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  1. Terraversan Commonwealth Rum-Runners Part of the Fort Arltrees Foreign Merchants' District Close to the southern end of the Foreign Merchants' District, the East Terraversan commercial delegation represented the greatest surprise for most of the inhabitants of Fort Arltrees. Only three years before, Terraversa and Oleon had faced each other in a bitter war, and only the military intervention of Corrington and Eslandola -both on the island and in other areas of the archipelago- prevented a complete victory of the Empire of Light. However, while not completely defeated, independent Terraversa itself didn't survive the war. The eastern region of the island declared independence from the capital, in open rebellion against Archduke Oldis, giving rise to the Commonwealth of Terraversa. At the moment, the Commonwealth was struggling to recover from the war and, despite its dreams of freedom, it had de facto almost become a vassal state of Corrington. Allowing a commercial delegation of the Commonwealth on El Oleonda, together with the ferry built between North and South Sillitholina, represented an important attempt towards the normalization of the relations between Granoleon and Westface, even if doubts and mistrust still existed on both sides. An official Terraversan consulate in an Oleonese colony or formal trade agreements between the two nations was still far too much for both sides. Instead, an office and a small warehouse of a trading company represented a less "official" step, but still allowed some informal contact between the governments. If things worked well, an RNTC office might have appeared in Tarlor or Westface, in the future, breaking the almost complete monopoly of Corrington on the trade of the young nation. The name of the company, the Terraveran Commonwealth Rum-Runners, seemed appropriate for a band of smugglers... and actually it had started as such during the Mardierian rule, before the Terraversan Revolution granted it some respectability. Quite unsurprisingly, the acronym TCRR (with the "C" added after the Westface Secession) was often preferred, especially in official documents. The uniforms of the TCRR guards were clearly inspired by the ones of Corrish soldiers, even though their training was not even comparable with the one of Her Majesty's Royal Marines: with the militias still in place, even the regular army of the Commonwealth lacked men with military experience. A couple of soldiers guarded the entrance, while a figure in black slipped through the door, with an envelope of papers in hand. A simple merchant or someone else? An Oleonese diplomat? Or maybe a Corrish agent? The core business of the TCRR in Fort Arltrees -despite its name- was not Rum, but vanilla. The only known source of this valuable spice was Jameston, on Cascadia Island, but small vanilla crops existed also on El Oleonda. Due to the huge distance from the motherland, and the limited amount of production, Fort Arltrees couldn't compete with Jameston in this profitable business (not yet, at least), but the profit margin was still interesting. The TCRR office was small and overcrowded: bags and cases of vanilla pods occupied any available space, together with maps and piles of documents. The flintlock pistol on the director's desk, a memory of his past in the Terraversan Revolution, tended to make all the reports particularly fast and concise. Even though the Corrish influence was starting to take place in some aspects of the Commonwealth administration, the influence of Mardierian culture was still clearly recognizable: for example, in the overly decorated uniforms, or the baroque still-life painting hanging on a wall. Only time would have told whether the relations between the Commonwealth and Oleon could sooner or later normalize, or if the business of the TCRR in Fort Arltrees was destined to last. Profitable trade between two nations, sometimes, could be a good reason to avoid unnecessary wars between them! -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The reason why the TCRR could only dispose of the lower floor was also the only reason why that small company could afford a place in the Foreign Merchants' District of Fort Arltrees. The reason had a name and a surname: Professor Alejandro Coronel, archeologist, writer, philosopher, and, as a hobby, occultist. This peculiar character was not interested at all in the vanilla trade, but had a desperate need to move on El Oleonda... something not easy, for a citizen of the Corrish-aligned Commonwealth. Therefore, he paid a significant portion of the settling taxes for the TCRR, and personally financed the construction of the building. In return, he occupied the whole upper floor and obtained from the company a passage to the island, as well as the promise to support him in all his future enterprises. The studio of this peculiar character was completely occupied by a variety of "findings": a variety of idols, ritual masks, maps, scrolls written in ancient languages, and many other objects. In an (apparent?) chaos, Atwi idols were positioned side by side with antiquities from Tellvok, Tyree'De artifacts, and ancient codices written by the first Mardierian explorers. Professor Coronel had heard about the ruins of an ancient city on El Oleonda, and hoped to finally prove his extravagant theory. Indeed, he firmly believed that an ancient civilization once existed in the East, far before recorded history: after ruling most of both the Old and the New World, that Empire had somehow disappeared, leaving mankind in the darkness for thousands of years. Even the Great Pyramids "of Tellvok", according to Professor Coronel, were actually an artifact of that ancient empire. How could all the other archeologists not understand this truth? Despite the plot of the Order of the Faith to conceal the truth, the signs were hidden in plain sight, if one just looked for them! Even the tarots, considered by many a senseless superstition, also told a part of the story... the Rising Sun, the East; the Broken Tower, a clear hint to the cataclysm that had destroyed the ancient empire. Little mattered if other symbols didn’t have an obvious meaning, all of them must have been in a way or the other allegories of the ancient disaster! Most of the academics laughed at him, but he would have proven all of them wrong! He only needed to find the proof of his theory somewhere in the archipelago, possibly even there on El Oleonda... the large islands of New Haven Seas were clearly part of the ancient continent, swollen by the merciless Ocean millennia before! He would have laughed last, he was sure… Even if most considered him a lunatic, and the TCRR guards hoped never to be chosen to accompany him in his expeditions (actually they had placed bets on how soon he would have disappeared in the jungle), Professor Coronel had actually done some important discoveries, down in Tellvok. Only time will tell if the Professor will be able to discover something about the ancient civilisation of El Oleonda, despite his weird theories, or if he will get lost in the interior. For sure, you will probably hear about him in the future!