Featured Post

The story of The Virus

IN an alternate Earth, the Roman Empire soldiers on as the modern day megapower. The rest of the world's nations have united as The Vir...

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Soul of Honour: Roses


The following is an excerpt from the eBook "Soul of Honour: Roses". To read more, purchase the eBook at Payhip.

Part of the Vicendum Project

July 22, 2020,
10:12 local time,
Roman Commonwealth Marquee Patrol, Empire City Office,
Sanibel Island, Empire City, Florida

As soon as the door opened, Blaise Meyer was roused from her sleep, hunched over her forearms as she was seated at the desk in the interrogation room. After rubbing her eyes and giving her head a shake, she saw two people walk in, renowned criminologist Doctor Pascal Yves and Patrolwoman Norah Anam of the Roman Commonwealth Marquee Patrol (RCMP). Yves took a seat right in front of Blaise, while Norah decided to lean against the wall.

Blaise was confused at why she was here, and annoyed that she had to be awake this early in the morning. Yet she was not going to show any fear to her interrogators and cede to them the power they desperately crave.

“Pretty rude to walk in here and not give me a coffee,” she said with a smug smile and looking Yves right in the eyes. “Especially when you rouse me from my beauty sleep.”
“You don't get to set the rules,” said Yves curtly. “You have no power...your reign of terror is over.”
“Besides,” said Norah, “you don't want the coffee here. The way Roy makes it, your heart will explode out of your chest...trust me, you're better off.”

Blaise snickered and shook her head.

“Given that I really don't want to be here,” she said, “my heart exploding out of my chest might not be so bad.”

Norah chuckled wryly.

“Oh is that the card you're going to play?” she said. “If I hadn't heard it about 100 million times and each time was a bluff, I might fall for it...but I didn't spend all these years as a Patrolwoman to be played like a fool.”

This time it was Blaise's turn to chuckle.

“This is no game, Patrolwoman,” she said. “In fact, it's you that's playing the game...bringing me here, dragging me into this room on, what, maybe an hour of sleep? Once I'm here, you just jerk me around and push my buttons until I give in and give you want you want...because you have nothing on me, and you continue to have nothing on me and you will always have nothing on me because there is nothing on me...and, besides, what's in it for me? I do you a favour and you throw me in jail? That doesn't sound like something I'd like to do.”

Blaise again smugly smiled at Yves.

“You understand, right Callie?” she said with a toothy grin.

Yves simply smiled, looking right through Blaise. He knew what she was trying to do, and she was quite good at it because so many times before she had gotten the upper hand on him.

However, there would be no scowl from Yves. There would be no fit of anger as Blaise cackled in triumph. There definitely won't be a fist slammed on the table as Blaise laughed her way out of the door a free woman.

That's because this time Yves finally had the upper hand.

From his inside jacket pocket Yves pulled out an envelope and slapped it in front of Blaise, who looked on with genuine confusion. As Blaise anxiously opened the envelope and read its contents, Yves could only look on with a smug smile slapped on his face, one that expressed not just his joy but also the relief that- finally- it was he who got to celebrate in the end.

“I-I-uh,” said Blaise, stammering out of shock. “Y-You...you...really Callie? You can't do this! This is impossible! I mean...by Jove, seriously? I...I...n-n-no, no, no, no!”
“Oh yes, Blaise,” said Yves. “Yes indeed. With that search warrant, we're going to find everything, and your kingdom will come crashing down. There's nothing you can do...the RCMP are looking at your home as we speak. They've already told me about all the interesting stuff they've recovered from your home...Blaise, it's over. You've got nowhere to run now.”

Tears formed in Blaise's eyes, tears she valiantly tried to fight off. Her mind was racing, wanting to find some way to convince herself that she still had some way out of her peril, but her reality was foreboding.

“No, no!” said Blaise, shaking her head and wiping the tears from her eyes. “It's not true! It can't be!”
“Oh,” said Norah ominously, “but it can...and it is. You and your army of Roses...you knew this was only going to be a matter of time for you...and now your time has come.”
“...b-buh-but how?” said Blaise, in visible disbelief.

Norah smirked and circled the room, like a shark around her prey.

“It's simple, really,” said Norah. “The more minions you get, the more chances you have that one of them is going to crack...and one of them did.”
“Your cult of lies and deceit has run its course, Blaise,” said Yves. “You can't abuse and use these women and expect them to 'take it' forever. One day they're going to turn on you, and reveal you as the monster you really are.”

Blaise tensed up in her seat, a look of utter disgust coming over her face.

