Terrorism at the Palace
"Come in, Colonel Loman," Dzhunkovsky waved the nervous-looking man into the dowager's parlor, "Tell us everything, please."
"He's probably watching us right now, I know it," Loman's eyes darted all over the room.
"Then please, let us know everything about Rasputin, quickly; we can assure your safety afterwards," Maria Feodorovna urged him. Loman took a deep breath. "I joined the Khlyst six years ago," he began, "My father had been jailed under the former tsar, and I guess I blamed the entire royal family for it. At the time, Rasputin seemed to be the answer to my prayers, someone who would enact justice."
"So he is the Khlyst's leader?" Feofan pressed.
"The undisputed head," Loman told him, shivering, "Then he showed his true colors when the war started; he's insane, bent on total destruction of the existing order, and perhaps more. The war was a plan by him to destroy the army so no one would resist him when he did take over; he's been passing information to the Kaiser practically from the start, information that's gotten scores of good men killed. And worst of all, I'm afraid it's getting close to the point when he might try to topple the dynasty. And if he succeeds, I'm certain Russia will flow with oceans of innocent blood."
"I see," the dowager nodded grimly, "So it appears it's even worse than we thought," she said to her partners, rising firmly to her feet, "Mr. Dzhunkovsky, I want an arrest warrant for Rasputin for high treason immediately; if the Department of Police won't grant one, steal a form and fill it out. Bishop, call the palace and tell Alexandra I want her to come here immediately to hear this, hypnotized or not."
Nodding firmly, Feofan picked up the phone and dialed the Winter Palace's number. "Strange, the line appears to be dead," he frowned when nothing could be heard on the other end, however.
"Was Rasputin planning anything at the moment!?" Maria Feodorovna grilled Loman, deeply concerned now.
"I wouldn't know; I haven't attended any of his meetings in months," Loman admitted nervously, "And he probably knows I've lost faith in his cause..."
"Bishop, go to the palace personally and see what's going on," the former empress instructed him, "Mr. Dzhunkovsky, get Mr. Loman into protective custody. I'm going to the station to tell Nicholas of this when he arrives," she glanced at the clock on the wall, "Which should be in the next hour or so assuming the train's running on normal schedule..."
"The snow's really coming down now," Marie commented, staring out the window at the winter storm raging throughout St. Petersburg, "I haven't seen it this bad in years."
She shot a glance at her sister, sitting on her own bed staring numbly at the wall. "You sure you're feeling better?" she asked, "It could just have been the stress of running the country got to her..."
"I could see it in her eyes she wasn't really there, Marie," Anastasia rubbed the side of her face; it no longer hurt, but the memory was going to last for a long time, "It was like she was under a spell of some kind. And do you think Mama would ever have hit any of us with a clear mind?"
"No," Marie did look concerned at this point, "But I'm sure she didn't mean it. Probably before the night's over, she'll be in to say she was sorry. Funny though, all these years you've been Father Rasputin's biggest supporter here, and now you're scared he's going to do something terrible..."
"He egged her on, Marie, it was like she was his slave, like he was doing it to me himself through her. Who else knows what he's capable of?"
"Well I wouldn't worry about it too much; in fact I think you're just getting paranoid," Marie scoffed, blowing out the lamps for the night, "Now just try and sleep without getting too worked up. There's a perfectly rational explanation for this that doesn't involve Father Rasputin as a supernatural devil."
She slid under the covers. Anastasia lay down as well, but couldn't get to sleep. Regardless of what Marie said, she still had a bad feeling about everything. If Rasputin had possessed her mother, couldn't he do the same to everyone else?
There was a squeak as Joy leaped and the bed and nuzzled into the crook of her arm. "At least I know I can trust you, Joy," she whispered, hugging it close, "But who else can help us if he is dangerous?"
"I'm sorry, we just don't have any more meat," the butcher exasperatedly told Dmitry, "Our entire supply from the country has been cut off somehow."
"But I can't go back without something!" Dmitry gestured at his bag, which contained no more than five pounds of meat; apparently shortages were rampant everywhere in the capital anymore.
"And when you go back, tell the tsar we've had it with shortages!" a clerk in the back snarled furiously, "It's all his fault everything's gone to pot; if he hadn't dragged us into this blasted war...!"
