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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, And so it begins...
Demetrius smiled. The war would begin soon. This was his chance, a chance at glory. He knew that spies were likely to be everywhere. This was a civil war in the Eastern Roman Empire. Spies would be an extremely easy way to get information, and they were even easier to use in a civil war.

Demetrius knew that he could trust no one. Anyone could be a spy for the enemy. And anyone could believe that he was a spy for the enemy. He was in the clear with the Imperial Throne as long as he was useful, but if he was not… He shuddered. He didn’t need to think about that right now.

Thankfully, Demetrius was careful. He knew that his private army was loyal to him and him alone. He’d made absolutely sure of it. Then, he remembered how he’d made sure of it.

In days long past, when he literally lived for revenge alone, he had raised an army. This army’s purpose was to destroy the Hunnic Empire. It had inflicted many casualties upon the Huns, but it had failed in its goals, and now that conflict was all but forgotten. He had achieved his revenge in another way, but it was not as sweet as he had thought it would be.

Anyways, a large portion of his army had survived its battles with the Huns. These men had also lived for revenge, as he had. Now, they had that revenge, and that also meant that they had no reason to live. Some had committed suicide, while others had become carved out realms in the anarchy. He offered the remainder the chance to become members of his own personal army. They had accepted. His army was loyal to him because he had given them a purpose - a reason to live.

Trust was almost always foolish. Demetrius sighed. He knew of the coalition, and he didn’t know why they hadn’t declared war yet. Yes, there was always a risk of playing one’s hand too early, but there was also a risk of playing one’s hand too late.

Just then, Demetrius heard a knock on his door. Demetrius frowned. There was nothing important in September, was there? He answered the door. At the door, there was a messenger.

“What is it?” he asked.

The messenger took a deep breath, and then he said, “A coalition of nobles has declared war on His Imperial Majesty. Our liege has sent me to tell you that you are to prepare for war. In addition, he says that the current Despot of Epirus, Fridarik, is part of the coalition.”

Demetrius sighed. He just had to tempt fate, didn’t he? “Tell Emperor Longinus that I will aid him, as he is the rightful ruler of these lands,” Demetrius began. “And tell him that I will deal with Epirus first.”

“Very well,” the messenger said, and he quickly left.

Demetrius smiled a bloodthirsty smile. War had come… and he would soon get to experience the thrill of battle once more!

He would emerge victorious! The coalition would get nothing but dust and ash. The Roman Empire would survive. Who knew? Perhaps, in due time, his descendants could take the throne. But, no matter what happened, Rome’s glory must not be forgotten! No matter the cost.
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, the Pacification of Epirus
Demetrius watched his army. It was a mighty army, indeed. With this army, he could easily destroy the stupid and rebellious Despot of Epirus. He lived in Epirus, and he had no intention of letting the region slip from Imperial control. He would not allow Rome to fall.

He had asked his scouts to look for the official Epirote army. He would crush them quickly. From there, he would have a base from which to destroy the rebelling armies in the Balkans.

After a few days, he saw that a few of his scouts had returned. That meant that they had found Despot Fridarik’s army. He smiled. His plan was working… for now. It was an old saying that no plan survived contact with the enemy, and, while Demetrius wasn’t that pessimistic, he was smart enough to know that many things could still go wrong. Victory was not a guarantee.

Demetrius went to meet with his returning scouts. He asked them, “where is Despot Fridarik’s army?”

One of the scouts took a deep breath and then said, “he has split his army.”

Demetrius frowned. “Why would he do that?” he wondered. “It isn’t a good strategic move. It makes it easier for us to destroy them.”

Another one of his scouts spoke up, “we believe he knows this. It is quite possible that he is attempting to lure us into a trap to destroy our army. He knows that he cannot beat us in a fair fight.”

Demetrius sighed. “It is probable that you are right,” he said. “If what you said is true, what do we do about it?”

“Not take the bait?” the first scout to speak suggested.

“But how do we avoid taking the bait?” the other scout to have spoken countered. “We have to attack their armies because, if we don’t, they can meet up with the coalition’s other armies. If they do that, the entire western half of the Empire will be threatened.”

Demetrius sighed again. “So, in short, we can knowingly walk into a possible ambush or let the coalition threaten half of the Empire. Or, at least, that is the situation that our enemies hope they have put us in,” he said.

“Yes,” the two scouts agreed.

Demetrius smiled. “Despot Fridarik will most likely have planned the ambush to be where our army is most likely to attack. Therefore, all we need to do is attack where he believes is not likely to be where we would attack.”

A third scout frowned. “While that’s true, how will we know where he thinks we’re going to attack?” he asked.

“That’s easy,” Demetrius began. “We live in Epirus. Did you really think that I didn’t have spies in the Despot’s court? Now, where are Fridarik’s armies located?”

The scouts smiled at this news. “He has armies at Argos, Corcyra, and Antigoneia,” one of them said.

“Interesting,” Demetrius said. He dismissed his scouts.

All of those cities were in the southern portion of Epirus. It would be easy to ambush him if he attacked any of them. That raised the question, “which ones was he not expected to attack?”. Actually, if he prepared his men for an ambush, he could destroy all of Despot Fridarik’s armies in one stroke. It would be a few days of marching to get to any one of those cities, but that was fine. His army was resilient, so they could handle it.

Demetrius’s army was currently camped outside of Antipatrea. After all, Demetrius lived in Antipatrea when he wasn’t on campaign, so that made sense. It was Demetrius’s personal army, after all.

Demetrius walked back to his tent. After he got a good night’s rest, he wrote to his contact in Despot Fridarik’s court. He asked where the Despot of Epirus expected him to attack.

He got his answer soon enough. The answer surprised him. Despot Fridarik had plans for an attack on any of his three armies. “Great,” Demetrius thought. “It looks like we’re about to willingly walk straight into an ambush.”

He decided to make a speech to his troops. It would help with their morale, after all, and he could warn them in it.

He took a deep breath, and then he began his speech. “Men, we have identified where our enemies are. We shall attack them soon. They believe that they can ambush us when we attack, so be prepared on all sides. We shall slaughter them! We shall make them beg for mercy, a mercy that will never come! We give no mercy to traitors! If they ever surround us, they shall find that they have us surrounded… and they can’t escape us! For the light of Roman civilization!”

They pounded their shields against the ground. “For the light of Roman civilization!” they cried.

Battle would be joined soon. His men would fight to the end.

Soon, they arrived at Antigoneia. It was late at night, and Demetrius knew that the Despot’s army would be surprised by an attack now. They’d be able to fight it, but it would take them by surprise. Many might consider such an attack dishonorable. “Then again,” Demetrius thought. “Both ambushes and revolts are dishonorable.” However, he didn’t want to be like his enemies. They would attack at dawn.

As the sun rose, Demetrius’s army attacked. As the battle began, they were winning. Then, the Despot sprung the trap. The army from Corcyra attacked their flank. Thankfully, Demetrius’s army had listened to him, and they were prepared for this.

The fighting quickly split into two battles. Closer to Antigoneia, half of Demetrius’s army fought the army from Corcyra. Further out, the other half of Demetrius’s army fought the city’s original defenders.

Eventually, Demetrius emerged victorious. Both Epirote armies fled the field. Demetrius knew where they were going. The army from Argos had not yet attacked him. He would go to Argos. Antigoneia quickly surrendered.

Demetrius’s army marched over to Argos. The army there was not expecting Demetrius to attack them so early, so they were unprepared. They were quickly defeated, and Despot Fridarik himself was captured. Demetrius knew that he had pacified Epirus.

“Now,” Demetrius thought grimly. “On to the rest of Greece”
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, The Battle of Kilifarevski
Demetrius sighed. On second thought, Greece was not where the rebellion’s armies really were. The rebellion seemed to want to defend the northern Balkans more than Achaea.

Demetrius wasn’t sure why that was. He suspected it had something to do with internal coalition politics. He knew that Vicar Niketas of Pontus and Despot Stephanos of Achaea’s alliance was extremely fragile. At the moment, it was held together because both viewed the Empire as their mutual enemy - but their long-term interests didn’t really align.

He recalled his scouts that had been sent to Achaea. Then, he went to talk with them. The Eastern Roman Empire’s spies had reported that Greece was apparently not a priority for the coalition, but he needed to be absolutely sure.

“How large were the armies in Achaea?” he asked.

One of the scouts smiled. “They were very small.”

“Yes, even all of their armies combined could not defeat our army, my lord,” another chimed in.

Demetrius frowned. It seemed as if the Empire’s intel was correct. That raised a question, though. Why would the coalition not defend Greece? Greece was where all the coastal areas were. It was where the Mediterranean could most easily be used to keep the coalition together.

As such, the coalition had a terrible strategy, unless… Oh. Oh. Their strategy was terrible… but there was a problem. It was a terrible strategy that might actually work. He mentally cursed. He was going to need to figure out where the coalition’s armies in Europe actually were.

“Okay,” he said to his scouts. “Did you get any information on where the bulk of the coalition’s armies might be?”

“Not exactly,” one of the scouts said. “We could attempt to deduce that, but we couldn’t actually be certain.”

Demetrius frowned. He did have spies in the Despot of Epirus’s court, of course. Unfortunately, those were… unlikely to be helpful. He’d already used them to take Epirus. They probably wouldn’t be that useful because Despot Fridarik probably didn’t know much about the plans of the coalition as a whole anyway.

He took a deep breath. He might as well get his scouts’s reasoning on where the coalition’s armies were. He would need to confirm it obviously, but additional intelligence couldn’t hurt.

“What are your theories?” he asked.

