he descended to his own barracks. For a time, Arren stood, truly alone. She said nothing as she walked to the wide lancet, peering down into the Great Atrium. Like a mother vulture looking down upon roosts her children built below her, she watched the moving candles Daniela saw earlier. Even with her age, she could see Daniela limping towards the Aspirant pen in the depths below.

[i]"You were broken..." [/i]

She stopped just before its entrance, removing her crutches and throwing them in a nearby pile of rubble towards the edge of the wide open clearing.

[i]"..and you were made whole..."[/i]

Arren smiled as Daniela strained with effort to be upright, and soon she was walking rigidly inside, out of her view.
"A critical moment approaches..." [/i]was all she said to herself.[i]

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  • 1 month later...

Standing with a small group of mourners, Theo shivered in the cold, damp air of the Great Mausoleum beneath Temple Secundus as he stood face to face with his father one last time.

It was a fascinating sight. Through the marvels of modern technology, Emil Sidamo silently shifted his stance above a humming holographic projector. His 'presence', a larger than life recreation of his living self, bathed the onlookers in a pale blue glow and his 'face' remained stoically ahead, looking past his grieving family.

Theo sighed as he saw his mother sob into the arm of nearby Uncle Rahim. Incapable of bearing such a heart-breaking sight, he began studying his father's image. The technicians had been fervent in their task to bring as true-to-life a recreation of the living Emil Sidamo as possible. Theo recognized the black ceremonial tunic his father used to wear on formal occasions, even though the projection was monochromatic. He gazed at the various medals and commendations displayed in the exact same order he was used to seeing when his father held him in his arms as a child.

Most remarkably of all were the expressions and mannerisms the technicians were able to convey. Theo's heart sank as he saw the image suddenly make a slight gulping motion. It was perfectly true to form, yet without the same context. In life, Emil would always gulp whenever he was about to make a serious statement. Here, Emil had no such capacity for communication.

It was these little things that further depressed Theo, and soon he found himself cautiously gazing at those around him. All were either transfixed on the 'living' Emil as he stood breathing lightly, or the deceased Emil that rested a few feet below it and none objected.

Theo saw Benok standing cross-armed in an identical black tunic to his father's, the same red sash with silver trim draped across his form. Beside him stood his pregnant mother and teary-eyed uncle. Behind him were several other men, all sharing the same stoic look, a facade even the projection shared. It seemed as if this were expected of the Nodic men- looking at a few women dressed in black uniforms, who silently fought tears of their own- and even the women too.

With his arms now crossed across his chest, Emil Sidamo gazed down at several armoured men as they entered the Interment Chamber intently. Even though the men reached at most waist high to the figure, Emil began to exhibit an understanding with the Honour Guard as they marched in a line until they were arrayed with the left-most nearest to the mourners, the right-most nearest to the coffin.

The armoured men were fascinating to Theo. Clad in a thick ballistic body glove from head to toe, with portions of their large frames covered in a layer armour plating it was easy to see why Theo idolized his father so when he was younger. Everything about these 'Heavy Infantry' seemed deadly, from their armour shrouded boots to their gauntlets- the ever present weighted knuckle gloves protruding menacingly... and the helmet... oh the Helmet, every facet, every inch of these Nodic Warriors screamed 'out for blood'.

Today however, they would be tasked with honouring their own blood. Where dirt, mud and blood would have been, there was polish, sheen and silver trim. The Honour Guard for Emil Sidamo, stood silently- at attention.

Without hesitation, Benok stepped forward, infront of the Guard. He would be delivering the only, short eulogy for Emil, as was customary. Turning to look upon the assembled mourners, he began with Emil Sidamo standing behind him,

"There are two," Benok raised a finger-pointing fist near his head, "two, teachings of the Nodic Militancy with which I can honestly say describe Emil Sidamo, Lord of House Sidamo...perfectly."

The militant members of the mourners solemnly nodded their heads at something that appeared to be understood only amongst them, Theo and family would have to wait for Benok to name them.

"Teaching zero-zero-zero: [i]It is the honour and glory of battle that rules us, it is through combat we prove our worth, gain renown and make our place in this world[/i]... Emil Sidamo was one of the finest Soldiers that the Nodic Militancy... that WE could ask for... Yet he was not a glory hunter. Forever was he an obedient, loyal, and trust worthy Commander. Lord Emil Sidamo embodied the spirit of the Nation of Nod... he was of such nobility, such valour... that he was not good enough for us, and was thus taken so cruelly from our lives."

Benok paused before continuing,

"Teaching two-two-three: [i]Skill in battle must be tempered by skill in peace. Balancing these elements leads to better living. To achieve peace, one must suffer the hardships of warfare... [/i]and suffer he did, for he was not only a Soldier of Nod..."

Benok gazed at Valora and Uncle Rahim for a brief moment, before resting his eyes on Theo.

"... he was a father, and ever strived to be as much of a family man as he could, given his role in ensuring OUR peace. I said he was not a glory hunter. Emil Sidamo fought and killed in the Militancy for his family, so that they may live the 'better life'... the one that was forged with the suffering he endured on the battlefield. He did so willingly, at all cost to himself."

Benoks words hit Theo like a freight train. As he listened to his caretaker's words, he began to look back on all the times he was unruly or was undeserving of his father's sacrifices.

"... I was proud... I AM proud to have served with him, as I know all of you are proud to have known him."

The eulogy was over, and now the final respects were at hand.

Benok promptly about faced, and walked away from the mourners towards Emil's casket. Draped over it was a familiar red flag, emblazoned with a black Scorpion's tail surrounded with a chamfered triangle- the Nodic Militant's flag. He stood for a brief moment infront of the casket before turning ninety degrees, until he was at the head of the Honour Guard.

As if on cue, two Guards, one from either end of the line, stepped forwards towards the casket. In quick succession, the flag was lifted, folded, and handed off across the line of Guards until it reached one of the men in uniform in the group of mourners. Theo did not know who he was- he was amongst the group that Benok was standing in prior to his Interment duties- large and dark aviator sunglasses shrouded his dark face from view. The man carefully held the folded flag in his hands, as if it were a newborn baby... or a live bomb.

"Left- FACE!" Benok barked at the reassembled line,

which was met with a loud 'KA-THUNK' of the armoured men turning to face the mourners.

Theo could now properly see the casket that held the broken body of his father. It was of a deep, rich black mahogany, its edges silver trimmed. Inlayed on its closed door was a formidable looking weapon- his father's service rifle. It stood out from the relatively organic casket- it was of cold carbon and aluminum, a deathly shade of black. Striped of all firing mechanisms, ammunition and electronic components, it was a shell of its former glory. Like its master beneath it.

"Present- ARMS!"

All of the men lifted their ornamental rifles to the side in unison. While these were their actual service weapons, they had been given a ceremonial shrouding. In the confines of the Great Mausoleum, and in the prescence of the many fallen warriors of Nod interred in the walls that made the depths and heights of the vertical shaft, live ammunition would be foolhardy to fire. Today, blank rounds were in the Honour Guard's magazines.


The sound of seven simultaneous gunshots rang out, a deafening 21 gun salute. Again and again, Benok would say that word-

"FIRE!" until in total, 21 rounds were fired.

Each time he gave the order, Theo would wince- he felt a growing pain in his head that began to spread to his neck, his chest and his side...

The gunfire was deafening and began to echo around the vertical shaft until it seemed a blurr. Theo felt his head lolling backwards until it hit something hard.

"SIDAMO!" a voice shouted to him over the din.

"Be silent! You are disrupting my fa-" Theo began to retort the obvious baffoon that was interrupting his Father's funeral.

"Shut up! Just shut up you've got to keep moving or EVA's going to think you've been incapacitated dammit! Can you walk?"

Theo blinked his eyes again, suddenly realizing that he was wearing a helmet. Looking at the HUD that was splashed across a polarized ballistic visor, his Electronic Voice Assistant was incessantly warning him of a loss of 9% structural integrity on the left side of his Carapace Armour. Soon, another tiny red klaxon sounded within the confines of his Cranial Protection Suite.
<<WARNING: Operator incapacitation protocols initiated, beginning data storage termination. Final shut down of this EVA unit will commence in one minute... it was a pleasure to have served with you>>[/b]

"Ughh," Theo shook his helmeted head. The grenade had gone off a little too close for his comfort, throwing him several feet and leaving him with only Chance and his ballistic body glove's anti-shrapnel design to thank for the relatively low level of discomfort and disorientation he was feeling.

"EVA, belay your assumption, I'm still alive."

[b]<<This unit thanks you for your input. Welcome back Commander...>>[/b]

Muttering to himself that he wasn't a Commander, a bug that all EVA units shared, he turned to look at the man resuscitating him. It was Soanso, a member of his Militant Cell.

"Thanks for that-," Theo began.

"No need, we don't leave our comrades out to die."

[b]<<Commander, you have sustained mild blast injuries from a piece of enemy ordinance. This is most likely the result of the grenade thrown that you failed to evade even with my and Militant Soanso's warning. Shall I begin oxygen flushing? Are you experiencing respiratory distress?>>[/b]

"EVA, I'm fine. Just... give me some time."

The pair had little time to enjoy their relatively safe stay in the defilade of a hastily dug out irrigation trench. Mud and water besotted their armour clad feet- Theo was covered in mud all along one side of him. Soon, the sound of war reached Theo's still buzzing ears.

"Listen, Theo, that Stinger of yours, is it still working? We need to take out that MG position ASAP."

Theo was suddenly alerted to the presence of a long metal shaft slung across his back. Turning back to look, he could see a dull red warhead with the words WARNING: HIGH EXPLOSIVE stenciled in white.

"Theo? THEO!" Soanso slapped Theo's helmet with a light back hand. While this was in no way dangerous to either of them, the sound of Soanso's back hand plating and Theo's helmet made a resounding clunk which shook him out of his stupor.

Theo and Sidamo were a Light Anti-armor weapon crew, sent to flank a heavy Machine Gun position that was suppressing his Militant Cell (OOC: A Cell is equivalent to 8 to 40 men, a platoon).

"How is he, we have finished with these fools up here."

A third voice presented itself to Theo. The rest of the element sent to flank the MG were above him and Soanso. Apparently as they moved to flank, a small picket force attacked. A grenade had gone off near Theo and sent him tumbling into the irrigation ditch with Soanso following.

Scrambling up the side of the sheer embankment, Theo and Soanso regrouped with the rest of the force and continued. Soon, the tell tale sound of heavy rounds being fired in the distance were heard. With a silent raise of the Militant Sergeant's fist, the group knelt, weapons at the ready.
<<Detecting Twelve by One-Hundred and Seven millimeter rounds, probable source is a model DShK Nineteen Thirty Eight anti-material machine gun in your proximity>>[/b]

"Are your EVA units detecting that?" the harsh voice of the one in charge had apparently heard similar from his own EVA.

"Sidamo, Soanso prepare yourselves, we may only have time for a single launch before we must retreat. Everyone else, prepare anti-infantry grenades."

The orders were given over a secure communications that would be silent to outsider observers. The helmets were soundproof, whilst also shielding and obscuring its operator.

