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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

stnylan

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Self-interest is a usually reliable motive.
 
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Self-interest is a usually reliable motive.

Yes, but it is also a predictable one. Of course, is self-interest Demetrius's only motive? Demetrius thinks so, but is he a reliable narrator? Food for thought...
 
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Demetrius's Memories, Part 4

HistoryDude

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Somewhere along the Rhine, January 453 AD
Demetrius smiled. His backup plan was working exactly as he had wanted it to. He just needed to contact his allies in this endeavor… After all, who said that the Hunnic Empire’s subject tribes were happy with Hunnic rule? Because they most definitely were not.

In addition, Demetrius knew that Attila was basically the only thing that held the Hunnic Empire together. It was, indeed, far better to be feared than love, and the Scourge of God was very feared… But fear could easily be overcome by hatred, and there were many tribes that outright hated being subject to a higher authority than their chiefs. In addition, the only things that Demetrius hated were Attila and the Hunnic Empire itself. And nothing unites better than a common enemy.

After the failure of Demetrius’s direct attack, he had attempted to trick numerous subject tribes of the Huns into hating them, but he had found, to his surprise, that he didn’t exactly need to. Many tribes already hated the Huns, and they were perfectly willing to work against them. Therefore, Demetrius had changed his strategy from getting the tribes to hate the Huns to recruiting the tribes that already hated them. He had set up meeting places, where they would plan… He had one of those meetings with all of his temporary allies next month, in fact.

Demetrius paced as he thought. He needed to make plans on how to bring down Attila. If Attila fell, the entire Hunnic Empire would inevitably follow, as Alexander the Great’s had once. However, unlike Alexander's empire, Hunnic influence wouldn’t survive the collapse of Hunnic authority… at all. He felt the winds hit his back, but he ignored that. What to do, what to do… He sighed. Perhaps if he gave his mind a temporary rest he would have more ideas? Well, it was worth a try at least.

Demetrius cleared his mind as he enjoyed the cool winter air. He walked around the River Rhine. The sun was obscured behind many clouds. Soon, it began to rain. Demetrius sighed. He should probably go visit his home around here, if only for shelter. He couldn’t tell the time by the sun because that wasn’t visible, but it felt like it was nearing evening. Besides, he could renew his planning there. Fine, he would go back to his temporary shack near here.

One advantage of having built a shack to live in: it wasn’t far from where he often roamed. The disadvantage was, of course, that it didn’t provide as much shelter from the elements, such as rain, as an actual house or villa. That wasn’t much of a worry for Demetrius. He found the rain comforting… although he did not know precisely why. Regardless, Demetrius entered his shack. He was also somewhat hungry, so he ate some animal that he didn’t know the name of that he’d killed while he was plotting along the river.

Ok, he needed ideas on how to kill Attila. He imagined that the various Germanic chieftains did have their own ideas, truth be told, but he wanted his own ideas in case they didn’t, or in case their ideas were bad. He had some ideas, but he wasn’t very happy with them. Luckily, it seemed as though taking a walk and clearing his mind had paid off, as he now had slightly better ideas. Of course, in Demetrius’s mind, “better” meant successful. Any idea that ended in the successful death of Attila the Hun was a good one.

Then, Demetrius realized something. He had dedicated his life to getting revenge on Attila for the death of his brother, Alexios. Yes, Attila did deserve to die for that - he loved his brother - but, now, Demetrius realized that, perhaps, just perhaps, he had been blinded by his revenge. After all, once he succeeded - once Attila had been killed - what would he do then? That was a very good question that he did not have the answer to.
 
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Somewhere along the Elbe, February 453 AD

Demetrius smiled. His plans were going very well. He had a meeting very soon, but he could afford to plan a little more before it started. He already had many plans, so, perhaps, he should clear his mind on a walk again? No, he didn’t really have time for that.

Demetrius could, however, take a walk and finish up his plans. He exited his temporary shack and headed for the river. He always felt more comfortable near water for some reason.

It was late at night, or at least it looked like that. There was no moon, so Demetrius had no way of actually telling the time. However, it was very dark. That being said, it was possible that it was earlier than it looked. Demetrius felt a cold wind hit his back.

A few hours later, Demetrius was shivering, but he had finalized his plans for the upcoming meeting. He needed to get back to his shack because a) he was pretty cold, and b) he was really tired. He went back to his shack, and he dozed off to sleep. He had a dreamless sleep. Demetrius didn’t know if that was a good or bad omen.

Demetrius prepared for the meeting after he awoke. He was going to meet with various chiefs that were under Hunnic rule but disliked that fact. They were plotting ways of killing Attila the Hun and destroying the Huns’s empire. Their meeting place was along the Elbe, both because it was convenient, and because it was not going to be suspected by anyone not in the plot. It was near his temporary Elbe shack.

Demetrius left for their meeting place. He arrived at the meeting place around noon, judging by the sun’s position. The journey was short, and it was early in the morning, so it wasn’t that hot.

The meeting spot wasn’t under a roof, which was another reason why it was good. They were basically meeting in plain sight, where nobody would suspect them. Demetrius was the first one there, so he settled on waiting for a while. Eventually, the various Germanic chiefs arrived. It was now approaching nightfall, so Demetrius had been waiting for a while, but, if this worked, it would most definitely be worth it. He started the meeting by speaking.

“So, does anybody else have any ideas on how to destroy the Hunnic Empire?,” Demetrius asked. “I have my own ideas, of course, but I do want other opinions.”

Demetrius didn’t know the names of his allies, but that didn’t really matter. He doubted that many of the chiefs even knew each other’s names. There wasn’t really any need. They were temporary allies, but, once their goal was achieved, it was very unlikely that they would see each other again.

