The girls are going to church. When faced with a successful execution attempt, reincarnation from the dead, loss of three family members, painless bullet wounds, transportation over thousands of kilometers, and invisibility, going to church is really the only option, and they cannot wander aimlessly around the street forever.
The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood is close, but they had never walked there before. You cannot casually walk places when you are a Grand Duchess. You can when you are a ghost.
Now it looms up before them, untouched by revolutions and the end of dynasties. Their family funded this church almost entirely, and it is covered in brightly colored onion domes, wrought gold, ornate columns, and illuminated pictures of Christ and His saints. Every detail is finely rendered, and this is just the outside. Crosses jut out from every onion dome, shining brilliantly in the blue sky.
How long will it be before the new government touches churches too, letting looters in and melting down their gold to use their secular icon of a hammer and sickle?
Since they do not want to call attention to themselves by opening the door invisibly, the girls wait until an old woman enters, and slip in after her.
Women are supposed to be veiled in church, but the girls have nothing to use. I'm sorry, thinks Olga feeling a prick of guilt at disobeying such an important rule, next time, we will. Will there be a next time? Will they walk their dead bodies down here every Sunday, kneeling and standing, invisible next to the living? Do ghosts have to go to church?
Inside, the church, like every church Olga has ever been in, gives you the feeling for being removed from the world, cool, quiet, and smelling like incense. Saints look at them from the walls. Saints Peter, Patrick, Katherine, Lucy, Margaret, John, Gabriel, her namesake Saint Olga of Kiev. There are even figures painted onto the curved ceiling; in its middle, Christ stares down at the people below. The eyes are harsh and all seeing, and Olga thinks of Father Gregori, wondering if he is looking down at the girls as they struggle down here.
A new theory occurs to her: perhaps the rest of her family is in Heaven, only because of the prayers of Father Gregori. What if his prayers were not sufficient to guarantee the salvation of her and her sisters? But was my family that far for Heaven that only the prayers of a fake priest could grant them eternal peace? We were not that evil, no matter what the people said.
She turns away from the saints and their all-knowing, holy gazes. Every centimeter of every surface is painted. The floor has a mosaic pattern with six pointed stars encircling a geometric pattern. At the front, a structure, like a golden gate separates the people from the altar. The priest must act as the intermediary between the people, even for the Tsar.
There are people, mostly women, praying, kneeling or standing on the hard floor. Their mouths move, silently forming the words, asking for so many things, praying to ward off, loneliness, poverty, barrenness, pain, sickness, death, hell. Deliver us, O Lord we pray. An endless stream of requests to the Divine.
Olga wonders if anyone remembers to pray for the Tsar's family. Everyone did in the past; the prayers of a country supporting seven people. Have their deaths been announced? Do the pious people here know that their former leader has been killed?
How long before the Soviets attempt to suppress religion entirely? Even if the new government does not believe in God, the people still do, and if the government sees this as a misplaced higher loyalty, will they retaliate? Would the sanctity of this church stop them, or would the walls be riddled with bullet holes, the priests taken away for sedition, the mosaic floor streaked with blood, the gates to the altar broken down, the two hanging lamps smashes, the holy books burned in the center of the room, the smoke from their fire smearing itself across the paintings.
God, you can let the monarchy be destroyed, but not the church's, save their beauty and the people's faith.
In the corner there are rows and rows of candles, some freshly burning, some almost extinguished. All of them represent petitions offered by those with money to spare. Olga reaches out and quickly swipes her finger through one flame. It does not hurt. The sensation of heat is there, so some of her sense are still in working order, but there is no pain. Her skin does not burn either. She keeps testing her new body like this, in small ways, trying to find something to convince herself that she is still alive. She will stick her finger in one flame, but she cannot bring herself to put her whole hand in yet.
Olga cannot light a candle without drawing attention to herself, but she can kneel down, and she does, in a corner so no one will trip over her invisible body.
Help us, God, help us, help us find our family and figure out what is going on. What caused this? Did we do something to cause this. I'm so sorry; is it our fault? Keep Mama and Papa and Alexei safe. Are they with You? I hope so and yet I do not, I want them here, helping us figure out this situation Help us, help us, help us, help.
There is no answer. Her head is as silent as the empty Winter Palace that they searched last night.
The gates of the altar are closed to everyone but the priest, but now, invisible, she could enter this forbidden sanctum. She could kneel in front of the tabernacle itself, directing her prayers with no intermediary. But that is sacrilegious, and she cannot go there as a lay person, and certainly not as a woman. Maybe not as a ghost either.
The church does not comfort her. She cannot stop imagining the new government attacking churches and more innocent people who are deemed to oppose their regime because they love the wrong things: their religion, or Tsar, or property. She hates the thought that what happened to their family might happen to others, and hates the fact that she can do nothing to stop it.
Once, while learning about history, she remarked that she was glad that she lived in modern times, because people were nicer now than they had been in the past. And now, now the absurdity of that statement makes her want to cry.
She stays on her knees. They do not hurt, her back does not tense, and her muscles do not cramp. She could stay here forever, not moving. Her sisters kneel down too, and they pray out loud, various prayers no louder than they would have if their voices were alive and audible.
"Let's go." Says Anastasia finally, standing up. "We're not going to find anything here. It's just the same as it was, except people don't bow to us anymore."
