After the Address

31 December 1935

Prince Alvértos was having a good morning. He rose early, leaving his apartments in Blachernae Palace before Elizabeth and the girls were ready for the day. He stopped by his father’s apartments, where the Emperor still suffered an illness leaving him weak and often unconscious. Because of this, Prince Konstantinos was giving the address to the Senate this morning. Alvértos got some food to-go from the kitchens and summoned a driver to take him to the Grand Palace. Once there, he found that the address was already over and went to the Emperors’ waiting room, passing the Aotearoan senator’s proxy and nodding to him. Opening the door he called out, “Konstantinos! How did it go?”

His brother’s look stopped him before he got through the doorway. The flushed face. The angry scowl. It had gone badly.

Konstantinos immediately began ranting. There wasn’t a lot of coherence, but Alvértos gathered there had been several foolish ideas floated followed by a brawl. Alvértos tried to calm his brother with a quip, “Sounds like we need new Senators.”

Konstantinos’ face grew even redder. Oh no, Alvértos had triggered this old sibling fight. “We need to get rid of the Senate entirely! Time for us to truly show who’s in charge, not hold your idiotic elections!” Konstantinos was ranting and pacing, rambling on and on and beginning to sweat heavily. He suddenly stopped mid-sentence, his mouth flapping noiselessly, then collapsed. Alvértos gasped and stepped forward. One of Konstantinos’ guards was already kneeling by him, but the other immediately turned to Alvértos. “Stop, traitor! You’ve done something to the Emperor!”

The Emperor? Father was still living. Konstantinos was still just Crown Prince. As the guard reached for his sidearm, Alvértos found himself backpedaling down the hall. As the guard emerged, the Senate’s guards noticed the aggression towards him. One immediately drew aim at Konstantinos’ guard, stopping him cold. Another quickly pulled Alvértos into the near-empty Senate hall.

He was stunned, so didn’t really notice who it was that with a worried face suggested he get back home quickly. He was led to and through hidden tunnels (since when did the Senate have hidden tunnels?!) to the Horn and placed on a small boat which sped towards Blachernae. But part way there another guard received a message on the radio. He whispered to the pilot who turned the boat to the Bosphorus. The guard walked back to the prince. “Sir, there’s something bad happening at the palace. Your family has already been moved to safety, and we have a boat waiting for you in the Bosphorus.”

Something happening at the palace? An attack of some kind? But the guard knew nothing more. They were swiftly past the great chain and boarded a larger ship. It was already in the Black Sea before Alvértos learned the truth - his brother was accusing him of attempting a coup and had sent soldiers to arrest him and his family. Even if it had been true, the use of soldiers and the attempt on his family was greatly out of form. As the ship sailed for Trebizond, he wondered what he would do.

Smyrna - December 30, 1935

Sitting at a table outside a cafe, Theodora sipped her morning coffee and read the local newspaper. The front page talked about ongoing insurgencies in Syria-Palestine. That area had been annoyingly reckless since the Time of Troubles. She had gotten tired of all of the paperwork she did about that place. Her son Belisarius was on his way back from a deployment there. He had missed Christmas with her, Alexios, and Heraclius, but he had made time to join them for New Year’s. They would meet up in Smyrna, join Alexios and Heraclius in Athens, and then head to Constantinople to meet Irene. It’s been so long since the whole family’s been together.

That got her thinking of the people she had come to known over her life, and where they all had ended up. Alexios, her husband of many years, was currently bedridden with an illness. Heraclius, her other son, was attending to him with his team. Irene was in Constantinople. Her brother, Niketas, was off somewhere in Tibet—he had said he wanted to atone for the sins he committed in the Sack of Constantinople. General Ioannes Dalassenos had been promoted to Megas Doux and was currently somewhere in the Adriatic. Last she heard, Lieutenant General John-Loukas Picardie was being considered for the newly created position of Megas Domestikos ton Aeras—the head of the newly created Imperial Legion Air Corps. And lastly, General Theodoros Laskaris was in Africa.

Then there was the Senate. Favero was still around, but nowadays he had an almost singleminded focus on destroying the Italian rebels. Understandable, but it doesn’t help when he blurts out “Italia delenda est” every single session. Kyrene and Nestorius were in Aotearoa. I miss them a lot. The others she used to know were either retired or dead. She had looked over the roster of the current Senate and recognized only a handful of the names. Most of the senators this year were younger newcomers, like Irene. Even the Ecumenical Patriarch himself, barely a man of 35, had a seat. Wonder how he became His Holiness at that age. She didn’t know how to feel about all of these recent additions. Of course, new blood was necessary for the Empire’s continued evolution and survival, but the old guard could provide some wisdom and balance out the more zealous youth. Lord knows there’s a lot of radicals these days. What’s the world coming to? At least Irene wasn’t one of them.

Belisarius was running late. Theodora checked her watch. Strange. He’s usually extremely punctual. One time he even arrived half an hour early. Maybe he was already here? Perhaps he got bored and went off somewhere.

A light breeze blew through her hair, and she heard the flapping of wings, like a bird had landed nearby. But she knew exactly what that was. The chair opposite her was now occupied by a man in a suit. He looked like any other man, except for the fact that he had appeared out of nowhere. “He won’t show.”

“Wilhelm.” Theodora had a detailed file on him back in her office with everything she knew about him. And by everything I mean almost enough to fill one page. “What brings you here?”

“I was in the area. Belisarius’ unit was mobilized again earlier this morning.”

Theodora raised an eyebrow. “Mobilized? Why wasn’t I told?”

“There was a sudden rash of attacks in Syria,” Wilhelm said, “Rebels seized an important fortress outside Antioch. Belisarius’ unit was deployed out of Smyrna to reinforce local security forces. It all happened too fast.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Thought it was something you’d like to know. And I don’t really want you to waste your time.”

“Anything else you’d like to tell me?”

Wilhelm shrugged. “I don’t have much else.”

“What about the Cult?” Theodora had been hunting down the remaining Cult cells for the last several years, but her trail had dried up lately. “Got anything I could use?”

“I’m just as lost as you are,” Wilhelm said, “Ignatieff’s hidden himself well.”

“Who is this Ignatieff anyways? We’ve been dealing with him for decades, and yet he hasn’t aged at all.”

Wilhelm opened his mouth to respond. At that moment, someone shouted, “Minister Doukas!” Wilhelm’s eyes widened.

“I’m sorry, I should get going,” he said, “I’ll tell you about it later.”

And with that, he was gone. A courier ran up to her and saluted. “Ma’am, I’ve got urgent news for you.” He handed three slips of paper to her.

What is it this time? The first was a letter bearing the imperial seal. It was an official summons to the emperor’s address to the Senate tomorrow. That was to be expected—she’d be in the capital by the end of the day. The next two, however, were telegrams she hadn’t expected.


Attached was the photo of burning wreckage that was once a transport plane. As soon as Theodora read the words, she caught her breath and gasped. Her eyes refused to process what she had seen. Her hands froze, and the telegram fell out of her hands. “No…no…it can’t be…”

The courier bowed his head. “If it’s any consolation, ma’am…”

“Can you please give me a moment?”

The courier nodded and left. Theodora nervously picked up the second telegram.


She tried to hold back her tears, but she couldn’t. The telegram fell out of her hands and fluttered to the ground. She couldn’t believe what she had just read. It had to have been a lie. Or a mistake. Or something. They couldn’t have both died so soon after each other. It was improbable, impossible.

“NO!” Theodora pounded the table, spilling the coffee onto her newspaper. “GODDAMNIT! WHY, GOD?! WHY?!” She slumped into her chair and sobbed some more. Why did you have to leave me, Alexios? Why did you go so soon, Belisarius? Don’t leave me like this! Like how Father left me!

Nobody came to her side. Heraclius wasn’t there. Belisarius wasn’t. Alexios wasn’t. Father wasn’t. His Majesty wasn’t. God wasn’t. In that moment, she was completely alone.


It was a normal day in the Queen of Cities. A light fog had rolled in from the Bosphorus. Cars rolled along the busy Mese Street, the main thoroughfare of the capital. Pedestrians—most wearing nice business suits and dresses—milled along the sidewalks and headed across Augustaeon Square, passing the statues of emperors and heroes. The sounds of wheels rolling against cobblestone and engines humming filled the air; occasionally, there would be the sound of horse hooves clacking against the pavement. Irene Doukas looked wistfully out the window, taking in the sights and sounds of the big city. The capital was bustling, and all looked at peace. For a second, it looked as if the Sack had never happened to begin with. But the more Irene looked, the more she saw the telltale signs from those dark days. Bullet holes in walls, some not even plastered over. A patch of lighter-colored concrete on the street where a bomb crater had been filled in. Scorch marks and faded crossed-out rebel symbols in some alleys. Occasional marches of blackshirted goosestepping men bellowing slogans like “Death to rebel scum!” and “One God, one Church, one Empire!” She tried her best not to recall memories of her childhood. Despite that, brief recollections still bubbled to the surface. The smell of ash and blood on the ground. Fires crackling nearby. Pillars of smoke rising high into the sky. The copper taste of fear in her mouth. A woman’s hand reaching down from above.

Irene shook the thoughts out of her head. Calm down, Irene. We’re no longer there. You’re safe. And you’ll make sure it never happens again.

Someone knocked on the door. “Who is it?”

“Imperial Mail Service. I’ve got a priority telegram for you from Smyrna.”

An envelope fell through the mail flap. Irene picked it up off the floor, noticing the seal of the Doukai family. Not the imperial seal, but the one for her own family. She quickly opened it.


Mother…still not used to calling Auntie Theodora that. Irene’s birth mother had died in the Sack. And her father was always going to be Niketas, not Uncle Alexios, even though the former had been missing for most of her life since that day. So Theodora was unable to make tomorrow’s address. Something had happened to her? A part of her wanted to drop everything and head down to Smyrna to see if she could help, but the rest of her told her not to go. Auntie Theodora could handle it. And she was needed here tomorrow. Who would sit in for her if she wasn’t in the Senate during the address?

I’ve got a job to do here, and I have to do it. She looked at her desk, where she had put a notebook and important documents. Irene admitted she was a little nervous about tomorrow. She had always observed previous sessions, not actively participated in them. Was she up for the task? She had worked towards this moment for years, but now that it was here, she was afraid she might not live up to her aunt’s expectations. Relax, Irene. Auntie Theodora believes in you. She said as much. She wouldn’t be sending you to the Senate if she didn’t think you could do it. And besides, it’ll be just like the last session. Nothing’s going to be any different, other than you’ll be in Auntie Theodora’s seat. How hard could it be?

December 31

Irene stormed out of the chamber, fists clenched and teeth gritted.

“Goddamn frakking idiots,” she whispered under her breath, “How hard could it be, Irene? Nothing’s going to be different, Irene. It’ll just be like the last frakking session, Irene. All a load of skata. Worst. First. Session. Ever.”

It had started off well enough. The senators had taken their seats after the playing of the national anthem. Then Prince Konstantinos showed up to give the address in place of his father. Irene had seen his photo in the papers before, but she had never met him in person. He was tall and imposing but a little frail and lanky—his uniform looked slightly too big. His face was suave and charming, but Irene found nothing attractive there, and that only worsened when he started speaking. For about an hour, he rambled on about lost imperial glory and military campaigns around the world. He played up all of the victories the Empire had made. As for defeats, he always spun them in such a way that he could claim they were secretly victories and that was the plan all along, while shifting any remaining blame onto the commanders in the field or the enemy. She swore she heard him even criticizing the Emperor himself. Although she and her aunt both believed criticism of authority was necessary for the improvement and betterment of society, and Theodora had fought to reform the censorship and lese majeste laws, it was still shocking to hear the Prince of Thrace criticize his own father in such harsh terms. The criticism itself was on His Majesty for not pursuing more punitive terms. As if that would have decisively ended the rebel insurgencies. The jingoism and militarism reminded Irene of the blackshirts constantly marching on the streets, and she didn’t like it.

Was that what Auntie Theodora had told her to expect? Irene felt annoyed and a little cheated. Theodora had gotten all of the mundane addresses and sessions, where the Emperor had just spoken about things going on around the world and then left the senators to come up with their own conclusions and suggestions. Had Theodora ever dealt with Konstantinos before? What did it mean that Konstantinos spoke today? Was his speech a sign of things to come? If he could speak like that of his own father and sovereign, what would he do to the senators? The rebels? No, even the people? Irene had kept quiet, waiting for the other senators to respond so she could see what they thought and, more importantly, how Konstantinos would react.

A certain senator spoke first, having rushed to stand up and grab a microphone before anyone else could. Irene didn’t know much about this man, but by the end of the session, she wished things could have stayed that way. The senator, apparently one of the more radical one wanted the Empire to betray its Indian ally, conquer the country, and turn it into a corporate fief solely to extract profit for the homeland. Seconds after he sat down and yielded the floor, the entire chamber exploded in rage, as almost everyone, from fascists to communists to centrists to the KRA, condemned such an act of betrayal and outright cruelty. Some of the more incensed senators looked like they were about to fight, even, before Varangians were sent in to restrain them. Irene had remained calm, waiting for the whole thing to blow over. Most senators had come to India’s defense. Others instead called for the same thing to be done to the rebels. A few took things all the way to calling for a Russian genocide. Favero had called for everyone to focus on defeating the breakaway rebels in the west, like Italy, to project strength. Konstantinos had looked like he was completely embarrassed. The original senator had the most smug expression on his face, as if he wanted this to happen. The stenographer had stopped writing things down. Irene had talked a bit with Franco Lazaretos, the proxy for the absent Senator Thaddas, a colleague and ally of her aunt, who was as equally confused and nervous about the prince as she was. Then the prince had spoken again, screaming loudly for everyone to shut up, which they did. A chill had run down Irene’s spine as he ranted about how incompetent and stupid the senators were, briefly floated the idea of firing everybody, and then dismissed everyone for the day.

And that was where Irene found herself, walking down a hallway, cursing her rotten luck. A clock on the wall read the time as not long after they had begun. Staffers milled around, looking confused as to why the senators were walking out and Konstantinos was storming off in the opposite direction. Varangians were talking to the few reporters waiting in the public areas, trying to control the narrative. “The session went well. That is all you need to know.” Perhaps it was for the best that the people didn’t know the chaos that had just unfolded, at least right now. Maybe in the future they could be told, once things had calmed down. She hated that she was agreeing with censorship.

In any case, the day’s session had ended early, and there probably wouldn’t be a second one anytime soon if Konstantinos was anything to go by. Which meant she had the whole rest of the day to herself. She hadn’t made any plans. Irene slumped into a nearby chair and shook her head. She had no idea what to do now. Perhaps she could go home and just take a rest. Read the morning paper, then maybe get lunch. There was that newly opened restaurant in Xerolophos District. What was it called? Arcadia? She heard good things about the food there. Maybe she should try it out.

Alexander walked on quiet, slippered feet, marveling at the sight of the nearly completed restoration work.

The Hagia Sophia, the Church of Heavenly Wisdom, on which the whole world knew to bow a reverent head…it had seen millenia of empire, humanity, Christendom…blood and death. Hurt by an earthquake, it was nonetheless greater wounded by its own people, tearing and burning great swathes of holy and imperial history apart.

This place, that had stood at the centre of the Empire and Church for a thousand years…Well, it was only a youth in comparison to the Faith, and the Empire indeed…those had stood for double that time.

The Patriarch frowned. He remembered, though he was only eight years old at the time, the 800th anniversary year of celebrations for the ending of the Great Schism by Saint Konstantios. And, just three years ago, the somewhat muted 700th anniversary of the formal reestablishement and recognition of the Roman Empire, the Sundering of the False Papacy, and…yet…

He sighed and then breathed deeply, taking in the insence and ambience of peace embedded in the great temple of God. The sounds of the city were so muted and dimmed that it was as though time had stood still, and were he to walk out those doors, it would be into those heady days of Orthodox and Imperial triumph, where the road ahead lay only unification, peace and prosperity for all.

In his half lifetime, according to Dante, Alexander had seen the end of the Pax Romana that had held the world, or at least Christendom, for so many centuries. Was it now his fate to oversee the begining of ten centuries of darkness before another renewal? Or was this merely the next chapter leading to a new dawn, where peace may yet be found, and the world, once divided, found a measure of understanding again?

These were difficult questions, and the Church agreed with him in that measure. The elation of Alexander to the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Roma…it was not exactly unexpected, nor unwelcome, but it was also not unopposed. He…they…were all afraid of what was to come. The Great Orthodox Church of Christ was made of many houses. Some several dozen major rites and Churches spread put across the four corners and seven continents of the Earth, wherever one might find Man and Faith.

