Zero Hour Has Come
"This is the last of your belongings, your Highness," the dowager's chief butler set the last of her suitcases, fully loaded, on the parlor floor.
"Thank you, Andrei," Maria Feodorovna told him softly. She trudged to the window and stared at the Winter Palace through the snow starting to fall. "I wish it didn't have to come to this, I really don't," she mumbled out loud.
"And I would still advise against it, your Highness," Feofan spoke up from the fireplace (rather than let he and Dzhunkovsky be exiled unfairly, she had been sheltering them at the Anichkov Palace since their transfer orders had come through). "To run from the country with the children, without the tsar and tsarina knowing...it just doesn't comply with good Christian models of living," the bishop reminded her, "Even if it is for their benefit as you say."
"Believe me, Bishop, I've thought long and hard about this, and I'm still not sure it's the right thing to do," the dowager hung her head, "But we both know Rasputin's planning something terrible, and that he could strike at any time. Sophie told me President Poincare's arranged safe passage for me through neutral countries to Paris. The children will be safe from Rasputin if they go there, and thus the Romanov dynasty should have some insurance in case he does strike soon. So at the end of the week," she sighed sadly, "I'm going to take the five of them on what I'm going to tell Alexandra is a trip to the countryside and get them to safety in France along Poincare's route...and hope Nicholas and Alexandra can understand why."
"If only they would have believed us when we presented them with all the proof we had that he was consorting with the Khlyst, if not one himself," Feofan rued, "In a way, your Highness, this is all my fault; if I hadn't fallen for his story when he showed up on my doorstep and taken him to the sovereign..."
"Now Bishop, I'm sure he's tricked more upright people than yourself," his partner tried to assure him, "We simply couldn't find the smoking gun that would have proved beyond a doubt that he's a Khlyst. And Nicholas is too trusting, too kindred a soul not to be taken in by someone like..."
The parlor door abruptly flew wide open. "Your Highness, Bishop," Dzhunkovsky came rushing in, looking excited, 'We may not be sunk yet. A high-level member of the Department of Police that's still loyal to me just called. He's been approached by a Khlyst defector; he's grown disenchanted with Rasputin and wants to turn him in. He'll be bringing him over here shortly to give us his statement."
"He will?" Maria Feodorovna's eyes lit up, "Well then, maybe I won't have to go on extended vacation with the children after all. Tell your colleague to bring him here without delay, Mr. Dzhunkovsky." She rushed to the phone and started dialing. "In the meantime, Nicholas must know of this. If this is proof positive, he can't ignore this. I'm going to tell him to come back to St. Petersburg immediately, that there's an emergency afoot-and given what we know, gentlemen, I certainly won't be lying to him."
"I doubt, however, he'll come if he knows it's about Rasputin," Feofan pointed out.
"Well we're not going to tell him it's about Rasputin until he's back here in the capital," the tsar's mother said firmly, "I can only hope," she glanced back at the snow falling outside, "That this weather can hold up long enough for him to make it back."
"Now if you'll just sign this last important piece of paper, Madame, all will be good and well," Rasputin told a still-hypnotized Alexandra, handing her a piece of paper inside her personal office.
"What...is this?" she stared blankly at it.
"This executive order by you declares the Duma permanently dissolved, and its members enemies of the crown, to be arrested at will and packed off to Siberia for life," the sorcerer snickered, "This, my lady, is your final revenge-I mean, your way of enacting justice against them for trying to steal your son's throne, so if you'll just sign here at the bottom," he gestured for Bartok to hand him a pen from the inkwell, "we can ensure the tsarevich's legacy will come to pass in due time."
"As you wish, Father," Alexandra reached for the pen. Before she could take hold of it, however, there came an abrupt knocking at the door. "Mama, can I...?" came Anastasia's concerned voice.
"NOT NOW!" Rasputin roared at her. He quickly recollected himself and said more calmly, "Ah, my dear Anastasia, for what do we owe your presence?"
"Father, you have to tell me," the girl approached him hesitantly, "It's been bothering me for a while, what people have been saying about you...I don't want to believe it, but...they say you want to hurt all the Jewish people in the empire..."
"Ah, my dear child, allow me to explain everything," Rasputin pulled her close, "As Minister of War, it is my responsibility to find out why the war seems to be going so badly for us. My research has shown that it is very likely Jewish agents of the Germans wrecking the war effort, just as they have wrecked everything Russia has done for centuries. Since they'd never give up the saboteurs' names willingly, we're going to have to enact a blanket punishment to get all of them, which your mother and I will take care of in due time, I assure you."
"But you can't do that!" her eyes went wide, "They're Russians just like the rest of us! Mama, please don't do this!" she begged her mother.
"You...stay out of this...young lady," Alexandra droned blankly at her, "Father Rasputin...knows best..."