“Monster?” she said. “Is that what you really think I am?”
“All cult leaders are, by their very definition,” said Yves.
“No, no, no, no!” said Blaise, shaking her head profusely. “You have it all wrong...cult? I don't run a cult...I help these women...I give them a chance. Most of them...all of them...I gave them a chance...they were lost before me!”

Yves slapped his head with his hand as Norah walked up to the table and grabbed its edge, leaning towards Blaise in the process. She then looked Blaise right in the eyes.

“See, this is where I get to be the smart one in here,” she said with a knowing nudge to Yves. “Recruiting the vulnerable...that's the first thing cult leaders do, because they prey on the purposeless and hook them in with a false promise that only the cult can fulfill their lives. Once they're in, the cult leader then knows they have all the power over their charges, because the cult leader can hang their promise over all of their recruits like the Sword of Damocles and rub it in their faces. The sad part is, the cult members never call out their leader on their lie, because the cult leader likes to remind them that they were 'nothing' before the cult and there's nothing the member can do, because their leader is actually right. Which only deepens the hole the cult member is already in.”

Blaise wanted to respond, but Norah saw it and immediately cut her off.

“You're going to say you're 'different', right?” said Norah sarcastically. “That you didn't abuse your subordinates or treat them badly. You're probably also going to tell me that they could leave whenever they want to, right? You never physically stopped them, right?”

Blaise started to respond in the affirmative, but Yves stopped her in her tracks.

“Cult leaders know they don't need physical barriers to stop their members from leaving,” said Yves. “Because the cult's promise is enough of a psychological barrier to stop them from going.”

This time Blaise managed to get a response in after pounding the table with her fist so hard that she shook the entire room. She then buried her head in her hands and sobbed uncontrollably, ashamed at what she had done.

“No, no,” she said, her voice cracking with tears visibly falling from her face. “You...you have it...oh screw it...you're right...I...I guess I can't believe what I've done...b-but realize...realize please...I loved my women...I treated them like queens...all of them. They were my friends...no, they were more than friends...they were my family...th-the only family I ever had...I never meant to mistreat them...I...I never wanted to hurt them. I...I can't believe I've hurt people...I have a good heart! I'd never intentionally mistreat someone!”

She put her head in her hands and sobbed some more before regaining her composure.

“Who did I hurt?” she said desperately. “Who did I wrong? Please, please...I'm begging you...please tell me! I want to make it right!”

Norah stood back up and folded her arms.

“Right now,” she said, “that's privileged information...but if you help us...we may give you that chance.”

Blaise nodded her head, eager to do as they asked.

“Yes, yes,” she said. “I'll do it! I'll do anything. I'll help you in any way that I can! So, what do you need help with?”

This was an excerpt from the eBook "Soul of Honour: Roses". To read more, purchase the eBook at Payhip.

Part of the Vicendum Project


Friday, July 17, 2020

No lockdown in Argentina

The quiet before the storm?

Two days after reporting 1,000 new cases of the Byzantine flu through a press release that offered no other details, Argentina's branch of the Imperial Health Authority announced today that- for now- there will be no lockdown imposed on the country. The IHA did not elaborate except to say that the initial cases were "contained", also saying they hope the bar that was shuttered because of the "outbreak"- Clancy's Tavern- "may" be able to reopen by the end of the month.

Stay tuned, guys.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Is trouble brewing in Chile?

Someone created a wax sculpture depicting the severed head of Chilean Emperor Eduardo Martinez and planted in front of the gates to the Imperial residence. No word on whether or not the perpetrator was ever identified, as the Chileans report they are "still investigating the matter".

I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that Chile reported an "outbreak" of the Byzantine flu- which has kept virtually all businesses in Chile shuttered since 2012- was discovered yesterday in Santiago, despite the fact no victims have come forward and the Chilean officials are tightlipped concerning the details of the outbreak.

Whatever it is, this can't be good.

Argentine cases of Byzantine flu "imported" from Chile

According to Argentina's wing of the Imperial Health Authority, the newest batch of Byzantine flu cases came from Chile. Predictably, the IHA has provided no proof of this beyond a press release, which has no detailed information about who has been infected and how many have been hospitalized, among other things.

Oh, and a day after the IHA reported 1,000 new cases in Argentina, no new cases were reported today. So the outbreak is contained, right? Not so, says the IHA, who maintain the novel norovirus is "as dangerous as ever".

All right...if you say so...

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Argentine officials report over 1,000 new Byzantine flu cases in 24 hours.

Who they are, we don't know, because, once again, the Imperial Health Authority keeps that information close to the vest.

