A Journey to the Past

Battle for the Future and Soul of Russia

"Stop, stop the carriage!" Nicholas shouted to his driver, who pulled his team to a halt at the edge of the palace square. The tsar slowly slid from the carriage. "Oh my God!" he mumbled softly, seeing the huge green bubble over the palace.

"Your Majesty, get down!" Dzhunkovsky leaped on him and pushed him to the ground just before a bolt of blue magic slammed into the cobblestones inches from where he'd been standing. "This way, quickly!" he dragged the sovereign into a café on the right side of the square. "Your Highness, Bishop, come out of harm's way too!" he waved the dowager and Feofan to safety as well. "Tell me you know how to get through that thing!" the tsar pointed out the window at the bubble, from inside of which bursts of magic and a few bullets were roaring out towards the gendarmes in the square.

"We're trying your Majesty, we're trying!" Dzhunkovsky said exasperatedly, "Bullets won't work; we're going to try dynamite any minute now. "Everything set!?" he shouted out the window toward a pair of gendarmes, who were connecting the wires of a large pile of explosives that had been set up right against the bubble to a detonator.

"Just a minute," one of the gendarmes called back, "OK, we're set."

"Now!" Dzhunkovsky ordered. A large blast rocked the square, but when the smoke cleared, the bubble was completely intact. "Curses!" Dzhunkovsky slammed his fist on the windowsill in frustration, "I don't know what else to do; that was the strongest thing we have!"

"Well try anything, man, come on!" Nicholas seized him by the collar, "My family's in there, for the love of God! Get a backhoe and dig a tunnel or something, or even...!"

He broke down and stumbled over to the corner. "Nicholas?" his mother walked over and put a hand on his shoulder, concerned.

"I've failed, Mother," he lamented tearfully, "I've failed the troops at the front, I've failed my country, and now I've failed the entire Romanov family. I'm a pathetic excuse for a tsar, and I let you and Father down. I can't even protect my wife and children," he gestured miserably at the palace, "He was right; it should have been Michael who got..."

"Nicholas, you must stop comparing yourself to your father," Maria Feodorovna told him encouragingly-or at least as encouragingly as she could manage given the situation, "He was his own man, so you must be your own. In many ways, in fact, you're a better man than he was; you care in ways he..."

"He was a real tsar," Nicholas refused to let go of it, "He was strong, he was firm, he knew what to do every time there was a problem..."

"...and he unleashed the government against its own people time and time again," the former empress grimaced as she admitted her husband's sins, "By refusing to do so when Rasputin demanded you do, you proved yourself a better ruler, Nicholas. Maybe you aren't the ideal image of a tsar as so many see it, but I believe..."

Her sentence was cut off as a rather loud spell screamed through the sky and landed dangerously close to the café, rattling the windows and sending everyone inside diving for the floor. Another blast crashed into a barricade in the square, sending a pair of gendarmes flying backwards, screaming. "They've got us pinned down!" another gendarme screamed towards the café.

"How many of you are left!?" Dzhunkovsky cried out the window.

"No more than fifteen or so!" the gendarme shouted back, "And we're just about out of ammunition too!"

"Someone call through to General Bruk, immediately!" Nicholas squirmed up to the window.

"We've tried that, your Majesty," Yusupov spoke up from the back of the room, reloading his pistol, "No one has a clue where Bruk is! For all we know, Rasputin could have ordered him away from St. Petersburg until he was in total control!"

"Well try again, please!" the tsar begged him, "We need as many people as we can get with this!"

"Your Majesty, we've called everyone we could think of!" Dzhunkovsky said in frustration at their bad luck, "But the nearest unit's eighty miles away, and it'll take all night for them to get here with this cursed blizzard going on, by which point it'll probably be too late! I'm sorry, but there's just no one left to call!"

"Wait," Feofan held up his hand, "Do you hear that? It sounds a lot like trucks. Maybe God will answer our prayers after all."

"How can it be...!?" Yusupov trailed off as the sounds got louder. Keeping his head down, Nicholas crawled to the door and stared down the Nevsky Prospect. Sure enough a convoy, including trucks and artillery guns and at least a few dozen soldiers, came marching out of the storm. The lead truck braked to a stop right in front of the café, and out of it abruptly climbed...

"Michael!?" the tsar gasped to see his brother for the first time in almost five years.

"Nicholas," Michael greeted him formally, "What's going on here?" his eyes turned magnetically to the magical shield protecting the Winter Palace.

"It's Rasputin; he's trying to take over; if we don't get inside the palace soon, the children and Alexandra will be dead. Oh my son," the dowager flung her arms around him happily, "I've worried for you for nights on end since you left. Where have you been, and where did you get all this?" she pointed at the convoy, "And how did you know...?"

"I've been fighting in the Carpathians, Mother," Michael explained, "I sneaked back into Russia once war broke out; I've been fighting the Turks under an assumed name. Once word reached the front of the strange changes at the top of the government, though, I surmised something dark was going on, and Rasputin could be up to no good. And I knew if he could do what he did to me, he could do the same to the rest of my family. So once I was certain something was amiss, I took my best men," he gestured at his command, "revealed myself to them, and brought them back to the capital just in case something like this," he pointed at the palace, "happened; we would have been here sooner if not for the weather and the roads' bad conditions. So, now that I'm here," he turned back to his brother, "What are your orders, your Majesty?"

"How many troops did you bring?"

"About forty or so came directly with me; perhaps another eighty should be no more than a half hour back of me; I didn't want to weaken the line too much even though the Turks and Bulgarians aren't putting up too much resistance right now."

"Well," Nicholas still seemed overwhelmed that help, and familiar help at that, had in fact arrived, "Well, General Romanov, I guess it is then, bring up the big guns to the front, and see what impact they might have on this thing. Maybe if we fired them all in unison, that would do something. But let's be quick about it; our time's running very short here. But before you do, Michael..."

Michael turned as he'd been leaving to carry out the order. Nicholas lowered his head, "Before you do, Michael, I'm sorry I didn't believe you," he admitted solemnly, "I know the truth now; no few than three aide-de-camps at the front under me who knew Colonel Wulfert made it clear to me he is an abusive drunkard. I hope, if we can survive this, that you can find it in yourself to forgive me for the pain I've put you through all these years."

"Yes, it was painful, both for me and for Natalia," Michael strode gravely towards his brother. Then he broke into a smile. "But of course I accept it. You are my brother, after all."

"Thank you," Nicholas breathed in relief, "And as for your final question to me before you left Russia, I can say now that yes, I would have done the same thing for Alix in the same situation, and I hope to do the same for her now when she needs me the most. So let's get to it then."

"Right, your Majesty. All right, men!" Michael called to his command, "Let's get the big pieces front and center in the square, double time!"