Olga wants to scold her for being flippant inside a church, we're not visible, and if you saw a ghost, would you bow to it? But Anastasia is right. This church, like the Winter Palace, is a part of Old Russia, and old Russia is gone.
Their footsteps echo on the marble floor but she does not feel the need to walk slowly to muffle them. No one turns and looks at them approaching. They leave, crossing themselves with holy water, but feeling no better.
Outside the church the activity of the street continues. My country. My people. In life she worried that she would be married off to secure an alliance and sent to a far away from Russia. Now she realizes that you can lose a country without setting foot outside it. She can look for her country at the farthest ends of the earth but she will not find it. The only reliques left, royal objects, pictures, their palaces will become museums and collectibles, things from another age, like the bones of frozen extinct animals that are found and Siberia and sent to faraway institutions to be studied.
The girls watch at the people passing, free to stare as much as they like without the other pedestrians sensing their gazes.
Olga sees a soldier.
He does not wear a uniform, but she can tell that he was in the war by the way he carries himself, the proud military bearing that is married only by his slight limp, no doubt acquired in battle. It is impossible to tell how old he is. Prabably much younger than he looks. War ages you. Olga has seen so many men like him while working in the hospital. She was in love with one.
Dmitri Chakh-Bagov. Mitya. Golden Mitya.
She met him while working in the hospital during the war. There were so many soldiers, so many wounded. Of course many men fell in love with the nurses, if only briefly, and many of the women too, with their patients.
But she had hoped that Mitya truly had feelings for her, not only caused by the trauma of war. In the hospital she ceased to be a Grand Duchess, or a political traitor as she was later, and became just a nurse, another patriotic citizen doing her part for the country. When she donned her nurse's uniform with its white habit, she could be ordinary. With Mitya she could be just another wartime love story, the soldier and the nurse. But her fantasy always ran out when she and Tatiana stepped out of the hospital, in fancy tailored clothes, into their carriage sent by the palace servants, back to their palace.
Mitya joked with her, that he was a Russian soldier and had a duty to defend the royal family including her, even if she did not want him to. "I will kill Rasputin for you, just say the word!" he vowed.
Olga had laughed. "Please do not kill anyone, except the Germans."
He did not get a chance to fulfill his promise, as Father Gregori was killed by multiple assassins, and the joke was no longer funny for Olga to remember.
They stayed in touch after he was discharged from the hospital, and she remembers being so excited to receive his correspondence, even jumping around the room like a child, "I am having a stroke! Is it possible to have a stroke this young?" She and cried, clutching his letter.
After she departed for Siberia, she forgot all about him. So much for love. Infatuation is not important when you could be killed at any moment. She has no idea where he is now. Hopefully safe. Will he remain the army, fighting to defend the new regime? He will not have a duty to defend the royal family now.
The soldier passes the sisters and Olga gestures to Tatiana saying, "He reminds me of Mitya."
Tatiana glances at the man and says, "Oh- Mitya, yes." Olga remembers that Tatiana was in love too, with a different soldier. But she does not seem to be thinking of him now and says, "Wait, I want to try something." She steps forward and tugs on the man's sleeve, not hard, but enough to get his attention. He turns around, staring right at Tatiana. Not seeing. Olga realizes what her sister was trying to do. So we can touch people and they can feel it. After a moment the man shakes his head and walks on. Again, the rationality of the brain. It cannot see anyone, so no one must be there.
"Interesting," says Tatiana. Olga resolves to be more careful not to brush by anyone. She does not want to be an unseen ghostly presence tricking people.
It feels strange to talk when the people on the street cannot hear them. It feels rude, like deliberately speaking in a foreign language. Olga could follow people around screaming and they would not notice. The absolute freedom being a ghost has given her is terrifying, and she wants to shove it away, and return to exile. And on the other hand, she can do anything, anything, and she wants to go smash the windows of every government building. Down with the Soviets!
Once, after leaving the hospital after their shift, she and Tatiana entered a nearby store. They were not recognized. "We should buy something!" Tatiana said, and Olga agreed, reveling in this charm of ordinariness. But they had no money with them and would have had no idea what do with it anyway. They could not play act at being normal for long.
Olga is not tired from walking. The girls could walk all the way across Russia, to Yekaterinburg even, to find out what happened to their bodies. Or they could ride a train, unseen, for days. But the thought of going so far away from, she already thinks of the Winter Palace as home again, terrifies her.
And if they found the bodies? She could not even handle the gore of the operating theater at the hospital for the entire war, how would she handle the mental strain of standing over her own mutilated corpse? Just the thought makes her mind run away in terror.
They reach the palace grounds and squeeze through the gap in the fence once more.
Google 'the church of the savior on the spilled blood.' It's pretty fancy. There are no chairs in Orthodox churches. Historical Dmitri Chakh- Bagov has no relationship to Fictional Dmitri from Anastasia. Olga worked as a nurse for a time, then after suffering mental strain, worked as the hospital administrator.
I've increased my word count goal to 50,000 words, because I like to suffer. So you all will be gettinga lot more of this story. Thanks to my beta, ElizabethAnnSoph. Go to thedragonscosplay on DeviantArt to see the full version of the last three cover images. Go to the file, 'OTMA."