The Black Cross

Discussion in 'The World Stage' started by Nicosia, Mar 14, 2019.

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  1. Nicosia

    Nicosia Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2006
    Messages:
    7,249
    Location:
    Midwest 'Merica
    Capital:
    Salema
    Nick:
    Fleur
    The sun had only just risen, bathing Nicosia’s almost exclusively limestone buildings in a warm light. A handful of buildings in the city of Zaros were whitewashed and a handful of modern office buildings rose with neither whitewash nor stone. Though not the capital, Zaros proved to be a de-facto secondary capital. It was here that the National Assembly met to discuss the issues. It was also in Zaros that most cabinet meetings took place. It was a mere 25 miles from the official capital- Salema. Once a year, the Grandmaster would sit down for the Deplanota- a dull and in-depth review of the Order’s finances. While he was regularly apprised of such a thing, the Grandmaster’s weekly briefings often lacked detail. The Knights of St. Basil had spent centuries in which it tended to the sick, the poor, and the faithful. However, over the centuries, the Order had inherited lands and funds from nobility- donated to the Order by the faithful. Shrewd investments in the 1950’s ensured that not only land was a source of revenue, but real estate as well. In major cities around the world, the Order had invested in properties from which they received the rent. The Grand Priories collected the rents, forwarding them to the Order’s coffers in Nicosia. This was kept almost entirely separate from Nicosia tax revenue. The Order used its money to invest in the nation but it was always a non-recurring investment such as the building of a park. The Order did not cover upkeep- the tax revenue would. The Deplanota was a tiring process of priories, Grand Priories, and noble incomes. The final amounts were satisfactory. Once the Order was hugely rich. Now, as the number of nobles declined and religious fervor began to subside, the Grandmaster was painfully aware that the Order’s future as sovereigns of an island nation had one, perhaps 2 generations left before the Order would be pushed from Nicosia. However, that time had not come yet.

    The Grandmaster was a crafty man. For nearly 30 years he had been in the senior leadership of the Order. He had met with nearly every world leader, every monarch, and every Pope. He had been a shrewd leader for almost 40 years. He had spent his life in service to the order. Now the time had come to shift the world. Dismissing the financial brothers, Grandmaster Philippe de Cassiere scowled as he shifted his gaze to a stack of papers he removed from a folder. The 15 hour work days were typical for the Grandmaster but had become less frequent. Yet, now he had to put them in. The Order would begin turning the wheels of Catholicism within the month.
     
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  2. Nicosia

    Nicosia Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2006
    Messages:
    7,249
    Location:
    Midwest 'Merica
    Capital:
    Salema
    Nick:
    Fleur
    The Order's reach was not insignificant. In every nation where Catholicism lived, the Order had its eyes and ears. The public face of the Order was largely its hospitals, homeless shelters, food banks, and other charitable works. It employed nearly 80,000 doctors, paramedics, and nurses. It further had at its grasp about 80,000 volunteers across the globe. This allowed the Order to not only maintain a strong public image, but a strong diplomatic one as well. All were managed in some way directly by the Order. Regions, consisting of several nations, were overseen by Grand Priors. Grand Priors were only the most dedicated- Knights of Justice- professed to live lives of chastity, poverty, and obedience lived life only for Christ and the Order. Grand Priors also oversaw the religious. The Order's countless chapels and monasteries were arrayed throughout Christendom. Many of the monasteries continued to secure lands that were potential emergency revenue for the Order. The chapels often were small and were dedicated to the more influential in countries. Yet, its churches were the artery to the people. Despite declining faith, the Order has over 100 churches at its disposal to not only spread the word of Christ, but also of the Order. In 17th century, these churches were important propaganda tools. Though, they still could be- the tools laying dormant for this purpose for 150 years.

    "This, this here" said the Grandmaster in a questioning manner, his eyesight failing. Only one person, his personal page, had suggested he wear his eyeglasses more often. After a fit of wrath, the page never brought it up again. "Why do we not have numbers since 2008?" asked the Philippe de Cassiere, the Grandmaster. His family had once been powerful nobles in Serenierre. After the revolution, the de Cassiere clan had been spread across the region. Now, he sat in plain cherrywood chair with no cushion staring at a simple sheet of paper for one of the Order's churches in Elben. "Why do we not have estimated yearly attendance?" he asked of Zacosta, one of the most senior Knights and potentially the next Grandmaster. "I do not know your Grace" he said with complete neutrality. It had been a day of pouring over figures and tables. The Grandmaster shifted papers. "This monastery just down the road from it has only 3 brothers! 3! Tell the Grand Prior to do a full audit of Elben. By God if he doesnt have one for me by the end of the month, I will see him in the monastery himself!" the Grandmaster said. Zacosta noted that though a brilliant politician and diplomat, the Grandmaster had become a curmudgeon in his old age. Cassiere was the oldest Grandmaster in some time. An octogenarian, Cassiere had all the experiences possible. He had served the Nicosian military, served as both Prior and Grand Prior, and had last been the First Grand Marshal. While the First Grand Marshal was largely ceremonial, it was both a mark of respect and trust. Zacosta watched as the Grandmaster held pages close to his face. As the Grandmaster got older, Zacosta had noticed that the Grandmaster's lips moved more and more- though silently, as he read. "Tell the Grand Priors I want wish a council with them next week" the Grandmaster said abruptly. He continued to scrutinize the papers and Zacosta accepted that as his cue to leave. He wondered what the Grandmaster had meant by calling the Grand Priors to council. It was indeed a rare event. Something was about to happen. Zacosta knew as much. But what, he had no idea.
     