"Hmm," a much more sober Vladimir tapped at the bubble on the west side of the palace, well away from the main fighting, "Pretty hard, but at least it doesn't look like it's dangerous."

"Well come on then, break through it, somehow, anyhow!" Dmitry urged him. Vladimir stepped back and gave the bubble a hard kick-and immediately hopped backwards, clutching his foot in agony. "That won't work," he grimaced, "Maybe we should get a jackhammer somewhere and try..."

"WHERE ARE WE GOING TO GET A JACKHAMMER!?" Dmitry all but screamed at him. Vladimir looked at him strangely. "Sorry, sorry," the boy apologized, "It's just that I'm really worried; she could already be dead by now."

"She who?" Vladimir inquired. Before Dmitry could tell him, Yusupov came running up. "So here you are, "he told his friend, "Better clear out; Grand Duke Michael's here; he's going to be sending the tanks over here in case this side's weaker than the front of this thing. I'm not too optimistic, though," he stared ruefully at the bubble, "This thing looks pretty impenetrable. If only there was some way like through the sewers or underground that we..."

"Wait a minute," Dmitry's face lit up, "Maybe, if it's still outside all this..."

He broke into a run. "Wait, if what's outside?" Vladimir huffed to keep up with him.

"The servants' back entrance," Dmitry told him breathlessly, "I use it all the time when I bring the food back to the palace; it comes right out by the river...YES!" he shouted in delight, for the hidden door was, as far as he could see, unprotected by the bubble. He ran to a pale patch of concrete alongside the river and strained to lift it up. A stairway down into the darkness could be seen. "This leads straight to the servants' quarters," he told the two noblemen excitedly, "We could come up on them from underneath and catch them by surprise! And then we can go get the soldiers in the hospital if we need more men!"

"Yes, it's perfect," Yusupov snapped his fingers, "I'll go tell the tsar immediately...I know how to make it better; we'll have Grand Duke Michael set up a terrific barrage on the other side of the palace to draw Rasputin's attention while we go in...yes, that'll do nicely."

He practically skipped off to tell the sovereign of the find. Dmitry rushed into the tunnel without waiting for them. "Whoa, whoa, hold up my young friend," Vladimir rushed after him, "You can't seriously be considering going in here alone!?"

"I have to," the boy shouted back, "I know he'll do something terrible to her if...!"

"Her who? Who is it you care for so much that you'd be willing to do all this?" the count inquired.

"The princess...the Princess Anastasia. I know she'd never seriously consider me worth her love, but..."

"Ah. Ah, I should have guessed," Vladimir nodded, "Yes, I can see quite why-she always lights up every room with her presence. When I..."

The roar of guns could be heard; the diversionary attack was in progress. "Well, at any rate, why don't we keep moving?" Vladimir took Dmitry's hand and bustled him down the tunnel, "Traffic's going to pick up in here real quick real soon."

In a minute or two, the two of them popped up in the servants' quarters. Several staff members were slumped over tables and beds, snoring loudly. "Well, our invaders certainly came prepared," the count remarked, "Either that or life here's gotten too slow to..."

"Do you hear that?" Dmitry held up his hand. Indeed, a pistol could be heard firing on the other side of the wall. Vladimir slipped it open a crack. "Mikhail!" he gasped. Sure enough, his former friend, in Khlyst uniform but with the hood down, was shooting out a window in the wine cellar towards the square, laughing as he did. "That lousy so and so!" the count grumbled, "To think I trusted someone like him who'd...!"

There came a sound much like thunder from behind them, of dozens of feet pounding up the tunnel. The tsar was on his way. "...good work, Yusupov," his voice came wafting through the rooms, "We would have looked for hours if you hadn't pointed this out. Again, I wish you'd stay where it's safe, Mother."

"I'm not leaving until I know all the children are safe, Nicholas," the dowager could be heard saying firmly. The footsteps grew louder until dozens of armed troops poured into the servants' quarters. "Where...?" Michael spoke up loudly, glancing with confusion around the unfamiliar rooms.

"Psst," Vladimir waved him over and put his finger to his lips. He pointed out the door, where Andronikov was firing again after having reloaded. "Ha ha!" he shouted confidently, "Take that you no-good fools! I, Mikhail Andronikov, am now the most powerful Romanov of all; you shall bow before me before this night is over!"

"Andronikov!" Nicholas murmured in disgust over Dmitry's shoulder. The tsar pushed the panel open, stormed up to the prince, who had his back to him and didn't see him coming, and tapped Andronikov hard on the shoulder. "Just a minute, OK!?" the prince shouted without turning around. "Take this!" he barked delightedly, firing off some more shots, "Why don't you just give up and go home; there's no way you can...!"

He abruptly stopped firing and froze up. Again without turning around, he slowly reached back and felt Nicholas's shoulders and beard. He gulped loudly. "You're not Rasputin, are you!?" he asked weakly.

"Andronikov!" Nicholas roared, spinning him around, "How dare you do this!?"

"This, this, this, this isn't what it looks like, your Majesty!" Andronikov pleaded desperately, "This...this...this...this is all a frame-up, yes, that's it, a frame-up! Rasputin, he put me up to it; said he'd kill me if I didn't...Vladimir, old friend!" he'd noticed the count behind the tsar, "Old friend, we've known each other so many years, you know I would never...!"

"Yes, Mikhail Mikhailovich, I've known you for years," Vladimir advanced towards him, glaring, "But you are no friend of mine."

He decked the prince hard, sending him crashing to the floor. Nicholas kicked Andronikov's gun away and hauled him back up. "All right Andronikov, I'd better get some answers!" he roared, "Where are my wife and children!?"

"I don't know!"


"I SWEAR I DON'T KNOW!" Andronikov begged, "I'm just a low-level man, believe me; he wouldn't tell...!"

Dozens of rifles were pressed against his head. "OK, OK!" he whimpered, "Rasputin's going to throw your children in the river; the tsarina's going to walk right off the roof; she's probably halfway to the edge now!"

"Dear God!" the tsar grimaced in fear, "How many men has he got here?"

"About sixty or seventy or so; I wasn't keeping count!"

"That does mean we're outnumbered right now, though," Michael shook his head, "And I can't guarantee when my reserves might arrive..."

"What about the troops in the hospital?" Yusupov relayed Dmitry's suggestion, "There's got to be over a hundred of them; some of them can walk and carry weapons..."

"Yes, that might do it," Michael snapped his fingers, "As long as..."

"Hey Prince, what's going on down...?" another Khlyst abruptly appeared in the nearest stairway out of the wine cellar. "WHOA!" he gasped in shock to see dozens of royal troops already inside and bolted back up the stairs before any of them could get a shot off. "After him, someone!" Nicholas commanded, "We can't let him sound the alarm!"

A pair of troops rushed up the stairs. "All right, I'm going to find my wife," the tsar told his command, his face still white at the fate the Khlysts had for Alexandra, "The rest of you, find the children before the Khlyst can do them in! Then get to the hospital and rally as many men as you can to the cause! Good luck."

