It's 1919, and you have finally arrived at the Romanov Palace in St. Petersburg. It is disheveled, and unfortunately, nothing like what you imagined. The once colorful and vibrant building has been beaten and bruised by the rebel's attacks.
You have bundled up in more fur than you ever needed in Paris where you met the former Empress of Russia Marie Feodorovna. The Empress has hired you to help her find her granddaughter's potential escape route from the palace.
You met the former Empress while you were enjoying the Russian Opera that had come to Paris. It was the intermission, and a young man approached you. He introduced himself as Pavel and asked you if you were a detective. Despite business being slow lately you responded yes to the man's inquiry.
The young gentleman, in a thick Russian accent, invited you to watch the rest of the play in a box. This seating was a considerable upgrade from your original section.
You followed the man to a doorway labeled 'Imperial Box' as the man leads you into the room. Only one woman filled the seats of this box. She stands up to greet you.
"I'm glad that you can join me, Detective," the woman's English is crisp on your ear. "I am Lady Marie Feodorovna, mother of the last Tsar of Russia Nicholas II. Would you like to enjoy the rest of the opera with me?"
You agree you would be a fool not to. The opportunity to enjoy the Russian Opera with an actual Russian Tsaritsa is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The Queen turns to you. There is no hiding the worry in her face. "I need your help Detective. As you know, the Reds have overthrown my son's empire."
You nod, this has been in the news for a while, and the public is fascinated by the Russian revolution. "You have my condolences."
"I do not need your condolences Detective," she says quickly "I need your professional help."
"Of course," you agree, "I would be happy to help you in any way I can."
"I have it on good authority that my youngest granddaughter may have escaped from the dreaded Reds." She says in a quiet voice. "I am traveling to St. Petersburg to search for her. I believe that my Anastasia may still be alive."
"I don't understand. How I can help?" you ask.
"Detective, I will be hiring you to escort me there and help me uncover any clues that I can about my granddaughter's escape."
You agree to help, knowing that traveling into Russia would be dangerous however the monetary reward for helping find the Grand Duchess Anastasia would be worth it.
After brushing up on your Russian, and packing for the coldest weather, you've ever experienced you met the Queen and her young butler Pavel on the train. During the ride, the queen and her butler reminiscence about her granddaughters and son. As you listen to more of her stories you learn about how much the family has done for Russia over the years. Along with how the kind Grand Duchesses were nurses for Russian troops. The former queen is distraught about the loss of her family.
You are now standing in front of the palace. You walk up stone steps and approach the once great building with your employer to start your hunt for Anastasia. The castle is large, and you spend hours searching for clues.
You immediately find a room filled with new radio equipment. Pavel offers to man the technology. He hopes to search the Red's radio signal for any potential clues while you and the Queen continue to search for the grand duchess' possible escape route.
Hours go by and the morning chill has turned into a late afternoon chill. A clatter of footsteps echoes through the halls of the palace. You look to the queen and then to the door where the footsteps are approaching quickly. Pavel bursts through the door.
In a quick and exasperated voice he says "Your highness, Detective, we have a problem." He is speaking quickly, and the thick Russian accent is bleeding into his English. "The radio says that the Reds will be here in an hour. I've learned that there is much looting and they are now planning on posting a permanent guard here since the war is over."
You look from the young servant to the queen, a cold day of searching through old memories has tired her. "We must continue to look," She says.
"I'm sorry your majesty, I can't risk it," Pavel responds. "You must leave with me. The Detective can stay, but I can not risk you falling into the hands of the demon Reds."
The queen says something harsh to him in Russian, too quick for you to understand. The two of them argue back and forth. Finally, the queen turns to you.
"I am sorry, Detective, but I must go," She is visibly upset. "I cannot in good conscience ask you to stay. I will compensate you as we discussed but the search for my dear Anastasia must come to an end." A well of tears has settled at the bottom of her caring brown eyes.
"I will continue to look," you say.
Both the queen and Pavel are shocked. "No, I cannot ask that of you." The queen insists. "If the Reds find you then you will be in grave danger."
"You do not need to ask. From our time together I have learned so much about the Grand Duchesses and if there is a chance to find one of them alive, I must see it through to the end. I will leave before the rebels get here but I must continue to search for Anastasia's escape."
The queen gives you a blessing in Russian and departs quickly with Pavel. You hear their footsteps echo into the distance of the vast abandoned palace. You continue your search in solitude and feel your heart beat in your chest. You must discover Anastasia's escape route for the sake of Russia and more importantly the sake of the kind Tsaritsa.
Written by: Nicholas Licalsi