“Well,” one of the Germanic chiefs said. “This will be easiest if we kill Attila. The rest will probably be done for us.”

“That is true,” Demetrius agreed. “However, how will we kill Attila?”

“We could send assassins after him,” another of the chiefs pointed out.

“True,” the first chief to have spoken pointed out. “But then it would be clear that somebody was after Attila.”

“So, we need to avoid having attention on us,” Demetrius commented. “That means we need to get Attila killed and make it look like it could have been an accident. The most preferable option is if we can pass it off as a natural death, or, at least, a death that doesn’t have a human cause.”

“Could we pass it off as a suicide?,” one of the chiefs who hadn’t spoken yet asked.

Demetrius privately thought that learning his allies names might have made identifying who said what easier, but it was too late now. Regardless of such matters, Demetrius replied that passing it off as a suicide was unlikely to be believed.

“Poisoned wine,” Demetrius finally suggested. “We could poison his wine. Pass it off as an accident.”

“That probably won’t work,” the second chief to speak said.

“Kill him at a party that has almost all of his vassals invited?,” the third chief to speak suggested. “Attila is getting married next month.”

“That’s… actually a good idea,” Demetrius commented. “So we get him killed at his wedding? If we do that, we could also frame somebody else, or we could make it seem natural.”

Everybody at the meeting agreed. Then, they left the meeting spot, and nobody uninvolved in the meeting was ever any the wiser. One month later, Attila the Hun was killed at his wedding. Within the next two years, the Hunnic Empire had collapsed almost completely. At that point, Demetrius had had to decide what he was going to do then, and so did his army. They decided to become a mercenary army...
 
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Preparations in Constantinople

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Constantinople, January 492 AD

Alexios had recently arrived in Constantinople. He had missed the Queen of Cities, and he’d also missed some of its inhabitants. Regardless of such things, though, he was here for a reason. He had work to do.

It would be preferable if he could get into the Imperial Palace, but that might be hard to do for any significant length of time. Of course, there was more than one way of getting information, and Alexios intended to take full advantage of that fact. However, some of the other methods might not be as reliable, so he was going to need to clarify how reliable his sources were during the Inner Council meetings.

Alexios did enjoy the Queen of Cities immensely, and he definitely didn’t want it destroyed. He doubted the coalition that his current master had put together would deliberately destroy it, but he was going to try to avoid taking chances on that front. Did that make him partially disloyal? Yes, but everybody had reasons for what they did, and, moreover, everybody - who wasn’t someone who literally lived for manipulation, anyway - had somewhat conflicting loyalties. Alexios was certain that some people did live for manipulating others alone, and he did not think highly of those people. They should never be trusted, at least, although figuring out who was one of them was… often not easy.
Regardless of such inner thoughts, Alexios could get to the Imperial Palace after scheduling a quick meeting with the Emperor. The Emperor was surprisingly nice and, at least on the surface, open- which was all the more reason not to trust him, in Alexios’s opinion. Nice people are almost always hiding something.

Alexios decided to get to his residence in Constantinople. He could think and plan his moves later. He was very tired - he had ridden to Constantinope as quickly as he could, after all, and that meant he hadn’t slept well in almost a month.

He looked up at the dark night sky. There was a half moon tonight. It was not yet high in the sky. Okay, that meant that it was still early evening. The streets were startlingly empty if it actually was as early as it looked. There had to be a reason for that. Alexios sighed. He could deal with that later. He really needed to get home - to his Constantinople house, anyway - and sleep.

He decided to focus on actually getting home. Soon, he had reached his house. He fell asleep almost immediately after. Unfortunately, sleep meant dreams…

He dreamt of living in a burning city. He wasn’t sure which city was burning, for the flames blocked his vision of almost everything else. He knew that he was about to die in his dream. This couldn’t be prophetic… could it? As he wondered about that, his dream changed.

Now, he was in another city. He still couldn’t tell which city it was. It looked like it was within the current boundaries of the Eastern Roman Empire, so that was bad. All of the buildings were covered in a sticky red substance. With a start, Alexios realized that it was blood. Thousands of soldiers - and innocent civilians - were bleeding out. Corpses littered the city. Upon realizing that, Alexios woke up.
 
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Alexios walked over to his window. He looked out of it, hoping to figure out what time it was. He saw the sun was very low in the sky, and the sky was covered in color. He deduced that it was, therefore, either sunset or sunrise. Regardless, he was going back to bed. Hopefully, he could get more information about the tragedies that might come. Dreams could sometimes tell the future, after all.

He heard birds chirping. That probably meant it was dawn, which was good. He listened to that chirping, and, eventually, he dozed off into unconsciousness. His sleep started out dreamless, and, under other circumstances, Alexios might have viewed that as a mercy. However, he really wanted more information, and he believed that he needed to dream to get that, so he was mildly annoyed, as he needed to dream. Then, as if some higher deity had heard his subconscious thought, he began to dream.

Soon, he was in a burning city once more. He attempted to move backwards, but that was covered in flame as well. Then, he moved sideways. That was also covered in flame. Great. Apparently, he was surrounded by fire. He really hoped that this wasn’t prophetic, but his instincts spoke otherwise.

In that case, he had a few questions. What city was burning? How much of it was burning? And why was it burning?

As he wondered these things, his dream changed. He saw a desolate land. Ashes covered everything. He figured that this was the future of his other dream. He saw a dead body, and he realized, shocked, that it looked like him. So this was the same city as before. Why was he dreaming this?

He decided to explore the ashes. Perhaps, then, his questions would be answered. He saw nothing but ashes for miles, but he did not give hope of finding something. Finding nothing, he decided to look outside the city. After walking for many miles, he finally saw a sign. It said, “ten miles to Sinope”. Then, he awoke.