"I wouldn't advise going alone, your Majesty," Dzhunkovsky stepped forward before Nicholas could run off, having handcuffed a now glum Andronikov to a pipe on the wall, "I'll provide protection."

"Very well, Mr. Dzhunkovsky, but let's hurry!" Nicholas rushed up the stairs out the wine cellar. "This way, then," Michael pointed down to the other end of the vast wine cellar, "Half of you go to the hospital, the rest follow me for the children. And like he says, let's hurry."

The party dashed through the wine cellar. "Vladimir, please, you've got to believe me, I'm not as bad as I may seem by this!" Andronikov made one last desperate plea to his former friend at the back of the line, "Haven't you ever wanted to advance beyond a meaningless existence in a nowhere job!?"

"Not the way you do it, Mikhail Mikhailovich," Vladimir shook his head sternly, "I'm no friend of people who would endanger the lives of children to get ahead-or who treat my real friends like garbage," he patted Dmitry on the head, "So," he hefted a heavy wine cask, "have a drink to the end of our relationship, Prince Andronikov."

He smashed the cask over Andronikov's head. The prince sputtered in shock, covered from head to toe in wine. "So long," Vladimir waved goodbye to him as he and Dmitry followed everyone up the cellar, "And try not to get too cold in Siberia."

"Come out wherever you are, Alexei Nikolaevich!" Rasputin bellowed, throwing open doors all along the second floor hallway, "You can't hide from me forever!"

"Nope, he's not up here," Bartok announced, fluttering around a chandelier overhead.

"Now how could he possibly have gotten up there, Bartok!?" the sorcerer demanded.

"Just thinking, sir, he might have chosen the last place we'd look," the bat rationalized. Rasputin groaned in frustration. He flung open the door to the main nursery and kicked the bed over. No sign of Alexei there or in the large toy chest when he kicked that open as well. "You would do well to come out and show yourself, Alexei Nikolaevich!" he roared, nearing ripping the closet door off its hinges when he threw it open, although Alexei wasn't in there either, "I am getting, very, very, tired of all this!"

"Not up here either," Bartok gazed up the fireplace flu. His master growled again. "I should have done this the easy way from the start!" he muttered, hefting the reliquary. Mist poured from it to reveal a shaking Alexei hiding inside a clock case. "Aha, I know where he is now!" Rasputin snickered, "This game will end quickly now."

"Keep down your Majesty," Dzhunkovsky pushed the tsar over as they entered the Field Marshal's Hall, "No telling what could be waiting for us in here."

The hall, however, was quiet, with no sign of any life. "OK, let's see what the fastest route to the roof is," Nicholas whispered nervously, "We're probably..."

His attention was caught by a sudden cry from outside. "Oh no!" the tsar gasped. He dashed for the door to the balcony and threw it open. "Alix, no!" he cried up at the sky. A dark shape could be seen falling from above with a wild cry. Frantic, the tsar lunged halfway off the balcony and just managed to grab hold of his wife's ankles as she sailed by him. "Give me a hand!" he cried to Dzhunkovsky, sliding over the edge towards solid concrete below, "I can't hold her much longer!"

Dzhunkovsky grabbed the sovereign around the midsection and just managed to pull the two of them back onto the balcony. "Alix, Alix, are you all right!?" Nicholas shook the tsarina hysterically.

"The Father...made me...fly..." a still hypnotized Alexandra droned, "Now...I can fly...like a bird..."

"Aix, snap out of it; it's me, Nicky!" he cried desperately at her, "Tell me you know me!"

"There...is no better friend...than Father Rasputin," his wife started laughing softly. "My God!" the tsar was aghast, "Has he really...!?"

"Down!" Dzhunkovsky smothered them both as magical bursts slammed into the balcony railing. A pair of Khlysts had entered the hall and were firing at them. The former gendarme chief cocked his pistol and returned fire on the sorcerers. The fat one on the right immediately fell to the floor; his thinner colleague turned tail and ran from the hall, shoving his way past another figure coming up the way the tsar had. "Bishop!?" Dzhunkovksky noticed Feofan rushing up, "Didn't I ask you to stay on the outside!? You're not armed..."

"And staying on the outside would mean I'd be repudiating my holy vow to help those in need. Oh my," the bishop grimaced at Alexandra's condition, "This looks like a bad curse, no doubt about it."

"Well do something then, bring her out of it!" Nicholas commanded him.

"I wish I could, but we'd have to stop Rasputin to do it in all likelihood," Feofan shook his head sadly.

"Then let's get going!" Nicholas hauled his wife up and carried her along towards the door, "The sooner we get to the hospital and get some more reserves, the better!"

"Shhh," Rasputin whispered to Bartok as they entered the drawing room the sorcerer knew Alexei was hiding in. "I don't know, Bartok, do you think he could be in here?" he asked the bat loudly.

"Who...knows...sir?" Bartok said their predetermined dialogue equally loudly and admittedly unconvincingly, "He...could...be...hiding...anywhere...in...the... palace."

"Yes, indeed. In fact he could even be right...HERE!" Rasputin fired his reliquary at the clock in question, blasting the top off it. A loud cry confirmed the heir's hiding place. Rasputin stormed over and yanked a terrified Alexei out of the remains of the clock. "So, you thought you could hide from me!?" he shouted in the boy's face, "The end is coming right now, and...!"

"Rasputin!" came a terrified shout from the hall, "The tsar!"

"He's here in the...!" a second voice rose up, only to be cut off when the two Khlysts collided in the doorway and spilled to the floor. "Mudrolubov, Manasevich, what is the meaning of...!?" their superior demanded.

"The tsar, he's in the palace!" Manasevich stumbled towards him, "He got past the defense shield somehow; he's got a small army in the basement now; they'll be up here at any minute!"

"He's in the Field Marshal Hall right now; Soloviev's dead!" Mudrolubov related his own tale, "What do we do now!?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe we should just surrender!?" Rasputin said with extreme sarcasm. He slapped his underlings across the face. "You go out fighting to the bitter end, you miserable cowards!" he upbraided them, "Get everyone not taking care of the princesses to corner them and slaughter them all! Get going!"

The two Khlysts rushed out the door. "Oh boy, we were so busy looking for the heir, we forgot to keep track of what was going on outside!" Bartok rued, staring at the reliquary as Rasputin conjured up images of Michael's troops in the wine cellar and then Nicholas carrying Alexandra down the stairs towards the hospital.

"You'd better surrender now!" Alexei told his captor confidently, "My father won't give up until he beats you good!"

"Really? Well, neither do I!" Rasputin snarled in his face, "Allow me to show you how a Khlyst makes war!"