That did not come without both its trials as well as its blessings. Ever since the ruling of Konstantios IV, the reorganising of the Empire in 1408, and esepcially the crowning of Konstantios XI, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople had served as the direct spiritual and de jure canonical head of the Orthodox Faith…but exceedingly few were ever foolish enough to impose their will in the latter role. Still, the dictum of Unam Sanctum, which thus began the 15 Years War, and the final end of the pretender Holy Roman Empire, endured to varying degrees both ecclesiastical and cultural. Despite it being a…rather ‘Catholic’ (and Alexander loathed the term and concept) ideal, there were many within the Church and the Empire that agreed and believed that a hierarchy of Churches should indeed exist. That the Patriarchs should enforce their will more strongly, and that as the Emperor wills, and the Empire protects, so too should the Church seek power through unity and strength.

Alexander was of many minds about the thought and the practicality of such ideas, including, he feared, a personal selfish part of himself that presented at the idea of being the Holy Sovereign of the Faith.

But that was unworthy of God and His Church.

Alexander began pacing the floor again, absently noting that the work really was almost compelte, and that some service of thanks, commemoration and renewal would no doubt be due for such an end to repairs.

It would also present a great possibility for all the leaders of the rites and faith throughout the empire and the world to converge here, and a new council potentially settle some of the questions and fears of this most uncertain modern era.

There were whispers of intrigue and worldly concerns in the senate also, that he would have to steel himself for. Though modern times these may be, the Church wielded extensive powers and influence everywhere from Senate’s and parliaments, to courts and schools, to Christian charity and the layman’s honest Faith.

He was a man still, of course, but he was also Patriarch, and the world called out for solace as well as direction. He prayed for the wisdom and kindness, to grant both.

At the Aotearoan Representative HQ, otherwise known as the Thaddai estate in Constantinople, Konstas Pilokalos and Eudokia Lavigne were discussing daily affairs in the living room, when they suddenly heard someone coming through the front. Soon after, walking into the room, was Franco Lazaratos… arriving back from the Senate unusually early.

Upon asking what brought him back early, Eudokia was met with a tired look from Franco. Neither appeared to have heard the news, though he suspected that others had. With a sigh, he told the two that they were having an impromptu meeting, and to get everyone here as soon as possible.

“…Franco, what had happened at the Senate?” Pilokalos had asked him.

As Lazaratos was leaving the room to head for the main office, he looked back to his colleague: “…something that we’ll have to be quiet on publicly. Something very concerning for the Thaddai estate, and Aotearoa.”

Konstas and Eudokia looked at one another, feeling concerned, and delegated who would handle what - Eudokia will go around the estate to call on folks (those being Charalambos Tsakonotis, Nicolaos Alexidas, Antiochos Heraklides, and Carys Cecil), while Konstas will phone up the remainder (those being Delyth Cecil and Olena Zhuk). Each emphasized the seriousness in Franco’s voice. It was likely the meeting would start without Delyth and Olena…

“On the news today, in the Roman Senate, not much has been reported. It seems to have been a fairly unremarkable session, one that had gone well, but not much else,” the radio could be heard saying at the Thaddai estate in Komnenion. Nearby, Nestorius Thaddas was relaxing in the resting room, the radio having previously played some music, with his son Timon joining him. Kyrene had been busy today dealing with exarchess affairs, apparently that lousy Mesazon Ieni had done something again.

“Well, it’s good that nothing much had happened. Trust me, boy, it can get absurd in the Senate,” Nestorius remarked with a chuckle, “Especially given the time of year, no one knows what can happen.”

Timon looked up from the book he was reading, a lengthy character drama, with a concerned look on his face. He didn’t want to think about the Senate, so he thought carefully on how to respond.

“…I could imagine,” Timon commented, remembering his father slightly embarrassing himself when they visited the Senate back in ‘31, “But let’s hope it remains calm,” he finished before looking back down at his book. Nestorius, noticing this, decided to take the hint. He reached for the radio, changing the frequency to listen to more music, or perhaps a radio show.

An excerpt from the journal of Ypolochagos Nikos Stavros

“December 31, 1935

It wasn’t that long ago since my reassignment to the XXXXIV. Legio, and yet it’s all too familiar. The orders are the same as always, hold our position and keep watch for enemy movement. Being stationed so close to the traitor state of Italy does fill me with unease, especially when every day is a test of patience. Every single day some Italian unit trains close to the border, performing live firing drills, and showing off their shiny toys. But everyone knows it’s a bluff. Some of the boys in the platoon get anxious and wish to retaliate by doing the same, but we have our orders and the Captain knows better than to answer these provocations. And he’s right, we shouldn’t let these low-lives have their way, an excuse is what they’re after but they’ll never get one. I do sympathize with the boys’ desire for action however, perhaps tomorrow we’ll double the training or recheck some of the fortifications, make sure the sandbags are sturdy and none of the sections of the trenches are collapsing.

Being assigned to guard duty gave me ample time for thinking. Technology is moving at such a rapid pace that sometimes it’s hard to keep up with it. I remember the tanks of the Great War, steel behemoths, hulking masses of iron and gears, but some of the designs of today hardly look like anything they used to be. Planes, back then fragile skeletons covered in canvas seem to keep getting faster, fly higher, and perform more and more stunning acrobatics. It must take a special kind of crazy to pilot one of those machines. But seeing some of the cargo planes carrying supplies made me wonder if an entire unit of soldiers could be carried by one of those marvelous mechanical birds and dropped amidst the enemy ranks, sowing chaos and destruction from above. Pilots have been using parachutes for quite some time, why not train soldiers to do the same? A special unit like that could be used for rapid envelopment, obstruction of supply routes, and the capture of key areas all without having to fight through the hardened frontline defenses. But an idea like that seems too good to be realistic, I’m sure if anyone proposes such a concept they’ll laugh at. But I just can’t get the concept out of my head. Looking at the clock soon another year will begin. Who knows what it’ll bring? We live in such fascinating times.”

As Nikos was looking out the window of his office he hears a knock on the door. “Come in!”

A young, nervous soldier, who couldn’t be older than 20 or 21 came in, saluted Nikos, and after being told to be at ease delivered his message. “Sir! We’ve captured a few Italian soldiers!”

Hearing the news Nikos turned on his heel to face the soldier, raising his eyebrows in surprise. “Italians? Tell me more, what are they doing on this side of the border? Obviously, this isn’t their land.”

“Sir, it seems they got a bit too excited about the new year, got drunk, and crossed the border in search of… Erm… Company.”

“I see. Personally, I’d like nothing more than detain them and perhaps interrogate them in the morning, however, we cannot risk an international incident. Not with the Italians. The Empire has enough to deal with. Sober them up, then return them to their side.”


“Ah, but do make sure to be rough with them, give them a proper trashing. They need a reminder that anything south of Roma isn’t Italy, and who could say that they didn’t get into a drunken brawl at the bar? I’m sure you’ll appreciate the opportunity to let out some of that pent-up frustration as well. Beyond that, let’s keep this entire thing swept under the rug. No need to turn a molehill into a mountain. Dismissed.”

“I-… Alright, sir. Thank you, sir.” And with that, the young soldier was off. Nikos sighed and sat down at his desk, rubbing his temples before looking over some ledgers and records of the platoon’s equipment status. He couldn’t help but wonder if the Italians struck now, would they be able to hold, or would the traitors sweep past the Legios and make their way all the way down the boot? Would Sicily be safe? The Empire had enough to worry about with the rebels in Syria and Palestine. The frontier with Russia was vast, harsh, and in need of numbers to counter those of the Russians. The East was unstable and uncertain. Hispania, is far away from Constantinople, and even with technology cutting the distance dramatically, it would be hard to defend in a case of all-out war, with the local legions and population most likely left to fend for themselves. The African possession of the Empire was vast, and yet empty, rich, and yet with nothing special to them, full of sand and unruly savages, all draining resources while fueling the Empire with riches of the earth, a perplexing paradox. Yes, Rome was large and powerful, yet everywhere Nikos looked, cracks were showing. Did the enemies of Rome see them too? There’s peace in our time for now, but how long will this peace last? It might take one match to light the fire, one wrongly tossed the stone to shatter the glass facade of stability and prosperity. What fascinating and uncertain times these are… Tick tock. The clock struck midnight. Another year, but it felt just the same as the last.

Constantinople December 31, 1935

Senator Donatello Favero made his way back to his apartment in the City of World’s Desire after the eventful session of the Senate. Some of his fellow senators couldn’t keep their mouths shut and had ended up antagonizing the Crown Prince. Donatello wasn’t surprised that Konstantinos had snapped during the session when such insane ideas as invading their allies were being suggested. Here was the Crown Prince sharing ideas about how to revive the Empire and reclaim its lost glory, and some idiots were spouting utter nonsense in his presence. A more patient man may have tolerated such idiocy, but clearly the Crown Prince was a man of action.

Donatello’s car pulled to a stop outside his apartment and the driver opened the door for him. He stepped out and thanked his driver before stepping towards the front door. As he did every time he returned to this place, he looked the building up and down and let out a deep sigh, wishing as he always did that he was returning to his estates near Venezia instead of this place. Despite how comfortable and cozy this place could be, it would never truly be home.

“Darling, is that you?” a voice called out as Donatello opened the front door. His wife, Caterina, sauntered into the entrance hall, a smile spreading on her face as she saw her husband. “How did the Senate session go?”

The senator hung up his hat and coat before he wrapped his wife in a warm embrace. “It could have gone better. The Crown Prince attended in the Emperor’s absence, and some radicals decided now was the time to share their inane ideas.”

“Well at least no one set off a bomb,” Caterina said with a smirk and she guided Donatello into their sitting room. “I’ve heard of more than a few senate sessions ending with some form of explosion.”

Donatello plopped down on a comfortable armchair and took a moment to let the stress soak away. “It was more of a verbal explosion than a literal one this time.”

Caterina nodded, looking out the window at the city skyline as if it would help her compose her thoughts. Donatello went to grab a newspaper off the coffee table, but his wife cleared her throat to draw his attention before he could.

“Darling, there’s something I wanted to discuss with you,” Caterina said, her face sullen. Donatello eyed her for a moment before finally grabbing the newspaper and flipping it open. As it became clear that he wasn’t going to respond, she added, “It’s regarding our finances.”

“What about our finances?” Donatello asked as he skimmed the headlines. Nothing stood out as newsworthy to him, just the usual rubbish that somehow got published these days. He did see one article about Piano Cat retiring, and that nearly brought a tear to his eye.

Without saying another word, Caterina scurried out of the room, returning a few seconds later with several documents. She handed them to her husband, and he noted that they were the ledgers she maintained for the household. “I’ve been reviewing our finances and I believe we may potentially be in some trouble.”

Donatello skimmed over the ledgers as he had the newspaper. All he saw was a bunch of numbers, some black but most red, but it meant nothing to him. “Go on.”

“As you well know, your family’s wealth was primarily tied to its estates, with the vineyards being the primary source of income and most of your material wealth being stored there,” Caterina said. “When your estates were seized by the Italian government–”

“Rebel government,” Donatello interjected.

Caterina nodded with a slight sigh. “Yes, rebel government, well they also took most of your wealth away from you. Of course you had cash stored away in various banks, but those reserves have been our main source of income for the past 25 years.” Caterina paused for a moment, trying to look her husband in the eyes while he skimmed the ledgers without taking any of the information in.

“At the rate we’re spending–“Caterina said before stopping with a frown and adding, “no, at the rate you’re spending, those reserves will be gone in 10 years.”

The senator dropped the ledgers down on the coffee table, his face impassive. He looked up at his wife, waving his hand near his head as he tried to remember something. “What about that toaster company my father invested in? From what I understand that product has been highly successful and we’ve been reaping the rewards ever since.”

“Yes, that has supplemented our income,” Caterina conceded with a nod. “However, you have made some other questionable and somewhat dubious investment choices that have left us with nothing to show for it.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Donatello said, crossing his arms.

“Oh, so you’ve forgotten about that time you invested in that electrified water scam?” Caterina said, glaring down her husband. “Or how about the daylight motion pictures?”

“Who wouldn’t want to enjoy motion pictures in broad daylight? It’s better on the eyes.”

Caterina rolled her eyes. “They were stupid ideas, and now we’re going to go broke in a decade. You need to stop throwing our money away and focus on supporting our daughter’s future.”

Donatello huffed and looked away. He muttered under his breath, “I didn’t think they were that dumb.”

“Excuse me?” his wife said, tapping her toes against the hardwood floor.

“Fine, some of them were bad investments.” Donatello looked back at his wife, his eyes downcast. “And I’ll refrain from any further investment opportunities.”

“Good,” Caterina said, clapping her hands together. She pointed a finger at her husband and added, “And if I catch you spending our family’s money without consulting me first, I will make sure you never hear the end of it.”

“Yes, dear,” Donatello replied meekly. Caterina, who seemed satisfied with his answer, turned on her heels and left the room.

Not wanting her to get away with this small victory, he yelled after her, “You won’t have to worry about our finances once I reclaim the family estates. We’ll be living in the lap of luxury, just you wait!”

Donatello received no response, leaving him to wallow in his thoughts once more. “Damn rebel scum,” the senator muttered under his breath. They had taken everything from him. One day he would get it all back, and those that had betrayed him and the Empire would pay.

Alvértos found himself growing angrier and angrier. His brother was accusing him of trying to start a coup? And worse yet, tried to have his wife and daughters arrested? This was taking brotherly disagreements too far. He wouldn’t stand for it. He hated to bring more trouble to the Empire, but if his brother would plot against his own blood, what else would he be capable of? Well, the soldiers had set Trebizond as a destination just to do something and had planned to regroup there and maybe escape the Empire. Alvértos would do so much more with this destination.

The Prince went to the ship’s radio room and began making phone calls. To Senators and other notables he knew would side with him in the coming conflict, he asked them to make for Trebizond as speedily, secretly, and safely as possible. To military commanders he asked for them to side with him or at least remain neutral. In this, his active military service and Konstantinos’ limited military service proved helpful, but the full results were yet to be seen. Finally, he called governors and other civilian leaders. They were harder to persuade to side with him, but the vast majority agreed to neutrality. He suspected many saw opportunities for their own aggrandizement, but those were problems for the future.

It was evening before he finished and he was able to spend time with his family. They were concerned and scared, but despite that they were showing resilience and toughness. Especially Elisábet. Just ten years old and little idea what was happening, but there she was putting on her best determined face to help her mother Elisábet comfort little Margarítēs. He felt a surge of affection for the three of them, as he often did. While the ship worked its way to Trebizond, due to arrive in the morning, he took the opportunity of a little domestic happiness.


The Arcadia, as it turned out, was the best restaurant in the city, at least according to Irene. If Constantinople was the Queen of Cities, then the Arcadia was the Queen of restaurants. At the counter, Irene was currently digging into the local specialty, a medium rare steak, juicy and hearty like nothing she had previously eaten. She understood what the other patrons meant when they said it was something to die for.

Suddenly, the doors loudly swung open, and two blackshirted goons stormed in, their heavy boots annoyingly thumping against the wood floor. “Interim Senator Irene Doukas!” one of them bellowed. “We know you’re here! Answer us!”

How did they know? Did someone follow me from the Senate? Irene covertly slipped her left hand down to her belt, where she had kept a pocket pistol. I hope I don’t have to use this. Then she stood up. “That’s me. I’m in the middle of my steak. What’s so important that you have to interrupt my lunch?”

One goon held up an official-looking paper. “His Highness the Crown Prince has issued a warrant for your arrest, on charges of sedition and conspiracy against his person.”

Irene was taken aback by the charges. What the absolute hell?! Where did that come from? I swear, this day keeps getting weirder and weirder. There were some oddities. Why were civilian blackshirts here, not the police or Auntie Theodora’s own ministry? Why would Konstantinos personally order her arrest? And was that order really legitimate? It made little sense. “Sedition? Conspiracy? I’ve done nothing wrong. What crime did I commit that the Crown Prince himself personally ordered me arrested?”

If they were coming after her—a substitute with literally only one day on the job—then something else was obvious. They would go after Theodora too. Frak. Something’s not right.

“Come with us, Irene,” the goon said, “It’ll be easier for all of us this way.”

“Yeah, for Konstantinos I bet,” Irene said.

“Watch your tone! That is the Crown Prince you’re speaking of!”

Yep, really regretting defending the censorship laws a couple hours ago. “Can you at least let me finish my lunch? I’d hate letting this steak go to waste.”

The goon stormed over and tossed Irene’s plate onto the floor, where the steak and its juices spilled everywhere. Irene’s eyes narrowed in anger. Okay, you’ve gone way too far! She drew her pistol. “That’s it, now I’m angry!”

The other patrons ducked for cover. “Hysterical woman, shut up!” the other goon said. “Unless you want to add resisting arrest to your crimes!”

“What gives you the right to arrest people? You’re not cops. Now get out of here before I shoot one of you!”

Please leave. I’d rather not shoot anyone.

Fortunately, the goons had brought no weapons other than their own fists. Clearly outmatched against Irene’s gun, they quietly nodded and backed out the door. “Don’t think this is over, Irene! You and all of the other traitors to the Empire will be brought to justice!”