“It is likely,” one of his scouts began. “That the coalition has armies in Pontus.”

“Well, yeah,” Demetrius said, annoyed. “But where are their armies west of the Marmara?

“I’m not sure,” another scout commented. “The easiest answer to that question would be Achaea, but we have already confirmed that they aren’t in Achaea.”

“Yes,” Demetrius agreed. “It is very weird that Achaea is so lightly defended. One would think that the coalition would defend it. Unless…”

For a brief moment, Demetrius’s words hung in the air. His scouts attempted to figure out what he meant.

“No,” one of them said. “That would be foolish, not to mention insane.”

“True enough,” Demetrius agreed. “The problem is that it might be crazy enough to work, and we cannot allow that to happen.”

“Then, what should we do?” one of the scouts asked. “It’s not like we know where the bulk of their armies are.”

“I have a pretty good idea,” Demetrius said, darkly. “If you were trying to encircle the Queen of Cities, where would you have your armies.”

There was silence. Everybody knew what he meant.

“There would be armies in Anatolia, Moesia or Thrace, Thessaly, and the Aegean,” Demetrius said. “We’ll have to hope the Imperial Fleet can hold the Aegean, but I have confidence in their abilities. As such, we are going to Thessaly.”

Demetrius began his march. His army followed him. They marched to Thessalonica. There, they met one of the coalition armies. Apparently, it had successfully taken Thessalonica. However, it was one of the coalition’s smaller armies. They did not bother trying to defend Thessalonica. They retreated north.

“Moesia,” Demetrius thought. “That’s where that army was heading. That is where most of their forces must be - or, if not there, Thrace.” He led his army to Moesia. He led his army until he spotted an enemy force. It was defending a city.

Demetrius waited. It was late at night, and he had no intention of fighting a battle at night. He’d be fine with fighting a battle in the evening and even in the early hours of the morning, but not at night. He’d prefer to be able to see the troops he was commanding, thank you very much.

In addition, not attacking immediately had other benefits. He could send his scouts to scout the terrain. If he knew the terrain, the battle would become much easier. And so he waited.

His scouts returned a month later. “Finally,” Demetrius thought. He was getting tired of waiting. He knew of what a virtue patience was, but it could be infuriating sometimes.

“What does the terrain look like?” he asked.

“An enemy army is camped outside the town of Kilifarevski,” one of the scouts began. “Kilifarevski is a fortress. It is in the middle of a mountain range.”

“Mountainous terrain,” Demetrius murmured. “Got it.” He could work with that.

Fighting in the middle of a mountain range didn’t leave much room for maneuvering. He sighed. He was going to have to attack head on, on even ground, and hope for the best. He really didn’t like not being able to stack the deck.

He led his army in an attack. His army outnumbered the coalition army stationed here. That was good news. He lost many men. Ultimately, luck favored him, and the coalition army was destroyed or forced to retreat. He’d won.

Then, he thought of how many men he had lost, and he sighed. Yes, he had won… but at a great cost. Now, all he could do was scout Moesia and Thracia for other coalition armies and hope for the best.
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, On the Front Lines, Part 1
Demetrius sighed. Thessalonica was taken. The coalition’s plan had likely been to surround Constantinople, and he had almost certainly prevented that. However, that did not mean that the civil war was over. The war was far from over. He knew how to win the war, though. All he had to do was destroy all of the coalition’s armies. If the coalition had no military, it would surrender.

He would fight this war to its end… or to his death. Peace was worth fighting for, even if it made a desert. At least it would be a peaceful desert!

Demetrius called his scouts into his private tent. “You have done well,” he said. “But this war isn’t over. Your new mission is to scout across Moesia and Thracia, looking for enemy armies. We need to destroy the coalition’s military might completely. You may split up for this.”

The scouts nodded and left without another word. Demetrius knew that they would likely succeed. He had a base in these two provinces now, at least. That was a start. All he had to do - indeed, all he could do - now was wait. And so he waited.

Eventually, days later, the scouts returned. Hmm, they were earlier than Demetrius had expected them. That was good news, it probably meant that the war would be over sooner than Demetrius had expected. Yes, that was amazing news.

“Where are the coalition’s armies?” he asked.

“We found four of the coalition’s armies where you told us to look,” one of the scouts said.

“That’s good,” Demetrius said. “Go on…”

“They are in Traianopolis, Phillippopolis, Serdica, and Tyrnovo,” a scout said.

“So, they have armies across the length of Moesia and northern Thrace,” Demetrius began. “Why, though?”

“We had previously theorized that they were attempting to surround the Queen of Cities,” a scout pointed out.

“Well, yeah,” Demetrius began. “But if that was ever their plan, it isn’t their current plan. You can’t encircle a city on just 2 sides. Constantinople has formidable walls, as well, so they can’t just be trying to capture it.”

“Why not, though?” a scout asked. “They could get someone to open the gates from the inside, can’t they?”

“No,” Demetrius said. “They can’t. Constantinople is defended by walls, not gates. And the Emperor would only put people he completely trusts - or, at least, people who he knows are loyal to him - to operate them. The coalition would need naval support to capture the city.”

“We’re assuming that they know that the Queen of Cities can only be taken by sea,” another scout interjected.

“Yeah, so?” Demetrius asked.

“So what if they don’t?” the scout countered. “How do we know that they aren’t trying to intimidate the city into surrendering. We’re assuming that our enemies know what we know, but that is highly doubtful.”

“True,” Demetrius conceded. “But, even so, this is an amazing opportunity to crush the coalition, once and for all. We are going to take it. We shall start by attacking Philippopolis.”

And that was that.

Demetrius smiled. Soon, he would battle. Soon, there would be peace. He would enjoy that peace. That peace would be hard-won, but it would be so, so worth it. However, deep down, he knew the truth. And lies didn’t become any more true each time they were repeated. The truth was that he lived for war, and so did his army. That was their purpose. They couldn’t enjoy peace, but he’d never admit that to anyone, not even himself.

He sent his scouts back to Philippopolis. He needed to know the terrain, so that he could know how to give himself and his army an advantage. He really didn’t like battles where he hadn’t stacked the deck.

He learns that Philippopolis is located at the banks of a river, and that it was located in a plain. Surprisingly, there were apparently seven hills within the city. Demetrius took a deep breath. Okay, he could work with that. He began to plan.

He arrived at Philippopolis soon. Battle began, and he saw that his army and the coalition’s army were located exactly where he wanted them. He smiled.
The opposing army soon realized that they were losing, and they tried to retreat. Soon, they found that Demetrius had expected that. The coalition army soon realized that they had been lured into a trap.

They couldn’t retreat because a river blocked their retreat. Many more men would be lost, and they’d already lost so many. In addition, they were tired, as Demetrius could see.

Demetrius had chased them across the city. After all, it was a city built on hills. Running across hills was tiring, especially to someone who hadn’t trained for it. Demetrius had trained his army and himself to be prepared in all terrains.

After all, originally Demetrius’s army was a mercenary army. You never knew when you would be hired, and, furthermore, you never knew where you might be hired to fight. You needed to be prepared for all situations, and Demetrius had done that. There was a reason that many knew him as the “Lover of Death”.

The coalition’s army was visibly exhausted. Demetrius’s was not. It was a massacre. The river would run red with blood. As the carnage finished, Demetrius smiled. “One down, three to go,” he thought.

He decided that he would go to attack Traianopolis. It was one of the cities closer to Constantinople itself and capturing it would basically ensure that the Queen of Cities wouldn’t be threatened from the west.

“The City of Trajan,” he thought. “It is likely that many in this army will see Mesopotamia. Who knows? They might even succeed at taking Ctesiphon.” He smiled at the thought.

He asked his scouts what the terrain there was like.

“It borders the sea,” one said.

“I know that,” Demetrius said. “I meant terrain.”

“Oh,” the aforementioned scout said. “We can go check.”

They did, and they reported their findings to Demetrius. It was apparently a fort near the Rhodope Mountains.

He marched there. The trip took about a month, but his troops were used to marching long distances. He knew what his strategy would be.

First, his army would march through the Rhodope Mountains. They would go to the fort. However, Demetrius decided to take a risk. He would leave some of his men on and near those mountains, just in case the coalition’s army decided to retreat there. After that, they would attack. They would pin the coalition’s army between them and the sea.

The plan worked brilliantly. Trapped, most of the coalition’s army in Traianopolis was utterly annihilated. Some managed to escape the city, but they went to escape through the Rhodope Mountains, hoping that they would be reinforced in Moesia. Evidently, they hadn’t heard about Demetrius’s previous two victories. The reserves in the mountains killed them or took them prisoner.

Demetrius returned to the mountains. There, he reunified his army. He began to plan his next move. He had thought he would need to make the coalition desperate, but they were already desperate, if he was reading the situation right. Emperor Longinus said that his spies reported that almost every coalition member in Europe was gathering at either Serdica or Tyrnovo. Most were gathering in Serdica, though. Apparently, that was where they planned to make a last stand.

“Hmm,” Demetrius thought. “If Serdica was where the coalition was planning on making a last stand, then, perhaps, I should attack Tyrnovo. That is unlikely to be heavily defended.”
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, On the Front Lines, Part 2
Demetrius asked his scouts to go scout Tyrnovo. He would take advantage of the terrain to win. Granted, Tyrnovo probably wasn’t heavily defended anyway, but Demetrius wanted to make things as easy as possible. Most of the army at Tyrnovo was probably going to be in the middle of a retreat, as well. In short, Demetrius had every advantage here.

Was it honorable to attack in such a situation? Demetrius figured that the answer to that was probably not, but he frankly didn’t care. He used to lead a mercenary army - he had no use for such concepts as honor.

