Declaring Total War
"I've never met these men face to face before in my life," Rasputin proclaimed before the sovereigns, glaring strongly at the handcuffed Hermogen and Illiodor before him in the throne room, "I have, however, seen them in my visions, seen their leering faces over Stolypin's bleeding body. Yes, it was foretold to me that they would be caught for this crime, and I would advise the worst for them, your Majesty, since so clearly they are just filthy traitors," his face contorted with anger at his duplicitous henchmen.
"This man is the traitor, your Majesty!" Hermogen protested to the tsar, "He ordered the death of Stolypin; we were merely...!"
"Enough," Alexandra raised her hand, fed up, "The fact you two would resort to slander against the most decent man in all of Russia to save yourselves, when he has made it clear he doesn't know you, is proof enough of your terrible guilt."
"Your Highness, I swear, he put us up to it...!" Illiodor begged her.
"Silence," Nicholas cut him off, glaring himself, "For terrorist actions against the Russian government, it is my decision to banish the two of you to Siberia for the rest of your lives, where, in addition, you will do hard labor for the next fifty years."
"A very wise decision, your Majesty," Rasputin commended him, "Nothing but the worst would suffice for traitors like these two," he glared at his now former followers again.
"You're making a mistake, your Majesty; this man is tricking you!" Hermogen shouted one last plea as the gendarmes dragged him and Illiodor out of the throne room, "He manipulated and betrayed us, and now will do the same to you if you don't open your eyes, Russian tsar! Get rid of him now if you want to keep your throne!"
The doors were pushed closed, cutting off anything else they might have had to say. "Your Majesty, I would strongly advise examining their story about Rasputin more closely," Dzhunkovsky pressed the tsar.
"There is no need," Alexandra cut in sternly, "They were lying to save themselves, Mr. Dzhunkovsky, that is quite clear indeed. The sovereign and I consider this entire matter closed."
"But there is the fact that Rasputin did not go to Pokrovskoe as you ordered him to," Dzhunkovsky extended his envelopes towards the tsar, "Doesn't that bear closer examination? Or that no one in his home town has ever heard of him?"
"Pokrovskoe was the place of my birth, but I have been a wanderer by nature since I was young, Mr. Dzhunkovsky," Rasputin told him, "It has actually been quite a while since I have been there, but I assure you I was going there before I was recalled owing to the heir's emergency."
"And I find no fault with any of that," Nicholas agreed, not touching the envelope.
"That will be all," the tsarina glared him down, "I have good reason to suspect that certain parties that don't like Father Rasputin put you up to this, Mr. Dzhunkovsky. You are hereby ordered to stay away from him, and if we hear you've been harassing him again, you will be fired. Is that clear!?"
"It is," Dzhunkovsky sighed, defeated, "A very nice day to you all, then."
He bowed to the tsar and tsarina and trudged out of the throne room. The dowager and Feofan were waiting in the entrance hall. "No good," the gendarme chief shook his head glumly, "They didn't even look at the evidence. And we can't tail him anymore."
"Well do what you can to get around this," Maria Feodorovna ordered him, "For the sake of the Russian state, we have to keep trying. Lord knows what his devious mind may have in store for us next if we don't stop him in the end.
"You won't regret this at all, Mr. Reshetnikov," Rasputin gleefully told the fat banker seated across his desk, "Just remember to pour your profits into my organization as best you can without the government catching on, and I assure you you'll be a state councilor in no time flat."
"I would hope so, Mr. Rasputin," Reshetnikov rubbed his hands eagerly, "Anything to get an edge on that rascal Manus before he gets the honor first. Well, till we meet again."
He bowed as he put his hat on and left the office. "And if he finds out we've been dealing with Manus as well?" Bartok had to ask his boss, puzzled and concerned.
"It won't mean anything, my little friend; he'll just step up his efforts to shower me with his money to outdo Manus and all the other moneylenders now under my thumb," Rasputin was completely nonplussed. He smiled grimly. "If the tsar could just see how his entire financial infrastructure is now controlled by me. Our shadow government, Bartok, is taking shape, isolating him even further."
"Brothers Varnava and Pitirim and Mr. Bonch-Bruevich to see you next," came Laptinskaya's voice over the intercom.