"Here let me do yours, just shoulder that thing and make it count," Soanso whispered out of habit. Theo handed Soanso his [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=59602&view=findpost&p=1642021"]NDII Sentinel Battle Rifle[/url] and reached back for his [url="http://i710.photobucket.com/albums/ww106/mofailla/LATW.jpg?t=1279118747"]Light Anti-Vehicular Weapon, the Stinger[/url]. Resembling an obsolete RPG-7 in only appearance, the launcher fired a deadly HE round while being extremely light and easy to prepare and operate, being the intended Paratrooper weapon that it was.

Sidamo felt Soanso reaching into his belt for a Blue Coloured Fragmentation grenade for his Rifle's underslung launcher. With a series of hollow sounding clicks and thunks, Soanso handed Theo back the Rifle, which was promptly slung over his shoulder and left draped across his front. Soanso rested his stockless [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=59602&view=findpost&p=1617360"]NDII Ripper Assault Rifle[/url] against his hip and loaded a blue round of his own.

"Everyone prepared? I want suppressive fire for Soanso and Sidamo to do their job, then we are to return to our Brethren. Such was ordered, and I do not intend to throw away our lives needlessly."

The DshK continued to rattle and roar, and everyone knew that it would not be long for the rebel force to miss their missing comrades from earlier.

"Strength in Honour," the Sergeant said as he moved forwards.

"Strength in Honour," came the reply as the rest of the group moved with him.

Edited by Executive Minister
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  • 4 weeks later...

A drop of water landed in a muddy puddle with a quiet plop. Another followed, and soon after another and another until the quiet plops turned into a symphony of pattering rain. The puddle was excessively jubilant at this new source of hydration, and soon its surface was a bubbling, splashing brown mess.

Suddenly an intruder- one that did not care for the puddle or its newfound sense of joy -unceremoniously came down with a heavy boot, destroying the innocent puddle and bespattering its remains all over his armored foot. As if to add insult to injury, more and more of these assailants came down, desecrating the freshly made corpse and scattering its remains to and fro. A padded knee soon came to a rest right in the middle of the destroyed cadaver, and stayed there.

Theo rolled his shoulder, releasing some of the pressure his Stinger made as it sat on his shoulder. Looking at his weapon again, Theo could see that the red warhead was gleaming in the heavy rain. Each man in his militant cell's partition (squad) had a fine mist of rain surrounding his figure, the loud sounds of automatic fire accented the now deafening sound of the torrential rain. Looking down, Theo groaned, he had stuck his knee down into a rather inconvenient mud puddle. Too late to save himself from the mess, he stayed put.

"We have been given new orders," Theo heard the voice of the Militant Sergeant within the confines of his helmet, "We are to aid in the assault on the Traitor's camp indirectly by initiating the destruction of his outlying outposts and defenses."

"What of the enemy presence in the area? How many are we told to expect?" the voice of another soon chimed in.

"The Traitor, Farok, is an Elite Cadre," the Sergeant answered, "he has disguised his encampment and its forward positions formidably with his expertise. Satellites have been unable to pinpoint distinct components of his defense, nor do we have reliable estimates of the strength of his ilk. I have been told that the most probable number of opponents we can hope to face number in the size of an understrength company."

The man identified as Farok said nothing to this rather ambiguous answer, and the Sergeant continued.

"Furthermore, the Captain has expressed the Ministry's suspicion that the Traitor has imparted some of his Elite Cadre training to supplement that of his other traitor followers. Each and every one of you must be capable of being relied upon. You have all seen," Theo could see the man looking in his direction, "the ferocity with which this rebellious scum fights. I expect nothing but excellence from you all. I will not suffer the indignity of having to call upon the aid of the Heavy Infantry."

Without another word, the group surged forwards in a quick, crouching run. Each man held his weapon at the ready as they brushed past foliage and other obstacles, signs of civilization trying to eke out a living while remaining hidden. With a bit of guilt, Theo thought of the gardens his mother tended to on her own as he stomped on some cabbage and broke a number of tomato stalks in his haste. The distant gunfire was becoming not so distant the more they neared the closest position, a sandbagged and camoflaged series of trenches surrounding the target DshK and accompanying mortars.

A burnt out husk of a tank was the only break in dense foliage, the Sergeant slowly moved forwards until him and another man were behind it. Theo watched as the Sergeant tentatively peered over the ruined war machine before sitting back down. The other man did the same, kneeling beside him.

"I am uploading this to you now," the Sergeant said. His TACARM ACS was a newer model of the [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=59602&view=findpost&p=2384708"]TACARM CAS[/url] everyone else wore.It was equipped with an upgraded EVA command-class unit, that was capable of download as well as upload functions.

Soon, a notification pinged itself on Theo's HUD.

[b]<<Incoming Transmission>>[/b]

It always fascinated Theo on how war served as the most potent catalyst for technological advances. What strange, strange beasts we are, he would think to himself. His helmet's view had become a blur of movement, soon he saw what his commanding officer saw- the first of many 'nodes' that made up the network of trenches and outlying defenses of the camp. Nestled beneath the shade of a large leafy tree, a mortar position was dug in and around its mighty roots. The DshK in question was being loaded by its crew to fire another torrent of shells and an artillery spotter was stationed not too far away from the sandbagged wall. The men manning the position were clearly Nodic warriors in their own right, yet something was noticeably different. All modern Nod-affiliated markings and insignias were gone- scrapped off and replaced by relatively primitive ones dating back before the Great Divide. Cabal-specific markings were the only things permitted to remain, it seemed.

"Sir, would our own IFF transponders show up on their own EVA's?" Farok asked.

"No, they have not been synchronized with our current Militancy's protocols, they cannot see us as much as our EVAs will register them as a threat."

With the threat of friendly fire assuaged, the Sergeant began,

"I want Sidamo, Soanso, Keesling, Armand, Tippett, and Lamping to form up and head over to flank that position. The rest of you take up skirmishing positions here, here and here," Theo's HUD minimap soon found itself updated by his commander's instructions. A bright beacon highlighted the position he needed to be in. Soon, the six of them plodded away from the rest of the group down towards there objective, a stretch of trench that led to an auxiliary node that supported the main position.

Theo's group ran, panting and forcing their suits environmental controls into overdrive to keep them cool. [i]At least all this running is good for the Kinetic Wave Generators[/i], Theo grumbled to himself.

"Sidamo, maintain communications silence until we're given the word," Lamping chided, notifying Theo that he had his helmet communicator on broadcast.

Coming up to a noticeably thick segment of shrubbery, they paused, kneeling, leaning or lying down in the mud. The rain was furious now and was helping to mask their movement amongst the foliage. Peering through the vegetation, Lamping stood before quickly sitting back down.

"I see three Mortars, sparse cover against our position, Armand, Keesling prepare to give me enfilading fire. Stay down."

The pair nodded silently before springing into action. A burly looking form Theo's EVA unit identified as Keesling dropped on his stomach, crawling on elbows and knees to a particularly convenient alcove amongst the brush. There, he quickly unshouldered the large Torrent machine gun, carefully placing it on a tarp Armand unrolled beside him. The pair peered over the brush carefully before they began to work, hastily setting up the tripod for Keesling's gun. Boxes of ammunition, extra barrels and sidearms were seen being placed carefully on the tarp as the large weapon was lowered onto the tripod, its barrel ominously pointing downwards towards the unsuspecting enemy below.

Turning to Theo, Lamping continued over the machine gun crew's efforts.

"You three, follow me."

The four of them circled down a lazy slope south, making sure to dash from brush to brush. Soon, they neared the base of the first machine gun nest that held their brethren away from the DshK. Peering over tall grass, Lamping whispered unnecessarily,

"Two Torrents, those 9.55mm rounds will shred our guys to pieces... they might even be carrying SAP-HE rounds," he motioned to two weapons similar to the one Armand and Keesling now manned.

"Alright, why don't you take Tippett while Sidamo and I draw their fire to the right, underneath Armand and Keesling. You and Tippett can go get em from the left. We blow the mortars and then wait for the Sarge to catch up?"

Theo said nothing as he listened to his crew mate nonchalantly offering away their safety. Instead, he nervously rapped his fingers on the Stinger's casing. His hands felt heavier, heavier than they felt when he wore his weighted knuckle gloves.

"Okay then, go."

Without another word Soanso surged forward with Theo in tow. The two crawled in a frenzy north until they were a few dozen meters away from Keesling and Armand's IFF transponder signals. Nestling themselves in a protected, yet easily escapable position against the sheer face of the incline Armand and Keesling sat atop, Sidamo and Soanso waited.

They did not need to wait long, for soon they heard the distant crackle of gunfire interrupted by intermittent explosions. Lamping's voice soon sounded in alarm.

"I don't know if Sarge decided to move in on the main gun without telling us, or the Traitors are sounding off with their weapons, but we've got movement within our own target! Sidamo, Soanso, confirm?"

Soanso quickly looked at Theo before sitting up from his prone position with effort. He could see the sandbag wall and the machine gunners prepping their weapons, training their lethal sights down range towards the Sergeant's forces in the distance.

"Yes, they are moving to support the main battery, where are the rest of our brethren to the South East?!'

It was true, they had not heard from the rest of their Cell since the Commander sent the Sarge out to take out the DshK, Theo mused. The happenings and actions so far had been a blur to him, and he had forgotten all about the big picture. Instead, his entire universe seemed to be what lay a few dozen meters away from him- an enemy that was armed, and getting ready.

"Lamping and Co, this is the Sergeant Camio," the Sergeant finally addressed their small flanking group, "you are to proceed on mission. Flank the supporting positions and make your own way back to the main battery position. I want you to enter my theatre perpendicular to my axis of advance. Uploading now."

In the corner of Theo's eye, a bright green beacon pulsated. Turning towards its direction, he paused.

"EVA, switch to topographical view for a moment."

[b]<<Yes, of course. Switching...>>[/b]

Theo's world seemed to stretch and pan itself until he was looking at a top down view of the theatre. He could see animated markings signifying Camio's axis of advance, as well as several red dots marking identified enemy targets. Bright red circles pinged around both green dots within the advance and red dots infront of it. Both sides were engaging one another. Theo switched back to normal mode as dots on both sides of the conflict turned dark green or dark red, others soon fading to black.

"They will enter thick fighting soon! There is no time to waste! We must join our brethren in battle!" came the overtly eager and bloodthirsty voice of Lamping.

"Keesling, Armand! Enfilade fire on the position, Sidamo and Soanso shall also engage. I will attack the post closest with Tippett!"

"Roger, the opening up with SAP-HE now," Keesling's rough voice sounded as though he had something wadded in his mouth. Knowing Keesling, it was probably a mash of arabica coffea beans.

The loud [i][b]'BRRRRT....BRRRRRRRRT!'[/b][/i] echoed above Theo's head as the Torrent machine gun let loose its fearsome rounds with frightening speed. The rounds per minute of the Torrent approached 1,100 resulting in a distinct buzzing report from its muzzle. Even from Theo's position, he could see the horror the weapon unleashed. Each round had an explosive core primed with a percussion cap. The result was a lethal deluge of high powered rounds that could easily overpenetrate light cover only to explode in the face of someone behind it. Theo gulped as he witnessed what one of the brutal rounds could do to someone without cover before lifting his Stinger RPG.

