1 January 1936

The first meeting in Trebizond was about to begin. Fortunately, Alvértos had been able to rest on the boat. The morning was spent making himself appear as imperial as possible while waiting for his soldiers to find an appropriate meeting room in one of Trebizond’s hotels. He was nervous about how much support he would get. He had a good grasp of his military and civilian support now, but he would need the help of the Senate to actually run matters.

When noon came, he entered the room carrying a rolled document. He gave a quick glance around as he began speaking. Fewer people than he might have hoped, but more than he had feared. He hoped that over time more would arrive. “Welcome, everyone. Thank you for choosing to join me.”

“I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, but the Empire is once again in a civil war. My brother has begun a coup, seeking to remove me, the Senate, and other notables. I have not been able to get further news on my father, the Emperor. He was ill and bedridden already in what may be his final illness.”

“Let me share how things stand, then we can discuss the steps to take. I have my own plans, but I want to hear your thoughts before enacting them. First, the Empire itself.” He unrolled his document onto a table in the room, revealing a map. “Most of the Empire has declared neutrality under various governments. Asia Minor is under our control, the Balkans under my brother’s.”

“The military is in complete disarray, with effectively no command structure above the brigade or division level. Our forces consist of three cavalry brigades, three cavalry divisions, an infantry brigade with its artillery, two infantry divisions with their artillery, and one infantry brigade without artillery. Most of the cavalry and the last infantry brigade are positioned across the Bosphorus from Constantinople. The remaining units have gathered in Smyrna. Most of the military has kept to their previous posts, and will likely begin answering to the civilian authorities in those regions.”

“The navy under our control consists of the Black Sea Fleet and the transports used to transport forces to Smyrna. The latter may be trapped there if Konstantinos is able to muster a Mediterranean fleet.”

“Politically we are very nearly a blank slate. It will take time to put together a well-functioning government.”

“I am in contact with the research and development divisions of my various family holdings, who are waiting for direction on innovations to develop.”

“We have a plentiful supply of most industrial resources apart from oil and rubber. Until we can secure supplies of both, advanced weapons like tanks or troop transports will be impossible to field.”

“Our factories are churning out guns and artillery, our dockyard various ships.”

“Indeed, between that production and our stockpiles, we can immediately begin training new military divisions.”

“We have a fair amount of civilian industry that can be allocated to construction. However, the two most likely points of battle are also poorly-connected to the rail network, so I’ve already drafted orders to add new rail lines and a supply depot.”

“And that’s one of the tighter resource constraints. Some of that industry might be better used to create trade goods for oil and rubber. Or even a headquarters for a new intelligence agency.”

“I realize this is a lot of information all at once. Are there any questions before I list the questions we need to decide?”


The next leg of the airship’s journey went smoother than expected. No enemy aircraft pursued them. The engines worked perfectly fine. None of the pilots reported any mechanical difficulties. Before John-Loukas knew it, they were in Trebizond. They set the ship down at a military airfield outside the city. Unlike with Constantinople, there was a docking tower here, so they didn’t have to make a ground landing. The fighter squadron landed on the runway and were immediately taken into the hangars for refueling. As the passengers disembarked, ground crews prepared crates of ammunition to finally arm the airship. Soon, they would be ready for a real fight.

There was one last thing he had to do before he was ready to fly into battle, though.

When the stairs connected to the docking tower and the doors swung open, the first thing Irene saw were Theodora and Heraclius.

“Welcome to Trebizond,” Theodora said, “I apologize for the conditions here, but we had little choice.”

She gestured to Heraclius. Behind him, several medics had come up the stairs, with first aid kits ready. “We have medics ready to treat any wounded. Just say the word. If you’re healthy, please make your way downstairs. We have vehicles ready to take you into the city.”

The passengers did so. Heraclius’ medics treated the injured, and the rest followed Irene and Theodora down the stairs.

“Hey, Auntie,” Irene said.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” Theodora said, “Did they hurt you?”

“No,” Irene said, “I’m a little rattled, but I’m fine.”

“Good,” Theodora said, “Make sure you’re not rattled by tomorrow.”


“Prince Alvértos is holding an emergency session of the Senate. City Hall’s not big enough for all of us, so he’s going to hold it in a hotel conference room.”

Irene laughed. “The Senate…meeting in a hotel…this day really has taken a turn for the bizarre.”

“That makes two of us,” Theodora said.

“So you’ll be taking back your seat?” Irene said.

“Yes,” Theodora said, “The situation demands I take a more direct role. You’ll still shadow me, of course.”


“I need not ask about this morning, do I?”

Irene really didn’t want to talk about it. “It could have gone better.”

“It’s not your fault,” Theodora said, “You couldn’t have known it would have ended up that way.”

“Still, I wish I could have done more,” Irene said, “Then maybe the capital wouldn’t be in flames and we wouldn’t need to be here.”

“Fact is, we’re here,” Theodora said, “So we’ll play the cards we were dealt.”

The “Senate chamber” - January 1, 1936

The conference room clearly had not been designed to hold meetings for important government institutions, but they made do. The flag had been draped over one of the walls and Alvértos’ podium placed under it. The senators’ chairs—dining chairs and then regular folding chairs when they ran out of the former—were arranged in a semicircle around the podium, mimicking the actual Senate. Varangians stood at the doors and on either side of the podium.

Over the course of the morning, the senators filed in. Once all had arrived, Alvértos appeared at the podium and began speaking.

A lot of the senators looked sleep deprived. Some still clutched cups of dark coffee. Many of their outfits were either too casual or too disheveled to have fit into a regular session, but the circumstances had denied them a chance to change into proper attire. Theodora recognized a few faces. Among them was Favero—which was weird, because Irene said he had initially declined her offer of evacuation. Others, though, were nowhere to be seen. Marco was gone, and His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch had chosen to stay behind.

The Ministry of Security and Intelligence had been blindsided by Konstantinos, Theodora admitted. They had been understaffed and underfunded for months, and that was probably by Konstantinos’ design. Then there was the fact that many of her own personnel had sided with the prince. Those who remained were scattered across Anatolia and Greece. She would have to rebuild the Ministry, and its primary purpose would be to serve as the Empire’s shield in the coming war.

Civil war…I can’t believe we’re here again.

“Ascertaining the Emperor’s status—if not securing his evacuation from the capital—should be something we should address. The longer he remains out of the public eye, the more Konstantinos can pretend to act on his behalf, using him as a bludgeon against his enemies.”

I can only hope that all of my colleagues in Athens got out in time.

The government of Syria-Palestine had declared neutrality, independent of Theodora. She could, in her capacity as governor, order a general mobilization in favor of Trebizond, but the situation there was tenuous and could easily push the province onto the rebels’ side. Syria-Palestine was crucial to the Empire’s military interests, though, because of its oil. It also served symbolic value through the cities of Antioch and Jerusalem, home to two of the Pentarchs. They would have to proceed carefully, through diplomacy. As for the other provinces, they would have to be handled in a similar manner. Konstantinos would likely try to subjugate each by force. Trebizond could take the moral high ground by offering a carrot instead of the stick.

“I suggest we reach out to the governments of Syria-Palestine. As the governor of the province, I would be able to open a dialogue with the civilian administrations in Damascus and Jerusalem. The province would be crucial to our war effort. It provides oil that would fuel our vehicles, and controlling the holy cities of Antioch and Jerusalem, home to two Pentarchs, would give us significant spiritual legitimacy. As for the other provinces, Konstantinos would likely attempt to use military force to occupy them, which would naturally spur insurgencies. If left unchecked, these could give rise to nationalist separatist sentiments. But if we reached out with a carrot instead of a stick, we could direct these anti-Konstantinos energies towards alignment with us.”

That was to be expected. As they had seen in Constantinople, the army had been split right down the middle. Anatolia, as part of the imperial core, did not have too many units deployed other than those that had been recently mobilized. The rest were scattered across the Empire. If she were a general, she would have ordered most troops to be deployed to Nicomedia to guard against a potential assault from across the Bosphorus or the Dardanelles, while a few units remained to put down any pro-Konstantinos insurgencies.

“I recommend that the troops remain where they are currently—in Nicomedia and Smyrna, with a focus on the former. Holding the Bosphorus, or at least denying its use to Konstantinos, is paramount. We will also need troops to help put down any attempted rebellions by his followers in Anatolia, something the Ministry of Security and Intelligence can help out with.”

That was concerning. They needed to keep control of the Aegean to protect against Konstantinos. If he took Nicomedia and Smyrna, there would be nothing but hills stopping him from marching east towards Ancyra and Trebizond. It was imperative that they take out Konstantinos’ shipbuilding capacities. Perhaps through targeted aerial bombardment of the shipyards in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Constantinople.

“I recommend a surgical strike, via aerial bombardment, on shipyards under Konstantinos’ control in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Constantinople as soon as possible. That way, we can at least delay Konstantinos’ shipbuilding capacities. We must hold the Aegean and the Marmara at all costs. If he achieves naval superiority there, there will be nothing stopping him from shelling Smyrna or crossing the Marmara to attack Nicomedia. And then we’ll have lost western Anatolia. But if we can destroy those shipyards, we can buy enough time for our own fleets to mobilize and get into position for a blockade, and then we’ll be the ones crossing the sea.”

Their very presence in this hotel room suggested as much. She had several ideas, but she wanted to wait until the others spoke first.

“We may not be able to rely on numbers or technology as we used to, which makes logistics all the more important. I suggest investing more into efficient logistics so that we can supply our troops in even the most dire of circumstances. Furthermore,I have heard some of the researchers at the Pandidakterion believe we can harness the power of the atom as a source of energy, or maybe even a weapon. It may be worth looking into, even if such a weapon will likely be several years away from a prototype.”

“The alingment of Syria-Palestine is all the more important as a result. Our airship is the only one we have, and I do not want to waste it so early on in this conflict. We should hold it back for defensive purposes and limit its operations whenever possible to conserve fuel.”

“I again recommend a heavy investment in our shipyards, as our ships will ensure we can protect our coasts and ward off amphibious assaults.”

“I humbly request that the Ministry of Security and Intelligence’s budget be increased, so that we can begin training spies to infiltrate Konstantinos’ administration and military.”

“It is imperative that we improve our rail lines, not only within Anatolia but in the provinces we return to the fold. Logistics will be crucial to the coming conflict, and we can’t rely too much on advanced technology when we lack the rare resources they require, which means we must have good supply lines.”

“The MSI would appreciate a new headquarters, from which espionage operations can be better organized and coordinated.”

The flight to Trebizond was thankfully calmer than expected, but looking upon those of the Thaddai estate, one would assume otherwise. Its members sat tired, anxious, stressed, paranoid and frustrated, a convulsion of emotions going all at once, once which had to be periodically calmed down. Thankfully, as they approached Trebizond, all this finally stopped. It became clear as day they had arrived.

Everyone began unloading the things they had brought with them, with Eudokia talking with the crew on the ground to see if they had anywhere where the rest of them could go. Franco looked towards the remainder of the docking area, as the medics ran past him to aid the injured onboard. He saw Irene talking with Theodora and Heraclius, and gave Theodora a quick wave and a tired smile from a distance. He wouldn’t want to get between aunt and niece.

“Franco, we’ve managed to get a place in Trebizond,” he heard Eudokia saw behind him.

“Oh, great! Hopefully there will be some beds there too for everyone to rest for a bit.”

“I overheard them talking to the Senators aboard, telling them that Alvértos is going to be hosting an emergency senatorial session at a hotel,” Eudokia added.

“A hotel, huh…” Franco was slightly stunned, but ultimately not shocked, “I guess I still have some work to do myself.”

“We’ll be able to get everything to the new place without you, don’t worry. Be sure to let us know what they talked about when you get back.”

“I know, I have to write up a report for Kyrene and Nestorius regardless. I’m sure they’re worried sick,” Franco responded, crossing his arms. Since it seemed she didn’t hear what hotel they were headed towards, Franco waved his comrades goodbye and began hovering about the Senators present, making sure he isn’t left in the dark.

Franco had managed to get himself pencil and paper by the time he arrived at the hotel conference room, having already started writing down much of the details he intended to elaborate on within the report proper he was going to make. He took a seat near the Doukas pair, and finished up his coffee.

On affairs discussed, Franco wasn’t entirely sure what to add to the discussion, especially so on the issue of government. He would, however, join in support for what Theodora suggested for the army and navy.

“For all we know, the military is in similar disarray for Konstantinos, so it is ultimately a race to see who can establish a beachhead on the other first, and to hold it long enough to allow for an invasion. Which makes all of this sound like it’ll be over in an instant…” Franco forced out a sigh.

“And let’s hope it’ll be over soon too,” he continued, “the rest of the world is watching, not just the rest of the Empire, and who knows what they might be thinking right now.”

Night fell on Constantinople, yet the city did not sleep. By this time, most of the random acts of vandalism and assault had ceased, the perpetrators arrested or gone home having had their fill. The only ones out on the streets now were the police, the communists still holed up in their sectors and the Docks, and the Black shirts. The latter were now a lot more organised and uniform. These would seem to be the ‘true believers’ who had genuine place in the movement, the political party or were a commander of either. They had been demonstrating along the main streets and marching with torches and flags for over an hour, banging drums and shooting their guns at any who attempted to waylay them.

In the past few minutes, according to the police and various Άγιος Guard spotters, they had congregated around the Senate Palace, and were attempting to gain entry. Whether this was another attempted vandalism, a political stunt or a carefully considered move to claim authority, no one knew.

Several fires had already been started and were being fought by the fire brigade throughout the poorer areas of the city.

Alexander attempted to push such thoughts from his mind. It had become increasingly clear that this may indeed end up with the city as a battleground between rival factions, or even a full civil war between the Princes…and anyone else who cared to join in.

It was therefore essential that the Church Fathers and Patriarchs, as well as the Pentarchy, were aware and of one mind as to their own objects.

It would not be easy. Whilst the Orthodox Church was ostensibly under his leadership, it had been only twenty five years since Jerusalem had joined the Separatists in the Great Civil War, and both they and Alexandria had a history of wilful independence about them, especially when concerning the Empire. Whilst the Church generally were supportive of the imperial dominion, and of the Emperors, and of Rome, it remained a matter of dispute as to how far the Church itself should integrate with the state. These concerns and calls for reform had only increased as, for the first time in millennia, more Orthodox believers existed outside of the Roman Empire than within.

