Oooft, so, before you yell at me, I know I have other obligations, but I wanted to take on this story idea. It's been formulating in my head for years – no, literally, years – and I've finally made it solid in my head, and got something written out.
Knowing me, the updates may very well be few and far between, but I will try to write this story to the best of my ability, and I will try my very best to finish it, so please, bear with me, it will hopefully be worth the waits!
Thanks for reading, and reviews are appreciated – criticism and whatever else you wish to give!
The deep, earthy darkness of the tunnel was stifling her. Mikhail had told her to go all the way down the tunnel and go into the basement, but she didn't dare. The fear of being caught and a million other fears she couldn't name kept her waiting listlessly in the darkness, waiting for this all to be through. She'd been waiting not three hours, but it already felt as though an eternity had passed by. Every second felt longer and more fearful than the last. She was here for her own safety… Or so she'd been told, anyway. Safety? True, the guards weren't exactly kind to them, but surely it couldn't be that awful… Not to say she didn't trust Mikhail – quite the opposite – and not to say she wanted to be in danger, but if it meant leaving her family behind… Her family was all she had left of her old life anymore, and something told her that even they would be gone when morning came.
The past years had been difficult for the young woman and her family. Not five years prior, they had been the wealthiest, most respected and beloved family in Russia. But that had all changed, when the war had started. The Great War, they called it. All of Russia was poor already, and the war had drained the country dry. Soon, the people had turned, and a family that had ruled for 300 years was now prisoner to their own people. Perhaps they had brought that on themselves, though… Certainly her Papa was smart, but did he have what it took to lead a military, lead an empire as vast as that of Russia? Well, no matter how this had come to pass, this was the cold reality they had been living with for years.
Their country was in a state of turmoil. The people ravaged the streets, starving… Food was scarce, people were dying. And the government had been taken over by the большевики– the Bolsheviks. The woman and her family had become prisoners in their home before being shipped to Siberia… And now they had travelled once more, to this place, with guards keeping constant watch.
And that was how she had met Mikhail. He had been assigned as one of their guards. On the surface, he was rough, unkind, but she knew him for who he really was. He was much more sympathetic than he dared let on. If he showed it, he could be killed. The two of them had developed a type of kindness, which had grown to fondness, and then to budding romance. There was something she loved about him – he was a former soldier, he was strong, brave… And wanting to return her family to power. In all honesty, though she missed the way her life had been, she wasn't certain she wanted her family back in power. It was too much stress on them all. Living as they did now, they were more… well, free was not the right term to use, but close.
And so Mikhail had been doing everything he could to help them escape. Including his plan tonight, the plan that had brought her to this tunnel. He had discovered it one night, and formulated a plan. Only one of the family members could get out safely without the other guards noticing, and he had, out of his biased mind, chosen her. At first she refused – she would not leave her ailing family! – but everyone had insisted. So in the midst of the night, Mikhail had sneaked her out and sneaked in someone else, a woman who looked just like her, and no one had noticed the swap.
The female sat in the middle of the strange dirt hallway, when the silence was interrupted by the echoes of voices. They were strong demanding voices, those of guards, giving the family orders. Her family and that one stranger who was taking her place… How strange it was, to be listening to this from the other side, like she was the stranger. Then the demanding voices faded, and she heard the murmurs of people she knew faintly echo around her. The gruff voice of her papa, her mama's sweet and tired tone… The soft, beautiful voices of her sisters, and the not quite matured voice of her brother. The murmurs continued for what felt like forever, indiscernible to her ears.
And then she heard a door open, faint to her ears, and she heard the screams of her sisters. Her heart leapt in her throat, and she just knew. She began instinctively moving closer and closer to the end of the tunnel, wanting to stop this madness – it was over now. She was losing the last thing she had left of her old life, without so much as a goodbye to them. Tears sprung to her eyes at the first of the explosions.
The stream of noise was endless, the loud popping and exploding of the guns. Her sisters' screams could still be heard through the gunfire. She could only imagine what it was like on the other side of the wall – it had to be chaos. Hell on earth… Her own family was being cruelly slaughtered. And she was supposed to be there! If her family had to die, why couldn't she die with them? Terrified, but noble, and knowing in her heart that she would go to heaven with them, all together. It was just not right. She found herself clenching her hands into fists, hating this all – the soldiers for doing this, the world for being so cruel… Even God, for he had seemingly deserted them all. And Mikhail! It had all been his idea to separate her from her family, and look at what had come of them! She had half a mind to open the door and reveal herself – but she was now frozen with so many emotions she couldn't place.
After long, loud moments, the screaming ceased, the gunfire stopped. She didn't even realize she was screaming, and she immediately shoved a hand in her mouth, biting her fist to stifle her shrieks of terror and grief and guilt. She collapsed to the earthen floor, suppressing the urge to vomit on herself as the smell of smoke and blood began to hang in the air. Salty streaks marked her cheeks as she sobbed silently for her dead family.
