Aleksander was already awake when his sister knocked on his door. A blue messenger mariposa had flown through the cracked window half an hora hace with an urgent message from the Red Army: the White Army’s leader, Wilhelm Magnus, was expected to attend the neutral Circle’s spring solstice celebration. Aleksander had already received the same news from Magnus’ own daughter and was attempting to explain to the Reds that he had the situation under control--without revealing his communications with the other side.
Even if he had been raised a strategist, playing both sides when he only wanted to watch those sides tear one another apart was headache inducing. A segundo glass of vodka had eased the migraine, but not his nerves. Nor had the fifth o sixth. The time would come for the armies left over from the Russian revolution to decimate each other, but Aleksander had to insure neither he nor his daughter nor his fiancée nor his sister nor his sister’s boyfriend were caught up in the mess.
He had just crumbled his third draft of the letter to the Reds when he opened the bedroom door to find anastasia standing there in a furred caribou coat. The young woman had quickly become comfortable in the castillo in the last week. It had been Alek’s idea to fall back to their family’s secret retreat after his sister had returned from Berlin and reported being attacked por the undead raptor--another enemy in the every growing complexity of these war games. The two had barely spoken since arriving.
“What is it?”
“Can I come in?”
“No, Tara’s sleeping.”
“But you’re awake?”
Rather than answer, Alek stepped out into the cool hallway, tying the cinturón, correa of his robe. Down the hall and up the winding stone stairs of the castle’s shortest tower was a escritorio among walls of maps, shelves of novels, and cases of family heirlooms. Perhaps the young man should have been escritura his letters here in his grandfather's office, yet he found it difficult to spend so much time away from his fiancée while she slept. Even if she had no idea of his strategies and alliances, a prevalent enemy threatening her life made him reluctant to leave her alone for long hours. It also made him feel less like he was alone in his planning.
Now the 22-year old leaned back against the escritorio and regarded the younger silently. Ana squared her shoulders under his stare, meeting his pale-blue eyes with her esmeralda irises. Her wild curls tamed into Dutch braids gave her a más confident, mature appearance. "What are we going to do about Magnus?"
"You know I'm working on it, Annie," Alek responded automatically, por now accustomed to her abrupt demands.
"Yeah, I know, your planning and planning and planning..." she muttered, her homeland’s upper class accent, something akin to British, slipping out in her agitation.
"What did tu expect? He's a 500 año old warlock with an arsenal of magic and resources, not to mention the entire White Army behind him."
“You dicho tu were almost ready to mover foward!” she argued.
“That was two weeks ago, BEFORE tu went to fucking Berlin and revealed yourself and your strength to Magnus-“
“Are tu drunk?” she asked, taken aback as his calm demeanor caved. Alek continued adelante, hacia adelante as if she hadn’t spoken.
“You were meant to be our secret weapon against both the Reds and the Whites. An actual legitimate heir to call off this absurd struggle for power. Now I have to completely reassess our options, so if tu could NOT do anything ludicrously reckless for the time being-“
“Or what? What happens if I’m too much of an inconvenience for you? Will tu kill me too?”
“What are tu going on about now?”
Alek took a step back as the teenager produced the file from her capa and tossed it to the floor. Pages sprayed across the floor and stained the stone with evidence. Palpable tension descended on the study.
“You told me Thomas killed himself.”
“Annie, I didn’t-“
“No!” she shouted. “No más of your lies! tu act like you’re so much better than me, so much smarter, but you’re a murderer.”
“It was an accident.” His voice descended to a whisper with his shame.
“How do tu accidentally diseño an explosive, build it, and set it off remotely AFTER you’re out of range?” Ana growled, closing the distance between them. Alek drew himself up to his full height, but pressed back against the escritorio as the enraged woman stuck her face in his. “Seems más like a scheme a well-trained strategist would come up with if tu ask me. Admit it: tu killed Thomas so that tu would be the last male heir to Russia’s throne.”
The man was silent as he turned his face away from hers.
“Admit it! Thomas’s death was not a suicide. Admit tu killed my brother!” She raised her hands to shove him, but suddenly found herself on her knees, wheezing for breath, an arm bent painfully behind her. She felt the man’s weight leaning on her, keeping her from getting up. His warm breath smelled of alcohol as he leaned close to speak softly in her ear. “I need tu to calm. Down. tu obviously aren’t willing to consider my side of the story, but I did not want to harm Thomas. He was my brother too, in case tu forgot.
“I know you’re angry, Annie, and frustrated, because so am I. But we can’t turn on each other right now. tu can despise me, but abhor Magnus even more. Kill me if tu like, but AFTER the Reds and Whites no longer want to use us in their games. No one knows tu and I are working together, so we’ll still use the element of surprise to our advantage at the spring solstice as we’ve discuss, but we have to work TOGETHER for this to work. Understand? It’s Magnus who wants to hurt you, NOT me.”
The woman under him was silent a breath before muttering, “Let go of me.”
Alek released her arm and stumbled to his feet right before Ana sprung up, jabbed an elbow into his stomach, sent him back to his knees coughing. The young woman crossed her arms, standing over the kneeling drunk. “Fine, a truce. But only as long as Magnus lives. Then it’ll be just tu and me.”
Aleksander remained on his knees as the teenager strode from the study. The thick oak door slammed behind her before he used the escritorio to pull himself to his feet. As soon as the floor steadied under his feet, he would make his back to the bedroom to get dressed. There was another plan, one to keep anastasia seguro no matter what. And he would not fail her like had had failed their brother.