Alexander felt a brief and uncontrollable burst of anger towards both sides in the current dispute. They were about to cause untold amount of damage to the world, the Faith, and threaten even larger catastrophes in their wake…all for what? The throne? Power?

He shook his head. He could not throw too many stones. He had politicked and schemed with the best of them to get where he was…that he thought he was right merely placed him amongst every other leader in history.

He would ring and telegram as many leaders, archbishops, and Patriarchs as he could that evening. And, both fortunately and not, he did not have to go far to speak with one of the Pentarch.

“I brought you some super, Father,” he said softly, entering the comfortably appointed room.

“Bless you, Holy Father,” the Patriarch of Rome wheezed softly. “I heard commotion outside. Is all well?”

Alexander sat down beside the elder clergyman. He had been recuperating here since pneumonia had struck him down during Alexander’s anointment as Patriarch. The wandering Roman had made quite the name for himself since the fall of his seat to Catholicism. He had adopted much of the Franciscan Friars about himself, taking a vow of poverty, charity and humbleness that deeply impressed and endeared him to the people of the Balkans and Anatolia, whom he visited and aided widely during the reconstruction of both provinces. They had been the hardest hit during the Great Civil War, by Roman, Separatist and foreign hands.

“I am afraid all is not well, my friend.”

“The Emperor is dead?”

“I…do not know.” Alexander had wondered that himself over the past few hours. “His sons have…quarrelled. One attempted to arrest the other and now both have called upon their allies for war.”

“Good God,” the old man whispered, and then crossed himself. “Are the people safe? We have given them sanctuary here?”

“We have, and the Guard is alert and present. We are safe for now.”

“This will divide the Empire. And the Church.”

“Ah,” Alexander closed his eyes. “I was afraid of that.”

“I am sorry, dear boy, but the scars of the past years have not had time to heal.” The Patriarch searched for and patted the younger man’s sleeve blindly. “I fear we are in dark days. The others…they will bicker as they always do. But this time, we cannot afford to be divided amongst ourselves.”

He coughed repeatedly and Alexander rushed to have water to hand.

“I do not quite know what to do next,” he admitted.

“I suspect it will become quite clear, quite quickly. Do you know who the rightful heir is?”

“That is truly uncertain-”

“Do you,” the old man insisted, “know who should not be Emperor, then?”

There was silence for some time, aside from the wheezing from the bed.

“I believe so.”

“God placed you where you are for a reason, my dear. Take heart and be of courage.” He waved away Alexander. “I must rest. Reach out to the others. And to our worthy leaders outside the Pentarch. We are the World’s Church, Mankind’s Church, not the Emperor’s.

Alexander departed quietly, and with bowed head, made for his own office.

January 1st 1936, Constantinople

A man reclined in a café chair, the café itself within eyesight of the Senatorial building. He placed down the book he was reading and took a sip from a glass of water. He repeated his strategy in his head;

  1. Arrive at the senate building during the address.
  2. Establish a connection with any senators related to The Purple Group.
  3. ???
  4. Lead Rome to a new age.

The man sighed and rubbed his eyes. God’s sake, he wasn’t even a colonial representative! And yet, here he was. He knew he must be here, whether it was God, destiny, or fate letting him finally bite off more than he could chew.

“Justinian!” the man heard a voice call out.

He somberly turned around to see his brother.

“Ah, Leonidas. About time you woke up.”

“Well, unlike you, I’M on vacation. And I’d rather enjoy a good 10 hour sleep at the Imperator rather than a stuffy office, fogged with cigar smoke.” Leonidas quipped as he pulled out and lit a cigar.

Justinian smirked and rolled his eyes. His brother came off to most as a serious and uptight accountant, but Justinian new the real Leonidas. The one that would stay up into the morning with bottles of wine, friends and with quips and bits from the most innocent to the most depraved.

“So, what does this little Praetorian have on the agenda today?” Leonidas said as he blew out the fragrant cigar smoke.

“I’m going to the Imperial Senate in about an hour or so. They’re in session now and I figure if I can look like I belong, I can probe around for any potential in’s. Purple Group or not.”

“Sounds about as thought out as your other escapades.” Leonidas replied as he drew in his cigar before setting it on the table.

“Also cut the Praetorian joke, we’re in esteemed company.” Justinian pointed over to a pair of men in rather dark shirts.

Pfft Why would they arrest me? I’m a physical specimen of the supreme Roman stature!” Leonidas joked, gesturing to his portly and rotund form.

Now that made Justinian chuckle. Probably the first time he’d laugh since coming to Constantinople he thought to himself.

“Do go easy on yourself Justinian…” Leonidas continued with a more serious tone. “You are grandfather’s favorite after all.”

“Mmmm” relied Justinian, he loved his brother and thought the world of him, but he knew that his family saw the pride and joy of their lineage through himself. Even if he was the youngest.

“You will join me for dinner in the Italae District tonight yes? Since Mediolanum gone to hell, we can at least honor the past with a good feast.”

“I shall, I shall.”

“Good.” Leonidas leaned back in his café chair, creaking under his weight.

The two sat in silence as the various sounds of the city filled the air.

Leonidas began to doze. This had been the first time he had a true vacation to himself. His underling was managing the financial office during his sabatical. “Maybe I should look into him being my protégé. What was his name? Michael?” He turned his head to see Justinian starring pensively at the street in front of them.

“What? What is-“

Justinian silently raised his hand and Leonidas slowly sank back into his chair.

Leonidas heard the 2 black shirts from earlier suddenly stand up and walk past them. He glanced back to see a telephone on their table.

“What was it?” Leo whispered

“Something about Prince Konstantinos and the Senate. Either the Emperor has passed away or something else. My gut is telling me worse.”

They both sat in silence.

“That one on the phone sounded elated to hear the news, barely trying to hide it… I think the Emperor’s death wouldn’t make them that gitty.”

Leonidas stared off into the distance.

“What’s the name of the Minister of Transportation?” shot Justinian

“You mean that chap with the awful mustache? Stelios?”

“Him! He would have more info. I remember he was close with the other prince, Alvértos. If Konstantinos is up to something, Alvértos would also be privy to it. Can you get in contact with his office?”

“I think so… grab that phone.” sighed Leonidas.

After a few minutes of talking, the call ended.

“Prince Alvértos has requested the Imperial cabinet and `certain senators’ to meet him Trebizond. The poor secretary on the phone sounded like she was packing up her entire livelihood.”

Justinian put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “We need to get to Trebizond. NOW.”

“No, YOU must get to Trebizond.” replied Leo.

“I’m not going to leave my brother here, if this is some kind of royal feud…” Justinian pulled him closer.

“You know how deadly those become.”

Leonidas clasped his brother’s hand. “I’m aware. I am the older one after all. But I did not travel my way all the way to Oslo just to leave my fur coats to looters, or what have you. I will find a way out by nightfall.”

Justinian was stubborn, but he knew that when his brother took a stand he would not budge. He was almost as impossible to move psychologically as he was physically.

Justinian let out a sigh, “Alright, be safe.” Justinian stood up, leaving well over enough money for their order on their table.

As he started to walk away he heard his brother chime in on last time. “Oh brother?”

“Yes, Leo?”

“You have the blank check. Make sure the light of Rome does not fade.”

Justinian slowly turned back, not believing the words he heard.

“R-really? Seriously?”

“I am.” replied Leonidas, not turning around. “I’ll smooth it over with the group, they’ll see reason.”

“Thank you brother.” replied Justinian with a smile.

Trebizond December 31, 1935 - January 1, 1936

Senator Donatello Favero was not pleased, and he did not refrain from showing it. He said not a word during the entire trip to Trebizond, even with the numerous curious gazes sent his way during the flight. They probably were surprised he wasn’t backing Konstantinos, what with many of their policies being so similar. Not as if he had any choice on the matter. The Crown Prince clearly was beyond help, if he had decided to tap Donatello’s phone before requesting his aid. The man was paranoid and would never trust anyone. It wounded Donatello greatly that it would be the imperial family, the unifying entity that bound the Empire together, that would ultimately destroy it.

When they finally reached Trebizond late that night, the senator was ushered to some hotel and given a private room. It was small and only moderately clean, but he didn’t complain since with the sheer number of refugees that had accompanied them, there were certainly others who had far worse accommodations. He only got a few hours of restless sleep on his lumpy mattress, tossing and turning as he worried about the fate of his wife and daughter.

The next day Donatello was escorted to a conference room, to be used for a makeshift senate session. He managed to claim a dining chair; a folding chair would have been an insult to a man of his station. The number of senators in attendance was small, but he wasn’t surprised. There would surely be those hesitant to commit to Prince Alvértos’s cause, and those who did were just as likely to be imprisoned or even killed. Donatello wondered how many of them were like him and here because they had no choice: it was either Alvértos or death.

When Prince Alvértos entered the room, it was clear that he was already feeling the weight of all that had been placed upon him. Regardless, he persevered and provided the senators with all the details at hand. Clearly the prince was not completely without resources, having been able to gather all this intelligence in under 24 hours, even if the news was not all that good. The Empire was already disintegrating, although Donatello was not sure if it was better that the other regions were not getting involved. An isolated conflict would be better, but it would also be good to see an outcry of support to speed this war to a early conclusion. The military forces at hand were abysmal, and supplies were going to prove a problem within a few months. There was talk of research, although Donatello did not see how that was relevant to this conflict. What mattered was taking out the enemy before they could get you.

A few senators provided their comments or advice, with Senator Doukas dominating the conversation. The discussion was somehow more civil than their average senate session, perhaps due to the severity of the matter. Donatello remained silent in his gloomy corner of the room, listening to everyone ignore the key issue that drove this war. Eventually he grew tired of the endless dialogue on logistics and infrastructure and decided to butt in.

“You are all ignoring the reason this war started, and thus the best way to end it,” Donatello said, interrupting the current conversation on establishing a new headquarters for the intelligence agency. “Konstantinos.”

Frustration clear in his eyes, Donatello continued. “We are here because one man’s ambitions clouded his judgment and caused him to drag the Empire into civil war all to enact some insane vision of imperial glory.” Donatello let out a mad chuckle. “All he had to do was wait; wait for an already ailing emperor to pass, and then once the crown was his, reform the empire in his image. Instead an insatiable lust for power and impatience for change forced him to strike early.” Donatello let out enough chuckle, this one more mad than the last. “It’s sheer insanity.”

Donatello took in a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He wasn’t that man anymore; he was better than that. Konstantinos though may be a lost cause. The other senators needed to understand.

“I more than anyone here know what it is like to succumb to such insanity. For 25 years all I have longed for is the return of my home, and that unending desire has driven me ever since. I have let it consume my life, and I have done things that I am not proud of in pursuit of that goal.” Donatello let out another chuckle, this one much more light-hearted. “In fact, I almost threw my lot in with Konstantinos because I thought he could be the one to reclaim Italy for me.”

The senator stared down at the floor, composing his thoughts before he continued. The room remained silent, somehow aware he had more to say. When he finally looked back up, Donatello said, “Konstantinos is clearly driven by a similar passion. I do not know what sparked it or even what his ultimate goal is, but it is clear that he will pursue it no matter the cost. Those that do not help him or who are in the way will be cast aside. There is only one way this war will end, and coming from me, you must all understand the seriousness of what I am about to say.” Donatello paused, choosing to look Prince Alvértos directly in the eyes, his expression determined yet sad that it had come to this.

“Konstantinos needs to die.”

Before the others could interject, Donatello added, “We must cut the head off the serpent and the body will wither. While this is a grave matter to discuss, the potential assassination of a member of the imperial family, we must remember that at best he has committed high treason.” The senator looked over at the prince again. “At worst he is guilty of regicide.”

Bringing his monologue to an end, Donatello clasped his hands together and leaned back in his chair. “So, my fellow senators,” Donatello said, “shall we skip the minutia better left to the military experts and now discuss how best to end this war?”

Nikos put down the telephone in defeat. This wasn’t getting him anywhere, trying to contact anyone outside of Italy was pointless as if everything collapsed, and perhaps that was the case. The lieutenant stood up, nervously pacing around his office, considering what course of action could he take. His men took priority, but looking back and how they acted earlier they’re as tense as he is. Abandoning the post would be no good, at best he and his men would make it somewhere and reorganize, they’d be punished for leaving their position, and probably become a penal unit, getting the worst jobs. At worst they’d become traitors and perhaps be executed. Keeping their current position also was not ideal. On one side were the Italians, surely ready to strike the moment they hear what is happening. They might not know now, just as chaos and confusion are spreading throughout the Imperial units. But if something big was happening then they would know. Maybe even sooner than the Legios themselves. If they couldn’t count on reinforcements, the Italians surely would be able to make it past the lines, smash the units stationed at the border and freely advance with no unit in a state to oppose them. On the other side - disorganized and panicking senior officers, scrambling to ascertain the situation - just how Nikos was doing right now. Without the support of Constantinople supply will become an issue. Of course not a day, two from now. But a week, maybe two, a month at best, that is if no shipment comes, which isn’t out of the question. Nikos slumped in his chair, his head aching, and frustration growing inside him - frustration at his indecisiveness, for he didn’t see a good choice.

An excerpt from Ypolochagos Nikos Stavros’s journal “January 1st It seems ruin has come to our Empire. Soon venerable houses of the nobles, of the senators, opulent and imperial, gazing proudly onto the world will be reduced to ruins. That’s what I think, at least. We weren’t capable of reestablishing communication with Constantinople, every commander in the region is just as confused as I am, and that goes for those higher up the chain than me. I imagine we’ll know more in the coming week as rumors spread, but one thing we can ascertain right now is that the Empire is in danger. I hope my family is safe back in Greece. I wonder what my old man would do if he ever was in a position like mine. Maybe once things are more stable I’ll visit them, I haven’t been home in years. I wonder if uncle Grigorios’s cafe is still open. For now, we’ll keep following our old orders, that’s the best we can do, but if nothing changes I’ll have to think more seriously about gathering those that’ll follow me and evacuating to fight another day. May God have mercy on the Empire, for our enemies shall have none.”

“Agreed,” Theodora said, “The situation is tenuous on both sides at the moment. It is entirely possible Konstantinos is doing something similar to what are are doing right now—needing to establish legitimacy, rebuild institutions, and organize his army. Which is why I call for a targeted strike against his shipyards, possibly extended to other critical military targets should we have the manpower, to deny him a chance to gain his footing. If we strike fast and hard, this conflict will be over sooner, and fewer lives will be lost.”

