The Empire Strikes Back: Interlude—Heart of Doukas

“MINISTER OF SECURITY MISSING!”
Alexios read the newspaper over and over again and then glanced over at the Imperial Order on his table. The news stated that his father, the senator who had saved the empress and the Empire from the wrath of a pagan cult, had been abducted by unknown persons. He and the other senators knew better than the partial truth they were forced to tell the common people. His father was captured by the Cult itself.
The Imperial Order, the letter accompanied by a seal with the double-headed eagle insignia of the Imperial House Doukas, ordered him to find his father and hunt down those responsible “by any means necessary.”
This was going to be a long journey. The Cult was a formidable opponent to take on, having eluded the forces of the Empire for many years ever since their initial attack on the Senate and palace on 9 May 1854. They were good at bending the minds of the people to their will without the people themselves knowing it. Already people were asking about the explosions of several ships in the harbor that had killed several innocents and thirty soldiers. It wouldn’t be long before the protests began in the forums.
His wife Anna appeared in the hallway of their house, looking quite worried. “Is it true?” she asked. “Is the Empress really sending you off around the world to find your father?”
“Yes, my dear,” he said, “It is of grave importance.”
“You just came back from that slaughterhouse in Varna!” she responded. “I feared for your life when the rebels sacked the garrison and beheaded everybody inside!”
“I’ll be fine, my dear,” replied Alexios, “I always am.”
Anna didn’t even cry. “I hope you will come back.”
Alexios arrived at the docks of the Ukrainian frigate Yehven, where the other members of the Athenian Lancers had already gathered on the decks of the old warship. Next to it was the commerce raider Konstantinos, which had just arrived from the Canaries.
After greeting his men, he gave an order to exchange all of their uniforms with merchant clothes, as the Cult would be expecting an Imperial army to be marching after them. All rifles were to be hidden, and each man would carry pistols in their inconspicuous clothes.
The ships left the harbor, sailing out of Constantinople into the Mediterranean Sea. Alexios knew the Cult wouldn’t be hiding in Russian territory; despite the fact that the Ruthenians and the Imperials were bitter enemies, both had agreed to work together on the matter of the Cult, as they were both Eastern Orthodox nations.
Before his father had left, he had posited that there was a Cult stronghold somewhere in UTA or Kanata territory which was causing the constant wars with Mexihco. But with the destruction of the last Aztec enclave in Cherokee territory, Great Chief Lincoln and his generals had sent a letter to the Ministries of Security and Intelligence stating that there was a stronghold in one of the enclaves and that it had been destroyed by UTA forces. The Aztec emperor and the chief of Kanata also affirmed that any pockets of Cult control had also been destroyed.
So if not Russia or America, then where?
There were three options: England, Asia, or Africa.
The English had control of the rainforest known as the Amazon, where nobody who had gone in had come out. However, they made sure very well that nobody went in at all.
Asia was full of lawless states, ideal for cultists to escape from central governments. But after the recent diplomatic agreements with the Celestial Empire, the Empire could project its power deep into Asia. Poland-Lithuania owned parts of Southeast Asia, and Russia owned Siberia. A Cult stronghold had been found and destroyed in the Philippines, so they wouldn’t likely relocate to the mainland.
That left only Africa–the “Heart of Darkness,” as a Polish writer in London had wrote in a recent book. It was the last place on earth that was truly wild and savage, untouched by both the West and East. While the Empire had a few military and corporate bases along the coast, those were merely outposts in a hostile environment, and nobody, not even the major African kingdoms like Mali, Ethiopia, or Kongo knew what lay in the interior of Africa.
Alexios gave the order to sail for the Kongo River region, where the rainforests were the least well known to the Empire of all of the African forests. The Cult knew that the Empire would have a hard time sending an army into the heart of Africa.
Alexios knew that. He had selected from among the Lancers those who were best suited for jungle combat. Some had fought in the Yucatan, while others had lived in Guyana. Still others had participated in Senator Favero’s invasion of the Philippines and the destruction of the Cult stronghold there, and the rest had been part of military operations in Indonesia. They were all used to fighting proficiently in rough terrain, hot and humid climates, and against unconventional enemies.
He hoped that they would be enough to rescue his father.