The Stinger was a light anti-vehicular weapon, designed for paratrooper duty- it was light, compact and reusable. Given only a highly advanced optical sight that relied on EVA units for terminal guidance, the warhead, in this case a high-explosive blast fragmentation round, had extremely limited, yet useful terminal corrections. Essentially an RPG-29 on steroids, Theo looked through the target reticule as it locked on to the far side of the sandbagged enclosure. Theo could see that one of two enemy machine guns were destroyed- the operators were unable to raise the weapon in time to engage Keesling and Armand on the high ridge. The other was still engaging Camio in the distance when they struck, and had now trained its sights upwards, frustratingly protected by a makeshift sandbag bunker.

With a loud [i][b]WHOOOOOSH![/b][/i] the rocket was sent on its way, Theo immediately dropped down, furiously shoving in another round into his weapon's muzzle. Soanso stood up amongst the chest high grass shouting 'Covering fire!' and letting loose with his own weapon. The [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=59602&view=findpost&p=1617360"]Ripper Assault rifle[/url] was what most would consider a squad support weapon or LMG- Soanso hefted the weapon first to his hip, letting loose several 7.62mm rounds before shifting it to his shoulder, 'plinking' the enemy gun with single shots. He soon ducked for cover within the grass, however, as the loader double tapped the operator's head, and the weapon was now trained on them.

Suddenly, several smaller reports sounded and Theo saw both operator and loader crumple behind their weapon. Quickly checking his minimap, Theo could see that Lamping and Tippett had managed to enter the trench system and clear out the trench node from the safety of the narrow walkway.

"Clear up!" Theo heard Lamping shout through the intercom.

"Cleared out!"

"Confirm, cleared out!"

Both Soanso and Keesling responded, signifying that the coast was clear. The two rushed forwards at break neck speed across the grassy plain, making their way to Lamping within the sandbagged enclosure. In the distance, Theo could see that Keesling and Armand were in the process of doing the same thing.

"Soanso, do an ammo check. We're going to have to wait for those two to get here befor-"

Lamping was interrupted by several shouts and cries coming from the field outside the bag wall. Peering up, the group of four saw several traitor light infantry rush and tumble into a trench connected to their node.

"They are counterattacking! Soanso, forget the check, give me covering fire!" Lamping roared as he let loose with his [url="http://i710.photobucket.com/albums/ww106/mofailla/NMIPiercerPDW.jpg"]'Piercer PDW'[/url] and its .400 corbon automatic rounds. The intruders paid no heed to the rounds as they impacted the dirt and plank walls of the trench as they slowly advanced from dug out to dug out towards them. These men wore similar battledress to them, and wielded the same weapons. Theo would soon find out that his opponents also wielded the same tactics and brutality that he was trained with.

Lamping let out another burst of fire before ducking back to reload. Soanso quickly shouted 'Covering fire!' and did so, the loud firing of his weapon on automatic echoed in the wet, muddy trench as the rain continued to pour. Taking cover behind a large metallic crate, Theo quickly sprung into action, shouldering his RPG and disengaging his [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=59602&view=findpost&p=1642021"]battle rifle[/url]'s safety. Turning over to fire his own rounds into the still oncoming trench, Theo had barely enough time to register Lamping's 'behind you!' before a heavy blow came down upon his head.

Dazed, Theo felt himself being spun around only to find himself face to face with a fearsome helmet not quite unlike his own. Iconographic [url="http://roadmonster.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/HARHAWK-BEST-EVER.jpg"]shark's teeth[/url] were stenciled on this new foe's facial armour, prompting Theo to complement the striking effect the design had before being knocked in the face with another heavy blow. As he fell, and his world began to fade to black he saw several other similarly iconographed men leap over the sandbag wall, with weapons pointed. Splayed on the bottom of the trench node, Theo held his breath as his assailant trained his weapon at his face...

Edited by Executive Minister
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  • 4 weeks later...

Daniela had come to find herself at home within the rather peculiar 'cafe-society' the Order beneath Temple Secundus privileged its members with. Time enough had passed, and soon her lot found themselves finally accepted within the Order. Their gray tunics were immediately discarded, their living quarters relocated to a more prestigious niche higher-up within the catacombs that lined the vast emptiness of the Great Atrium. This welcomed change amongst the former Aspirants was symbolic- they were accepted amongst the other Students and this resulted in an immediate abandonment of their former civilian lives, which were thrown away and forgotten almost as much as their tunics were. They had moved up the totem pole, so to speak. No longer were they outsiders, feeling vulnerable and apart from the others. Indeed, Daniela recounted with a smile, she had come to enjoy tormenting the newest lot of Aspirants as they made their way across the same walkway that Daniela had crossed some time ago- even without the prodding from her instructors and the unwritten social strata that was common knowledge amongst all who were a part of it.

She would be getting her team assignments today- rumblings of the news had spread amongst the school's faculty- she had opted out of the 'solo gig' as others put it, not out of some sense of dependency, but from a deeply seated desire for at least 'some' social contact. Daniela resented such feelings, she had little time for friendship even in her early days- being a daughter of 'Il Duce' left her social life empty and overtly rehearsed, even as a toddler.

Sitting in a corner seat at an assigned table, Daniela fingered a lock of hair as she slowly stirred a small China cup of tea. The 'Socialization' compartment was a chic café, moodily lighted and discreet in both its trappings and clientele. Looking up to observe her surroundings, she paused, her eyes settling upon a rather familiar looking frame with a loping gait. As realization set in, she found herself stifling a sudden compulsion to roll her eyes. He was smiling in her direction and as he started to walk towards her table from across the room, she ignored him, instead listening to the din of nearby tables and watching the servers saunter gracefully from table to table, taking orders and delivering their wares. She had placed her cup to her lips when she saw the dreaded figure stop behind a chair across from her at the table.

"Well, fancy that huh, guess Fate would have us working together for the meantime," the man said as he took his seat without stopping to ask for permission.

The compulsion to eye roll came again, only this time, Daniela didn't fight it. Not expecting to see 'Lancelot' again, she mustered an [b]"Oh brother"[/b] before setting her cup down.

"In any case, I guess you could call this a mixed blessing," the man said without missing a beat, "I think I'm better off with you," he finished with a wink.
"Compared to what?"[/b] Daniela rolled her eyes again. At this rate, she wouldn't be surprised if her eyes rolled out of her head and on to the floor.

"You know, Pretty Lady," he continued in an infuriatingly friendly attempt at chiding Daniela, "I could have just let you fall down the stairs..."

Daniela sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. It was true, this guy was very well her saviour it seemed. She owed him her trust, at least for the meantime, and no matter how obnoxious she found him to be, they were partners, team mates... for better or for worse.

"The name's Rick, Rick Maver," he said, extending his hand as if to grasp hers as it lay on the table. Not missing this rather intrusive attempt at chivalry, she promptly raised it and shook his hand, nothing more or less. A flicker of thorough disappointment flashed across Rick's face before it was quickly stifled. Taking a moment to shuffle his seat closer to the table, Rick combed his fingers through his hair before looking back and catching the attention of a nearby waiter. After a quick order, the man left and Rick returned his gaze upon Daniela.

"So," he began. Daniela noticed his gaze was slowly drifting away from her face and lowering itsel- Daniela promptly zipped the front of her black tunic up until the head reached her neck. Noticing this, Rick quickly shifted his weight, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

[b]"Nice save,"[/b] she scoffed. Paying no attention, Rick continued.

"I don't suppose you've gotten any word on who else is joining our merry band, huh..."

Saviour or not, Daniela found herself disliking her assignment more and more. The air was awkward as Daniela began to realize how uncouth Rick actually was. Letting a small chuckle escape the brim of her cup, again at her lips, she offered a cold [b]"I guess, familiarity breeds contempt, huh?"[/b]

Taken aback, Rick sputtered, "Err...No... no," the hair combing, "I just uh... I'm just curious to see who else we'll be working with..."

Daniela cocked her head and smiled, saying nothing, as if bored with the conversation. Before either of them could continue, Daniela saw Rick's eyes widen, staring at a sight behind Daniela. Raising an eyebrow, she slowly turned her head back, leaning against the back of her chair. She favoured her still healing leg as she turned to sit sideways.

Entering the parlor, two lithe figures stood and scanned the now busy establishment before consulting a scrap of paper one held for the other. They were quite beautiful, Daniela surmised. Both wore their tunics in the most alluring fashion possible, showing just enough and making sure the rest was covered by their form fitting attire. There was nothing blatant about the pair at all, except that they were related by blood, it seemed. Even with their heeled boots, she could tell that one was taller than the other.

[b]"Definitely not twins,"[/b] she whispered to herself. Unbeknownst to her, Rick had leaned over the table. Soon came his hushed voice,

"Allow me to introduce to you the Serocco sisters," he said with much reverence, "two of the NoN's finest honeytraps."

Daniela turned about and scoffed, [b]"You mean backstabbing sluts for hire, I take it? Big deal."

[/b]Rick raised his chin in indignation before answering, "Sure, go ahead Ms. Holier than thou, but honeytraps are death sentences to guys like me. I mean, these ladies feed off of our inner most desires... they can take away your will...", he shook his head, "its almost unfair!"[b]
Daniela shook her head dismissively before looking back, the two had begun to make their way towards their table, ignoring the eyes of gawkers and as they wound their way across the cafe and its various occupants. Wherever they walked, they abruptly interrupted conversations, made others stop mid sip, and turned heads. Daniela squinted to get a better look at them. It was clear that they were headed towards them now. The woman in the lead had her hair down, her voluminous black locks seemed almost familiar...

[b]"$%&@!"[/b] Daniela grunted in recognition before turning back to a still ogling Rick, [b]"I think I beat up the smaller one."[/b]

Rick shrugged, and Daniela once again pinched the bridge of her nose, fuming, as she felt the pair of women standing behind her. She looked up to see Rick gazing intently at what she assumed were the ladies' breasts, only to watch as he scooched his chair over to allow the sisters to sit beside each other, to Daniela's right. Tonguing her cheek in anticipation of things to come, she turned to look at the new arrivals. Rick's drink came as soon as the couple sat, as if the waiter had suddenly found the table enticing. As her eyes met the gaze of what she assumed was the older Serocco sister, she could see a flicker of her own hate in the beautiful visage before her. Unsure on whether or not to be civil or hostile, Daniela merely settled to giving a nod of acknowledgement to the older Serocco, and a lingering gaze to the younger. Noticing the woman was still visibly 'damaged' from their duel, Daniela decided to make nice and apologize,

[b]"I hope your recovery is well,"[/b] she began, [b]"I'm sorry I had to do that, but it was a matter of life and death... I'm sure you'll understand."[/b]

This apology apparently didn't go over too well with the younger Serocco sister, Daniela heard a sharp 'hmph!' and saw a flash of fire in brown eyes remarkably similar to her own. Nose upturned, she promptly snubbed Daniela's attempt and turned away. The elder sister had said nothing, and smiled before speaking in silky Italian,

[i]"They say your father was Matteo De Falco, ''Il Duce of Italica'... That you were raised in Littoria, and that you stood in the shadow of the Great Council of Fascism?"[/i]

Daniela sheepishly nodded, she had tried to keep her past in the past, but apparently to no avail. Sensing that this was a talking point the three of them could use to develop a working relationship, Daniela spoke back in Italian, to the annoyance of Rick. He could do nothing to understand them, yet his gaze fluttered back and forth as the women conversed.