Demetrius waited. He was patient, even though he would’ve really preferred not having to be patient at all. Unfortunately, patience was a requirement in any good general.

The scouts soon returned, thankfully. He asked them about what they had found.
“Tyrnovo is located on the banks of a river,” one said.

“It also is built on hills,” another added.

“Well, mostly,” the first one to speak said. “Apparently, some of the terrain is plains.”

“Umm, what?” Demetrius asked. “That makes no sense. Did people seriously build a city in multiple climates?”

“No,” a scout pointed out. “The climate is always humid. They built a city across different terrains.”

“Okay,” Demetrius thought. “He said that just to be contrary. He knew what I actually meant. Anyways, I need to make plans with this information.”

Demetrius knew that, if his scouts’s reports were accurate (and they were always accurate), Tyrnovo and Philippopolis were very similar, and, therefore, similar strategies could be used. He would need to have his men get good rest, to start with. That hadn’t really been a priority at Philippopolis, but Demetrius was aiming for speed, then. He wasn’t now.

He and his army would chase the coalition’s army, or what little remained of it, given the impending last stand, across Tyrnovo. That would tire out the enemy army far more than it would tire out his own men. They would chase the opposing army back to the river. The river would block their retreat.

That plan was immensely successful. It worked exactly as planned, and it worked better than it was expected to. Apparently, some people wanted to delay his army to give Serdica more time to prepare. It was a shame that their sacrifice would be for nothing, of course, but he respected their conviction.

That being said, he had managed to get some high-profile prisoners. These were key members of the coalition. Sadly, he hadn’t managed to capture the Despot of Achaea, but most of the pretenders to the Eastern Roman Empire had been captured, thankfully. However, at the moment, Demetrius wanted to talk to one person in particular.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople had joined the coalition for some reason. Demetrius wanted to know that reason, although, if he was being honest with himself, he already did. It was probably politics.
He entered the room. Why not a prison cell? He was a general on campaign, he didn’t have cells. The cells were in Constantinople, mostly.

“So,” Demetrius began. “Why are you revolting against Emperor Longinus?”

“The Emperor has lost the approval of God,” the Patriarch said. He sounded extremely unsure, though, so Demetrius knew that he was lying.

“Come now, did you really expect me to believe that?” Demetrius asked. “Because you can’t lie.”

“Worth a try,” the Patriarch said, shrugging. “And the Almighty probably wouldn’t be happy with what the Emperor is doing. That being said, he probably wouldn’t be happy with most of the coalition, either.”

“Why?” Demetrius wondered.

“The Lord isn’t kind to those that take his role,” the Patriarch replied. “And many men are playing God these days.”

“And that’s a bad thing?” Demetrius countered.

“Yes,” the Patriarch said. “Only fools would storm heaven. The Lord is omnibenevolent”

“Oh, really?” Demetrius countered. “If that’s the case, consider this. If the Lord is willing, but not able to prevent evil, then he is not omnipotent. If he is able, but not willing, then he is malevolent. If he is both able and willing, then where does evil come from? If he is neither able nor willing, then why call him God?”

“Didn’t take you as the type to study philosophy?” the Patriarch commented. “There are explanations about where evil comes from, but I don’t know them. Have faith.”

“Faith in what?” Demetrius asked. “I lost my faith long ago. By the way, you didn’t answer my original question.”

“I was hoping you’d forgotten,” the Patriarch admitted. “A lot of it was political.”

“What I thought,” Demetrius said.

“Then, why did you ask?” the Patriarch wondered. “Oh, and one last thing.”

“Confirmation,” Demetrius replied. “And what?”

The Patriarch smiled. “There will be a reckoning,” he said.

Demetrius left. He had a war to fight. Serdica would be a battle for the ages. He decided to hire a few mercenaries to supplement his army, and also to keep numerical superiority. He was going to be stacking the deck, anyway, so he didn’t really need it, but Demetrius was careful.

He sent his scouts to scout out Serdica. He also instructed them to be quiet. It would not do to lose the element of surprise in this battle. Demetrius knew exactly why all of the battles were in Moesia and northern Thracia, now that he thought about it. It was because those areas were the Empire’s - and, by extent, the coalition’s - center. Whoever controlled them controlled all communication between the Empire’s western and eastern halves that wasn’t by sea, and the Emperor controlled the sea.

Soon, the scouts returned. Demetrius asked them about the terrain there.

“It is surrounded by mountains,” one scout said.

“And it is in a valley,” another added.

Demetrius frowned. That changed things. It also explained a lot about why it was the site of the coalition’s stand in the western half of the Eastern Roman Empire. Since it was surrounded by mountains, any approaching army would surely be noticed - and exhausted. Demetrius figured that they meant to wear down any attacking army by attrition.

“And there are no rivers nearby,” he asked his scouts, a little desperately.

His scouts confirmed that there weren’t, and Demetrius dismissed them. He took a deep breath, and he thought about it. He decided to sleep on it. He was very tired, and he could plan in the morning.

Morning came. Demetrius was in a better mood, and his mind was working better, but that didn’t help him much. He couldn’t surprise them because they would see him coming. He couldn’t surround them very effectively, either. He could surround them, of course, but a large part of the appeal of ambushes was that your enemy was taken by surprise, and, again, he could not surprise them.

He sighed. He was going to need to charge in and hope for the best.

At first, it seemed as if that plan was actually working. His army was defeating the enemy army. The mercenaries that he had hired were actually useful - they killed some enemy troops, but they were more useful as targets to distract.

Demetrius knew that his good luck couldn’t last. And it didn’t. He was killing many men, but, suddenly, he collapsed. He had been stabbed. He looked down at the wound. Most likely, it would be fatal, but he could not fall now. He fought on.

And, when the battle finally ended, he stood. He surveyed their prisoners, and he was pleased to find that many of the coalition’s leaders - Despot Stephanos of Achaea included - had been captured. He smiled. He was dying, but he silently reflected that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Live by the sword, and die by it,” he thought. And he began to speak.

“I am dying, men, but do not fear. Today, we are victorious. The war is almost won. Fight on, and you will triumph.”

“But who will lead this army?” one of his troops asked.

“My son, Anastasios,” he replied. “He shall lead this army, and tell him… tell him that he will be a great leader, but that he should not let that fact define him. Tell him to not repeat my mistakes.”

He breathed once more, and then he shut his eyes. And he did not open them again.
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Just as an FYI, any opinions expressed by my characters are not necessarily my own. This especially applies to the update I just posted... so please don't get offended.
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, What the Conspiracies Think

Alexander smiled. He had been very successful in his goals. He had gotten some information from Vicar Niketas of Pontus, although not as much as he had been expecting to get. Also, the conspiracies were very helpful, if only because, at the moment, their goals aligned with his and the Emperor’s.

He remembered some of what were allegedly Vicar Niketas’s “Inner Council” meetings. He hadn’t gotten very much information from them, which is why he was dubious that they were the only “Inner Council” meetings. He figured that the Vicar of Pontus had probably figured out that he was a spy, but he didn’t care that much because they were winning the war anyway.

He had gotten some information, though. Those meetings were how he learned that Vicar Niketas was sending a lot of troops to Moesian and northern Thracian fronts. He had also learned that the coalition had decided to make one stand for the entire eastern half of the Empire, and that that stand would be in Anatolia. He had relayed all of this information to Emperor Longinus, of course, but most of it could have been deduced.

Alexander, however, also remembered the conversions he had had with both the Persian Conspiracy and the Coalition in the Shadows to restore the Roman Empire. It had been a long trip to the banks of the River Tigris. However, the meeting that followed had been very productive for his personal goals.

“Why are you here?” Marcus asked him.

“I have news on events in the Eastern Roman Empire,” Alexander replied.

That got everyone's attention. “Oh?” Julius said. “What is it?”

“The good news is that…”Alexander began. Then, he paused for dramatic effect. “We’re still unknown to the general public.”

“And the bad news?” Marcus asked.

“Well, we might need to move our base of operations soon,” Alexander admitted. “I’m not actually completely sure on that one.”

“Why not?” Marcus asked.

“My justification for that is technically a rumor, but it’s a really reliable rumor,” Alexander said. “The rumor is that the Sassanids are aiding the coalition in the current war. We’d have to move because the Emperor wants to go to war with the Sassanids, but, to do so, he needs a casus belli. If the Sassanids are aiding a rebellion against him…”

“He has a casus belli,” Marcus finished. “Okay. Also, speaking of the rebellion, what’s going on with that that pertains to us?”

“Other than the Sassanid involvement in it?” Alexander rhetorically asked. “Nothing that pertains to us, but a lot.”

“Anything else?” Julius asked. “We’ll discuss relocating later.”

“No,” Alexander said.

After that, he’d sent another letter to the Coalition in the Shadows to restore the Roman Empire. This letter asked to meet in Antioch. This was for multiple reasons. For one, Antioch was loyal to the Emperor. Also, Antioch was fairly close to the Tigris’s banks, so he wouldn’t have to journey as far as he had to the last time he’d done this. Thankfully. He was already tired as it was.

It had taken a while to get to Antioch, but, once he was there, he had a decently long time until the meeting, so he could rest. That was what he did. He dreamed of flames, but they were purifying flames. It was actually a relatively comforting dream, if he was being honest.

Of course, that thought jinxed it. The following night and for a few nights after, he dreamed of oceans full of blood. However, they were just dreams, so he wasn’t overly worried.

Finally, the day of the meeting arrived. Thankfully, Alexander was prepared. He knew exactly what to say.

“Right,” Claudius began. “Alexander called this meeting, and I’m sure that we would all like to know why.”

