PART I - THE EAGLE REBORN
  • Henry v. Keiper

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    Chapter 1
    Masha


    March, 1936

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    Masha stepped off the trolley and, for a moment, took a long, deep breath. Still alive, she thought. It was unfortunate that such a thought would occur in her mind, but it had become commonplace. Her mother had written her a while ago, and told her she couldn’t believe she even bothered riding on the trains at all. There had been, in the past year alone, at least three incidents where trolleys had been blown up by the Communists. Each time, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks both took credit, though it was hard to tell which one had actually carried it out. After that, there would be a while where police would monitor the trolleys, but after that things calmed down – only for another trolley to blow up a few months later. Masha assured her mother that the incidents were rare and scattered across the country – not just around Moscow. As much as she was frightened at times, there was statistically little chance for her to die in a Communist attack.

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    Not that the law of averages didn’t at times rear its ugly head…

    Besides, Masha had no choice: she couldn’t afford her own vehicle or a taxi, and she had to ride the trolley to get to work. Jobs were scarce enough in the country as it is. Men who couldn’t work had to join the army, sign up with the Communists, or leave the country. Not that other countries around the world were faring much better. Some places were just now getting off their feet, but many others still struggled. Although the military enjoyed a steady support from the plurality of the people, at least a quarter supported the Communists, with others supporting democratic reformers and others fleeing to Kornilov and his Russian Fascists. Sometimes she was amazed the entire country didn’t fall apart.

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    A few blocks from her stop, she arrived at the radio station. Catching her own reflection in one of the outside windows, she paused to adjust her wavy, blonde hair, to keep it from frizzling out of control. She adjusted her blouse over her full figure and modified her skirt as well… then realized she was standing at a window overlooking someone’s desk. The man eyed her with a brow raised. Masha smiled awkwardly at him, then quickly darted in through the front door.

    Down the hall, last door on the left, and she was in the control room. Ivan and Alexei were there, where they normally were: Ivan at the controls, and Alexei rummaging through the papers. He looked up, his face enshrouded with the smoke from the cigarette dangling from his lips, and his eyes peering through the bottle-cap glasses on his nose. He pulled the cigarette from his mouth with an audible pop noise. “Maria. There you are.”

    “I’m sorry I’m a bit late,” Masha said. She took the script. “Is this the final copy?”

    “Oh, how should I know?” Alexei muttered. His voice was cracking, as it often did under stress. “The way they change things last minute, they might have a new one for you by the time you get on the air.”

    “Don’t make her more nervous than she is already,” Ivan remarked. “It’s her first day.”

    “Alright, alright.” Alexei took a deep inhale of his cigarette, then waved into the studio. “Go on in. They’ll be starting in a few.”

    Without another word, Masha walked into the studio and closed the door behind her. She could no longer hear her high heels click-clacking, given the thick carpet underneath her. Some parts were torn a bit, but she knew the station was hard pressed to complete any kind of renovations. As she sat down in the chair, she heard an audible squeak come from below. Alright, so she won’t be able to move her hips too much during this – she’ll have to sit as still as possible. Ivan held up his pinky and ring finger high so she could see, and Masha gave him a curt nod. The headphones she put on brushed over her blonde locks, and she felt the cushioned ear pieces fit snugly over her. The dark microphone stared back at her as she looked down to review the sheets of paper in front of her.

    A yellow light turned on in an upper corner of the room. Go time.

    Dobroye utro. This is Maria Stepanova for the Moscow service. Here is the news.”

    First time I’m uttering those words, Masha thought for a moment. Hopefully not the last!

    “General Pyotr Wrangel announced yesterday that the government will be launching a stimulus package for businesses in the empire to assist with economy difficulties. This will be directed at larger and medium sized businesses. The government said that a longer term solution will be sought after soon.”

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    Masha paused for a moment to shift papers, then continued. “General Wrangel also announced some incentives in the realm of development. Imperial researchers are currently seeking to bring Russian electronics to a higher standard with the rest of the world.” Out of the corner of her eye, Masha saw Ivan mouth to Alexei, Can they get us new equipment? “Funds are also being placed to update construction equipment, in order to assist with the expansion of industry. Finally, Wrangel announced that there will be efforts to update the support weapons in the Imperial Army. Military analysts have said that current weaponry is woefully inadequate, with many soldiers still carrying artifacts from the Great War.”