He fired blasts from the reliquary at the drawing room's chandeliers, which transformed into giant, ominous bats. "Seek and destroy!" Rasputin ordered them. With unearthly shrieks, the bats swooped from the ceiling and out the door. Laughing, Rasputin carried Alexei out into the hall and stopped along a staircase with many marble statues along its length. He fired at them as well, and the statues, their eyes now glowing a sinister green, climbed off their pedestals, wielding their weapons. "Seek and destroy!" Rasputin repeated the order for them before they lumbered off to carry out the command. He bustled further down the hall to the armory. Another discharge from the reliquary brought dozens of swords, pistols, axes, maces, and muskets to life. "You think your father's so great and strong!?" Rasputin laughed to a now deeply worried Alexei as the weapons flew over their heads, "Let's see how brave he is when his own house starts fighting against him!"

"Should be a staircase up out of here soon," Michael murmured to his mother at the front of his remaining detachment, "We should come out at the Malachite Room; from there we can..."

"Quiet," Maria Feodorovna held up her hand, frowning worriedly, "I thought I just heard...that sounds like Tatiana!"

She grabbed her son's gun and took off running. "Mother, no, wait!" Michael cried after her, but she paid no heed. She swung a hard left into the depths of the wine cellar. Sure enough, about a dozen or so hooded figures could be seen at the end of the hall, and several were carrying squirming sacks. "I said let me out of here!" came what was indeed Tatiana's voice from inside the nearest sack, which was shaking crazily from side to side-so much so, in fact, that it sent the man carrying her veering into the wall. "That does it!" he shouted, tossing the sack to the ground despite the loud cry of its occupant. He dug through his robe for a set of pistols. "Forget the river; shoot them!" he ordered two of the other robed figures, handing them two of the guns.

Her heart pounding in dread, the former empress rushed forward as fast as she could. The Khylsts had quickly lined up all the sacks against the wall, and the gunmen were about to shoot. "Ready!" came the command from the apparent leader of the group, "Aim...!"

"Drop, your weapons, now!" she ordered, reaching the doorway and pointing her own firearm at the gunmen. The Khlyst all jumped in shock-then started laughing when they saw who was threatening them. "Oh no, it looks like we've been beaten!" Bonch-Bruevich, the apparent leader of the group, pulled down his hood and sneered mockingly in the dowager's face. "Am I right, all of you?" he asked the other Khlysts in the room, now all laughing themselves, "We're really scared of an old...!"

"FREEZE!" came Michael's order as he and dozens of his troops joined the dowager in the doorway, their own guns leveled at the evil sorcerers. "...army!" Bonch-Bruevich gulped, dropping his gun and throwing his hands in the air. Too shocked at the sudden intrusion to put up much of a fight, most of the rest of the Khlysts abruptly did the same-except for Isidor on the far right, who raised a glowing talisman menacingly. Two troops jumped on top of him as he fired it, and the blast of magic slammed into the ceiling, sending a large chunk of concrete unluckily down on Yusupov's head. The prince stumbled and toppled to the floor. "Up against the wall, all of you!" the dowager ordered the other evil sorcerers, who meekly complied. She tore open Tatiana's sack. "Oh my dear, are you all right!?"

"Grandma, I was so scared!" Tatiana hugged her tearfully. Her grandmother watched the troops rip open the other sacks, revealing Olga and Marie, but not...

"Where is Anastasia!?" she demanded Bonch-Bruevich as he was handcuffed by Michael.

"I have no idea, lady, really," he stammered.

"I SAID," she seized him by the collar and somehow lifted him off the ground, "WHERE IS MY GRANDDAUGHTER!? OR SHALL I CRUSH YOUR NECK HERE AND NOW!?"

"I swear I don't know!" for all his revolutionary swagger, Bonch-Bruevich proved a coward under duress, "Taking her was Varnava and Pitirim's job, and I don't have a clue where they got to!"

"Marie, did you see your sister at all?" the dowager asked the girl.

"No," a still shaking Marie shook her head, "She wasn't in the room before they shoved me in that sack; I don't know where she got to."

"All right then," Maria Feodornovna suppressed a nervous gulp, "You and your sisters go outside where it's safe; you there, escort them out to safety," she instructed one of the soldiers who wasn't herding the now prisoner Khlysts out of the wine cellar. I'm going to find Anastasia."

"Mother, I really wouldn't advise..." Michael tried to dissuade her.

"I'll be fine, Michael!" she practically barked at him, seeing the stairs out of the basement and rushing up them, "The way I feel right now, no one would dare stand in my path!"

She disappeared from sight. "All right then, out you all go!" Michael turned his attention back to the Khlysts, pushing a reluctant Martemian along. "Felix?" Vladimir, meanwhile, shook his friend on the floor, but Yusupov was completely dazed and out of it. "Oh well, you should come through in no time," the count shrugged, "Well, what do you suggest we do now, Dmitry Old-?" he turned around, but Dmitry had run off as well. "Hmm," Vladimir mused, "It must be true then he really cares for her, am I right Felix?" he asked his out-of-it friend, "I just hope the little guy knows what he's doing."

Suddenly an unearthly shriek roared up from the wine cellar. "WATCH OUT!" came the loud cry. "WHOA BOY!" Vladimir exclaimed to see one of Rasputin's giant bats soaring up the corridor. The soldier taking the princesses to safety quickly hustled them back into the servants' quarters and out of harm's way, but the bat swooped down and broke the handcuffs holding the Khlysts prisoners. The sorcerers dove for their weapons again, and, with the bat giving them protection from the air, started firing on Michael's command again-and moreover, even more Khlysts as per Rasputin's orders started showing up in the wine cellar as well and also opened fire. "What a night!" Vladimir, unnoticed by them, rushed for the stairs the dowager had gone up, "Maybe I should have gone on another vacation after all!"

"Just a little bit further," Nicholas recognized the hospital wing, "We should be able to..."

"DUCK!" Dzhunkovsky pushed him and the tsarina down as a pike sailed over their heads, slamming into the wall behind them. "Now who threw...!?" the former gendarme chief was cut off by a gun being fired. "What!?" he gasped, seeing the gun was floating in midair ahead of them with no one near it. He fired back and managed to disable it, sending it clattering broken to the floor, but more guns appeared from around the corner and started firing. "What is this!?" Nicholas protested in shock, pulling his still hypnotized wife behind a sturdy pillar, "Is this...!?"

"I would think so!" Dzhunkovsky fired until he ran out of bullets. A solid wall of weapons stood between them and the hospital. "Now what do we do!?" he wondered out loud.

"If we can't get there, we can still warn them," Nicholas dared to stand up and lean around the pillar. "The children!" he shouted as loud as he could towards the hospital, "The Khlyst are after the royal children; if you men can hear me, you're our only hope!"

"Watch out!" Dzhunkovsky pulled him back just before a sword slammed into the pillar right where his head would have been. "Your Majesty, is that you!?" came Basil Rodansky's voice from the hospital doorway.