"That's enough, Ippolit," the butcher told him sternly. "Come back in a week or two, and maybe we'll have something then," he told Dmitry.
"Yes sir," Dmitry shuffled out into the snow, visions of a completely empty stomach dancing in his head. Lebedev would never accept this little a supply, shortages or not. He sat down on the curb and stared listlessly up the Nevsky Prospect, which was looking gray and sad, just like the country's mood right now. And his own. He shivered in the cold, knowing all too well that he could freeze to death right there on the curb and no one would care in the least, because he wasn't worth caring about...
It was then that a strange zapping sound could be heard a few blocks down. Startled, he turned in its direction. A blast of green light was emitting from an alley, seemingly going up into the sky. It vanished for a moment, only to reappear again and then again-and with each appearance, the snow seemed to get heavier and heavier. Something was clicking in the back of Dmitry's mind; it seemed solely coincidence, but this looked a lot like the same lights he remembered seeing the night that...
He hesitantly made his way towards the alley and the blasts of light. Peering around the corner, he could just barely make out through the snow about sixty or seventy robed figures huddled at the back of the alley. The blasts of green energy was coming from the middle of their huddle. The last blast stopped abruptly. "That should do it," came Rasputin's voice from among the crowd, "Even if they suspected something was up, they'd never come out when it's this bad. All right, gather around brothers and sisters, this is it. You, hand out the maps."
"Do not lose these, comrades," came Artyom's voice next. Dmitry frowned; what was going on here that the two of them would be working together on? He dared to creep a little closer into the alley; fortunately, the snow was falling so intensely now, the people couldn't have seen him even if they'd been looking right at him. "You know your assignments," Rasputin continued, "Those of you who have been selected to take the princesses follow these palace maps to their rooms once we're inside. If the doctor's potion worked right, the entire palace staff should be sound asleep right about now, so no one will interfere. Once you seize the princesses, take them out the back door to the river behind the palace, break the ice, and throw them in. I'll handle the tsarevich personally."
Dmitry stifled a sudden gasp. "What about the empress?" one of the robed figures asked.
"I'll make sure the empress is disposed of as well," Rasputin replied, "Then once everything's in order and we are in control of the palace, we'll go hunt down the rest of the Romanovs and slaughter them all one by one, children included. And then we'll have our military puppets arrest the tsar at the front and bring him back here to be executed."
"How will we know when you're successful in eliminating the royal family?" a figure not wearing a robe at the back spoke up.
"Keep your eyes on the palace from your perch," Rasputin told him, "Young Mr. Kalashnikov here designed a special flag for the occasion, showing the unity of our causes..." he stepped aside as a smaller figure that had to be Artyom unwound a flag, but through the snow Dmitry couldn't quite make out what was on it. "When you see this flag raised over the palace, radio your comrades in arms to start the rebellion in the capital. Just to be sure with this snowstorm, I'll also send up some fireworks, which in turn will alert the rest of our brotherhood watching outside the city to take down Romanov stooges in the rest of the country. Now are there any other questions before we meet our destiny?"
"Rasputin?" a woman's voice rose up, wavering and hesitant, "I know what we're supposed to do, but...killing sleeping children, it just sounds a little..."
"Oh, I see Khionia, you're scared, is that it?" Rasputin asked her sternly.
"Well, no, but..."
"I think you ARE!" there came another blast of green, and one of the robed figures fell to the ground, writhing and screaming. "YOU'RE A WRETCHED COWARD IF YOU HAVEN'T GOT THE SPINE TO FINISH OFF THE ROMANOVS REGARDLESS OF AGE, KHIONIA!" Rasputin roared furiously over the screams, "THERE IS NO ROOM FOR COWARDS IN THE KHLYST! SO...!
There was a loud blast of energy, and the light went blindingly bright before fading away, leaving the figure on the ground motionless. "NOW," a still livid Rasputin addressed the rest of his group, "IS ANYONE ELSE HERE A COWARD TOO!?"
Dozens of heads frantically shook no. The clock on a nearby church struck the hour. "High midnight. At any rate," Rasputin seemed delighted now, Dmitry thought, "It is time. Forward, brothers and sisters of the Khlyst, to the palace, and our return to the rightful rule of all Russia...and the end of the Romanov line...FOREVER!"