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    Masha pushed the paper aside, then continued. “In response to mounting violence from Communist forces, the government announced that it was expanding the Okhrana in an effort to suppress terrorist activity. Citizens of the Empire are still encouraged to report all suspicious activity. Citizens are also warned about traveling in the Urals, where in-fighting between Menshevik and Bolshevik forces has intensified in recent months.”

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    “And now for international news: pushes are being made by Adolf Hitler, the Fuehrer of Germany, for the removal of foreign troops and influences from the Rhineland. German forces of the Wehrmacht marched right up to the border of France earlier this month. Analysts say this is a violation of the Treaty of Versailles – however, there has been no major response from the French or British governments.”

    Masha turned her head and buried her mouth in her elbow in order to cough. Taking a deep breath, she continued. “Also, in Africa, Italian forces are pushing into Ethiopia, and destroying every defense before them. Reports from the front say that the death toll for the Ethiopians thus far has been roughly 21,000, while the Italians have lost little more than a thousand. Ethiopia is expected to surrender by the end of the month.”

    Through the studio window, Masha could see Ivan lift up his index finger and wave it around in a circle. She nodded quietly. “That is the news at the top of the hour. We now have for you Danse des Petits Cygnes from Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. This is Masha Stepanova, with the Moscow service.”

    The light flashed off. Through the window, Masha saw Alexei stand up and walk out with a start. Ivan gave her at thumbs up before returning to the dials. In her headphones, she could hear the low hum of the music. As she began to rearrange the papers before her, the door clicked open and Alexei rushed in. In his shaking hand was a new sheet of paper. “This was just typed up. Updated news. Ethiopia fell.”

    Masha glanced at the sheet, reading it over. Sure enough, it was a script for her to announce the surrender of Ethiopia to Italy. The producers had detailed over twenty-thousand casualties for the Ethiopian side, with only a thousand casualties for the Italians. With a sigh, she said, “Well, that means the world is at peace again, right?”

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    PART II - THE EAGLE ARISES
  • Henry v. Keiper

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    Chapter 01
    Manstein


    16 October, 1938

    How quickly the pages of history turned. How unpredictable the plans of the Lord proved to be. He hadn’t expected Czechoslovakia to hold her ground in regards to the Sudetenland. Indeed, with the internal turmoil he heard about, both from the ethnic Germans and the ethnic Slovaks, Manstein expected the Czechoslovakian government to cave in to the slightest bit of pressure. Yet this wasn’t to be. The Romanian government had promised her support in light of war. The French government had promised her support, and declared that the French and Czechoslovakian militaries combined were more than a match for the German army. So it was that when the final ultimatum was given, the Czechoslovakian government retorted that there would not be one inch of Czech land surrendered.

    Manstein had hoped that Hitler would come to his senses. He had hoped that OKH would reign the Fuehrer in. Spend more time with negotiations. Maybe Chamberlain could bring the French and Romanians to their senses? As it was, Hitler was furious, and believed that it was time for Germania to rise. OKH, Manstein had discovered time and time again, was too weak-willed to oppose the Fuehrer. Ludwig Beck, Manstein’s superior and Chief of Army General Staff, had resigned in protest, but it did little to sway the course of events. When the Czechs dared to defy the Third Reich, the Third Reich responded: it was war.

    There was a domino effect that Manstein knew would happen – indeed, he and many other generals feared this would be the case. The French immediately pledged their support, and the Romanians with them. Germany was now opposed by three nations, and on two fronts.

    Worst yet, the German military was not yet prepared for any major attack. Ideas had been formulated, then modified at the last minute or rejected. Berlin would radio for all units to be mobilized, only for the soldiers to be sent back to the barracks a few days later. Any time the French or Czechs seemed willing to negotiate again, the military was told to stand down. As a result, any major attack would most likely not happen until a month or two after the declaration of war. This was precisely the fear that Beck had conveyed to Manstein, and why he had told the Fuehrer that any attack against Czechoslovakia now would be premature.

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    If the German army was caught off guard, the French and Czech armies certainly were not. Already, major attacks from the Sudetenland were being launched by the Czechs, and the French had begun an offensive all along the Alsace-Lorraine border. French units were crossing the Rhine, attempting to make a beachhead on the other side. German units were defending bravely against these attacks, and most of them proved to be bloody. Up north, near Saarbruecken, where no such river crossing had to be made, the French were pressuring the German units to give way.