As soon as they were gone, Irene put away the gun and sighed with relief. The other patrons emerged from hiding, though most simply grabbed their belongings and left as fast as they could. Irene looked over at the lone cook on duty. “I’m terribly sorry.”

“If anyone needs to apologize, it’s those two men who barged in,” the cook said, “Harassing a young woman like you during her lunch? Scaring away my customers? What has the world come to?”

Her lunch had been rudely cut short, which meant she had no reason to stay more. She slipped several bills to the cook. “Here. That covers my bill, and a tip to make up for today.”

The cook counted the bills. “This is too much, ma’am. I can’t accept.”

“Please, it’s the least I can do. I can’t just walk out of here pretending nothing happened.” She picked up her coat. “Well, I’ll be on my way now. I loved the food, thanks.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“I’ll see if I can come back again someday. Need to finish a whole steak.”

The cook nodded. “When you do, it’ll be on the house.”

Irene laughed. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”

After exchanging goodbyes, she hurried out of the diner. Her hand still gripped the holster of her gun. Her mind raced with contingency plans and analyses. What did they mean by “all of the other traitors”? And would they go after Theodora in Smyrna? Was Konstantinos really behind this? Then her eyes widened when she realized what the goon really meant.

“The senators. Konstantinos is going after the senators. Skata.”

She picked up the pace and flagged down a taxi.

“Good afternoon, ma’am, where to?”

“Senator Thaddas’ estate. And please hurry.”


Theodora wasn’t impressed by the goons sent to intimidate her. They may have had muscles that could have scared weaker men and women, but their faces still looked young and inexperienced with life. So when they declared that she was under arrest, all she could do was laugh.

“What the actual hell is happening to me today, God? None of this makes any sense.”

“Let me repeat. Theodora Anna Doukas, you are under arrest for—”

“Blah blah blah, sedition, conspiracy, what’s next, slander of the throne? Too predictable. Come up with new content next time.”

One of the goons cracked his knuckles. Theodora didn’t flinch. “Is that supposed to scare me? Boys, I survived the goddamn Sack of Constantinople. I was fighting communists for hours with nothing but a sword. And those guys were actually threatening. So do go home to your mothers and don’t come back until you’ve decided to take yourselves seriously. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go.”

She simply walked past the two goons, ignoring their threats and curses, and returned to her car. Her driver was already behind the wheel. “Where to, ma’am?”

“The airport,” Theodora said, “I need to get to Heraclius. Also, I need a secure phone line.”

Northern Greece

“Come on, work it!” Ioannes Dalassenos shouted as the cavalrymen of the legendary Athenian Lancers went through their drills. “You are Lancers, now show it! I didn’t train all of you to be cannon fodder!”

An aide ran up to him. “Sir, you have a priority call from Minister Doukas.”

“Theodora? Haven’t heard from her in years. Why’s she reaching out now?”

“She wouldn’t tell me. Says it’s a matter of national security.”

Ioannes nodded. “Alright. Where’s the phone?”

Five minutes later, Ioannes returned to the training grounds.

“Alright, listen up! Training’s done. Something went down in the capital, and we’re shipping out immediately. This is not a drill. Gather your things and be on your horses within the hour. The Empire has called upon the Athenian Lancers once more, and we must answer. Let’s move!”

Over northern Greece

John-Loukas Picardie almost missed being on an airship. There was something nostalgic about the gun of the engines, the gentle rocking of the floor, and the clouds and the land below zipping past. But after so many years, he was finally back at home.

The Empire’s newest and most advanced battle airship did not have a name yet. John-Loukas would handle that later, after this test flight had verified all systems worked. Airships had been used in the imperial armed forces for years, but they had always been fragile beasts, more a show of force than an actual threat. This new design sought to change that, by making it the equivalent of the naval aircraft carrier, only for the skies. Helium fuel was used to avoid explosions resulting from igniting hydrogen. The fuel was compartmentalized, so punctures in one part of the airship wouldn’t deflate the whole thing. Fighter aircraft were attached to the bottom of the cabin with clamps, with ladders for pilots to climb in and out. When deployed, a plane would fire up its engine, drop away, and carry out its operation, then return, match speed with the airship, and reattach itself to the holding clamps. That way, the airship could project power over a much greater range and better defend itself. Working in tandem with other airships, an aerial battle group could bring to bear multiple air squadrons deep into enemy territory. It was the future of warfare. His detractors said the future lay purely in heavier-than-air aircraft, but he believed there was still a place for airships in modern militaries, at least for another generation.

An aide ran up to him. “Sir, we received a priority radio message from General Dalassenos just now.”

“Dalassenos?” John-Loukas said. “What did he say?”

“Something’s happening in the capital, and he mobilized the Athenian Lancers to help out. Said something about backup being appreciated. What should we do?”

“If Dalassenos thinks he needs backup, then he needs it,” John-Loukas said, “I trust his judgment. Set a course for Constantinople.”

“But sir, we don’t have any ammunition.”

“We’ll pick some up along the way. But our priority is getting there as soon as possible. Now, make it so.”

The side nodded. “Yes, sir.”

The meeting room at the Thaddai estate grew tense as everyone slowly gathered. Franco Lazaratos shuffled in his seat, his tired concern remaining visible. Of the core nine working at the Aotearoan Representative HQ and under Nestorius, only Olena hadn’t arrived yet. Franco sighed.

“…we’ll catch Olena up when she arrives,” Franco finally spoke up, “let’s begin this meeting.”

Everyone sharpened their focus on Franco, as he got up and began the proceedings: “You all might be wondering why I called this meeting so suddenly. The Senate session was what induced it.”

“The radio said the session went fine enough though, what happened?” Charalambos Tsakonotis asked.

“Is that what’s being said? Because it’s wrong,” Franco responded on beat, “The session had been a disaster. Rather than the Emperor himself appearing, we were joined instead by Prince Konstantinos. The man critiqued his own father, and amplified jingoist, militarist and anti-socialist mindsets in front of the senators. He even questioned Gabon receiving Foederati status. And this attitude would inspire jingoist talk from the more lively senators, and soon after the session fell into chaos. Konstantinos would shout at us at the end, and question why Empress Veronica even created the Senate in the first place, remaking he should have the lot of them fired.”

Everyone in the room chattered, recognizing the seriousness in Franco’s voice as proof that this had in fact happened, and immediately saw why this was concerning.

“We might know little of Konstantinos, but he is a member of the royal family, and that means that if he had wanted to, he could use his influence to sway Imperial decisions. What’s to say that Aotearoa won’t be impacted by him? What’s to say that Nestorius will have his seat revoked by way of the senatorial institution being single-handedly dismantled? And if he sees fit to speak of senators as such, what do you think he would say about their staff?” Franco continued.

“A blackshirt sympathizer is no friend of ours beside that point,” Carys Cecil remarked, assuming allegiances. Her sister Delyth nodded furiously and added: “Just like the radical communists and the cult, they’ll be the death of all of us some day.”

Franco sighed in some relief that everyone seemed to be on his side on this. “We should work on deciding an internal policy guide for what to do from now on, because if things continue like this, they’ll-“

He tried to continue, but suddenly, a phone in the main office, which is across from the meeting room, went off. Everyone went silent, as they recognized which phone it was… of the three core phones installed in that office, it was the one used for domestic, or rather, Imperial affairs. They all looked at each other for a moment, before Franco rushed to the neighboring room to pick up the phone. Everyone got up to watch and listen from the hallway.

“Yes, Thaddai estate speaking. This is Franco Lazaratos,” he quickly said, “Are you calling for the estate or for the Aotearoan Representative HQ?”

The others watched as Franco’s expressions shifted to one of surprise.

“It’s an honor to receive a call from the roy- what?!” he raised his hand to his chest in honor, before audibly yelling aloud in response to what he had just heard.

The next minute or so mainly consisted of him saying ‘yes’ and ‘I see’, ending only once he uttered an unexpected word: “…Trebizond?”

“I’m not sure we’ll have the time, we’d have to gather our work material, and-“ Franco attempted to respond, before listening to what the person on the other line had to say.

“…I see. Thank you for informing us. You have my word, we are with you. Godspeed,” Franco finished up the call. He turned to the others, and all of them had the same thought in their head: he looked like he had just seen a ghost.

“Uhm… well… it seems we have another reason to be menaced by Konstantinos,” Franco motioned quickly to return to the meeting room.

“Who was on the other end?!” Nicolaos Alexidas asked.

“It was Prince Alvértos,” Franco iterated simply, to the shock of everyone, “they were calling from the Black Sea… fleeing from an attempted arrest. Konstantinos was accusing the Prince of trying to start a coup. They called to ask us if we would side with them against Konstantinos, and if we do, to gather our things and head for Trebizond as soon as possible, as safely as possible, without stirring suspicion…”

The room sat quietly, unsure how to process this information.

“…if we leave for Trebizond, we would have to gather everything here related to the Aotearoan Representative HQ, at least documents-wise, as it was implied Konstantinos might target the senatorial estates soon. We wouldn’t want any documents falling into the wrong hands,” Franco continued.

“What about the staff of the estate?” Eudokia asked, “We may be using this as an HQ, but we aren’t the only ones here when Nestorius, Kyrene and Timon aren’t here.”

“I-I don’t think they’d be arrested, but we should tell them regardless too. If nothing else, someone needs to watch this place.”

“…what do we do then?” Antiochos Heraklides asked.

Franco stood silent for a moment: “…if any of you agree we should head to Trebizond, stand up and show so. If not, remain seated. What we decide now will impact everything.”

After a moment, everyone started slowly getting up. Eudokia would begin leaving the room: “This is too slow! We need to start packing immediately!”

Franco, looking at her head out, looked at the others, and saw them in agreeance. They all began to rush out of the meeting room, delegating what to pack up.

Olena Zhuk was horrendously late. The traffic so far, pedestrian or otherwise, was just absolutely godawful today. Her frustration was capped off by her worry for the sudden call to the estate, and the seriousness she heard from Konstas. She hoped whatever was to be discussed, it wasn’t so serious that missing it would be a disaster. It didn’t help she kept getting distracted by the fact that the streets seemed more… militarized, somehow. Could just be her imagination though.

But finally! She’s arrived at the estate. She reached into her bag and tried to grab the key she had been given to enter without having to ring the front. As she attempted to reach the key, however, she suddenly heard a car parking behind her. It appeared to be a taxi… was someone else late, or were they having a guest?

Abruptly, the front door in front of her opened up, to the sight of Franco.

“Olena! Get in, quickly! The sisters can explain to you what we talked about,” the man said urgently, to Olena’s shock.

“W-what happened?”

“They’ll tell you! Go help them pack things in our offices,” he told her, before she pointed to the taxi at the front. She ran past him into the estate, as he looked upon who was leaving the taxi.

Another long day, Kyrene thought to herself. She remained disappointed in the current minority government that had managed to somehow get in power last election, having had to delegate her own staff to aid them in the simplest of affairs. At the very least, soon enough, she can return home and rest up.

“Kyrene,” she heard a familiar voice say, “are you busy at the moment?”

“Kojo, I’m just finishing up things here, so not particularly,” she responded to Kojo Onobanjo.

“We, uhm, have a call for you. It’s not just serious, it’s Imperial,” Kojo revealed.

Kyrene’s attempt at relaxing her expression give way for a surprised one. “What could we be receiving a call for at this time?”

She followed Kojo to the phone, and allowed her some privacy by departing the room. He did, however, watch through the glass in the room’s door.

Kojo watched as the expression on her face went from surprised to mortified, placing her free hand on her mouth. He looked away and contented himself on waiting for the call to finish. Several minutes later, the door opened again.



“Call Nestor. The Empire is about to go to hell,” she said with a deadly serious stare.

Irene was starting to regret telling the driver to hurry, because she underestimated just how fast Constantinople taxis could go. She had heard horror stories from Auntie Theodora growing up, but she had always assumed they were embellishments made up to entertain a little girl. Nope. This taxi weaved in and out of traffic and swerved around corners like a demon, leaving behind a trail of angry honking cars and pedestrians diving out of the way. Her hand had gripped the door handle so tightly that it had turned a pale white. Remind me to never do this again.

After what seemed like an eternity, the taxi screeched to a halt at the gates to the Thaddai estate. A guardsman held out his hand. “This is private property. State your business.”

Irene had fortunately carried her official papers with her. She showed her senator’s seal. “Interim Senator Irene Doukas. I’m a friend of Senator Thaddas. He can confirm.”

The guardsman scanned the seal for a quick second. Then he nodded and opened the gate. The taxi lurched once more and in the blink of an eye had parked in the estate’s driveway. Irene spotted a woman at the front door, digging into her bag. She looked like she had arrived just minutes earlier and was now staring at the taxi, her expression either one of confusion or alarm. Frak, did something happen already? Then the door opened, and Franco appeared.

“Olena! Get in, quickly! The sisters can explain to you what we talked about.”

“W-what happened?”

“They’ll tell you! Go help them pack things in our offices.”

Olena nervously pointed at the taxi and then disappeared inside. Franco quickly recognized Irene sitting in the back. “Irene?”

Irene got out of the taxi and paid the driver. “Go.”

The driver nodded and sped out past the gates. Irene turned back to Franco.

“We have a problem. But I think you already know that.”

Franco looked around, as if thinking they’re being watched, before motioning to Irene to come inside.

After closing the front door, he began speaking: “What do you know so far?” he asked her, “Were you called as well?” he added, avoiding to namedrop Alvértos just in case.

Despite the estate’s size, Irene could hear ruckus from across the entire building, and she could tell that Franco had just spent the past couple of minutes rushing around himself.

Franco nervously looked around, his eyes full of worry. Then he beckoned her inside. Irene stepped into the house, hearing panicked voices coming from across the large building. It seemed the rest of Nestorius’ friends and staff were similarly terrified. Something bad had happened, no doubt. Was it as bad as what had happened to her? She had to find out.

Irene didn’t say anything until Franco had closed the door. He only started speaking, in a hushed voice, after he engaged the lock. “What do you know so far? Were you called as well?”

“Called?” Irene raised an eyebrow. “They just threatened you over the phone?”

“Threatened?” Franco said. “What do you mean?”

“Two blackshirts accosted me in a diner, while I was eating my lunch,” Irene said, “Said Konstantinos had issued a decree for my arrest. Implied they were going after the other senators too. Did they say that over the phone?”

“No,” Franco said, “It wasn’t a threat. More like…a warning.”

“A warning of what?”

Franco’s expression was grim. “That skata’s about to hit the fan.”

Franco paused for a moment, as he thought about how he was going to tell her what they knew. Hearing what had happened to her had put even more worry in him, but if nothing else, it proved that she was on the same page as them, roughly.

He calmly placed his hands on her shoulders, and looked her in the eyes: “It was a warning, not from Konstantinos, but from Alvértos.”

Before Irene could respond, he took his hands off and began rubbing his face: “As we speak, the Prince is on a ship headed for Trebizond. Konstantinos had attempted to arrest him, his wife and daughters, under decree that he had been planning a coup. Knowing our views, he asked if we would side with him against Konstantinos, because he was clearly attempting something right now, and that if we do, to get our things and head for Trebizond as soon as possible, as secretly as possible, and as safely as possible. I imagine he’s calling other senators and notables that would side against Konstantinos as well. For sure he at least said he’d be calling Aotearoa later.”

He motioned towards the hallway. “So, you can imagine we’re in a rush right now. We have a lot of things here given the dual purpose of the estate for Aotearoan uses, and we want to make sure none of it stays here.”

Constantinople December 31, 1935

Senator Donatello Favero was looking forward to an uneventful evening of rest and relaxation, but that was never to be as soon as the phone rang. His wife answered it in the other room while Donatello continued to peruse the newspapers in the sitting room. He couldn’t quite make out what she was saying, but when there came a long pause and he heard her put the phone down and start walking towards him, he knew something had happened.

“Dear,” Caterina said as she stepped into the room, her hands behind her back. “There’s someone on the line for you, a call from the Palace.”

Donatello rose from his seat rapidly, the blood rushing to his head and making him dizzy. He took a moment to steady himself. “Is it the Emperor? Has something happened?”

“No, not the Emperor,” Caterina said, and Donatello let out a sigh of relief. “He says he’s a representative of the Crown Prince.”

Donatello nodded, trying to figure out why the Crown Prince would want to speak with him. Did it have something to do with today’s less than perfect Senate session? The senator didn’t say anything further to his wife, being so wrapped up in his thoughts. He stepped into the other room and picked up the phone.

“Hello, this is Senator Favero speaking.”

“Good afternoon, senator,” the voice on the other side of the line said. “I am calling on behalf of the Crown Prince. May I take a moment of your time?”

The Senator gave his consent, and the caller proceeded to give a minutes-long monologue that clearly was coming from a script, a hastily written one at that. As the speech went on, Donatello became more and more alarmed. Prince Alvértos was being accused of staging a coup and had fled the capital. Prince Konstantinos had ordered the arrest of his brother and all those who had participated in the coup. The Crown Prince was now seeking the the support of those loyal to the Crown to ensure the situation did not escalate and aid in the capture of this rogue element. When the caller finally stopped speaking, it took several seconds for Donatello to even notice, as he was still trying to process the sheer gravity of the situation presented to him.

