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Northern Confedeation (sic)
Some far northern undisclosed location
February, 2028

“Look, you aren't going to get a better deal unless you join the Union,” Abri said, placing down the grenade launcher on the crate which had borne it. “I assume you still won't join?”

The answer was obvious. They wouldn't. Something about these northern types made them violently opposed to any perceived imperialism… the Union even had its limits and lacked the same appeal as total independence to anyone who wasn't already on the cusp of loss.

Abri knew three dozen warlords, each as fierce as the next. They all had their quirks, and they all bought weapons, and they all accepted gifts; surrender, however, was not in their vocabulary. Their faces and tones soured at each suggestion.

Maybe it was the ground-fermented fish that the warriors all seemed to force down their throats. For strength, Abri could only assume.

It certainly wasn't for getting them laid.

“In that case, maybe I can interest you in something bigger. Anti-armor, anti-air… a lot of your peers are buying me out already, so maybe you want to get in before my stock is gone. I can get Kronatan, Hekuvian, Santherese; whatever you want. Kiravian? They lose materiel like socks in a dryer. Great price on Kiravian kit.”

Ujarak laughed, knowing that full well. Most of his men had Kiravian small arms that got lost in transit between the state’s far-flung colonial possessions.

“You know what, take a crate on the house, whichever you want. I’ll get the parts for an air defense gun shipped and you can just pay for that. You won't regret it!”

There was definitely something to be said for being a woman in this field. More dangerous? Maybe. But a lot of foreigners were easily sold by soft voice making guarantees with no doubts whatsoever.

Abri squeezed her hands back into the thick fur mittens she had bought before venturing this far north, cursing silently. Fuck, it's freezing here. I'm going to die if I don't get back south.

It wasn't arctic but it was damn near enough for her taste. She was of a tropical people. She had no business being here.

God but was there so much money to make, though.

Deep down, she had always assumed she would die in the field. She wasn't sure if this was better than the expected acute lead poisoning, though.

Glancing behind her, there was the door to the frozen tundra that this warlord was currently occupying for no other reason than because it was out of the way. It also served to harden the soldiers he had with him, she was sure. It did nothing for her except remind her that she had a comfortable, warm bed back in her Santherese home.

“Look, General, I’m going to head out, yeah? Payment on delivery for the anti-air.” Please for the love of God, let me leave, she pleaded with her eyes, trying to bore her corneas into his skull.

Finally, he actually spoke. He had a voice like satin, unexpected for his ponderous size and militant position. She had heard it many times before but had never gotten used to the ease and fluidity with which it passed through the chilled air of these dreadful northern climes. “Avoid the roads, signora. They are no longer safe.”

She smiled at his use of title for her, an expression quickly concealed behind a zipped coat and hood. She bowed, and said from behind the warm lining, “Thank you, General. I’ll be in touch. Please leave the southern approach open for my trucks.”

It’s hard enough to get here without any fucking Pauldustllahni noticing.

As she turned and slipped past the flap leading out into the tundra, she took a deep breath. The air burned her lungs, and she considered never coming this far north again. It was bad enough that Zwallerkad imperialists were nearby; she also had to drive past a half-dozen warlords who had more tribes under them than anyone was comfortable with, only four of which she had any relationship with at all - and one of those was poor at best.

Then there were the Urceans.

God, what she would have given for a world without Urcea.
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Allaket, Nyalesund
Sea of Nysdra
March, 2028

The closest safe port to the Northern Confederation, Allaket was the busiest settlement on the island. Abri liked that because while a lot of people might have recognized her, any view of her was typically obstructed by forklifts, work animals, and countless tons of incoming hauls from fishing trawlers and delivery boats.

When Nyalesund’s people had begun negotiations to join the Union, Abri knew she’d spend a lot of time with them. It was fortunate that they were a hospitable bunch - community-driven and self-sacrificing in general, though by no means doormats. She got to know many of them personally, though had never disclosed the nature of her actual business.

Here, she was a surveyor for an ecological outfit from the Union’s government, with some ties to Amerigo as far as the locals were concerned. That had been a safe choice. After all, she was frequently shadowed by contractors from the occidental state, and Amerigo had no colonial desires in the region.

In a small shipping container, she had stored some small arms that were ready for delivery. Some for sale, some as gifts.

Outside, she managed loading both the converted trawler they moved harmless goods in, and the cargo that would be loaded into the submersible that carried anything they couldn’t fly over to the mainland.