Well, I didn’t expect him to say it outright.

“And that is why I must call for an expansion of the MSI’s budget, so that it can train intelligence operatives and spies to carry out such missions, up to and including the…neutralization of Konstantinos. We will not be able to do so with regular military forces—Konstantinos has likely moved his base of operations inland, as he is no doubt aware Constantinople would be a high profile and vulnerable target.”

Constantinople, unknown phonebooth, early afternoon.

Justinian stood in the booth, leaning against one of the walls, nervously tapping the glass as the line was connected.

“Aye?” the voice on the other line said.

“Marcos? Is this Marcos?”

“That I am, who are you?”

“A servant of Solomon” whispered Justinian.

“… aaaaah Jesucristo.” groaned Marcos. “I cleared up my debts back in Barcelona. I’m not getting tied up in the group again!”

“I’m not here for an investment, I need something from you, a favor.”


“I’m going to assume you’re listening. Look I need to get out of Constantinople and into Anitolia, preferably Trezbizond.”


“How much would it cost?”


Justinian pulled the phone away from his ear and bit his knuckles. “I know I have a blank check but I didn’t want to start like this!”

He brought the phone back: “Fine, is this boat fast?”

“Hahahaha” chuckled Marcos. “Come down to my wharf. No earlier than 6, you will see.”


Justinian slowly put the phone back in its reciever. “Well it’s a start” he whispered to himself.

He staightened his suit and tie and proceeded to leave the phone booth. He considered his next actions while he walked.

“If it’s 1:30 now, I could run by the apartment and collect what I can in a suitcase. But how can I even get there? Walking would take hours at least… public transport might work but those blackshirts are probably making their rounds on them… A cab? Well, there’s nothing that guarantees that the driver isn’t a black shirt either. Damn this city for being so enourmous.”

He continued his walk, losing himself in thought.

“What if they found me here? Could I trust the police to help me? It’s not nearly loud enough to us-“

A car passed Justinian as he walked, through the reflection of the back window he caught a glimpse of 2 men in black shirts behind him. He ceased his thoughts, he used the lid of a nearby trash can to check behind him. Yes, 2 distorted images following him at the same pace.

“You’re going to need more than 2 to stop a ranger.” He whispered under his breath. He took a sharp right down a nearby alley and waited for the 2 to appear. Sure enough they followed.

“What do you want?” Justinian said in a booming voice.

One of them jumped back, either suprised Justinian was waiting for them or by his voice. The other noticing the other’s reaction stepped forward.

“As you may know, Prince Konstantinos will soon ascend to the crown, despite the failed murder attempt of his own flesh and blood, Prince Alvértos.”

“Now why would Alvértos do that?” shot back Justinian, still determining the validity of the black shirts statement.

“Power can do terrible things to people, even the royal family is not without fault sometimes.” hissed back the blackshirt.

“Thus, as our Roman duty.” he continued “we must purge the heart of our Empire clean, lest we all sink to the rapracious nature of dear Prince Alvértos.”

“I am a Roman, I have served the empire faithfully. So we should have no quarrel.” Justinian replied.

“As I assumed, I would not dare lump you into the arms with Communist, Republicans and Minorities. However, who you represent is who the sons of Romulus call into question.” the man said with a crooked smile.

Justinian stood in silence.

“Your Purple Group must seize the day. As we speak, the govenor of Terra Australis has mere hours to live. The group must fill the void, for the greater good and for Emperor Konstantinos.”

“I speak not for the Purple Group, thus my say is for nought.”

The man sighed and looked to his cohort. “Very well, if you do not seize the day, we must seize the day.” They proceeded to pull out a club each.

The one to the left of Justinian immediately leaped towards him, barely coming up short. Justinian deftly dodged to his side and delivered an elbow blow to the man’s temple, knocking him to the ground and disorienting him. Justinian reached for the man’s dropped club and swiftly picked it up. The other man charged Justinian, swinging his club horizontally towards Justinian’s ear. Justinian dodged slightly too late on this one. While he did not suffer a blow to the head, his nose fared worse. The club had caught the edge of Justinian’s nose, dislocating it before scrapping off the remaining skin. Justinian stumbled back, his vision slightly blurred by the immense pain. The attacker smugly rested the club underneath his shoulder and adjusted the gloves he was wearing.

“Remember, there are 2 of us.” he let out with a cackle.

Justinian looked towards the ground to see the other man start to recover. Justinian grabbed his nose and cracked it back into place before spitting out a bloody wad onto the ground.

“And YOU remember, I’m a God Damn Ranger.” Justinian hissed.

He stepped forward and connected his foot directly with the first man’s ribs, Justinian felt a crack where he kicked and prayed it was the man’s ribs and not his own toes.

The standing man grabbed his club and charged Justinian again. Justinian stepped back began a swing towards the assaliant in kind. Before their clandestined clash, Justinian had changed the holding position of the club mid-swing, turning his underhand strike into a forward jab. This caught the blackshirt offguard with a quick and poinent blow to the stomach before he could reach any part of Justinian.

With this, both blackshirts crumbled onto the ground, both of them wheezing for air. Justinian dropped the club and spat one more bloody wad onto the perpitrators. He turned around to leave through the other side of he alley when he heard a car screach to a halt on the enterance side. Justinian turned around just in time to see 3 men come out of the car and try to pick up the 2 fallen fascist, dragging them back towards the car. Justinian smirked: “Go on, tell your friends.”   The city became suddenly very quiet, too quiet. As if God himself sucked out the air from that alleyway. The car’s back window rolled down and out came the thick barrel of a machine gun.

Justinian’s eyes widened and he leaped behind a dumpster. The crackle of gunfire rang out and bullets filled up the empty spaces of the alley. Justinian saw trash, trash cans, boxes of junk, even rodents get shredded by the sustained gun fire. After 15 seconds, he heard a man yell “New rod!” in Latin. That must be the barrel, it’s overheated. Justinian took his chance and booked it, he almost reached the end of the alley before the next salvo started. He leaped out of the alley, breathing heavily. He patted down his chest, feeling for any wet, bloody spots. He let loose a sigh of relief when he concluded that he was dry. He went to stand but suddenly felt a deep, shocking pain in his leg. He looked down to see a chunk of his leg missing. He grimmaced in pain and anger, for he knew it wasn’t deadly. But running would now hurt like hell.

He signalled down a cab. He couldn’t afford caution anymore and he knew he had to get to Marco’s wharf, stat.


“By the way…” Theodora sighed and shook her head. Damn you, John-Loukas. You just had to go and ask. “This is obviously in a much lower priority than the other matters we’ve discussed so far, but General Picardie has insisted that we come up with a name for the airship before he send it into battle. We don’t have to decide on it immediately, but it’s something to keep in mind for future sessions, once we’re better organized”


Ioannes stirred awake, finding himself lying on a cot. He was in a tent, surrounded by medics. They seemed to be army medics, judging from their uniforms.

“He’s awake. Get the Admiral.” One medic left the tent and returned with a man in a blue uniform with the rank insignia of an admiral.

“General Dalassenos, welcome back to the land of the living,” he said, “I’m Admiral Paul Angelos, of the Black Sea Fleet. Though, admittedly, it’s not much of a squadron anymore. Most were sabotaged in the chaos yesterday, and I had to scuttle them. Right now, I’ve only got a few patrol boats and one destroyer that’s running low on fuel. The rest are elsewhere.”

Ioannes shook Paul’s hand. “Sounds like a tough situation.”

“Indeed it is,” Paul said, “The fleet, frankly can’t do much beyond shell anybody trying to cross the Bosphorus. It hasn’t come to that yet, but it’s an option.”

“How goes the situation here?”

Paul set down a map of Constantinople. “Well, we’ve lost control of the city center. Really, everything on the west side. But we have the east. The bridges crossing the Bosphorus have settled into a no man’s land. We’ve set up barricades and defensive lines on our end, they’ve set up their own on the other end. Every so often they try to cross over to our side, but we drive them back every time.”

“How’d you get me out, then?”

“Your Lancers,” Paul said, “The survivors carried you to the coast and found one of my patrol boats, which took you here. You were pretty beaten up.”

Ioannes tried sitting up, but his torso flared with pain. He looked down and saw bandages around his stomach.

“Two machine gun rounds in the gut,” Paul said, “Fortunately, they didn’t hit any organs. You were lucky.”

“How many of my men made it?”

Paul looked away. “I’m sorry, General. Only one survived. The rest…succumbed to their wounds.”

Ioannes looked down. “The Athenian Lancers…it can’t be…we got wiped out…”

“Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to charge machine guns with sabers,” Paul said.


He calmed down. “My apologies. That wasn’t professional of me.”

“It’s fine,” Paul said, “I’m used to people being unprofessional towards me.”

It was then that Ioannes remembered Paul’s last name. “You’re…an Angelos. Markos…”

“Was my brother, yes,” Paul said, “For the record, I never supported anything he did. He was a fool who was in way over his head. I remained loyal to the Empire through the whole thing, and how was I repaid? By being treated like a traitor, a poisonous snake capable of the same things my brother did.”

“I’m sorry,” Ioannes said, “It must have been hard.”

“I’m still around, though,” Paul said, “Time heals all wounds, they say. Eventually, people stopped caring once they saw my record.”

“And now you’re in charge of defending the Empire’s waters with only a few ships,” Ioannes said, “Looks like you got dealt a bad hand.”

“Even so, I will carry out my sworn duty to the Empire as an admiral,” Paul said, “We’re not so different, huh? You yourself lost most of your unit.”

“True,” Ioannes said, “I…need to organize a service. Inform their families. If I can.”

“Of course,” Paul said, “Take all the time you need.”

“And then,” Ioannes said, “I’ll avenge them.”


Somewhere in an underground temple, a ring of cultists stood in a circle, chanting prayers in an ancient language. A young woman stood in the middle, her eyes closed and her hands clasped. One cultist stepped forward, handing her a silver cup of bhang lassi. The woman took the cup with both hands and drank the bittersweet concoction, coughing and spluttering as she tried to down it. Slowly, she set the cup down and sat in the middle of the circle, cross-legged. She steadied her breathing and meditated. Ignatieff, the Cult’s leader, paced around the circle, observing the ritual’s progress.

“See, see the Path,” his voice boomed, echoing off the room’s stone walls and through the corridors, “Tell us the Path.”

He spoke in Russian for the benefit of the cultists around her, but few of them were actually born in Russia. Many came from far-flung countries such as India, China, and even the Empire itself. The Cult had many chapters and sister organizations around the world, some of them unaware of the others’ existence until the advent of modern communication and transportation. But they all had the same goal—fulfilling the will of Chernobog, their Black God.

It was damp and chilly in the ancient temple. Its original purpose had long been lost since before the Cult found it and moved in. Moss and vines crawled up the walls and in between the slabs. Voices changed elsewhere in the temple as the ritual was done in other chambers as well. The flickering light of the torches cast shadows against the walls, almost seeming to form into moving images.

The woman’s breathing slowed, and her head slumped forward, ever so often involuntarily twitching.

“See!” Ignatieff said. “Tell!”

The woman’s body jerked some more.

“I see… I see .. .”

“What do you see?”


“What shapes…”


“You must! You must tell!”

“I’m trying…”

“Try harder! We need to know the Path! Are we still on track? Is the future still as we desire it!”

“I…I…I don’t know!”

Her eyes shot open, and her breathing returned to normal. “I…lost it.”

Ignatieff slammed a fist into the wall. “DAMNIT! NOT AGAIN!”

The woman started crying.

“Just…go back to your room, and we’ll try this again tomorrow,” he said, “The rest of you are dismissed.”

Everybody fled the room. Ignatieff walked over to the abandoned cup in the middle of the room, still containing a little of the substance inside. Another failure. Again. It was infuriating when his seers couldn’t do their jobs right. He had gone through so much effort to find new seers after they had lost Kira, scouring the entire world for young adults with the potential, and said new recruits turned out to have few successful divinations. It had gotten worse in recent years. He could count the number of clear visions they had gotten over the last year on both of his hands. The simplest explanation was that none of the new seers had the same level of potential as Kira, and he was too used to Kira never failing. It was humiliating. Even the cultist Sliver, despite failing in his primary goal, still met many of his other goals through the use of their new special weapon; Ignatieff never bothered remembering that blade-wielding assassin’s name because it kept changing every so often.

Oh well, he could still work with this. They had enough time. Sliver was still in a prime position to influence events in Constantinople, and Ignatieff trusted him to make his own decisions. Meanwhile, he would bide his time. His cultists would continue searching for someone with the right potential if they couldn’t find Kira. He would build up his forces and do what he did best: pull the strings from the shadows, fanning the flames of war in Chernobog’s name. The last successful divination showed they were still on track to their desired future and told them enough about what to do to increase its probability. Most of them involved events that had just happened or would happen soon within the Empire.

Ah yes, the Empire. Everything always came back to the Empire in the end.

Franco jotted down and listened as the session continued, Donatello showing himself exceptionally bluntly. He wasn’t sure what else he could add to the discussion, instead watching as Theodora rolled with the ball Donatello threw forward to discuss the Ministry of Security and Intelligence, continuing on from what she had mentioned earlier.

Timon watched as his parents returned to the foyer. He noticed how his father’s expression had turned exceptionally grim. Rarely if ever did he see his father this sad.

“I-Is everything alright?” he asked the two, as he got up.

“Alright…” Nestorius began, “is contextual, son… For you, and me, Kyrene, Aotearoa, it is. But for our birthland…” he placed his hand on his son’s shoulder, “…it is anything but.”

“W-what happened?!”

“I-I think it would be better for you to hear about what happened first over the radio tomorrow, rather than from either of us…” Kyrene said, confusing her son greatly.


Timon looked into his parents’ eyes as he asked them that, he just couldn’t understand it. But the moment he did, each turned their gaze away. How sensitive was the thing the two of them talked about? If he was going to find out about it tomorrow anyway, why not tell him now?

Nestorius sighed: “…even if it genuinely isn’t, what has happened is… very personal. Like watching the neighborhood store you’ve always gone to just… disappear, except far more deeper.”

Timon was more confused than ever, but watching his parents fidget like so at this age made him concerned. This was genuinely stressing them out.

“A-alright, are we going home then?” the boy awkwardly tried to move away from the seemingly sensitive topic.