He lied in bed for a while, and he pondered on what his dream might mean. Oh, who was he kidding? It meant that Sinope might burn. That was terrible news. It meant that the idea of an independent Anatolia was probably going to fail. That wasn’t Alexios’s primary concern. It might be the primary concern of more ambitious men, but Alexios wasn’t that ambitious. He had family in Sinope, and he didn’t want his family to die. That was part of why he agreed to be part of the Inner Council, anyway.

He couldn’t allow Sinope to burn. Surrender was a better option than death, regardless of what Vicar Niketas might believe. Neither surrender nor death was preferable, of course, but it was still better to live almost always. There were exceptions, but they weren’t applicable here, and he would really prefer to not think about fates worse than death.

Alexios did have a mission, though, and he needed to get it done. He needed to gather information - that was why he was in this city. That shouldn't be too hard to start with, but it would get progressively harder. He looked out his window once more to get a feel of the time. It was high in the sky. Good. That meant that it was almost noon - he still had plenty of time to begin with his job.
 
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Death does have a certain finality
 
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Alexios began to walk towards the Imperial Palace. He wanted to get his job done as quickly as possible. Once he finished his assignment, he could, hopefully, figure out how to prevent the burning of Sinope that he had dreamed about.

However, he then realized that he would probably not be allowed into the Imperial Palace uninvited. Therefore, he wrote a letter to Emperor Longinus, asking to be allowed to visit the Imperial Palace. Apparently, the Emperor was really willing to chat with his noble subjects - Alexios didn’t know why, but it certainly made his job easier… for now. Then, he settled down to wait. He wanted to get information right now, sure, but he had multiple things that he could do with that information. After all, he had people he cared about, and, as long as they were safe, he was willing to serve anyone. Of course, Alexios hadn’t let Vicar Niketas of Pontus know that fact.

As night fell, Alexios got his reply from the Emperor. They could meet in the Imperial Palace two days after the letter was received. Alexios began to walk back to his Constantinople residence. However, as he was walking, it began to rain. Although the rain was only a light drizzle, Alexios increased the pace at which he walked. He wasn’t going to get any wetter than he had to be. He took this new information into account, and he began to plan.

Alexios mused on his other sources of information. He could use any of them, but some would be more reliable than others. He decided to visit some of his old friends from when he had lived full time in the Queen of Cities. They would have good information. He also decided to visit the side of his family that now lived in Constantinople. They might have heard rumors that he could use, but, even if they didn’t, he needed to catch up with them.

Of course, he wasn’t about to allow any of his family to die. And that would happen if either Constantinople or Sinope was burned down. If it came down to his loyalty to the Anatolian cause or his loyalty to his family, his familial loyalty would win, without a doubt.

Alexios decides to visit his brother in the morning. He figures that they can talk over lunch. Then, he realizes that he doesn’t know where in Constantinople his brother lives. He quickly writes a letter asking that question, and he hands it off to one of their mutual friends.

When he arrives at his house, he instantly crashes as soon as he lies down in his bed. He does not remember what he had dreamed about when he awakes, and, therefore, he dismisses it as unimportant.

As he awakes, he finds a letter on his doorstep. He opens it, and, to his relief, it is a response to his letter to his brother. He has a quick breakfast, and, then, he begins to walk to his brother’s new residence. They had a lot to catch up on.
 
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His brother’s residence is near his. He wonders if his brother knew he was coming. Leonidas always did seem to know about things before they happened. The good news - for Alexios at least - was that he rarely shared what he knew. Hopefully, he wouldn’t give away the rebellion.

Leonidas’s villa was plain. Alexios knew that his brother did not like ostentatiousness, so that was probably why. Alexios knocked on the door, and he waited.

He did not have to wait long. The door was quickly answered. Inwardly, Alexios smiled, and he thought that Leonidas always was punctual.

“Alexios,” Leonidas exclaimed. “Come in, come in”.

Alexios entered the house. It was nearing noon, so both Alexios and Leonidas made their way to the table. They could discuss what was going on over lunch.

They ate in silence for a short while before Alexios finally decided to start the conversation.

“So, how have you been?” Alexios asked.

“I’ve been well,” Leonidas responded. “So, what have you been doing, brother?”

“Nothing,” Alexios said.

Leonidas narrowed his eyes. “Nothing?” he wondered.

Alexios sighed. “I’m gathering information,” he admitted.

Leonidas raised his eyebrows, but he didn’t say anything. It was extremely likely he already knew about why Alexios was gathering information. He did seem to know a suspiciously high amount of information.

“I might as well share some information with you, then,” Leonidas commented lazily. “Okay, so the Emperor suspects that a revolt is boiling under the surface. That is an open secret. He doesn’t know exactly who supports who, but nobody knows that information. Some people will likely be inclined to switch sides or stay neutral. These people are going to be courted by both sides.”

“Okay,” Alexios began. “Why are you telling me this?”

“If word of your familial loyalty gets out…” Leonidas said. He didn’t need to finish the sentence for Alexios to understand what he meant.

“Wait, so you’re saying…” Alexios began.

Leonidas cut him off with a simple “yes”.

“That will be a problem,” Alexios grumbled. He took a sip of his drink.

“Of course it will,” Leonidas said. “But many people will have many problems. Everybody had their own reasons for either their loyalty or their disloyalty. Nobody knows what anybody else’s reasons are. This war is simply the blind leading the blind.”

“When did you start channeling the Oracle?” Alexios asked.

“I am advising you,” Leonidas grumbled, sounding somewhat annoyed.

“I was joking!” Alexios muttered.

“I got that, but it’s fun to see you mad,” Leonidas responded, smirking. “Anyways, back to the topic at hand…”

“Right,” Alexios grumbled. “You have more advice, I assume. You always do.”