The only good news is that, aside from Clancy's Tavern, Argentine officials are not requesting any businesses get shut down. Let's see how long that lasts.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Byzantine flu "confirmed" in Argentina

Per The Good Air News Service, it writes that Argentine health authorities confirmed that an "explosive cesspool event" at Clancy's Tavern in Buenos Aires a week ago was indeed a case of the Byzantine flu. The Imperial Health Authority have ordered that bar to be shut down and asking everyone who attended the Tavern from June 22 to July 3 to get tested for the norovirus. The Tavern has been closed since the 4th and will continue to do so "until further notice".

The Good Air News Service doesn't mention if independent labs confirmed the IHA's assessment, but I'd imagine they haven't, and they'll neglect to mention that no new cases of the disease will emerge as a result of the "event". Just like the last few times this has happened. Will the Argentines be fooled? We'll see.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Virus: A Dangerous Lesson



New eBook in The Virus series: A Dangerous Lesson. It's a twisted tale of two (seemingly?) unrelated crimes that fittingly begins the tale of Vicendum's Sherlock Holmes. The cover is also a solvable math problem.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Bikini Army Is A New Low



JUST when you thought policing couldn't plumb anymore depths than it already has...it goes and hits a new low.

How low? I think we're scraping by the bottom of the barrel at this point.

Leroy Simms, the Chief Guard of the Virtue Federation and confirmed alleged sexual predator, announced the creation of a new class of agents with the Guards called- and I'm not making this up- the Bikini Army. Simms insists the Bikini Officers will be "fully trained, fully operational law enforcement agents" but he's kidding no one.

The requirements ask that applicants be "women aged 18-29" with their uniforms being those depicted above. The official press release claims that "all body types are welcome" but you'd be kidding yourself if you didn't think the women applying for this will be judged solely on their looks. Look who's hiring them, for one. Further, the press release states that their duties will revolve around photo ops and "community engagement" and makes no mention of the Bikini Officers doing actual police work- or even needing any education in policing for that matter.

In other words, Simms is hiring an army of eye candy. Sheesh.

Why is Simms creating this group? Coming on the heels of the Romans' Optimus program, it's obvious that Virtue wants to create their own PR-motivated "face of policing" to change the public's perception of law enforcement agents as "faceless goons".

Now, while the very idea of "putting a face to policing" is problematic in of itself (and I spare the Romans no amount of criticism for their idea), Virtue's idea is even worse. At least in the Optimus program we can be assured that these are actual, trained law enforcement agents who could be counted on to competently do the job.

The Bikini Army? They're just a group of scantily clad, glorified supermodels whose only job is to be exploited and ogled at by the community they're serving. They're there to appeal to the lowest common denominator, using the cheap tactic of sex appeal to gain eyeballs and fool millions of young boys that if they take up policing, they could meet one of those Officers.

...and if you don't think Officers won't be used for sex and won't use sex themselves then I have oceanfront property I'd like to sell you in Moscow.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against women wearing bikinis, women using their sex appeal for profit (or using sex for profit, for that matter) or media and other companies using sex appeal for whatever work they wish to do.

Hey, sex sells- it works and I won't deny that.

The problem is that Virtue is using sex as a means to create a false image of policing and to deflect away from the many problems that exist within the Virtue Guards, not the least of which is rampant sexism and sexual abuse that exists within the organization. The Bikini Army are really there just for the perverse titillation of the powers that be within Virtue, nice shiny objects there to "remind" women within the Federation what their "true worth" really is.

Not only is this sick and appalling in its own right, Virtue presents this as the "future" of policing, as if its figured out the issues inherent in policing and offers this as a "solution".

Well, Virtue, time for some cold, hard, truths.

The Bikini Army are the height (or depth, depending on your view) of cynicism that you can find. It is about an organization that is so far gone that they are not just grasping for straws to find a solution, they're creating clear "non-solutions" and deceiving the people into thinking they're solutions.

Yeah, make policing "hot". That'll ease the public and not make them think about the rampant abuses of power, the corruption, the brutality, the systemic racism, marginalization and sexism that goes on in the Guards' ranks.

"We have hot police officers! Everything's good now!"

Yikes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Not a bikini pic I want to see

This was spotted near the border between Chile and Argentina, near Mendoza. Whatever it means, I haven't a clue:


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Would a Hero King really work?