Alexander took a deep breath, and, then, he began to explain. “I bring news,” he said. “News on the ongoing rebellion and how it might affect our future.”

“Go on,” Claudius said, interested.

“To start with, the Emperor is currently winning the war, so, unless there is an extreme change in the tides, I’m certain that we can continue with our current plan,” Alexander said.

“That is indeed good news,” Claudius commented.

“Yeah, it is,” Alexander said. “It isn’t the best news that I have, though. The Sassanids are aiding the rebellion, which means that we can attack Mesopotamia once this war ends. Also, the Goths in Cherson are also supplying monetary support to Despot Stephanos of Achaea, for some reason. Not entirely sure why, considering that is most likely suicide and they should know that…”

“What’s the news on Odoacer’s involvement?” somebody wondered.

Alexander frowned. “I’m relatively sure that he’s funding the rebelling landowners in Dalmatia,” he answered. “That’s pretty much it, though. He knows not to cross the Eastern Roman Empire. Not that that will help him much. The Empire isn’t giving up on Italy at all.”

“Is there any other foreign involvement in this civil war,” Claudius asked.

“I’m relatively sure that the Vandals are funding some of the revolting landowners down in Africa,” Alexander said. “And, even if they aren’t, Emperor Longinus - or his son and successor if he’s dead before he can - will say that they were to get a casus belli.”

“Wait, they would make stuff up to justify their wars?” someone asked.

“Umm, yeah,” Alexander said. “That’s how most wars work. As long as nobody calls you out on it, then making up a fictional casus belli is just as good of a justification as using an actual one. Most rulers make them up if they don’t have a good actual one. It makes them seem less threatening and imperialist than they actually are.”

“While that was a good explanation,” Claudius said. “Can we please get back on topic? Anybody else we could justify war with based on their involvement in this mess?”

“No,” Alexander said bluntly. “Sadly. That being said, there are numerous other justifications we could use for our - and the Empire’s - wars. However, that really isn’t relevant right now.”
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Scheming, Part 1
Alexios had done his job well at first. Then, everything went downhill. Through the rumor mill, he had learned that Epirus had surrendered. He sent this information back to Vicar Niketas of Pontus, and his liege had called an Inner Council meeting.

At that meeting, he had learned some interesting facts.

“So, Epirus surrendered,” Vicar Niketas had said. “That isn’t great news, but we can plan around having Epirus’s loyalty. First of all, does anyone else have any news?”

“Oriens is wavering in its support for our cause,” Agamemnon said.

“The Sassanids are apparently going to invade Anatolia regardless of who wins this civil war,” Georgios grumbled. “That was probably Despot Stephanos of Achaea’s doing.”

“Most likely,” Vicar Niketas agrees. “We can deal with that later, though. Also, Agamemnon, what do you mean Oriens is wavering in its support for our cause?”

“Exactly what it sounds like,” Agamemnon responded. “Oriens is considering surrendering to Emperor Longinus in exchange for a lighter punishment. In short, their ruler doesn’t think that the coalition can win this. They’re probably considering Egypt and Epirus, honestly.”

“Wait, what happened in Egypt?” Vicar Niketas wondered.

Alexios sighed. “I was going to say this later, by the way,” he said. “The coalition members in Egypt have been defeated. The Empire controls all of Egypt. Given that Oriens borders Egypt…”

“And there is an army in Egypt, they’re understandably worried about their position,” Agamemnon finished. “Right. Even if we managed to successfully take the Queen of Cities, Egypt and Oriens might be lost to the Eastern Roman Empire forever.”

“Why?” Vicar Niketas asked. “If we took Constantinople, couldn’t we get whatever concessions we wanted?”

“Not how war works,” Alexios said. “Unless we manage to capture Emperor Longinus himself, capturing Constantinople won’t even guarantee a surrender at all. And we won’t capture Emperor Longinus. He’s not stupid, and he’ll know when the city is about to surrender. Also, we can’t take the Queen of Cities reliably anyways.”

“Wait,” Agamemnon said. “Why not?”

“Because Constantinople is primarily defended by sea,” Alexios began. “To take it, we would need to gain naval superiority, and that’ll be next to impossible. Most of our coalition’s troops are trained for land warfare. We barely even have a navy.”

“Why can’t we just surround Constantinople?” Vicar Niketas asked.

Alexios rolled his eyes. “Two reasons,” he began. “One, again, we have so small a navy we might as well not have one at all. Two, Thessaly is in enemy hands. The army that captured Epirus also retook Thessaly - and, by extent, Thessalonica.”

“Who is this army led by?” Vicar Niketas asked.

“He’s probably making new plans,” Alexios thought. “I might as well give him this information, no matter how much he’ll dislike it.” Out loud, he said, “Demetrius”.

For a brief moment, there was silence. Then, everybody started talking at once. Alexios knew that most of them were panicking. Finally, the murmurings died down.

“Well,” that’s… not great,” Vicar Niketas understated. “Just to clarify, you were talking about the Love of Death, right?”

“Yes,” Alexios responded. “I was, unfortunately. Also, he’s apparently been leading Eastern Roman armies for a while now.”

“And why didn’t anybody know this?” the Vicar of Pontus asked, angered.

“My guess is that the Isaurian Dynasty was deliberately keeping it under wraps,” Alexios said. “That being said, I’m pretty sure that I’ve met him during my undercover work, and I just didn’t realize it, so it’s possible most of the Eastern Roman Empire’s subjects were censuring it, and they just didn’t realize it.”

“Okay,” Vicar Niketas said. “Thanks for all the information. I think that I’ve come up with a plan that accounts for it.”

“Oh?” Agamemnon asked. “Will we get to hear what this plan is?”

“Yes,” Vicar Niketas responded. “You will. You are part of the plan, so you kind of have to.”

For a while, the room was silent. Everybody was waiting for the Vicar of Pontus - and would be Despot of Anatolia - to explain his plan. Vicar Niketas obliged.

“Right,” Vicar Niketas began. “Everybody here is staying on their current assignments except Agamemnon. He will now be spying on Despot Stephanos of Achaea.”

“Why?” Agamemnon asked.

“Because Oriens is probably lost to us already,” Vicar Niketas said. “And also Despot Stephanos is not somebody who I trust, and I need to ensure that he doesn’t switch sides. I would also like to ensure that I know if the Despot of Achaea has surrendered.”

“Right,” Vicar Niketas said. “Now that that’s explained, can I move on?”

“Yes,” Alexios said. He glared at everybody else, daring them to disagree. No one did. “Go on.”

“Okay,” Vicar Niketas said. “We already have troops in Moesia and northern Thrace. We will have our European allies reinforce that position.”

“Wait,” Agamemnon interjected. “I thought we weren’t trying to take Constantinople. Why would we choose Moesia and northern Thrace as places to make stands if we aren’t attempting to capture the Queen of Cities?”

“For one thing, we’re trying to make them think that we are trying to capture Constantinople,” Alexios explained. “If we can distract them from our actual goal, our plan will be easier to pull off. Also, Moesia and northern Thrace are important for reasons other than their proximity to Constantinople. Or, at least, that’s my guess.”

“You’re right,” Vicar Niketas said. “The reason why Moesia and northern Thrace are important even though we aren’t trying to take the Queen of Cities is relatively simple. Moesia and northern Thrace are the territories that connect the western and eastern portions of the Empire. If we take them, communication with other coalition members will become much easier. In addition, the Eastern Roman Empire will have a much harder time communicating across its vast length.”

“Anyways,” Vicar Niketas began. “The plan is to put the efforts of the coalition’s members in the western Empire into taking Moesia and northern Thrace. Meanwhile, the coalition’s eastern members - at this point mostly just portions of Anatolia - will make a last stand in Anatolia. We assume that Oriens will defect from the coalition. Any questions?”

Nobody responded. “Then, the meeting is dismissed,” Vicar Niketas said. Alexios left to go do his part.
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Scheming, Part 2
Alexios had done some more spying in the Queen of Cities. Unfortunately, despite the information he’d gotten, the coalition was still doing terribly. The coalition was on the verge of collapse. Thankfully, Vicar Niketas had called another Inner Council meeting, so they could discuss what went wrong and try to fix it.

Alexios got back to Sinope as soon as he could. The coalition was in really dire straits, and that needed to be fixed.

“What news does everybody have?” the Vicar of Pontus asked everybody.

Everybody began to talk at once. It was very chaotic. Vicar Niketas sighed. Alexios figured that he was bemoaning not having been more specific.

“Okay,” Vicar Niketas said. “Agamemnon, you first.”

“Despot Stephanos of Achaea got himself captured in battle,” Agamemnon said. “As such, Achaea is probably lost to our coalition. Of course, if we do manage to gain independence, that will be a good thing, as we won’t have to deal with his ambitions. He did want Ionia, which we also wanted.”

“The problem is that that means that our position is much worse,” Vicar Niketas commented. “Georgios, how are things in Persia?”

“Well, they’re still going to invade Anatolia no matter who wins this war,” Georgios answered. “That being said, they are apparently somewhat worried about the Hephthalites on their eastern border. This is good news for us, as it means that they probably won’t launch a full invasion of Anatolia. If we manage to win this war, our post-war position should be fine.”

“Well, at least there’s some good news,” Vicar Niketas grumbled. He then spoke louder, “Alexios, what’s your news?”

“We’ve pretty much lost all of Moesia and northern Thrace,” Alexios began. “In addition, almost all of the coalition members in the western half of the Eastern Roman Empire were fighting there. In essence, the coalition in the western half of the Empire is utterly destroyed.”

“Does anybody know about the situation in Oriens?” the Vicar of Pontus asked.