Alexios awoke when the Yehven’s horn blared. The two ships were approaching the port city of Brazzaville, where the Empire had an outpost ready to assist them. A lead picked up by a contact in Morocco indicated potential Cult influence in the Kongo region.
He put on his disguise and was about to stand up when there was an explosion. There was shouting in the many languages of Europe and Africa. Footsteps were heard as sailors rushed across the deck.
The Konstantinos had apparently fired upon the Yehven, which was firing back. All attempts to signal the commerce raider were in vain when somebody began raising the heads of its crew on poles out the windows.
The guns fired again, tearing holes in the wooden hull of the Ukrainian frigate. The Ukrainians tried shooting back, but the frigate was old and weak, and its guns could not pierce the commerce raider’s hull.
Alexios felt the ship list heavily to port as the bombardment from the Cult-occupied Konstantinos continued. Then there was a great jolt as the commerce raider rammed into the side of the frigate.
Peering above deck, Alexios and his men watched as cultists streamed onto the Yehven’s deck, using scythes and barbed blades to mercilessly behead and dismember any sailors who stepped in their way.
“Sir, what do we do?” Ioannes asked.
“We can’t fight them,” said Alexios, “This is their territory. We jump the ship and head to shore. Blow up the frigate.”
“Yes, sir,” said Loukas, dropping some explosives in the gunpowder reserves and boiler room.
The Lancers took everything they needed and escaped the ship by jumping out some holes in the starboard side. A well placed bomb in the boiler room then detonated, killing the cultists and destroying both of the ships.
Alexios and his men washed up on the beach near Brazzaville. Nobody in the city had seen them yet, which was good, as he assumed that the Cult has also infiltrated the city. They had to get to the river without anyone noticing and then follow it upstream.
Luckily, he realized that a branch of the river was just nearby, along with a steamboat conveniently moored there…


Far up the Congo River, in terra incognita

The Athenian Lancers watched as the Kongo natives advanced on them from all directions, armed with crude spears and wearing little more than loincloths.
Alexios ordered his tired and exhausted men to retreat to the steamboat moored at the riverside, their (empty) pistols raised at the enemy. Ioannes and Loukas, both of whom had a rudimentary knowledge of native languages, desperately shouted at the natives to stop.
How did they fall into this trap? he wondered. Well, they made the journey upriver, following native accounts of a white “Lord Dooku” deep in the jungle somewhere. Eventually they found what appeared to be an old hut which was built on top of an elaborate prison-like structure. There were signs of a struggle but no bodies at all. Farther up the river they found the bodies of numerous Cultists, killed by gunshots or stab wounds. And then they came to a native village where Alexios was sure his father was staying. He was stupid enough to fall into the trap the native savages had sprung. Clever men, they were, despite their savagery, he thought.
There was a shout of a white man from the village, and the natives halted their advances. There was a Greek accent to that voice, Alexios realized.
Natives emerged from one of the buildings, carrying an old and frail white man on a stretcher towards them. It was his father, almost unrecognizable now. Somehow he had managed to escape the Cult and come here to the natives.
“Father!” he shouted.
Nikephoros didn’t respond. He was too weak to speak, having used up his energy on the shout. He was also very old now.
The natives set down the stretcher in front of the Lancers and pointed at the steamboat, intending them to leave quickly. Shouting some orders to his men, they carried Alexios’s father back to the ship, where Ioannes floored the throttle in reverse.
The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing them down towards the sea with twice the speed of their upward progress; and Nikephoros’s life was running swiftly, too, ebbing, ebbing out of his heart into the sea of inexorable time. Alexios was, so to speak, numbered with the dead. It wqs strange how he accepted this unforeseen partnership, that choice of nightmares forced upon him in the tenebrous land invaded by those mean and greedy phantoms.
Nikephoros discoursed. A voice! a voice! Alexios thought. It rang deep to the very last. It survived his strength to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness of his heart. Oh, he struggled! he struggled! The wastes of his weary brain were haunted by shadowy images now—images of wealth and fame, the destruction of the Cult, revolving obsequiously round his unextinguishable gift of noble and lofty expression. My son, my station, my career, my ideas—those were the subjects for the occasional utterances of elevated sentiments. The shade of the original Nikephoros, the respected and noble senator, frequented the bedside of the hollow sham, whose fate it was to be buried presently in the mould of primeval earth. But both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated fought for the possession of that soul satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and power, of his drive to destroy the Cult with his dying breath. And he had, somewhat; there was a Cult stronghold here in the Kongo, and Nikephoros had managed to escape before he could be sacrificed. He then returned at the head of a native army and destroyed the stronghold, forcing the Cult to flee even farther inland, where nobody, not even the natives of the Kongo, ever went. The interior was even more unknown to the Empire than the Kongo River region.
The days passed. They chugged down the river, past ruined settlements built by both natives and the Empire, past trading posts built by the Kongolese government, and other stuff. And Nikephoros’s condition got worse and worse.
He was an impenetrable darkness. Alexios looked at him as one peers down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines. But Alexios had not much time to give him, because he was helping the engine–driver Lancer to take to pieces the leaky cylinders, to straighten a bent connecting–rod, and in other such matters, for the steamboat had broken down.
One evening, Alexios was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, “I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.” The light was within a foot of his eyes.