A growing movement worldwide is the concept of the "hero king" as a system of government. The concept is simple- a country is ruled by an absolute monarch, but that monarch follows the advice of their people and enacts new laws accordingly. The idea is sold as the "perfect hybrid" of democracy and absolutism, as the concept replaces democracy's burdensome bureaucracy with someone who can enact laws quickly and decisively, while blunting the absolute aspects because the monarch must still listen to what their people want.

How exactly this will work is an open question. Will the heroic monarch have free reign or will they have some restrictions or other checks and balances imposed on them?

If it's the former, then you are relying on the monarch to be trustworthy and honest all the time. Considering how hard it is to find a single politician with those attributes, how can we be sure a monarch will be any better?

If it's the latter, then no matter what system you impose, the monarch's decisiveness will be blunted. This is because the monarch will have to always face the "wraith of the rules", either because there will be laws the monarch may wish to enact but can't or because the monarch must always deal with the ongoing threat of their people disagreeing with them to the point of facilitating the monarch's removal.

Sure, there will be those who will point out those checks and balances are vital to ensure the monarch does precisely what the people want...but, that's what happens in a democracy anyway, so what's the difference?

The hero king seems like another ridiculous concept cooked up by anti-democratics in a vain attempt to find an "alternative" when it's increasingly clear there is none. Democracy has many issues, but it's lasted the test of time because it works, and, really, there is no alternative. In an increasingly global world where more and more are able to field their voices, doesn't it make more sense to give power to those voices instead of taking it away?

Happy Independence Day, America!

If you can ever figure out what that means...

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Is it time to cry, Argentina?


EVER since the English annexation of Argentina in 1982, the Argentines spend the time from June 14 to July 9 (their independence day) protesting English rule. Despite English attempts to better integrate Argentina into the Empire with large investments in economic and social programs, a majority of Argentines still favour independence, with 64% in favour according to a London Times poll conducted just last month.

This year, the protests grew particularly violent, leading to the Imperial Army being dispatched to quell the riots.

So, it should come as no surprise that we see the above from the Persian Sunflower, AKA Saaedeh Pavlavhi, posted to her account on MedievalMates. This weekend, for some bizarre reason, Clancy's Tavern- a large, "English-style" pub + nightclub that is a favourite among those in the independence movement- booked the Persian socialite and pretend DJ to kick off their "Independence Week" festivities, which brings out the Porteni by the thousands.

Or at least it should, until the Tavern unexpectedly closed as can be seen by Pavlavhi's post. Neither Pavlavhi, Tavern owner Clancy Fitsgibbons, Argentine officials or English officials have commented on the closure, but just looking at the picture it's obvious what's going on.

Yup, you guessed it- the Byzantine flu.

How many times are the Virtue Federation- and especially the English- going to keep trotting out the flu in a vain attempt to keep their population in check? It shouldn't just be a mere coincidence that the places that have become "unruly" seem to always get outbreaks of the Byzantine flu, while more behaved quieter areas never get them.

I mean, if the Federation claims the Byzantine flu is "still a threat" despite the worst of the pandemic subsiding some eight years ago, shouldn't every place get an outbreak every now and then? Why do they only occur where there's protesters?

I'll tell you why- because Virtue knows it's still useful, because enough of their population is still too stupid afraid of the disease that they'll quickly fall back in line and quit whining about whatever it is they were whining about. No matter how many times it becomes more and more obvious that Virtue are hoodwinking their own people the Federation's citizens keep on falling for it, and as long as they keep doing it, Virtue will keep on going back to it.

That's enough to make me sick. Blech.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Do The Leonids Exist?


A picture is usually worth a thousand words. In this case, it's worth a million.

In his book, The Lost Legions (published AD 112), Drassus tells the tale that main reason why the Romans lost the Battle of Teutoburg Forest (AD 9) was due to the fact the Germans were allied with a people Drassus called the "Leonids". In his book, Drassus claims the Leonids were actual "lion-human hybrids" who had a kingdom based in what is now Moldavia, although scholars- even at the time- suggested they were more likely warriors who wore lion-inspired garb.

Still, the image of "lion people" greatly captured the imagination of Classical Rome, inspiring many plays, sculptures and other pieces of art, as well the appearance of many gladiators who fought as or against "lion warriors". A few Classical Romans even mention of meeting with real Leonids during this era, always placing them in Moldavia. Mentions of the Leonids persisted until the early 11th century, where the Byzantine chronicler George Pasos writes that Basil II massacred the kingdom's inhabitants after they allied with Bulgaria.

However, no known Leonid-written documents exists, and during the Severan Empire period where Rome briefly established rule in Moldavia, there exists no records of the Leonids interacting with the Romans or even any hints of their existence. Thus, their existence had long been dismissed by modern scholars who assumed they were merely a tale of "Classical folklore", as no credible evidence of their existence surfaced.