“Of course,” Leonidas responded. “The reason Emperor Longinus is accepting so many meetings with nobles is, most likely, to gauge their loyalty. He probably wants to know what the playing field is.”

“If you know your enemy and you know yourself…” Alexios started.

“Then you will do well in war,” Leonidas paraphrased. “Correct.”

“”Anything else that I should know?” Alexios requested.

“Not yet,” Leonidas responded. “You’ll be fine with that information for now, brother. However, if you need any advice, visit me.”

“I will,” Alexios promised. “Thanks for the food.”

“No problem,” Leonidas responded.

Alexios left. He needed some time to mull over what he had learned.
 
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Nothing interesting happened the next day. He had no dreams that he remembered either the night he chatted with his brother or the night after. Alexios figured that that meant there were no immediate threats to him, and there wasn’t… yet.

As Alexios awoke, he thought of what he was going to do. He mulled over the advice his brother had given him a day ago. He needed to get this first meeting with the Emperor just right, or he would fail at his job. And failure meant execution, at best. Alexios knew that there were fates worse than death. He had no wish to experience them firsthand.

He left for the Imperial Palace after having a quick breakfast. It was raining, and he really would have preferred to have stayed indoors, but he had a previously scheduled meeting that he couldn’t afford to miss. He arrived at the Imperial Palace soaking wet, but the rain had thankfully cleared.

He knocked on the Palatial doors. They were quickly answered. As he waited for the Emperor to finish up whatever he was currently doing, Alexios dried himself off with cloth.

Once he had finished doing that, he looked around. The Imperial Palace was even more ostentatious than Vicar Niketas’s palace. Inwardly, Alexios noted that that fact actually made sense, considering Vicar Niketas was technically Emperor Longinus’s vassal, although that state of affairs was unlikely to continue.
Alexios mulled over what he should say to earn the Emperor’s trust. This was going to be… somewhat difficult. However, he had had two days to think over it, so he figured he was prepared.

“His Imperial Majesty will see you now,” one of the guards told Alexios. Alexios simply nodded and entered the room.

The room was surprisingly plain. It stood in stark contrast to the rest of the Imperial Palace, and Alexios figured that was because it wasn’t the first thing guests would see. Of course, that raised the question of why the Emperor wanted to impress his guests, especially given that he was the Emperor of Eastern Rome.

“So,” the Emperor began. “You wanted to speak with me? Would you mind if we spoke over lunch?”

“Not at all,” Alexios replied. “Thanks.”

They both sat down at the table. The food was excellent, which Alexios probably should’ve expected.

“So, what did you wish to speak to me about?” Emperor Longinus asked.

Alexios took a deep breath, and then he began his cover story. “I live in Sinope,” he began.

“Oh?” the Emperor leaned forward, interested. “Isn’t that where Vicar Niketas rules from?”

“Yes,” Alexios confirmed. Inwardly, he wondered why the Emperor would bring that up. Then, he realized the answer to that question. So, the Emperor did know of the brewing rebellion. Interesting.

For a while, they ate in silence. Then, Alexios figured he might as well continue his cover story. “I am within Vicar Niketas’s inner circle. He is planning a revolt.” Alexios figured he could give that away, at least. It would increase the Emperor’s trust in him, while not actually giving away any information the Emperor didn’t already know.

“While I normally agree with my direct liege’s views,” Alexios continued. “I cannot, in good conscience, agree with this. However, the Vicar of Pontus still trusts me, so I can get you information.”

Alexios waited for a reply. He could always give the Imperial Throne false information. It was silent for a long while.

Finally, Emperor Longinus spoke. “And how do I know I can trust you?”

Alexios had expected a question of this nature. He decided to tell the truth. “You can’t,” he said. “But can you trust anybody?”

Emperor Longinus smiled. “Very well,” he replied. “You have yourself a deal.”

Alexios quickly left the Imperial Palace. He was glad that his plan had succeeded.

Meanwhile, close to Alexios’s house, Leonidas mused, “You gave him too much leverage, brother. All lies have elements of the truth.”

As he spoke this, a dark figure hovering over the Marmara murmured, “All lies have elements of the truth… true enough. And so it begins. Rivers will soon run red, and the world will be engulfed in war.”
 
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Meanwhile, in the Imperial Palace, Emperor Longinus smiled. Even if his visitor, Alexios, was lying, he still got valuable information. Regardless, he needed to teach his heir, Prince Justinian, more about how politics was played.

Prince Justinian entered the room very soon after his father asked for him. If his father was asking directly, it was probably something important. They sat in comfortable silence for a brief moment, but Prince Justinian got to the point soon enough.

“You asked for me, father?” he prompted.

“Yes, my son,” the Emperor responded. “I must teach you more of how to run our empire.”

“Okay,” Emperor Longinus began. “Let’s start. What hides in the shadows?”

“Many things,” the Heir to the Imperial Throne responded. “But mainly plots.”

“Correct,” Emperor Longinus responded. “The shadows do conceal other things, but those things aren’t very important. Anyways, what do you know of hope?”

“Hope?” Justinian thought. “What a weird question.” Out loud, however, he said, “It exists. Why?”

“So, nothing,” Emperor Longinus commented. “Okay, first lesson: hope is the most beautiful of lies.”
Prince Justinian blinked. “Um, what?” he said.

“Let me explain,” the Emperor began. “Hope can be decent, but that is very rare. This kind of hope is the hope that is not in vain - the hopes that are fulfilled. However, a far more common type of hope is vain hope - the hopes that aren’t fulfilled. Are you following me so far?”

“Yes,” Prince Justinian confirmed.

“Okay,” Emperor Longinus continued. “The vain hopes are the most beautiful of lies. Nothing will ever come of them, but humans are led to believe that something will come of them. This belief will inspire them to continue on when the best course of events is to turn back.”