“Yes,” Alexios answered. “They surrendered. They got slightly better terms than if they had fought on to the bitter end. By the way, weren’t we going to make a stand in Anatolia? Have we done that yet?”

“No, we haven’t made our stand yet,” Vicar Niketas answered. “Why do you ask?”

“Okay, where are we going to make our stand?” Alexios wondered. “Also, the Love of Death died at Serdica.”

“While that is good news,” Vicar Niketas said. “It is most likely too little, too late.”

“You think that we’ve lost,” Alexios said, flatly. “Why do you still fight on, then?”

For a moment, there was silence. Finally, the Vicar of Pontus answered. “Death before dishonor,” he said. “Also, surrender might well lead to a fate worse than death. Emperor Longinus’s mercy is very cruel.”

“Okay,” Georgios said, “But we’re getting off topic. Alexios asked a good question. Where are we making our stand? Indeed, given how dire our situation is, where will the coalition’s last stand be?”

Vicar Niketas sighed. “Miletus,” he answered.

“Um, why?” Agamemnon asked. “That city has… bad luck with rebellions.”

The Vicar of Pontus rolled his eyes. “The city’s not cursed,” he said. “And the rebellion you’re referring to happened almost a millennium ago.”

“That still doesn’t explain why it’s a good idea to make a last stand there,” Alexios pointed out. “What’s the strategic point of making our last stand there?”

“For one thing, Miletus is in Ionia,” Vicar Niketas answered. “It shows that we have won some victories in this war, so our troops can take solace in that. Also, Miletus is at the mouth of a river.”

“And why does that help us?” Alexios asked. “The Empire has complete control of the sea. They have naval dominance.”

“Their naval dominance doesn’t matter much,” Vicar Niketas answered. “Our enemies will still have to move their troops via ship. That gives us forewarning. Also, I’m putting an army at Nikomedia.”

“That’s an… interesting strategy,” Alexios commented. “On the bright side, it does mean that Anatolia is unlikely to be captured.”

“You’re forgetting that they control Oriens,” Agamemnon pointed out. “If you’re trying to make our realm a fortress, we need to defend our southern border.”

“Yes,’ Vicar Niketas mused. “You’re right. Let’s do that.”

“This plan is absolutely insane,” Georgios commented. “That being said, it might be insane enough to work. And if it does work, then we will have won. The coalition’ll have lost, but the coalition was just a means to an end.”

“So, we have a plan,” Vicar Niketas said. “This meeting is over.”

For months, this plan actually worked. Then, Emperor Longinus loaded many ships with troops, sailed into the Sea of Marmara, sailed north into the Black Sea, and unloaded the troops. Alexios soon realized that half of them marched to Sinope, while the other half marched south. He figured out that they were going to attack the army in Miletus. Alexios realized that his side had lost.

Alexios decided to consult with his brother, Leonidas, on what to do. He went to his house, as he was in the Queen of Cities, anyways. He had trailed the fleet for a brief while, but he’d returned to Constantinople once he had figured out where the fleet was heading. Normally, he would have called an Inner Council meeting and told them what he’d learned, but telling somebody that they were screwed wouldn’t make them any less screwed. He wasn’t going to waste his time like that.
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, A Discussion Amongst Family
Alexios got to his brother’s house, and he knocked on the door. His brother quickly answered. Leonidas sighed. “Come in,” he said.

Leonidas had apparently decided that they should talk over lunch. Alexios didn’t complain. In all honesty, he was hungry.

“What’s up?” Leonidas asked. “Did you blow your cover?”

“No,” Alexios answered. “Wait, how do you know I even have a cover?”

“I’m your brother,” he answered, rolling his eyes. “I knew that you were acting weird. Also, you just confirmed it. I’m assuming you were spying for the Vicar of Pontus?”

“Yes,” Alexios replied. “We have family in Sinope.”

“I know,” Leonidas responded. “Unfortunately, you also somewhat implied to the Emperor. Even if most of that was a lie, the best lies always include elements of the truth.”

Both siblings were quiet for a while. All they did was eat. Finally, Alexios asked the question that he’d come here to ask.

“What should I do, then?” Alexios wondered. “Should I confess, or? The rebellion’s basically doomed.”

“What makes you think that the rebellion’s doomed?” Leonidas asked.

“Many things,” Alexios answered. “Even the Vicar of Pontus thinks his rebellion is doomed, honestly. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he’s about to surrender. Anyway, the coalition against the Emperor - which had existed across the entire Eastern Roman Empire - is now reduced to most of Anatolia. There was a defensive line to protect what’s left, but that’s been bypassed.”

Leonidas took a moment to digest that. “That’s a lot,” he said. “First of all, why won’t Vicar Niketas surrender if he knows he’s doomed? Secondly, what’s up with this ‘defensive line’?”

Alexios took a deep breath, and he thought of how to answer that. Technically, he shouldn’t be telling anyone about this, but he needed the advice. Also, he could trust his brother - he wouldn’t tell anyone about what got discussed here.

“Last meeting, Vicar Niketas said - and I’m quoting this - ‘death before dishonor’,” Alexios began. “And he believes surrender would be dishonorable. I don’t share this opinion, by the way, and I’m wondering how I can surrender in such a way that won’t result in my execution. As for your second question, the plan was to make a last stand at Miletus. Also, there’s an army at Nikomedia and multiple armies defending the southern border.”

Leonidas blinked. “That’s one defensive line,” he commented. “How was that bypassed? There wasn’t a battle or I’d know.”

“The Emperor literally ferried his men near Sinope, but far enough that very few knew it was happening,” Alexios explained. “He got tens of thousands of men this way. Half of this army is besieging Sinope, while the other is en route to Miletus. On another note, what should I do about the whole ‘I’m probably about to get executed’ thing?”

There was a long silence, as Leonidas pondered on how he should answer that question.

“Why can’t you just confess?” Leonidas asked. “To the Emperor, I mean.”

“Confess what?” Alexios asked. “That I was spying on him for his enemies? How is that supposed to get me out of being executed? It seems like a great way of committing effective suicide.”

“Yes,” Leonidas said, rolling his eyes. “And it isn’t committing suicide. As long as you promise not to spy on him, you should be fine. He won’t trust you because the Imperial Throne doesn’t trust anyone. But you’ll be fine.”

“How exactly will I be fine? Define ‘fine’?” Alexios snapped.

“You’ll be alive,” Leonidas responded. “Look, the fact that you did decently well on spying on him, but you know when you’re beat is good. You could spy for the Emperor - which basically secures an automatic pardon. Also, Emperor Longinus isn’t stupid - it’s possiblr that you’ve already been caught.”

Alexios sighed. “Okay, you make a compelling argument,” he said. “I’ll give it a try. Thanks for the advice.”

Alexios left. He had some confessions to make. He’d do it. He needed his family to be safe, and, the way things were going, they wouldn’t be.
  • 1Love
Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, In The Eye of a Hurricane, There Is Quiet
Alexios scheduled a meeting with the Emperor to make his confession. The meeting was going to be after the rebellion was defeated, whenever that was. It was to be at the Hippodrome because, apparently, even the Emperor of Eastern Rome needed to relax once in a while.

Alexios sighed. He would take his brother’s advice, but that didn’t do much to get rid of his worry. He was going to confess because he didn’t really have another choice. The coalition was on its last legs. If he didn’t confess, and Emperor Longinus figured out that he had been spying for the coalition… well, let’s just say he didn’t want to know what his fate would be like. He would either be executed or subjugated to a fate worse than death. He had no desire to find out just how cruel the Imperial Throne’s mercy could be.

He needed to rest. Spying was surprisingly tiring, and, perhaps, some rest would help with his worries about the confession. As he would soon learn, going to sleep was a mistake.

His dreams were horrible. He saw a flame that began in Arabia. From there, it burned. It burned across much of the Empire. Eventually, it was stopped, but, by that time, a lot of the world had become desert. “Prepare yourself,” a voice whispered. “And remember that nothing lasts forever. Even Constantinople will burn eventually.”

He woke in a cold sweat. He looked at the sky. He saw a beautiful sunset. He blinked. He was still very tired. He went back to sleep, and nightmares haunted his dreams once more.

He saw his family executed. He saw Sinope and Constantinople burning. Soon, all that was left of those two cities was dust and ash. He saw a peaceful world, but only desert and ocean remained in it. Briefly, he wondered if a peaceful desert was better than a paradise filled with war. He dismissed the thought. It was just a dream… wasn’t it? But, if these were just dreams… why could he think in them?

He wondered if they were more than just dreams. He wondered if they were visions. But, if they were visions, why did they feel so much like memories of days long past?

The rebellion was defeated soon enough. Finally, the time came when Alexios was to meet with Emperor Longinus. Some of his worry had gone away, but he was still very worried.

He arrived at the Hippodrome. He sat next to the Emperor, who was not making a big deal of watching the games. Hmm, the Emperor could actually be subtle. That was good to know.

“I’m aware that you asked to meet with me for a reason,” Emperor Longinus told him. “But, first, I’ll bet you that the Blues will win.”

“Deal,” Alexios said. “The Greens are so going to win this. So, when can we start the conversation I want to start?”

“Soon,” the Emperor said.

They turned to watch the race. The Blues were winning at first. At first, both men were watching very intently, but both soon grew bored. They decided to start the conversation then.

“I assume you have a confession,” Emperor Longinus said offhandedly.

“How did you know?” Alexios asked. He was sure that he’d been relatively subtle. He wondered exactly when the Emperor had figured him in. Actually, he was not sure that the Emperor knew. He might’ve just been attempting to get on Alexios’s nerves. If so, it was working. Acting like you knew something that you didn’t was a very effective technique in figuring stuff out.