Papa… Mama… Olga, Mashka, Anya, Alex…
And the stranger. The nameless stranger, who had died wrongly on her behalf. It wasn't fair! They weren't meant to die this way, with someone they hardly knew taking the place of their beloved daughter and sister, and being slaughtered by their enemies in the basement of their prison. In the darkness, the young woman, hardly twenty-one and now an orphan, wept for those who had died.
Clutching the round, engraved locket that hung on a chain about her neck, Tatiana Romanov cried for her family, praying for their souls… Praying for Russia.
The pain and the guilt she felt at that moment would never cease to haunt her, no matter how much time passed. After the initial fears, angers, hatred as she escaped Russia, Tatiana shed her old life, though she could never truly forget. She changed her name – Elisabeth Alexandrei, the wife of Mikhail, for she had, after some time, after forgiving him, agreed to marry him. They left Russia together, and started a family. But still, years went by, and Tatiana never forgot – the screams, the gunshots, the smoke in the air, and then the silence… The nightmares continued to haunt her until her dying day. All that remained of the life she had once known, outside of her memories, was the locket around her neck – the one her mother had pressed into her hand just before she departed, the one she had heard held some deep family secret.
And through the rest of her life, she never could get the locket open.
The day began as any April day would, with a bit of mist and dew and cool air. It was a nice day – the air was heavy with scents, especially that of the rain that had fallen on the fresh cut grass the night before... But the sky was clear, the sun shining down through the stained glass window of a church where a woman knelt beside her children and husband, eyes closed, lips moving to form silent prayers. The place was small, but beautiful, offering some seclusion from the horrors of the world, she thought. The children fidgeted, kneeling between their parents, but made no noise or complaint. Soon enough, they would get to go home, and enjoy the rest of their Sunday. In the back of the church, the door opened, signaling the arrival of a worshipper who had come late and went to kneel in the back row. The woman near the front opened her eyes, glancing up at the crucifix before her, finding no comfort – instead all she could find was the despaired and tortured expression in the man's features.
"J'ai un mauvais sentiment, Henry." She murmured, inclining her head toward her husband so he could hear. Henry opened his eyes, not speaking to his wife, but nodding. He had come, over the years, to trust his wife's powerful instincts. After all, they were usually correct. As the rest of the congregation stood for a hymn, the woman gathered her four-year old daughter into her arms, whispering gently in her ear.
"Alexandra, portez votre frère à la pépinière, s'il vous plait."
The child gave a little nod, climbing down from her mother's arms to take her brother by the hand. Before they went off, their mother paused, then kissed them each on the forehead, glancing toward the rear of the building – the man who had entered late had disappeared, it seemed, deserting his small day bag in the pew.
"Je t'aime, mes chéris." Her voice was barely audible over the hymn that was being sung, but the children smiled, and the girl started to lead her brother away, either ignoring or not hearing his whines of protest as she pushed down the center aisle, where the staircase to the small basement nursery awaited them. The woman watched them go, blinking away the tears that brimmed, holding her husband's hand, lifting her eyes toward heaven, as the congregation continued on through Amazing Grace.
And that was when the bomb went off.
The powerful roar of heat, flames and noise tore through the building easily, cutting off the music of the organ with a sharp finality. No one knew what had happened, exactly, and since the church was so far out, no one even knew until a few minutes after it had occurred, when a truck, curious at the noise, pulled up in front of the smoldering ruin of the church. The fire department was called, and an ambulance, though their efforts were mostly futile. It had seemed for a long time that no one had survived the blast… Until a child's faint cries were heard beneath the rubble.
After minutes of digging, two children were pulled out, burned and battered, but, miraculously, alive. A boy and a girl, just barely breathing. The girl, older than her brother, had more damage, apparently from shielding her siblings. No one was quite sure how they had survived either – maybe it was God's will, as the papers said? Everyone seemed to agree it was a miracle.
They spent much time in the hospital, making their recoveries, a harsh reality facing those so young – their parents were dead and gone. But that was all they knew… It seemed that as they continued to recover, their memories of the blast disappeared with their wounds, most likely due to a strange form of amnesia. After they were released, no one knew what to do with the children. At long last, a couple came forward, and were able to prove that they were friends of the family. They could take the girl, but, regrettably, they were not wealthy, and could not afford to support the boy as well. After some deliberation, the plans were made – the girl would go with the family, and some distant relatives of the father would be contacted to take the boy, his closest family members.
At the tender young ages of 4 and 2 years, the boy and the girl lost their parents, and were separated, and it felt as though they might never meet again. And true, their paths never did cross again…
That is, until almost 30 years had passed.