Licking his lips nervously, Donatello asked, “Are you certain that Prince Alvértos is involved? Is the Emperor okay?”

“The prince has been identified as the main culprit behind the coup. All evidence supports that.” Donatello’s second question was left unanswered.

This was all too much for one man to take in. If there was indeed a coup, orchestrated by a member of the imperial family no less, then the Empire was about to spiral into chaos if something was not done. The imperial family was the glue that held the Empire together. Infighting amongst royal siblings could only bring death and destruction. This needed to be nipped in the bud immediately.

“Has the Emperor been consulted yet?” Donatello said. Before the caller could answer, the senator added, “I know his health is poor at the moment, but his arbitration of this matter is paramount towards resolving it. All efforts should be made to get both brothers to meet with His Imperial Highness and plead their cases before him. This cannot be allowed to spread beyond the imperial family.”

“Prince Alvértos is a traitor!” the caller responded, and with that Donatello knew that his idea was not going to be considered. He did not fail to notice that yet again this man was dodging all his enquiries regarding the Emperor.

Donatello paused a moment before responding, knowing that there was no point in continuing this conversation. “Well that is unfortunate. Please let the Crown Prince know that I wish him the best and that this matter may be resolved swiftly and peacefully.”

All the senator heard was a grunt on the other line, followed by a click and strange static hum. And that was the end of that.

“So what was that all about?” Caterina said from behind Donatello, startling him since he hadn’t even noticed she had entered the room.

“Just a disagreement between siblings,” Donatello said, putting the phone down. He placed his hands down on the nearby endtable and let the weight of the situation bear down on him.

Caterina came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Are you going to be okay?” she asked, holding him tight. “Are we going to be okay?”

Donatello took in several deep breaths. Things would surely escalate from here. Soon Constantinople would not be safe. Turning around in his wife’s embrace to face her, he said, “I think it would be best if you went to visit your family in Valencia for awhile.”

Caterina looked deeply in Donatello’s eyes for a few seconds before nodding. “If you think that is best. Will you be joining me?”

Donatello slowly stepped out of his wife’s embrace. “No, not yet. I’ll need to think on what to do next, and what will be best for the Empire.”

Caterina gave him a sad smile before she left the room. They both knew that this could be the last time they ever saw each other if things went badly, but neither wanted to say it or acknowledge it. The Empire was about to erupt into chaos, and as usual his family would be caught in the middle.

Irene listened patiently to Franco’s words, trying to process them as fast as she heard them. Her suspicions had been confirmed. Konstantinos was behind this. He was making his move, using the Senate session as an excuse. Goddamnit random radical, you just had to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hope you’re happy with what you got. Alvértos was on the run, heading to Trebizond with his family. Konstantinos had claimed he was planning a coup, while using that as an example to stage one of his own. And now everybody who wasn’t a crazy blackshirt was being urged to go to Trebizond as well. Well, I guess I know where I’m going.

Franco motioned towards the hallway. “So, you can imagine we’re in a rush right now. We have a lot of things here given the dual purpose of the estate for Aotearoan uses, and we want to make sure none of it stays here.”

“Right, right,” Irene said, “Damn, I didn’t think he would escalate this far, but now that he’s done it, I can’t say I’m surprised. I guess I’ll be going with you guys, then. We should call up anybody else who might be targeted. Senator Favero, Senator Marco, my aunt. We need somewhere to gather and hide while we figure out a way out of the city. If Konstantinos is going around arresting people, I suspect he’ll soon jump to closing the city exits.”

“Who do you want to call first?” Franco said.

“My aunt,” Irene said, “She might be in trouble.”

“Got it.” Franco led her to the main office and pointed at the telephone. “You can use that. It’s a secure line, at least as secure as we can make it.”

Irene picked up the receiver and dialed the number of the Doukas estate in Athens, where Theodora should have been. The idle ringtone buzzed a couple times, and then she heard a click.

“This is the Doukas estate,” the operator’s voice crackled through the receiver, “You are on a private line. State your identity and business, or hang up.”

“Andronikos, it’s me, Irene,” Irene said, “Put me through to Auntie.”

Andronikos didn’t hesitate. There was a click, and then Irene heard Theodora’s voice. “Irene?”

“Auntie,” Irene said, “Something happened in Constantinople.”

“You too?” Theodora said.

Irene’s other suspicions were confirmed. “They went after you too.”

“Yes,” Theodora said, “At least they tried to. It’ll take a lot more than that to arrest me. Are you okay? Did they hurt you?”

“No, I’m fine,” Irene said, “I’m with Senator Thaddas’ people right now. We’re thinking of gathering up any other potential targets in the city, then leaving for Trebizond.”

She repeated what Franco had told her. Theodora listened patiently as Irene explained Alvértos’ relocation to Trebizond, Konstantinos’ machinations, the wave of arrests, and what was likely going to happen next. When Irene was done, she swore she could hear Theodora nodding, as if not surprised.

“I see,” Theodora finally said.

“That’s all you have to say?” Irene replied.

“What else do you expect me to say?” Theodora said. “I’ve already begun preparations. Thanks for telling me about Trebizond. Now I’ve got a place for me and Heraclius to go.”

“And what about Uncle Alexios and Belisarius?” Irene said.

“I…” Theodora said. “They’re dead.”

Irene was shocked. “What?!”

“Belisarius was killed in battle, and your uncle succumbed to his illness,” Theodora said, “I’m sorry for telling you this. But there will be plenty of time to grieve later. For now, we need to go to Trebizond.”

“Understood,” Irene said.

“You got all of your materials?”

Fortunately, Irene had always taken everything sensitive and important with her to each session. So today, the only thing she would lose when Konstantinos seized her place would be extra clothes and kitchen utensils. Stuff she could easily replace. “Yes.”

“Good. I’ll send Ministry people I trust to the estate as soon as I can. They’ll protect you while I arrange for transportation out of the city. It’s on the way, so it shouldn’t take too long. Just stay right where you are, get as many other senators as you can, and wait for extraction.”

“What about you?”

“Don’t worry about me or Heraclius. We’ll meet you in Trebizond.”

“This is all so sudden,” Irene said, “I didn’t expect my day to turn into this.”

“Neither did I, but it is what it is,” Theodora said, “But I’ve been through much worse. And I know you can make it through this too. Stick to the plan, and we’ll see each other in Trebizond. Understood?”

“Yes, Auntie.”

“Still calling me that, huh?”

Irene shrugged. “I’m used to it.”

“Alright then,” Theodora said, “I think that’s all we need to say. We should get going. Don’t call the estate this line again. We won’t be home.”

“Got it.”

“Good luck, Irene.”

“See you in Trebizond, Auntie.” She hung up.

“Well?” Franco said. “How did it go?”

“Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?” Irene said.

“Uh, good news.”

“Well, my aunt’s safe and has a plan to get us out of the city.”

“That’s great! But I’m now worried about the bad news.”

“Yeah, about that…” Irene said. “We’re going to have to stay here for a little bit while our method of escape arrives.”

Sensing Franco’s alarm, she tried changing the subject by picking up the phone again and dialing a new number. “Might as well make use of our time. I’m calling Senator Favero next. Why don’t you reach out to others, Franco?”

The morning of the 1st was peaceful. and nothing indicated that anything would be out of the ordinary. Nikos took his platoon on patrol, double and triple-checked the prepared fortifications, and when the troops returned to the camp everyone participated in basic drilling. Yet another regular day guarding the frontier, surely nothing unordinary could happen. That’s what Lieutenant Stavros thought until around 3 p.m. a courier from the Legio HQ arrived delivering a message from the capital ordering all troops to remain on high alert and watch out for a number of people on a search list. The telegram called them all conspirators, traitors, rebel sympathizers and supporters. Attached was a long list of names with descriptions of characteristics. As Nikos was reading through the new orders he couldn’t help but mutter “What on God’s name is happening in Constantinople?” under his breath. Orders were orders, but this all seemed so… Sudden. There’s no way that all of those people were discovered all at once, it was just too convenient. Conspiracies are never unraveled at this scale, yes, big sweeps are possible, but searching for so many nobles and senators all at the same time? It just didn’t sit right in Nikos’s mind. But he was far away from the capital, and he was a simple man, just because it seemed odd to him, didn’t mean that something massive couldn’t be uncovered by the Imperial security service. After dismissing the courier he mused over the issue for a while, carefully considering all the options he had - he was a soldier, and he was far away from the City of World’s Desire, he hardly was anyone important, nor did he seek glory.

At 4 p.m Nikos gathered the men under his command to relay the new orders,</i>

“Men! You’ve all been diligent in your duties as the Empire’s border guards. However just today we’ve received new orders to follow, alongside guarding the borders against the enemies coming from the outside, we must also protect the enemies of the state from escaping! Soon enough each and every one of you will receive a list of names and brief descriptions of the people in question. Be extra vigilant when on guard duty or patrol and stop everyone who seems suspicious. Their identities can be confirmed later and we cannot risk traitors to contact our other enemies.”

“But Sir…” A lanky, scrawny looking private tried speaking up. From what Nikos could remember this one was a fresh transfer from the training camp, perhaps eager for action. The poor lad clearly was nervous and unsettled, the tense atmosphere getting to him. Many others began to murmur among each other, some snickering and giggling. Nikos tried to pay them no mind for now.

“Is there an issue soldiers? Are the orders not clear enough?”

“W-Well, no.. But… I’ve heard from my brother in Constantinople. You see he’s-“

“I don’t care who your brother is. Keep it simple, say what you want to say, and spare me your backstory, private.”

“Well.. A-Aren’t many of those names Senators? Nobles? One of those names is Prince Alvértos himself!”

“And what of it, shrimpy?” A burly, older soldier chimed in. “Are you saying that nobles can’t be traitors? If you ask me, they’re the ones who can gain the most out of this. Especially Alvértos. Everyone knows the Emperor is going to kick the bucket any day now. And Konstantinos is the next in line. I say Alvértos must be feeling jealous, simple as.” And just like that more whispering among the soldiers, the entire platoon agitated and uneasy, what seemed to be a peaceful day suddenly changed into a day that would define the entire year, if not the rest of the decade.

Quiet down the lot of you!” Nikos shouted, sternly, his eyes squinting and darting among the soldiers lined up in front of him, trying to pick out any particular troublemakers in the crowd. Discipline shouldn’t be an issue, and yet the entire unit was hanging on the edge of falling into a mutiny, Nikos knew this feeling all too well. Disaster was about to strike, and this peaceful life would be no more, perhaps a civil war would erupt, an opportunity for the enemies outside. “I don’t care if the list is full of nobles, old grannies, or even God himself! You have your orders, you are the soldiers of the Empire, and you will fulfil your duty to the Emperor! You will stand guard at the border, ready to stop any enemy, be it internal, or external. You vowed to serve Rome, this is the time you remember your promise. Double up your patrols. If I hear any word about any of you causing trouble it will be double the detention with half the rations, am I making myself clear Legionnaires?”

He didn’t get a clear “Sir yes, Sir!” instead a mass of whispers, murmurs, mutters, and grumbles. If that was the state of a single Centuria, may the God almighty have mercy on the Legion, let alone the nation. When Nikos returned to his office, the only thing he could do was collapse in his chair and lay down on his desk. He has his orders, and he swore to always follow them. If these rumors of treason are true it will be a bloody year. It won’t take long for the Italians to notice the disarray in the camp, if the worst happens it’ll be a matter of time before they pour en masse across the border, eager to push all the way south, something they couldn’t achieve during the Troubles. At the current state, the platoon won’t hold out even for a week. It would be the second massacre at Aquila. Was this Nikos’s fate? To keep seeing his brothers in arms slaughtered in this place? He had to make a phone call

“Ypolochagos Nikos Stavros, XXXXIV. Legio, II. Cohort, DVI. Infantry Maniple, I’d like to talk to the theater commander.” “…” “Fine, fine, he’ll do too. Just get me someone who can explain to me what in the devil’s name is going on.”

The Patriarch was filing and writing in his office. The day had picked up, as had the crowds outside marvelling at the edifice. It was indeed magnificent, he thought proudly, and perhaps better than it had been in centuries. Generations of filth, pollution and erosion had been wiped clean. The gilt and carvings reapplied and smoothed out. For the first time since the beginning of the industrial age, the Hagia Sophia gleamed in the sunshine.

His secretary appeared at the open doorway and ushered in the Rector with nary a hint of warning. Alexander frowned but forgave the boy’s impetuousness. He was young, and the Rector was forbidding.


“Your Most Holy,” the old man bowed and sat as bidden. “The city is uneasy, Holy Father.”

Alexander put his pen down and sighed. “More building works?”

“No. The Black shirts are…restless.”

Alexander’s eyes darkened. Now there was a snake in their midst. Oh, they attended service and spoke the words, but Christian virtue was absent from many of the Fascist’s hearts, despite cloaking themselves in ancient regalia and espousing at length on their respect and pride.

Pride they may have, but respect was sorely lacking. He had half a mind to telephone the Constabulary-

“They say one of the Senators was accosted at lunch. They threatened their arrest.”

“Beg pardon? Which one?”

“That is not entirely clear. But I hear talk of several more…interactions…with several politicians and their staff. And upstanding members of this city.”

“Now that is concerning.” Alexander’s hand hovered over the phone, contemplating. “Your thoughts?”

“The tourists seemed to sense something was amiss. Everyone else seems rather more anxious than riled up. So far at least. Did something happen at the Senate?”

“Nothing that would countenance this. Some unexpectedly appalling behaviour from those who should know better. And disconcerting voices calling for all sorts. Hmm…Aristotle!”

The young secretary’s head appeared around the door.

“Send for the Guard Captain. I hope,” he said to the Rector once the youth had gone, “that we are not about to suffer another bought of unrest.”

Or worse, a riot. Not at this time, not with the Emperor indisposed.

“The Palace has said nothing?”

“I spoke to the Crown Prince personally which…is unusual in and of itself, come to think.” Alexander frowned again. “Things appear to be unchanged, other than general prayers for health and good fortune.”

The Rector grunted, and shifted to watch the door from his seat. “Be wary of that one,” he said, suddenly.


“Konstantinos. Ambition is not uncommon in heirs but his ambitions…”

Alexander sat back as he tailed off. “The Crown Prince has been a patron of ours, Felix.”

The Rector smiled, rather sadly, Alexander thought. “For Christ’s glory…or his?”

Before more could be said, Aristotle had returned with the Guard Captain, and two of his officers.

There had always been a guard of varying size at the site, ever since the days of the old Empire and the Pontifex Maximus. Since the Restoration, it had been Varangians at the gift of the Emperor, and in the past century, someone had finally seen fit to establish an entire Guard Corp around the compound including the cathedral, under the ultimate command of the Ecumenical Patriarch. It saddened Alexander that such a place of peace and hope had been attacked so persistently and continually throughout the ages that it made simple good sense to have a small army to guard it.

There were other reasons, of course. Constantinople was the nerve centre and beating heart of the Empire, and a target enemies had often sought by various means. The Royal Varangians, Senate Guard and City Police were all a mixture of ceremonial and specialist soldiers, determined that the Holy City would never again be invaded by any enemy, without…or within.

Alexander shuddered involuntarily. The Guard Captain stood tall and saluted him before reporting:

“I was on my way to you already, Holy Father. I have-we have had,” he gestured to his subordinates, “some very alarming phone calls in the past hour.”

“Have we been attacked,” the Patriarch absently gripped the crucifix around his neck.

“No sir.” He considered his words. “Not yet.”

Alexander watched silently as the great doors were sealed shut, as men marched and hurried through the halls and wards of the great temple. As weapons were cleaned, and uniforms checked.

Something was deeply wrong within the Empire. He did not know whether it would be war or merely a nasty fight, but for whatever reason, the two brother Princes had drawn lines in the sand.

His duty was clear. Upon advice from the Guard Captain, Alexander had announced an impromptu, that actually no less required, full dress rehearsal of readiness and parade for the Άγιος Guard. He had no doubts as to the loyalty of the men. Many of them had seen the Hagia Sophia go up in flames less than two decades prior and had sworn oaths never to allow such a thing again.

He could not in this instance protect the Empire, nor the city. But he could preserve the Faith, and that which embodied it. And, he thought absently, looking around the cavernous interior, as many of the innocents as he could, should it prove necessary.

“Have we heard anything from Adrian?” he murmured to Aristotle, who seemed rather paler this evening than he did this morning.

“None yet, Holy Father,” the lad said quietly.

The Police Commander was also worried by increasingly intrusive and violent acts carried out by the Black shirts in the city, and the increasingly worrisome news emerging from outside of it. Alas, it was not the place of Alexander to rally troops to restore order and aid the civilian police and city guard. The Senate or Imperial family perhaps, but not he.