"And that is why I am here to help you, your Highness," Rasputin bowed to her.
"Helping! By killing our own people!" Anastasia was aghast, "Who are you, really?" she demanded to the sorcerer, "You look a lot less like a holy man to me now!"
"I am the light to lead Russia out of the darkness, and the force to send all who oppose what's best for the country into the pits of Hell," Rasputin growled, his blood starting to boil at the girl's attitude towards him.
"What is this?" Anastasia noticed the disbandment order in her mother's hands, "You're going to do WHAT? Mama, please, don't, we need the Duma to...Mama, are you there?" she noticed her mother's blank, hypnotized expression, "Mama, say something to me! Has he...?"
"Strike her, hard, now!" came Rasputin's harsh order. When the tsarina's hand went up, but wavered in midair, as if deep down she was trying to fight back against following such a terrible order, he shouted angrily, "I said NOW!" There was a bright flash of green, and then it happened: maintaining a blank expression and not even looking at what she was being forced to do, the empress delivered a slap to her daughter's face. Whimpering, Anastasia ran from the room. "Do not be upset, your highness, you have done the right thing just now; she had no business interfering in state affairs," Rasputin consoled his puppet, snatching up the pen from the table and shoving it into Alexandra's hand, "Now please, hurry up and sign the order, there's still so much I have left to do today."
"As you wish, Father," Alexandra lowered the pen to the paper and signed the disbandment order. "You are too kind, Madame," Rasputin eagerly snatched it away, "Now you just wait right here, and I'll be back in a little while with your final reward."
The sound of her crying led Dmitry towards the parlor. He pushed open the servants' door a crack, and was heartbroken to see her sobbing into the sofa. Her dog entered the room and nuzzled against her arm where it hung down, making her look up. "Why, Joy, why?" she lamented, scooping the dog up and cradling it, "Why is this happening to us? What's he doing to her to make her like this? I wish Papa could come home and make everything right!"
She broke down again. Dmitry felt like crying himself to see her like this. No one that beautiful should ever have to feel sad about anything, he felt.
"Go on, talk to her," his mind desperately urged him, "She needs someone to talk to; you can help make her feel better."
He started to hesitantly step into the room...but stopped midway over the threshold, and after a moment's pause shook his head. No, he thought sadly, pushing the door closed, he wasn't good enough to be of any help to her. Everyone else was right; she needed a prince, and he wasn't worth the ground she walked on...
"Dmitry!" came Lebedev's unwelcome voice behind him, "You're not harboring any ideas about the princess again, are you!?"
"Uh, no, sir," Dmitry said quickly, spinning away from the door.
"Good. Then get down to the market immediately; we need fifty pounds of beef for tomorrow evening's banquet," the head chef ordered him.
"But I thought we...?"
"This very instant!" his superior roared in his face, "And if you're not back with exactly fifty pounds, you can forget about eating anything for a week! Now go!"
"Yes sir," Dmitry quickly scurried up the hall-bumping into a man wearing Oriental-style robes that had been hired for the kitchen staff a few weeks ago as he turned the corner. "Watch where you're going, kid!" the newcomer snarled at him.
"Please do forgive Dmitry, whatever you said your name was; this is unfortunately a common habit for him," Lebedev hauled Dmitry up off the floor and shoved him towards the exit door, "But I do believe I told you to get those stews ready for tonight's dinner a half hour ago, so get back to work yourself before I..."
Dmitry lost the rest of the head chef's threats as he pushed the door open and stepped out into the snowstorm. He couldn't resist, however, taking an apprehensive look back at the newcomer before he closed the door behind himself. There was something strange about the man, he felt, and it wasn't just his unusual style of dress for the capital...
Dr. Badmaev glanced around the main kitchen once he arrived back there. Busy preparing the evening meals for the royal family, the rest of the kitchen staff paid no heed to him-nor did they pay any attention to the rear stoves, on which boiled the stews they and the rest of the palace's staff would be eating for dinner later that evening. The doctor approached these stoves. It was time to fulfill his bargain with Rasputin.
He reached under his robe and pulled out a set of vials filled with bubbling pink liquid. Taking a final look around to make sure no one was watching, he slid from pot to pot, dumping a vial into each one until every stew had been tampered with. Satisfied, he slipped the empty vials back out of sight and walked over to the corner, trying to look casual. Moments later, unseen by everyone else, Rasputin's disembodied head appeared above him-a sure sign the Supreme Khlyst was contacting him through the relic. "Is it done, Badmaev?" he asked.
"It is, Rasputin," Badmaev whispered softly, "Everything is set for tonight."
"Excellent," his superior grinned, "Remain at your post, Badmaev, and wait for me to return with the others."