[i][b]"Yes, yes I was... I suppose you were sent West during the invasion too?"[/b][/i] she referred to the nightmarish destruction of Italica, [b][i]"the name's Daniela, by the way."[/i][/b]

[i]"Oh no, my dear Daniela De Falco,"[/i] the woman replied, [i]"I am Adriana Serocco of the Repubblica Italiana, and although you have beaten my sister, Lia, it would be best never to forget what you did to her that day, because, as I'm sure you are aware, Italians never forget a wrong committed against them."[/i]

It seemed Daniela was too quick to let her guard down. It seemed that there would be no compromise or amicable relations. Adriana was livid, her features rigid and icy. Without skipping a beat, Daniela went on the offensive, in English this time.

[b]"Well then, I see that like your precious Italiana, you continue to be where you aren't welcome," [/b]Daniela jabbed at Adriana's nationality, the past history of Italican-Repubblican relations and the near state of war the two faced due to conflicting land declarations. This apparently sudden hostility surprised Rick, who was under the impression that the two were in the process of using Nationality as a springboard for friendship.

"Hey, hey... cool it Daniela!"

"Are you jealous," Adriana retorted, ignoring Rick's pleas, "Jealous that your pathetic excuse for an Italian East Africa failed miserably, for all its talk was worth nothing against the !@#$%^& invaders? In any case, I don't think it is for you to decide where we should or should not be."

The beautiful woman was vehement, but Daniela obliged with, [b]"Oh, you can stay, don't get me wrong. I am merely informing you that you [u]will[/u] suffer the consequences if you keep this up... "[/b] her eyes moved towards Lia.

"You forget, De Falco, I am not without my own pointy ends, as well. Do not make promises you cannot keep..." Adriana gave a threat of her own through clenched teeth.

With a glance towards Rick, Daniela cracked her knuckles, twirling her fingers beneath her leather elbow-length gloves. She spoke to her cup of tea with a simple, but quiet, [b]"I always keep my promises."[/b]

"Talk is cheap, especially from an Italican."

The two were at each other's throats it seemed. Both were headstrong, and the Serocco sisters had a chilling air of haughtiness and cruelty about them.

"Splendid, it seems the band of merry men needs but one more joyful character to finish the set," Rick rolled his eyes at the last empty chair at the table.

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[i]"Talk is cheap, especially from an Italican"[/i]

This was the final straw. With with an audible intake and exhale of breath, Daniela placed both gloved hands on the table. She was about to push herself up before she saw Lia lean back in her chair, frowning at another unseen sight behind Daniela. This sight was not lost on Rick or Adriana either, both looked unawares of Daniela's oncoming wrath as they stared at something over her shoulder. Slightly annoyed at the rather interrupted mood of the moment, Daniela stopped, turning her head to see what was so important.

She turned her head just in time to see a quick flurry of movement a few tables away, followed by a loud crash and clatter of dining implements tossed to and fro. The crash broke the calm, relaxed atmosphere of the Socialization compartment. Daniela watched as a large, black clothed figure hulked over a smaller frame on a table. Its occupants had thrust themselves away from the table and their meal it seemed, and all in the cafe turned to look at the pair.

"Holy !@#$!" Rick cried out as he saw the remnants of a full course meal splattered and crushed beneath the rigid man and his oppressor.

The burly man seemed unfinished with his business it seemed, and with an almost effortless movement lifted his victim from the table to his face. The smaller man stared coolly at his assailant as his face was brought almost directly in front of his. The man ignored his now ruined tunic, its collar crumpled and twisted in massive fists. Daniela watched the man's feet dangle a good foot or two from the ground before muttering most ironically to herself,

[b]"Idiots.... I thought this kind of stuff was banned outside of the Dueling Compartments."[/b]

Suddenly, she heard the hiss of an alarmed and uncharacteristically frantic whisper from Rick,

"Just... just stop, okay! I don't think even [i]you'd[/i] wanna mess with Sherruk. That guy is bad news, okay? Bad news man."

Daniela raised an eyebrow as she watched the man she assumed was Sherruk promptly lower his victim's feet back onto the floor, before speaking in with surprisingly articulate and cheerful,

"Hmph! You are worthy, and I commend your stoicity even in the face of certain harm. Here is payment for your garments, and may your kills be quick, and many!" he finished with the clink of a handful of Undercity-Secured Dollars in the palm of the unflinching man and a firm clap on his back sending him on his way. The man said nothing as he walked away, quietly pocketing the money.

Daniela turned back to Rick as Sherruk started over to compensate the disturbed table.

[b]"What the hell just happened?"[/b]

Rick shook his head as he began, still in a whisper. Even the Serocco sisters seemed interested in Sherruk's story as they shifted their chairs closer and leaned over the table, to Rick's almost amorous delight.

"They say Sherruk is an Elite Cadre that's been kicked, stabbed and knocked over the head too many times... I mean, just look at him, sounding like something out of King Arthur or something. He was too brutal even for them, and word is Master Iago personally had him taken out of the stockades and shipped here."

Impressed, Adriana spoke up, "Sherruk sounds like a... [i]fine[/i] specimen, don't you think Lia?" with a lock of hair firmly wrapped around her finger. Lia seemed a mite uncomfortable, leaving her sister's question a rhetorical one, watching as Rick seemed to visibly wilt at the sound of Adriana's purring voice.

Annoyed, Daniela shot a quick,

[b]"Jesus, don't you guys give it a rest?"[/b]

Shooting a glance at Rick, Adriana laughed, flicking her hair almost playfully before resting her eyes upon Daniela. In a rather haughty voice, she began,

"Prudery? No? Perhaps, what do the English call it... [i]'sour grapes'[/i]? Dear girl, I prefer to be looked at lustfully, if at all. I care not for your disdain."

[b]"Whatever,"[/b] Daniela muttered before she saw that Rick wanted to continue.

"He finished off his entire unit, twenty-seven guys just as brutal and vicious as he is. He gunned them down, stabbed them, killed them... he didn't stop until he was the last, blood-soaked guy alive. They said it was some kind of berserker rage or something... I dunno what set him off. All I DO know," he said pushing himself away from the table top, sitting upright, "is that it looks like he's on his way here."

Edited by Executive Minister
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  • 1 month later...

[i]"Hello Sherruk,"[/i]

Adriana's voice coyly greeted the lumbering giant as he stood, apparently right over Daniela's right shoulder. There was no fear or apprehension in her throaty, almost whispering tone. To everyone's amazement, the woman seemed to be allured by Sherruk's presence, if not merely playing the game that all Nodic Honeytraps employ.

Leaning to the left, Daniela turned her head back as Sherruk's hulking torso framed itself in her vision. She smelled a strong odour, something akin to motor oil or [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulfur"]burning matches[/url]. The man looked at the still smiling Adriana- his gaze not unlike a wolf's, leering at its prey intently - Daniela swore she could see a glint of yellow in his eyes. Suddenly, in a rather archaic form of courtesy, Sherruk swiftly took her hand, briefly brought it to his lips before setting it down and saying,

"They say that those who seek beauty find it, yet here you are, a rose amongst thorns!"

His tone was jovial, and yet he appended his greeting with a noticeable drop in tone,

"...And who might you be?"

It was incredible. The man looked a brute, yet spoke and acted like a gentleman. However, setting aside his rather archaic mannerisms, there was a trace of something underneath the surface of his inquiry... a barely imperceptible warning that further reinforced Daniela's notion that Sherruk was a wolfish man, now seeming like a predatory animal at rest.
"Adriana Serocco, my dear. I must ask, will you be joining our table?"[/i]

"Ahh, Lady Serocco," Sherruk began, in a playfully mocking inquisitory tone as he took a chair to Daniela's left, placing himself between her and a rather uncharacteristically silent Rick, "while I do admit that such a brutish name becomes a noble title when placed upon the lips of such an elegant flower, I am puzzled as to how you know it."

Gesticulating slightly, Adriana responded with a smiling,
"Your reputation precedes you, Sherruk!"[/i]

Lia and Rick both shot daggers at the rather tactless Adriana. Paying no attention to their vehement stares, she began stirring her tea absentmindedly- her eyes locked on Sherruk's.

"Oh, I hope not..." Sherruk said ominously behind a wolfish grin and a cursory glance around the table. Rick wilted under what he believed was an accusatory stare. Noticing this, Daniela quickly reacted, shifting the focus from him to her. Kicking herself for realizing that she'd probably regret it, she began,

[b]"... so... Sherruk, right? What did 'Buddy' over there do?"[/b]

She was referring to Sherruk's previous confrontation across the Socialization Compartment. Helping himself to several portions of an antipasto platter placed in the center of the table by a quickly fleeing server, he took no offense at this intrusion.... but Adriana did,

[i]"Why do you ask him such questions? Not once has he probed you for pointless information, has he not?"[/i]

Daniela once against clenched her fists- it was one thing to allow disrespect to permeate once. It was an entire thing altogether to allow it to happen again- before noticing that Sherruk's gaze had fallen upon her with much enthusiasm. Nodding his head in a motion of deep respect as he chewed on an artichoke heart, he shook his finger in her direction before swallowing and speaking,

"You... you are the one that was disarmed, yet triumphed over her attacker? If so, I am honoured to be given the chance to work alongside one of your caliber! 'Tis fortunate that fate has decided to bring us together like so... in time, you will find that we have much in common!"

Daniela was unsure as to take that last bit as an insult or a compliment- yet the look she saw on both Lia and Adriana's faces caused her to grin. She beamed as Sherruk continued,

"I extend my hand to you as an equal, may fate and fortune both shower their blessings upon our endeavors now and always."

Baffled, Daniela took Sherruk's massive hand and tried her best to seem firm in her clasp- his gauntleted fist seemed to envelope hers entirely. She responded with a meek,
"Daniela DeFalco..."[/b]

Still caught up in his admiration of Daniela's previous duel with Lia, Sherruk continued to laud her. It was quite a sight, seeing such a bear of a man serenade the comparatively small woman with compliments such as having an 'excellent form', 'accented by a commendable lack of restraint' and 'unerring understanding of what is and is not permitted in battle'.

Despite all these, one had struck Daniela quite severely, and of course, unintentionally on Sherruk's behalf-

"Make no hesitation- had you been born a man, which is of course no consequence or fault to of your own, please do not misinterpret my praise," he had said while tearing into a hunk of cured meat, his eyes wide with enthusiasm, not paying any heed to anyone else,

"If you were [i]a man[/i], you would have found much acclaim within the Nodic Militancy."

Edited by Executive Minister
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Daniela was seventeen when 'Il Duce' finally departed the mortal plane of existence. She remembered the scene vividly, Sherruk's boisterous voice soon fading into the ether.

She was in the midst of a lethal sparring session with a released political prisoner. His eyes were wide, frantic as he charged the young girl- the results of a cocktail of aggression instigating chemicals -the former drug addict and vagrant, wielded little more than a lead pipe. Life was hard in the Anterior Academy, essentially a purgatory where prospective students of the Order were first trained in combat and assigned a mentor. The mentor, an assassin and full-fledged member of the Order himself, would act as an instructor, ensuring everything the student needed to become sanctioned was taught. He would also be charged with determining whether or not the prospective student, whose status was even lower than that of the Aspirant, would be permitted to progress and join the ranks of other similarly versed Aspirants in the Great Atrium below. Competition was fierce, and many prospective Aspirants were driven past their physical, emotional and mental limits in a bid to outdo wouldbe rivals. Deaths were frequent, with some mentees being treated as little more than game dogs by their mentors, who often times pitted their charges against each other.

