The Witch, The Wizard and the Man of Steel
All the divinations said the same thing: it was a time of change, the old rules no longer held, and all was war. As the Great War waged in the mundane world, the wizards of Russia fought among themselves. By February 1917, only two societies remained: the magicians of Moscow and those of Petrograd.
Tikhon Polyakov, the young impetuous firebrand of the Muscovite wizards, was determined to strike a decisive blow against Petrograd, especially that arrogant bombastic ass Fredot Kalin. Tikhon had spent all of December, with his colleagues, building a powerful curse against the city of Petrograd and its wizards. Now, as the fertile chaos they had stirred up ripened into street protests and the strike at the Putilov Company plant, it was time for him to bring the death blow in person.
He left the train station and walked unseen through the crowds of the angry, the frightened, and the hopeful. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pressure gauge. He quietly spoke a word of power that would awaken the talisman, and read the signs of their work. "This isn't right," he thought, "this is much too much, much too soon." Suddenly, a hand reached out from the crowd and grabbed the gauge. He looked up to see a woman, smiling wryly at him. She was anything between a hard-lived thirty or a well-preserved fifty and she clearly saw through his veil.
Invoking Kaufman's Inner Sight, he saw that she radiated power and was attended by a host of ghosts and spirits; this was raw undisciplined peasant magic, rather than high thaumaturgy, but impressive nonetheless.
"Ah, so this was your doing," she said. "I took advantage of your working and fed it; I need it to be much larger. Are you a fellow traveler?"
"What do you mean?" he said as he quickly twisted the ring that would bring up all his wards and defenses.
"What do I mean? I mean to end the rule of Kings and Patriarchs for once and always. I mean to use the magic you've given me to bring Nicolas Romanov down and destroy him. I mean to harness the power of sacred kingship and by breaking it against the anvil of revolution, I will burn all kingdoms down, and at last set all peoples free. What do you mean?"
"Do not trifle with me, witch, I am a wizard of the Moscow society and this is my working, and you shall not steal from me and live," he concentrated on her, and snapped a twig in his pocket, unleashing the Death Curse of Ibn Rasid.
At that she broke apart, at first looking like an image in a shattered mirror, each facet resolving into a black bird. Where a woman was, there was now a conspiracy of ravens and with an annoyed croak it rose up into the air and was gone.
The city had completely shut down, the Petrograd society was unaware that Tikhon was here, and far too distracted to be looking for him. It was working, but working too well, the chaos had far outstripped what the Moscow wizards had ever intended. That witch was still feeding it, and it felt to Tikhon like he had started a fire to burn down a house and she was pouring kerosene on it with intent in order to burn down a city. He needed to find her and stop her, without disrupting his own work and without attracting the attention of the Petrograd wizards, before it reached a point of no return and became a conflagration that nobody could control.
Fortunately she was untrained in the ways of formal magic, and while she possessed a undeniable command of various spirits, she was clearly untutored in the Ways and the Library. It wasn't long before he was able to track her, and stepped out of a Way into a tiny apartment, filled with smoke and angry young people.
"Who the hell are you?" a young man shouted in his face.
"I'm nobody important, you know me as the friend of a friend," Tikhon answered, and the man shrugged and turned away.
He heard her voice, before he saw her. "No, that will be just replacing the dictatorship of an Emperor with the dictatorship of the mob. Democracy is a trap. I told you, I was there during the Commune of Paris and the nightmare that followed. No, the time of rulers is about to pass, we will be free to do as we will, when no man is slave and no man is master."
"But Comrade Ulyana, anarchy cannot succeed, there will always be those who seek power or those who band together to surrender it," an earnest young voice responds.
"That is the conventional wisdom, Comrade Vitaly, but I am done with the wise. Look, here is a wisdom now. See how he sputters and flails as I bend his will to my own. Hello, wizard."
"This is madness, witch, if you continue to feed this working then no one, not even you, will be able to control it," said Tikhon.
"I'm counting on it," she said.
The hairs on the back of Tikhon's neck stood up, and he became aware of something silently moving in the shadows of the apartment. Suddenly the young man that was talking to the witch was ripped in half by a shade bearing the face of Fedot Katin. They'd found him!
The people in the apartment began a panicked press for the door, pinning Tikhon against the wall. A shadowy claw descended toward his face, and he quickly chanted the words to invoke the Flame of Isis and it recoiled. Something huge roared, with a sound more felt than heard, and a spectral bear ripped the thing apart. The only people left alive in the room were Tikhon and the witch. "Let me get you a drink," she said.
They awoke that morning to find that the Tsar had ordered the army to suppress the demonstrations. Soldiers ordered to shoot civilians had mutinied instead and were shooting their own officers. People had begun tearing down the symbols of the Empire and by midday the Duma, prorogued by the Tsar that morning, was meeting anyway to establish a temporary government.
"It's already gone too far, hasn't it?" Tikhon said as they watched a crowd of soldiers shouting Marxist slogans at a Constitutional Democrat giving a soapbox lecture.
"Of course, it has. The world moves, and you are a fool if you want to stand in its way. There's power here, though. Power in the breaking of kings. Use it to destroy your enemies, with my blessing Tikhon. I've more than enough fire now," Ulyana whispered softly, and nipped at his earlobe.
"So I will," he said.
The old woman had seemingly materialized at sunset. Tikhon found her unsettling, and was simply unable to invoke any magical means of perception around her. "It's for your own good, boy," the woman said, "some things aren't meant to be seen as they are, even for wizards."
"Mother, what have you come to tell me?" Ulyana asked.
"I'm free. He has abdicated, and the brother is a smart one; he can read the the wind and won't seek the throne", the woman said.
"Then, it is time, Tikhon, let us complete your working and we can watch the old world die." said Ulyana.
That night as they completed the curse in the empty halls of the Putilov plant, where this had begun in earnest, they heard a terrible screeching howl. Steel rails began to bend and warp of their own accord, and shapes began moving in the dark corners of the factory.
A man came staggering into the candle light and stopped at the edge of the circle. He seemed to be formed of railway steel, and he opened his mouth to reveal a long pink tongue with a blue splotch on it. He howled at them, and then staggered off into the darkness.
"What was that?" Ulyana asked.
"A Yalthea. I have read about them in the Library. Spirits of chaos that come when there is a revolution. The streets won't be safe tonight."
Ulyana shivered, as she recalled these creatures roaming the streets of Paris after the Bastille fell, sowing mayhem in their wakes.
"I'm leaving Russia for good, Tikhon" she said.
"I would have thought this is what you wanted!" he shouted, surprising himself with his own anger.
"Then you don't know me at all. These Bolsheviks are as bad as kings. Come with me to America."
"They won't last, and I need to stay to see the Petrograd wizards destroyed."
"Comrade Polyakov, come with me, please" said the obvious secret policeman who had banged on the door at some dark hour of the morning. Tikhon dressed quickly and followed. In the waiting car he was surprised to see a familiar face.
"Andrei Vasilievich, I thought…"
"You thought you had destroyed us? You did. The society of Petrograd is no more. I work for an agency within the 4th Directorate, now."
"Are you here to recruit me?"
"No, Tikhon, I have no intention of recruiting you, and I am not permitted to kill you. I came here to tell you something odd, in the hopes that it will hurt you. Nothing more."
"What is it, then?"
"This is a photograph of the members of the Politburo. Do you see this one here, he calls himself Comrade Steel. Does it look familiar?"
Tikhon stared for a long time at the face of the Yalthea from that last night in Petrograd.