"Send them in," Rasputin told her. His number two and three men in the Khlyst's now highly centralized organization (they had been among the first to join his cause when he'd made his bid to seize complete control of the order, and thus he had rewarded them for their loyalty with the highest positions in his inner circle) had requested a meeting with him, as had Bonch-Bruevich, saying he carried a memo from Lenin in Switzerland. "Gentlemen, thank you for your time and patience," he greeted the three of them, "Now tell me, what is it you wish to say?"
"You tell him," Varnava nudged Pitirim, looking nervous.
"No, you tell him!" Pitirim hissed back.
"Gentlemen..." Rasputin frowned at them.
"Um, Rasputin, we have no problems with your leadership skills, of course," Varnava began slowly, "But I'm afraid I have to tell you that some of the lower-ranking Khlyst are starting to get a little, well, impatient with how slowly our apparent takeover of Russia seems to be going."
"I've heard whispers from a couple of them," Pitirim added nervously, "They think you're not moving against the Romanovs quickly enough, that we should be slashing their throats left and right at the moment. As are Bonch's Bolshevik friends, right Bonch?"
"I'm afraid so, Rasputin," the revolutionary stepped forward, "When I conveyed your message of mutual cooperation to Lenin, he was under the impression you were going to help strike a bloody blow against the tsar as soon as possible. In the last message I received from him, he is all but demanding you take action immediately, or he'll terminate our partnership."
"And I've told him before, I am running the show here, and he will operate at MY pace!" Rasputin growled furiously, "I cannot strike until the tsar and his family are completely isolated, or I'll blow the whole charade I've been operating for the last seven years!"
"Still, Rasputin, maybe we'd better try something to ease the troubled masses in our brotherhood," Varnava suggested, "Just one isolated assassination or something, anything that'll get some of our greener recruits satisfied for when we do make the big push you say we will."
"Well, let's see what fate holds for us," Rasputin pulled the reliquary out of his desk and tossed it up in the air. "Tell me, Dark Forces, is there anything that can be used to our advantage!?" he commanded. The reliquary started glowing and emitting smoke. A scene emerged from it-a scene of people running around and screaming. "Sarajevo," Bonch-Bruevich recognized it. His eyes grew wide as a bleeding body came into sight next. "The archduke!" he realized, "Ah, this will mean war for sure! The Austrians won't take this lying down!"
"War," Rasputin's attention was piqued. The mist dissolved into a scene of Austria's leaders screaming about the terms to be sent to Serbia, to be answered in full under the threat of full-scale war. "Yes," a smile crossed the sorcerer's face, "This could be just what we need after all."
He pocketed the reliquary. "Send the word to our brothers and sisters," he commanded Pitirim and Varnava, "Tell them to meet me at Ipatiev Mountain tonight-same with your Bolshevik emissaries still in the country, Bonch. It appears Phase II of our plan is ready to go into effect. Meanwhile, I'm going to have a meeting at the palace to push our position home to the tsar."
"War," Alexandra looked numb, barely able to stay upright in her seat around her husband's cabinet table, surrounded now by his various generals and war ministers, "This means Germany will..."
"I received the vision of what would happen this day in Sarajevo last night!" Rasputin declared to the council, drowning her out. In contrast to the reception they had given him at his appointment to the position of formal state councilor, everyone at the table was taking his every word with great interest. "And afterwards," he approached the tsar at the head of the table, "I received a heavenly warning, your Majesty. The Austrians and Germans will sweep eastward, and then move on here into Russia! Unless you declare war immediately and send every available man into the fight, Russia will perish in fire! This was made very clearly to me in the dream, so I strongly advise an immediate declaration of war to counter this menace if you are to hold on to your throne."
"No, not war with Germany, please!" the tsarina softly begged her husband. Nicholas looked deeply conflicted. "And you're certain you were told terrible things would happen if we didn't go to war?" he asked Rasputin gravely.
"It would mean the end of all you have worked so had for, your Majesty," the sorcerer told him, "You will not live to see your tricentennial in two years if you do not take the course of action I have told you. And don't worry about how the world will see it, either," he put an arm around the tsar, "After all, all we are doing is defending the rights of our fellow Slavs if we come to the Serbians' aid. Heaven is on our side, your Majesty. If you declare war now and throw all available soldiers into the fray, the dream told me, you will be drinking victory champagne with the rest of the Triple Entente in Berlin within two months at the most, and you'll be hailed as the Slavs' great hero."