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    Perhaps the biggest shock was that the Czech armies had actually managed to penetrate the German lines along their western border. Less than a month after the start of the war, they had created a bulge in the lines and managed to capture Weiden, with the city of now Nuremberg threatened. This naturally enraged the Fuehrer, and for good reason. Nuremberg had been the location of every Nationalist Socialist party rally since 1927, and only this year it had held the 10th Party Congress, also known as the Reichsparteitag Großdeutschland to celebrate the annexation of Austria. Now, a few weeks after the party rally, it was being threatened to have Czech soldiers march down its streets. Needless to say, this would be a major embarrassment to Germany and the Party, and would likewise be a major morale boost for the enemy. Post hoc counterattacks were being made from south of the bulge, and thankfully seemed to be pushing the Czechs back towards their border.

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    Manstein’s concern was, of course, more of a military than a political persuasion. It was clear as day to him what was going on: the Czechs wanted to catch the German army unprepared and gain the initiative, while France was making good on its promise to defend Czechoslovakia. The claims from French leadership that the French and Czech armies were a match for Germany, at least in terms of size, were certainly true. This was clearly seen in France’s attack, which was gaining ground along the northern section of her border with Germany, gaining ground along German lines. The Czech counterattack would most likely soon be contained, but they were showing the world that they would not be easily conquered.

    Still, if intelligence reports were to be trusted, the casualties were mounting among Germany’s enemies, with two or three enemy soldiers killed for every German. This had been partially Manstein’s plan all along, after all: let the French attack, let the French gain ground, then wear themselves out, and counterattack. The Fuehrer may have not liked the idea of German ground being lost so early in the war, but if a temporary loss of ground meant a long-term victory, it had to be done.

    There were other concerns for Manstein. The news had reported that a vote had been held in Belarus, and the people had voted by a large majority to reunite with Russia. Vasil Zacharka, the Belarusian president, had called on his people to resist Russian rule shortly before he himself fled the country. Few governments cared or gave any concern, of course. With a major war erupting that threatened to be just as big as the last one, a small nation in Eastern Europe being swallowed up through a flawed vote wasn’t of much concern.

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    There were greater concerns about this situation, however. In Manstein’s mind, this only drew Russia closer to Germany. What if Germany finally managed to push through Czechoslovakia, and afterward Romania? That would put Russia on her borders. Worst yet, what if Hitler decided to go to war with Poland over Danzig? Taking Poland would now bring the Third Reich right next door to the Empire of Russia, and enlarge their point of contact. While at the moment, the German military was more than a match for the Russian army, Manstein still viewed the Empress Anastasia and her country as a peculiar wild card in the hand of Europe.

    Manstein sighed at these thoughts. Things were bound to get more complicated than simple. What did this mean for Germany? Only the Lord knew at this point…
     
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    PROLOGUE
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    Prologue – Part 1

    16 July, 1918

    “Wake up, Nastenka. Wake up.”

    Anastasia opened her eyes. Maria was there, standing over her. “What is it, Masha?”

    “We’re being gathered together.”

    “Gathered together?”

    “Dr. Botkin says we’re to get dressed and be downstairs at once.”

    Anastasia lifted up her head, watching her sister as she made her way towards her wardrobe. The former grand duchess mused for a moment how her and her older sister, though paired together, seemed so different. Anastasia, the smaller one people used to compare to a squirrel, and Marie, the older, brawnier one whom people compared to their grandfather. Outside, a weird whirring sound could be heard, and Anastasia pondered for a moment what it was. So much had been happening in Yekaterinburg ever since they arrived that her wonder meant much more than a young woman’s confusion. There had been a riot not too recently, and Marie had overheard from the ever increasingly nervous guards that their fellow Bolsheviks were in retreat, with the enemy advancing on the city. Just earlier that day, one guard had said something about a “Czech Legion” being within eight days’ journey.

    “What’s that noise?” Anastasia asked.

    For a moment, Maria looked annoyed, but her face soon softened. Without a protest, and still in her nightgown, she stepped over to the window and peeked out. “There’s a truck running outside the house. I don’t know why.”

    “Doesn’t that seem peculiar?”

    “I don’t know, maybe it’s what will be taking us. Get dressed, Nastenka.”

    Anastasia got out of bed, but paused when a thought came to her. “Are you hiding your…?”

    “Of course I am!”

    “Are you certain you don’t want to give any to your future husbands as they escort us?”