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  3. Nicosia

    Nicosia Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2006
    Messages:
    7,249
    Location:
    Midwest 'Merica
    Capital:
    Salema
    Nick:
    Fleur
    Francisco Bolgaccio stood silent. One of the two formal guards inside the palace, he stood in his dark blue uniform, topped with a spotless white pith helmet. Pips of the Nicosian cross denoted his position as a Private and he sweated, trying to remember when the Grandmaster's Guard would transition to their far lighter khaki uniforms. At 19, he was hopeful that his conscripted service would go quickly. It was late, nearly 1 in the morning. In an hour he would be relieved. He glanced only with his eyes left and right. Seeing nobody in the long hall, he shook out his legs and rolled his neck. The national police guards would be conducting their rounds soon. At least he would have time to talk to them. Each night, knowing the uniformed guards could not move except on official business, the policemen would stop to chat for a few minutes- giving the bored and tired guards a respite. The Grandmaster's Palace was typical of what one might find in such an apostolic place. Salema was a small city of only a few thousand. While most government business happened only a few miles away in Zaros, Salema remained the seat of power. The weather had reached the 70's (F) and it was wholly pleasant to walk the streets even in the night. Phillipe de Cassiere, Grandmaster of the Order of St. Basil and Prince of the Church, had just wrapped up a lengthy briefing on foreign events and he had continued to work for a few moments in his office as the assembled knights left in haste to get sleep before Sunday services.

    The octogenarian Grandmaster walked through the courtyard, as he often did in late evenings. The courtyard, full of lemon trees would be aromatic in the summer. It was not quite totally private, the long gallery windows peaked out into the central expanse of the courtyard, where one of the uniform guards could gaze. The Grandmaster walked, clad in his light brown tweed suit, his eyes looking up at the trees, searching for signs of bloom. He heard a footstep. Thinking it was a policeman he continued. He sensed somebody in front of him. Looking down he saw a youngish man- clearly ethnically Nicosian in his opinion. The man's stare was blank. Something in the Grandmaster made his alarm bells ring. The two sat in silence, staring at one another. de Cassiere looked at the mans hand, seeing the knife. Only a meter divided them. The Grandmaster had no choice. He lunged at his would-be attacker. He felt the hot sting of the knife wind into this forearm. The old man pressed his weight onto the young man in a bear hug, the force of his lunge and grapple brought them both to the ground. He fell, unconsciously letting go of his attacker to break his fall. Though it was audible, the Grandmaster did not hear his wrist snap. Letting out a yell, he grasped his wrist for only a second before turning to see his attacker, also still on the ground. The attacker rolled and the Grandmaster felt the sting in his shoulder. As hard as he could, the Grandmaster used his good hand to punch the man. The attacker briefly appeared stunned. de Cassiere began to crawl back, knife still in his shoulder- blood pouring from the wound. His attacker was now on top of him, hands around his throat. The Grandmaster could only think of one thing as he struggled to break free. The attacker, face only inches from his, was sweating profusely. de Cassiere knew he had one chance. Again summoning as much might as he could, jammed a finger into the man's eye. The force was such that when he pulled his finger away, de Cassiere saw the man's eyeball leave its home. The attacker covered his face a shrieked.

    Bolgaccio had heard a muffled sound but he first thought it was only the police detail, completing their rounds around the palace. Then he heard the faint yell. His head turned to listen again. He looked up and down the gallery and out to the courtyard. He saw nothing. He took a step and was about to reach for the radio, perched on a decorative table nearby, when he heard the attacker's shriek. Bolgaccio knew it was from the courtyard. Leaving the radio, he sprinted. Coming into the courtyard he saw the Grandmaster laying on hit back and bloody and the attacker- on his knees with his hands covering his face. Bolgaccio had no ammunition for the ancient rifle he carried. Even the guards outside on the street in front of the palace only had a round each. He thought quickly. His bayonet was in its scabbard and there was no time. He flipped the rifle around and with all his strength brought the butt down squarely on the attacker's head. Out of breath, Bolgaccio began to scream for help as he knelt by the Grandmaster and ignored the massive pool of blood gathering around the attacker's head.
     