"Well, he is right about that, your Majesty," one of the generals at the table spoke up, looking quite excited at the prospects being laid out for everyone present, "We can smash the Austrians and Germans in no time flat. Give the command, and we can show the Triple Alliance what the Russian fighting spirit is all about."
Every head at the table nodded eagerly-apart from Alexandra's, which was shaking frantically, trying desperately to beg her husband not to commit. Nicholas, however, looked convinced. "Very well then, it shall be war," he concluded, "Grand Duke Nikolaevich," he addressed the largest man at the other end of the table, "I am placing you in command."
There was a loud burst of grief from his wife as she jumped up and ran out of the room in hysterics. More than a few of the ministers and general glanced at her with more than a little disgust. Nicholas shook his head softly, but remained upbeat. "Mr. Sukhomlinov," he turned to his chief Minister of War, "Get all factories up and running for munitions production and revamp the national train schedules to meet the troops' needs. And call the British and French and tell them I wish to forge a formal war alliance with them. General Samsonov," he turned again to the general who'd spoken a few minutes ago, "I'm placing you and General Rennenkampf on the front lines of our initial assault..."
"Must it be with Rennenkampf, your Majesty!?" Samsonov glared furiously at the general seated across from him, who glared back with equal enmity.
"General Samsonov, I know you and General Rennenkampf don't like each other, but you're the two best military leaders I have, so I need the two of you to work together on this," the tsar ordered them, "This is war, gentlemen; we need to work together if we're to make the Father's vision a reality, so I suggest you put any bad blood behind yourselves for the time being."
"Very well," Samsonov agreed, but he and Rennenkampf still glared at each other as the meeting broke up and the staff departed. "Well Father, I certainly hope your dream's right," Nicholas confided in Rasputin, a small bit of hesitancy in his voice, "After what I went through ten years ago..."
"It was ten years ago, your Majesty," Rasputin assured him, "What happened then can't possibly happen again. You won't regret this decision at all."
"But why?" Bartok on his shoulder whispered softly in his boss's ear as the tsar turned to leave, "You never did explain..."
"Shhh!" Rasputin hissed at him, "Now's not the time! All that matters for us is that he's committed to our bait. Phase II can proceed smoothly from here on."
"Mama?" Anastasia stuck her head in the parlor door. Her mother was crumpled over a sofa, still sobbing. "Oh Mama, don't cry," she hustled over and hugged her, "I hate seeing you cry."
"War," the tsarina managed to say between her hysterics, "War with Germany. All your relatives there...your uncle in Hesse-Darmstadt..."
"Don't worry, Mama, Father Rasputin insists it will be over quickly," Anastasia told her, but she was barely able to suppress her own anxiety.
"The people," Alexandra wasn't placated, "They'll see me as a liability; they'll think I'm..."
"Anyone who accuses you of treason will pay a severe penalty," Nicholas appeared in the doorway, "I know you're no traitor, Alix, and they'll know it it too." He walked over and took her hand gently. "We'll get through this very soon, trust me."
"Why!?" she looked up at him, desperate, "Why did you have to commit to this!?"
"We're protecting the Serbians, Alix; the people will support that," he told her, "And every general I've spoken to is certain we can smash whatever resistance the Central Powers can put up."
"That's what they told you before you committed to fight Japan ten years ago," his mother appeared in the doorway now, frowning deeply, "They weren't so confident when the Japanese defeated them at every opportunity, were they? I wish you'd told me about this before you committed, Nicholas."
"This is different, Mother; we won't take our opponents for granted this time," Nicholas insisted, "And our cause is completely just, so Heaven will be on our side."
"You've been listening to him again, haven't you!?" Maria Feodorovna rolled her eyes, "It would be just like him to do this. It's not too late to back out, Nicholas; you can call the British and French and tell them you've had a change..."
"I can't," the tsar shook his head, causing his wife's brief momentary look of hope to crash, "I've already promised them I'd fight through to the end of the conflict, and a promise is a promise. But if it's any comfort, it probably will be over very soon."
"Mm hmm," the dowager wasn't swayed. "Why don't we leave your parents to talk some things over for a while?" she asked Anastasia, "We'll go have some afternoon tea together."
Anastasia nodded softly, still looking confused and worried. "Grandmama," she spoke up softly when they were alone in the hall, "Why does there have to be war in the world? Can't people find better ways to overcome their fights?"