Until now.

The above is a picture sent to me by an unknown contributor. The possibility is there that it is doctored, though every examination I give it tells me this is genuine. I can't quite place the setting, although it appears to be in the Hoggar Highlands, near Tepitilan.

If that is the case, then they must have some arrangement with the Casaran government to have them housed in their territory. That they would seek refuge in the Casaran Empire isn't extraordinary, as the Casarans are known for being extremely welcoming of refugees from all areas of the world.

The question, though, is "what are they doing?" The Casarans aren't known for their secrecy, but they've managed to keep the existence of the Leonids in their territory a secret for quite some time. I can't imagine the Casarans have nefarious designs on the Leonids because that's not in their nature, but they have to be up to something with the group. If the Roman chroniclers were correct, the Casarans are dealing with some of the strongest warriors humanity has ever seen- Casara is definitely going to put them to use.

That's just the beginning, though. So many other questions abound, such as who the two fully human women are, who the panther-man in the business suit is, what's taking place in this picture, what the two winged creatures at the top are (dragons? Really? How?)...my brain hurts just thinking about it.

I'm going to stop here but...this is a story to follow up on.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

What lies behind the doors of Hallow's Gate?


On the Florida-Georgia line is the mysterious Hallowed Village, guarded here by the famed Hallow's Gate. No one knows what goes on beyond the gates, but all kinds of strange and horrifying rumours abound...

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Where the Cure Is Worse Than The Ailment

Chilean duo The Spirit Within play a clandestino show in Valparaiso, Chile, July 24, 2017

IN 2012, a new strain of the norovirus emerged in January in Constantinople, earning it the nickname "the Byzantine flu". For almost an entire year, the Byzantine flu ravaged the globe and became the deadliest pandemic in human history, scoring a resounding one billion deaths worldwide.

In the years since, the virus has abated, although clusters of infections flare up from time to time. Most of those clusters occur in the Virtue Federation, which has yet to approve of a vaccine or a treatment for use against the Byzantine flu. This despite evidence that the vaccines and treatments developed by the Romans and Casarans have proven effective in those territories, in what can only be a case of political brinksmanship by the Virtue Federation.

Most of Virtue has gotten past the disease, but in many parts of the Federation, vast restrictions on daily life- originally meant to curb the spread of the Byzantine flu- are still in place today. One notable country where the restrictions remain in place is Chile, which has banned the operation of almost every business where people can interact with each other and restricted gatherings to no more than two people at any time, regardless of where they live. This means that, legally, businesses such as restaurants, bars, salons, in-person services like bank tellers and dentistry, nightclubs, festivals, malls, conventions, sporting events and even places of worship cannot operate under Chilean law, due to the "state of emergency" Chilean Emperor Eduardo Martinez has imposed since February 13, 2012. Many beaches and parks also remain closed (with the decision up to the local municipalities), though the few that are open are strictly monitored to ensure crowding does not occur. Every business and service that can operate remotely, like schools, shops, office work and groceries, have done so, with the only option to the customer being having the goods delivered to their house. The only businesses that remain open in Chile where there is actual human interaction are the Army, the police, manufacturing facilities, mining and farming, though the latter two have "health standards" imposed on their operation that are haphazardly enforced. Chilean borders are also completely closed both inside and outside of the country, although a few Chileans do manage to escape as refugees, usually to the Roman Empire.

What was once a bustling, cosmopolitan country full of vitality has descended into a dreary, lifeless cesspool where millions struggle with poverty and millions more struggle with mental health issues resulting from isolation. Indebted servitude is on the rise as more and more of Chile's wealth coalesces into the hands of the few. Describing life in Chile in the eight years since the pandemic struck as "depressing" would be an understatement, since by now most Chileans have lost hope that their situation will ever resolve itself. Every few weeks, just when Chileans think they may finally be "out of the woods", a new cluster of cases seemingly emerges or reports of bathrooms where "an explosive cesspool event" (one of the Byzantine flu's hallmarks) occurs, justifying another new round of "emergency measures". Conspiracy theorists abound in Chile claiming most of these new cases are fabricated by the government as, despite the initial "excitement" over the new cases, none of them ever restart the epidemic that has, for all practical purposes, resolved itself in early 2013.