    Maria’s usually pale cheeks turned visibly flushed. “Hush! You’re so mean.”

    Anastasia giggled, then went to get dressed. Like Maria, she took the jewels they had smuggled from their homes, shortly after their arrest, and fastened them onto her corset. The large jewels and metallic pieces felt heavy, and in her mind Anastasia compared it with armor. She thought of those paintings of brave Russian knights from the days of old, or those medieval characters shown on the war posters. It was a silly notion, of course. Putting her imagination aside, her dress was slipped over her body, and the two sisters helped one another complete the finishing touches.

    They stepped outside, and some of the guards who had been positioned at the house were there. Anastasia had grown to greatly dislike them, even if Maria had managed to win some of them over. Whether or not any of them were kind, they were still Bolsheviks, and haters of her family – that was all she had to know. They were even worse than the guards that had formerly cared for them, back when the Russian government had been content enough with her father abdicating the throne. These Bolsheviks, however? They seemed to have an underlying hatred of them. They would even draw crude things on the fence outside, just to make them blush. They would laugh loudly in the evening and talk coarsely to anyone, even mother.

    Even now, they motioned down the hall, without a word or even a glance to make eye contact, forgoing the respect the girls deserved not only as former royals, but as women. Anastasia and Maria continued towards the stairway, finding their mother and father already moving down the steps. Nicholas stood dressed, and Alexandria held the arms of their younger brother, Prince Alexei, to help him stand. The young, former heir to the throne was yawning terribly as he walked, and he looked like he needed more strength to lift his eyelids than his feet. The older sisters, Tatiana and Olga, were not too far behind mother and father. All the daughters, Anastasia noted, had chosen to wear white blouses and dark skirts. A strange, providential coincidence. Her old friend, Rasputin, would have mused that it was probably the working of the Holy Spirit’s energies upon the whole family. How she missed him at times like this…

    “What’s happening, father?” Olga was asking. Her brows were furrowed in worry. “Where are they taking us?”

    Tatiana ran a hand down her sister’s arm. “Olga, be at peace.”

    Nikolai, however, did respond. “I suspect we shall be moved soon.”

    “Speak only in Russian!” blurted a Bolshevik behind them.

    Anastasia turned and glared at the guard. “Papa was speaking in Russian!”

    “Anastasia!” hissed Tatiana sharply.

    “Well, he was!”

    “Shut up!” said the guard. “Get downstairs.”

    To Anastasia’s surprise, they were not taken into any of the rooms on the first floor, but a room down in the basement. Ivan Kharitonov, their head cook, Alexei Trupp, their chief footman, Anna Demidova, their maid, and Dr. Eugene Botkin, their family physician, were already there. Anastasia pondered for a moment why these four would be whisked away with them in the dead of night, but figured as they had all refused to leave the family’s side, it was only natural that they would come. They probably would have refused to be separated. Dr. Botkin would certainly be necessary for Alexei’s sake. Poor, poor little brother.

    As the group milled together in the medium-sized room, the sound of footsteps drew silence, and all faces turned. Yakov Yurovsky, the chief of the Bolshevik guard at the house, had come down the steps. His men, who seemed either too tired – or too drunk – to salute him, didn’t even lift their gaze as he walked in. Anastasia immediately felt her blood boil. Everyone in the family, she knew, hated the man. He was responsible for many of the tightening restrictions they had to endure, and he rarely told them anything of the outside world – they had to find out from word of mouth or from whatever guard Maria had fallen in love with at the time. Either way, his sudden appearance hadn’t made the night any better.

    Yakov paused to study the family, then began to point and give orders. “Nikolai, there. Alexandra, there… Maria there, Tatiana there… no, there…” And so on it went, with the family ordered about about towards different spots in the room. All of it was against the wall.

    Maria and Anastasia took spots near the door. Maria whispered to Anastasia, “One of the men told me he used to be a photographer before the war, can you believe it?”

    “Is he going to take our photograph?” Anastasia asked.

    “Girls, be quite, please,” came Alexandra’s whispered orders. They were in English, tinged with her native German, and yet, unlike in the stairway, no one barked at her.

    Once everyone had been placed somewhere, Yakov nodded, then left up the stairway. Anastasia saw his boots disappear past the top of the doorway.

    “Could we have a chair for my wife and my son?” Nikolai asked. “He hasn’t been feeling well.”