The Patriarch moved to a window to peer out across the vast expanse of Constantinople. He fervently prayed for its salvation, though he knew not what from.

As Franco waited outside of the office, respecting Irene’s privacy, Eudokia rushed over to him. She handed him a handgun and holster, one set of four that they kept at the estate in case of emergencies.

“I’ll keep one, and the other two are with Nicolaos, and the sisters. What are you standing here for?” Eudokia asked.

“As Olena came in, one of the Doukas also arrived. Theodora’s niece. She got confronted by blackshirts attempting to arrest her. She’s calling Theodora right now.”

“Oh, for all that is holy, it’s already happening?!”

Franco looked grim, and held up the gun he had been handed. “Let’s hope we won’t need to use these any time soon. I’ll wait to hear what she has to say, I’ll join back in packing as soon as I can.”

Eudokia nodded. “I made sure to let the head of menial staff know. She has the keys for the house, as well as one of the emergency key sets. Hopefully they’ll be fine.”

“Let’s hope,” Franco said as yelling could be heard from across the hall. Charalambos needs more luggage, it seems. Eudokia gave Franco a quick look, before heading over, yelling in response that she’ll find some.

Soon enough, he heard Irene hang up, and he checked on in.

Franco rubbed his chin for a moment. “We were worried earlier about whether we should contact our loved ones and have them join us too. I have my own wife and daughters, Pilokalos has his wife and kid, and so on. We aren’t sure if they’d target them too, but if we have time, we may as well consider it.”

Constantinople December 31, 1935

Senator Donatello Favero had barely left the room when the phone rang again. He let out a groan, since based on his last call, this could only be more bad news. He reluctantly walked back over to the phone and picked it up.

“Hello, Senator Favero speaking.”

“Senator, this is Prince Alvértos. I’m sorry to bother you this afternoon, but need to speak with you on an important matter.”

Donatello let out a long sigh, and the silence that followed on the other end of the line confirmed that this was to be just as serious a call as his previous one. “This is regarding the coup the Crown Prince is accusing you of orchestrating, isn’t it?”

“I did no such thing!” the prince responded, and then he heard a sigh. “My apologies for the outburst. It has been a stressful day.”

“No need to apologize, Your Highness.” Donatello paused for a moment before deciding to let everything out in the open. “I just received a call from the Palace regarding the accusations laid against you, but I would very much like to hear your side of the story as well.”

What followed was a detailed account of the prince’s day coming from a man who was clearly battling many emotions and struggling to come to terms with what was happening. The prince did not know why he was being accused of staging a coup, a lie made up by his brother he insisted repeatedly. He feared for his life and his family’s, and wanted support against his brother, who was clearly using this situation to further his own power. It was a desperate call for help, even if the prince managed to keep his emotions from barely spilling over, but the senator did his best to judge the account with a critical eye. This was developing into a situation that should not be jumped into too hastily. Logic and not emotion should dictate how the senator should proceed.

When the prince had finally finished his account, Donatello could only nod and respond with, “I see.”

A long awkward silence followed, with neither man knowing what to say. It was the prince who eventually broke the silence. “I am gathering supporters in Trebizond, in the hopes that we may counter my brother’s claims and halt his ambitions. You are welcome to join us, senator.”

Donatello took his time to consider his answer. Heading to Trebizond would be tantamount to treason, at least in the eyes of the Crown Prince. There would be no going back from there, especially if the claims of a coup proved to be true. Yet he couldn’t help but feel that there was something more going on here. Prince Alvértos’s account came across as genuine, the frustrations of a man forced into an untenable position bleeding through his every word. The truth was proving elusive, and committing to either path could spell the end to his career or even his own life. A compromise was still the best path.

“Your Highness, despite the difficulties with your brother, I think that efforts should be made to resolve this matter peacefully. A message should be sent to your father so that he may mediate this dispute and settle it as is his imperial prerogative. I know that he is in ailing health and I would hate to put such stress upon him, but we cannot allow this to escalate any further.”

The silence that followed left Donatello wondering what the prince was feeling. It was so hard to read a man over the phone.

“Senator Favero,” the prince finally responded, “there is one thing I left out of my account. When I was accosted by Konstantinos’s guards, they referred to him as the emperor. I did not know what to think of it at the time, and still do not now, but we might need to consider the fact that my father will not be intervening.”

All the air left Donatello’s lungs. The implications behind that one word uttered by a simple guard were staggering. Was the Emperor still alive? Was this not a coup orchestrated by the younger prince but the eldest son instead? If either were true, then nothing could stop the Empire from breaking out in civil war. Donatello had to dab a tear from his eye, knowing that his beloved Empire would succumb to such self-inflicted destruction again and there was likely nothing he could do about it. He may well never see Italy returned to imperial control, and perhaps even the Empire may be on death’s door.

Donatello cleared his throat, trying to battle the emotions overwhelming him. “Yes, well, that is quite alarming if true. I will need time to think over what you have said. I wish you well, Your Highness, and pray that this whole matter will end well for both of us.”

Feeling the finality in Donatello’s words, Prince Alvértos said, “Thank you, senator. I will pray for your family as well.”

Another click, followed by a strange static hum and a second click, and an end came to one of the most important calls of Donatello’s life. Without a word, he slumped down into a nearby chair and put his head in his hands, contemplating the one thought that would not leave his mind: the Empire was doomed.

Irene nodded. “You should bring them all here as soon as you can. I don’t know how long we have before the blackshirts come after us or our escape arrives, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.”

A busy tone beeped through the receiver. Nobody was picking up at the Faveros. Perhaps they had already left, or someone else was calling them. She had no way of knowing. Alright, then. She would try again in a few minutes. Before then, she would try calling some other she or Auntie Theodora had known.

Julius Marco was first. From what Theodora had told her, Marco seemed to have had a few screws loose. There were stories of what he had done during the Sack of Constantinople. Fortunately he was on their side, not the enemy’s. He didn’t seem the type to agree with Konstantinos, so Theodora called his place. But nobody picked up, like with the Faveros. After waiting a bit, Irene hung up. She needed to move on to the next person.

What about His Holiness? He didn’t seem like someone who would tolerate the blackshirts’ rampant disregard for civility and social order. And having the Ecumenical Patriarch on their side would give Alvértos crucial legitimacy. She dialed the number of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Hagia Sophia.

“Hello?” a receptionist answered.

“This is Senator Irene Doukas,” Irene said, “Can you put me through to His Holiness? It is an urgent matter.”

“Senator, with all due respect, His Holiness is quite busy with his religious duties. He may not have the time to discuss politics with you. Especially after what happened this morning.”

“I am calling precisely to discuss what happened this morning,” Irene said, “Listen, something bad is happening. Some blackshirts attempted to arrest me while I was eating lunch. They said they were acting on Konstantinos’ orders. I cannot verify if his hand really is involved, but I definitely was accosted. And they warned me they were going after other senators and public figures. The Thaddai estate was already threatened, and I can’t get through to several other senators. Please, at least tell His Holiness to be on his guard. It’s possible he may be a target.”

“This all sounds very…sudden,” the receptionist said.

“Believe me, I feel the same way,” Irene said, “But I wouldn’t be reaching out like this if I didn’t believe this was serious. Can you at least relay my message to him?”

“I’ll…I’ll try. But no guarantees.”

“Thank you. May God watch over His Holiness.”

“Same to you.”

She hung up and sighed. She couldn’t reach the man himself, but at least someone in his office knew of the potential danger he was in. She just hoped the message would get across. Okay, on to the next person. It had been a few minutes, so maybe it was time to see if the Faveros were still available. She dialed the Favero estate’s number and picked up the receiver again.

“Come on, pick up…” she muttered.

The Rector moved on from several worried clerics, and smiled warmly at the Chorister shepherding the boys and their families into the loft and out of the way. The police had sent three men to help at the main wall gates that surrounded the mound. So far there had been no trouble. Various families and locals had sought shelter and sanctuary as the news spread of the troubles in the city, in the Senate and most recently, down in the Docks, but there had been little sign of any unwanted attention, save for around half an hour ago when two extremely drunk men had shouted from across the street that the Revolution had arrived and the Black shirts would save the Empire.

There had been telegrams, messages and phone calls from…well, from everywhere. Many from inside the city and the various churches and parishioners worried about what was going on. Several from senators within the city looking for answers or passing on warnings. Several from further afield. Some…disturbingly further afield.

Something was happening, or had happened, that was already being heard half a world away.

Alexander had been meeting and helping calm the civilians, families and clerics. There were a great many of them; the Office of the Patriarch, the Cathedral staff and officers, the Church members and priests, their assistants, the schools and the local alms…there were approaching two hundred people in the main hall last he saw. The Guard watched everyone closely. They were nervous.

So was the Rector and the Captain. The telephone had rung fifteen minutes ago from the Imperial Palace, and the Patriarch had not yet emerged from his office. If the Emperor were to have taken a bad turn and require aid or…he crossed himself…last rites, it would not only make the situation even worse for the city and Empire but also put the Holy Father in the middle of the lion’s den.

He wandered out into the afternoon air and made for the wall gate.

“Are you well, gentlemen?”

“Quite well, sir.”

“All quiet?”

“More confusion at the Port, sir. No one seems to know what the d-what on earth is going on,” the policeman looked sheepishly at the old priest, who gave a small smile of understanding.

Tensions were running higher and higher, it seemed.

“It will all work out in the end, you’ll see,” he said comfortingly.

Unfortunately, he had seen far worse days than this in his life. He was old. He remembered, as a very small child, the explosions and fires that overtook the Senate and the Cathedral. He remembered walking confusedly alongside a huge mass of people screaming and shouting, up this very hill, to save the then Holy Father from an attack by the Cult of Chernobog. He remembered being burnt and torn by the fight that broke out on these steps.

He looked up at the edifice of the Church. His Church. He had spent over 90 years attending to its needs, cleaning its floors, looking after its flock.

It had seen so much bloodshed outside its walls and in its halls.

He prayed it would see no more this day.

Franco nodded, and went over to the others to let them know what he’s found out. Luckily, everyone was gathered down at the lobby area, bringing down relevant luggage and the present menial staff checking integrity.

“Everyone!” he yelled out to get their attention. “We have had the pleasure to be joined by Irene Doukas, niece of Theodora Doukas, and the misfortune to find out why that is. She had nearly been arrested earlier today by blackshirts on Konstantinos’ decree. Our biggest worries seem to have come true,” he began, but before paranoia could further set in, he shared the good news.

“However! Irene has contacted Theodora and informed us that she has arranged a means for us to get out of the city!” Franco revealed, calming some present.

“It will take some time before this means of travel arrives, so we have time to finish up our packing, as well as contact family. We’ll use the phone in the living room. To be safe, in case the line is not secure, try to avoid revealing what’s going on. I’ll call last, for my family lives the closest. Who wants to go first?!”

Konstas raised his hand first, and Franco motioned him to get to the living room.

“Does this mean you won’t be needing the car?” Madame Vlahos, head of menial staff, asked.

“We might have too much to carry by hand, so we may still need it. Has it been checked?” Franco asked.

“Yes, it has. One of the boys has also been checking the emergency rooms and passages,” Madame Vlahos mentioning those installed in case a Sack-esque scenario occurred again, “and they’re all clean. We can have the car parked out front, or I can have one of the girls wait out with it at the end of the emergency escape passage.”

“Great. I’ll ask Irene what she thinks may be best,” he told her, before rushing to get back upstairs. “Let’s keep it up, everyone!” he yelled as he went back to the main office to check on Irene.

Constantinople December 31, 1935

Donatello had been sitting alone for five minutes, mulling over everything that happened, when his wife entered the room. “Are you finished with the phone?” Caterina asked.

The senator nodded, barely acknowledging her presence. He was too deep in thought to care. What was he going to do?

Caterina, unperturbed by her husband’s behaviour, picked up the phone and dialed. After a moment, she struck up a conversation with someone on the other end of the line. Donatello wasn’t paying much attention to what she was saying, but could tell from her exuberance that she was probably talking to her parents and letting them know she would be visiting them shortly. He was just getting up from his chair to leave the room and give his wife some privacy when she suddenly went silent.

Covering the speaker piece with her hand, Caterina turned to her husband and said, “Dear, have you heard from Artemisia recently?”

Artemisia, their only child, was currently visiting his wife’s relatives in Valencia. The fact that his wife was asking this question while talking to those relatives piqued his interest. “No, but she should be in Valencia with your parents.”

Caterina frowned, lowering the phone farther from her face. “I’m just speaking with my father and he said that she left for home a month ago.”

A deep chill filled Donatello’s body, but he did not let it show on his face. Please God, anything but his daughter. He could not bear losing her. Holding back everything he was feeling, he said, “I’m sure she’s fine. She has some friends in Sicily, so she’s likely visiting them.”

The growing look of concern on Caterina’s face told Donatello that she wasn’t buying it. Gently grabbing her free hand, he said, “You know how she is. She probably just wanted some time to herself.”

Caterina frowned in doubt, but she nodded anyway. She put the phone back to her mouth and said, “Father, I need to go. I should start packing for our visit. I’ll see you soon.” She said her farewells and then hung up.

“Did you want me to help you pack,” Donatello asked, seeing the growing concern etched on her face. Caterina shook her head and stepped out of the room. Donatello went to follow anyway, but then the phone rang again. Dear lord, who was it this time?

“Hello, Senator Favero speaking,” Donatello said, feeling like a broken record on a phonograph.

It turned out to be Irene Doukas, Senator Theodora Doukas’s niece. Donatello didn’t think he had ever spoken a word to her directly before, but he wasn’t surprised that someone from the Doukas family had reached out to him. It seemed every time there was a major crisis in the Empire, their two families inevitably were drawn into the centre of it. He listened attentively as Irene shared everything that had happened to her, her family, and their associates within the past few hours. Her account confirmed that Konstantinos was targeting the other senators; Donatello suspected he had avoided the list of people to be arrested because of his more jingoist policies that aligned with the Crown Prince’s ideals.

When the young woman had finished, Donatello said, “This whole affair is getting out of hand. You and your aunt should take care not to do anything rash, but I suspect that warning will fall on deaf ears if you’re anything like her.”

Donatello heard a muffled chuckle, unusually male sounding for a young woman, but did not comment on it. Instead he came to accept what role he had to play. “If you mean to ask, I will not be travelling to Trebizond. It is far too dangerous and I will not see myself branded a traitor, regardless of who is right in this conflict. It is better that I stay here in Constantinople. If it is true that the Crown Prince has ulterior motives guiding his actions, then I can be of greater service here. He seems to trust me somewhat, so I may be able to guide him away from this dire course, or if what you suspect is true, I can feed Prince Alvértos and his allies information. I wish you well and hope that you are able to leave the capital safely.”

Not wanting to give her an opportunity to change her mind, Donatello said farewell and went to hang up the phone. He heard a strange static hum and a click just before he hung up. That wasn’t the first time today he’d heard that today. He’d have to call a technician and see if there was something wrong with the phone or line.

“Darling, are you off the phone yet?” Caterina called from the other room. “I need to call a car to take me to the harbour. I should be able to make the last ship to Valencia if I leave soon. Would you mind helping get the luggage to the front door?”

“Yes, dear, you can use the phone now, and I’ll be there in a moment,” Donatello replied. Letting the growing catastrophe plaguing the Empire slip from his mind for now, he went off to help his wife.

Over Thrace

The airship soared gracefully through the skies west of Constantinople. Standing on the bridge, John-Loukas watched as flat farmland passed below them. In the distance, he started to see towns and streets—the outer neighborhoods of the capital. That area to his right, on the Marmara coast, was probably Kodima, home to several military barracks. No doubt they were being mobilized as he thought about it. He hoped they didn’t have artillery, and if they did, that they didn’t use them. They had booked it all the way from the training area to the capital at maximum speed, and he didn’t want to risk landing in any base that might be hostile to them. They would only land when they reached the destination Theodora gave them. But still…landing in the middle of the city? Was that even possible? Perhaps the street was wide enough for an emergency ground landing, but then they would need to deploy the planes first and pull up the clamps. He would handle that when he got there.

First Officer Basil walked up to him and saluted. “Sir, we are approaching Constantinople. Estimated time of arrival at destination is 90 minutes.”

“Thank you, Commander Basil,” John-Loukas said, “We are on schedule.”

“Sir, if I may,” Basil said, “Permission to speak freely?”

“Permission granted.”

“I have to know what the hell’s going on down there. What happened in Constantinople that we have to abruptly abandon our training exercise and head there at full speed?”

John-Loukas sighed. “It is a fluid situation, and I don’t have the full story.”

“Well, what do you know?”

“To put it bluntly, it seems Konstantinos is getting greedy. Started arresting public figures. Minister Doukas was one of them, but she escaped.”

“They tried arresting the Minister of Security? What for?”

“I don’t know, some made-up charges. I don’t think they were supposed to matter. They were just an excuse to put her in jail.”