"Yes, yes, it is I!" Nicholas backpedaled as an ominous set of swords and maces zoomed through the air towards their hiding place, "Don't worry about me, whoever you are, rally the other men in there to save my children, and hurry!"

The guns started firing at him again. The tsar rushed for a closet, his wife still in his arms. "Close the door, close the door!" he shouted to Dzhunkovsky, who did so. This, however, was far from safe for them, as pistol and musket blasts tore into the door, sending them scrambling for the corners of the closet. The swords and axes started chopping at the heavy wooden frame as well. "Well, it's all in their hands now," Dzhunkovsky mumbled nervously, "I just hope they can succeed quickly enough for us."

Dmitry's heart was pounding faster than a hummingbird's wings as he tore through the servants' tunnels up to the top floor of the palace. Where had they taken her if she hadn't been with her sisters!? Was Rasputin taking special pleasure in destroying her? His heart couldn't take that thought.

He stopped briefly to get track of his bearings. He was apparently in the topmost floor now, near the southeast corner of the palace. By now all of the Khlysts had to know the tsar was in the palace, so they obviously couldn't risk taking her outside at ground level. But would they be up this high with her? He wasn't sure at all.

He came to another doorway into the palace itself. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open. He glanced around. No sign of anyone, which was probably to be expected given the tsar's troops were down in the basement, likely attracting the Khlysts there. He stepped out, relieved...

Until the pole was slammed into his chest. "You again!" Artyom smacked him across the face with the flag he'd been entrusted with, "How come the sleeping potion didn't knock you out!? Oh well, at least I'll finish you myself then!"

"You can't do this!" Dmitry protested, groaning as Artyom flung him to the floor and started kicking him mercilessly.

"You cannot stop a historic inevitability!" Artyom taunted him, shoving the flagpole down on Dmitry's throat to suffocate him, "The Revolution is at hand, you bourgeois lackey, and we are the vanguard of the people! The dictatorship of the proletariat will be instituted, and all in our path shall be crushed. Don't worry about your princess, though, because it'll be over for her real soon anyway if not already. Too bad, though; it would have been a thrill to execute her myself, to see the fear in her eyes as she faces the judgment of history and the proletariat, to shoot her again and again and again..."

"DON'T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT HER THAT WAY!" barely even realizing it, Dmitry pushed up with all his strength; amazingly, this sent Artyom flying backwards, where he cracked his head hard off a large vase and crumpled to the floor, out cold. Dmitry took some quick breaths to get his composure back. "For an advanced vanguard of a historical inevitability, Artyom, you're a whole lot weaker than you say," he sneered at his unconscious nemesis, "Oh and by the way," he tore the red flag off its pole, "Before I forget, Artyom, here's what I think of your stupid dictatorship of the proletariat!"

He strode into the nearest drawing room and threw the flag into the flames of the still-burning fireplace, which quickly incinerated it. He nodded in satisfaction...

When suddenly there came a swooshing sound from behind him, and a marble ax blade slammed into the mantle just above his head. He spun and nearly keeled over in shock; what had appeared initially to be a Cossack statue in the corner of the room was alive and glaring at him with ominous green eyes. It raised its ax high again. Dmitry jumped back just as it came swooping down on where he'd been standing and looked around frantically for a servants' door. There was one in fact a few feet away. He dove for it, avoiding yet another slash by the statue, and slipped quickly inside. He breathed in relief-then cried out as the ax plowed through the door. The Cossack was breaking it down, bent on destroying him. Dmitry started running away as fast he could. The statue was moving slowly enough that he left it behind rather quickly. Nevertheless, he kept running, hoping to lose it completely...

When the sudden sound of windows being shattered in a room he was passing made him slide to a halt. "This looks good," he heard a voice say, "If we can't get down to the ground floor with the tsar's troops all over the place now, we can still drop her in the river from up here."

Dmitry froze up. He thrust the servants' door open. Two of the hooded figures stood before the now open window, one holding another squirming sack. And he knew it had to be her in there now that the other princesses were accounted for. His blood started boiling that they would dare to treat her like that...

"Maybe if you had trusted the map instead of insisting you knew the way out of here, oh great Varnava, we could have been out the back door with her before the tsar got into the palace," the one holding the sack said in frustration.

"Well, it doesn't really matter where we drown her from, does it Pitirim?" his partner retorted, "As long as the job's done, Rasputin won't care how, and at least from up here the fall can kill her if the water doesn't. Stand back."

He fired his staff out the window. There came a loud cracking of ice breaking in the river below. "That's a big enough hole," he proclaimed, hefting a chain, "Find something heavy we can use to make sure she sinks straight to the bottom."

"Found it," Pitirim blasted a huge bust off its stand and handed it to his colleague. Dmitry knew he had to act fast. Noticing a metal snuffbox on the nearest table, he lunged for it and threw it at Pitirim. It hit him square in the side of the head. "OWWW!" What the...!?" he exclaimed, almost dropping the sack. Dmitry dove for his leg and tried to pull it out from under him. "Who are...get off!" the Khlyst shouted, trying to shake him off.

"Let me!" Varnava shouted. Before Dmitry could do anything, a blast of magic hit him head-on and sent him flying backwards hard into the wall. Suddenly his body was struck with total paralysis, no doubt being related to the strange yellow glow his body seemed to have taken on. "Here's what happens to those who interfere with the Khlyst, kid!" Varnava raised the staff again. And Dmitry knew he couldn't move to get out of the way of this one...

But just as Varnava fired this time, the wall behind Dmitry collapsed. The evil statue had caught up to him and was breaking through. Varnava's spell shattered its non-ax arm into rubble. Enraged, the statue turned towards him and raised its ax menacingly. "Uh oh!" Varnava gulped in fear, "Uh, he did it!" he pointed at Pitirim.

"No, no, don't listen to him!" Pitirim pleaded as the statue lumbered towards him, "It was him, honest!"

But the statue swiped at him with a roar anyway. Panicked, Pitirim dropped Anastasia's sack and ran for the door, but the statue cut him off and forced him backwards towards the window. Faced with a terrible dilemma, Pitirim made a quick decision: he dove out the window into the river much as he had intended the princess to go. The statue dove after him, and seconds later first a splash and then a crash could be heard. Dmitry breathed a sigh of relief...

Until he remembered Varnava was still in the room-and the other Khlyst rushed over to the sack. "Well, that aside, you're still going for a swim, princess," he snickered, chaining the bust to the sack, "If it's any comfort, you'll probably die right away."

He strained to lift the sack over to the window. Frantic, Dmitry tried to get up. The spell was starting to weaken, but it was clear it wouldn't dissipate in time for him to stop Varnava, who just about had the princess to the window. He looked around for anything that could help...