Emperor Longinus smiled. “Well, for one thing, you just confirmed it,” he said. “Also, your cover story wasn’t that great. In addition, I did have a spy in the Vicar of Pontus’s court.”

Right. Emperor Longinus was well versed in the ways of the shadows. He knew to be on the lookout for spies. He was in no way surprised that Alexander was a spy. The entire Inner Council had suspected that, Vicar Niketas most of all.

“Yes, I was spying for the coalition - or, more specifically, Vicar Niketas,” Alexios admitted. “The coalition is dead now, though, and I was never completely on board with Vicar Niketas’s idea of independent Anatolia, anyway.”

“Why did you support him, then?” Emperor Longinus asked.

“I have family in Sinope,” Alexios said. “Admittedly, I have family in Constantinople, too. However, you didn’t know about my family here, and Vicar Niketas did know about my family in Sinope. He knew how to keep my loyalty.”

“In simpler terms,” Emperor Longinus began. “He basically blackmailed you.”

“Well, he implied that he was willing to,” Alexios clarified. “But, yeah, pretty much. For the record, I would be willing to spy for you, if my family and I aren’t punished. My family didn’t even do anything except be related to me, but punishment by proxy is a thing that I’m perfectly aware of.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Emperor Longinus agreed. “We can talk about what you will be doing later.”

Both men turned their attention back to the races. The Greens had surpassed the Blues. The other teams were far behind them, as always. The chariot races were only ever a competition between the Blue team and the Green team, and everybody knew that.

“Looks like I’m winning,” Alexios commented. A few moments passed, as the Green horse crossed the finish line. “And I won.”

Emperor Longinus paid Alexios. “Let’s talk about your new job in the Imperial Palace,” he suggested. Alexios quickly agreed.

The Imperial Palace was luxurious, as always. For once, Alexios didn’t go to the dining room. It seemed as if they weren’t going to have a discussion over food, but Alexios figured that neither of them were hungry, anyways.

“I’m assuming that you have an assignment for me, then,” Alexios said.

“Yes,” Emperor Longinus said. “You are to spy on the barbarians in Italia. We need to figure out their plans, in order to more easily and quickly defeat them. The Sassanids are a target soon enough, as is Cherson. Interfering in our internal affairs is to be punished. Not yet, though.”

“Why not?” Alexios asked. “I’ll take the assignment, by the way.”

“Because, at the moment, we’re in the eye of the hurricane,” Emperor Longinus said. “A brief moment of peace in between all the fighting.”
  • 1Love
Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, For just a moment, a yellow sky
Alexios sat down. Emperor Longinus had decided to wait until the morning to clarify what, exactly, “spying on the barbarians in Italia” meant. Alexios had, therefore, decided to go home. He slept, and, thankfully, it was a dreamless sleep.

Emperor Longinus had told him to meet him around midday, so Alexios left almost as soon as he awoke. He was walking to the Imperial Palace, after all, and that would take a lot of time. Normally, he wouldn’t have bothered, but this was a necessary meeting. He needed to know the specifics of his mission. If he didn’t, how would he complete it?

Emperor Longinus invited him into the Imperial Palace’s dining room. That meant that they were going to discuss his mission over lunch. Admittedly, Alexios was hungry, so he was fine with this.

For a while, they ate in silence. It seemed as if neither man wanted to speak first. Finally, Alexios broke the silence.

“So,” he began. “Specifics on this mission to the ‘Kingdom of Italy’?”

“Right,” Emperor Longinus said. “First of all, Odoacer controls much of the former provinces of Italia, Dalmatia, Pannonnia, and Raetia. We want to retake these provinces, but we can’t do it all at once. That would overextend our troops too much. However, divida et impera is a good strategy. I want you to observe Odoacer’s court.”

“Why do I have to be at Odoacer’s court, though?” Alexios asked. “Not to be disrespectful, but what is the strategic reasoning for knowing how the court of the ‘Kingdom of Italy’ works?”

“Good question,” Emperor Longinus answered. “Odoacer still has vassals. These vassals may not be entirely loyal to him. We could exploit this. And, even if his noble vassals are loyal to him, that doesn’t mean that his subjects are. We can figure out where dissent exists in Odoacer’s kingdom. We can encourage this dissent… as a way of distracting Odoacer, as a way of forcing Odoacer to divide his forces. In addition, it is likely that you can learn how Odoacer’s armies work.”

“That makes sense,” Alexios said. “But how will I know who to trust?”

Emperor Longinus smiled, but it was a cruel smile. “You don’t,” he said simply. “It is dangerous to walk in the shadows, but the most dangerous thing someone who walks in the shadows can do is to trust.”

“Then, how do you know that I can trust you?” Alexios asked the Emperor. “How do I know where the shadows end, and where the light begins?”

“You can’t,” Emperor Longinus murmured. “And you don’t. The shadows are everywhere. At the moment, however, we share common goals. You can almost always trust people with common goals… as long as they continue to share your goals.”

“Okay,” Alexios commented. “That makes sense. I suppose I shall get started with my mission now… and I will remember that the truth lies.”

“You understand, I see,” Emperor Longinus said. “And, from one man to another, we aren’t actually that different. I do care about my family. They will be safer in a united world, so that is what we shall create… eventually. As such, here’s a word of advice. There will be a reckoning.”

Alexios didn’t respond to that. He didn’t need to. He understood exactly what the Emperor was trying to say, and he even agreed with it somewhat. He left to begin his mission.
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Advice on the Infiltration
Alexios sighed. He was going to need a way to justify his being in Italian territory. Hmm… Emperor Longinus hadn’t told him how to do this, but, to be fair, he hadn’t asked. He did have experience going undercover, so, perhaps, the Emperor figured that he didn’t need to provide Alexios with a justification. Actually, if Alexios was being completely honest, he could come up with a justification, but he would need time and rest. He was tired, as he had been mulling over how he should go about his mission since his meeting was over.

Sleeping was a good idea, as it turned out. His dreams were surprisingly unconnected. He saw burning cities again, and he was worried about that, as that had become a recurring nightmare, but he also saw deserts. Interestingly, he also saw an oasis drying up, but, soon, the desert that the oasis was in became a lush forest. He wondered if any of that was symbolic when he awoke. Then, he quickly realized that he had more important things to worry about.

Then, he had an idea. He could ask his brother for advice. In addition, that would also allow him to catch up with family matters.

He decided to give Leonidas some prior warning. That probably wasn’t necessary, if he was being completely honest, but it would allow him to get answers sooner.

Leonidas invited him in. They began to eat dinner, and they sat in silence for a while.

Leonidas started the conversation. “Okay, so, first of all, I told you that you said too much when you first met the Emperor,” he began. “But that worked out fine, apparently, probably because you took my advice. Anyways, what do you want advice on?”

“Okay, you actually didn’t tell me that after my first meeting with Emperor Longinus, at least not directly. Secondly, the Emperor has assigned me a mission to infiltrate Odoacer’s court.”

Leonidas smiled. “It seems as if the Emperor is moving to free more oppressed Romans from barbarian rule. While I would prefer it if he was quicker about it, it is a good cause, so I’ll offer you advice.”

Alexios frowned. He had just realized something. “Wait, how do you know these things, anyways? It’s not like you’re a spy.”

Leonidas smirked. “I read many things,” he commented. “You’d be surprised at the wealth of information you could find in books. Also, how do you know I’m not a spy? I’m not spying on you, sure, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a spy in general… I’m not saying I am a spy, either.”

That actually made sense to Alexios, and so he waited. He waited until Leonidas was ready to give him advice. Until then, both of them ate dinner in peace and silence. Finally, Leonidas began to give his advice.

“I’ve thought over this for a while, now,” Leonidas began. “And I think I know how you can infiltrate Odoacer’s court. You can pretend as if you want revenge for the coalition’s failure. Offer Odoacer false information, but make sure it seems true. Get Odoacer to trust you.”

Alexios frowned. “But, if I do that, why would he let me into his court?”

“What do you mean?” Leonidas asked.

“Well, I’m trying to infiltrate the court of Odoacer’s kingdom,” Alexios pointed out. “The court, as in their bureaucracy and nobility. Your suggestion would allow me to get into Odoacer’s good graces, yes, but he would probably have me be a military advisor. That wouldn’t help - indeed, it might actively harm - my mission. As such, do you have any other advice?”

“As a matter of fact,” Leonidas said. “I do. You could say that you want revenge, still, but act as if you are worried about his nobles’ possible disloyalty. Suggest that the nobles could easily be loyal to foreign powers. He would let you into his court, then.”

“I suppose he would,” Alexios mused. “That is a good suggestion, indeed. While Odoacer believes I am watching his vassals for disloyalty, I will actually encourage dissent amongst both the nobles and the commoners. However, I will do so subtly, such that it would be extraordinarily difficult for Odoacer to trace it back to me.”

The two siblings had finished eating, by this point. Both were focusing on the conversation. “Yes,” Leonidas said. “This is a very good plan. It will ensure that the Roman Empire will soon control Rome itself once more.”

Inwardly, Leonidas smiled. His allies would be very pleased with this new development. All of his allies. Alexios was unaware of his plots in the shadows, but that was just how it was. Alexios was barely even aware of the shadows. He knew almost nothing about what lurked inside of them. That would probably change soon enough.