The old and broken senator cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

“The horror! The horror!”

Alexios blew the candles out and left the cabin so that his father could had some peace. The pilgrims were dining in the mess–room, and he took his place opposite Loukas, who lifted his eyes to give Alexios a questioning glance, which he successfully ignored. Loukas leaned back, serene, with that peculiar smile of his sealing the unexpressed depths of his meanness. A continuous shower of small flies streamed upon the lamp, upon the cloth, upon the Lancers’ hands and faces. Suddenly Loukas’s native servant boy put his insolent black head in the doorway, and said in a tone of scathing contempt:

“Mistah Dooku—he dead.”

All of the Lancers rushed out to see. There was a lamp in there—light—and outside it was so beastly, beastly dark. The voice was gone. What else had been there?

Nikephoros Doukas, the Bringer of Victory, the Duke, Doux of Thema Greece, Imperial Senator, was dead.

The Empire Strikes Back 92 – The State of the Empire 1860 – 1869

Senators, your presence is requested for a State of the Empire Address at Blachernae Palace on the First of September, 1869.

The following newspapers are considered significant by the archivists.





















And the Senate’s world map is being updated.


I cannot wait to visit the excavated cities of Pompeii and Herculaneam. It will truly be a wonder to see how our forefathers lived.

The rise of this “socialism” greatly concerns me. What else could we expect from those American heathens? I am glad to see that Chief Lincoln survived an assassination attempt, however.

These so-called “dinosaurs” intrigue me, particularly the Archaeopteryx.

-Senator Moustakas

Ah, Pompeii! My daughter has spent much of her adult life excavating tombs in Egypt with her husband. I’m sure she and her husband will be delighted to excavate a city of the First Empire.
I’ve met High Chief Lincoln one time. He always had a reputation for being a just and fair man.
Archaeopteryx and Compsognathus…I’ll let my brother know about it. He’s always fascinated in these “dinosaurs.”
So we will finally get that education reform that the Foederatoi has been seeking. The Empire’s youth will flourish!
As for “socialism,” while I do agree with some of their values, I fear that some may take it to the extreme in the long term, capable of posing a threat to the Empire and other monarchies.
I am genuinely worried about the rebellions and revolutions taking place both within and without of our borders. Your Imperial Highness, I am in the process of writing a report detailing rebel activities and any possible sightings of the Cult. Would you mind privately showing me the relevant military reports?