"And so the end game now begins, Bartok," Rasputin snickered to his sidekick as they walked out the palace gate, "With the Duma now out of the way," he held the disbandment order high, "There's no one left to oppose our rise to the pinnacle of absolute power. Now all that's left is the moment I've waited thirty long years for: the tearing down of the Romanovs from the throne. Once the doctor's sleeping potion takes effect, the entire palace staff, guards included, will be out cold for the next twenty-four hours. When they wake up, we'll be in control of the country, and they'll join the Romanovs in shallow graves."
He shook up the reliquary. The faces of all the Khlysts under his command appeared in the liquid. "Attention brothers and sisters of the Khlyst," he commanded then, "It is time for the final move. Return to Ipatiev Mountain by the fastest way you can manage to await further instructions."
"The only problem with your plan as you laid it out last night, sir, what about the tsar?" Bartok had to ask, "Once word of what we do reaches him, he could easily order all the troops at the front to march back and..."
"The tsar will be no threat to us, you dimwit," Rasputin proclaimed confidently, "By sunrise tomorrow, he'll be a fugitive in his own country. I'll have my puppets in the military give the order to have him arrested and brought back here to St. Petersburg a prisoner-and then I'll have the honor of personally executing the dog myself."
"Ah," the bat nodded slowly, "Oh, and one more thing, sir; you did say you were going to go over the drill with the Bolsheviks before we give the troops the big 'Let's go get them' speech, remember?"
"Indeed, and I see Bonch has assembled them already," his master signaled at the knot of men standing at the corner of Gorokhovaya Street before them. Bonch-Bruevich, already in his Khlyst robe, but with the hood down for the moment, waved him over. "Rasputin, everything is set," he told the Supreme Khlyst, "Allow me to introduce Comrades Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, Lazar Kaganovich, Sergo Ordzonikidze, Abel Yenukidze, Kliment Voroshilov, and Josef Dzugashvili; they'll be coordinating the Party's efforts with the St. Petersburg phase of tonight's operation," he introduced his companions, unabashedly decked out in their Bolshevik uniforms.
"Gentlemen, you will be participating in a great historical moment tonight," Rasputin told the revolutionaries, "I'm counting on you to effectively lead your comrades in arms in securing the capital for us once we've taken the palace. In regards to which, Bonch," he turned to his henchman, "You have specifically brought what I asked for?"
"Absolutely, Rasputin; my junior provost drew up the palace layouts as you requested. Comrade Kalashnikov!" Bonch-Bruevich barked into the nearest alley. Out of it stepped Artyom, bedecked in a Bolshevik uniform of his own, and with several large rolls of paper in hand. "Here you are, Comrade Rasputin," he handed the to the Supreme Khlyst, "I consider it an honor to assist in the destruction of the bourgeoisie tonight."
"And for this, my boy, you shall indeed be handsomely rewarded," Rasputin patted him on the head, "Now then, gentlemen," he turned back to the other Bolsheviks, "You had said you would be watching our operation's progress from atop the Trade Building?"
The men all nodded. "Very good," he continued, "I'll be going over the final rundown just before midnight tonight in the alley down the street from here," he pointed to it, "I'm counting on you to all adequately relay the instructions I give to your comrades in arms all over Russia; this strike must be instantaneous if we are to be in total control by sunrise. Now if there are no further questions at the moment..."
"I do actually have a question, Rasputin," Dzugashvili raised his hand, "Although it is more of principal than the plan. During your lectures I have attended as an attaché between our groups, you state that destroying the Romanovs is tantamount. But you must realize that once they are out of the way, others will spring up to take their place..."
"And we will crush them with the same iron resolve if they so much as try to dislodge us. For you see, my dear Josef," Rasputin put an arm around the revolutionary, "from this moment on, anyone in Russia who is not with us is against us, and thus fit for complete extermination. Above all, do not question my resolve in this matter; I am more than prepared to smash anyone or anything to preserve the absolute power at stake here. And do keep in mind that if there are no enemies directly opposing us at any given time, we are free to create any enemies we choose; not only does it relieve the monotony of ruling with an iron fist, but it keeps the people nicely in place by showing them what will happen to them if they try and rise up against us."
"And I suppose that no method is too cruel to enact against our enemies, am I correct?" Dzugashvili seemed quite intrigued by the possibilities being presented to him.
"There is no such thing as morality in the Khlysts' world, Josef; whatever you wish to do, go ahead and do it," Rasputin encouraged him, "Whatever we say is right is right, and the pathetic people will learn that no matter how many necks we have to break to make sure of it."
"Very good, Rasputin; I agree with that fully," Dzugashvili stroked his mustache, pleased, "But if I may, while stop with just Russia once we are in power? Surely we can export the message to other countries and expand the realm further, crushing them in the same manner."