His parents nodded. They were heading home, to rest up. The car ride home would be silent aside from the car radio, a sense of despair hovering over the three, one whose origin Timon still couldn’t figure out. But he would soon. He, they, Aotearoa, the entire world, would soon hear the news.

1st January 1936 - Day

The dawn rose curiously yet cautiously. It had not been a pleasant night.

The streets were empty of everything but shrapnel. Wreckage of items, shattered vehicles, glass, brick, wood. Burnt remains of anything flammable. Broken bits of everything that was not.

Alexander took it all in with his escort guard and several volunteers. He turned to face them.

“Right then. Let’s clear this up.”

As the morning got going, people began to emerge. Some…many…were injured or bruised by the prior day’s events. Several people at least had been killed. Dozens, maybe hundreds of others had been arrested.

The city was wounded, but alive. They could fix this.

And they started. Men picked up the litter and cleared up the streets, whilst women and children swept and cleaned. Slowly at first but spreading out from a ripple from the cathedral, everyone began to stitch their lives back to normalcy.

It was not entirely peaceful even now. It was clear the docks had seen a rather heated battle, which had finally led to the communists breaking through the black shirt gangs and making for their brethren holed up in their region of the city. The remainder of the docks lay blackened and bare of ships, of men and resource. The ships that remained had repositioned to the other side of the Bosporus and levelled their guns at the embankment and bridges.

The message was clear enough. The black sea fleet, or what remained of it, was not siding with the black shirts.

As for the instigators of the entire sordid affair, most of them had slunk back to their homes to lick wounds and avoid their neighbours, though it was likely several of the helpers cleaning the streets today had helped ruin them yesterday.

Alexander would not judge. Not at present.

At 11am, the repairs halted as the police showed up.


“Holy Father, thank God you are alright.” The police commander hurried through the crowd of officers and civilians to grasp his friend’s arm. “The church is well?”

“We had a quiet night. Everyone is safe. You?”

“Bad business. No instructions from the government. The senate or the Palace,” he confirmed. “I have a few of the gangs in custody, quite a few in the morgue, along with quite a few officers.”

“Ah,” Alexander briefly closed his eyes in prayer, “I am sorry to hear that.”

“Is…is the Emperor…?”

“I do not know,” the Patriarch confided quietly. “The Palace continues to stonewall me.”

“What on earth is going on? I can’t keep acting without orders. This is becoming an open war on the streets!”

“I know…it disquiets me too.” Alexander thought for a moment. “Where are the black shirts now?”

“Gone home, many of them. I think quite a few were opportunistic last night. They didn’t have guns or a plan. Just wanted a little mayhem and ran at the first sign of a uniform or whistle. The hardliners and the armed mob have…have taken the senate very early this morning and barricaded themselves inside. After that battle at the docks. Some go out and try to cross the bridges every so often but the remnants of the fleet and the police we have on that side shoot at them till they run.”

Alexander very nearly swore. “This is…” he breathed deeply and calmed himself. “What do you need?”

“You’re already helping with the clean-up and keeping people calm. Keep your guards and the police nearby, and stay safe at all costs, but if you can keep it up, we might not have any more trouble until nightfall. Or whenever the army shows up to…Well…” he tailed off.

Both men were thinking the same thing. What exactly would Konstantinos’ troops do when they reached the city?

“I don’t like this. I feel like I’m signing my own death warrant for every black shirt we put away or put down. And yet, we can’t let them run rampant through the city. I just…what should I do, Holy Father?”

It wasn’t just Adrian. Everyone was looking at him, and Alexander realised with a sinking feeling that this was IT. Unless and until the Emperor or the Crown Prince himself showed up in the city, he was the highest-ranking person present by far. The city was in disarray, the people were in genuine danger, and the people coming to ‘assist’ might be merely coming to open the jail cells and continue the violence.

And yet, his blood turned to ice, Constantinople was one city. An important one, a holy one, teeming with life…but he represented the Church in the Empire and beyond. Taking such a stand here, now, in this way…it might tear the Faith apart in a way it had not been since the Dissolution of the HRE. And even if it did not, it would be an act of war against the black shirts and very likely, seen as a turn against the Crown Prince. Even if the Church was spared, it was the things treason was made of. He and everyone who obeyed would be liable to be strung up.

And yet…what else could he do?

Time did not freeze. He had not the moments to think.

“We will continue the reconstruction. Our efforts are helping. You will maintain order where you can and keep safe those who you can. As for everything else…” he grimaced, “I must make one last attempt to speak with the authorities. I can only hope…”

He did not really know what to hope for.

None of them did, he suspected.

“Alright sir,” the police commander said, and Alexander noted dully the switch in rank recognition. Yes…he was in command now, come what may.

Oh, fuck.

“You are assuming that we are dealing with a rational man who will make decisions based solely on logic. To Konstantinos, Constantinople will surely be the symbol of his authority and legitimacy, for it is the seat of the emperor. To abandon it so quickly would be to show weakness. He will likely refuse to abandon it until we have an army standing outside the walls. If we were to drive him from Constantinople, or even seize the city all together, support for his movement would take a serious blow.”

- Senator Donatello Favero

“Perhaps that is the case. If so, then that makes it all the more important to take back Constantinople as soon as possible. Hit Konstantinos fast and hard, before he has a chance to consolidate, and deny him the symbolism and legitimacy of the capital. We have troops on the east end, but we will need more if we hope to mount a serious offensive. Not only ground troops but also aircraft and ships working in tandem. As an added bonus, if he is still on the city after all that, we may be able to capture or kill him and put an end to this.”

Irene quietly listened to her aunt’s words, seeing if she could build on them in any way. When Theodora had mentioned killing Konstantinos, a thought popped into her mind. What if we make him a martyr in the process? Set off more violence from other factions or ideologues capitalizing on the chaos?

Alvértos was stunned at the suggestion. Kill his brother? It seemed unthinkable. But everything of the past day seemed unthinkable. His mind swam with the possible consequences. How might that affect his ability to pull the Empire back together? Later, he decided. I’ll figure this out later.

“That’s, uh, quite the suggestion, Senator Favero. I’ll…need some time to consider the consequences. Ahem. In any case, Senator Doukas is right. We’ll need to fund and reestablish the MSI before considering anything of the sort. Which answers the first of my questions. I guess it leaves a minor one, what logo should they use?”

“Next is construction. It sounds like there’s agreement to improve infrastructure. A new supply depot on our side of the Dardanelles will ensure we can defend them or even attack across them. This will take until June to build, so even with resources diverted for the MSI the new rails to it and the Anatolian side of the Bosporus will be completed first.”

“The following issues are orders for the legions, for the navy, and for the air force. Then which units to train, which supplies to build, and which ships to focus on completing.”

“Finally, there are the concerns of diplomacy, longer-term research, and how I should direct my time.”

“Regarding orders for the military. I know it would be better to leave such matters to the General Staff, but unfortunately for now we are the General Staff. I am assuming that Constantinople is already defended and that we won’t have the troops to take it. But I’ll have some of the nearby cavalry make a probing attack to verify this. If I’m wrong on that, we’ve made a major advance in this war. My next plan is to move some of the forces from Smyrna to protect the crossing at the Dardanelles. If possible, to cross them and hold a landing on the western side. A cavalry brigade for speed, and an infantry division to hold against any attacks. General Laskaris would head this force.”

“The remaining infantry in Smyrna should then move as quickly as possible to help defend against attacks from Constantinople. Once in position, some of the cavalry currently doing so can reinforce the Dardanelles.”

“For the air force, I doubt attacking the shipyards would do much good. Either Konstantinos has secured one of the Mediterranean fleets, in which case such an attack is too little too late, or he has not, in which case the shipyards will not be able to produce new ships quickly enough to matter.”

“Instead, I propose to save our oil for the Black Sea Fleet. This fleet would then protect a force that can land north of Constantinople and attack Konstantinos’ forces from the rear.”

“While gathering forces for this attack, we can train light units to secure the Mediterranean coast. Production will focus on weapons to supply them instead of heavier equipment. As we won’t be able to build fighting ships quickly enough to make a difference, our dockyards will focus on ships for the merchant marine, allowing for more trade or troop movements over seas.”

“While research is a longer-term affair and hopefully not relevant to this war, the R&D department will focus on construction technologies, tools for their own use, and methods of detecting military forces using radio waves.”

“Finally, I plan to split my time between diplomacy and organizing the family business holdings. The businesses work on four year plans, and the next one should be focused on supporting the end of the civil war and reuniting the Empire. The exact nature of diplomacy will depend on the disposition of other countries and the various provinces of the Empire, but the goal is to get more troops to support us.”

“Are there further questions or concerns? Objections to any of these plans?”

“The one at the end with the eagle.”

Six months feels like a long time. But we can’t have everything at once.

Theodoros was in Smyrna? No doubt he had rushed back to the mainland from Africa as soon as he heard the news. Fortunately, he was still with them. Not that he would have supported Konstantinos; Theodora was worried he would have gotten himself killed.

A good idea. Everyone will be watching the Bosphorus, which makes the Dardanelles another weak point. On the other hand, it’s also a weak point for the enemy.

“Even if he has secured one of the Mediterranean fleets, the destruction or at least neutralization of the shipyards will delay his manufacturing capabilities and hamper supply efforts in the Aegean. But if a direct military assault is not strategically feasible, we can still carry it out through covert means, like sabotage from spies or local sympathizers.”

“Perhaps we could coordinate it with Laskaris’ operation. Commit more troops to Laskaris’ front and launch a pincer attack from northern and southern Thrace. Then we could cut off Constantinople from the rest of Greece, trapping Konstantinos inside.”

I bet Picardie is jumping at the opportunity to deploy the airship as well.

“I concur with Senator Doukas on the choice of emblem for the Ministry of Security and Intelligence. The eagle has been a symbol of Roman might since the early days of Rome and seems a fitting choice.”

Senator Donatello Favero paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “I think it might be worth taking a moment to discuss the issue of legitimacy, both for our movement and Konstantinos’s. Currently our entire movement is based on resisting the attempted coup attempt by Konstantinos. While this is a noble reason to oppose him, it will be very easy for Konstantinos to accuse us of treason and other crimes and use that as a means of weakening our support with the remaining states of the Empire and abroad. The key to legimitizing our movement is to discredit Konstantinos’s.”

“Now the question is how do we go about doing that. I think the best way is through the Emperor. Your Highness,” Donatello said, looking towards Prince Alvértos, “my recommendation would be for you to make a public statement requesting that this dispute be put before the Emperor for resolution. This will not only not only show that we are willing to respect the Crown’s authority but that we are the more conciliatory party. I suspect that this request will be denied, but it will force Konstantinos to respond or otherwise risk losing the support of those on the fence in this conflict if he’s seen as not respecting the Crown. Better yet, we should also request, no, demand that Konstantinos allow the Emperor to make a public appearance or provide evidence that he is still alive and unharmed. If he has indeed usurped the throne, following through with this demand would weaken his movement, or in the worst case and something has happened to the Emperor, he won’t be able to provide evidence and it will raise suspicion around Konstantinos’s rise to power. The onus must be placed on Konstantinos to prove he hasn’t overthrown or harmed the Emperor, otherwise he will throw similar accusations at us.”

The first car was a luxury model, though still an army staff car. It made its intended statement well. The person within was high ranking, but still a solider of the Empire.

Alexander shifted in place one last time and then straightened as the door opened. Two officers in the Imperial Army got out, both wearing fascist armbands, and stood before the back passenger door in a salute. Meanwhile, two trucks full of soldiers came in behind them, and filled the square with infantry.

All of whom, Alexander noted with mounting dread, wore the same armband.

Well, he thought. At least we know what side the Prince’s bread is buttered.

A private strode towards the two saluting officers and opened the door. All the men sprung to attention, as Crown Prince Konstantinos emerged from the back seat.

“Atten-tion!” the Guard Captain commanded behind him, and the Temple Guard followed their Army brethren in noting the arrival of the Royal Family.

The Crown Prince looked around for a moment, and then beamed as he focused on Alexander. He walked forward with a measured pace, with the two officers following closely behind.

Good, Alexander had time to think. He is sober.

As Patriarch, he knew the Doukas Royal line quite well, and was closely connected to several members, including the Emperor. Though he had since abandoned the name, he himself once upon a time had been Alexius Doukas, a minor scion of a lesser line. Even before he began advancing in the Church, he had met Konstantinos.

He had not been impressed.

That was unfair. He had been bemused. That seemed to be the general reaction to the man, actually. The Crown Prince was a relatively tall, relatively handsome man in his late thirties, a few years older than Alexander himself. He had received a good education, though had failed to complete a degree. He had a reputation for being both daft and fairly intelligent when the mood struck, being both prominently lazy but determined when his interest was aroused. Alexander knew he had fought hard to visit the army front lines and been rebuked, and yet still went. He had a full flying qualification and was popular with serving soldiers and veterans.

He was also a drunk, a dandy and a gambler. In earlier years he was prone to fits of rage and sobbing, a practice he had not quite shaken off. He was an excellent polo player, a lover of modern art and music, and a fashion icon. He may well be the most photographed man in the world.

As he approached, and Alexander spied the armband on his own apparel, he also recalled the Prince’s notable and problematic racism. He despised non-Greeks, and especially non-whites, with a passion, and would at length describe his hatred in front of any audience, at any time.

For all that, he was surprisingly interested in the plight of the working classes, or at least, the working classes he approved of. Whilst he had never been particularly political, it was not surprising that he found some sympathy, and many sympathisers with the fascist movement.

This man…should not be Emperor.

Potentially, he already was.

“Most Holy Father,” he said, raising his arms slightly and bowing his head.

“His Royal Highness,” Alexander repeated the gesture exactly.

It was something of an awkward clash of rankings. As great offices of the state would have it, the Ecumenical Patriarch actually ranked second in seniority to the Emperor, with the Crown Prince and Imperial Chancellor taking the third and fourth positions. However, as a member of the family, Konstantinos utterly outranked him. Given they both had equal numbers of troops, and the political tension in the air, it boded well that the Prince was gracious enough to recognise the difficulty and circumvent it by speaking first.

Someone had coached him well.

“We are most pleased to meet your highness and welcome your return to the Holy City.” Alexander gestured with his raised hand to his men, the Guard Captain and the Police Chief. He did not miss the Prince’s face darken upon seeing the latter man.

“Indeed.” He said shortly. Then he blinked, and the smile returned. “It has been too long, Alexander. I do not believe I have seen you since your proclamation.”