To be admitted into the Anterior Academy, one had to impress an instructor or otherwise be brought (often by force or subterfuge) to the complex by one of many 'recruiting agents' that prowled the Nodic holdings. Many students were the results of children being sold to pay debts, others were personnally delivered to the Academy by parents who were graduates, while others were simply orphans, street children, or truants. Purgatory was far, far worse than the Order that some would eventually progress into- many students held no qualms against killing other students to further facilitate their departure from it, as there was only a limited number of graduates that were permitted to leave each year. Backstabbing did not permeate only amongst the students- even the Academy's headmaster was not immune to it. The institutional hierarchy was constantly shuffled- it was nearly impossible for outside parties to have an up-to-date outline of who was what within the Academy. Such dealings were not frowned upon, as the mantra [i]"should a warrior kill his leader, he shall take his place, his position known and respected by all"[/i] previously permeated itself amongst the entirety of the Executive Ministry, only being denounced by the Executive Minister himself after a number of attempted assassinations upon his person and the cost prohibitive nature of continually procuring competent leaders. It was allowed to remain here, both as a living testament to Nodic History, as well as a mechanism to ensure only the strongest, smartest, most proficient sanctioned killers left the Academy alive.

As Daniela zeroed in on her attackers movements, carefully watching and following each step and lunging strike, she watched as the man suddenly stumbled and fell, lying in a pool of his own blood. She did not even register the low [b][i]'THUD' 'THUD'[/i][/b] of the suppressed sidearm of the Nodic Officer, a man who's uniform and demeanor immediately struck the young girl as odd and out of place amongst the usual lot that populated the Academy. He was far too composed, a proud yet unobtrusive haughtiness that announced his authoritative position to all.

Turning around to face the man, Daniela looked at the him with an air of annoyance- scheduling a lethal sparring session within the constantly booked Dueling Compartment was a difficult task, and yet here she was, only to be interrupted, her partner now lifeless.

[b]"What do you want?"[/b] she said in an even tone.

The man looked down at her as he holstered his [url="http://i710.photobucket.com/albums/ww106/mofailla/20090831medusa.jpg?t=1287066100"]'Medusa'[/url] revolver pistol.

[i]*Freaks, the lot of them... just look at her, standing there... didn't even flinch!*[/i][i]

[/i]he thought to himself as he peered down at a slip of paper. He cleared his throat before he began in an official business tone,

"Are you Daniela De Falco, daughter of Matteo 'Il Duce' De Falco who is currently residing in the Anterior Academy within Temple Secudus, Addis Ababa?"

Daniela cocked her head inquistively. No one was supposed to know about her family's life of exile within the NoN. Her father and an attendant had told her that the only way her family could remain protected from Novakian and Rebel Army assassins would be if she herself became one, as a sort of tax upon the Italicans that had fled to Nod during the invasion. Being the brash, idealistic teenager that she was, she had accepted this arrangement. 'Why not?' she had mused. She saw how other Italicans had similarily submitted their sons or daughters to the Nodic Militancy and Airforce, adequately trained women became members of the Monastic Order of Medicine- the [i]Ladies in White, [/i]how many able bodied refugees were quickly integrated into Nodic society, their Italican values, ideals and customs easily meshing with Nodic ones. Everyone was sacrificing something, she had mused and she actually felt duty bound to do her part. Looking back, she realized how much of a fool she was in those early years.

[b]"Yes... I am. What do you want?"

[/b]She repeated her question. The Officer nodded authoratively as he replaced the slip of paper in a breast pocket of his ornate black tunic, once again clearing his throat before speaking.

"Madame De Falco, you are to immediately come with me. Your father has personally requested an audience with you and your blood sister, Christina. By the indisputable authority of the Executive Ministry, I am hereby ordered to escort you to him. We are to leave immediately."

The pair left the insulated Dueling Compartment and entered a long hallway, which acted as a stem to the many leaves attached to it, the individual private and screenable dueling rooms. They passed many active rooms, their occupants engaged in bloody melees, as well as a number of casual observers, gazing at the duels with apathetic stares behind polarized glass. Many students found themselves stalking this hallway, looking for rivals to study their techniques. The Officer said nothing of the barbarity witnessed in this part of the Academy- the Nodic Militancy had similar protocols with regards to 'Live Training Aids'.

Leaning against the door frame of the entry way into the Compartments, Daniela saw her Mentor, [url="http://forums.cybernations.net/index.php?showtopic=79872&view=findpost&p=2171282"]Leon[/url]. The Italican expatriate said nothing as the Officer approached to pass, simply giving the pair a quiet stare behind rounded sunglasses. As Daniela passed, all she heard was a quiet

[i]"Take care, Daniela"

[/i]in his distinctive Italian accent.

Daniela said nothing during the ascent to the ground level of Temple Secundus. She looked down at her heeled boots as the elevator began its several dozen story journey upwards. Several times during this trip, she peered up at her companion. He said nothing to the girl, instead taking the time to reload his service weapon. With a flick of the revolving chamber, he quietly holstered the pistol, placing the silencer in a back pocket as the doors to the lift opened.

Nodic architecture was always so striking to Daniela. From the twisting spires, imposing arches and ever present red stain-glassed windows, the main forum of Temple Secundus was something akin to an airport terminal in both its size and apparent usage. Everywhere she looked, men and women garbed in plain black tunics walked to and fro carrying attache cases, others attended to service or other terminals scattered about the wide atrium, while more still simply looked at the government sanctioned Propaganda News and Entertainment show, 'Today's Execution', which was displayed on LED screens on walls or suspended above, their comparatively large frames the by products of Nodic EMP-proofing measures.

Setting aside Temple Secundus' aesthetic role as a testament to Nodic superiority in East Africa, the structure was a fundamental part of the Administrative, Cultural, Military and even Spiritual aspects the Nation of Nod. It housed the various Ministries formed under the all encompassing Executive Ministry. The Executive Minister himself situated his private lodgings somewhere deep within the sanctuary's premises. The surfrace structure was all that most Nodic citizens were privy to seeing - it was impossible for anyone to know of all the happenings deep within its offices, compartments and hallways, let alone the deep subterrainean infrastructure beneath it. Daniela would soon be familiar with the Great Atrium, deep beneath the Temple, which served as a sanctuary to her ilk. All four branches of the Nodic Armed Forces, the Militancy, Air Force, Navy and Strategic Command held their headquarters within protected holds the underground super structure cradled. It was even rumored that a number of nuclear ICBMs were hidden, protected from even nuclear attack- a secret launch facility operating within the confines of the structure they were in!

They passed numerous security check points on the way to the exits. Metal detectors, guard dogs, milimeter wave weapon detectors... all were measures taken by the Executive Ministry to ensure that no sensitive information was leaked from behind the ominous walls of the Temple, or so that no foreign or domestic intruders could enter with the capacity to inflict harm. All these provisions were manned by Nodic Security Force officers- all clad in the iconographic TACARM BCS and CAS armor that reinforced the common knowledge of their wearer's lack of compunction for using force to settle any and all disputes.

After finally suffering the last of several of these security measures, Daniela found herself outside, the beat of real sunshine radiating on her skin. This was the first time in a long while that she had stepped outside of these walls, and she had to beat back the instinctive drive that told her she was on an 'assignment'. She patted her pocket for a non-existent Honourary Writ of Execution, a personalized document that made a member of her Order's job a little bit 'safer'. Despite its brutality, the Nodic homeland considered murder a capital punishment. If apprehended during or after a contracted killing, the Writ would be presented- a formal document outlining the bearer's stature as an Executive Ministry-sanctioned killer, who had express written authority to carry out the killing in question. The Writ would be surrendered in exchange for the bearer's immediate release, on pain of death.

The Officer motioned to a nondescript sedan parked infront of the Temple. Daniela could see that traffic was beginning to pick up. He motioned to the rear right door of the automobile- from what Daniela could tell, the passenger seat was empty as her companion situated himself behind the wheel. Entering the modestly sized sedan, Daniela came face-to-face with the car's occupants. Suddenly elated, she cried

[b]"Uncle Marco!"[/b][b]

[/b]Daniela warmly hugged Marco Graziani, the former Italican Commander of the Fascist Militia. The man, whom Daniela always remembered to be so strong and full of life seemed frail. He was considered a brother by Daniela's father and a life long friend of the De Falco family. He was seated near a silent NSF officer, whose rather morosely outfitted armor clashing with the warm and heartfelt reunion. The two began to converse, uncle and niece, eagerly chatting and reconnecting old, previously dormant ties. In her elation, she had forgotten to ask why she was summoned. The two ignored their surroundings as the car took a purposefully circuitous route from the Temple to the Italian Quarter of Addis Ababa, the de facto first home of all Italican and Italianian refugees situated near downtown Addis Ababa.

It was at a red light, during a pause in the conversation that Uncle Marco turned to stare past the NSF officer out of the window. He sighed lightly before turning to look at the back of the driver's seat, and started in a rather weary tone,

"Ragazzina...I..." he said before his voice tapered off.

Daniela knew something was wrong. As they entered the Italian Quarter, she could see that all Nodic, Italian, Italican and Italianian flags were being flown at half mast. They had also passed the left turn the car would have taken had their destination been the De Falco enclave situated at the heart of the Italian Nodic holdings. Suddenly concerned, she whipped her head back to the occupants of the car,

[b]"What is it? What's wrong?" [/b][b]

[/b]Graziani took a deep, shuddering breath before shaking his head. The tone of alarm in Daniela's voice was distressing, it seemed, as he clasped his hand over his mouth in anguish before grabbing and holding his chin. He was looking straight ahead, his eyes wide. She could tell he was trying not to cry- already she could see the moisture on his eyes and he blinked furiously. The NSF seated at the window beside him turned his head slightly, giving what appeared to be a reaffirming nod to her Uncle, before sitting forwards, straining to peer over the driver's seat. The Officer muttered over his shoulder to the guard, over the sound of creaking leather.

"Your father... he's dieing, Ragazzina."

The news hit Daniela like a sledge hammer. She turned away from her Uncle as he twisted his head to face her, slumping in her seat. Her mind began to race feverishly. Despite the estranged relationship she had with her household due to her 'enrollment' at the academy, genetics compelled her to have a strong connection to family. Her mother had died when she was very young, and her relationship with her sister, Christina, was practically non-existent. As soon as the two hit puberty, both had come to be strong, self-willed individuals- yet their ideologies clashed at every angle, straining their sisterhood until it practially ceased to exist. Her father was the last strand of family that remained, and it seemed that even that would be cut as well.

[b]"Why?! What happened!"[/b]

The dam had burst. Already, Daniela could feel the beginnings of what could only become hot, stinging tears. Crying was one of the first habits that the Anterior Academy had striven to breed out of its students. Tears were counter productive if used for anything other than hydrating and cleaning the eyes, they had taught. Daniela could be composed at will, such was the nature of her occupation, yet now she struggled to control the urge to sob, her chest heaving and convulsing in an effort to restrain itself. Years of training and conditioning were soon out the window.