"Hmm," Rasputin stroked his beard thoughtfully, a spark appearing in his eyes, "I'll confess I never thought of that, Josef. Yes, that may be a path to pursue at some point in the near future. Right now, however, my focus is on the destruction of the Romanovs, so I'll ask you to focus solely on that for now, Dzugashvili."
"Actually, Rasputin, I've been thinking of changing my name for some time now," the revolutionary told him.
"The Man of Steel. Yes, that seems quite fitting for someone of your personality, Josef. Well, at any rate, time is ticking, so you and your comrades better set about getting ready for tonight. But forget not my words from here on."
"Oh believe me, Rasputin, I will never forget," Dzugashvili looked delighted, as if he'd just received a tremendous Christmas present. He and the other Bolsheviks apart from Bonch-Bruevich hustled away down the street to make the final preparations for their actions that evening. "I don't know, sir, there's just something off with that guy," Bartok shook his head, "Heaven help us if he ever gets to a place of power like we will."
"Not to worry, my little friend; he would be no threat to us if he tried," Rasputin declared. He leaned close to Bonch-Bruevich and whispered with a growl, "Because after I finish off the Romanovs, and then the Jews, Bonch, your Bolshevik friends will become expendable and will be the next to go. So I sincerely hope your loyalties are in the right place when the time comes."
Bonch-Bruevich gulped nervously and nodded. Apparently satisfied, Rasputin strode briskly through the snow down Gorokhovaya Street. Within five minutes, he'd reached his apartment building. Varnava was waiting with about a half dozen other Khlysts in the lobby. "So this is it then?" his second in command asked him as he entered the building, "This is what we've waited all these years for?"
"It is indeed, Brother Varnava, so your green recruits won't have to complain about not seeing any action anymore," Rasputin led them all swiftly up the stairs, "By this time tomorrow, you'll be holding more power than you could possibly have imagined in your life."
"But how do we get the country to go along with it?" another Khlyst asked, "I'm not sure they'll accept..."
"I already have it well thought out, Pistolkors. Akilina, you come too; I will need you for this as well," Rasputin told his secretary as he bustled into his private office and opened the door through the demon tunnel with the reliquary. "You see, gentlemen," he continued to his followers, raising his voice to be heard over the unearthly shrieks all around them, "By dawn tomorrow, we announce that we found positive proof the tsarina had sold the country out and committed treason with her German relatives. She will have suspected I was on to her, and sent out the police to kill me. We fought them off and drove them back to the palace, and in the heat of the battle, the royal family tragically got in the way-but not before we found further evidence that the rest of the Romanovs were traitors as well; it will be so easy to draw up convincing forgeries making it look like they all sold out too. Thus, we will have carte blanche to execute them all and declare that, as the one honest man in the government, I am best fit to lead the country from here on. Given that, I will then announce that further investigation showed the Jews were working hand in hand with the empress to betray us, giving us free will to start arresting them and executing them as fast as we can manage-ah, here we are," he reached the door to the citadel and pushed it open, "Brother Varnava, assemble everyone in the meeting hall once they arrive."
"Right," Varnava led the other Khlysts to the meeting hall, which was already filling up with the other members of their brotherhood. Rasputin knew he had time before they all arrived, however. He strode into his private chambers and stared out the window. A second, different snowstorm was swirling over the Urals, blanketing Ipatiev Mountain and the surrounding peaks with deep snowdrifts. halting visibility and making the leafless, lifeless trees on the mountains look like skeletal, grasping fingers. A dark smile crossed his lips. Within hours, Makary and every other Khlyst that had suffered under the Romanovs for three hundred years would be avenged.
"I know, sir, it's lovely out there," Bartok, on the other hand, was on an entirely different train of thought, "And yeah, I know, we bats normally do hibernate through the winter, but truth is, the cold never seems to faze me that much; I think I got it off my cousin Ludwig; he married into a family of fruit bats that..."
"They're all here now, Rasputin," Pitirim mercifully stuck his head in the door. Relieved that he wouldn't have to put up with the bat's incessant rambling anymore for the moment, the Supreme Khlyst strode back into the meeting hall, where all his legions stood at rapt attention. "Brothers and sisters of the Khlyst," he proclaimed grandly, leaping up to the podium, "It gives me great pride to inform you that the time of the Khlyst's resurrection to its former glory has come. Tonight, we shall overthrow the Romanovs and reclaim our rightful position as Russia's rulers!"
There was a brief moment of silence, followed by thunderous applause. Rasputin soaked it up for a minute or so before holding up his hands for silence. "As such," he continued, scanning the crowd of evil sorcerers, "Those of you that I have decided have done the most to further our cause in our war against the tsar so far shall as a reward join me personally for the most important part of our ascension-the annihilation of the royal children."