Alexios, however, knew nothing of Leonidas’s thoughts. “May Rome’s glory be restored,”

“Indeed,” Leonidas agreed. “May Rome’s glory be restored, and may it never fall again.”
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, More On How To Rule This Empire
Emperor Longinus knew that his death approached. He predicted that he may live for a couple more years, at the most. The succession was secure, he knew. Prince Justinian knew many things about how the Eastern Roman Empire should be run, but he didn’t know everything. Emperor Longinus needed to tell him a few things before he perished. Justinian needed to know, to remember what was necessary and what was allowed.

He asked his son to meet him in private. He would give his wisdom then. He would ensure that Prince Justinian remembered his lessons - and that he learned that which Emperor Longinus had not yet taught. The world was cruel, so it was their job to make it kinder.

Prince Justinian entered the room. “So,” he began. “Is this another lesson on how to rule the Roman Empire?”

Emperor Longinus smiled. His son was learning. He knew why he had been called. Hopefully, he remembered the other lessons. He says none of this. Instead, he answers, “Indeed. First of all, who can you trust?”

“No one,” Prince Justinian answers. “Even the truth lies.”

For a brief while, Emperor Longinus was silent. He knew that he had taught his son this, and, furthermore, he knew that it was true. But he wishes that this was a lie. He wished that he and his heirs could fully trust someone, but they cannot. He sighed. The world was a cruel and unforgiving place.

“Yes,” the Emperor responded. “That is true. Next question, what do the shadows hide?”

Prince Justinian hesitated, and, then, he answered, “the shadows conceal many things. The main things are plots, but organizations also hide in them.”

Emperor Longinus smiled. His son was learning things quite well. However, his answer did raise one question. “How do you know of the organizations in the shadows?”

Prince Justinian frowned. “Why? Am I not supposed to?”

Emperor Longinus shook his head. “The fact that you know is fine. I’m just curious as to where you learned that fact. After all, I did not tell you of it.”

Prince Justinian relaxed. “I was in the room during some of your interactions with your messenger. I heard about organizations lurking in the shadows, and I decided to do some subtle research. That is how I know.”

Emperor Longinus smiled. This information actually immensely shortened this lesson. Regardless, he needed to continue the lesson, so he asked, “what was permitted?”

Prince Justinian sighed before responding, simply, “Whatever is necessary. We can’t give up on peace. And, if we must make a desert to achieve peace, then that is what we will do. Even a peaceful desert is better than a bloody forest. Personally, he don’t want it to come to that”

“Neither do I,” the Emperor responded. “But it may occur anyway. That would be a tragedy, but it would still be better than the alternative.”

There was silence for a brief while. Finally, the Heir to the Imperial Throne spoke, “Most of this I already knew. Perhaps, we could get started on new advice, such as who our first targets should be, or, perhaps, how to deal with traitors?”

“You may not agree with my advice on those topics, as you don’t agree with me on how to treat people who have outlived their immediate usefulness,” Emperor Longinus pointed out. “But, sure, I’ll give it.”

“First of all,” he began. “We are currently preparing for war against Odoacer’s so-called Kingdom of Italy. However, this is a minor war. If I die before it is won, don’t resume it immediately. I have found evidence that the Goths in Cherson were aiding the coalition against us. That is a casus belli. In addition, it is likely that the Sassanids will attack when they believe that we are vulnerable, and we will seem vulnerable during your coronation. Prepare for war against them.”

“And then what should I do?” Prince Justinian asked.

“Then, you wait,” Emperor Longinus responded. “Defeat any internal unrest however you would prefer and train your armies. The realms near us will most likely feel threatened by us. This will encourage them to make pacts against us. Wait until these realms no longer fear us as they did. Then, you strike.”

“Very well,” Prince Justinian responded. “And how should I deal with traitors?”

“I simply imprison them,” Emperor Longinus responded. “But you can deal with them however you want.”
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, War Approaches Once More
Alexios smiled. His mission was going well. Odoacer didn’t fully trust him, but he had let him into the court of his kingdom. He probably figured that he could catch Alexios in the act if he was fomenting dissent. Ha! Alexios wasn’t stupid. He wouldn’t foment dissent in a way that could be traced back to him.
Alexios began recruiting people dissatisfied with Odoacer’s rule to his side. However, he did so subtly - they wouldn’t realize that he was the mastermind behind this until he firmly knew that they shared goals.

He knew that some of Odoacer’s vassals wanted a greater degree of independence. He privately talked with them. He suggested that the best way to achieve this was by forcing Odoacer to lower his authority at swordpoint. This would be good for Alexios because it would lower the amount of troops Odoacer could call upon when the Eastern Roman Empire finally attacked him. However, Alexios encouraged the conspirators to delay. He was relatively sure that the Empire would win, and he knew they were only going for Dalmatia. The war for Italia would come later.

In addition, he told Odoacer that the vassals were already planning a revolt, and he had simply talked them into delaying it. A lot of that was true, so Odoacer believed it. Therefore, Odoacer trusted him more, which meant that he could get away with more.

Alexios, however, also noted that many people in Italia proper wished to return to the days when they were ruled by Romans, and not by barbarians. If Rome was to invade Italia, they would have many people who would want to support them. In addition, once Italia was conquered, they wouldn’t face much resistance to their new rule. Many Italians still remembered Roman rule. After all, it hadn’t been a generation since the Western Empire fell.

Alexios had many plans, but few had come to pass. Regardless, his mission was going well.

Meanwhile, Philip led the Legio IV Italica. He wanted revenge on Odoacer. Yes, he had gotten to defeat “Italy”, but he didn’t yet have his full revenge. The revenge hadn’t been fulfilling, of course, but Philip wished that the various Roman subjects in Italia proper were freed from barbarian rule.

To have this goal be achieved, he scheduled a meeting with Emperor Longinus. He would suggest an invasion of Odoacer’s kingdom then. Hopefully, the Emperor would listen.

Emperor Longinus agreed to meet. He was willing to listen to what Philip had to say. That was good news.

The meeting began with Emperor Longinus wondering what Philip wanted to talk about.
“I have a suggestion,” Philip said.

Emperor Longinus moved his hand forward in a “go on” gesture.

“Many Italians suffer under the rule of the barbarian Odoacer,” he began. “They do not appreciate being under barbarian rule. They wish they were ruled by civilized Romans…”

“So,” Emperor Longinus began. “Basically, you’re saying that we should invade Odoacer’s so-called ‘Kingdom of Italy’.”

“Yes,” Philip confirmed.

“I’m already preparing for an invasion of Odoacer’s realm,” Emperor Loginus responded. “However, my death approaches, so I am not aiming to conquer Italia proper yet. My son and heir, Prince Justinian, shall do that. Rest assured, however, that Italia will be under proper Roman rule soon enough.”

“Thank you,” Philip responded. “That is good news.”
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Preparations for a new war
Emperor Longinus smiled. His plans were going well. Soon, the war with Odoacer would begin. The Emperor knew that Odoacer could be sneaky, and, therefore, that his immediate victory was not assured.

However, that didn’t matter. This war was to thin Odoacer’s armies and to break his morale. He didn’t even need to gain territory from it, as Odoacer would lose Italia to his son in due time. Justinian would be remembered as an even greater conqueror than Emperor Longinus himself.

The Emperor knew that his empire was mostly secure. Most threats to its unity were destroyed or neutralized, and those that weren’t were cowed. Emperor Longinus had successfully made an example of the coalition. There wouldn’t be any more revolts for a while.

As such, the Emperor could dedicate all of his time to preparing for war against foreign foes, even if those wars will not occur in his lifetime. Emperor Longinus can be patient. When it suits his goals, the Emperor can be very patient indeed. After all, it is said that the Imperial Throne has a mind of its own, and that wants the Roman Empire to be mighty…

Meanwhile, Philip was preparing his troops. Many of them longed to fight against Odoacer once more. This was for varying reasons. Some felt that they had not gotten sufficient revenge against Odoacer during the earlier wars against him. Others (like Philip) wanted to liberate good Roman citizens from barbarian rules. The extreme minority just wanted to fight for the sake of fighting, and they didn’t care about who they fought.

However, Philip was worried. He knew that his legion wouldn’t betray the Empire, but he couldn’t say that of the other legions. Actually, officially, the only two legions under the Emperor’s direct authority were his legion, the Legio IV Italica, and the Legio I Armeniaca. The Vicar of Pontus had two legions under his authority, but the ruler of Pontus had revolted against the Emperor before. They couldn’t be certain that he would provide aid, and, even if he did, trusting said aid would be stupid.

As such, the expedition into Dalmatia would likely consist of an army containing the Legio IV Italica and the Legio I Armeniaca. If they were lucky, or if the Emperor cared about this campaign a lot, Demetrius’s (or, rather, Anastasios’s, considering Demetrius was dead) army would aid the expedition. However, the Emperor had made it clear to Philip - in private - that this particular campaign was more of a distraction. Odoacer would expect a full scale attack, but Emperor Longinus wouldn’t launch one.

Anyway, Philip and his legion were, therefore, extremely likely to be in a single unit with the Legio I Armeniaca during the invasion of Odoacer’s realm. Philip didn’t trust the Legio I Armeniaca, and he was pretty sure Emperor Longinus didn’t, either. If Emperor Longinus distrusted the Legio I Armeniaca, then having them serve with another legion in a war that was fighting on the other side of the Empire made sense - especially since the war was meant as a distraction.

How did Philip know that his legion was going to be serving alongside the Armeniaca? Simple. Emperor Longinus wouldn’t risk raising a large army for a diversion, and he wouldn’t waste money or favors on paying for the services of Anastasios’s army. However, the Emperor had told Philip that he would be serving with another army during the war in a letter and that said army wasn’t the Eastern Scholae Palatinae, which were busy defending the Empire’s eastern border.
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, The Invasion of Dalmatia
Philip was walking to the Dalmatian lands. Emperor Longinus had declared his war against Odoacer, and two legions (the other one was the Legio I Armeniaca, as he’d predicted) were marching to confront the army of Odoacer.

