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Nothing in Constantinople is as it should be this winter of 525. It is unnaturally cold and the imperial court has fallen under the sway of both the restless shade of the wife of the dying Emperor, Justin, and of the very much alive Theodora, the former actress his gravely ill successor Justinian intends to marry. The city is in turmoil thanks to constant friction among factions dressed in racing colors. Rivalry runs deep between the Greens, supported by Theodora who recalls their past kindness to her family, and the elegantly dressed young thugs styling themselves the Blues. Keeping them in order falls to Theodotus, the City Prefect, who is nicknamed The Gourd and is a man notoriously adept at slaughter and magick. Thus when a wealthy philanthropist is killed in broad daylight in the Great Church, it isn't entirely surprising that the future ruler Justinian engages an anonymous young slave called John to investigate what many believe could be part of a conspiracy aimed at swaying the succession. Among the suspects in the murder of the wealthy Hypatius, and all that follows, are many whose lives might be touched by an emperor: from senators, churchman, and wealthy businessmen to laborers, beggars, and prostitutes.