“I think you correct sir,” Alexander nodded. “I hope you and your family remain well? I admit to being quite anxious about His Imperial Majesty’s health.”

“Ah…” Konstantious nodded slowly, “yes…I think we best speak in private about that.” He leaned in slightly and lowered his voice. “There are a great many terrible things afoot in this city and throughout the Empire. I would speak to you privately.”

Alexander quirked an eyebrow but nodded, “Of course, sir. I would offer to escort you to your usual lodgings, however…there has been some difficulty within the city.”

The Crown Prince held his gaze steadily. “I thought there might be. Perhaps I can be of assistance.”

It was not a question. He knew what was going on.

“But of course. Then…shall you walk? I fear the streets may prove a little unsuitable for your car.”

“Ah, why not. Why not indeed! It shall be a pleasant thing to take in my city once more, and catch up with my dear friend.”

“Of course,” Alexander smiled, and did not object to the other man taking his arm. “Guard Captain, please bade the men escort us to the Senate.” Be careful, and watchful, his eyes said.

“Of course, Holy Father. Your Royal Highness,” the solider bowed to both men.

As both groups of soldiers followed in ranked lines, the Prince and Patriarch spoke of various inconsequential topics, as Alexander urged his body to remain calm, and his mind alert.

They were all far from out of danger yet.

Donatello had raised some good points. Getting the Emperor’s statement would undermine Konstantinos and grant them legitimacy. As long as he was absent, Konstantinos was free to say whatever he wanted in his name, and they would invariably be painted as traitors. The rumors of Alvértos ordering the alleged assassination attempt were already spreading like wildfire, despite the news agencies’ best efforts to get the truth out. People loved controversy and intrigue. The story of two brothers with knives at each other’s throats was far more entertaining than that of a brother’s false accusation. The Emperor, though, could cut through the lies with just a single speech. If only it were that simple.

“While you do have some good points, I have to say that is better said than done,” Theodora said, “The problem is getting him out in public. Konstantinos knows the symbolic power of His Majesty’s word and would likely have him kept under heavy guard in Blachernae. Would he budge if Prince Alvértos makes an ultimatum? And even if he relents, who was to say he hasn’t already fed His Majesty the same lies just for this specific scenario?”

That would be the worst scenario. The Emperor already swayed to Konstantinos’ side. We’d be screwed.

Theodora’s mind raced to other options of getting to the Emperor—more underhanded ones. A well-trained team could probably make use of the secret escape tunnels connecting to the bunkers underneath Blachernae, the same ones the royal family took refuge in during the Sack of Constantinople 25 years ago. But Konstantinos would have known about those tunnels—and how the communists had known about them too—and sealed them off. Perhaps an aerial drop, from a high-altitude transport plane, with the operatives parachuting in at night. No, there was a chance the wind could blow them off course, or that the city lights would illuminate them. How about being deployed from a submarine landing along the northern shore of the downtown waterfront? That could work, but the dockworkers’ unions controlled those areas, and after what happened in the Sack, they were intensely distrustful of the government. Though they would probably hate Konstantinos more than they disliked the Senate. And if they did get to the Emperor, what would they do to him? Have him record a speech? No, there would be accusations of falsification. Evacuate him to Trebizond? No, Konstantinos could just say he was abducted. She refused to think of what she would have do if the Emperor had already been swayed by Konstantinos’ lies.

“We must tread carefully in this area,” she finally said, “The Emperor is the most important man in this nation right now. We take one wrong step, and it could drive all of our fellow citizens right into Konstantinos’ hands.”

Contantinople, later that same day.

Justinian sat on a fishing wharf overlooking the Bosphorus. The sun was starting to set, he turned around just in time to see it crest the top of the Hagia Sophia. Justinian sighed, he had planned to visit it later this week with his brother. His brother told him of a rumor that one of their ancestors, a founding member of the Varagians, had graffitied his name onto one of the domes. Now, all he could do was hope that the city would survive as more plumes of smoke rose into the skyline. Everyone knew Constantinople didn’t deserve 2 tragedies so close to each other.

“Okay!” Justinian heard coming from the other side of the dock. It was Marcos, the man he called earlier.

“Your transport is on it’s way. Usually I’d just walk you there but eeeehhh… I figured you’d rather enjoy sitting.” Marcos said, pointing at Justinian’s wrapped leg.

“Thank you, for everything Marcos.” replied Justinian.

“No need to thank me. You paid for the service, you got your service.” smiled Marcos back. “But, uh, seriously, you should get your leg checked out by a REAL doctor.”

“There will be time in Trebizond, plus I have the cane you gave me. I’ll survive.”

“I had a cousin who got his leg torn up by a loose dog, didn’t end well for him.” Marcos said closing his eyes and doing a sign of the cross.

“Was it an infection or just the blood loss?” asked Justinian with a cocked eyebrow.

“Oh, neither. He got syphilis from some prostitute in Valencia. But, if his leg had been better… He would’ve been able to walk farther to find a better whore.” Marcos said in a hushed tone.

Justinian burst out laughing at that. He locked eyes with Marcos and his unchanging expression, which made Justinian laugh harder. It was only when Justinian accidently shifted some weight on to his leg that his laughing was replaced with sharp inhales of pain along with some small giggling.

After recovering Justinian tried to stand on his cane. He looked over to Marcos.

“You shouldn’t stay in Constantinople, things are about to be ugly here.” Justinian said in a serious tone.

“Aye, we’re going on an ‘indefinite fishing expeidetion’ tomorrow. I can carry everything on my back, but some of the guys. They got families here… We’ve dealt with our fair share of blackshirts, but something changed in them today.” Marcos replied while gazing over the Bosphorus.

“You have good instincts Marcos.”

Sigh… “A blessing and a curse my friend.”

Their solemn conversation was then interupted my the growing noise of a propeller engine. A waterplane strode up to the dock and parked itself a shortwalk away from the men.

“Once again, thank you for everything.” Justinian yelled over the roar of the plane.

Marcos grabbed Justinian’s shoulder. “I expect the group to remember this next time we are down in Pheonix.” Marcos yelled back.

Justinian shot him a smile and a nod. “I’ll put in a good word.”

Marcos seemed satisfied with that and pated Justinian’s arm, before helping him onto the plane. As the plane taxied out into more open waters. Justinian shot Marcos a final wave goodbye. Next stop, Trebizond.

The walk was tense. Both sets of soldiers were aware of the issues within the city, and the silent stares of all those who lined the pavements made them even more nervous.

“Subdued bunch,” Konstantinos commented. “You’d have thought they would recognise us.”

Alexander was sure they did. “We have all had a trying night, sir. A lot of lives and livelihoods were torn apart yesterday.”

“We shall soon set that right.”

Alexander inclined his head, and privately disagreed. “This is the capital, and the most holy city. A charitable mission backed by the Church and the Royal Family-”

“Say no more,” the Crown Prince interrupted. “It’s a good idea. Perhaps a free Tax Day too, eh? Raise their spirits.”

Alexander inclined his head again. “As you say.”

“I beg your pardon sire, but we should prepare the way for you,” one of the Prince’s aides rushed forwards. “The Senate may not be safe-”

“Tosh! I will address my people, and they will greet us.”

Alexander kept quiet but met the Guard Captain’s eyes. He nodded and slightly increased his pace to ensure the soldiers ahead of them were at least not in the middle of a standoff.

“How have you been of late?”

The Patriarch took a moment to register the question. “Excuse me. I have been…busy. The Cathedral is nearing completion of restoration work-”

“Excellent. Excellent! That is good. Most vital, in fact.”

“And you, sir, how has the family been? I have not managed to gain further news on the Emperor-”

“As I said,” the Prince cut off. “Best left unsaid for now.

“I understand. The Senate is just up ahead.”


The procession halted soon afterwards. The main city square looked as though a small battle had erupted through it. Indeed, it had, for the past day and night. A thousand eyes watched the Prince and Patriarch step into the centre of the square, both from around it, and from the building itself.

“I am Konstantinos. Make way in the name of the Emperor.”

He spoke loudly, confidently. A man who thought he knew exactly what was going on.

The huge front doors to the Senatorial Palace slowly swung open. Black shirts poured out. A faint cry of alarm rose from both sets of soldiers as the fascists flooded their half of the square, surrounding the two men on three sides, in a semi-circle. Then three slightly less ragged black shirts, in actual black shirts, strode out of the palace as if they (currently) owned it, and stood before the Crown Prince.

They bowed in unison.

“We welcome you to your Senate,” the centre man said. “We wish you to restore order.”

“And so, I shall,” Konstantinos nodded imperiously. “Now, order your men out. We have much work to do.”

The three ringleaders nodded, and signalled to their mob. The black shirts immediately dropped their various arms on the floor and began applauding.

The Crown Prince beamed in their acclaim, and signalled his own men come forward to take charge of the Senate.

“Peace in our time, eh Alexander.”

The Ecumenical Patriarch smiled. “One can only hope, Konstantinos.”

The door swung open with a loud creak. Wilhelm’s body ached, and his tired eyes peered through the dim lights to see two men standing in the doorway. They wore the priest-like garbs of Inquisitors. One carried a pistol in his hand. The other held a sphere covered in magic sigils.

“Wilhelm!” the man with the gun said. “We’re the resistance. We’re here to get you out.”

Wilhelm tried answering, but his mouth and tongue refused to move. The man with the gun slapped his face, jolting his senses. His fist swung up and slugged the man, sending him sprawling on the floor. “Hey! We’re on the same side!”

“Who are you?” Wilhelm demanded. “What do you want? Are you with the Angeloi?”

The same Angeloi that had imprisoned and tortured him for the last four days, trying to find out how angels worked. He had underestimated how devoted those fascists were to uncovering the secrets of the supernatural world and how much they had infiltrated the Inquisition.

The man with the sphere shook his head. “No, we’re with the resistance. Hans here just said that.”

“Ow…” Hans rubbed his jaw. “That hurt.”

“Is this a trick?” Wilhelm said. “To lower my guard and reveal my secrets?”

“No, not at all,” the man with the sphere said, “I’m Conrad Humboldt, an Inquisitor. I got this for you.”

He took out a small vial filled with what appeared to be a gaseous substance that glowed white. “Angel grace. Courtesy of Raphael.”

Wilhelm raised an eyebrow. “Raphael got this?”

“Yes, we’re working with him.”

“Interesting. I’ll have to talk to him once I get out of here. I’ll be taking that.” Wilhelm took the vial and poured its contents down his throat. He convulsed violently as energy surged through his body. It had been five years since he had his full powers, and his body had forgotten what that felt like. There was pain and cramping, and his mind raced with activity. Words and thoughts and phrases and experiences in hundreds of languages flashed past his eyes.

“Hold him still!” Conrad held his arms, but Wilhelm shook him off.

“No, you’ll mess with the grace reintegration!” he said. “This process is unstable, I can feel it. If you intervene, it might cause something unpredictable.”

Then they heard the elevator dinging and footsteps echoing down the corridor.

“Frak! The Angeloi!” Hans said.

Conrad held up the sphere, and he and Hans touched it. “Quickly!”

“What about Wilhelm?” Hans said.

Conrad put Wilhelm’s hand on the sphere. “We don’t have time.”

“Didn’t the manual say not to use it on angels?”

“There’s no time!”

Wilhelm was unable to say anything. His mouth remained frozen, and his mind was going too fast for him to process anything. He could only watch as several Angeloi soldiers burst into the room, led by a man in an oberst’s uniform. Klaus Schulz, one of his captors. They raised their rifles and prepared to fire.

”</i>Salire!” Conrad shouted.

The sphere’s sigils glowed, and Wilhelm screamed as everything was engulfed in a bright white light. When he came to and his mind had cleared up, he found he was in a decently decorated study room. The furniture looked opulent but not on the level of royalty. A large bookshelf sat against the far wall. He stumbled over and scanned their titles. All were written in Greek script. None seemed to be German. A portrait hung over a desk near the bookshelf. Inspecting it closer, he could tell from the uniform that this was obviously a Kaiser, but he did not look like Karl or Otto. The nameplate was also written in Greek, and it said “Michael.” A flag next to the portrait also looked different from the one he remembered. He quickly put two and two together: the ongoing reintegration of angelic grace, combined with the emergency use of the magic transportation device, had sent him here, to another universe. Reading the calendar on the desk, he read the current year as 1919. Great. Not only did he travel across universes, but also space and time.

He heard the click of a gun behind him. “Put your hands up where I can see them.”

Not wanting to complicate the reintegration further, Wilhelm obliged.

“Turn around.”

Wilhelm did so, seeing a woman wearing a modernized version of purple-colored senatorial garb, more like a business dress than any medieval Greek robes. From the clues in the study, he assumed there was still a Reich, though it was probably Greek and not German centered. If that was the case, this woman was likely a senator. Behind her, he saw another younger woman. Probably Persian, from her skin tone and clothes.

“Who are you?” The senator pointed her gun at Wilhelm. “How did you get into my house?”

Wilhelm racked his mind for the correct language. He settled on Koine Greek. It had remained largely unchanged between the time of Alexander the Great and the present day, so he hoped this woman would understand him. “With all due respect, Senator, I have absolutely no idea.”

The senator’s eyes narrowed. “How did you know I was a senator? I never told you that.”

“It was a safe assumption,” Wilhelm said.

“What’s with your accent, too? You sound…German?”

“You could say that.”

“You must be with the Cult.”

“And what would make you say that?” Wilhelm racked his mind again, trying to figure out what she was talking about. She could be referring to all manner of cults. “What Cult are you even talking about?”

“The only one that matters today,” the senator said, “The Cult of Chernobog.”

That narrowed things down significantly. The Cult of Chernobog typically emerged in timelines when the Slavs were fully Christianized, consoliding the remaining pagan communities under a single religious hierarchy. Their typical goal in any universe was to bring down civilization so they could rebuild it in their image—wait, why did that sound familiar? Wilhelm shook that thought out of his mind. Anyways, the Cult, as evident from its name, worshipped Chernobog, an old Slavic god. It was adjacent to many other secret organizations dedicated to various obscure gods and entities that had arisen in many universes, including the Reich’s. A thought at the back of Wilhelm’s head disputed the “adjacent,” suspecting deeper ties. But he ignored that for now. There was one oddity he noticed in the Cult’s presence here, though. Of all of the iterations of the Cult he had seen, none survived beyond the 17th century. So how did this one make it to 1919? He had to figure out why.