Soon, they arrived in Roman Dalmatia, and the border was crossed without opposition. Philip frowned. Odoacer should’ve sent at least a token force to fight them. The fact that he hadn’t implied that he had something planned.

The two legions marched across Dalmatia, where they faced minimal resistance. Finally, they arrived in Dalmatia’s northern mountains. While they were tired from all the marching, one of Odoacer’s armies finally arrived. The Eastern Roman army was forced to stand and fight, as the first move the barbarian army made was to block their retreat.

However, Philip realized that this was a good thing. Sure, his army couldn’t retreat, but that also meant that the opposing army didn’t have as many troops. Philip decided to order his legion to attack the center that was blocking their movement to Italia proper.

At first, Odoacer’s army held. However, as the Legio IV Italica pushed forward, the barbarian army gradually began to falter. Ultimately, the barbarian center would collapse. This allowed the two legions to focus on defeating the army behind them. Philip decided to do this by having the Legio IV Italica move forward. Leo, who was still commanding the Legio I Armeniaca, decided to have all of his troops turn around and attack the remaining barbarian forces head on.

Philip and the Legio IV Italica managed to successfully move forward, and, then, they turned around. They moved behind the army that had previously blocked their retreat. Then, they attacked. The barbarian forces were now the ones being forced to fight on two fronts. They held on until nightfall, which was when both armies retired to their tents. The Eastern Romans were winning in this battle, and Philip could not help but feel that Odoacer was planning something…

All such thoughts had abandoned Philip’s mind when the battle resumed. Both of the Roman legions attacked the barbarian center. Under assault from two different directions, it couldn’t hold. After that, most of the barbarian troops simply wanted to make it out of the battle alive. They retreated east, where no legions challenged them. A few attempted to retreat west, but the Romans quickly covered their western escape route.

From the west, they could return to Odoacer, while, from the east, their return to their home kingdom would be extremely difficult. Very few ever made it back to their homes. The Battle in the Dalmatian Mountains had destroyed a great portion of Odoacer’s armies, and so Emperor Longinus’s goals in the war were met. However, once one has a victory, one must press their advantage, and that is exactly what the two legions did. They advanced into Pannonia.

The two legions would decide to rest in Siscia, whose garrison surrendered without a fight. They figured that they could advance into Italia proper once Pannonia was captured, but they needed a base in Pannonia. The two commanders of the legions decided that Siscia could serve as that base.

“The invasion of Odoacer’s lands was going extremely well,” Philip thought. “Something is going to go wrong. I can feel it.”
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, Treason
At first, nothing went wrong. From Siscia, the two legions launched a whirlwind campaign. Soon, almost all of Pannonia was under Eastern Roman occupation. Philip began to plan for an attack on Raetia, but, somehow, he knew that it would never be executed. Philip still had a bad feeling about the entire campaign, almost as if it is a test.

Everything had been much too easy. It was well known that Odoacer valued his kingdom, so he should have sent more troops to defend it. Philip had a feeling that this was a trap. If that was the case, though, why had the trap not been sprung?

Philip shut his eyes and went to sleep. Worrying about what could go wrong would get him nowhere. It was possible he was just being paranoid. As Philip lay sleeping, he dreamed. He dreamed of legions fighting against other legions.

When Philip awoke, most of the Legio I Armeniaca, led by their commander, Leo, threw the knife. They turned on their former comrades. They attacked while both legions were in Siscia. Philip sighed. He’d known that there was likely going to be a betrayal, but he hadn’t really prepared for it. That mistake would cost him dearly.

Then, Philip frowned. Wait, why was most of the Legio I Armeniaca betraying the Eastern Roman Empire? And, furthermore, why wasn’t the entire legion in on the betrayal? Some members of the Armeniaca were now fighting against those that they had previously served with. Why was that?

Dusk occurred. Neither the loyalists nor the traitors wished to fight during the night. They both retired to rest. However, both sides knew that the battle was far from over. Indeed, neither side seemed to have an advantage so far.

As everybody else went to sleep, Philip contemplated his options. As neither side was winning the fight, he didn’t know what might be needed. It was possible the loyalists would triumph on their own. The alternative was to write the Emperor asking for more troops. However, any troops would have to get to the border and cross all of Odoacer’s portion of Dalmatia and part of Pannonia. That could take months.

If it did take months, it wouldn’t affect the battle at all, although the reinforcing troops hypothetically could avenge his troops if they lost. There probably wouldn’t be enough troops to actually continue the campaign against Odoacer. Philip decided that the extra troops could prove useful… and, if either side could hold out for months, decisive. He wrote a letter explaining the situation and asking for reinforcements to the Emperor.

Daybreak came, and the battle resumed. The traitorous majority of the Legio I Armeniaca was pushed back. It seemed as if the battle would end quickly. Then, Philip felt a sharp pain. He turned around and found a sword in his back.

“Great,” he thought. “Even some of my own legion have turned against me.” He knew why, of course. They had likely been bribed. Greed was a universal sin, and it could be easily exploited. Philip knew that this battle would be the destruction of two legions, but they could always be remade.

The battle lasted for a few more days. Philip managed to get close to Leo, the traitorous commander of a legion. He stabbed him in the back, and, then, he whispered, “such is and will be the fate of all traitors. Greed will get you killed”. Leo’s response was simply, “men should not play the role of gods”.

Philip would be wounded by an arrow soon after, but the damage was done. Most of the traitorous legionnaires were killed or taken prisoner. Those that weren’t fled east. Finally, Philip received a letter.

Inwardly, he thought that this response was a little late, but he took it. He read it, knowing that this would probably be his last act - the wound he had received was fatal. The letter contained two sentences: “The Emperor is dead. Long live the Emperor!”. Philip took that as a denial, and, then, he perished.
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Part 1: The War In The Shadows, Chapter 3: Be All My Sins Remember'd, An Emperor's Death
Emperor Longinus knew that his death was near. He went over letters from numerous people, attempting to get as much administrative work as he could out of the way before he died. However, he called many of his allies. He needed to ensure that his alliances lasted after his death. His son knew how to run the Empire, of course - he’d been trained for that. But the succession wasn’t completely dealt with, and Emperor Longinus needed it to be by the time of his death.

Suddenly, he noticed a letter from Philip, who was supposed to be campaigning in Odoacer’s lands. It told him that most of the Legio I Armeniaca had turned on the Empire. Emperor Longinus was somewhat relieved by this. He’d known that Odoacer was likely going to bribe legions sent against him. He figured that some members of the Legio IV Italica were also traitors. Regardless, the loyalist remnants of those legions could be used to remake them. He’d let his son deal with that. As such, his reply was simply, “The Emperor is dead. Long live the Emperor!”. That would be true by the time the letter reached Pannonia.

He invited multiple people to the Imperial Palace. These people were people that he used to help run the Empire. He would introduce them to his heir and secure the succession. He would also give advice to Prince Justinian on his deathbed. This would be his last advice to his heir.

Once he had sent out the letters, he settled down to wait for his allies to arrive. He was on the verge of death, yes, but he could still live for a month or slightly more. He would live as long as he needed to live to get the succession prepared for, and, then, he would finally die. He would finally rest.

His son was the first person to arrive at the Imperial Palace. That was expected. He was in Constantinople, and his small private house was near the Palace. Emperor Longinus initiated the conversation, “Hello, my heir.”

Prince Justinian frowned. His father never called him “my heir”. “What’s the problem?” he asked.

Emperor Longinus sighed. “My death approaches. I have less than a year to live, and it is likely that I will live for merely a month. It is your time to assume the Imperial Throne.”

“Why are you telling me this now?” Prince Justinian asked. “The forewarning is good, of course, but you wouldn’t call me here just to warn me of when I was to assume the crown.”

“True enough,” the Emperor admitted. “I manage the Eastern Roman Empire through a number of allies. I called you here to meet them, although they haven’t arrived yet.”

The aforementioned allies - Alexios, Anastasios, and Alexander - arrived. “You are here,” the Emperor said. “That is good.”

“Why have you called us here, my liege?” Alexios asked.

“I am about to die,” Emperor Longinus responded. “You are here so that I may introduce you to my heir.”

“Right,” the Emperor began. He pointed to Anastasios. “This is Anastasios. He commands a private army. I advise you don’t piss him off.”
“Acknowledged,” Prince Justinian whispered into his father’s ears. “Who are the others?”

He pointed to Alexander and Alexios. “These men are Alexander, officially merely an Imperial messenger, but unofficially our liaison with those that dwell in the shadows, and Alexios, a good spy.”

Then, he whispered to his son, “Alexios’s loyalty is kept by keeping his family - which is split between Constantinople and Sinope - safe. He is currently spying on Odoacer for us.”

Emperor Longinus dismissed them and sent them back to whatever their current assignments were. Emperor Longinus shut his eyes and went to sleep.

He awoke the next morning to find that his son had stayed with him. He smiled, and he decided that he would advise his son with his last words.

“In your eyes, I see my sins,” Emperor Longinus began. “Be all my sins remember’d. Ensure that they cease to be necessary. Be as virtuous as you can in this dark world, my son. If we must be damned to hell to give our descendants paradise, then so be it. Remake Eden. Remember.”

Then, he shut his eyes once more, and he did not open them again.

Justinian wiped tears from his eyes and whispered, “I will”.
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Sorry, everyone. There won't be an update today. I'll try to have a long update tomorrow to make up for this, though.
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