“I understand what you have said so far,” Prince Justinian said. “But why is this relevant to ruling our empire?”

“Right,” Emperor Longinus responded. “This is relevant because hopes can be manipulated.”

“Oh?” the Heir to the Imperial Throne asked. He leaned forward, interested.

“Yes,” Emperor Longinus confirmed. “The hopes of your allies… and of your enemies can be manipulated quite easily.”

“But do we not lack allies?” Prince Justinian asked.

“So, you remembered that lesson,” the Emperor of Eastern Rome began. “That is good. That is very good indeed. However, it isn’t that we lack allies, it is that we lack allies that we can trust. We can trust nobody, but we can still have allies, people who agree with our current views. Got it?”

“Yes,” the Heir to the Imperial Throne responded. “You can continue with the current lesson.”

“Good,” Emperor Longinus said. “You would want to manipulate people’s hopes because it gives you power over them. It is best to give people vain hope, for giving people decent hope won’t help you. However, if you give your enemies vain hope, you make their life much harder. Indeed, giving people vain hope can be used in torture very effectively.”

“I can see how,” Prince Justinian told his father drily.

“Then, we are done,” Emperor Longinus responded, “But remember what I have taught you today. It will almost certainly prove useful in the future.”

“I suppose it will,” Prince Justinian responded.

Emperor Longinus smiled. Yes, his adopted son would make an excellent ruler. For now, however, he needed to go back to planning for the simmering revolt.
 
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Alexios smiled. He had many ways to get information, and, therefore, to aid the revolt. He had decided to seek yet more information from other sources. He had succeeded in gaining information from his brother, and the Emperor would doubtless be a good source of it in the weeks to come. Nonetheless, there were other ways to get news.

He had taken advantage of one of these. After all, many rich residents of Constantinople gathered in taverns and drank wine. He had gone to one of these taverns. After all, men didn’t take as much care of what they said when they were drunk as when they were sober.

He had asked many questions at the tavern, and he had gotten many answers. Some of which were… more useful than others. Which meant that it was possible one or more people were running a deliberate misinformation campaign.

Emperor Longinus might have ordered that, of course, to confuse spies, but, if Alexios was being perfectly honest with himself, it was just as likely that one of the coalition’s members was doing it. Actually, it was perfectly possible that it was both. That made the information he had gained sketchy at best. Regardless, he had gotten information, and he knew who he had gotten it from, so he could rate how reliable it was.

Right, so everybody who knew anything did know that a revolt was being planned. This wasn’t great news, but it was probably inevitable. The coalition wasn't exactly trying to keep the fact that they were planning something secret. They had basically no subtlety at all. Thankfully, the fact that people knew a revolt was coming did not mean that they knew much or anything about said revolt.

The Emperor’s plans on what to do about the revolt were unclear. Some said that he was going to try to assassinate the perpetrators. Others said that he was going to do absolutely nothing until the revolt started. Still others said that Emperor Longinus planned to throw the rebellious governors into prison. With so many differing opinions, it was impossible to figure out what the Emperor’s plan was. Checking the reliability of each source wasn’t helpful, either.

However, Alexios did learn some things from his interrogation. He learned that Egypt was largely suspected as being part of the rebellion, but almost everyone doubted that Egyptians were leading it. It was figured that they had learned their lesson from the defeat of their previous revolts.

Many nobles had also figured out that the revolt would consist of people united by enmity. Alexios wasn’t too worried about them having figured this out - that fact was true of almost every revolt anybody thought worth mentioning. It basically meant that they knew the revolt would be large.

However, information had been worryingly scarce on what the Imperial response to the revolt would be. Almost no one knew anything, and the few that did know something either refused to share it or provided contradictory information. Alexios had learned next to nothing. He hoped that he could get more out of the Emperor himself. Unfortunately, that possibility looked doubtful for now.

Alexios laid down on his bed as he thought about this. He planned on staying in the Queen of Cities for the time being. However, he could write a letter to Vicar Niketas telling of what he had learned. He decided to do that, but it could wait. At the moment, he was tired, and he could use rest. Alexios fell asleep quickly.
 
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Alexios awoke at the crack of dawn, when the sun lies at the horizon. He knew that he had to do something today. What should he do, though? He had to write that letter telling Vicar Niketas of what he had learned, but, after that, he had almost no idea of what to do.

Okay, okay. He needed to think. What could he do? He couldn’t do anything much for a month yet, which was the next time he was due to meet the Emperor. That was fine. He wanted a break after the stress this spying mission had been causing him.

For a month, all Alexios did was eat, sleep, and do research. The research was in case he could find anything relating to what the Imperial Throne might do. It was barely successful. History would say that the Emperor would try to crush the revolt before it started, but the Isaurian dynasty had only recently ascended to power. Ergo, history wasn’t an extremely reliable source.

Also, Alexios had had cryptic dreams during that month. They showed burning cities. In some, the flames were quickly extinguished, but, in others, there were entire cities that consisted of nothing but ashes. Alexios thought he heard the words, “make your choice”, in them, but he wasn’t certain. Did these dreams mean anything? And, if they did, what was the choice he had to make? He didn’t know.

Regardless of such dreams, Alexios was going to the Imperial Palace today. Here, he would get his first assignment from the Emperor. He would do his best to get his assignments done, of course, because he needed to be in the Emperor’s good graces to be an effective spy. He quickened his pace. He wanted to get this meeting over with as quickly as possible.

He arrived at the Imperial Palace in the early afternoon. It wasn’t hot, and it wasn’t raining. Alexios liked that kind of weather. However, that also meant that he was early. He waited at the Palace’s imposing front doors. Finally, it was time.