Graziani did nothing to restrain himself, any chance of breaking the news softly to his niece was lost. His voice rising in tone, becoming somewhat shrill from grief, he answered,

"We don't know! No one knows! He suddenly fell ill, an attendant found him struggling to breathe... they've got him on a ventilator now," the Italian gesticulated wildly.

The Sedan pulled up to the local Hospital, a large and lavishly decorated downtown hospice. It took Daniela every ounce of will she could muster to stop herself from dashing out of the car and up the steps. She wiped her eyes before taking the arm her Uncle extended to her. The guards quietly followed, feeling out of place in such a personal affair. The Officer stood at Graziani's side, his hand in his pocket, while the helmeted man had placed his fingers on his helmet, where his temple would have been, seemingly engrossed in a conversation with an unseen individual over comlink.

Graziani sniffed, softly placing his other hand on Daniela's left shoulder,

"Please, be kind... Christina is flying a... sortie... and cannot be here... she wanted you to send your father her best,"

Daniela felt her blood begin to boil, despite the rather comical 'Quote-quote' motion Graziani made every time he attempted to speak a 'foreign' sounding word. She knew damn well that her sister had most likely not made such a request. She felt hate begin to rise in her heart as her mind began to race, her temples throbbing. During the early years of their exile, their father began to think he'd attracted the antipathy of both his daughters for his actions during the years of his regime and the costly war. Daniela was ever careful never to criticize her father, unlike Christina, who accused him of leading the family to ruin, accepting the offer of exile to Nod.

Daniela had heard the fevered arguments, and remembered with shame how some of her sister's words clicked into her mind as well. They were strange, alien, Christina lamented. When their father had delivered news of their arrangement- that Daniela would be 'enrolled' into the Anterior Academy, Christina sent into the Air Force, it had been the final straw. She accepted, yet Christina felt as if their father had sold them off to live a constant life of war and strife. Afterwards, and for this reason, Christina always preferred to avoid their father- essentially cutting herself off from the family. Daniela took every chance to condemn Christina for her selfishness.

The group walked into the Italican run hospital, a lavishly outfitted center that catered to those in the Italian Quarter. The Officer seemed disappointed that there were no other Nodic personnel within the hospital- the Italicans had insisted on procuring their own security. He instead resigned himself to giving quick head shakes to any young man foolish enough to look in Daniela's direction- a silent warning to who and what their object of desire actually was. Daniela briefly mused that the whole affair looked like it belonged to an old Mafia Don. Everywhere she looked, she saw young italian men in suits, ties and dress shoes, nervously grasping at something in their front pockets, favouring one shoulder over the other, or intently crossing one ankle over the other.

Uncle Marco motioned to a room at the end of the wing. There were a lot more members of the Italican security detail here, and Daniela could make out a throng of well wishers standing around outside. As the pair approached, he motioned to Daniela that he would be waiting for her outside. As she made her way to the door, one of the suited men recognized her, stepping over to the side of the door. With a flourish, he knocked.

The door soon opened, and several members of the Italican Great Council of Fascism began exiting her father's chambers. Her heart raced as she heard the sound of her father's distinctive voice over the sound of the Councilors still milling out.

Daniela felt her heart break as she entered the room. Her father was laying in bed, an oxygen tube connected to his nose, an IV slowly dripping in the corner. She felt the door close behind her from the outside, and heard a loud [b]"SHUSH!"-[/b] soon the din of those outside tapered off and died.

Daniela crossed the room in a few strides, yet it felt as if the distance between her and her father's bed increase with each step. After 'finally' reaching De Falco Senior's side, she smiled as her father raised a slightly convulsing arm out to caress her face.

[b]<< Look at that old map, Daniela. That's the world I've created, Italica ... the East Africa as I dreamed>>

[/b]He motioned to a rather old map of East Africa, an iteration that still had Italica, their home, placed on the Horn of Africa.
<<For years I ruled the Italian People, again reunited in the land of our old empire ... I gave it order, peace, stability ... I gave it a reason to exist. But everything fell apart ...our great ideal has again failed in its historic mission ... I failed >>[/b]

Daniela quickly interjected, [b]"Don't... You did what you thought was best! Don't do this to yourself!"[/b] She wanted desperately to console her father, it was horrifying to see the once proud and adamant man being reduced to what lay before her. She tried stopping him from continuing, but he simply gesticulated, and began speaking again, as if to himself,

[b]<< Mtime has come, my daughter. When an old man feels the end is approach, he asks if he has lived a worthy life. How will I be remembered after my death? Will I be remembered as the Warrior? The Philosopher? The Tyrant? ...Tyrant, they always told me. But what tyrant had the consent of his people, had their love? Yes, I was a tyrant ... when my words could be life or death for anyone...when I ordered the arrests, the executions of the enemies of the State… >>[/b]

[b]"They were our [i]enemies[/i] ... enemies of Fascism, enemies of [i]our[/i] People! You did what you had to do, what anyone would do in your place! What I [i]would've[/i] done!"

[/b]Daniela's words were ironically Nodic. She did not know that she had such feelings as she vehemently protested against her father's self-degradation. She said each word to comfort her Father, to steer him away from these self-destructive musings, but it was as if she was merely trying to convince herself of what she said. She would later look upon this conversation questioningly, never finding the source of her words.

[b]<< Daniela, Daniela ... maybe when you have as many years behind you as I do... sins to be submitted to God because your hands are soiled with blood, then you will understand the fear that dying men feel. I was young ... and when I took the necessary decisions for the survival of the Italian race, I never reflected on the morality of those choices. Dictatorship, Secret Police, imprisonment, executions, the Special Court, the total control of society ... they were necessary choices then, and possibly will be in the future... They were choices, but now I understand that were not and won't ever be morally right choices. >>
Her father was delirious. Daniela had finally come to the realization. That was the only way her father would have ever spoken like he did now. She tried, desperately for him to relax, calm down. She gently coaxed him into lying back down. He smiled as he slowly lowered his arms, placing them at his side. He spoke, almost in a whisper,

[b]<< Strange people, the Italian People. They despise what makes them free for the price of tranquillity and they loves what makes then comfortable for the price of freedom. Mussolini was right ... it is not impossible to govern Italians, it is useless >>[/b]

Daniela slowly shook her head. Finally, she was reduced to tears at the hopeless condition she saw her father in. Tiny droplets of water bespattered his blanket.

[b]<< What I am is just a dying man. So there will be a new Duce ... he will lead our people to a new fatherland...where, I hope, the Fascism will return to light, better than the old order. So… in accordance with the surviving members of the Grand Council…I appointed the MVSN General Renzo Marcus as my successor…>>
She was in disbelief. She now knew this was no final chance at making amends. This would not be the moment she had been ever hopeful of, the time that Il Duce would cease to exist, in his place her father. This was strictly business. Oh how tired she was of it.

[b]<< My life is over, my daughter. No more daggers, no more arms raised to the sky in the Roman salute... no more crowds shouting my name with one voice ... no more Black Shirts ready at my command ... I left my Country as Duce of a new Revolution... my final departure will be as simple man, old and tired…in silence and peace. This is my last chance to tell my daughters how much I love them... and ask them for forgiveness for all the harm I caused. You are my wealth ... more than all the glory and power of this world ... my enemies will not allow me to rest in the land of my father ... so is my desire to be buried here in the Land of Nod... In the nation that has become your nation, the nation you're serving so faithfully and I hope you'll continue to serve ... there will be changes, my generation will have difficulties accepting them... the future is your generation's hands, it is Yours. Just take it…and remember the last Mussolini's words, his moral testament to all our People: '…no true Italian, no true Fascist has to fear the future…because now it's darkness…but tomorrow will be the daylight' >>[/b]

He closed his eyes, a wide smile plastered on his lips. He struggled, licking them... as if trying to gather every last ounce of strength to finish his final monologue. As if sensing their leader's demise being close at hand, the Grand Council of Fascism began quietly shuffling back into the chamber, behind Daniela.

[b]<< I remember the day you were born ... Your mother and I, especially me, we were expecting a boy .... a child who had her beauty and my strength ... you can imagine our surprise when you saw the light of the world for the first time... Although I loved you with the power of the storm and the pride of the eagle, I spent many nights crying ...asking God why He refused me a male heir. Time, as always, brings wisdom ... and you grew so beautiful and so strong ... and day after day, I saw myself in your eyes ... and I cursed myself for having dared wished you were something else. Whatever I said, whatever I did…I want you to remember me as I am, and not as I was. Tell your sister, she was right about me…I miss her so much >>[/b]

'Il Duce' quickly fell asleep- a mixture of a light dosage of sedatives and exhaustion. It was not until several hours had past that, Matteo De Falco, Patriarch of the De Falco family passed away.

Edited by Executive Minister
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  • 1 month later...

After Benok became a father, time seemed to pass even faster.

It was quite an endearing sight, seeing the large man clad in Nodic armor tower over and coddle over little Emile in the Sidamo House's den. The young boy and his master spent much time amongst the warm, safe confines of the comfortably furnished and newly converted playroom. Benok's normally hard face was abnormally soft - old wounds served to amplify the wrinkles a relatively young man of his age would have in a big grin.

Dressed in a comical recreation of Benok's armor - a back rubber vest draped over his tiny form with an exaggeratedly large, yet painstakingly handcrafted helm of thin paper mache courtesy of Benok himself, the youngster toddled forwards, jabbed at the man ferociously with a rubber mock-up of a bayoneted rifle, and retreated with a squeal of glee.

On his knees and laughing himself, Benok waddled about, side-to-side, so that the blonde and fair-headed boy, still moving with a babe's ungainly gait, had no easy chance of a 'kill'. Furrowing his face with a mock tone of seriousness, he started,

"Be careful with your weapon, keep a close grip on it," he said, flexing his arms in demonstration.

"Remember to aim for the gaps in my armor, deny me my mobility."

Young Emile took a careful step back, letting the barrel of his weapon touch the Persian rug below. Placing a tiny hand on the large helmet, which rested most of its girth on his tiny shoulders. He cocked his head to the side before letting out an inquisitive, yet worried tone,

"But Beh-nock! I don't wanna make you die!"

Hiding a growing smile, Benok lowered his head and looked squarely at the helmeted boy, who had begun to avert his gaze around,

"Master Emile, if you are to live up to Master Theo, you must do as I showed you."

With great effort, the toddler sighed his shoulders rising and falling in an exaggerated movement, causing his helmet to bob up-and-down wildly. Nevertheless, he dutifully tried again, barely able to lift up the scaled down weapon. The soft tip of his bayonet crumpled again and again, against Benok's armpit, groin and the radial nerve on the inside of his elbow.

"Much better!" Benok roared, snatching Emile's weapon out of his clumsy grasp and quickly gathered the boy in his arms, before lifting him high overhead. The boys squeals grew louder and more frequent as Benok tickled his rib cage underneath his 'armor' vest.

"See! Look, gaps in armor!"

The two did not notice Valora as she quietly entered the room. She furrowed her face at the sight of the two armor clad men, and her gaze narrowed as it fell upon the discarded toy rifle.

"Again?" she said to Benok in a disapproving tone, "Qurban, what are you doing?"

Benok's smile faded at the tone of his Mistress' voice. Slowly, he placed the child down beside him and still, on his knees, nodded at the silent Lady-in-Waiting attending Valora before looking at her. She had lost the girth gained in pregnancy, and her stance caused Benok to bite his lip. Taking that as an opening for more, Valora pressed further.