“I’m not with the Cult,” Wilhelm said, “If I was, you’d be dead already.”

“Then who are you?”

He supposed the only way he could get the truth across to this woman was to show her directly. “Be not afraid.” He concentrated, tapping into his returning angelic energy to reveal his true form. A piercing ringing noise filled the room, causing the two women to cover their ears. His eyes glowed a pure white. His body began radiating white light, casting the shadows of eagle wings against the wall behind him. To avoid permanent damage to the two in front of him, he quickly returned to normal and stopped the glowing and ringing. Once he was back to being, for all intents and purposes, a regular human, he continued speaking. “I’m an angel of the Lord Almighty. I prefer using the name Wilhelm.”

“An angel…” the woman made the sign of the cross. “What are you doing here?”

“You know…that’s kind of complicated,” Wilhelm said, “I really don’t know myself.”

The Persian woman spoke up. “You say you are an angel?”

“Yes,” Wilhelm said.

“So does Chernobog exist?”

Wilhelm hesitated. “Well…I can’t say for sure.”

“This is all very suspicious,” the senator said, “You showing up here right now.”

“Look, I really don’t know what’s going on here, I just got here five minutes ago,” Wilhelm said, “Can you explain?”

“Why should I tell you what’s going on?” the senator said.

“Theodora, it’s okay,” the Persian said, “We can trust him.”

“Kira, we just met this man! Are you sure he’s not with them?”

“With who?” Wilhelm said.

“The Cult,” Kira said, “This is Theodora’s residence. The Cult has invaded it.”

“That explains a lot.” Wilhelm groaned, clutching his stomach as the reintegration continued and pain flared there. “Ow…it’s not done yet. Can you tell me more about this home invasion?”

“They’ve taken hostages,” Kira said, “Many senators who were visiting for a social event.”

Wilhelm nodded. He stood straight up and composed himself. “Okay, thank you. Theodora, was it?”

“Yes?” Theodora said.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “You two go rescue the hostages. I’ll handle the Cult.”

“But you look hurt.”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

“This is the Cult we’re talking about,” Theodora said, “They’ve rampaged through the Empire in recent decades. Even stormed the Senate several times. What makes you think you can take them on?”

“Didn’t you listen to what I said?” Wilhelm replied. “I’m an angel. I can defend myself.”

“Why are you even doing this?” The senator shook her head. “I don’t get it. You say you just got here, and you’re already risking your life for us? Why?”

Wilhelm had been asked this question hundreds of times over a thousand years. Every time, his answer was always the same. “Defending the people, protecting the world. It’s what I do.”

Constantinople - January 1, 1936</i>

Wilhelm could feel the tension hanging in the air. The worst of the violence had died down hours ago, but the threat remained. At least one blackshirt hovered on every block, with a pistol on their belt. Not that their guns could hurt him. He personally was in no physical danger from these blackshirts. But the same couldn’t be said for the pedestrians around him. The streets had largely cleared out over the last two days as most citizens took refuge inside. Those who had to go outside kept their heads bowed and dressed in more modest clothes than usual, to avoid drawing attention to themselves. His usual outfit was already nondescript—a trench coat over old factory clothes, which had been with him since his first day here.

It had been 17 years since he arrived in the Empire, but it would still be 5 years before he reached June 10, 1941—the day he left the Reich. In that time, he had traveled across the Empire, familiarizing himself with the sights and sounds of this world. Despite the differences on the surface—different histories, the lack of German as an official language, the prevalence of Greek, and a lack of meritocracy—he found the two countries were remarkably similar. The people here still had the same hopes and dreams as those he knew, the same struggles and issues. There were also darker similarities he noticed the longer he stayed in the world. The blackshirts were one of them.

It’s happening here too. The Angeloi… That wasn’t Wilhelm’s own mind speaking, but that of his vessel, Gavrilo. Their arrangement had been around for years before everything happened with the archangel Gabriel and the Inquisition and the Angeloi rebellion and now this. It would continue until one of them wanted to end it. But they were stuck in another universe, far from anything they were familiar with. It would be better to stick together until they got home.

Things were getting bad when we were still there, Gavrilo thought, So will the same thing happen over here?

I sure hope not</i>, Wilhelm replied, I don’t want the people here to suffer the same as yours did.

You know Konstantinos isn’t backing down. Everything’s happening just as it did in my world, but much faster. These blackshirts are just like the Angeloi.

I know. But I hope Theodora and the others can pull through.

If it comes to it, will you take out Konstantinos?</i>

Wilhelm shook his head. You know I don’t intervene like that. Real change must come from the people themselves, not me.

If Gavrilo was in control of the body, he would have sighed. You are quite stubborn with that, you know?

Sorry. I had some bad experiences taking charge in the past. But I can try to push people in the right direction.

And how will you accompany that here?</i>

Wilhelm looked at the street, taking in the pedestrians shuffling along the sidewalks and the blackshirts loitering on the corners. I’m still working on it.

There was a pause. We can’t wait too long. I fear for the people of this world.

Yes, me too. But we have to focus on the real enemy, the Cult. We beat them, and humanity here will rest a little easier.

Do you ever think our fight is pointless? That it will never end?</i>

Wilhelm shook his head. No, we can win this fight. And even if it was futile, that’s no excuse to give up.

And why’s that?</i>

Wilhelm gave his usual answer. Defending the people, protecting the world. It’s what I do. What we do.

“Radio broadcasts telling my side of the story and asking for father to adjudicate is an excellent idea. I will begin sending those daily. Thank you everyone. We will meet again soon. In the meantime, I will have the good people of this town turn this conference room into a better long-term meeting room and seek to improve accommodations for everyone.”

“One last thing before we wrap up today,” Theodora said, “We still need to come up with a name for the airship. But if nobody has any suggestions, I’ll just tell General Picardie to figure it out himself.”

Nobody said a word. Theodora waited about a minute, but nobody budged. When it became clear nobody had any ideas, she resumed speaking.

“Alright, I’ll just let General Picardie come up with something. Good work, everybody. Let’s get on with saving this nation, once again.”

Trebizond Airport - an hour after the end of the session

John-Loukas was incredulous. “Those senators did what?!”

“Look, I tried,” Theodora said, “But nobody had any good ideas.”

“They didn’t try hard enough!”

“John-Loukas, we have other more pressing matters to discuss beyond naming an airship.” Theodora crossed her arms. “So please reset your expectations, because we’re busy trying to hold the Empire together.”

John-Loukas sighed. “Alright, alright, fine. I guess it’s up to us two in the end, huh?”

“More like just you,” Theodora said, “I’ve got nothing.”

“But surely you can help me brainstorm!”

“Look, I just came here to tell you the news. I have to get back to the MSI as soon as I can. Need to start allocating funds from the new budget.”

“But you can spare a minute to think of a name!”

“General, I really don’t have the time to spend on something as trivial as this,” Theodora said, “And can’t you figure it out yourself?”

“Well…about that…” John-Loukas hesitated. “I’m stuck too.”

Theodora facepalmed. “Of course you are. That’s why you kicked the can to the goddamn Senate.”

“Sir, if I may…” Basil walked over and saluted. “Commander Basil Kolovos, First Officer of the still unnamed airship, ma’am.”

“Nice to meet you, Commander Kolovos.” Theodora shook his hand. “You had something you wanted to add?”

“Perhaps we should pick a name symbolic of our plight,” Basil said, “How about Scipio? After Scipio Africanus. He survived the disastrous Battle of Cannae, took command of the survivors, and began fighting back as soon as he could.”

“Not a bad choice,” John-Loukas said, “What do you think, Theodora?”

Theodora thought for a moment. The symbolism is on point. Classical antiquity is something all of us in the Empire largely appreciate. Drawing from it will no doubt prevent Konstantinos from laying claim to the whole thing. Let’s do it.

She nodded. “That’s a great name. Henceforth, this airship will be known as the Scipio.”


Private Journal of Donatello Favero January 2, 1936

As I put the ink to this page, I realize that I do not even know why I have chosen to start this journal. Perhaps it is to record these momentous events that are surely about to occur for posterity? Maybe it’s to help collect the thoughts of a man struggling with his own sanity in a world that seems intent on driving him mad? Or it could be simply because I have nothing better to do, trapped in this city, exiled from my home, waiting for the world to crumble around me. Most likely it is a combination of all three. Regardless, here I am and here are my thoughts.

The last few days have been trying. To have everything you have known and your life turned upside down for a second time would test even the best of men. I feel as thought I have aged a decade in less than a week. I can sense similar weariness in the other senators, although some are better at hiding it than others. Some hide it by throwing themselves into their work, dedicating every spare moment to returning the Empire and their lives to some form of normalcy. Others indulge in liquor or women, sometimes both, to forgot the trauma. The rest, like me, are in a constant state of melancholy as we contemplate everything that has brought us here.

I have found myself wondering how much my words and actions have brought us to this point. For the past two decades, I have been the foremost voice for restoration of the Empire at the point of a bayonet. The rebel states needed to be reclaimed, by force if necessary, to restore the glory and prosperity we had lost. How many over the years heard my words and took it to heart? How many of those same men are now clad in black and marching in the name of their esteemed leader? Did the men who tried to arrest me once see my words printed in a newspaper and nod their heads in agreement? Perhaps my words even had an impact on the Crown Prince. Would he have pursued such a path if he had not known of such vocal supporters of the violent march to restoration? Perhaps, but I suspect this darkness has always been in his heart.

I feel as though I have brought this on myself. I wished for a quick and violent restoration of the Empire, and now that I see how it will be realized, I shirk away in disgust. Perhaps it is because this aggression is misplaced. The rebel states have always been the enemy, not our own people. Konstantinos seems intent on purging all opposition within before he seeks glory in battle against the rebel states. It is a dangerous path, and as we can see by the mix of senators gathered in Trebizond, one that has alienated people from many walks of life. It is no small thing that at the last senate session I called for the death of the Crown Prince. I now see where the path I had started on would have led by looking at Konstantinos and it fills me with dread.

All this pain and suffering that is to come, the final breath of a dying empire, has made me realize what is important in life: my family. Too long I have sought to return home with no success, when I should have appreciated what I had with me all along. My estates outside Venice would be nothing without my wife and daughter. And yet as I now see this, they could not be farther from me. My wife is presumably on a ship to Valencia, assuming she made it out of Constantinople before the docks were overrun. As for my daughter, she should have been in Valencia, but my in-laws mentioned she had left a month ago to travel home. I know that I have placed such a heavy burden on her these last few years and she has resisted attempts to guide her. I would not be surprised if she took the opportunity to be free from me and her mother and travel abroad. Yet the timing could not be worse. I pray that she is safe and sound, wherever she is.

The senate will soon meet again. Our first meeting ended in meaningless prattle about symbols for new ministries and the name of some airship. Who cares what a ship is called when we are in a civil war! We have far more important matters to discuss than the mundane minutia of this new government. Our sole focus should be on winning this war. Konstantinos must be captured or killed, and Constantinople reclaimed. The Emperor must be freed, assuming he is not already dead. I pray that is not the case, but I fear that Konstantinos would not be above speeding his way to the throne with a well-placed knife. We must act and act fast if we want any hope of success. Let us hope that the other senators are more action-orientated at our next meeting.

- Donatello Favero

Trebizond January 2nd

Justinian awoke to the sound of an ambulance siren from the street below. At first he had no clue where he was or what had really happened.

“Was it a dream, a nightmare?” he pondered as his vision cleared to a Red and Yellow Eagle on the far side of the room.

Then the pain.

It felt like a lightning bolt made of fire shot through his entire body, originating at his leg.

“No… no it was a waking nightmare.” he sputtered as he started to sweat.

Justinian shifted himself to the corner of the bed and grabbed grabbed the bed post, hoping to use it to stand up.

Halfway through he must’ve put some weight on his leg. “CHRIST” he cried out collapsing back on the bed.

The door to the room bust open. “Sir? Sir!” a bellhop said frantically. The boy darted around the room, Justinian could here his shoes thumping on the carpet.

“Ah! Finally! Why the hell would Barbas not leave it next to the bed?” he heard him whisper to himself.

Justinian felt the boy sit next to him on the bed, handing something into Justinian’s hand.

“Your cane, sir.” After a few more deep breaths, Justinian lifted his head and eventually himself off the bed.

“Please be careful, sir.” the boy continued, “You’ve made it to Trebizond.”

“Trebi-“ Justinian muttered. “What do you know about me?”

“N-n-nothing sir!” responded the boy raising his arms. “T-that is what the man who checked you in told me to say when you awoke! I promise!”

Justinian could see the boy’s knees quivering. He took a deep breath. “You are telling the truth, boy.”

The bellhops shoulders immediately sank down with relief. “I-I was also instructed to give you this message sir.” he said holding out a folded letter.

Justinian took it and sat down on at the dining table in the hotel suite. He tore open the top and then glanced back at the bellhop.

The boy still in a tizzy from the interaction, immediately jumped. “AH! S-s-s Of course! I uh, I will… I will have your breakfast brought up immediately a-and leave you to your business, sir!”

And with a graceful bow that betrayed the boy’s nerves he exited the room, closing the door behind him.

Justinian looked back at the letter. The envelope itself was pristine. “Imperator Hotels” the address read. “Must’ve ended up in one in Trebizond” Justinian mumbled to himself.

The actual letter was on dirty and oily paper. Justinian carefully unfolded it, making sure none of it would rip.


You don’t know me and that’s probably for the best. I was the pilot that got you here to Trebizond. After we took off you fell asleep pretty quick. Marcos told me on the radio you had a long day. I’m not one to pry, so I let it be. About an hour away from Trebizond we hit some major and sudden turbulence. It did a number on my bird, but worse, it reopened your leg. Not worse for you however, you know how long it’s going to take me to clean out the pool you left in the back. I jest, I jest. Point is, you were out cold and I didn’t even notice you bleeding until my foot slipped on something wet under my seat. I landed and got you into a doctor very fast. Turns out the words ‘The Purple Group’ can open quite a lot of doors, especially with you colonials. Anyway, I had a doctor seal up your leg for good this time, it’s going to leave a nasty scar. I radio’d Marcos what happened and he said he would pass it on to your people.

Have a good life,

A faceless Spaniard.”

The writer wasn’t wrong. Justinian couldn’t remember anything about the plane ride. All he could do is be silently grateful to this guardian angel.