Inspecting the tip of one of her fingers, flicking to get away the dirt that had found its way there, she whistled softly to herself before spotting one of the workmen she had hired passing beneath one of the spotlights that illuminated the dock area. “Hey!” she called to him, expecting him to recognize the voice and come over. The word came out oddly and at lower volume, almost choking on some spittle, so she had to call for him again. “Gamon! Where’s my shipment?”

Tapping her finger on her wrist - her watch a completely intangible object that somehow still held meaning - she shoved off the wall that had been supporting her. “Five crates, yeah? Come on,” she reminded him. He of course had no idea what was in those crates, but a dock was a dock and a dockman was a dockman. Shrugging, he didn’t even bother to respond vocally. Instead, he merely pointed her to one of the trawlers that had come in at least twenty minutes ago by her count.

“Well, you could have fuckin’ told me, Gamon. Leave me waiting with my fuckin’ head up my ass.”

He muttered something to her. She didn’t catch what. The air was cold, though, and the steam from his breath was plainly visible.

Patting down her jacket, she made sure her personal sidearm was still hidden there, as well as her keys and myriad forms of identification. Then, the trawler. Stepping aboard, there was hardly anything of note. A bunch of fishnets, some actual fish; probably a few hundred pounds of fruit and veg with some medical supplies tossed in. That was all plainly visible. If they got stopped, it was clear they weren’t carrying anything to indicate they were smuggling weapons.

She pounded on the door to the galley before opening it, her thick-gloved hands barely able to fit around the handle. Fuck, it’s freezing. If only this work was easier done in the warmth of the afternoon. Poking her head around, she gave the inhabitants their directions with no hesitation.

“Hurry up!” she shouted as she closed the door and rushed back up to the dock.

They had hidden around the hull enough munitions for all sixteen of the anti-air guns she had gotten into the Northern Confederation in the last season.
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Qanaaluk, Nyalesund
Sea of Nysdra
April, 2028

The truck was loud and ran on diesel, which was rare for any Santherese to drive. Still, it was hardy and had little problem with the northern terrain and climate. The field Abri drove through looked like ice, cold and slick - white stretching out into the darkness. It wasn’t the coldest time of year of course, not mid-winter, but in the extremely early morning hours that mattered as much as the idea of seasons did in back home.

One of her headlights was out, so visibility was poor at best. She was second guessing even having the headlights on at all for all the good the remaining one was doing. The moonlight probably would have been enough but she wasn’t taking chances.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter. When she hit the hill and crested it, the flames were light enough.

“What the fuck,” she said under her breath. Most of the fire was low to the ground, as in the time it took to drive here, several low and extremely inflammable structures had already collapsed. Highlighted against the blaze, she could see what she had to assume were raiders. There were no details she could make out. She grabbed her radio. “Qanaaluk, come in. Anyone left? Over.”

The radio crackled momentarily - a very long moment - before anyone came through.

“This is Zuri. Who is this?”

It was whispered, and behind the voice, Abri could hear something… a series of pops; gunfire? Up ahead, she couldn’t see anything that looked that gunfire but she was still fairly distant and her view of the interior of the village was obstructed. She brought the radio back up to her mouth. “Zuri! This is Abri. I’m almost there. Where are you? Are you alone? Over.”

As static was the sole response for several head-aching moments, her heart started to sink. Maybe the pops had been closer than she thought; maybe it really had been gunfire. She pressed the transmit button again. “Fuck, respond, someone. Over!”

Then she did get the response she was hoping for. “This is Zuri. Calm down, I’m in a gulch about a hundred meters outside the perimeter… north, I think? I have Tuari and Luyu with me but we’re unarmed. Over.”

“No fucking problem; I’m not,” Abri sent back. Then she tossed the radio onto the dashboard and jerked her wheel to the side. The tires gripped the road more tightly than expected - luckily - and she rushed down the perimeter of the village, the inferno lighting up her left side but not inviting any lead-based attention.

Glancing out to the left every so often, she could see people moving around. Looters, raiders, whatever… maybe they were Urcean or Pauldustllahni, she had no idea. Either had reason to come here. Maybe Corummese. Maybe those Punthites the Corummese interned and then released when they fled from the Urcean advance into Chesad’s and the Confederation’s interior; what good that did beyond making the Urcean advance more difficult, she really couldn’t say. Corumm was a petulant child - they didn’t even want Chesad by their own admission but by God was no one else going to be allowed to have it.