He pulled up his hood and turned towards the end of the alley. Dmitry quickly dove behind the nearest garbage can and sucked in his breath as the treacherous royal advisor walked by, holding something still glowing green in front of himself to light the way. The rest of his party, with their hoods now up as well, followed. Dmitry got a closer look at Artyom's flag as his palace nemesis passed his hiding place. He had to suppress a gulp to see it was the blood red flag of the revolutionaries with its hammer and sickle-only this one also had a big green demon skull in the center. The Khlyst were alive and well, he realized with horror, and they and the Bolsheviks had joined forces. Which meant that Russia would be plunged into a nightmare beyond words if they succeeded in taking over the country-especially for Dmitry's people, who had suffered hideous atrocities during the Time of Troubles at the Khlyst's hands. And which also meant the lives of the royal family were in grave danger, including that of the Princess Anastasia...
It was up to him to sound the alarm. He waited until he could no longer hear anyone in the alley before springing up from his hiding place. He cast one quick glance around to make sure no one else was still in there, but whoever Rasputin had been talking with was gone, perhaps having climbed up to the roof of the nearest building already. He took off running in the opposite direction the Khlysts had gone, trying desperately to make out the buildings on the Nevsky Prospect through the whiteout conditions raging now. "Help, anyone!" he cried out, "Somebody, please, help!"
But the street seemed completely deserted, with no help readily available. Dmitry saw a light blazing in a store to his left. He dashed to the door and started pounding on it. "Open up, please, this is an emergency!" he screamed. The owner came to the door, but instead of opening it, he glared at the boy, pointed to the Closed sign on the door and walked out of sight. The light went out. "No, don't, I need help!" Dmitry cried to him, but there was no answer. "Anyone, help!" he ran back out to the street, hoping there was a policeman on duty somewhere, But no one was in sight. He was all alone again, as usual...
When suddenly he ran into a large figure, sending the two of them toppling to the ground. "Crazy pedestrians," came an intoxicated voice. Dmitry's heart leaped nonetheless; it was Count Vladimir! "Mr. Vlad, the palace, the Khlyst, the country...!" he stammered, shaking the nobleman.
"Yes, the country, what a spectacular trip down the drain," Vladimir slurred, swaying wildly as he stumbled back to his feet, "And I can take the honor of saying my fall was the steepest. Say," he squinted down at the boy, "Aren't you my little friend from...?"
"Yes, yes, it's me, Dmitry!" he shouted at the count, "I need your help; the...!"
He heard the wild braying of horses and turned just in time to see the carriage appearing mere feet in front of him. He frantically dove out of its way, and Vladimir did his part as well, falling down drunk to the side of the street before he could be run over. The carriage lurched to a stop in front of them. "So there you are, Vladimir," Prince Yusupov jumped down from the carriage, shaking his head in disgust, "Your servants called that you haven't been home for hours; I could have guessed you'd been hitting the liquor again."
"Prince Yusupov...!" Dmitry tugged frantically at his coattails.
"Not now, kid," Yusupov pushed him aside. "Come on, Vladimir, let's get you home to sleep it off," he told his friend, straining to lift the heavy count back upright, "I know you're upset Andronikov turned on you, but don't be too surprised; he was sucking your blood for years, and..."
"The Khlyst are going to take over the country!" Dmitry screamed at the top of his lungs, "Rasputin's leading them; he's going to kill the royal family!"
This did the trick. Yusupov abruptly dropped Vladimir to the ground like a sack of potatoes. "Rasputin!?" he grilled the boy, worried, "When did you hear this!?"
"Just now, in the alley down there!" Dmitry pointed up the street, "He's headed for the palace right now!"
"Oh my God!" Yusupov went pale, "We've got to act fast! Vladimir, come on!" he dragged his friend into the bar to their left that Vladimir had come out of, "We've got to get you sobered up and make some calls right away!"
The palace was pitch dark as it came into sight. Rasputin nodded in delight. Badmaev had done his job well. He could make out the doctor standing right inside the palace gate. "It's all done, Rasputin," Badmaev told him when he approached, "Everyone's out cold; I checked myself."
"Very good, Badmaev," Rasputin commended him. He stepped back while the doctor reached through the bars and unlocked the gates for the Khlysts. "All right, everyone who I assigned to the princesses, go to work," Rasputin ordered them, "The rest of you form a perimeter and stand watch. Take out anyone who comes near the palace until we're done. I'm going to give the tsarina her reward."