There was a sudden knock at the door. Justinian folded the letter into the envelope and beckoned in the visitor. It was the same bellhop as before, this time with a cart of various covered foods and a small bucket of ice with a champagne bottle sticking out. Silently, the boy began to place the various dishes before Justinian, finishing with a glass of champagne. Justinian was salivating as soon as he saw the cart, he didn’t even remember eating at all yesterday.

When the boy finished he cleared his throat. “We have received a telegram from a Leonidas Varangios, addressed to your room sir.”

Justinian didn’t even respond, and just decided to dig in to his food.

The bellhop placed it at the edge of the banquet and excused himself as elegantly as he had came in.

After he downed his first glass of champagne, he reached over and ripped open the other letter.


Justinian had to reread the message a second time. “THE DOUKAS?!”

With the session finished, Franco departed back for the floor on the hotel where those of the Thaddai estate had been placed until accommodations could be sorted for them. Thankfully, one of the hotel staff had waited for him there, informing him that a vacant lot in the city had been found to house them for now. After getting the address, Franco tipped the staffer, and departed for the new place.

Arriving by public transportation, from the outside he could see why the lot was vacant in the first place. It was, to put it bluntly, a residential warehouse, one that seemed to had been past its glory days. He could already see at the front folks moving things about, as they worked to figure out how they’ll organize the working quarters, the sleeping quarters, and other necessities. One of the folks at the front, Konstas, noticed him arriving and waved him in.

“How’s everyone feeling?” Franco asked.

“Very few of us managed to get good rest, but at least it was rest. We’re settling in right now, and we’ve already set up your office,” Konstas revealed.

“I see. Families also good?”

“Yeah, if nothing else everyone being together has served to be a comfort of sort. I don’t know how I would’ve been if my wife and kid hadn’t come…”

“And you won’t need to consider,” Franco put his hand on Konstas’ shoulder, giving him a smile. Konstas returned it in kind, before seeming to remember something.

“We’ve got a phone line set up too, so you could be able to call in Komnenion.”

“I’ll do so after I get my report finished,” Franco nodded, before patting Konstas on the back and heading inside.

He needed a few minutes to relax before he could start writing his report in earnest, recounting the past two days…

Botros Damji sighed. His team at the Imperial Representative HQ in Komnenion wasn’t exactly feeling the best. Everyone had gotten seriously stressed with the news they had received from Kyrene, and had been taking voluntary overtime just waiting for a call from the Imperial mainland. Yanduza Belmonte, in her stress, would jump up from her chair as she saw what all of them were waiting for.

“We’re receiving a call from Trebizond!” she yelled out.

Brief cheering occurred before Botros shushed everyone down: “…take the call.”

After a bit of noise, a voice could finally be heard, a very familiar one: “H-hello?? Komnenion, can you hear me?”



The two men exclaimed happily, genuinely glad to hear the other.

“Are you all alright?!” Botros asked quickly.

“Thankfully, we are. Everyone from the estate, and I mean everyone, even including some of our families, have been accounted for.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Botros replied, slumping into his chair from the relief.

“Sorry we’ve taken so long to contact you all. I’ve had to attend an emergency senatorial session here, and everyone else has just been busy settling in.”

“Take your time, as much as you need! Knowing you guys are safe is enough for us.”

“Y-yeah. I did take the liberty of writing up a report on our side, which I can dictate. Is the typewriter on your end ready?”

Botros looked over to where the typewriter normally was, having heard typing already, and saw that Wimmiden Ouwalili had already taken initiative.

“At the ready! Go ahead, Franco.”

The next half hour would see the room be filled with sorrow and frustration, as Franco reported everything that had happened.

Kyrene strutted through the hallways of the Imperial Representative HQ, intent on seeing the report they had received earlier. It’ll be a useful aid in building their official statement once it becomes clear what had happened in the Imperial mainland to all, as the radios so far have only mentioned there being conflict in Constantinople.

Soon enough, she ran into Kojo Onobanjo, who seemed surprised to see her.

“Ma’am, good to see you. Is Nestorius alright?” he asked her, given that in situations like this it would be Nestorius strutting these halls.

“He hasn’t taken the news all too well himself, so I’m here instead.”

“Alright then. Hopefully he can persevere past this,” Kojo responded in a saddened tone, “Follow me.”

Kojo and Kyrene made their way to the larger office space led by Botros, where everyone appeared to be drinking coffee. Everyone instinctively got up from their seats in respect, before Kyrene motioned them to sit and rest.

“The report’s over on the table there,” Botros pointed, before returning to his coffee.

“I’ve taken a look through it myself. You might want to steel yourself, what is written is alarming,” Kojo explained, as Kyrene took hold of the report and sat down for a read-through.

Increasing blackshirt tensions within Constantinople, including the threatening of Irene Doukas, and an attempted barge-in from the blackshirts into the Thaddai estate. The deaths of the guardsmen Cosmas and Cyril as a result of armed fire from the blackshirts before the arrival of the Athenian Lancers. Attempted fire from blackshirts as they escaped upon an airship…

All these details and more stressed Kyrene, being reminded of what everyone suffered through back during the Sack. If nothing else, everyone got out safely, even if mentally exhausted at this point. Being made aware of the emergency senatorial session and what it entailed also revealed to her that it was truly going to be civil war. She sighed, knowing how Nestorius will react.

Soon enough, she had finished reading the report. She tucked it under her arm, stood up and addressed all present.

“Everyone, please, take the rest of the day off and get well rested. It’s going to get hectic here soon enough,” Kyrene stated, before turning to Kojo, “I’ll be heading out then, and figure out how to share this info with Nestor. He might outright refuse to read it at first, and I wouldn’t want to force it upon him until he was comfortable with it.”

“Heading straight home, or?”

“Home. Call my staff and let them know about the report too. Tell them to prepare for a radio broadcast in case we have to make a statement for the people.”

“Alright, ma’am. May God be with you,” Kojo said goodbye, as everyone joined in. Kyrene departed soon after.

This was only the beginning.

Trebizond - January 2, 1936

It was just after lunch. Theodora had woken up early in the morning, as usual, to handle paperwork. It was her first day working from the temporary MSI headquarters here. Her office was formerly a storage room, like most of the offices in the building. Paperwork covered her desk on a level she hadn’t seen in years. Her head ached, and her eyes wanted to go to sleep. Only coffee kept her going, and barely at that. She pushed through the lethargy. There was no time to waste. The Empire was entering its darkest hours, and she had to be at her 100%.

Today, she was handling budget allocation. Alvértos had approved the budget she requested. Now she had to spend the money. As she had informed the Senate, the MSI had to rebuild itself after the debacle yesterday. A large number of her personnel had sided with Konstantinos, and the rest were scattered across the Empire. She needed to consolidate whoever remained…and deal with any Konstantinos sympathizers who hadn’t left yet. The new job openings would have to be filled. She’d have to start a recruitment drive across Anatolia, with better screening procedures to prevent infiltration by Konstantinos’ men.

In fact, she would be interviewing a prospective recruit at 2, someone named Justinian Varangios. She had skimmed over his profile and sent people to check his background more thoroughly. They hadn’t reported back yet, but from what she could gather, he was part of the Purple Group, a Terra Australis-based conglomerate with influence over most of the colony’s major businesses and corporations. Just another alliance of businessmen, probably seeking to expand into the metropole. Times of crisis were always seen as a business opportunity by these men. But perhaps they could be useful for her goals. Corporations and their private operatives could gain access to parts of Konstantinos’ administration in ways the MSI couldn’t. And money was a good motivating force for some people. It would open up more opportunities for the MSI. Justinian’s personal record was also decent. She didn’t care for his noble background—that was irrelevant to her need for a loyal and competent MSI operative. His KRA affiliation was a bonus, but that was also unnecessary. What she cared about was his track record as a colonial ranger and his successful suppression of bandits in Terra Australis. Such skills could be applied to intelligence gathering, law enforcement, and, if necessary, partisan suppression. Of course, she would have to hear it from him in person before she decided what to do.

Irene knocked on the door. “Auntie, the receptionist says Mr. Varangios is here.”

Oh, he was here earlier than she expected. Then she looked at the clock and noticed it was 1:55. Time really flew by today.

“Thanks, Irene,” Theodora said, “Send him in.”

Irene backed out. Theodora tidied up the paperwork on her desk and downed another cup of coffee, summoning the energy she needed to carry on the interview and look presentable. Now let’s see what this man’s all about.

Exerpts from “From a Purple Gang to a Purple Group: The History of The Purple Group - Iordanis Rubakou”

“The average historian would postulate that the start of The Purple Group (TPG) started in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s. That however would be incorrect. TPG’s history would actually be rooted in the Cabal rule of the late 1890’s until early 1910’s. You will notice that I use many rough estimate dates, instead of definitive ‘starts’ and ‘stops’. This is because the influence of not only the Cabal but also the TPG is still hard to measure. Individuals and organizations that were not affiliated with either later found to be in cahoots as well as vice-versa. This information is still being researched and debated to this day.”

”- as stated in previous chapters, the public story of the fall of the Aboriginal Cabal has been well documented. What I have researched and will present to you was the shifting of authority from the Cabal to the TPG.”

“According to most sources, TPG started with roots in underground crime during the Cabal administration. While the group certainly do owe part of their founding to the underground smuggling rings and cartels that sprung up during the rule of the Cabal, there is another aspect. During the initial rollout of the Cabal’s segregationist polices, there were a few elite of European and Asiatic descent within Sydney that were viewed as ‘too large and ingrained’ for the cabal to uproot cleanly and effectively. The Cabal decided that the best course of action was to slowly work these elites into the administration and let their own political machine start to dissassemble them. The hope was that the elites would be disgraced in the eyes of the oppressed populace and de-clawed from causing the Cabal any issues. However, many of the elites of the Euro-Asians were not convinced of the Cabal’s intial olive branch, if not suspiscous of it. The elites eventually decided to meet in secret with each other and a few representatives of the original TPG, to come to a united conculsion about the cabal. The conclusion that they, no matter how profitable, were the enemy. And that these elites, would need the help of not only the Empire, but other nations to overthrough them. This, on some unknown date, in some unknown place, was the start of TPG.”

“Those of you paying attention will note how I said ‘no matter how profitable’ during the last chapter. Yes, elites of TPG certainly profitted from the great relaxation of taxes and workers rights during the reign of the Cabal. Some scholars say that this was a necessary evil to not be immediately disposed of during the intial revolution of the Cabal. Other’s will say that their assistance only helped the Cabal extract more profits at the cost of human life. While the motive is still debated, what is clear is that TPG immediately established contact and an information source to the nearby Legions of the Empire. It is assumed that former Colonial Govenor Kvensson was crucial to that establishment and maybe even the liberation of Terra Australis in general.”

“after the overthrow of the Cabal and reestablishment of Imperial rule, the Legion was asked to do their least favorite part of their job. Establish civilian rule. Fortunetly for the General, TPG was ready and willing to take the reins. By this point, the group resembled mostly financial elites. Many of those with some pedigree of royalty had their family tree’s snuffed out by the Cabal’s ‘Company Men’. What remained of the group was a relatively well represented group of the various ethnicities of Terra Australis. This is cmmonly believed to be one of the key reasons Terra Australis recovered relatively quickly after a rule of segregation. TPG was often known to promote meritocracy, elevating both colonist and native to positions of prominance. This careful game managed to avoid some of the more ugly aspects of racial reproachment. TPG would also start to rewrite the narrative of the Cabal and the colony’s history. While there are many aspects under debate, what is commonly aggreed upon is the notion that ‘Romans were repressed and abused by the ignorant whims of nationalism’, this use of ‘Roman’ to describe citizens of all color was fondly receieved by most. This new narrative as well as the relatively quick and effective industrial restructuring done by TPG led to the new basis of the Terra Australis we know today.”

The loud thumps of a walking cane filled the makeshift headquarters as Justinian entered the room. He tried his best to give a warm smile to, “Irene” the lady who was holding the door open for him.

“Aunty…?” Justinian thought to himself.

After Irene closed the door behind her, Justinian did his best to bow before the Doukas. She had an eyebrow raised, clearly fixed on his cane and leg.

“Ah…” Justinian started “The leg… a nice souvenir from the capital yesterday and a grim reminder of the state of the Empire.”

Justinian chuckled “May I take a seat?” Theodora gestured to the chair in front of her desk.

“My name is Justinian Varangios. I served for 10 years in the Auxiliarily Ranger Corp of the Terra Australis Promotii, achieving the rank of Colonel, the youngest to ever do so. I also served on and off as a special advisor to TA Oreworks.”

“My first combat experience was at the age of 15, when the Legions stormed the beaches of Sydney. I was with my family’s body guard unit when we were ambushed by the Cabal’s company men. We were to be escorted to a safe zone marked by Imperial intellgience. I grabbed a pistol from a dead escort and killed 6 men in 6 shots.” Justinian said plainly. As if he was reading the manual to a newly purchased clock.

“I spent the first 4 years of my ranger career hunting down the rest of th Cabal. During that time I gained experience in all manner of espionage activites. But I’m sure my file can attest more to the numerous raids and operations. My one weakness would be in military capacity. My grandfather was the minister of the navy, but I never felt the call of rigid structure of the military.”

“If I may be so bold, I would like to work with you in the ministry proper. Not as a field agent.”

Theodora once again raised her eyebrow.

“At least until my leg is healed, if not indefinetly. I believe I can assist the Empire with not only my experince but also my understanding of the colonies.”

Theodora waited for him to continue.

“My sources told me that Alvértos has already held a senate here in Trebizond. And as he should, if he claims to be a friend of them. But, what I found interesting was that none of those involved were connected to the vast stretches of territory that the Empire holds dominion over. “

Justinian chuckled

“Even Senator Donatello Favero, a man who’s home does not even pay tribute to the Emperor!”

Theodora did not laugh, and Justinian took notice. He then adjusted himself and cleared his throat.

“So much of the world watches the storm clouds that gather on the Aegean. Many of the dominons and colonies do not care which Prince wins, only that the Metripole will buy their resources. If anything they will throw their weight behind the Emperor, if not, who controls Constantinople. SImply telling you that, I have afforded you more months of colonial neutrality if you choose to act upon it.”

Theodora continued to let Justinian talk.

“I believe we both know that the geopolitical scape is changing again, that warfare has changed, that life has changed. We are constantly bombared with new technologies and inventions that make killing of a man more effiencent than ever. This will be a time of great change, a time that will plunge the Empire to its demise. Or a time that will resurrect the Empire, like a great, bold and fiery pheonix.”