Basil caught on quick. “So we’re going to Constantinople because the same thing might be happening to other ministers and senators.”


“And we need this whole airship?”

John-Loukas nodded. “We don’t know what we might be up against there. Our priority is to extract everyone at the destination and get out.”

“And then what after?”

Uh… John-Loukas said. “Well, we’ll figure it out once we get there.”

“Are you sure this is a good idea, sir?” Basil said. “Rushing headfirst into a skata-storm that we know almost nothing about?”

“What would you want me to do, Basil? Just sit out in the clouds, pretend nothing is wrong?” John-Loukas remembered the dark days of the Sack, nearly 25 years ago. How he could barely do anything as communists devastated the capital and almost brought down the Empire itself in a single day. If he had still had the Empress Veronica, and it hadn’t been deployed on its ill-fated mission to France, he could have limited the damage, saved more people. Instead, he had to stow away on a communist airship. When he got to the city, all he could do was fight on the ground—out of his element. But this time was different. “I was forced to sit out 25 years ago, and Constantinople burned for it. I have a new chance to change things, save lives. So I’ll take it.”

Downtown Constantinople

The first sign the Athenian Lancers were approaching were the thundering of their horses’ hooves, followed by the rumbling of the ground and the neighing of horses. Then the cavalrymen rode through the neighborhood at breakneck speeds. Pedestrians got out of the way and cars screeched to a halt as the Lancers turned onto the main road, ignoring traffic lights. Ioannes rode at the head of the Lancers, dressed in his finest field uniform. It was an older design from the last century, its light blue hue and fancy collar horribly out of place when everybody in the unit wore the new brown-green fatigues, but he would rather die than change it out. He had worn this uniform since he had first joined the Lancers, and he wasn’t about to change it now.

Although their uniforms were new, the Lancers still kept many traits from their golden age. They were still the Empire’s legendary cavalry unit, famed for rescuing the Emperor and Senate during the Cult’s first attack decades ago. They were the hammer to the anvil of the legions in countless wars, acting as modern kataphraktoi. It was an honor to serve as an Athenian Lancer; only the best of the best joined the storied unit. So as the legions evolved, grew, contracted, and otherwise changed to incorporate new tactics and technologies, the Lancers remained. Each Lancer still carried a saber made of the finest Toledo steel the Empire could afford—Ioannes still had his from decades ago. But as the accuracy and power of guns increased, they began training with guns. A Lancer’s primary weapon these days was their rifle, with a pistol as backup. Yet their sabers remained, a symbol of what the Lancers used to be. And their uniforms, despite carrying the new fatigues, still had certain differences from those in other units, like camouflage patterns slightly resembling how the old uniform layout, high collars, and a symbol of an imperial eagle holding a lance—the emblem of the Lancers.

Unfortunately, the people in Ioannes’ way didn’t care about any of that. Barricades had been set up on all roads leading into downtown, including the one the Lancers rode on. Lines of sandbags were placed across the road, with machine guns set up behind them. A platoon of soldiers checked the papers of anybody entering or exiting downtown. They did not move aside for the Lancers, so Ioannes was forced to pull on his reins and stop his horse. The other Lancers likewise stopped behind him.

“Halt!” a soldier said. “Entry to downtown is restricted.”

“On whose orders?” Ioannes asked.

“Who’s asking?” the soldier said. “What unit are you from?”

Hold on…he doesn’t know? Ioannes pointed at the eagle insignia on his uniform. “Don’t you know who I am? Megas Doux Ioannes Dalassenos, commanding the Athenian Lancers.”

The soldier wasn’t impressed. “General, entry to downtown is restricted. If you don’t mind, please wait on the side until we sort things out.”

“No, I do mind!” Ioannes said. “I have orders to go into downtown to protect certain high profile individuals. Straight from the General Staff.”

Technically not the full truth, but whatever.

“Well, if those are your orders, General, rest assured that they will be carried out by the units already mobilized within downtown.”

“Mobilized?” Ioannes said. “There are units in downtown?”

“It does not concern you.”

“The hell it does not! I’m a Megas Doux, and I will not be held up here any longer by some green-faced recruit! I’ve been with the Lancers since before your father was born. Now you are going to step aside and let me and my men into downtown, so we can prevent this mess from getting even worse, or you’re going to give me the name of your commanding officer, and I’m going to tell him how you got hundreds of people killed because you refused to let me and the goddamn Athenian Lancers into downtown.”

The soldier hesitated for several seconds. Ioannes noticed his hand slowly moving down to his sidearm, and the old general did likewise, reaching for his pistol. No doubt his Lancers would do the same. Just when he thought they would start shooting, the soldier put down his hand and relented.

“Alright, fine. You may pass.” His platoon cleared a path through the barricades for the Lancers.

“Thank you.” Ioannes tugged on his reins and rode into downtown, the Lancers following behind.

Thaddai estate

This time, Donatello Favero picked up. It seemed he had been called by countless people in recent hours, which explained the slightly annoyed tone she heard. This was the first time Irene had actually talked to the man directly. Before, she had always just observed him in the Senate, usually giving speeches about defeating the Italian rebels or talking with Theodora. Nevertheless, he still listened to everything Irene had to say. She just hoped he would listen.

When she was done, Donatello gave his response. “This whole affair is getting out of hand. You and your aunt should take care not to do anything rash, but I suspect that warning will fall on deaf ears if you’re anything like her. If you mean to ask, I will not be travelling to Trebizond. It is far too dangerous and I will not see myself branded a traitor, regardless of who is right in this conflict. It is better that I stay here in Constantinople. If it is true that the Crown Prince has ulterior motives guiding his actions, then I can be of greater service here. He seems to trust me somewhat, so I may be able to guide him away from this dire course, or if what you suspect is true, I can feed Prince Alvértos and his allies information. I wish you well and hope that you are able to leave the capital safely. Goodbye.”

Before Irene could respond, Donatello hung up.

Well, I guess he’s not coming. I get where he’s coming from, but it’s still a little disappointing. Franco reentered the office at that moment. “So, how did it go?”

Irene shook his head. “Senator Favero won’t be joining us, unfortunately. But he definitely won’t be on Konstantinos’ side.”

“I guess that’s everybody we could reach out to?”

“Yes,” Irene said, “I’ve contacted some other senators as well. Some are on their way. They’ll be here within half an hour at the most. The rest declined or didn’t answer. We should have everybody soon. How about you?”

“Well, we’re packing everything we can carry, and everybody we can contact is on their way, hopefully. We’re looking at the emergency rooms and passages right now in case we need to hide.”

“Good,” Irene said, “That would be very useful.”

At that moment, somebody Irene didn’t recognize ran into the room. “We’ve got trouble?”

“What is it?” Franco said.

“It’s the blackshirts! They’re at the gates!”

“I don’t understand. I cannot truly provide services of the convalescent from afar.”

Alexander felt a little fatigued at this man who seemed determined to go round and round in circles.

“I have no doubt the family would appreciate a kind ear, though of course if the Crown Prince is determined for privacy, I will respect his wishes. I certainly cannot say I have taken the Emperor’s word or given his blessing without seeing him in person. It would be quite improper. Surely of anyone in the Empire, he is worthy of God’s Grace in his time of need?”

The man on the other end of the line continued to pontificate, which almost bemused the Patriarch. He had been preached at many times, of course, it was an occupational hazard, but never by a press officer of the Imperial Palace.

“Well, do please keep us informed. And, of course, should my presence be required, do not hesitate to get in touch.”

He put down the receiver and for the first time in many years, resisted the urge to flick his fingers up at it. As much as he wished to see the best in everyone, that man was quite the unpleasant turd.

Rubbing his eyes, the Patriarch then cast them over a few notes of those who had attempted to reach out to him personally over the past few hours. He had already replied by open letter to the General population, which had been posted in every church in the city by runner. He had also rung back to that dear old lady who had been so frightened for her children on the outskirts of the city. He prayed they were safe.

He noticed that he had one call from…Irene Doukas? He tapped on the desk. He knew from the Rector and the police that several senators had already…Well, fled seemed to be the word used most often. He wondered what she-

The phone rang sharply, and he picked up with a sigh.

“Irene Doukas is on the line again. I said you remained at work, but she does sound…emotional.”

“Thank you, Aristotle, I shall hear her now.”

Divine providence strikes once again, he thought wryly.

“Well, we’re packing everything we can carry, and we’ve managed to contact nearly everyone we could so far. Only me left in that regard. They should be on their way soon, hopefully. We’re looking at the emergency rooms and passages right now in case we need to hide or retreat.” Franco answered.

“Good,” Irene said, “That would be very useful.”

“Speaking of, we do have a car at the ready for transport purposes. You think it would be a good idea to have it at the front or park it at the end of one of the emergency escape passages-“

As Franco was about to finish his question, suddenly Olena appeared from the doorframe of the office: “We’ve got trouble?”

“What is it?” Franco asked, feeling concerned.

“It’s the blackshirts! They’re at the gates!”

“They’re WHAT?!” the older man responded in horror.

“The guardsmen at the front are barely keeping them off, but they can’t question their authority for much longer,” Olena stated.

Franco turned to Irene quickly. “Finish up what you have here, and head downstairs as soon as you can. About the car, give your answer to Madame Vlahos, the older-looking menial lady, she’ll get whatever you tell her sorted. I need to calm folks downstairs and call my family,” he said rapidly before rushing out of the room. Irene had never seen someone that age rush that quickly.

“Hello?” Irene hadn’t expected the Ecumenical Patriarch to pick up, so when she heard his voice, she was startled.

“Uh, hello, Your Holiness,” Irene stammered. Honestly, I didn’t expect to get this far. He really does sound pretty young. She composed herself and launched into what she wanted to say. “I’ll get right to the point. At lunchtime, several blackshirts attempted to arrest me, ostensibly on orders from Prince Konstantinos. I escaped them, but I’ve since learned the same thing is happening to numerous public figures across the city, including several senators. My aunt, Minister Doukas, was also targeted by blackshirts. I’ve talked to other senators and their staff, who reported similar threats. Konstantinos seems to be behind it all, using the claims of a coup as an excuse to stage his own. I fear things may soon escalate further, and more innocent lives may be lost. Your Holiness, you sit on the Senate, so it is possible the blackshirts may target you next. If something were to happen to the Ecumenical Patriarch, I fear it may significantly harm the morale and cohesion of the Church, as well as that of the Empire that patronizes it. For your safety, I strongly recommend you leave the city for a safer location. If you request it, I would be more than happy to provide assistance in this capacity.”


As soon as Olena mentioned the word “blackshirts,” Irene was already halfway to the stairs. She ran as fast as she could downstairs and located the older-looking Madame Vlahos. “If the blackshirts are at the gates, we won’t be able to use the car. Get to the passages and hide there. I’ll see what I can do until our escape arrives.”

Irene went out the front door. At the gates, a mob of blackshirts, carrying pistols and knives, had gathered, with only two guardsmen opposing them. Frak, they’re here already. I didn’t expect them to come this soon, and with so many. Where’s Auntie Theodora’s cavalry when you need it?

“People of the Thaddai estate!” one of the blackshirts shouted. “You stand accused of high treason against His Majesty and the Empire! Repent at once for your crimes against the Emperor, and perhaps your sentence will be lightened. If you do not, we will show no mercy!”

The other blackshirts let out a roar of approval. “DEATH TO TRAITORS!”

Irene recognized two of the blackshirts as those that had accosted her at the Arcadia. I guess they didn’t learn.

What to do, what to do…the blackshirts were now blocking the only road and walkable path in and out of the estate. The car would be useless. Even if they did get past the mob, they would still have to get through half the city, and who knew how safe the rest of the city was? If Konstantinos’ reach had already extended this far, it wouldn’t matter if they could still drive out. For all she knew, he could have mobilized the military to seal off downtown already, and then they’d be really frakked. They could hide in the passages, but escape routes would run into the same problem; they wouldn’t know if the areas around the exit points were safe enough.

“Come out now, traitors! Or do you want us to come in there?”

One of the goons from the Arcadia recognized Irene by the door. “You! Senator Doukas!”

Irene shrugged. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“Surrender yourself at once!”

“No, I don’t think I will.”

That only enraged the goon more. “Stupid woman! Know your place!”

Irene rolled her eyes. “Get better material. Stop wasting my time.”

“You dare mock us, the envoys of the Emperor?!”

“Wait, I thought you said you were working on Konstantinos’ orders, unless…” Irene put two and two together. “Oh. I see what’s going on here.”

“Surrender now!”

“You sound like a broken phonograph,” Irene said.

“That’s it!” The goon drew his pistol, which got the guardsmen to draw their guns, which prompted the other blackshirts to pull out their own guns, and within seconds shots had rung out. Irene ducked behind the car in the driveway, her ears inundated with the deafening bangs of gunfire and the pings of bullets tearing through the car’s metal and ricocheting off the pavement. It was over in a flash. Irene cautiously peered out from behind the car and saw the guardsmen were dead and the blackshirts were pulling on the gates. She drew her own pistol. Well, looks like I’m using this.

Constantinople December 31, 1935

It was late afternoon by the time the car arrived. Donatello helped his wife take her luggage out to the street. While the driver loaded the luggage in the trunk, Donatello embraced his wife and they shared their final farewells. Soon she was driving off to the harbour. He stood out on the sidewalk for a minute, part of him wishing he had gone with his wife. It would be so much easier to ride this all out on the other side of the Empire. Yet to abandon the Empire now would be to admit defeat, and he could never do that. Giving up meant giving up on his dreams, on ever seeing his home again.

With his shoulders slumped, Donatello slowly walked back towards his front door. Screeching tires drew his attention as a car raced up beside him. Two men dressed entirely in black got out of the vehicle. One man approached him, a stern look in his eyes. “Senator Favero?”

Donatello was a bit hesitant as he replied, “Yes?”

One of the men drew a pistol and the other grabbed at his arms, trying to restrain him. “Senator Favero, you are under arrest for high treason and aiding and abetting a known criminal.”

“High treason?” Donatello said, barely able to restrain the shock in his voice. “I am a loyal servant of the Crown!”

The thug holding his arms pushed him towards the car as the other opened the door for him. His head was tugged down as he was forced into the back seat. “We know that you have been conspiring with the traitor, Prince Alvértos.”

Donatello sputtered for a bit, bewildered by the turn of events. How could they have known that he had spoken to the prince? It had barely been a few hours and no one but his wife knew about the calls. Then it clicked in his mind: the strange noise he heard at the end of all his calls. He let out a groan as he realized that his phone had been tapped this whole time. He had been such an idiot to not take any precautions against eavesdropping.

The thug with the pistol got into the back seat with Donatello, pointing his gun at the senator, as the other man got into the driver seat and started to drive the car away. Donatello had no idea where they were taking him, but he assumed he was about to find out what Konstantinos did to his enemies. All he could do was sit in silence while the car weaved through the streets of Constantinople, taking the less travelled streets and alleys to avoid attention and dodge the occasion blockade. The city seemed as though it was gearing up for a siege.

As the car sneaked down yet another dingy alley, all three passengers were startled as there was a loud thud and the car roof caved in slightly. The driver slammed on the brakes and they all looked up at the dent. Had something fallen on top of the car?

Donatello yelped as two metal blades jabbed through the roof of the car, shredding a great gash through the metal. The thug in the back seat went to raise his pistol, but then another pair of blades stabbed through the roof above him and impaled his shoulder. He let out a cry of pain and involuntarily fired his weapon, which unfortunately for him was aiming forward at the driver’s seat. The bullet shot right through the back of his comrade, spraying blood across the dashboard and inside of the windshield. The driver slumped over against the wheel, breathing in wet gurgles as he rapidly bled out.

Unfortunately the driver’s foot shifted to the gas and the car careened down the alley. Without no one steering it properly, it clipped a wall and both Donatello and the armed thug slammed their heads against the front seats as the car slammed to a stop. The metal blades retracted from the roof and Donatello was able to come to his senses enough to witness a cloaked figure fly off the roof and land gracefully in front of the vehicle. The figure turned around to face the car, the headlights revealing someone dressed in a tunic of sorts with metal bracers covering their forearms, lower legs and shoulders. They wore a helmet and mask that concealed everything but their eyes. However, what stood out most of all were the set of metal claws attached to the bracers, which must have been the blades that stabbed through the car roof.

The sound of a car door opening brought Donatello’s attention to the fact that the remaining thug had left the vehicle. The senator watched as he pointed the gun at the cloaked figure. The man let out a frustrated cry as he fired off a shot. The mysterious figure held out their arm in front of them and the bullet harmlessly bounced off the bracers. What were those bracers made out of?

Before the thug could reload and fire again, the figure rushed him. The thug could only let out a strangled cry as two metal blades sliced into his abdomen and lifted him up into the air. A slash of the claws and the man was cast aside, his chest a shredded mess. Donatello watched as the man let out several desperate breaths before slipping into darkness.