"Don't raise him to enjoy that nonsense-" she began, ignoring the frantic and whining grunts of her son, who was irritated at the disruption of his fun. He tugged at an unresponsive Benok, who simply placed an arm around the youngster, infuriating the child further.

"-do you want him to end up like his Uncle?"

Uncharacteristically, Benok's eyes widened in alarm. He quickly glanced nervously at the woman beside Valora. It was Constance, a mute maid that Valora cared for deeply. Valora would often tell Constance her deepest, most confidential secrets... could she know too? He couldn't take the chance and motioned to the well paid Ethiopian native. The Attendant glanced at her Mistress, who simply gave a nod towards the door with a tiny and reassuring smile. Constance looked Benok up and down - was it disapproval? - before silently departing.

With a hardened expression, Benok turned to little Emile, who was still straining and tugging on his armored sleeve. Benok placed a finger upon his lips before muttering to the child,

"A Nodic warrior must always obey," before taking off the boy's helmet. Clasping both hands over the child's ears, he looked back at Valora, who seemed to be growing impatient. Little Emile said nothing, comically holding his breath with a big smile.

"His [i]father[/i], Valora," Benok said with emphasis, "do not allow your emotions to influence you. Emile the First is the child's father, [i]not I[/i]!"

Valora stared at her deceased Husband's protector - and best friend. With an even tone, she began.

"...My child favors you now. T'was not always so..." she said, ignoring his previous outburst.

With a quick intake and exhale of breath, Benok answered with an equally even tone, "Many things change, Milady."

Valora squinted, shifting her weight to her other foot and slowly crossed her arms. She leaned against the wall, a large, stone corbel cradling her head. In almost a whisper,

"Many things, yes... but not everything."

Benok lowered his chin to his chest, gazing at the top of Emile's crown of blonde hair. It was indeed peculiar to see the boy share most of his mother's racial features, yet owning none of Emile Senior's. He shook the slowly creeping thought out of his head, and glanced upwards. Valora seemed as a bird of prey, leaning in her perch, staring.

"I will take my leave, Milady," and he promptly rose to his feet, his hands still clasped over the boy's ears.

"Benok, stop," Valora said simply. He froze in his half sitting, half standing position behind the still smiling Emile. Valora pushed back against the wall, and slowly walked towards the pair. She circled Benok, who simply stood at attention, while Emile giggled.

"Let me see your face," Valora said, coming to a stop infront of Emile, placing a hand lightly on his head. The two adults' faces were merely inches or so away.

"You seem troubled," she said, cocking her head slightly. She patted Emile's head lightly as she stared into Benok's eyes as he picked a spot on the wall behind Valora's head and stared at it.

"I assure you, Milady, I am not," before taking a step back to leave, once more. Releasing his hands from Emile's head, he whispered,

"Emile, it is nearly time for your tutoring sessions."

With a disappointed expression, Emile crossed his arms, looking up at the looming figure ending his fun.

"Go now, a Head of a Household must know many things, most of which are not as amusing as this."

The little boy stood stubbornly for a moment, a frown placed firmly upon his fair face, before trudging along on short legs towards the door.

"Go outside, Constance is waiting for you, Master," before bopping him squarely on the bum, sending him laughing and cackling on his way out. Watching the doorway until he was sure Emil was gone, he turned away from Valora and began to pace.

"You're lying, Benok.... you were never any good at it," she said with a light hearted laugh, as she walked after Benok. The man turned to face her yet again, and she smiled.

"I could always tell when you were lying," she continued, stepping close, her face haughty and upturned in jest, "because you were never any good at it."

Benok took a breath before answering with a smiling, "I never acquired your comfort with it."

"True," she answered quickly, "but then you never had to," she glared at him, "life is more simple for a soldier-" before suddenly switching up the pace and leaning in seductively,

"-or do you simply think me heartless?"

She looked down at Benok's abdominal plating, lightly tracing the outlines of the welds with her finger. Once again staring off at attention, Benok gulped before muttering a simple,

"No, Milady, I think you simply have a talent for survival."

He turned, this time facing the door, and briskly walked away. Valora said nothing as she watched him near the ornate oak aperture, before breaking out in laughter.

"Oh come now! Qurban, stop," she continued to chuckle as she once again circled the frozen man. "Is it really so terrible to sire a child with me?"

Benok clenched his fists, before releasing them. He coughed, before quietly answering, "Of course not... yet it would be a grievous insult to the Sidamo name for one of your [i]distinction[/i] to have such a sordid affair with one such as I... think of the child!"

Valora's smile vanished, replaced only with a set of tightly held lips. "It hurts you to think you betrayed Emile... my Husband."

Benok sighed loudly, his head slumping. It was true. He could not bear to think of it. Emile the First had taken in a young Qurban Benok as his own brother in time long past. This was how he repaid him? There was not a waking moment that this fact did not dawn on him. It remained ever in the forefront of his thoughts.

"You know..." the woman continued, "I remember him... in my prayers," she spoke softly towards Benok's chest.

"Oh yes," she lifted her gaze, to meet Benok's incredulous stare, "...I pray..."

"Do you really disapprove of my time spent with Emile," Benok changed the subject, and immediately the room lost its tension.

"This fighting... is it really appropriate for our son? He's only two years old!"

Benok did not oppose this final and blatant condemnation. No other sentence could have moved him so. Yet, he had finally come to accept it, it seemed, as he answered with a dutiful smile.

"It is never too early to learn the skills required for battle - of what I remember of him, I know my father did not coddle me... and I will not coddle Emile."

"I'm sure you know best," Valora said with a resigned sigh, yet the agitated look in her eyes said otherwise.

"After all, you're his father."

Edited by Executive Minister
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  • 2 months later...

Theo awoke to the dull dripping sound of a leaky water fixture in the corner of his cold, damp cell. Gingerly, he shifted his weight on the hard wooden stool he was propped on.

Bad idea.

Unrelenting pain clutched at his ribs as he did so. He had been beaten and interrogated for extended periods of time after his group's capture, and with his Cranial Protection Suite (CPS) torn from the rest of his combat armor, he was unable to know what had happened to the rest of his comrades days ago.

Resting his chin against his breast, Theo tried to recall the moments after his capture. The traitors had beaten Theo senseless and had shot a resistant Lamping on sight. He had remembered the brave assault by Armand and Keesling - they had charged Theo's captors unannounced, weapons firing. Sidamo remembered the pain and horror of seeing his comrades torn to shreds of watermelon, and remembered the weight of a dead traitor when he fell atop Theo soon after.

Taken into the Traitor Camp, they were. Theo woefully remembered the hopefully defiant resolve of Soanso as he silently nodded to an injured Theo and gravely wounded Armand, who was carried on a stretcher. All around them, the sounds of war echoed in their ears as they were marched at gun point. He could remember the inquiries of Nodic forces elsewhere when Theo and co. failed to check in with Command, and he heard the cries of the dead and dieing anew.

The Traitor Leader, known by the name of Zande, was a fierce African man. It was he who had appraised the catch of his followers, granting them 'additional time with pleasure workers' in reward for Theo's Unit. The former Nodic Elite Cadre warrior had been present at the trio's beatings, and seemed to relish the grimaces of pain and anguish caused by the removal of the stitches Armand needed in order to keep his abdomen sealed shut.

At their refusal to divulge information about the Nodic attack on his camp, Zande had decided to play with their minds, it seemed. He had beaten them one last time before locking them in their prison- it was at odd hours that they were visited, and suddenly Armand was taken from them.

They said nothing as the almost comatose man was dragged away from them, even at the insults hurled by both Theo and Soanso. As if in reply, however, they soon heard the cries and terrible screams enter the room, from a door left tantalizingly ajar. Soon, a deafening silence beheld them, a sound even more terrifying to their ears than the blood curdling screams earlier. Soanso faltered for a moment before proudly stating that their comrades would soon rescue them. At the very least, he finally declared as their tormentors came once more, they were going to die for the State, a fate that all Nodic warriors should pride themselves in. Soanso was gone, and Theo would be next.

He had been left alone, for hours - or was it days? It was too hard to tell in his almost constant state of limbo between consciousness and delirium. Before Theo could react, a sound at the door interrupted his musings and reminisces. Cautiously peering beneath his eyebrows, Theo silently prepared himself for the end. He did nothing as he watched three sets of armored feet stride into the room infront of him. They said nothing, and Theo discreetly shut his eyes, pretending to be unconscious, trying to shut out the creeping sense of dread that befell him.
"Theo Sidamo, I presume?"[/b] a deep voice Theo remembered being Zande's said, a warning tone in his voice.

Pretending to slowly come to, Theo raised his head. With a muffled murmur, he replied with a grunt. This did not seem to go over well with Zande, as soon Theo felt Zande's gauntleted hand clasping his throat. With little effort, the looming man raised Theo's body from a seated position to being face to face with the large foe, leaving Theo frantically grasping and knocking at the man's forearm, but to no avail. Such a feat astounded Theo, yet soon he realized how he was being held aloft despite his thrashing about. The inhuman strength Zande used to lift Theo was granted by the man's TACARM Powered Combat Apparatus (PCA). Normally, the PCA was bestowed upon the most loyal Nodic Militants, the Elite Cadre. How unfortunate that a traitor such as Zande still had one in his possessions.

[b]"Do not toy with me, boy! Know that your heritage intrigues me, and I wish to question you with regards to topics not concerning that of...."[/b] his voice trailed off as he allowed Theo to listen to the cacophony of conflict around him.

[b]"-the current issue at hand. Know that it is for this reason, and this reason alone that I have left you alive."
Theo said nothing. He knew that he probably didn't have the information this man wanted, and was sure that he was going to suffer even more for it. The last thing he wanted was for this man to get the best of him again.

[b]"Do you understand? I dare say the task of flaying you alive is quite the chore, so to speak. I have already derived as much pleasure as I probably ever could by doing it to your friends," [/b]he finished, tossing Theo like a rag back onto his stool. Theo grimaced with pain, but tried to stifle the fire that attacked his senses.

[b]"Now then. Are you, or are you not the son of the Commander that led our forces at Kolfe? I know your name, boy. There is no sense in lying to me."[/b]

Theo was taken aback at such a reference to his past- sure the family name was possibly a known one... but to hear it from this man?

[b]"Ah, so it appears my assumptions are not entirely incorrect- for I see that look in your eyes, Soldier of Nod-"[/b] he barely finished his speech in a smug and satisfied voice- before spitting on the cold cobble stone floor, [b]"-bah, you are no true Soldier of Nod. You are but an insignificant pest who has been led to believe he walks the path our Civilization was founded upon. I have served alongside YOUR kind all my life... I will look forward to the day you all realize the sham of it all... but I digress."[/b]

He peered at Theo hesitantly before starting again. He lifted a finger as if to continue his diatribe before seeming to decide against it. Instead, his hulking frame lurched forwards, grabbing a stool leg and effortlessly dragging Theo's seat to the center of the room. Finally, he began to pace about Theo, walking slowly around his prey like a predatory animal would, only to stop at intervals just outside Theo's peripheral vision to change direction at random. Theo would watch Zande leave his field of view, turn to look at the other side expecting to meet Zande's gaze again on the other side, only to have the man back where he started. It was a maddeningly simple tact, yet it worked greatly at perturbing Theo's sense of defiance quite efficiently.
"Your mother. Was she an African?"
Theo indignantly leaned his head backwards. What a foolish question! Had the man really strutted and loped about with such theatrics, only to ask him rudimentary trivia of his personal life?