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  4. Nicosia

    Nicosia Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2006
    Messages:
    7,249
    Location:
    Midwest 'Merica
    Capital:
    Salema
    Nick:
    Fleur
    The Grandmaster's Palace now had harsher security. Soldiers in fatigues stood outside the gates next to the ceremonial guard. The police contingent inside had been tripled. Even the council had to go through a lengthy screening process to enter. Now they sat in the conference room. The Grandmaster drummed his fingers impatiently on the long table as the intelligence reports were read. "Cut to the bone, de la Torre" said the Grandmaster, annoyed. "Was this attack one spawned outside or not?" he asked. de la Torre breathed in heavily. He was not the intelligence chief but had been tasked with running the investigation. He was silent, not knowing how to answer with all eyes on him. Commander Joao de Freitas broke the tension. "Our sources have provided nothing. It does not mean that the attack did not originate from outside, but it is unlikely. The system would have heard something" de Freitas said, leaning back. The system was a reference to the intricate system of intelligence the Order had. Its ears and fingers were longer than most national entities. In every nation where Christianity was practiced or tolerated, the Order had sources. In places where religion was banned, lapsed or secret catholics often shuffled information through the Order's massive charity network. de Freitas leaned back forward and spread his hands on the table. "We know he had help getting into the Palace. Or we highly suspect it" he began as the discomfort in the room became plain. "This could be a plot by police for all we know. Any of the nationalist parties. After all, we are not wanted here" he concluded as nods erupted around the table. A thump interrupted it all as heads snapped. Pedro Zacosta's fist rested on the table. "You dont know that! This is conjecture. For God's sake, we have no evidence either way. We should be pooling our resources to ensure some foreign nation isnt trying to behead our Order!" he said. The Grandmaster nodded slowly. Zacosta had a point. The Order, while respected for its charitable works, was not well regarded as the caretaker of Nicosia's government. "Brother Pedro makes a case. We will continue to investigate both. I want to know everything about this assassin's family. Have them interrogated again" said the Grandmaster. Uncomfortable silence reigned in the room as heads turned from the Grandmaster to Zacosta. "His father was hanged quietly this morning" said Zacosta before sipping his tea
     
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  5. Nicosia

    Nicosia Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2006
    Messages:
    7,249
    Location:
    Midwest 'Merica
    Capital:
    Salema
    Nick:
    Fleur
    The brown Obizzi's puny engine shook the car at the traffic light. The Obizzi was nearly 30 years old and was a car of extreme utilitarianism. It had been built for 2 years in Nicosia, a venture done by foreign investors. It was a horrible disaster. The car's 96 horsepower came in chunks and the two colors- brown and blue offered limited options. Its only concessions to a utilitarian style was a plain knob which controlled air conditioning and heat and a toggle for an AM-only radio. Of the 20,000 made, most were scrapped. A few hundred were purchased at rock bottom prices by the Nicosian government. Now the old Obizzi was piloted by an even older senior detective. He rolled his eyes at the vibrations coming through the car. The heap would maybe make it another day before it bled oil in the police repair center, as it did everywhere. Senior Detective Tommaso Cassar was 3 years short of the mandatory retirement age of 57. He had been a detective for 30 years. Mainly, Cassar dealt with minor thefts and the odd white collar crime. Now, he found himself assigned to the worst shit sandwich available. The attempted murder of the Grandmaster had set the Knights in a frenzy. They had launched an investigation of their own. Yet they accepted that Nicosian law required the police to investigate. Cassar knew he would get no help from the Order. He groaned the light turned green and the little Obizzi crawled to a few miles per hour. Still driving, he leaned over to open the crappy latch on the minuscule glove box. He pushed aside the ancient revolver to get his pack of cigarettes. Cassar hadnt carried a gun since the late 1990's but kept one in his car. The added police radio squawked out something he ignored as he uprighted himself and lit a cigarette. He weaved through the hellish traffic of Zaros to the express road to Salema.

    Cassar turned to knob back and fourth for the air conditioning with no effect. June in Nicosia was already brutally warm. Though a native Nicosian, he hated the heat. Frowning, he tossed his cigarette through the crack in the window before rolling it down. "Express" was a generous term while driving an Obizzi. In fact, it was embarrassing as other cars screeched by him as he struggled to get to the posted speed. Pulling up to the National Archives, Cassar parked on a narrow side street. Salema was only the capital in name but still housed important institutions. With the suspect and suspect's parents dead, Cassar had to find living relatives. He paused at the door and glanced at his watch. Could he make it to Iklin tonight? He spun on his heel and walked fast to his car. Something stunk. He had to see what it was that was so foul.
     