~Senator Doukas, Minister of Security, Doux of Thema Graecia, Head of the Chi Files

It is indeed a majestic creature, from what I have heard, and would look excellent represented on a flag. This Meyer family must be incredibly proud of their discovery.

I have seen the most outrageous sight when travelling through the capital yesterday. There were women riding these strange contraptions called bicycles with their ankles exposed for all to see. Their ankles! The lustful looks on some of the younger men who witnessed this sight were quite disturbing. These women must learn some modesty.

A canal through the Suez? Who would have imagines such a feat of engineering even decades ago. We truly live in enlightened times.

This socialism sounds dangerous. Granting too much power to the common people is just asking for trouble.

– Senator Michelangelo “the Artist” Favero

Perhaps we can use these “bicycles” in the legions of the Empire? Think of it…a portable short-range transportation vehicle, capable of carrying a man and his gear over moderate terrain.
Yes, we must watch these “socialists” carefully, as they have the potential to stir up a lot of trouble.

~Doukas

The socialists are a symptom of the minorities. We must grant the aristocrats more power to combat such revolutionary, plebian tendencies. Let the aristocrats vote in the upper house and we will crush the lower classes. Look at the world, embroiled in war. We must puppet those nations to ensure worldwide peace! Let the Empire become strong!

– Senator Andronikos Palaiologos , Duke of Nicaea

It is quite fortunate that fire brigades have been established in case another catastrophe strikes the capital.

-Senator Moustakas

Senator Palaiologos, sir,
While I do agree with your statement about the socialists, I am not sure how that is related to puppeting the entirety of the world. How would we even accomplish that? I’m sure that the Empire, as the just and honest broker that it surely is, can resolve other nations’ disputes through peaceful diplomacy.

Yes, we won’t have to call in the army every time in that case!

~Doukas

Nikephoros stands up. His servants pass out files to the other senators.

To those of you just joining us, I shall give a brief introduction of what I am about to discuss. Surely you know of the terrorist attack on the Senate on May 9, 1854, in which the Empress and the Ecumenical Patriarch were almost killed. That attack was carried out by a radical savage Russian pagan cult, whose aim is to tear the Empire apart from the inside while also provoking a war with the other Great Power, thereby slaughtering and sacrificing thousands or even millions to their Dark Gods. As the newly appointed Minister of Security, it has been my goal to track down and ultimately defeat this cult, with this file being the latest on the Cult’s activities.

There were small rebellions taking place across the Empire, recently. Several thousand peasants, disgruntled with their state of living, were provoked by a certain Slavic-looking individual wearing an eye-patch into rising up against the Empire. Of course, they were crushed, but the man who orchestrated the whole rebellion managed to escape yet again. Perhaps he is somehow linked to the reactionary revolutions shaking the rest of the world?

In the past, my friend Senator Favero, Minister of Intelligence, found a Cult stronghold in the Philippines which was quickly destroyed. I am pleased to say that I have conclusive evidence that there is a similar Cult stronghold somewhere in eastern Kanata, near the “Great Lakes,” and the members of this branch have been inciting hostilities between the United Cherokee Tribes of America and the Aztec Empire of Mexihco for the last few years. Think about it. Why are the Cherokee settling for random bits of land, creating isolated pockets of Mexihcans and causing incidents in which Imperial cartographers gouged their eyes out, instead of at once taking all of the land as demanded by the “Manifest Destiny” the great Chief Lincoln espoused? There has to be something going on there.

So a few months ago, I personally accompanied a Cherokee expedition into one of these isolated pockets of Mexihco. You can read the mission reports in the file I gave you. Yes, that is a [CLASSIFIED] label at the top, and I had to go through at least a dozen different offices to get all of the [REDACTED] labels removed just for me to read, not to mention release it to the entirety of the Senate. What we found in the isolated land was so gruesome that we ended up censoring most of the report, as evident by the [REDACTED] labels.