Not wanting to be trapped in the car when this armed figure attacked, Donatello fumbled with the door handle and scurried out of the car. He tripped as he exited and stumbled to the ground. Panic in his eyes, knowing that his death could be moments away, he scanned the alley for his would-be attacker. He was shocked to find no sign of the mysterious figure.

Why had this person killed his captors and helped him escape? Who was the mysterious figure behind the mask? These questions he only contemplated for a moment before realizing that he was now wanted for high treason and that they would soon be looking for him once his captors did not return. Donatello slowly got to his feet and raced out of the alley, doing his best to get his bearings in this massive city and avoid any of Konstantinos’s goons as he contemplated how the hell he was going to get out of the city now.

Franco could hear Irene rushing after him as he made his way to the front, where everyone was getting paranoid.

“Everyone, calm down! We’ve already told the guardsmen what’s going on, we can be sure they’ll keep us safe,” he tried to bring some calm. With the sound of the front door being opened and closed, Madame Vlahos soon spoke up with what Irene had told her.

“We can all hide in the emergency passage behind the stairs while things calm down,” she said as she looked to see where Irene went. “I would have suggested pretending to act as if we weren’t home, but the young lady dashing outside might make that difficult.”

“Irene did what?!” Franco yelled as he rubbed his face again. “Alright, everyone, get to the passage quickly! I still need to call my family,” he said, with everyone following on beat.

Franco could hear the blackshirts yelling at the outside. He hoped the guardsmen will be able to keep safe.

“Yes?” Franco could hear his wife on the other end.

“Dear! If it isn’t an issue, could you please come to the Thaddai estate with the girls?”

“Why? Did something happen?” his wife asked confusedly.

“It’s serious. And grab whatever you need from home. Things are getting dangerous in the city, it’s-“

Suddenly, at that moment, gunfire could be heard. Franco’s wife could hear it and corresponding window-breaking. Franco reflectively ducked, and felt lucky that he hadn’t been shot just then.

“What’s going on?!”

“Please, if you trust me, you’ll get over here as soon as you can! You know the side-entrance we used before for special guests at the estate? I’ll wait for you there!”


Franco hung up, and looked out from the window in his cover. The guardsmen were dead, and the blackshirts were pulling on the gates. He could imagine another volley of shots approaching. He ducked out of the living room and rushed for the hallway where the side-entrance is. Hopefully everyone else they had called would be headed that way if they saw what was going on at the front. He hoped Irene wasn’t hurt just then.

Irene continued crouching behind the car, trying to hide herself as much as possible. But she knew if the mob fired directly at her, the bullets wouldn’t be stopped by the vehicle’s thin metal frame and leather interior. She’d be instantly dead. What could she do, though? She only had one pistol, with a few bullets. Not enough to take everybody out, even if she landed all of her shots. Irene had only fired a gun a few times before, and that was at the training grounds at home in Athens. She had to do something, anything.

Then she heard a low rumbling in the distance, something between the clap of thunder and the explosion of a bomb. Then pebbles on the ground started rattling. Finally, she heard horses neighing and realized what was going on just as the Athenian Lancers rounded the corner and charged straight at the mob, sabers drawn.

Really, Auntie? Literal cavalry?

Although the Lancers were using their swords and the mob had guns, the sight of multiple horsemen charging straight at them struck fear into the hearts of the civilian blackshirts, who scattered in all directions.

“This isn’t over!” the goon from the Arcadia shouted. “We’ll be back soon, with reinforcements!”

The Lancers reached the gates and fanned out to secure the area. As Irene cautiously walked up to the gate, their leader dismounted and took off his cap. He was an old man with an impressive mustache and several faded scars on his face, clearly a veteran of many wars.

“Irene Doukas,” he said, “It’s great to finally meet you. Your aunt has told me much about you.”

“And you are?” Irene said.

“Megas Doux Ioannes Dalassenos,” the general said, “Commander of the Athenian Lancers.”

Irene remembered the stories her aunt told her about the Athenian Lancers. How they were the most elite unit in the Empire, with an impressive record of battlefield victories and appearances in important battles. They must have been what Theodora was telling her about when she was talking about the escape route. They would be their protection through the rest of the city.

“I take it you’re here to rescue us?” Irene said.

“Yes,” Ioannes said, “Your aunt sent us to provide protection.”

“The Ministry people she mentioned,” Irene realized.

“Is that how she put it?” Ioannes laughed. “If only we got the Ministry of Security’s pensions. I swear, veterans’ affairs really needs to get it together.”

“So what’s the plan? We got a route? Plan of engagement?”

“What do you mean?” Ioannes said. “We’re not going through the city.”

“Then how are we going to get out of here?”

Ioannes pointed up at the sky. Irene followed his finger. Off to the west, she saw a white dot below the clouds, slowly getting larger until it became an airship, larger than any she had seen before. From below its cabins, airplanes fired up their propellers, detached from the clamps, and flew off, forming a protective line around the airship as it approached the Thaddai estate.

“What…the…frak…” was all Irene could say.

A Lancer ran up to Ioannes. “Sir, some civilians have arrived at the defensive perimeter. We’ve admitted the ones with senatorial documents, but there are others whose identities we can’t verify. What are your orders?”

Must be everybody we contacted.

“Let them in,” Irene said, “I can vouch for them.”

“You heard the Senator,” Ioannes said, “Let them in. We have the numbers advantage. If any blackshirt tries sneaking in, the Lancers will dispose of them.”

“I certainly hope so,” Irene said, “We may have the advantage for now, but who knows when they’ll come back?”

“Which is why we need everybody in the estate ASAP,” Ioannes said, “We don’t want the airship on the ground for longer than necessary.”

“Speaking of which,” the Lancer said, “Where are we going to land it?”

“On the street outside the gate,” Irene said, “It’s the largest space I can think of.”

“Got it. I’ll radio Picardie.”

As the Lancers continued screening the new arrivals, Irene went back inside the estate and met Franco and the others.

“Our ride is here,” she said, “And everybody we called is here as well. The airship’s landing on the street outside, and we don’t have much time before the blackshirts come back, so let’s get moving!”

Franco arrived at the side-entrance, and looked out to see his wife and daughters arriving from a distance… joined by a couple of other folks. At least one had a younger kid with them.

“Dear!” Franco called out to them, and they slowly made their way over.

“Honey! I ran into everyone here waiting nearby, are those blackshirts at the front?” Franco’s wife asked him worriedly.

“Yes, dear. We’re gathering everyone up to get out of here. It’s not safe in the city anymore,” Franco responded.

“Is another sack happening?” one of his daughters asked.

“…an internal one,” was all Franco could say.

“How are we going to get out of the city though?” another woman spoke up, holding their kid by the hand.

Everyone was in such deep discussion that they hadn’t even noticed the cavalry arriving at the front, but one thing they would notice was the immense shadow that had just been cast over them.

“…that’s how, presumably,” Franco said, looking up at the arriving airship.

“Presumably?!” one of the men in the group said angrily. Did Franco not know?!

“Everyone!” Franco yelled to get their attention, “Get inside! We’re going to need help with a couple of things,” he said, noting how most folks only seemed to bring essentials.

Everyone followed him to the luggage prepared, and asked them to stay there, as he went over to the emergency passage.

“Our escape has arrived!” he opened the door to the passage, yelling into it. Everyone inside began flooding out.

At that moment, everyone noticed through the front windows that the cavalry was at the front now, not the blackshirts. Irene entered soon after.

“You heard the lady, everyone! Let’s move!” Franco yelled out. Everyone present began helping in moving the luggage prepared outside, from the civilians to the menial staff.

Franco began wondering if it was safe to even let the menial staff stay now that the blackshirts had arrived. “Madame Vlahos, are you sure you and the staff will be safe here without us?”

“Even if we weren’t, they’d likely ravage this place without us here.”

“And you included if you were here.”

While everyone was moving towards the airship, Franco and Vlahos seemed entirely in their own world, arguing.

Alexander’s breath whistled through his teeth. So, that rumour was true. How alarming.

He listened as the concerned woman poured out her worries and fears for the city, the senators and the general way this day was going.

The greatest fear of his own heart was the fate of the people. It seemed increasingly likely a terrible series of events were about to take place, and as so often wad the case, the people on the street would absorb by far the most of the damage.

Alexander tuned out the assurances of safe passage. He had considered such ideas both privately and with the Guard Captain, and he doubt Irene would argue any more succesfully than he had.

There was, he admitted, a touch of fear in his position, and the knowledge that staying would involve a certain degree of risk to himself.

However, he could not leave his parish, his seat, and his people to suffer the wrath of the black shirts, or any of the violence or offence his flight might cause the Crown Prince. He had a loyalty first and foremost to God and His Children in Need, and they needed him here.

He was also intelligent enough to know that it was far more likely that the sanctity of the Church as a neutral place of refuge would be respected if the Ecumenical Patriarch had opened his own residence to fleeing civilians and was tending to them personally. Whereas him fleeing would undoubtedly see the Hagia Sophia fall under whoever was left in the city…and that did not appear to be a great many…pleasant individuals.

He attempted to explain this in as many words to Irene. She sounded exhausted. He felt immensely for her. The trials she and her family were never seemed to end.

“Your Holiness, I really must again beg you to reconsider.”

“The other Patriarchs have been made aware of our situation. We retain the telephone, as well as our radio transmitter. The police and Saintly Guard shall protect this sanctuary if needs be, and I must remain to ensure the sanctity of this place. I…” he paused, “I also suspect there is something else planned for the Church in this matter. We have been left entirely to our own devices thus far, as has the police and city Council. The black shirts…directed by the Prince or not, have focused on running the senate away. Once you are gone…we shall face what comes.”

“We make for Trebizond.”

“The local Abbott and Archbishop have been made aware. Word has apparently spread very quickly throughout the Empire. Be warned…this is larger than some fascist power play.”

“Holy Father…Good luck.”

“I do not need luck, my child,” he replied gently, “I have God. Just the same, good luck and God bless to you also.”

The phone went dead and Alexander slowly placed it down, wondering whether or not he had just made the right decision.

From one of the balconies, a few clerics, Guardsmen and civilians stared and pointed at the airship that had appeared very quickly and descended upon the city.

“Today seems to be out of a dream.” One said to the others.

“More like a nightmare,” the Rector huffed, bustling out onto the balcony, tired from all the stairs. Alexander followed quietly behind.

“Well…now the miltiary is truly involved,” he observed, as the sounds of horses, men and machines sounded out across the city.

“This is going to be a mess. An utter catastrophe,” the Rector sighed, shaking his head.

They and all others froze when the sound of gunfire and yelling cut across all other noise.

“Is that from the airship?” Alexander asked.

“No sir, the docks I think.” One of the guards answered, leaning out over the balcony. He glanced behind him and jumped at the Patriarch and Rector. “Er…I mean, Holy Father.”

“Peace, Joseph,” Alexander gave a small smile, which fell quickly as he made his way to the edge and stared out across the city. Smoke rose as it always did from all areas…but it did seem that the river was fuller than usual. And the smoke appeared blacker.

“A riot? Fight between the communist dockers and the black shirts?”

“Perhaps…they are trying to stop people leaving…” the Rector said grimly.

They all continued to watch, in silence.

Constantinople December 31, 1935

Senator Donatello Favero sneaked through the many back alleys and side streets of Constantinople, desperately trying to avoid the armed thugs wandering the streets. At first he was trying to make his way to the harbour to see if he could leave with his wife, but the path proved blocked by practically a parade of blackshirts. He continued to wander, trying his best to ward off the panic that threatened to consume him. A few times he swore he saw someone following him or skulking among the rooftops, but every time he looked back there was no one there. Just as he was about to give up, he heard what sounded like a cavalry charge.

Why were there cavalry in the capital? Had the situation grown that dire? Against his better judgment, he followed the sounds of battle. As he drew closer, he realized that he was nearing the Thaddai estate, and he felt the slightest glimmer of hope. Perhaps there was still a chance to escape the city with the rest. A shadow fell overhead, and he looked up to see an airship move in. Was this how they planned to escape? He picked up his pace, not wanting to let this chance pass by.

As Donatello stepped out into the street near the Thaddai estate, he was immediately accosted by a lone horseman. “Halt! Who goes there?”

“I’m Senator Favero,” Donatello said. “Irene Doukas told me to come here if I needed to leave the city.”

The soldier did not hesitate as he turned his horse around and cantered back the way he came. “Follow me, senator. I’ll escort you to the airship.”

Donatello let out a sigh of relief and he made his way towards the airship. There was a growing mob outside the Thaddai estate, a mishmash collection of senators, government officials, and citizens seeking any escape as the capital threatened to erupt into revolt. He was questioned again as he drew closer, some soldier asking to see identification. Fortunately he had some on him, speeding his way through the crowd. Soon he was boarding the airship, and hopefully his escape from Constantinople.

“There’ll be a panic now, if there wasn’t before,” the Guard Captain muttered as news of the airship filtered through the Cathedral. “Such obvious and worrying methods of escape…double the Guard on the main gates and warn them we may be about to get some civilian groups coming this way.”

The Guard ran off to do his bidding whilst the clerics attempted to go about their daily tasks and rituals. He liked insence as much as the next Christian, but he was glad the Patriarch had waived that requirement today.

The Patriarch…

He should have left hours ago. It would have been difficult to safely escourt him out of the city, but far more preferable than keeping him here. Ironically, in being determined to stay, he was demonstrating the reasons why it would be far better for the Church and Empire that he remained alive and at liberty.

Alexander was younger than many within the building. He had seen a great decline in the fortunes of the Empire, but had missed the golden age that came after the last great catastrophe…and that one was also centred on the Hagia Sophia.

Glancing upwards ruefully, the Guard Captain wondered in jest as to whether God hated this place or something.

((From earlier in the afternoon))

Irene slowly put down the phone, exhausted. So His Holiness would rather stay and confront what was to come head-on. In a way, that was respectable. Even admirable in a way. And still a bit frustrating.

“Godspeed, Your Holiness…” she finally said.

((Back to now))

“Steady as she goes,” Basil said.

The pilot eased the airship downward, pulling levers and adjusting the steering wheel.

“We are aligned with the street,” the spotter said, “The Lancers have cleared the zone. We are a go for final descent.”

“Make it so,” John-Loukas said.

The airship’s propellers intensified their upward draft, and the craft jolted slightly downward before easing into a gentle decline. John-Loukas barely heard or felt the jolt as the airship made contact with the street. They had done it.

“Open the hatches, prep the cabins for arrivals,” John-Loukas said.

With a heavy click and thud, the main doors swung open, and stairs rolled down to the street. Ioannes and the Lancers formed a checkpoint around the stairway.

“Alright, form a line!” Ioannes shouted. “We go in one by one!”

The assembled dignitaries, bureaucrats, and a few local civilians hastily organized into a line which filed past the Lancers’ checkpoint up the stairs.

“There is barely enough room for everybody here!” Ioannes said. “You’ll have to share rooms or stay in the hallways, so no complaining!”

There were a few grumbles from within the crowd, but nobody remained mad. Everybody just wanted to get out of here.

Unfortunately, Ioannes and his men wouldn’t be part of them.

“Madame Vlahos, are you sure you and the staff will be safe here without us?” Franco said.

“Even if we weren’t, they’d likely ravage this place without us here,” Vlahos said.

“And you included if you were here.”

The two continued their bickering as Irene walked over. “Come on, this is no time to argue.”

“This does not concern you, little girl!” Vlahos said.

“You know Franco is right,” Irene said, “When those blackshirts return, they’ll kill everyone who remains in the estate.”

“They’re welcome to try.” Vlahos cracked her knuckles.

“Ma’am, respectfully, I doubt you’d be able to choke out a mob with your bare hands.”

“You’ve never seen me try.”

Irene sighed. This woman wasn’t going to listen to reason, would she? Fine. They were running out of time. “Hey, General Dalassenos!”

Ioannes walked over. “Yes?”

“I’m going to need your men to round up all of the menial staff—including this woman here—and get them on the airship. If they tell you otherwise, don’t believe them.”


It took a little bit, but soon all of the staff had been put onto the airship, whether they wanted to or not.

Near the end of the line, Kira kept much of her head hidden under a shawl, trying not to draw attention to herself. Her Ministry of Security bodyguard kept a hand on his pistol at all times—not only to deal with threats to her, but to her as a threat too.

“Where’s Irene?” Kira asked.

“She’s busy,” the handler said.

“I…I need to talk to her.”

“You’ll have plenty of time for that later, when we’re in the air.”

Kira knew as much, but it still felt like she had to tell Irene as soon as possible. The threads of fate were fickle and unpredictable. Even a second’s delay could change the course of the futures she saw, and at the end of it, more and more threads fell into the same scenario she had feared. All of the futures were converging into one bleak one, and she had to stop it. Irene and the others were key to it. They had to know what fate awaited them if they had a chance of changing it.

Funny how just a few years ago, she would have wanted that future to happen.