    One of the Bolsheviks lifted up his gaze, then adjusted his hat. It had gone off kilter. “What?”

    “Could we please have some chairs for my wife and son?”

    The Bolshevik blinked one eye, then the other, like an infant waking up, then said, “Alright, yer majesty...” He left out the door, while the other guard snickered.

    “He is still your majesty, to you!” Anastasia barked.

    Tatiana shot her sister a sharp, motherly look. “Anastasia, will you guard your tongue?”

    Maria broad hands patted Anastasia on the shoulder. With her strength, it almost like a boy doing so. “I know you’re upset, Nastenka, but please… this will be over soon. We just have to endure it for now.”

    “Why, are the Whites coming? Are they coming to rescue father?”

    “I don’t know...”

    The guard returned, carrying two chairs awkwardly under each arm. Their legs bonked on either side of the doorway as he came in. They were placed down by Alexandra and Alexei without further adjustment. Nikolai helped his wife and son to sit down. Anastasia noticed the strangely shaped bulges in Alexei’s tunic, and realized that he must be wearing jewelry underneath his clothing, like all of them were. She felt pity for him, as it couldn’t have helped his already worsening condition. It must have been unbearable for him to walk – it was no wonder he had to sit down. She wished she could have gone over and hugged him, and told him it would be okay, but they were told to wait where they were.

    There were footsteps, and then Yakov reappeared. He was flanked by several men, who all spread out in a line about him as they entered the room. There was a pause among the group. Yakov stepped forward, then surveyed the room. He seemed to consider where he had placed everyone again, with that photographer’s eye that Maria had mentioned. At last, his eyes stopped on Nikolai, the former tsar. There were no words said. Yakov merely stared at him, and seemed to… hesitate. Anastasia felt like, behind those glassy, cold eyes, something was stirring. Like there was a fight going on. Two thoughts in conflict with each other. There was an argument in his head, loud as a shout and yet no one but Yakov could hear it. His boots creaked in the silent room as he leaned forward, then rocked back to come on his heels again. Once again, those glassy eyes scanned the room, from one end to the other. He came upon Anastasia, and seemed to linger on her. Then, with a snap of his head, he turned back to Nikolai.

    Yakov took a deep breath, then said:

    “Nikolai Alexandrovich. In view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you.”

    Nikolai blinked and turned to his family. “What?”

    “Nikolai Alexandrovich,” repeated Yakov, “in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you.”

    “But-”

    Yakov lifted his pistol. A flash of light burst forth. Two more followed. Nikolai tumbled back, gripping his chest.

    Immediately the other men lifted their pistols. Maria and Anastasia both screamed and fell on their knees. Flashes of light flashed about like fireworks. Anastasia heard her servants cry out, and saw their bodies tumbling down. Her mother jerked form the chair and tumbled down, her face a bloodied mess. Tatiana and Olga covered their heads and bowed down. “Mama! Mama!!” they cried. Blood burst through their white blouses, and they jerked to the ground. Maria stood and ran to the doors, only to be jerked forward and slam headfirst into it. Suddenly, Anastasia felt a hard thud against her torso. Sharp pain filled her body, followed by more hard thuds. There was what felt like a punch to her thigh, and pain surged through her leg. Warm fluid drenched her skirt. She gripped her leg and fell, feeling more blows to her chest. Her mind was swirling. It smelled like burning metal, copper, and fire. The loud clanging of the guns from only several feet away rang through her ears. Smoke filled her nostrils, causing her to inhale deep and forget momentarily how to breathe.

    “Stop shooting, you fools!” came a cry.

    The gunfire stopped. Some of the men coughed, waving their hands. The smoke refused to dissipate.

    The voice continued. “I could hear you outside, loud as dogs!”

    “Even with the engine running?”

    “Yes!”

    Yakov cursed. “Get everything together. Gather the bodies.”

    It was then that Anastasia realized she wasn’t dead. Her body hurt too much to move. The smoke she had inhaled still burned her nostrils, making her fearful to breathe. Her brain gave her little energy to do much else except turn her eyes gently around, observing all the details in the room as if she were in slumber. Near her, she could hear a soft, whimpering cry. She realized then that it was her little brother. The young boy was leaning back on the chair, clutching his torso. He was crying, sniffling even. He began to mutter for his mother. Muttering for their mother, whom Anastasia saw lying on the floor not too far from her. Motionless. A pool of blood forming under her head.