Despite the dreariness, the Chileans have found a way to move on with their lives and regain a small sense of the "joys of life" they once lost. They have done this through the everpresent clandestino scene, a place where, you guessed it, organized black markets have revived many of the "in-person" industries and businesses the Chileans had lost. Many meet- literally- in underground locations deep in the Chilean mountainside and away from government surveillance, although several other clandestino organizations use abandoned buildings for their purposes.

Finding these clandestino businesses are done by word of mouth, as operators largely avoid social media as that is heavily monitored by the government. Because of their illegal nature, the clandestini have no universal standards, although most try to operate honourably out of fear that poor services will mean shutdown by the government. Fines for illegal businesses are heavy and prosecution is strict, with clandestino operators facing a lifetime in prison and fines of over two billion pesos or $2 million in American currency. Patronage in these businesses can also be costly, with patrons facing 20 years imprisonment and a fine of 850 million pesos, or $850,000 American, which is the average amount of money a Chilean will make in their lifetime.

Those who operate a clandestino say the risks are worth it because they have no other choice. Antonella Ramira, a native of Valparaiso and one half of the electronic metal duo The Spirit Within, said that the choice for the vast majority of Chileans are to pick up scarce work where it's available, or operate a clandestino. "The only legal jobs available are unsafe factory work, farming, public works or other kinds of public jobs," said Ramira, "with very few of them paying more than a pittance. Working legally in Chile means having to go days without putting food on your table or gas in your car, not to mention having to deal with the disrepair in our housing and the poor reliability of our utilities."

From "The Sky's The Limit" To "The Sky Is Falling"

Ramira was 15 when the pandemic first hit Chile's shores, on February 4, 2012. It was a traveller returning home from Constantinople, who managed to infect thousands simply by using the public restroom at the Arturo Merino Benitez Airport in Santiago. Within two weeks, after over 500,000 Chileans were infected by the Byzantine flu, Emperor Martinez imposed the lockdown that still remains in force today.

Ramira says she was "too young" to appreciate the impact of the lockdown at the time, but as the days, weeks and months passed, she began to understand it better.

"I had wanted to be a musician since I was eight," said Ramira, "though my parents tell me I had it in me since the day I was born. When I was 11, my parents started taking me to concerts and other kinds of shows, and I just fell in love with it, dreaming of the day that I, too, could be on that stage. For my 14th birthday (November 29, 2010), I received backstage passes to Seventh Wonder's The Great Escape tour stop at the Valparaiso Auditorium, where 80,000 others were in attendance. I got to meet the band and, at that point, I knew what kind of music I wanted to make."

Ramira spent the next few months working on her craft and perfecting her sound, but it wasn't until she met Cesaro Langria- now the other half of The Spirit Within- after school that she decided on the band's current sound. "Cesaro was really big into techno, house and other kinds of electronic music," explains Ramira. "It wasn't until Cesaro showed me some pieces that I finally figured out what sound I wanted. I had struggled with making a distinct sound before meeting him and since he opened my eyes, I figured a partnership was natural."

Soon, the pair had an album recorded and concerts booked, and The Spirit Within was officially formed. With a unique blend of trance and symphonic metal, The Spirit Within quickly went from smaller venues to larger ones, becoming one of the hottest acts in Valparaiso in 2011. Though they managed to play the Valparaiso Auditorium themselves (as the opening act of the Hallowe'en Festival), Ramira said the real highlight was when Seventh Wonder's Thomas Karevik made a surprise appearance at Ramira's 15th birthday party at a local bar.

"That's when I knew we made it," said Ramira. "Knowing Tommy became a fan and sought me out...man, I was floored."

Ramira explained that she had big plans for 2012. The Spirit Within signed a major label deal with Warner Brothers Chile in January, with the company planning a global push for the duo. Karevik also invited the duo to record with Seventh Wonder, a song the band intended to release as a single, as well as play with the band on the subsequent tour. Promoters were lining up around the block to book The Spirit Within, with the duo set to play several major festivals that year.

Everything was looking up...and then everything fell apart.

"The timing of the Byzantine flu was awful," said Ramira. "We had such big plans but they all got wiped away essentially overnight. To say it was a bummer is an understatement."

That the virus struck wasn't what bothered Ramira. What bothered Ramira was the ever-changing narrative surrounding the virus.

"First they said it was nothing serious," she said. "Then they said a few weeks of lockdown was all we needed. Then it turned into months...then suddenly we were told that unless we got a treatment or a vaccine, we couldn't 'go back to normal'. They kept stringing us along...it was hard to know what was real anymore."