He entered the Palace, and he went to the meeting and dining room. Alexios silently wondered if all of the Emperor’s meetings were held over food.

He saw that Emperor Longinus was chatting with somebody else. He frowned. He did have the right time, right? Fears of this kind were quickly assuaged, thankfully. Emperor Longinus spotted him, and he quickly disentangled himself from his conversation.

“Sorry about that,” the Emperor of Eastern Rome said. “I presume you are here for your assignment.”

“Yes,” Alexios confirmed. “I am.”

“Very well, then,” Emperor Longinus replied. “I will begin with an easy assignment. All you have to do is find out exactly when your direct liege plans to begin his revolt.”

Alexios blinked. That was going to be easy, although he actually didn’t know that information right now. Vicar Niketas might’ve mentioned it once or twice, but, if he did, Alexios didn’t remember it. Out loud, Alexios said, “Very well, then. Should I take my leave?”

“No,” the Emperor responded. “You’re staying for a quick meeting.”

“Wait,” Alexios thought. “There was a meeting? He wasn’t informed of this, but it wasn’t like he had anything better to do, anyway.”

Out loud, however, he said, “Of course, Your Majesty.”

The Emperor then told Alexios and the man he was talking with earlier to sit. His table had food and drinks on it, and Alexios figured that meant that they were having a meeting over lunch again. It was a later lunch, but it was still lunch.

“So,” Emperor Longinus began. “Let us begin this meeting. First, introduce yourselves to each other.”

“Okay,” Alexios said. “My name is Alexios. I’m spying on the Vicar of Pontus for the Emperor. Nice to meet you.”

Alexios looked at the other man closer, then. He had a Mediterranean complexion, and he looked like he came from Greece. “Ah,” Alexios thought. “He must be a Greek.”

“Nice to meet you as well,” the man replied. “I am Demetrius. I’m here because I’m commanding my private army.”

“He has a private army?” Alexios wondered mentally. “That’s interesting.”

“I had a brother named Alexios once,” Demetrius commented. “He died at Chalons. Of course, I got revenge for that.”

“I got revenge for that?” Alexios thought. “What’s that supposed to mean… oh. Oh. I’m going to need to be extra careful around him, then. If he can manipulate an entire empire into destroying itself, he must be very good at plotting.”

In addition, Alexios caught the underlying threat. Don’t cross me, or you will regret it. Now, he really wanted to just get on with the meeting. Badly.

There was a long silence, as none of the three men did anything but eat and drink. Finally, Emperor Longinus broke it.

“Well, I’m sure you guys were bonding fine,” he said sarcastically. “I did call this meeting for a reason.”

“Right, of course,” Demetrius said. “Go on.”

“Thank you,” Emperor Longinus said. “Now that you know that you are actually on the same side, we can get on with it.”

“Right,” Emperor Longinus began. “Demetrius lives in Epirus, Alexios. Here is his mailing address.”

He handed Alexios a small piece of papyrus. Alexios accepted it quickly.

“You are to send any reports on Vicar Niketas’s planned troop movements to both me and Demetrius,” the Emperor said, “Any questions?”

“No,” they said in unison.

“Very well,” Emperor Longinus said. “In that case, you may leave.”

Both Alexios and Demetrius quickly left.
 
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Right, so, as much as I like the current plot and all, this is supposed to be a mega campaign...

Therefore, my readers will be getting longer updates from now on, but they're be just as frequent.

By the way, I do like and appreciate comments... and constructive criticism.

PS If you liked the conspiracies, we'll be seeing more of them extremely soon...
 
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Here is the first of your longer updates...


Alexios headed back to his house. He could easily fulfill the Emperor’s mission, and, if he did so, he would gain Emperor Longinus’s temporary trust. That would make his spying job slightly easier. However, it would still be very difficult. Emperor Longinus, like all Eastern Roman nobles with anything resembling a working brain, was a very suspicious man. Spies were the foremost weapon in Eastern Roman, and, indeed, all Roman, wars. Only a fool wouldn’t be on the lookout for them.

Of course, this fact made his job exponentially harder. However, his job wasn’t impossible, just difficult. And he wasn’t entrusted with it for no reason. Vicar Niketas wasn’t stupid. He knew that the Queen of Cities was a place where people were suspicious. And why should they not be? Constantinople had seen thousands of spies. That was a fact of life in an empire that was famed for its intrigue, especially in its capital.

Alexios had experience with spying. He had spied on others before. He had spied in service to both the Empire as a whole - and thus the Emperor - and also Vicar Niketas. Truth be told, he had aided Vicar Niketas in gaining claims on lesser governors and nobles in Anatolia. Still, he was lukewarm about the rebellion. He hadn’t been lying when he told the Emperor that he was against it, but he would obey his liege.

Privately, he admitted that he mostly continued to do so out of fear. That would be extremely bad for the Vicar of Pontus if anybody figured it out. He did fear the Vicar’s wrath, but, if he was caught, he would defect. As much as he feared his immediate liege, he feared the rumors of Imperial punishments more.
In addition, he feared Vicar Niketas and Emperor Longinus, but he didn’t hate them. However, if either of them ever did earn his hatred, they were likely to regret it. He feared what they could do to his family - in either Sinope or Constantinople. If either of them ever actually hurt them, though, they would earn his undying hatred. If they ever actually killed his family, he would have nothing left to protect - and nothing to hold him back. If his family was harmed, heaven help whoever harmed them.

Alexios decided to go for a walk around the city. Soon, he came across a cathedral. This was the Hagia Sophia. He knelt in front of the cathedral, and he began to pray. “Father, protect my family,” he began. “And forgive me my sins. I have loved my neighbors as I have loved both my family and myself.” He finished his prayer with a quiet, “Forgive my deceptions. Amen.”