    “This one isn’t dead yet,” a man said.

    “What? Finish him off!”

    The man took out a knife. Anastasia’s still eyes watched as he plunged it several times into the small boy. He grunted with frustration, unsure why his knife seemed unable to penetrate properly. Yakov cursed the man, then pulled out his own pistol and fired a shot right into her little brother’s head. The prince, the heir to Russia, the next tsar, that little boy that Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia had doted on and cared for… that little boy fell to the ground, his body still. He had fallen many times in his life, to everyone’s worry. No one would ever worry again – because now, he would never rise up again.

    The men came to the daughters next. Anastasia could hear some of the men snickering as they began to investigate them. She heard her sister Maria suddenly groan, and one of the men said, “She’s still alive too.” He took out a sharp knife, and grunted as he tore at her dress. “They have jewels here!”

    “Really? Do the others have jewels?” Another man went to Anastasia. She felt the front of her blouse torn with the knife, and her corset revealed underneath. The man grinned wide. “They sure do. No wonder our bullets did nothing.”

    “So do these!” said a Bolshevik over by Tatiana and Olga. “Look at this. You could get a lot in Moscow for this.”

    “The boy has some too.”

    Men began to yank jewels off of the bodies. Some showed them off to others, smiling with crooked, rotten teeth. Others were starting to shove them into their pockets. Yakov intervened, his voice rising in anger. “Stop it! Stop it! All of you! You, put that back. You too.” He growled and took out his pistol, waving it about the air. “I said put it back! You, finish that girl off. Then I want every single last one of you in my office. Nobody is taking anything from the bodies!”

    The man in front of Maria growled under his breadth, but offered no other protest. He took Maria by the neck, then lifted his pistol. Anastasia watched as Maria held up a weak, feeble arm. Her lips mouthed a weak, “Nyet...” It was all she could do before the pistol went off with a loud bang. The back of her head exploded in blood. Anastasia saw that arm drop. The man let go of her body then, letting it slump onto the ground. Without another consideration for his murder of the grand duchess, the guard turned and followed the other men out of the room.

    What was she to feel at that moment? To lie there, surrounded by her family, brutally murdered? In truth, Anastasia was uncertain how to respond. Her body was still in immense pain, from head to foot, with the agony growing by the second. Her head swirled as her mind tried to take in everything that had happened. It was like she was in a dream, and yet her consciousness knew it was no dream. It refused to accept what had happened, and yet it knew, deep within, what had happened. What’s more, part of her desired to escape. Her body knew it had to escape, to survive, to live again. Her heart was being mocked by her mind. Her mind told her of reality, her heart of will. And reality seemed opposed to her will.

    With what little strength she had, she rolled onto her front. One arm was moist with a copper-scented liquid, and moved very little. The other had what little strength she could muster, and with feeble, soft pushes of her legs, she made her way towards the double doors near her. In several seconds, she was there, and lifting up.

    “Please, Mother of God,” she muttered, “please… let me…”

    Her hand, which she now saw was covered in red, lifted up before her face. Her shaking, unstable fingers curled and uncurled as she ran it up towards the door knob. A door knob which… she could not reach. She groaned, finding it just outside of her grip. It was like she was a little girl again. That helpless little girl in the palace who couldn’t reach the doorknob. Could her servants help her? No, they were all dead. Could her sisters help her? No, they were all dead, too. Even Maria, her accomplice, her partner-in-crime… she too was dead. Her mother and father? No… it couldn’t be. The mighty Tsar of Russia? The descendant of Ivan the Great, Alexander I, and Alexander III? Dead? That couldn’t be. And her mother, who had kept the all together and sane for so long? No, that was a lie. Her mind swirled, unable to come to grips with what was going on. Her sanity refused to relent to the truth. No… someone had to be alive to help her… to help this poor little girl who couldn’t reach the door… someone had to be out there… mother… father… help…

    “Mama… mama...” came a weak voice.

    No response. The room was quiet.

    “Mama… papa…”

    Tears filled her eyes. Her hand began to slide down the doorway, her strength at last leaving her. Her mind was turning black as the pain became unbearable. There was no one. Nobody. This was it. She was going to be in Paradise, with Christ and her old friend. The chill of the door touched her cheek as her arm finally lost all strength, and her head leaned against the wood.

    “Papa… papa… pa…”

    A hand snatched her shoulder.
     
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