And his gaze fell on the large bookcase next to where he'd fallen. He was starting to get feeling back in his legs, so it would have to do. He planted his feet on the back of the shelf and strained with all his might to topple it in time. "Please, please, come on!" he begged it. The bookcase shook in place, but showed no sign of tipping, and Varnava was about to lift her over the windowsill. He strained harder...

When suddenly a strong set of hands started pushing above him. "Need a hand, my young friend?" Vladimir winked down at him.

"Now who's...?" Varnava turned just as Vladimir gave the bookcase enough of a push to send it toppling forward. Varnava had just enough time to let out a loud cry before it crashed down on top of him. Immediately Dmitry felt the paralysis end...

...and not a second too soon, for although Varnava was now incapacitated as well, he'd dropped the sack right on the windowsill. And the bust, after first landing on the windowsill as well and rattling around, fell over outside, its weight immediately starting to pull her over the edge to her doom. With a loud gasp, Dmitry leaped across the room and grabbed the sack just before it went over the edge-but its weight, plus that of the bust, was still too heavy for him, and he abruptly found himself being pulled over the edge as well. He desperately dug his feet into the windowsill, gulping at the steep drop below to a small pool of water in the ice...water that was almost certainly below zero, cold enough to bring instant death. In a minute, he'd go plummeting down with her...

"Hold on, my boy, I'm coming!" Vladimir finally, after what seemed like an eternity to Dmitry, came running across the room to his aid. Before he could reach him, however, there came a loud scraping from behind him. "Get away from there!" Varnava threatened, crawling out from under the bookcase and leveling his staff at a now wide-eyed Vladimir, "The judgment of Rasputin on the royal family WILL be...!"

Abruptly a crutch hit him square on the head from behind, making him drop the staff. Another swing of the crutch into his face when he spun around sent him sprawling. "Is that the Princess Anastasia!?" broken leg and all, Ivan Turganov hobbled forward, concerned.

"It most certainly is!" Vladimir finally grabbed hold of Dmitry's legs and started pulling him back up, although the weight of the two children and the giant bust was giving even him trouble. "And I can certainly use a hand if you don't mind!"

"In here!" Turganov shouted out the door. Two additional soldiers from the hospital appeared-they being in apparently better conditions than Turganov. The three of them rushed to the window and seized Vladimir around the waist. Together the four of them finally managed to pull Dmitry and Anastasia back into the room. The soldiers quickly struggled to open the sack, succeeding just as footsteps came rushing up the hall towards the drawing room. "Have you found...!?" Maria Feodorovna's question was immediately answered, for she arrived in the doorway just as the troops pulled her granddaughter from the sack. "Oh my God!" she gasped, diving forward, "Anastasia, what have they done to you!? Say something, please!"

Her face blue from a prolonged lack of oxygen due to the spell, Anastasia tried to pronounce something but proved unable. "Looks like he cursed her too," Feofan had appeared in the doorway himself now and was examining the situation grimly, "The vicious devil; trying something like that on a mere child...!"

"Well tell me how you can stop it; she can't breathe!" the dowager begged him.

"As I told the sovereign, our best bet will be to stop Rasputin," the bishop shook his head, "It's otherwise out of my hands."

"You know, stories about the Khlyst circulated in my village a lot when I was young," Turganov spoke up, looking deathly concerned for the princess's well-being as well, "One of the elders said something along the lines that the Master Khlyst's power comes from the group's main dark reliquary; relieve him of it or destroy it, and all his spells will come to an end."

"Terrific, that means we've got to find one guy in this whole palace with a war going on!" one of the other soldiers grumbled, "He could be anywhere, and we might not even know it!"

But it was at that moment that Dmitry caught sight of a familiar flash of green against the walls in the hall out of the corner of his eye. Rasputin was closer than anyone realized. He took one last look at the princess through the legs of the men surrounding her, gasping desperately for air. He was fully galvanized now; he'd stop Rasputin, he swore, and make sure she never suffered again.

No one noticed him leave the room and storm down the hall towards the continual green flashes, ducking to the side twice as several swords and a pair of muskets zoomed through the air, looking for someone to harm. He could now hear Rasputin laughing as well. Yes, his mind remembered now: along with the flashing lights, there had been a laugh as well the night his family had died...a laugh almost exactly like Rasputin's...

Speaking of Rasputin, he now came striding into sight along the railing of the staircase at the end of the hall, and he was carrying the heir in his arms. "Freeze, you!" came the shouts of more soldiers from the bottom of the stairs, followed by rifles clicking.

"Uh uh uh!" Rasputin turned and held Alexei up right in front of his face, ruining any shot the men below might have had, "Weapons on the ground right now, gentlemen, or else!"

He held the reliquary to Alexei's throat to get his point clearly across. With loud sighs of frustration from their bearers, the rifles clattered to the ground. Rasputin then reared back with the reliquary and fired down the stairwell three times, followed by three ominous thuds below. The sorcerer laughed maniacally. "You see!" he taunted Alexei, "Nothing your dear daddy can throw at me will do any good, because I can do that and so much more...like this!"

He zapped the ornamental lights along the staircase, which transformed into giant spiders and skittered along the hallway. Dmitry jumped into an empty side room and held the door shut until the scurrying of multiple legs subsided into the distance. He looked out again. Rasputin was turning the chandeliers into more bats and didn't notice him creeping forward. Alexei, however, did, and almost gasped in surprise. Dmitry put his finger to his lips and sneaked up right behind Rasputin. It was at that moment the white bat turned and saw him, but before he could do anything, Dmitry had seized the sorcerer's leg and pushed it out from under him. This time the plan worked and Rasputin toppled flat on his back, releasing Alexei, who unfortunately was then pinned under him and unable to run for it. Dmitry climbed over the Khlyst's chest, desperate to get his hands on the reliquary. As it was, though, Rasputin grabbed it at the same time. "Who do you think you are tangling with me, boy!?" he shouted, trying to pull the magical device out of Dmitry's hands.

"You hurt the princess!" Dmitry snarled at him, pulling as hard as he could in the other direction, wrapping his feet around the reliquary as well for more of a pull, "I won't let you hurt her or anyone else anymore!"

"How touching; the little nobody is in love with the princess!" Rasputin sneered to his bat, "Well my boy, I assure you the two of you will be together very soon-in your graves!" he snarled, twisting the reliquary so the skull's mouth was pointed right at Dmitry, "Because you don't know who you're dealing with here!"

"Maybe I do!" Dmitry glared right in his face, "Have you ever been to Verkhoturye!? To meet the Oldenstein family!?"

He could see it; a look of what very well could have been realization appeared in Rasputin's eyes. "Well, let me just say that all who cross the great Rasputin shall pay the price!" he snarled cryptically, "Say your prayers, boy!"