While the Cherokee do not generally care about their citizens’ faiths, the Cult was actively working in those isolated pockets to encourage human sacrifice to the Dark Gods, specifically those in pagan Aztec and Russian pantheons. When they discovered us…it was not pretty. They butchered one poor guy right in front of us before we managed to escape, his heart carved out and offered to the Dark God right in front of me. We estimated that probably thousands had already been sacrificed to the Dark Gods by the time we escaped back to Cherokee territory, and it’s still going on right now. Mexihco can’t do anything about it, as they’ve been cut off from the territories in question. I recommend that we take action quickly; destroy the Cult stronghold on the continent and end their suffering.

That is all. Any questions?

~Senator Doukas, Minister of Security

I agree, making the world bow to our direct rule is impractical. Instead, we should set up a tributary system just like in the First Golden Age of the Empire under Justinian. THey will pay homage and give us tribute, providing troops of course as auxiliaries, while we protect them from foreign influence. But if this fails, war is the only option. We will establish friendly nations on countries that border us as a buffer zone. What happens if the Slavic Barbarians invade again? We need to fight wars on foreign soil, not on our sacred land. War destroys our infrastructure.

-Andronikos Palaiologos

I can’t understand your concern about those “socialists”, Senators. Why are we even discussing them? They won’t receive any significant support in future and propably go defunct.

As predicted UTA-Mexico wars go on. We will see how our withdrawal will affect their factions.

It seems like Russians haven’t drawn any conclusions as they are still acting agressive, but as long as it concerns some useless Siberian Wastelands, we shouldn’t intervene.

Finally I have to congratulate our engineers on building Suez Canal, as it is the greatest accomplishment of our times.

– Senator Alexios Damaskinos

Senator, with all due respect have you read the files that I presented to you? I have found conclusive evidence of a Cult stronghold on the continent that has been causing these wars between the UTA and Mexihco. We must act quickly and destroy it before they escape!

~Doukas

I hope that what you are saying is true and we will soon see the end of those endless conflicts. I can’t even imagine the horrors of people living on UTA-Mexico border.

-Alexios Damaskinos

As the border between the UTA and Mexico has apparently been cleaned up, we can probably expect fewer wars between the two. However, The Cult stronghold is still there, and it is likely to start a war between Kanata and the UTA in the near future over the region known as Columbia.

~Doukas

Nikephoros took a stroll in the Senate lawn during the session break. The Empress was busy collecting her papers to read from after the break, and the other senators were busy getting some refreshments to drink.

He did not want to drink; he was getting old, and he felt drinking wasn’t good for the old.

There was a rustling in the bushes near the fountain which caught his attention immediately. He gripped his gun, which he kept on him at all times. Slowly, he stepped towards the bush.

When the rustling intensified, he pulled out his gun and loaded it, pointing it straight at the bush.

However, he was too late.

Several masked men jumped him from all sides, hitting him with a bludgeon and throwing him into a body-sack. His gun was knocked away before he could shoot at them; he resorted to shouting very loudly, attracting the attention of a few servants and senators but no guards yet. Everything went black just as there was another blow to the head.


The Empress appears before the Senate dressed in black.

Senators,

The light has gone out of my life. On the fourteenth of December 1861, Yevhen died, apparently of typhoid fever.


I am sorry. You are not here to witness my grief, but to hear of the state of the Empire. *ahem*

I think some happier family news might be best first. Princess Alíki married Louis IV, the Grand Duke of Thuringia in 1862, Prince Alvértos married Princess Alexandra of Scandinavia in 1863, and Princess Elena married Prince Christian of Denmark. There are a total of sixteen grandchildren so far, with fifteen surviving. Prince Sigismund died of meningitis after all the German doctors were taken away to focus on the war with Bavaria.