Justinian leaned back in his chair. “Do you have any questions for me, your grace?”

Irene wasn’t expecting Justinian to show up with a cane, and she found herself having to hold the door open slightly longer than normal. She wasn’t angry, but she was definitely a little annoyed. As the man passed by, he gave a courteous smile to her. Irene smiled back, as to be polite.

The first thing Theodora noticed when Justinian entered the office and saluted—in a slightly stiff manner—was his cane and leg. He had a slight limp. The slight wince crossing his face every so often told her the injury was recent. But the fact that he could walk with a cane, instead of being confined to a wheelchair or bedridden, meant it was not a severe one. Nor was it minor if he needed a cane.

Then Justinian clarified, saying he was injured yesterday in the capital. That explained a lot. Perhaps he was roughed up by blackshirts or Konstantinos’ troops or even shot. She decided against pressing for details. They weren’t relevant.

But of course. It would be kind of awkward if the man with a cane and leg injury stood the whole time. She gestured to the chair in front of her desk, and Justinian seated himself.

Everything checked out with her file. He was honest, so far. An impeccable service record, too. A colonel at his age? A plus.

Field experience too, and since the age of 15. While Theodora appreciated his dedication, she was unnerved by him being 15 during that military operation. There were probably more boys his age fighting alongside him. And there would be no shortage of teenagers joining up once the shooting started in a couple weeks. She couldn’t help but think of Belisarius, who had run off to the legions as soon as he could pass as an adult. Belisarius, whose body was now in a dozen charred pieces. If she could decree laws like the Emperor, the first thing she would do was to raise the minimum recruitment and conscription age.

That much was certain from his file. She would have thought Justinian would follow his grandfather into the navy or join another branch, given his prior record. Apparently not. His file did attest to the numerous operations he participated in. All which would give him the experience she was looking for.

At that, Theodora raised her eyebrow. This man wants to be a bureaucrat? Doing paperwork? His experience would be better suited for field work, in her opinion. Justinian had little record of bureaucratic work, outside of the special advisor job. Of course, while his leg was still injured, he wouldn’t be doing any field work. But after it healed? No, what the Empire needed was field agents ready to gather intel and deal with enemy targets in the shadows, not more bureaucrats to haggle over numbers on paper. She decided to wait until Justinian had finished before bringing it up.

Sources? Our little improvised Senate was blatantly obvious to everybody watching. You really don’t need sources to tell you that. What Justinian said was true, though. A lot of them had lost their homes or the territories they were governing over the last couple decades. Even she herself had technically lost Athens. She shuddered to think of what Konstantinos would do to her house. Fortunately, she had already evacuated her staff and everything of value to the main branch’s estates in Paphlagonia. Konstantinos would find only the structure itself and some old furniture.

Theodora did not laugh. Donatello was perhaps one of the worst off of them all. His lands were controlled by separatists. He had nowhere to go but Trebizond, to say nothing of his family. Even if they did defeat Konstantinos, Donatello would still not have a home. They’d have to destroy the separatists to do that. She cycled through various strategies of doing so, ranging from negotiation with moderate factions to subterfuge involving imperial loyalists to outright invasion.

That was pretty clear. So far, Konstantinos’ power play had only directly affected the metropole. Granted, it had only been a day, but from the examples in the Middle East, Theodora believed most of the other provinces would rather sit things out and wait for one of the princes to come out on top. Which made it all the more important to strike first and decisively. Take back the capital, neutralize Konstantinos, and put an end to this before lines could be established and allegiances set. Then the rest of the Empire would fall in line, hopefully. After that, they could deal with the separatists.

Those new technologies and innovations could really make her job a lot easier…if they had the budget for them.

Justinian signaled that he was done talking. So now it was Theodora’s turn to take the lead.

“Tell me, Mr. Varangios,” she said, “Or can I call you Colonel? You have an exceptional service record with the Auxiliary Ranger Corps. All those raids and operations and combat experience. The perfect qualities for an MSI field operative, at least what I’m looking for. So would you mind explaining why you would prefer a desk job in MSI headquarters, even after your leg is healed?”

She had another question, regarding his ties to the Purple Group, but she would ask that later. She had a feeling his answer to this question might tie into that one.

Justinian took a moment to compose an answer.

“I suppose my time as an officer had endeared me to life of nice logging and champagne dinners, rather than the thrills and danger of field work. I understand that we are in a crisis, and I will dutifully fulfill any task given to me.”

Justinian took another pause to word his next thoughts better.

“During my time as an advisor to TA Oreworks, I met many people who are very content to be left out of history. People who should have their stories told in textbooks throughout the Empire, but chose not to. I, will of course, honor their request and leave them anonymous. But, I do not share that belief. I want to be known to the world, I wish to do great things, to keep the flames of Caesar and Constantine alight! Through these dark, dark times and beyond.”

Justinian paused once more, reining himself in.

“I’m aware of the usual fate of field agents. Men who do great things and are never known for it outside of a few people, who realistically, don’t even know his real name. Men who die alone in a torture chamber, hoping that the poison they ingest will kill them quickly. I am not scared of these things your grace. I just desire more. I desire to be amongst Cato the Elder and Cicero. Men that are still discussed 2 millenniums later.”

Justinian felt the ornate grooves on his cane for a moment before letting out a deep sigh.

“But first and foremost, I am willing to give myself to the Empire. If you truly believe it is best, then I will return to the field as soon as I am able. I merely want to express my desires for the future.”

Justinian moved his hand from his cane to his leg and rubbed his wound. Forcing his instant grimace to a smile.

“Afterall, I believe we might be more similar than either of us would care to admit.” Justinian said with a chuckle. “There’s a reason I didn’t strike my political affiliation from my papers.”

If Justinian thought he could sway her with a simple political affiliation, he thought wrong. “I do appreciate your membership in the KRA. And your record does line up with the values we espouse. But that is not why I’m interviewing you today. At the MSI, we must put aside conflicting political allegiances in favor of service to the Empire. Our job here is protecting the Empire and its citizens from threats, both foreign and domestic. We work in the shadows to make sure the light of Rome shines on into the future.”

This man wanted to be known, Theodora gathered. He wanted to be a hero. Someone whose name would be remembered by millions for centuries to come. But in a crisis like this, they could not worry about things as simple as prestige or legacy. They had pressing matters at hand. Survival and victory came first. “And since we work in the shadows, we cannot concern ourselves with legacy at the moment. I applaud your ambition, I really do.” But at the same time, her mind had a feeling of apprehension. Unchecked ambition brought down many great men and women before when they invariably bit off more than they could chew or became the villains in the greater scheme of things. “But I would advise that you set your sights lower in the immediate future. We are at war. The entire world knows it. Our priority right now is to neutralize Konstantinos. If we fail, we will all die at his hands. I personally never believed in the phrase ‘history is written by the winners’, but in this hypothetical, Konstantinos certainly would set a narrative. Any legacy building we’d do would be pointless. So what we want to do first is defeat him. Then we can work on building our legacies. On restoring the Empire to what it should be. Only then and there will our legacies be forged.”

It came time to get to the point. “I personally believe your talents are perfect for work as a field agent. You’re a straight shot. A veteran in several campaigns. Works well in a team and alone. I know you’ll do great in the field. I understand your injury will need time to heal, which means you’d be better suited for a desk job in the meantime. But I must ask: what do you seek by working at a desk? And do not repeat your previous answer about legacy. I would like quantifiable specifics, like what you would want to do and why you would are the best candidate for that work. After all, the MSI must have the best of the best working for it, especially in these dark times.”

Perhaps she could address her other concern here. “We are in dark times, Mr. Varangios. Tense times. The future of the world is like a pencil balanced on your finger, easily tipped in one direction or the other. One wrong move, and we could give up the most powerful nation in the world to a mad prince who is unqualified to lead it. We must be assured we are all on the same page.” She leaned forward and clasped her hands to project strength. “We cannot have dual loyalties or secondary allegiances. As I said before, at the MSI, we are solely loyal to the Empire, not to anything else. Can you swear this, upon God and Emperor?”

Justinian pondered what else he could say. He reminded himself that this woman had a herculean task placed at her feet. She would not care for his grand schemes, at least not while Constantinople laid in enemy hands. He briefly thought if he had offended her with the mentioning of the KRA, that was the last thing he intended.

Yes, that was it. She just wants to know if he can do the job and do it well. No theatrics, no emotion, just like Phoinix. Any grand aspirations would be later.

With short exhale, Justinian saluted Theodora .

“By God and Emperor, I swear my sole loyalty to the Empire. Wherever it is needed.”

Theodora nodded. “Good. Now answer my other question: what do you seek by working at a desk? Not in terms of glory, but actual work.”

Every church and public gathering place has been shuttered. The Blue Temple, despite being fully repaired a few weeks before, stands silent and empty. The squares are patrolled by black shirts, either in police uniform or not.

There are a lot of people missing. Some go in the night, dragged out of their beds by soldiers, blackshirts or the Reformed police. Some are taken down in broad daylight. Such was the fate of the old Police Commander, who was arrested at his desk, alongside several dozen other officers, and dragged to parts unknown. They were all replaced by men previously holed up in the Senate building.

The city remains tense, but quieter now. The consequences of acting out were highlighted by the treatment of the striking dockworkers and communists. Their hole and buildings were stormed and set ablaze by blackshirts, their members arrested or shot on the streets. Their leaders have been imprisoned and it seems most are already dead.

People walk with their eyes down now. Fear patrols these streets alongside the fascists. The senate building is fully open and functioning, and absolutely teeming with soldiers and fascists from all over Greece and Thrace. A lot of the city is.

Alexander paused in his writing. He tore up a sermon he would probably never give and burnt it in the grate. Concern had given way to worry, and then fury.

The Crown Prince was conducting a reign of terror on the Holy City. His thugs were everywhere. And he had little time for distractions such as ensuring his apparently deathly ill father, the Emperor of Rome no less, had his priest and confessor at his bed.

He knew why, they both did. The Patriarch couldn’t leave the city. Not only was he one of the few stabilising elements left around, but Alexander was a walking liability to the new regime.

He wasn’t exactly under house arrest, but neither he nor the Άγιος Guard had stepped far outside the Mound for some time. Their cathedral, surrounding barracks, houses, holy sites, vestiges, the church school, and private Dock were secured by the wall and the Άγιος Guard…but a siege-like feeling engulfed this place of peace.

Sometime soon, no doubt, they would come for them, and there would be blood again spilt on the floor of the Hagia Sophia.

‘These are dismal days,’ he wrote in his private chronicle.

The phonelines had not been cut. They were certainly tapped though, the hollow crackle sound of a listening post faintly audible whenever he raised the receiver.

Not that he had given them anything to go on. He had gone about normal church business, compelled calm in the Pentarchy, released a round paper to the entire church that the Church as ever would remain peaceful, kind and true to the will of God.

He had by more subtle means contacted the abbot in Trebizond. The rebellion growing in strength there seemed to hold Anatolia in sway, and would no doubt be ready to either invade Greece or the city itself within the next few months. It was a race, a race to see who would sail across the Aegean Sea first.

And as if the last several thousand years had not happened, it seems as though once again two rival armies faced each other across that sea and were determined to fight over one heavily fortified city.

Justinian paused for a moment.

“I simply want to know how to do your job.” He said flatly. “I want to learn and do everything I haven’t done. I want to learn the ins and outs of everything I haven’t done. Administrative, budgetary, everything.” Theodora didn’t change her expression. That either didn’t answer her question or, worse case, the wrong answer.

Then the it hit Justinian. It hit him like a baton to the nose. What she wanted to really know. “Of course” Justinian whispered under his breath.

“The Purple Group. That’s what you are truly concerned about.”

Theodora didn’t budge. But Justinian could feel the tension in the room change.

“I am The Purple Group in the Metropole. Any other representative of theirs has fled to avoid the current disaster. I am not the most involved person of theirs, I think of it more as a familiar obligation rather than an true loyalty. Currently they seek to help your side in the civil war. Outside of that, we will simply have to see what they want or decide.”

Justinian looked around the room, then back to Theodora.

“I know that The Purple Group is proud of their Roman heritage. The fact that I’m here speaking to you instead of Konstantinos’ court shows that they are putting whatever support they care to muster behind our faction.”

Theodora leaning back in her chair, seemly content with the fact they were on the subject she wanted to discuss.

“If you seek to get into the mind of The Purple Group through me, I am not the man for that job. You can see more as a representative or advisor of them.” said Justinian.

“As I said, I swear my sole loyalty to The Empire and the Emperor.”

Finally, Theodora thought. He caught on. Good, I could use someone with an astute eye. The Purple Group…she never particularly liked new money. Those up and coming businessmen who believed profits from their factories and mines could buy them a seat with the dynatoi. Money was not a shortcut to His Majesty and the Senate. If it were up to her, it would be merit which decided who got to serve the Emperor in whatever capacity they were best at. But the world was how it was, currently, and she couldn’t change that yet. So she would have to handle The Purple Group with caution. As they said, the enemy of her enemy was her friend. If they were willing to support them in the coming conflict, she wouldn’t complain, but nor would she ignore them. She would have to keep a close eye on them. Justinian seemed trustworthy enough and not too involved in the group’s activities, so it was unlikely he would be an inside man for them at the MSI, but it wasn’t impossible. Especially since he stated he would like to learn everything she did. She would have to figure out a contingency later. For now, Theodora merely nodded, maintaining her stoic expression. “Your loyalty is appreciated. Thank you for reaffirming that. I believe you’ve addressed all of my concerns for now. I think I have enough information to make a decision. For your first task, I would like you to organize an MSI operation to contact His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch and gain intel on the situation in the capital. Use whatever means are at your disposal, though I recommend minimizing bloodshed and maintaining cover whenever possible. Do you believe this is within your capabilities?”

“Of course. I will report back to you for final approval any operations.” Justinian said with a groan as he brought himself to his feet. He debated trying to say something meaningful as he left, but decided against it. He simply smiled and saluted before seeing his way out of the office. He wished farewell to Irene as he continued his hobbling to the main hall of the hotel. “Back in the saddle”

“Of course,” Theodora said, “Get it done, and you will make a name for yourself here at the MSI. I expect great things from you, Mr. Varangios. Dismissed.” Justinian smiled and saluted, then left the office without another word. Theodora leaned back against her chair and sipped her coffee. Let’s see what he can do in a real operation.