Maria Feodorovna sighed again; another tough concept to have to explain. "Well, sweetheart, when people are angry, like half of Europe seems to be right now, they tend to lose track of their rationality," she explained the best she could, pulling the girl close into a hug, "And full-on conflict seems like the best solution to them. Yes, there are often better ways to solve these kinds of problems, and I wish there was a way this dispute could be solved in such a way, but it appears no one's willing to listen to reason now, so perhaps this war is inevitable. I just hope," deep concern crossed her face, "That your father knows what he's getting into."
"War," Rasputin proclaimed grandly, pacing back and forth at the lectern above the meeting hall in his citadel, "It is the natural order of the world. Civilizations rise simply to be torn down through war and conflict. That, brothers and sisters, is what we are here for. We are the harbingers of the Romanovs' destruction through war."
He glanced intently at the hundreds of figures-perhaps even more than a thousand of them-in black hooded robes (the standard attire for regular Khlysts, compared to the brown robes that only the Master Khlysts like himself could wear when they'd achieved the rank-although he was starting to prefer the more eminent title of Supreme Khlyst more often lately) assembled before him in the torchlight, as well as the dozen or so revolutionaries in the back, part of his agreement to have intermediaries with the Bolsheviks, much as Makary had once extended his hand to the revolutionaries of the previous century. "Some of you," he continued, "have been saying I've been too soft, that I haven't been doing enough in our campaign to bring down the cursed tsar. Well, let me inform you, no one can be a Khlyst who is soft, certainly not I. And I will tell you that our war against the Romanovs will now go into full force. He thinks he's only fighting the Central Powers, but he'll be fighting a second war against us at the same time-a war he cannot hope to win!"
Applause broke out from his followers. Rasputin soaked it up for a minute before continuing, "By sending the tsar's loyal legions to die on the battlefield, we will isolate him further and leave him weak when we make our bold strike to bring him down. And so I need you, brothers and sisters of the Khlyst, to ensure he loses that war in Europe! I need to see the tsar's war effort against the Central Powers disrupted as much as possible! I need to see trains destroyed, factories blown up, armies misrouted, crops and munitions destroyed, and every other act of terror we can possibly think of enacted, until the tsar's forces are nothing but weak laughingstocks, too pathetic to resist us. And then...we will strike!"
He fired burst of energy from his reliquary, making the flames on the torches alongside his lectern burst high in the air. "Once there is no one left to resist us, we will tear down each and every Romanov from their pedestals and slaughter them one at a time, starting with the tsar himself and his family!" he roared, the light casting a very large and very menacing shadow on the wall behind him, "And then we will slaughter anyone else who dares to resist us when we take back control of the country-control, I might remind you all, which has been rightfully the Khlysts' for almost three hundred years and counting! And once we are in control, no one will dare stop us! And we will make sure of that by pressing our boots on top of the stupid, pathetic populace until Russia flows red with rivers of blood from border to border! And the Khlyst will thus rule FOREVER! Now go, and make sure that the tsar's legions feel our wrath, brothers and sisters! Our hate for them makes us stronger than them, and our hate will make sure we attain that which Khlysts have sought for over the centuries-pure, limitless, ABSOLUTE POWER!"
A loud cheer rose up from the Khlysts, who eagerly scattered for the citadel's exits, ready to enact whatever terrible thoughts were brewing in their minds. Rasputin hopped down off the stage, still on a high from his speech. "Well, I don't think there's much anyone can say to question how I'm running the Khlyst now, is there?" he smugly asked Pitirim and Varnava in the front row with the rest of his hand-selected inner circle.
"Certainly not, Rasputin," Pitirim shook his head, looking quite glad they actually could now move openly against the tsar, "Although," he grimaced a bit, "Even with what you've proposed, there's no guarantee the tsar's forces will lose on the battlefield."
"That is a good point, sir," Bartok pointed out on his boss's shoulder, "One bad spell here, one misspoken direction there, and the whole war could be over with Russia victorious before we'd even get started, and then..."
Rasputin clamped several fingers over the bat's mouth. "To follow on that, of course the tsar's forces will lose the war," he told his inner circle and his "pet," "I'll make absolutely sure of it. My closest ally in the palace, after all, will do anything I say, especially when I get through with her."