I am sorry. My attempt at happy news ended on a sad note. Nevertheless, here is the state of the Empire.

Shortly after the last State of the Empire Address, We promulgated press reforms allowing for private newspapers, provided they submitted to Imperial censorship. This mollified many who had joined reform movements.

While the navy was of utmost importance, the philosophy department was insistent that if they could clarify the nature of Empiricism and spread the idea, that all research and advancement would be much speedier. So We supported these efforts first.

Meanwhile, We took advantage of the increased ability to supply the legions to increase the amount of artillery for each legion. A proper legion now consists of two hussar cohorts, eight artillery cohorts, two engineer cohorts, and eight infantry cohorts.

Near the end of the year, the United Tribes of America formally created a Socialist political party, campaigning for ‘the rights of the people’. There were the smallest of hints of support for such a party in the Empire, and currently no Senators support the Socialists. However, Socialist sentiments are increasing, so We may need to appoint a Socialist Senator if only to keep abreast of what the Socialists may want.

In May of 1861, when empirical methods had begun to take hold throughout the Empire, We finally tasked the Admiralty with creating designs for iron-armored ships. The philosophy department was far more excited about the new schools of philosophy they either developed or contributed to, but the practical effects of a focus on the measurable was far more useful to Us.


We spent much of this time increasing the defenses on the Bavarian border. XXIII. Legio and XXVII. Legio were split into two groups each and spread across the border further. Two new legions were recruited to finish lining the border this way, XXVIII. Legio and XXIX. Legio. Now if there was again war with Bavaria, there was no part of the border they could cross without battle.

In the middle of 1862, Germany moved the annex Weimar. They were successful, but Bavaria had moved to defend Weimar, and so a much larger war raged. We decided to support Germany financially in the hopes of weakening Bavaria.

Shortly thereafter, Mexihco was completely defeated and gave up much territory to the UTA.

The Admiralty finished developing general principles for Iron Steamers, but still needed time to develop specific designs.

They also pointed out that we would need improved shipyards to build any new designs, and that these shipyards could be used to help Our navies control the sealanes by raiding opposing shipping in times of war. We agreed to help them develop the necessary doctrines and upgrades.

While developing specific plans for upgraded shipyards, they also developed specific ship designs. In the following years, they developed several refinements to these designs.

When this had been completed, We began a massive upgrade of the Empire’s shipyards. The amount of work needed suggested a new industrial improvement: interchangeable parts. If parts were constructed properly, they need not be customized for each use, vastly reducing the labor needed. Of course, We instructed engineers across the Empire to design such parts.

In July of 1863, Germany was finally forced to sign a disastrous peace treaty with Bavaria. Germany had conquered Weimar, but now was forced to release it with extra lands, and gave much land to Bavaria.

Hungary then chose this moment to go to war with Bavaria. This was not as crazy as it seemed: Skotland and Scandinavia came to their aid, while Bavaria only had the support of minor German states. Later in the year, Russia declared war on Iraq for the northeastern-most reaches of Asia.

And March of 1864 saw Bavaria victorious again, taking the Oppeln region from Hungary.

This continued Bavarian expansion worried Us, so when the interchangeable parts designs were advanced enough that individual inventors would continue the work, We asked the army to better learn how to hold a territory, so that Bavaria would not be able to cross the border. If We had known just how far the innovations with interchangeable parts would reach, We would have had them developed far sooner.


With the Empire’s improved technology, a powerful idea became possible: a canal through the Suez, connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. We ordered it be done, and it quickly paid for itself.

Russia, meanwhile, won their war. They not only took the territories they desired, but insisted on Iraq becoming part of their sphere of influence.

When the army had developed better means of controlling supply lines through point defenses, We ordered them to do as the navy had done and develop plans for specific scenarios.


In July of 1865, the United Tribes of America again asked Our assistance against Mexihco. Again We promised it, but saw no need to send any legions. And within months, Mexihco sensibly agreed to give Nebraska to the UTA. The UTA now held all of the lands they had dreamed of just years before.