After about half an hour, the line had dwindled to a few people—the rest had already boarded. Franco and the people of the Thaddai estate had long since boarded, as did the other senators—including someone who, strangely enough, appeared to be Senator Favero; she would have to check later—which left only her and a few civilians now.

“Well, I’d say that was a successful operation,” Irene said, “If only Auntie Theodora was here to see it.”

“I bet she’d be proud of us,” Ioannes said.

“We can tell her all about it in Trebizond.”

“Yeah…about that…” Ioannes fidgeted.

Irene realized what he meant. “You’re not coming with us?”

“No,” Ioannes said, “You know how I said there was barely enough room? There was, if we didn’t count the Athenian Lancers. I mean, how are we going to fit all of our horses anyways?”

“Point taken,” Irene said, “So what will you do?”

“Head across the Bosphorus to the East Side, maybe head to Nicomedia. I’ve confirmed friendly units have retained control there.”

“You sure?” Irene said. “It’s getting quite dangerous.”

“Don’t you know who I am?” Ioannes grinned. “I’m the commander of the Athenian Lancers. I fought vampires before.”

“Nobody believes that,” Irene said.

“You weren’t there!” Ioannes said. “I’ll have you know, that was 100%—”

“We’ve got bogeys incoming!” one of the lancers shouted, pointing down the street.

Irene saw several cars approaching, each filled with more blackshirted men. Unlike the previous mob, these new blackshirts came better prepared, wielding submachine guns instead of pistols. “Everybody get inside, now!”

“Frak, we’ve got trouble!” Basil said.

“I can see that,” John-Loukas said.

“Your orders?” Basil said.

“Pull back our squadron and have them make strafing runs.”

“Sir, we don’t have any ammunition.”

“I know that,” John-Loukas said, “But they don’t. They’ll see our planes diving out of the sky and duck out of the way, fearing our bullets.”

“The illusion will be broken once they realize they’re not dead.”

“Yes, but that should give us enough time.”

“We need to preserve the illusion, sir,” Basil said, “It’s a long trip from here to Trebizond. If we show our hand too soon, there’s nothing stopping them from just shooting us out of the sky.”

John-Loukas thought for a little bit. Then he nodded. “You’re right. Just pull back the squadron and prepare them for recall.”

Ioannes motioned to his men. “Kataphraktoi, ready kontoi!”

The Athenian Lancers immediately sprung into action. They climbed onto their horses, drew their sabers, and broke into a charge at the approaching cars. “FOR THE EMPIRE!” they bellowed.

As the legendary cavalry charged the blackshirts, Irene helped the remaining civilians board the airship. As the last one climbed in, she glanced behind her. The blackshirts had opened fire, the rhythmic din of machine gunfire filling the air. Several Lancers went down instantly, their horses shot out from under them if they themselves had not been hit. The rest took out the rifles they had slung over their backs and returned fire. The driver of one of the cars got shot in the head, and his car swerved to the side and crashed into a storefront. The rest continued towards the parked airship and fired in Irene’s direction. Bullets pinged off the street cobblestones around her. The young senator froze in place, although every muscle in her body screamed at her to run. She watched as the blackshirts’ cars continued their approach, while the surviving Lancers continued their charge. She took in the car crashed into the storefront. The mangled bodies of humans and horses sprawled in their own blood. The sounds of gunfire and smells of hot lead around her. And then she was back on that street, surrounded by burning buildings and dead bodies. Screams and gunfire in the distance. Propaganda slogans blaring over loudspeaker. The ground shaking as artillery shells hit their mark. Blood on her hands. The blood of her mother, whose cold arms were still wrapped around her. A high-pitched scream. Her scream.

The next thing she knew, Ioannes was shaking her shoulders. “Irene! Snap out of it!”

Irene blinked and closed her mouth. “Wh-what? Did I…scream?”

“No, but it seemed like you were about to,” Ioannes said, “Come now, this is no place for you. Your aunt would never forgive me if I let you die here.”

He pushed Irene up the stairs before she could react.

“General…” she said. “What…what are you doing?”

“My duty to the Empire, of course,” Ioannes said.

“You…need to…come with us,” Irene said, “We…need you.”

Ioannes shook his head. “I’m just an old cavalryman, leading an old unit that’s past its glory days. Our place is here. Don’t worry about me.”

“General, please.”

“There’s no time!” With one last push, Ioannes pushed her over the threshold, and she stumbled into one of the airship’s hallways. “The Empire needs you more than it needs me! It needs you senators! The next generation of Romans! Our job, as the last generation, is to hold the line and make sure you’re all safe to do what you need to do! Now go! Irene, you must live!”

Before Irene could respond, he shut the door. Seconds later, a motor hummed, no doubt the stairs retracting.

“All hatches sealed,” Basil’s voice came, “All hands, prepare for takeoff.”

Irene ran to the nearest window, trying to get a view of the battle below. She finally spotted Ioannes getting on his horse. A block away, the Lancers had engaged the blackshirts in close quarters combat, the enemy’s submachine guns proving useless at such close range. Ioannes drew his saber, and his horse pawed at the cobblestones, preparing to charge. The old general looked back at the airship. With his free hand, he saluted with a smile. And then he charged.

“All hands, brace. Beginning takeoff.” The airship’s engines whirred. Propellers spun until they became blurs, and the ship lurched into the sky. The streets and buildings of Constantinople fell away, and soon the windows were filled with sky blue.

They were on their way. At least, most of them.


Location Unknown January 1, 1936

Somewhere in a deep dark cavern far beneath the earth, a lone robed figure sat before a great pyre and stared into the flame. His head was covered with a great mane of hair and a beard smothered his face. He chanted beneath his breath in a tongue foreign to most in this world, channelling the power that he desired from a mostly forgotten god. Despite his focus on his ritual, he did not fail to notice the intruder that skulked into his presence.

“Were you successful, Shredder?” the priest asked, his eyes never leaving the flame. “Or is it Tearer?”

The intruder slowly stepped into the light, the fire reflecting off their metal bracers and claw-like weapons. “It’s Ripper,” the new arrival replied indignantly, their voice muffled and metallic, dampened by the mask they wore. The priest scoffed at the ridiculousness of the name, but Ripper paid them no mind. “Constantinople is in chaos, as you asked.”

“Good,” the priest said as he rose to his feet, grabbing a small wooden cane and using it to balance himself. He clasped his cane tightly, continuing the stare into the flames. “And the senator?”

“Which one?” Ripper asked. “Several fell to my blades.”

“Yes, and you did well to dispense of them,” the priest said as he began to pace slowly in front of the brazier, his cane tapping against the floor. “While only minor figures in the Empire’s political landscape, they were all advocates for peace, and that cannot be tolerated in the grand scheme of things.” He turned back to the flames. “As for the senator I speak of, you know very well which one. Favero.”

When no response was forthcoming, the priest curled his lip in a snarl. “Do you think I am unaware of your interference? He was meant to stay in Constantinople, not go with the others to Trebizond.”

Ripper knelt down on one knee and bowed their head. “My apologies, master, but I was forced to intervene. The Crown Prince’s men had apprehended him and he is too great an asset for us to lose.”

“And now you have forced him onto a side he was not meant to choose,” the priest said, spit spraying from his mouth. “He was meant to serve as a counterbalance to Doukas, pushing the Crown Prince–” The priest paused, letting out a shrill cackle. “–Or should I say Emperor towards war with the rebel states. Civil war isn’t enough; we need the entire world at war.”

Ripper lowered their head further in acquiescence. Despite that, the eyes not covered by the mask bored holes into the back of the priest’s head. “I feared that he would be unable to serve his purpose while imprisoned, or worse, dead.”

The priest stood in silence for a moment, admiring the flames as they consumed the wooden logs in the brazier. Finally, he turned to face Ripper, his expression softer but no less intimidating. “Very well, I see the wisdom behind your decision.” He gently pressed his cane against Ripper’s chin, nudging his disciple to look him in the eye. “Just make sure not to let emotion dictate your actions next time.”

Ripper stared at their master in silence. “Yes, Master Splinter.”

“It’s Sliver, idiot,” the priest replied, the slightest hint of a smirk on his face.

“It seems we both share unusual names,” Ripper said, rising back to their feet. The mask hid it, but a smile spread across their face.

Master Sliver nodded and said, “Now make sure to not disappoint me next time.” He turned back to the flames. “And praise Chernobog.”

Ripper bowed their head and began to walk away from the pyre, disappearing into the darkness of the cavern. “Praise Chernobog.”

Much of the menial staff obliged at the request to join the rest of the Thaddai estate abroad, but Madame Vlahos wasn’t going down without a fight. At least three men were needed to hold her still enough to get her onboard - the first to apply a full nelson, the second to restrain her arms, and the third to restrain her legs. Despite her age, the men involved recognized the fact that she knew how to counter them on a solo or two-on-one basis.

“You know she won’t forgive you two for this, right?” one of the menial girls said to Irene and Franco, whilst Vlahos struggled against the men.

“That’s because we old folk have the privilege to maintain grudges. She’ll recognize how right we were later,” Franco responded.

As the Thaddai estate finished bringing their things abroad, Franco looked over the building wistfully, hoping this won’t be the last they’ll see it. He then looked down at the bodies of the guardsmen. He called over the Cecil Sisters, and pointed at the corpses.

“I hate to be the one to say this, but we won’t be able to give Cosmas and Cyril a dignified rest. Help me grab their things off them,” he said with a wince.

The guardsmen’s weapons were taken from them, as well as what ammo they still had for their guns. Taking anything else seemed improper, even the bits of protective wear that wasn’t damaged in the ensuing gunfire. Their bodies were positioned resting by the gates of the estate. The three crossed their chests, and gave a moment of silence.

“Come on, let’s get on board!” they heard being yelled, with the three rushing aboard.

Waiting in the airship was intense before it lifted, especially once the sound of machine gunfire began to be heard. Fears of failed escape sunk into everyone’s stomachs. But soon, the airship finally lifted.

They had escaped.

“I have to wonder what mother called on us for,” Timon remarked. He and his father were presently being driven to the executive building, where Kyrene was waiting on them.

“The tone over the speaker phone should have been sign enough, sign of something being afoot,” Nestorius responded,

“Any idea on what it could be this time? Last time she sounded this serious, it was with that report that revealed the Tan-“

“The Taneists that still existed, yes, I remember. Those conniptive days before we ascertained just how few of them there are. Whatever it is, if I had to guess. it likely isn’t anything of immediate threat,” Nestor interrupted his son, attempting to figure it out based on his experience.


“What we’re dealing with is either strictly foreign, or it is so existential neither she nor I can deal with it.”

Soon, their ride arrived at its destination. Timon helped his father out of the car, before the two headed over, Nestor with cane in hand. Entering the building, they could see Kyrene waiting for them at the foyer.

The three met half-way, with the husband and wife sharing a quick kiss, though it didn’t help get the sad look on her face.

“You brought Timon with you?” Kyrene asked.

“I thought this might be another occasion for the boy to learn more on the craft,” Nestor responded with a smile.

Kyrene leaned in closer to Nestor, and whispered: “This might be a bit too much for him.”

Given they were all standing close to one another, Timon heard what his mother said and was surprised.

“…so it is that serious,” Nestor said, gulping.

“Timon, could you wait here in the foyer while me and your father talk?” Kyrene asked her son, who responded with a mere nod.

Kyrene wrapped her arm around her husband’s arm, and rushed him inside, as Timon went and took a seat.

“W-what’s happened, Kyrene?” Nestor grew curious.

“You’ll need to sit down for what I’m about to tell you, dear.”

Soon, they got into her office. She helped Nestor to his seat, before closing the door.

“What could’ve happened that would warrant leaving the boy out?”

“We received a call from the royal family,” Kyrene began.

“The royal family?! Who are we speaking of specifically here?”

“Prince Alvértos.”

“Ah, the second in line, what did he have to say?”

“He, his wife, and his daughters had all nearly been arrested, apparently under false accusations of attempting to start a coup.”

Nestorius seemed to almost fall into shock upon hearing that: “W-who accused him?”

“Prince Konstantinos, the heir.”

“Family conflict then?”

“Seems to be way more than that. He called on route to Trebizond on boat. He told me how he had previously called senators, commanders, and other governors to see where they would stand, because he believed Konstantinos was about to do something rash. He even called the estate in Constantinople.”

“W-what did they say?!” Nestor grew more nervous as Kyrene spoke.

“Konstantinos seems to have issue with the Senate, and that was apparently made clear at the last session, so they sided with Alvértos. He hopes they’ll make it safely to Trebizond too.”

Ol’ Ness began slouching in his chair, recognizing what was going on at its fullest.

“…so the Empire’s about to butt heads with itself…”

Kyrene walked up behind Ness’ chair, and she placed her hands on his shoulders to relax him.

“We can only hope they’ll be fine too. I’ve already asked Botros to put someone on phone duty in case we hear from them. All we can do is wait.”

“But what about the Empire?” Nestor retorted, “It’s still hasn’t fully recovered, the cracks of the last century remain. For all we know, this might turn them into chasms.”

“I tried asking, but Alvértos seemed certain this would only escalate. Since he knows how far out we are, he understood if we wouldn’t side with him, but as long as we stayed out of this for now, he was happy,” Kyrene elaborated.

Nestor shook his head: “I can’t sit here and do nothing! I have to head for Constantinople, I need to help!”

“Ness, I know you mean well, but we’re talking about a prince who would rather see your position wiped. We can’t do anything from here, not now at least,” she said, wrapping her arms around him.


Nestorius didn’t know what to say. In this moment, he felt as powerless as he had in his youth. His home is going to crumble.

As the airship took off, the three men in charge of the Hagia Sophia tensed as one. Then, they went about their work.

The fighting that had occurred around the airship had been the spark the rest of the city had been waiting for. A full scale riot was breaking out in various sectors, in the streets and building to building. Some black shirts had guns and were firing on the police and civilians alike. Some were fighting known Union members and government workers, and all were looking for communists to beat up or kill.

The communists meanwhile had not been idle. Alerted by the troubles at the docks and, no doubt, by friends in the senate, they too had armed themsevles and taken over areas of control. They seemed more organised, more restrained, as if their leaders knew they were about to be attacked and were digging in.

The fascists meanwhile were gleefully unkempt and unstable, tearing through what they could like wild fire, without a care for the law or consequence for their actions.

The police were stunned but begining to coordinate responses, and seemed to have begun attempting to curtail and arrest the unarmed and uncoordinated random looters and black shirts unaffiliated with the main mobs.

Thus far, the only ones stupid enough to approach the Temple Guard were these random opportunists. Several more families and a great many panicked individuals had however been admitted, and far more worryingly, the injured and survivors of assaults.

Alexander took them all in, of course, and set up a hospital in the main halls. Various other infirmary sites were being prepared, because no one doubted more people would be showing up.

He was in and around the sick and wounded now, as was the Rector. The Guard, medics and clerics were also dotted around, helping where they could. Every active and reserve Guard was now within and about the Holy site, and ready for whatever came. The Guard Captain was confident he was capable of defending everyone inside the Hagia Sophia and the walls around the site, but if the city became any more chaotic, or if more army units arrived to fight each other…

It did not bear thinking about.

The day was turning to night, and still the cries and screams and flashes of light, flame and gunfire did not abate. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse in some areas.

Constantinople was begining to fall into anarchy.

As the airship took off, the three men in charge of the Hagia Sophia tensed as one. Then, they went about their work.

The fighting that had occurred around the airship had been the spark the rest of the city had been waiting for. A full scale riot was breaking out in various sectors, in the streets and building to building. Some black shirts had guns and were firing on the police and civilians alike. Some were fighting known Union members and government workers, and all were looking for communists to beat up or kill.

The communists meanwhile had not been idle. Alerted by the troubles at the docks and, no doubt, by friends in the senate, they too had armed themsevles and taken over areas of control. They seemed more organised, more restrained, as if their leaders knew they were about to be attacked and were digging in.

The fascists meanwhile were gleefully unkempt and unstable, tearing through what they could like wild fire, without a care for the law or consequence for their actions.

The police were stunned but begining to coordinate responses, and seemed to have begun attempting to curtail and arrest the unarmed and uncoordinated random looters and black shirts unaffiliated with the main mobs.

Thus far, the only ones stupid enough to approach the Temple Guard were these random opportunists. Several more families and a great many panicked individuals had however been admitted, and far more worryingly, the injured and survivors of assaults.

Alexander took them all in, of course, and set up a hospital in the main halls. Various other infirmary sites were being prepared, because no one doubted more people would be showing up.

He was in and around the sick and wounded now, as was the Rector. The Guard, medics and clerics were also dotted around, helping where they could. Every active and reserve Guard was now within and about the Holy site, and ready for whatever came. The Guard Captain was confident he was capable of defending everyone inside the Hagia Sophia and the walls around the site, but if the city became any more chaotic, or if more army units arrived to fight each other…

It did not bear thinking about.

The day was turning to night, and still the cries and screams and flashes of light, flame and gunfire did not abate. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse in some areas.

Constantinople was begining to fall into anarchy.