"Well where is General Bruk!?" Yusupov shouted frantically into the bar's phone, "Well go find him and tell him to send the troops into St. Petersburg right away; this is a national emergency! Yeah, well the same to you, then!"
He slammed the receiver down and started dialing another number. On the stool nearby, Dmitry shook anxiously. Why was it so hard to get through to anyone with a crisis afoot? Every minute that passed increased the likelihood Rasputin had already struck.
Vladimir moaned softly next to him. Ten cups of coffee had started to sober him back up, but he was still a bit out of it. "So, Mr. Rasputin has been playing us from the start, huh my young friend?" he asked the boy dazedly.
"Yes, yes, he's a bloodthirsty monster!" Dmitry slid another cup of coffee in his friend's direction, "Keep drinking, please; we need to...!"
The bar's door swung open, and none other than Feofan stumbled in, half-covered in snow. "My good man, I must use your phone," he called worriedly to the bartender, "I have an important message to give to the former empress...!"
"Bishop, have you had any contact with the palace in the last hour!?" Yusupov shouted at him.
"I've been there ringing the bell at the gate for that very amount of time, Prince Yusupov, but no one answered the buzzer at all," the bishop's expression went even further south, "I suspect something is direly wrong, and Rasputin may be making a move..."
"He's going to take over the country!" the prince shouted at him, "He's on his way there now to kill the royal children!"
"My God..." Feofan went pale. His shot a glance at the clock on the wall. "The tsar should be arriving from the front any minute now if the train is still on time..."
"Unhitch one of my horses and get down there to warn him!" Yusupov ordered.
"I will," Feofan started for the door, then turned. "Dzhunkovsky's at the Anichkov Palace with the former empress; have them send whatever help they can bring us besides everyone here with you now," he gave Dmitry a small knowing wink, "to the Winter Palace immediately before it's too late."
"Right!" Yusupov dialed Anichkov's number. "Dzhunkovsky!?" he breathed in relief to get the former gendarme chief right away, "Listen, forget that you've been fired; call the Department of Police and get as many gendarmes out as you can...!"
Only the glow of Rasputin's reliquary illuminated the Winter Palace corridors as he crept towards the one spot of light still glowing: the tsarina's study. Alexandra was still staring straight ahead at her desk when he entered. "Father...you're back..." she droned.
"Yes, and I have a special gift for you, Madame," Rasputin told her, pulling down his hood, "Because you have done so much good for me, I hereby grant you the gift of flight."
"Yes, from now on you can fly like a bird," the sorcerer grinned darkly, "So why don't you go up to the roof and practice?"
"As you wish, Father," Alexandra rose up and stumbled towards the door. "That's the end of that old fool," Rasputin snickered to Bartok, "Now for the tsarevich."
The imperial train's whistle blew in the distance down the tracks from the railroad station. Maria Feodorovna breathed a sigh of relief. Her son had made it back safely. Now if he'd just listen to reason for once, she thought grimly to herself.
The honor guard snapped to attention as the train emerged like a ghost from the snow and pulled into the station. Glancing through the frosty windows, she saw Nicholas in his private car with his head slumped forward. She had seen him like this many a time when he had lost confidence in himself. The strain of the war was likely getting to be too much for him to run directly, she surmised, much as she had suspected it would. When the train came a full stop, he forced a stern look onto his face as he left the car. "Mother, I hope this is important," he told her with more than a little gruffness as he climbed out onto the platform, "And this better not be about..."
"The children!" came the desperate cry from the edge of the platform. With a thundering of hooves, Feofan rode his borrowed horse across the planks like lightning, sending more than a few members of the honor guard scattering. "The children, your Majesty; the Khlyst are going to the palace to kill the children this very minute!" he gasped, breathless, as he brought his horse to a stop directly in front of the tsar.
"What!?" Nicholas's eyes went wide, "Are you sure!? The Khlyst have been dead since...!"
"They're alive and well, your Majesty, I can confirm that for you without doubt," the bishop told him, "And I can tell you that Rasputin is the leader; he planned everything and is leading the attack!"