  6. Nicosia

    Nicosia Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2006
    Messages:
    7,249
    Location:
    Midwest 'Merica
    Capital:
    Salema
    Nick:
    Fleur
    The sun had been setting as Cassar pushed the little car through the Kasos Mountains which dominated the northern fifth of Nicosia and cradled little Iklin on the north coast. It was a small fishing town but was recently popular with tourists seeking to avoid the crowds of the cities. Yet, like most of Nicosia, beaches were scarce. While beaches dominated advertising, most of the Nicosian coast was rocky and extended quite far above sea level. The north was especially true. It was fully dark when the detective swung down the last curve around a mountain to take the road down into Iklin. During the day, it would have been rather scenic. The tiny wharf and large breakwall extending into the harbor. The small town hugging the coastline. It was a town often featured on social media. In fact, Cassar was just passing the scenic turnout on the narrow road. As he made his way through the narrow streets, the detective wondered why the report he received was so scant regarding the contents of the apartment. He had read it numerous times. Apartment registered only to the suspect- Mario Finetti. Prints only belonging to Finetti and his mother. Nothing unusual aside from the young man having for chess sets. Cassar noted that the Nicosian police had indeed contributed their crime scene unit to the search which was performed by two senior Knights. He knew one had been the former police chief- invested as a knight after his tenure and retirement from policing. The other he had never heard of.

    Cassar parked the Obizzi and glanced at the street sign. Iklin apparently had no street lights so Cassar's eyes struggled to read the sign. Noting he was in the right place, he looked at his map. Walking a few yards down the street, he noticed how quiet this town truly was at night. A dog barked somewhere in the distance and he could just see the lights from the restaurant district. Very different from Zaros was his only thought. Finding the right address, Cassar noted 6 buttons. He glanced up. The three story building looked old. Its windows were caked with grime. Not a rich man's place by a longshot. He sighed and began pressing buttons. Assuming there were two apartments per floor, Cassar pressed and 2. Hoping somebody would answer over the speaker. A ragged voice answered. An old woman. "Yes?" was all that was said. "My name is Detective Cassar. I wish to see the Finetti apartment" he said with no elaboration. He only heard a sigh. Finetti lived on the top floor he knew. The voice crackled. "I am not coming all the way down there to open a door at this hour" said the voice. Fintetti pushed the 2 button again and she did not answer this time. It then occurred to him that the 1st and 2nd apartments were in this case on the top floor. After struggling to read the numbers in the dark, Cassar found 5. A man in his 40's, still wearing mechanic overalls let him in. Showing his police ID, Cassar was lead to apartment 1.

    The door was covered in police tape which he ripped off. It then occured to him that in his haste, he had no key. He sighed and examined the door. No top lock. Pulling his lockpick from his pocket, Cassar was in within a few minutes. It was a two room apartment. The kitchen area, living room, and entrance to the bathroom all shared the common area. He flicked the light switch. I single bare bulb flickered to life which was recessed in the ceiling. Not a bright place apparently. The faded blue walls had crown molding that was once white but now was yellow with time and probably nicotine stains from the previous occupants. Cassar didnt smell old smoke so he assumed it was not from Finetti. He made his way to the bathroom and glanced in. A toilet, sink, and tiny wall mounted shelf. 'The shower must be a shared one' he noted. Nothing was dirty and the place was not a slum. Merely old and cheap. The wood floors creaked as he looked around. What wasn't covered in fingerprints was thrown about. In the corner of a table sat a wifi router. The autopsy did not list a phone in Finettis possession and neither did the search report. Who didnt have a phone these days? For that matter, what about a laptop? No computers were listed in the search report either. He poked around. Read the titles of the few books in the apartment. The trash had been gone through. The report listed nothing special. Cassar moved to the bedroom. 4 chess boards and pieces were spilled across the floor. Probably dropped and just left as they were coated in fingerdust powder. The clothes were neatly folded in the drawers and the only TV stood on a cheap table. The searchers also knocked over a standing fan which lay sadly smashed where it had fallen, the plastic broken. He sighed as he moved to the corner of the room where a stack of books also lay. All science fiction he noted. The dresser had two bibles and several rosaries laying atop it. He flicked through the bibles and and shook his head. Something was missing. Cassar sat on the bed and stared at the chess pieces trying to think. Out of the corner of his eye, something caught his attention. Something bright attacked to the bottom of a wooden chessboard. He slowly turned his head and focused. It was a very carefully folded piece of paper, taped to the underside. "Fuck me" he said quietly and aloud, standing slowly.
     
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