Then, he rose and returned to his house. As he lay down, he pondered on what the afterlife was like. He wondered if, perhaps, he believed in the wrong afterlife, or if he was judged guilty and sent to Hell. He sighed. It would not do to question his religion.

And, if he was being perfectly honest, he didn’t particularly care about his own afterlife. Other men might, perhaps, but he wasn’t other men. He feared temporal lords because they could harm his family. In his mind, however, once either he or they were dead, they were lost to each other. He didn’t fear judgement, and he, therefore, didn’t fear the afterlife.

His mind had wandered, and he went back to contemplating his mission. It was succeeding… at least for now. He needed to plan more and to avoid interaction with those loyal to Emperor Longinus as much as he could. He had an excuse for avoiding interaction. It was that if he was seen around them, Vicar Niketas of Pontus might get suspicious. That wasn’t precisely true, of course, although it would have been true if the circumstances were what Emperor Longinus thought they were.

Alexios sighed. He looked out of his window. He saw many stars, although he didn’t see the moon. It was nighttime, then. If that was the case, he should probably get to sleep.

As he slept, he dreamed. His dreams were as cryptic as they always were. Alexios had no clue why he had such cryptic dreams - only that he did.

In his current dream, he saw burning cities once more. Then, however, he saw the flames extinguished, and new cities emerging, cities that were more glorious than their predecessors. That didn’t comfort him. The fact that the cities burned in the flames of renewal wasn’t comforting. He didn’t know what cities these were, but it was possible that one of them was Constantinople or Sinope. He wouldn’t let his family die, even if their residences burned.

Then, his dream mysteriously changed. This time he saw no flames. There were no burning cities. His internal, unconscious relief quickly turned to horror. A tide filled with blood swept across all of the Empire. From the mythical lands of Cathay to the Atlantic, the tide was present. Eventually, it would disappear.

Then, he awoke, horrified. Then, he realized it was just a dream… wasn’t it? But he couldn’t convince himself. What if it wasn’t a dream? And what was worse, a tide of blood or renewing flames? Alexios couldn’t decide, and he hoped he would never have to choose.

He looked around. With a start, he realized that he saw many shadows. What could the shadows be hiding? And, although Alexios didn’t know it, they could be hiding a great many things indeed.
 
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Alexander's Missions, Part 1

HistoryDude

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Alexander smiled. He knew of what lurked in the shadows. And, furthermore, he knew that the general population of the Eastern Roman Empire could never learn that, or it would be the end of everything. Then, he conceded that maybe that was an exaggeration, but it wasn’t much of one.

Despite that ignorance, he could still create and manage alliances between organizations in the shadows to some extent. He could also create alliances between certain organizations and the Imperial Throne. He had succeeded wonderfully with that.

He was a member of a few organizations. He remembered what he was loyal to - for now. His loyalty was not eternal, and it could easily change. He was loyal when it was beneficial for him to be loyal. When loyalty didn’t benefit him, he wasn’t loyal. In the end, he obeyed no master but himself. Ever.

Regardless of such matters, Emperor Longinus had ordered him to spy on Vicar Niketas. That was going well at the moment, but Alexander was suspicious. The Vicar of Pontus had taken his goals at face value, or, at least, it seemed like he had.

The problem with that was that Vicar Niketas was planning a revolt. Sure, that revolt was well known to almost everybody, but few people knew the exact details of what was being planned. That meant Vicar Niketas was far from stupid. Therefore, Alexander deduced that he was pretending to take Alexander’s goals at face value. Vicar Niketas didn’t trust Alexander, but he wanted Alexander to think that he did. He’d failed, obviously, but that raised the question: why did Vicar Niketas want to deceive Alexander?

The only answer Alexander had was that Vicar Niketas wanted to be able to catch spies… and, if possible, to turn them into double agents. If he failed that, he would presumably kill them. That meant that Alexander was going to have to be extra careful.

Alexander had been invited onto Vicar Niketas’s “Inner Council”. Despite this, there had apparently not been a council meeting since that point. Normally, this wouldn’t be suspicious, but the “Inner Council” was probably a council of advisors. It had been months. Alexander figured that there might be “Inner Council” meetings that he was excluded from.

Anyways, he needed to go check with some of the more secret authorities in the Eastern Roman Empire… particularly the ones that he had an alliance with. He left his small villa in Sinope to go to the banks of the River Tigris. That was where the Persian Conspiracy met - a place near the border with Persia. Alexander thought that they did that to remind themselves of who their enemies were, but he couldn’t be certain.

Anyways, he arrived at that spot soon enough. The Conspiracy’s leaders were chatting with each other, but they fell silent when he entered.

The silence continued for some time. It got very awkward, very fast. Finally, somebody broke it.

“So, Alexander,” one of the leaders of the Conspiracy - Alexander thought his name was Julius - began. “I take it you have news of some sort.”

Alexander took a deep breath. “Yes,” he said. “Emperor Longinus has discovered my involvement with this conspiracy. However, this isn’t necessarily bad news, per se.”

Another leader of the Persian Conspiracy - Alexander knew his name was Marcus - said, “oh. Why not?”

Alexander sighed. This would take some time to explain. “The Emperor seems to not wish to disclose our existence to the general public. In addition, he does want to attack Persia soon. He wishes to create a temporary alliance with us.”

“Really?” Marcus commented. “That is very good news.”

“Indeed,” Julius agreed. “An alliance - even if unofficial - with the Eastern Roman Emperor would be very good.”

Alexander rolled his eyes. “I highly doubt the Emperor would change his mind even if you rejected the alliance. It wasn’t really optional. We would’ve been in an unofficial alliance with His Imperial Majesty regardless of our opinion on the subject.”