"It's absolutely true, Nicholas," the dowager told her son, unable to suppress her own horror at the information her partner had just delivered, "We even have a confession from one of them who switched to our side. So NOW will you believe us!?"
"My God!" Nicholas stumbled backwards in shock, apparently believing it this time indeed. "All of you, to the palace immediately!" he shouted to the honor guard, "We mustn't be too late! You there!" he called desperately to the telegraph operator inside the ticket window, "Send an S.O.S. signal to every unit around the capital right now!"
"Shhh," Rasputin hissed to Bartok, approaching Alexei's room, "Not a sound. And find a place to stay out of the way; this must be done delicately."
Bartok made a zipping gesture over his lips and mumbled something with his mouth closed to signal his agreement. Rasputin rolled his eyes. He seized the doorknob and slowly turned it. Alexei slept soundly in the dark room, unaware of the danger nearby. Rasputin quietly walked towards him. This was going to be quick and easy, he thought with a dark smile. He reached for the reliquary...
...noticing in the corner of his eye Bartok landing on top of a globe atop the edge of a nearby shelf for a better look at what was going to happen...a globe that immediately started tipping forward under the bat's weight. "No!" Rasputin frantically waved at him to get off it, but it was too late; the globe toppled off the shelf, shattering loudly on the floor. Alexei immediately bolted upright in bed, panicked. He gasped when he saw Rasputin right next to him in the darkness. "Don't be afraid, Alexei Nikolaevich," Rasputin hissed, raising the reliquary high, "It is merely I, Father Rasputin, come to ease your suffering-permanently."
Anastasia jerked up in bed at the sound of the loud crash just down the hall. She gulped loudly. "Marie!" she hissed softly, jumping out of bed and shaking her sister, "Marie, wake up!"
But Marie merely snored and rolled over. Anastasia took a deep, nervous breath. She approached the door and hesitantly opened it. The hallway was absolutely dark, which it had never been before as far as she could remember. She groped for a candle on the writing table and lit it. "Hello?" she called out softly, walking cautiously down the hall towards where the crashing sound had come from, "Mama? Olga? Anyone?"
She froze at the sound of footsteps behind her. She spun-but there was nothing there...or had there been a figure in the darkness...?
"Don't be afraid, don't be afraid," she echoed her father's parting words before he left for the front nervously. Before she could dare to see if it had been real, however, a flash of light caught her attention down the hall. She blinked hard. Yes, it was real, and it appeared to be coming from Alexei's room. "Alexei!?" she called out, worried. There was no answer, but the light flashed again, and she heard what sounded like a loud, crazed laugh. Her heart rate skyrocketing, she ran for the light as fast as she could. She stuck her head in the door-and immediately gasped. There was Rasputin, standing right over her brother, and zapping him with green bolts of light of some kind from a strange object in his hand. This in turn was making Alexei bleed all over. He gasped and wretched from the treatment, which seemed to make Rasputin laugh harder and also make the insane look in his eyes get even wilder. Alexei caught sight of his sister in the doorway and desperately mouthed, "Help me!" at her. "STOP IT!" the scream rose from her throat like a volcano erupting, "LEAVE MY BROTHER ALONE!"
Rasputin spun at the intrusion. "You!" he hissed, firing a blast of energy at her from the strange device. Anastasia hit the floor just in time to avoid it. She tossed her candle at Rasputin, but it missed-although it did distract him enough to allow her time to scramble frantically across the floor towards Alexei. Rasputin, however, jumped into her path and fired another blast at her that just missed as well, hitting the bookcase behind her instead and sending a cascade of titles down on top of her. There came a sudden yipping from the doorway. Joy rushed into the room, teeth bared. "Joy, no, don't!" she cried to her pet, who nonetheless leaped straight at Rasputin. Looking almost bored, Rasputin fired another burst of energy straight into the dog. "NO!" Anastasia screamed again as her pet hit the floor upside-down and motionless. "Joy, no, don't be...!" she shook it desperately, but it was no use; the dog was no more. A strong rage boiled up inside her, one that got higher as she saw the sorcerer turning back to Alexei to finish what he'd started, his arm rearing back with the now smoking and glowing reliquary. "YOU MONSTER!" she roared, grabbing hold of the reliquary before he could fire it at her brother and pulling it backwards.