The entire population was on edge, being told to "be patient" even though the more time ticked by the more that patience was lost. No one could plan for the future because no one knew what it would look like, with the increasing uncertainty only increasing the anxiety. The uncertainty was especially hard on Ramira's parents, her father, Raul, the Conductor of the Chilean National Symphony and her mother, Esmeralda, a travel agent, as their entire livelihood depended on a "return to normal".

Eventually, every Chilean was going to break and lose all of their patience. The breaking point for Ramira was when the Romans found several treatments and vaccines for the virus but Chile refused to consider any of them.

"At that stage my opinion of the virus changed immediately," said Ramira. "No longer did I think the government had our best interests in mind...this clearly became about control, about oppression...the Byzantine flu was the greatest mind game humanity ever came up with."

Her family tried to make it work, but they soon realized it would be fruitless. Ramira's mother found a job working in the mines with the aid of Langria's parents (who both worked office jobs there), but she found that the amount of money she would make in a year there would be a fraction of what she previously made in a week. Ramira's father thought his job with the Symphony would allow him to get a lucrative government job, but this didn't pan out. He tried to find another job, but, as he had back problems, there wasn't an employer that would hire him.

Ramira, too, tried to finish her schooling, but online schooling was vastly inferior to what she experienced before. There were no teachers and no grades, all Ramira had to do was finish the online coursework on time (meaning she could write random letters in the answer boxes and that too would suffice). Soon, she gave up and went back to her music.

"Music is my calling," Ramira explained, "and there's no bulls*** with it. Either people like it or they don't. No way to not know if you failed."

A Ray Of Light...

However, she had one problem- there was nowhere for her to play. That's when she learned about the clandestino, from a colleague at the mine her mother worked at.

"Her work buddy thought The Spirit Within had quit," said Ramira. "We didn't- we just stopped playing together because we simply couldn't. Cesaro and I had every intention of restarting the band once we could."

Ramira's mother learned her colleague had a friend willing to pay The Spirit Within to play at their birthday party. Despite the initial reservations, the gig became a reality and Ramira and Langria reunited once more (although they did not mention this on social media at the time, knowing it would tip off government monitors).

Afterward, her mother would use her day job at the mines to network for the duo, while her father would drive her and Langria to their gigs. For three years- from the beginning of 2013 to the end of 2014- was spent doing this, and the pay was a far cry from what the duo made in 2011. It was enough for both families to pay off their bills, which was more important.

The networking soon led to Ivana Castro, the owner of The Cathedral, to recruit The Spirit Within for a regular show, beginning in February 2015. Castro had made millions off the nightclub, but ahe burned through that cash in a desperate bid to keep it open. She did this by trying to book acts for online-only shows, but she had lots of trouble finding performers for various reasons, and, worse, she found fewer willing to pay for the streams. The Cathedral was once Valparaiso's top nightspot, but by 2015 it was the last one to stand, teetering on the brink of closure.

"I relied heavily on international acts," said Castro, who usually booked Top 40 dance and hip hop acts, "but even most of Chile's talent had left the country by that point because they had the money to do so. The Spirit Within were the only guaranteed 'name' left in the country...when I heard they were still around, I had to take the chance."

Initially Castro wanted to cap attendance at The Cathedral at 100 patrons- so as not to create "scenes" for the police to see- but word of mouth meant that every time The Spirit Within played, The Cathedral would reach its 20,000 patron capacity. Since they were the only reliable act she had, The Spirit Within went from performing The Cathedral once a month to performing there once a week. Because of the economic conditions, Castro couldn't charge patrons what she normally could- but she was able to make enough to pay The Spirit Within well and turn a profit...as well as pay the police enough of a bribe in order to leave The Cathedral alone.

While they played The Cathedral, The Spirit Within continued playing house shows- often landed as a result of their gigs at The Cathedral. Though they never asked for it, the duo often received hefty payments for these shows, making them Valparaiso's highest earners. Ramira soon thought, "with all this money, it's time to give back". Soon, she developed plans to "revive" Valparaiso, bringing back as many businesses as she could.

To do this, Ramira teamed up with Castro, and together they hired as many different business and service operators as they could. By the summer of 2016, 65% of Valparaiso's previously shuttered businesses were brought back to life, with the police sufficiently "bought off" in order to prevent them from shutting down the businesses once again. By the end of 2016, Valparaiso looked almost like it did in 2011, as Ramira's and Castro's plan came to complete fruition.

...Of The Oncoming Train

Other businesspeople caught on to what Castro and Ramira did, realizing there are profits to be made if they revitalized their own cities. By the spring of 2017, the once lifeless Chilean society sprang back to life as cities embraced the clandestino concept, now largely without the need to bribe the police as, by this point, many police officers grew tired of enforcing that law.