The reliquary started smoking; he was going to fire it, Dmitry knew. He strained to turn the skull's mouth away from his face, but had only partially done so when the full fledged stream of green magic tore out of the reliquary and plowed into his side. This was still enough to send him flying at full force over the railing and hard into the wall across the staircase...so hard this time that everything went black as he slid to the ground...

But his efforts had been worth enough: because he was still gripping and pulling the reliquary hard with his hands and feet when the spell was discharged, it was pulled backwards with him, snapping loose from its chain in the process. "NO!" Rasputin swiped desperately for it, but it was already out of his reach. It fell to the floor out of Dmitry's hands when he hit the wall and continued rolling down the lower flights of stairs out of sight. "Oh boy, not good, not good at all!" Bartok gulped, watching as the larger bats circling above them abruptly turned back into chandeliers and crashed down dangerously close to them. Moreover, from their vantage point looking out the nearest windows, the protective bubble over the palace disappeared. Loud cheers rose up from the troops still outside-cheers that got louder and louder as they very clearly started charging towards the now unprotected palace. "Uh, maybe we should find a nice, quiet closet in the attic and live there for a month or two until this all blows over," the bat suggested nervously.

"I've got a better idea: get the reliquary right now!" Rasputin ordered him.

"All right, all right, no need to be so pushy; all you had to do was ask nicely!" Bartok winged over the railing on his quest. "Where do you think you're going!?" Rasputin dove on top of Alexei, who'd been trying to squirm away, "Reliquary or no reliquary, you're staying right here with me as my insurance!"

Down by the palace hospital, the weapons that were still trying to break into the closet the tsar was hiding in fell to the floor. Nicholas cautiously stuck his head outside. "Is it over?" he asked Dzhunkovsky next to him.

"Looks like it, your Majesty," Dzhunkovsky flicked at a mace, but it didn't move at all.

"Good," the tsar exhaled deeply, "Go catch up with everyone else wherever they are and help out any way you can."

"Yes sir," Dzhunkovsky ran from the closet. There was a low moan from the back. "What happened?" a dazed but now back to normal Alexandra asked, "Where am I?"

"Alix!" the tsar flung his arms around her, "Thank God, I thought you'd...!"

"Nicky, where are we?" she frowned at him, "The last thing I remember was Rasputin..."

"No time to explain," he pulled her upright, "The children are in danger; we've got to act fast!"

"Hold steady, men!" Michael ordered his remaining troops, but there was panic in his voice. The Khlysts had forced him and his remaining command into the very back of the wine cellar with the help of the giant bat and a living statue of Peter the Great that had come on the scene. The latter advanced forward and raised its sword high over Michael's head...

Then suddenly shuddered and started breaking apart with bursts of green light coming from inside of it. At the same time, the bat turned back into a chandelier and fell to the ground. A few of the startled Khlysts were unable to get out of the way in time. Before the others could do anything, there came loud shouts as scores of soldiers from the hospital poured around the corner and threw themselves of top of the sorcerers, knocking their magical paraphernalia away. "Your Highness," one of them recognized Michael, "You have returned..."

"Indeed I have," Michael glanced out the window and smiled to see the bubble had vanished. "Here," he tossed the newcomers some rope from the wall, "Make sure they can't do anything else here tonight. The rest of my command should be coming in at any point now," he leaped over a now coming-to Yusupov and stared out the nearest window as the sound of loud motors got louder outside, "Ah, in fact here comes my second wave right now. We should join up with them as soon as possible and finish this."

And up in the top floor drawing room, Anastasia finally let out a deep gasp of air as the curse was lifted. "Oh my precious Anastasia!" her grandmother pulled her close, "Thank God you're...!"

"Alexei!" she gasped, "He's got him; I've got to help him!"

"We'll take care of it, my lady; you need medical attention," Turganov took her hand.

"Not until I know he's OK!" she suddenly pulled loose and tore into the hall. "Anastasia, no!" the dowager cried after her, "Come back, please!"

"Got it, sir," Bartok gasped as he flew back up to the top floor landing, the reliquary in his feet, "No visible damage to the contraption."

"Give it here, quick, then!" Rasputin extended his hand commandingly. Suddenly another gun cocked below. "Hold it right there, Rasputin!" Dzhunkovsky thundered, aiming his pistol at the sorcerer, "Hands up, right now!"

"You mean like this!?" Rasputin raised his arms-then grabbed the reliquary and fired at Dzhunkovsky, who spun around from the impact, crumpled to the floor, and did not get up. Rasputin laughed insanely again. "And now, we're back in business," he glowered at Alexei in his other hand, "So now we'll...!"

"There he is!" came another shout. Dozens of troops appeared next to Dzhunkovsky's body and aimed at the sorcerer. "I'd say now we'll run like crazy," Bartok suggested, "And I'll tell you what oh boy!" he further exclaimed, staring out the window at several more trucks pulling up in front of the palace through the snow flying outside, "Looks like we've got more party crashers on the way, sir."

"Release the heir now!" one of the soldiers ordered.

"You want him!?" Rasputin again held Alexei in front of his face as a human shield, "Come and get him!"

He fired a sharp blast of energy from the reliquary at the knot of men, sending them scattering, and took off running towards the western end of the palace and the door to the roof, firing more blasts backwards at the troops as they poured up the stairs after him. "Anyone who's not fighting get up to the top floor right now!" the Supreme Khlyst shook the reliquary to show his legions. They however, seemed to be in pickles of their own at the moment. A large knot of Khlysts were now in fact cornered in the White Hall by the incoming troops. "It's no use, Rasputin, there's too many of them!" Laptinskaya, apparently the leader of this cluster, begged him desperately, pressed against the wall while surrounded by the armed imperial soldiers, "What are we supposed to do now!?"

"Go out fighting to the last man, you wretched coward!" Rasputin roared at her. Faced with superior numbers, however, the Khlysts threw down their weapons in defeat instead-except for the crazed Madame Lokhtina, who did as Rasputin had asked and went out firing with her staff until a hail of royal bullets felled her. And elsewhere in the palace, he could see, most of the other Khlysts were losing their own fights with the tsar's troops as well. He growled in frustration; they were incompetents, all of them...

He abruptly bumped into someone rounding the corner near the stairway to the roof. "Rasputin, my magic, it's gone!" a desperate Simonovich pleaded him, "You've got to help...!"

"I don't have time!" Rasputin threw open the door to the roof, "Is there anyone else with you!?"

"No, I think I'm the last one standing by now," Simonovich admitted, "What do we do now?"

"My suggestion is find a nice quiet hiding place far away from St. Petersburg, then in about a week send the tsar a big cake saying we're really, really sorry about everything, and it was all just a big misunderstanding," Bartok gulped at the sight of the large number of imperial troops now charging up the hall towards them.

"I'm getting out of here," Rasputin started up the stairs to the roof with Alexei, "Hold them off, Aron Ivonovich."

"But I need my magic...!"