When the army’s plans were complete, We commissioned designs for improved artillery, this time made of iron.


This was followed by fire control systems systems to help navy ships to fire properly in rolling seas.

At this time, Our upgraded naval docks started to be completed, so We began a program of building ironclad ships to replace the former Man’o’Wars. The East and West fleets would each consist of twenty ironclads. Smaller fleets, but far more powerful.

When the fire control systems were ready, We turned to economics, funding a chair at the University of Constantinople to better understand how our increasing industrialization was changing how the market functioned.


This was followed by learning how to better organize the Empire’s industrial workers. Factories were replacing the old guilds.


And when this was complete, We funded another chair in the growing ‘humanities’ department in the University of Constantinople. This one was for a natural philosopher who thought that functionalism could be expanded with ideas from biology to better explain society.

In early 1868, all naval bases that could be upgraded either were upgraded or were in the process of being upgraded. So We began a program of improving the defensive fortifications along the Empire’s borders.

Our factories were continuing to starve for dye, so in July of 1869, We declared war on Deccan to force them into Our economic sphere. XIX. Legio crossed from Ceylon to attack the south, while XI. Legio attacked the northeast. I. Legio attacked the northeast, and the Eastern Fleet blockaded Deccan’s fleet into port.

In other areas of importance, the innovations from past areas of research continue to pour in, though not all of them are helpful innovations.

Many people seem to think that the activities of the cult of Chernabog were a result of the expedition to Egypt.

Our relations with Ming are excellent.

And the Ethopians have sponsored a contest to find the source of the Nile. We outfitted an expedition, which failed. And so We have sent a second expedition. They have not yet returned.



Do the Senators have any questions or comments?


Alexios runs into the Senate hall, accompanied by Varangians who were more heavily armed than usual.
Senators! The Cult has struck again! My father is missing!
He had…my father had just been going for a walk during the break. I heard him shout suddenly and then go silent as if something had happened to him.
I looked over…and he was gone. His gun was lying on the ground, along with a small note.
He pulls out a piece of paper with Cyrillic script on it.
It reads as follows:

“To the incompetent and arrogant senators and your pitiful Empress with her harem of little Mexihcan boys:

Your dead god will not save you from the wrath of Chernobog. We warned you that there were twelve senators within your ranks serving the Black God. You did not heed our warnings. So, we gave you a better warning.
It was quite easy to steal your Minister of Security, as you call the Duke. That old buffoon never knew what hit him. By the time you read this, he will no longer be in your dying empire’s borders.
Don’t think about offering a monetary ransom; we have no use for your money. Don’t worry, we won’t sacrifice him to the Dark God…yet.
We offer the following terms in exchange for the life of your precious senator:

You will stop persecuting our cult and let us live in peace.
All investigations into our cult will cease immediately.
All members of the Favero and Doukas families (no, not the Imperial House, you traitors) will be stripped of their various titles and barred from public office.

The following will occur should you refuse to meet these terms or if you attempt to send in your army:

We shall trigger a war with Germany, Russia, Bavaria, Mexihco, Iraq, and Hedjaz…all of them at once.
The sleeper agents we have implanted in the Senate will kill all of you and your royal family.
The Ecumenical Patriarch will be assassinated.
We shall fund and lead separatist uprisings in all parts of your empire.
Of course, we shall sacrifice your Minister of Intelligence and Minister of Security to Chernobog.

Do we have a deal? Good.

Hail Chernobog,
Yosef Ignatieff”

What do we do, senators?

~Alexios Doukas

I shall mourn for the loss of poor Yevhen.

I hope that the war with Deccan went well. I heard so little of it from my home in Venice.

I can only hope that we have seen the last war between the UTA and Mexico for now. Their constant warring is quite exhausting.