Martinez too decided against toppling the clandestino regime, since- because the businesses were illegal- he faced no liability for their actions. He reasoned that, even though the situation meant he held less actual power, if this was the way to keep Chile out of trouble, it was worth it.

His advisors warned him that if he didn't move to take back power, the clandestini could threaten Chile's internal stability. The business owners will soon clash for power over each other's territories, and, since they're illegal, Chile collects no tax from any of them.

Worse, Martinez was told, what was to stop any one of the business owners from getting ambitious and coming after the throne itself?

The Emperor initially scoffed at these suggestions, but by the fall of 2017, Martinez, complaining of an "unnamed clandestino" having "designs" on his throne, changed his tune.

On November 14, 2017, an "explosive cesspool event" was reported by the Imperial Health Authority (ASI) in the main bathroom of The Cathedral. This was the first visible sign of the Byzantine flu in over four years, as previous ASI reports of virus outbreaks were simply messages about supposed clusters. The event at The Cathedral spurred new fears of the Byzantine flu spreading in Chile, with public opinion sharply turning on The Spirit Within and The Cathedral for playing "years" of "unsafe shows". Martinez ordered the venue to be shut down, and, within the week, the Chilean Army came and seized the building.

"Seems odd, doesn't it," said Ramira, "that the Byzantine flu conveniently reappears at the same time the Emperor claims to have a threat to his throne. Worse, the ASI reported it then immediately cleaned it up- no one else saw the supposed 'event'. They totally planted it just to strike back at us."

Faked or not, Chile's honeymoon was over and it was back to its stark reality. Martinez clamped down hard on the clandestini, ordering the Army to round up as many as they could. Raids would be done at random times and locations in order to foil escape attempts, with no one- patrons, service providers or business owners- spared from the arrests. By the end of 2017, some two million Chileans had been arrested for various offenses regarding the clandestini, with periodic arrests and clamdowns continuing to this day.

Ramira knew at this point she had to find a way out. She oscillated between going into hiding and living with her family, knowing that doing so increases her chances of being arrested. Her hand was forced when, on her 21st birthday (which she spent with Langria at a Santiago hotel under an assumed name), her mother messaged her that the Army was raiding their house, eventually arresting Ramira's parents and her two younger sisters. Ramira knew she would be next.

The Great Escape And Aftermath

With Langria driving, Ramira had only one option. Her father owned a yacht anchored in the Valparaiso Marina, a yacht he often used to travel to Easter Island. Since Easter Island is Roman territory, Ramira and Langria figured they could escape there and claim refugee status. The only issue would be outrunning the Chilean Navy, who were vigorously out on patrol keeping the nautical borders closed.

Fortunately the weather helped them out, as, on the cloudy night, the Navy's radar did not detect the yacht which allowed them to escape. They spent a week out at sea before they eventually reached Easter Island, where they were- predictably- stopped by the Roman Navy.

The Romans immediately seized the yacht and took Ramira and Langria on to their vessel. Their nerves were at an all-time high, but fortunately the Roman officers took pity on the pair and treated them well. The Romans had processed quite a few Chilean refugees since the Byzantine flu outbreak- estimates suggest that some two million Chileans have fled their country to Roman territory since 2012- so Easter Island officials were already sympathetic towards their plight, but since the pair were in a successful band, Roman officials were even more eager to process the duo to gain entry into Rome, since they could work right away.

After a month at Easter Island, Langria and Ramira eventually moved to Rome itself, where The Spirit Within bases itself and continues its operations to this day. They have not released any new material yet, although the duo says they hope to have an album out by early 2021. They only tour in Roman territory because outside of it the Virtue Federation still has enforceable arrest warrants for the pair, which has meant that neither have been able to visit their old family and friends and puts a damper on The Spirit Within's global plans.

Ramira says she hears from her friends and family sporadically (because of "issues" with Chile's network connections), telling her that the situation in Chile has only gotten worse since they left. Martinez's war with the businesses have many business owners deciding they had enough of Chile with many doing what they can to leave, with Martinez doing all he can to arrest them and seize their assets. Others, she explains, are doing what they can to create militias of their own in order to challenge Martinez's rule, putting the country's stability at stake. Ramira says many in Chile are more scared of the future than they are of the virus, which has created a "cauldron of discontent" that the world has never seen before.

"Chile is a lesson for the world," said Ramira. "It is a lesson to world leaders who think they can milk fear for their own game. Eventually, we see 'what's up'- and those 'sheep' you think you've raised are really ravenous wolves."