So, of course, that was probably the most likely. Leave behind weapons when bugging out and releasing a bunch of angry slaves with their burning passion for vengeance and no avenue to take it out on the main perpetrators of their suffering. That rage needed an outlet.

“Not my fucking warehouse, though.” She muttered. Then, letting loose a yell from deep in her lungs, she slammed her palm into the wheel once, twice, three times. “Fuck you, Corumm!”

As she reached the gulch, she slammed on the brakes, skidding to what should have been a halt but instead turned into an uncontrolled slide… then spin. But fortunately not a roll as it slowed to a stop. She jumped out of the protected side of the truck and then hopped up on the back tire to pull open a crate and withdraw two rifles. Slinging them over her shoulder, she drew her pistol - the beefy Pauldustllahni P-14 that nearly dwarfed her hands.

She slid into the gulch and tried traversing it, her lower right foot continually threatening to completely lose traction and dump her down at the bottom of the valley.

“Zuri!” she yelled, trying to keep her voice a whisper as best as possible. “Where are you? They’re going to see my fucking truck.” In the dark hours, it was nearly impossible to see, but her eyes were adjusting to the lack of headlights. She strained to move up the gulch wall and poke her head over, looking into the village. As she did so, she felt something grab her arm. “Fuck, shit! Zuri, what the hell, don’t do that.”

The Punthite woman pulled her down. “Then watch where you’re going, yeah?”

Abri shrugged the rifles off her shoulder and handed them to Zuri’s companions. Zuri was a pacifist, she knew, and even if she wasn’t, the woman had never fired a gun in her life. She was an environmental engineer, only here for legitimate purposes as the Union prepared to fully welcome Nyalesund into the fold.

“Tuari and Luyu are coming with me. We have to save what we can. Stay here and keep low. Make a break for the truck when you can and be ready to go. Where’s your walkie?” Abri started patting down Zuri before the other woman could respond, and upon feeling it, grabbed her radio away from her. “Forgot mine in the truck.” Then, turning to two Nyalesundi, she waved them down the gulch. “Circle that way, away from the truck. And no hesitating on the trigger.”

She followed them down the length of the valley for several hundred meters before patting Tuari on the shoulder and gesturing him up over the top. They made a quick approach to a surviving yurt and rounded it slowly. No targets were visible as they reached the door, so Abri ducked inside with her flashlight in one hand and pistol raised in the other. It was dark, empty of all but the most basic of furnishings. The table was on its side.

Exiting the tent, she moved them on to each consecutive yurt, clearing them as they made their way to the warehouses that were likely being raided. Most of the fires were dying down as they reached that part of the village. There, just outside of one of the half-destroyed structures, there was a small truck and a couple of men loading boxes into the back.

Without giving them a chance to realize anyone was in their presence, she squeezed off two rounds before rushing behind cover. Tuari and Luyu followed suit, a burst from each before running to the sides. One of the men hit the ground while the other broke into a flat out sprint, his legs carrying him almost impossibly fast back into the warehouse. His reaction time was incredible. Abri moved forward toward the door, firing once more into the man on the ground. No sense leaving any risks behind.

She flashed her light into the warehouse quickly from around the corner as Tuari and Luyu joined her.

“What’s happening?” her radio crackled. She ignored it; there were more important things to focus on. Tuari and Luyu both fired into the warehouse, mostly blind.

“I think there’s four,” Tuari said, his deep bass resonating in her ears shortly before he fired again, each shot thunderous enough that she wasn’t sure how he wasn't reeling disoriented from each. Two bursts, and a brief pause as she moved away from him. Then he fired another. “I think now three.”

“I’m going to go around. Hold them here,” Abri patted Tuari’s shoulder and broke off around the corner. The burned out side of the building didn’t have any person-sized holes, but she could see inside were it not so dark. Jamming her flashlight in one hole, she turned it on and ran down several meters away from it. Gunfire inside the warehouse, or perhaps on the other side from Luyu and Tuari… no, she heard the impacts against the wood planks near her flashlight. Peeking in through another hole, she emptied her magazine in the direction of the men hiding behind what crates had survived the fire.

She wasn’t certain she had hit anyone until she heard the panicked screaming from inside.

When the first explosion went off, she was taken completely off-guard.
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