"Of course she is, Traitor, for all who live under the Executive Ministry are the children of this contine-" he began before being grasped and hoisted in the air once more, this time by both hands as an indication of rage on Zande's part.

[b]"I do not refer to her citizenship, Whelp! Her skin! Is it as dark as mine?!? Speak!"[/b] the man throttled Theo with each outburst. The PCA's strength amplification saw Theo seeing lights. For the first time in hours, Theo could feel the broken ribs under his carapace. He had done it at long last, Zande. Theo was broken, and resigned himself to his death here in this lonely, alien and hostile camp.

"Nay..." was all he could wheeze, prompting Zande to loosen his grip. "My mother was an early Italian, pre-Italican exodus from the East," he gasped out.

This answer seemed to throw Zande into a rage, [b]"Do you take me for a fool?! I was at Kolfe! Yes, do not look upon me so! I bore witness to the death of Elite Cadre Commander 117-AE! Yes, your father!! We had fought and nearly died together that day. I had mounted the 'Defender' tank he rode in on, and was thrown off before the killing blows against his vehicle could be made. He had shown much valor in his leadership of our forces - much more than the scum that dare call themselves Nodic Militants - such as yourself - nowadays."[/b]

"Tank? You're mad, he was no tankman," Theo cried meekly.

[b]"I am disappointed,"[/b] Zande said as he slowly unsheathed a wicked looking blade from his waist, trying a tactic different from violent outbursts of rage.

[b] "I had thought,"[/b] he whispered into Theo's ear as the blade sliced his cheek, [b]"you would be like your father-"[/b]

Theo struggled wide-eyed as the man cut into his flesh again, to no avail. Theo had been beaten numerous times during his training within the Nodic Militancy - had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishments to harden him against captors like Zande, against fear. But this was a different fear it seemed, and coupled with the mutilation of his face, shattered Theo's resolve.

[b]"-that you would die for your honor... die for your ancestor's honor, like your father... My my, dear boy,"[/b] Zande said as he looked Theo derisively up and down.
"Boris would be very disappointed with you."[/b]
*Boris? What is this man talking about! How dare he toy with me!*[/i] Theo shook with anger as he felt the blood trickle into his sealed collar. When he could no longer endure the jeering gazes any longer, he finally spoke,

"My Father was Emile Sidamo the First, kill me or release me, but do not waste my time with the talk of a madman! I care not for it!"

[b]"Emile?"[/b] Zande scoffed, [b]"the man that had so honorably led us all to our deaths- a fate I might add, that would have been for the better, as I find myself surviving long enough to see my creed be tainted by weakness - was a Russian. Unless..."[/b]

Theo suddenly head Zande's booming voice echo throughout the chamber. Theo strained, against both pain and the blood that seeped into his eyes to see what the mad traitor was doing. With bloodied knife in hand, the man was bellowing with laughter. So enthused by the humor that escaped Theo's understanding, Zande seemed to care not of his surroundings. He ignored the stare of a bewildered, perplexed Theo, ignored the trickle of water that dripped upon his shoulder from the ceiling above and ignored two traitors that entered only to stand silent alongside him.

[b]"Oh the sham of the Nodic Militancy! I would weep for the extent it has stooped to, were it not so amusing... Dear boy, your family receives acclaim and respect it deserves not! Perhaps... yes, that's it, perhaps that fool Minister of ours decided that the hero of Kolfe should be an African native, not a foreigner such a Boris - his name be praised."
Theo could not believe what he was hearing! To openly mock and denounce both his family, which still grieved to this day for the loss of its patriarch and his father- it was too much to bear, even from a heretic such as Zande. Theo found himself thrown into a rage, and he struggled both against his bonds and his injuries to attack Zande, to no avail. He wanted to kill the laughing man infront of him, make him feel the pain and suffering that he was mocking. He wanted so desperately to make Zande's laughing - and the creeping thoughts that grew in his own mind stop.

[i][b]"Brother Zande,"[/b][/i] a helmeted Heavy Infantry spoke, as if to break the Traitor leader's trance of laughter. Theo's desire came true, and the laughter soon ceased. But it was not this new arrival that silenced him - Theo stared at the wide eyes of Zande as he noticed the former's struggles against his bonds.

[b]"You would fight me, Fool? Do you think to regain the honor - an undeserved one at that - of your family and father? You are a pathetic sight," [/b]he said as he neared Theo. His chest heaving, both from exertion and the adrenaline that coursed through his veins, Theo could only watch as a right handed slap came crashing down against his upper arm, sending him and his stool crashing into the corner with a sickening crack. Eyes wide and mouth agape, Theo heaved, vomiting on the floor infront of him as he looked at his arm's upper carapace plating, cracked in many places, with bone jutting out at odd intervals. He began to gasp, almost curling into a fetal position - it was the shards of remaining stool that were still shackled to his legs that kept him from performing at least that undignified action.

Planting a heavy boot in the puddle of vomit, Zande leaned over the crumpled form of Theo, squatting down so his face looked at his. [b]"The only reason I keep you alive is because I know you will not rest until you know the truth. I find living with the 'truth' is often times the most suitable punishment for even the most grave of trespasses."[/b]

[i][b]"Brother Zande, the Ministry loyalists have started their assault on our perimeter anew,"[/b][/i] a muffled voice spoke.
"Hmph!"[/b] Zande grunted in reply, grabbing at the battle rifle leaning against the open doorway. He let the two guards exit through the door before turning to stop and look at Theo. Deciding he was harmless enough in his terrible state, Zande turned his back to leave - stopping just as he made his way through the door.

[b]"Your father's fervor was actually quite commendable in its own right, shooting a coward without a moment's notice - however, his overzealousness cost him his life early on. A single enemy sniper picked him off before he was able to fire a single shot at the enemy... quite a sad endeavor for all. Perhaps he deserves SOME acclaim, but what you have received is for the most part, an illegitimate legacy."[/b]

A combination of the revelation - that his father was not all that everyone had so desperately tried to make him believe - and the agonizing pain of his injuries soon made him lose consciousness. Theo lay still on the cold cobble stone floor as the sounds of battle anew echoed around him.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Luke Demissie, the Destroyer, stood at the window and gazed North, towards Addis Ababa. He took a deep breath. Ah, the air smelled of the coffee plantations - earthy and succulent. It was a coarse, pure smell, as God had made it.

"There are enormous risks involved, Colonel Sayf." The Colonel sat behind Demissie on a carpet before a low coffee table. As Demissie spoke, a hot, dry wind stirred the curtains. He continued.

"The 'Noddists' declared war against the Imperialist Mechodamians - foes much greater than ourselves - without hesitation when their 'Ministry' was merely suspected of being at risk. The course you propose is ambiguous, to say the least."

Luke turned away from the window, allowing his loose robes waft in the breeze as he glanced down at Sayf, today dressed in clean, faded corduroys. About forty, the Colonel was dark with European features. It was only his cheekbones that hinted at his true ancestry. The son of a Nodic warrior and an enamored Ethiopian girl, who decided to marry her foreign savior against warlord raids, Sayf often moved about Europe as a wealthy playboy or businessman - sometimes Greek, sometimes French, English or Italian. He spoke seven languages without an accent.

"You have never failed me, Sayf, yet you have never attempted so much."

The Colonel remained silent.

Demissie obliquely examined the seated man. Sayf did not think like most soldiers, he reflected. He thought like the spy and snake God must have intended him to be. His ability to slip so completely into the roles of the people he pretended to be - to become the man his papers said he was - unsettled Luke. One just never knew, he told himself now, when Sayf was onstage. He was a dangerous, dangerous man. But for whom?

Reluctantly, Luke sat. "Tell me about what we have to work with," he said.

"The Nation of Nod was founded upon war. Its people, and those they have subverted to their 'Brotherhood', revel in it. You remember the demonstrations that erupted throughout the western quarter and Darfur? What began as an expression of popular outrage, at the failure of the Kolfe Peace Process with the Islamic States of Africa? How the Brotherhood emerged from the lower districts of Addis Ababa and uprooted the very core of the ISoA?"

Demissie nodded in rapt attention. He remembered well how the Islamic state had first continued onwards, as if nothing were out of the ordinary with its vast state-media enterprise. But one could tell. Whispers and silent musings on the wind, carried from deep, dark recesses. The Brotherhood had utilized the deep-seated resenment of the majority neo-christian populations that were held under the thumb of a comparatively minority Muslim Theocratic Government. Many said that the Executive Minister, or whatever that man was called back then, Luke thought to himself, was behind this 'Intifadah' ironically named to combat the ISoA. Luke knew that the Brotherhood merely road the coattails of the movement, and then placed itself at the forefront - as the saviors of East Africa.

How he resented this new 'Noddist' leadership. He resented being merely a pawn in someone else's machinations. He resented them almost as much as he came to resent himself - accepting the Ministry's offers of placation by deigning him and the rest of House Sidamo to 'govern' the province they named themselves after.

"I remember," was all Luke Demissie said as he stood, tilting his head back and squinting at Sayf, who had paused to allow his leader time to reflect.

Luke placed a heavy hand on his own chin. He had a strong, square face set off by a perfect Roman nose. Yet his wide nostrils flared slightly above thick, sensuous and expressive lips. House Sidamo had indeed dabbled in many of the racial groups that permeated East Africa, it seemed. A distant nephew of Emile Sidamo the First, Luke was a mover and shaker not longer than fifteen years ago. He had been an army officer during the Nodic uprising. He had led and organized a miniature coop of his own, far south of the heavy fighting between the ISoA and Nod, preaching independent nationalism when it was obvious the ISoA would fall. He had helped the revolutionairies north, in Addis Ababa on several instances, but had now come to resent that fact.

He would undo the mistakes of the past.

He had stayed on top in those early years of turmoil and uncertainty, ensuring the Officer's Corps recieved a generous share of the petrolium profits and using every public relations gimmick at his disposal to enshrine the Sidamo family as the peoples' saviours while he spent the rest to keep the people fed, clothed and housed comfortably. He postured on his little corner of what would eventually be Nodic land under the obliging eye of his private 'state' media, protrayed as one of the world's more influential people. The tension of the war between the UMS and Nod up north created the perfect atmosphere for Luke to root out and discreetly dispose of adversaries and opponents. It was only after Nod had approached him with an offer, one that he accepted, did he realize he grew tired of the footnote role history was leaving him in. He wanted glory. He wanted to be the man his propaganda had said he was, so many years ago.

"The people are restless again, Excellency" Sayf said. Immediately, Luke was hurled through time and space to the present. Startled from his thoughts, he glanced at Sayf, who was extracting a number of photographs and sheets of printed paper. Yes, Luke thought, Sayf is ambitious and competent and almost as ruthless as I. Unconsciously, Demissie flicked his hand, as if at a fly.

"Ring for coffee," Luke composed himself as a servant left with the sound of a faint click of China. After she departed, Luke turned to Sayf, looking him squarely in the eye. Seating himself across from the Colonel, he finished.

"What is your plan?"

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