"Get off of that you little worm!" Rasputin thundered, shaking the reliquary up and down to make her let go, "How dare you defy the most powerful man in Russia!?"
With a strong flick of his wrist, he sent her rolling against the wall. Looking up, Anastasia saw one of the palace's alarm buttons right above her. She desperately leaped for it, only to feel something powerful seize her in mid-air. A long ribbon of green energy from the reliquary had seized her around the midsection and was pulling her relentlessly backwards towards Rasputin. She frantically reached and strained for the button as the force of the spell pulled her away from it. Finally, with one last lunge, her palm slammed down on the button. The palace's alarm sounded shrilly. "I wouldn't have done that," Rasputin chided her sternly, reaching his ominously long fingernails towards her, "No one's going to hear it to save you anyway, Anastasia Nikoleavna."
"HELP!" she pushed the window open as far as it would go as she flew past it and screamed out it anyway, praying someone would hear her cries, "ANYONE, PLEASE...!"
Another blast of energy hit her head-on, and suddenly Anastasia felt her throat contracting. She gasped desperately for air, unable to say a word. Rasputin hauled her up in the air. "Clearly I should have taken care of you first," he snarled.
There came footsteps in the doorway. Pitirim and Varnava had arrived. "Well, what took you so long!?" Rasputin upbraided them, having to shout to be heard over the alarm, "You were supposed to take care of this one; now look what she's done!"
"Well, uh, we were looking all over when she wasn't in her..." Pitirim tried to explain.
"Never mind!" his superior flung Anastasia roughly into the sack Pitirim was holding, "Just get the little brat to the river and drown her! I'm going to finish off her dear little brother before anything else goes wrong!" He turned back to Alexei, frozen solid in fear in his bed at everything that had happened. "Now where were we...!?"
Suddenly a blinding light filled the room. "What the...!?" Varnava jumped back into the hallway out of the light, only to have the hall be illuminated as well. "Members of the Khlyst!" barked Dzhunkovsky's voice from outside over a loudspeaker, "In the name of the tsar, surrender now or face the consequences!"
"I surrender!" Bartok immediately threw up his wings in defeat, "I'll go along quietly, officer, don't shoot! I'm too young to die; I'm too well-traveled to die; I'm too ME to die!"
"Oh grow a backbone you miserable flying rodent!" Rasputin swiped at the bat. He calmly kicked the window open all the way and fired a sharp blast of energy from the reliquary that blew out the searchlight trained on the room with a shower of sparks. Another blast put out another searchlight. Bullets began flying towards the room. "Are you sure that was a good idea!?" Varnava shouted, ducking to the floor.
"They wouldn't dare try anything knowing the children are in here!" Rasputin shouted back, "And as you'll see, you stupid fool, I'm going to make absolutely sure they can't interrupt us."
He fired at the ground near the palace's gate. Slowly but surely, a large green energy bubble rose up over the palace covering it and the river behind it. Bullets could still be heard being fired, but they now bounced off the bubble harmlessly. "This palace is now a fortress," Rasputin told his top lieutenants, "And they can't get in to get us. So just take care of your duty and let everyone else handle these interlopers."
"Right," Pitirim glanced down in time to see Anastasia trying to climb back out of the sack. He shoved her down into it and tied it tightly shut. He and Varnava carried it out the door, looking a bit more confident now. "That had to be the quickest alarm reaction I've ever heard of," Bartok commented, staring out the window at the gendarmes in the street below still firing futilely at the protective bubble, "If didn't know any better, sir, I'd say they knew we were here ahead of time."
"Well it doesn't matter now," Rasputin tapped the reliquary. The faces of the Khlysts on his strike force not assigned to capture the princesses appeared. "Attention all of you," he commanded, giving the thumbs up to Martemian and Augustin passing by Alexei's room carrying another squirming sack, "Don't be alarmed by this minor setback. They can't get into the palace now, and you now have a perfectly clear view of them outside thanks to the protection I just put in place (indeed, the gendarmes in the street below could be seen clear as day through the bubble despite the heavy snow). So mow them down-all of them."
He started to turn back to the bed, but saw only a flash go by him, as Alexei had finally gotten the nerve to run for his life. "Get back here!" the sorcerer shouted, chasing after him into the hall, "There will be no escape from the great Rasputin, Alexei Nikolaevich, and no one can save you now!"