There was silence in response to that point. Alexander knew that that meant the Persian Conspiracy knew he was right. They knew that they had been outplayed. They would never admit to having been successfully made a pawn, of course. No, their pride was too great for that. Nevertheless, the silence told Alexander that they knew they were beaten.

Alexander left the meeting place. Unlike most of the Conspiracy’s leaders, he didn’t live there. He had another faction in the shadows to convince to join the alliance. Of course, he had his own reasons for wanting the alliance. The Emperor of Eastern Rome had ordered him to form it, yes. Alexander, however, was not about to do something he didn’t want to do.
 
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Alexander's Missions, Part 2

HistoryDude

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Anyways, Alexander needed to get to the Eastern Roman Empire’s western border. This was in Dalmatia at the moment. That was where the coalition of groups that wished to restore Rome’s glory now met. Those groups didn’t have leaders or a set place where some of their members lived at or near.

This meant that Alexander was going to have to make preparations. It would probably take a while to get to Dalmatia anyways, even on the fastest horse. Given that the coalition was scattered across the Empire and even had some members outside of it, Alexander was really going to need to call a meeting. To do this, he sent letters to the coalition’s various leaders, telling them that he had news.

It wasn’t even like he was calling them on false pretences. He did have news, and they would want to hear that news. He even had every intention of sharing the news with them. However, he did have other things he wanted to talk about - that is other reasons to call a meeting. He would make that clear at the actual meeting, though. The letters shouldn’t be too long.
He sighed. He was going to need to rest somewhere. Riding a horse across the entire Eastern Roman Empire was not going to be easy. At all. He would do it because, to him, it was necessary, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

Anyways, he had more pressing concerns at the moment. Like where he was going to sleep. He was so concerned with getting the news to the Conspiracy that he had forgotten about more mundane things. That was a stupid move. He sighed. He supposed that he would have to live with it.

He looked up at the sky. There was no moon, so he couldn’t really tell the time. However, it was relatively dark, but it wasn’t pitch black. He figured that that meant that the evening had recently ended. That meant it was probably a good time to sleep. Unfortunately, he still didn’t have anywhere to sleep. Then, he had a thought. He knew where he could sleep.

It wouldn’t be comfortable by any means. However, he would get to sleep, which he really needed. He sighed. Looks like he was sleeping on the cold, hard ground. Without any cover from anything. He was so going to regret this.

He didn’t dream at least, so that was something. Normally his dreams involved death of some sort. Of course, when he awoke, he was absolutely soaked. Great. Apparently it had rained during the night. He didn’t care much about that, thankfully. In due time, the water would dry.

He called his horse. It was a majestic white stallion that he’d bought back in the Queen of Cities. He rode all the way to Dalmatia without sleep. He could sleep later. Eventually, he would enter the eternal sleep of death, anyways.

Thankfully, it seemed as if almost everyone had gotten his letter. There was a small settlement with many houses set up. The houses looked as if they had been recently built. Good. He didn’t come all this way for nothing.

He arrived at night. He found that one of the shacks was empty. Oh. He slept in the bed there. His dreams were filled with various ways that he could die. Well, that was cheerful.

Anyways, after he had awoken and eaten something, he went to the largest shack. He figured this was where the meeting would be held. He was right, but he was very early. He decided to wait.
Finally, at around noon, judging from the sun’s position, everybody had arrived. The meeting was quick to begin.

A bald man began to speak. “So, Alexander,” he said. “What news do you bring?”

Alexander knew that this man was the de facto leader of the coalition to restore the Roman Empire. He had formed it after all. His name was Claudius.

Alexander sighed. This was starting to feel somewhat familiar. So many factions in the shadows were so unoriginal in how they worked. Regardless, he answered this question with a simple, “Indeed, I do.”

For the briefest of moments, there was silence. Then, Alexander began to explain the news. “Right, so there’s no easy way to say this…”

“Oh, just get it over with,” one of the coalition’s members grumbled.

“Emperor Longinus knows we exist,” Alexander said.

That provoked a huge reaction. People started chatting to each other. Alexander heard “he does?”, “Really?”, “I already knew this.”, and “why should we care?”.

“Silence!” Claudius said. “Now, Alexander, continue, please.”

“Right,” Alexander began. “This is actually good news. The Emperor has no intention of revealing our existence to the general public of the Empire. Our existence is, thankfully, still secret. Also, he agrees with our goals and is in an alliance with us.”

“Do we get a say on whether or not to accept the alliance?” Claudius asked. “Not that we would deny such an alliance, but I’m curious as to whether or not we actually have a choice.”

“No, we don’t,” Alexander answered. “He knows that we’ll support him if our goals are the same, and they are. We’re in an unofficial alliance with the Imperial Throne no matter what our personal opinions on the matter are.”

That caused the room to fall silent. People thought about the implications of this. Finally, somebody - Alexander wasn’t sure exactly who - spoke up. “The Emperor seems cunning,” he noted.
“Indeed,” Alexander agreed. “Emperor Longinus is very cunning and manipulative. He operates somewhat like we do.”

“That’s worrying,” Claudius muttered. He then raised his voice to a normal volume. “His Imperial Majesty is very wise. However, the fact that he knows of what lurks in the shadows will benefit him a lot.”

“Yes, it will,” Alexander agreed. “And those that are used to being the manipulators are often easily manipulated. It would do us well to remember that fact.”

“True enough,” Claudius said. “We are going to have to be extra careful from now on. We will not be manipulated. Also, if the Emperor can learn of our existence, then so can other people.”

The meeting ended on that note. The various members of the coalition present at the meeting dispersed. The small settlement was quickly torn down. Alexander sighed. It looked like he was returning to Constantinople. From there, he was likely to end up in Sinope.
 
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So many attempts at double-bluff
 
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HistoryDude

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