"I said I don't have time; just stop them any way you can!" the Supreme Khlyst told him off, disappearing from sight. Simonovich gulped at the shouting mob heading straight at him, and could only manage to hold up his hand and mutter a hesitant, "Stop!" The troops piled on top of him. "He went that way!" one of them pointed up to the roof. Those not handling Simonovich poured up after Rasputin. "Hold it right there!" the lead troop, none other than Basil Rodansky, shouted, bursting out into the snowstorm.

"You stand where you are!" Rasputin threatened, lifting Alexei off the ground and holding the reliquary right to his head.

"DON'T SHOOT, DON'T SHOOT!" came Nicholas's scream to his men as he pushed his way through them to come face to face with his treacherous advisor. "So, it's true then," he said bitterly, an expression of pure betrayal on his face, "Everything they've said about you is true...you are a Khlyst..."

"You wretched Romanov swine!" Rasputin snarled at him, taking large steps backwards away from the tsar, "Did you honestly think you could destroy the Khlyst for good!? We live as immortal as time itself, and tonight I'm taking back what's rightfully mine-and if I can't, I'll make sure you pay a hefty price, Nikolasha!"

The reliquary started smoking against Alexei's temple. "Leave him alone!" Alexandra skidded next to her husband, also looking heartbroken and betrayed that Rasputin was not the savior she'd thought he was, "If it's us you want to see dead, take us and let him live!"

"Only if I know I'm getting something I want in return!" was Rasputin's ultimatum, "So what price shall it be for your son, Nikolasha!?" he demanded to the tsar, "And I won't wait all night for an answer before I decide your precious heir's lived long enough...!"

"All right," Nicholas lowered his head, looking guilt-stricken, "You win. You can have what you want; just please let me have my son back!"

"Nicky, you can't!" his wife begged him, visibly horrified at the prospect of what he was suggesting, "Think of the people! If he really is a Khlyst, he'll turn Russia into a land of torture and genocide if he takes over! They'll never...!"

"I've promised the children I'd never let anything happen to them," the tsar shook his head sadly, "That promise above all else I have to keep. I'd rather be the best father than the best ruler..."

"So you thus swear to give me the country!?" Rasputin grilled him impatiently, "Swear it to me, Nikolasha, and give it to me now, and no tricks or else!" he pressed the reliquary even more tightly against a whimpering Alexei's forehead to press his point.

"I swear with all my heart and soul," his hand shaking, Nicholas pulled the Golden Orb, that most important of imperial attributes, from a fold in his coat, gave it a grim look, and tossed it right into the sorcerer's hand with an audible sob. Rasputin's eyes went wild with exhilaration. "It's all mine!" he laughed insanely, releasing Alexei to loft the Orb high, "After thirty years, it's finally all mine!"

"All OURS," Bartok corrected him. His boss paid no heed. "You have done well, Nikolasha," he informed the tsar, opening his arms to welcome his son back, "So that leaves just one thing left for me to say to you."


"NEVER TRUST A KHLYST!" he unexpectedly fired a wave of green energy from the reliquary that seized Alexei around the waist inches from his father and yanked him backwards through the air. "What are you doing!?" Nicholas gasped, horrified.

"Finishing what I started tonight; exacting my pound of flesh!" Rasputin blasted a wall of fire nearly twenty feet high between himself and the royal couple to keep them away when they frantically rushed forward to save their son. He then flung Alexei roughly to the roof, jammed a foot down on his chest to hold him still, and started zapping him with the reliquary again. "You can't do this!" Nicholas cried on the other side of the flames, "We had a deal!"

"You killed my master Makary, Nikolasha!" the sorcerer yelled back at him, "This is for him; a die for a die!"

"Stop it, I beg you!" Alexandra screamed through the flames, "He's only a boy!"

"He's a Romanov!" Rasputin snarled coldly, "And all Romanovs will suffer for their crimes against the Khlyst under my rule! Are you enjoying it, Alexei Nikolaevich!?" he laughingly taunted the boy, now screaming in agony from the spell and starting to bleed uncontrollably, "I would hope so, because I'm going to enjoy every second of your demise!"

Anastasia could hear her brother's screams as she raced down the hall. They seemed to be directly overhead now. She lurched to a stop. Sure enough, the green flashing could be seen outside the nearest window. Time was of the essence. She rushed into the nearest parlor and threw open the window. A drainpipe was nearby-and below a steep, vertigo-inducing drop. But she had to chance it, for Alexei's sake.

"Don't be afraid, don't be afraid," she told herself again, grabbing for the drainpipe and inching her way up as fast as she could. She almost slipped near the top, but managed to regain her hold in time. There was Rasputin right in front of her as she crested the edge of the roof. And Alexei's blood was flowing in rivers; he probably didn't have too much longer. Rasputin was too caught up in enacting his curse to notice her-but the bat abruptly did. "Sir!" he tugged the sorcerer's robes.

"Not now, Bartok," Rasputin brushed him off, his gaze still firmly on Alexei, "I want to enjoy this!"

"But Sir...!"

"I SAID BE QUIET YOU...!" he started to roar. Before he could finish, though, Anastasia dove for his leg and sank her teeth into it. Rasputin howled in pain and released Alexei. She also bit his arm when it came low enough, making him drop the reliquary, and kicked it as far away as she could. "Alexei, run!" she pushed him forward as the flames started dying. Abruptly she slipped on a patch of ice and toppled forward, but managed to give her brother one last shove that gave him enough force to make it to his father's arms. Before she could get up and join him, however, another wall of fire came between her and they. "I am getting very, very fed up with you, Anastasia Nikolaevna!" Rasputin bellowed in carnal rage, his eyes burning murderously as he stormed towards her, the retrieved reliquary held high, "You want to be a hero!? I'll show you what happens to heroes who dare to cross the new and permanent ruler of all Russia: ME!"

He fired a blast of dark energy straight at her. She barely avoided it and tried to run away from him. Rasputin fired the reliquary along the edges of the roof until the two of them were completely surrounded by the giant flames. She had nowhere left to run. "Don't be afraid, don't be afraid, don't be afraid!" she whimpered out loud, feeling quite afraid in fact.

"On the contrary!" a furious Rasputin advanced towards her, "Be afraid! Be very, very, VERY afraid!"

He started firing at her again. She avoided each spell as best she could manage in the confined area, but one finally nicked her in the side and sent her tumbling the roof. Rasputin's foot came down on her chest. "I should have done this to you from the start, you little wretch!" he roared at her, "Better late than never, though!"

He held the reliquary up, and a small opening appeared in the wall of fire. "See for yourself, Nikolasha!" he shouted to her horrified family, "I may not leave here with the blood of your precious heir, but I'll take a fine consolation prize. Say your prayers, Anastasia!" he bellowed at her under his foot. He raised the smoking reliquary high...

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