We do not negotiate with cultists. I will have all the resources of the Ministry of Intelligence put towards finding the Duke. For the moment, I suggest that the Empress and Ecumenical Patriarch be protected at times by only the most loyal of guards. Their safety is paramount.

– Senator Michelangelo “the Artist” Favero

I am sorry for your loss, Empress. The entire empire mourns.

Bavaria’s expansion is quite worrisome. Perhaps we should put those upstarts in their place once more.

The Suez Canal is truly the greatest wonder of our time. Now we can control the east-to-west trade, especially when we are victorious against Deccan.

-Senator Moustakas

Your loss is our, Senators’ and citizens’, loss aswell, Empress.

That note was written by some mad man. He’s acting like a child giving us threats that can’t be accomplished. You won’t really believe that they have the power to make coalition that involves all those countries. Germany and Bavaria attacking us at the same time? I can’t stop laughing. If one of them will be at war with us, the second one would attack our enemy as they are weaker, not us. Separatists in all parts of Empire? Considering that most of our citizens are Greeks I can’t even think about what could make them turn against the Empire. I’m sorry to say that, but I think that Senator Doukas was prepared for such situation and he is more than anyone willing to sacrafice his life for safety of the Empire, and our Empire won’t be safe if we will let those mad murderers live on. With a bit of luck we will be able to rescue Senator Doukas before they will do something terrible to him.

– Senator Alexios Damaskinos

As Alexios shook the hand of the senator who had just arrived, he noticed the hand of another senator dropping into his pocket, as if to draw something…a gun!

Get down!

Shots rang out throughout the senate room. He charged at the gunman before he could target the Empress, but the gunman turned his gun on himself and shot himself in the head.
Outside, they heard numerous explosions coming from downtown.

“Kyrie eleison!” says Kyriakos Angelos angrily. “I’m getting too old for this! Firearms in the Senate, even after the Rus assault on the Chrysotriklinos?? If it wasn’t such an affront to our dignities, I’d motion that all senators are searched before entering the palace!”

As the body of the gunman is taken away for analysis by the Ministry of Intelligence, Alexios speaks up.
Well, actually we did institute harsher security measures after the attack. Somehow this senator–I mean, cult sleeper agent–managed to sneak in an unauthorized firearm.

After what seemed far too long, members of the 1st Constantinople Guard arrived, escorting General Kanaris.

Your majesty.

As we expected, the cult revealed their hand in this session. This has allowed us to track the traitors within the Scholai Palatinae and remove them. Your person and the city should now be secure.

Unfortunately, the cult leaders have escaped with the Senator. We thought we had them trapped in the harbor, but their ship exploded before we could board it, as well as several other ships that had been booby-trapped. And then suddenly they were taunting us from a ship outside the Great Chain. It is unfathomable how they could have slipped the noose.

Centurion Doukas, I task you with rescuing your father. Your century shall go with you. We’ve arranged passage on some merchant ships, Ukraine is sending a Frigate to meet you and continue the chase, and one of the Light Fleet’s commerce raiders is sailing from the Canary Islands to carry you wherever you need. Orders have been telegraphed to every garrison in the Empire to help you to the end of their abilities. With the transatlantic cable, we were even able to send orders to Guayana, and to request assistance from the UTA and England. You can go anywhere in the world and receive assistance.

Your majesty, the world is growing ever smaller, and the cult will have fewer and fewer places to hide. They will not survive much longer.


Senators,

We apologize for this madness. It was necessary to allow the cult to try again in order to weed out the worst of the traitors. And they have done just as we expected.

Like several of you, We do not believe they can carry out their threats. They are a stinging gnat, not an existential threat. Nevertheless, their escape is surprising.

Senator Moustakas, We agree that Bavaria needs to be put in their place. And after their war with Germany distracted the doctors that could have saved Sigismund, We are their everlasting foe.

Normally, We would give you more time to respond, but We must discuss matters of security with the General, and We expect that many of you are shaken. So yet again, thank you for your time, Senators.