“In the matter of Feodor Pushkov, also known as Feodor Serpov or Feodor Oruzheynik, it is the decision of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption that he be stripped of his title and rank and executed.” Lebedev, the head of the troika, peered at Feodor over his glasses and under the sky-blue cap of a Chekist.

Feodor, still wearing his uniform but with the insignia newly torn off, sat in a rude wooden chair in front of the three Cheka members, the most senior of whom was in charge of the entire region. His shoulders were sagged, and he nervously played with worry beads in his hands. “There was a time,” he said wearily, “when you all reported to me as your commissar. Does that mean nothing to you? Does all that I have done for the party and the state mean nothing to you?”

“It has been established to the satisfaction of this extraordinary committee that your actions were undertaken in the context of your role as informer and spy for the Black Army and foreign interventionists,” replied Lebedev, sounding bored. “You yourself said that traitors must be shot without mercy and that terror is the cost of a new utopian state. At least conduct yourself with dignity and hold true to those words.”

“What of Tatyana?” Feodor said. “What of Pyotr?”

Lebedev rolled his eyes. “It has been established to the satisfaction of this extraordinary committee that the woman Tatyana Alexandrovna is under no suspicion. As for the aristocrat Pyotr you mention, the extraordinary committee has sentenced him to death in absentia. But you know as well as I do that there has been no sign of him since the…incident…and that he is presumed dead. We will not waste the bullet to execute a dead man.”

“Very well,” whispered Feodor. “If that is to be my punishment for my sins, so be it.”

He was led away to the execution cells, and the Chekists of the Troika chatted amongst themselves for a time. Lebedev had just been promoted to Feodor’s old post as commissar, and the others were eager to gain his favor and avoid being added to the ever-lengthening execution rolls. Once they left, he turned to the window and his features blurred, revealing the scaly visage and deep-set red slit eyes of Peklenc, the Old God of judgment and the underground.

“Even with so many of us dead, we can make this work,” he said in a soft and serrated voice. “We can use this new order to ensue that those who remain have their fill of blood.”

His gaze wavered, though, as he spied a figure in a window across the courtyard. There, peering silently at him from behind the glass, was Pyotr.

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“It was wiped clean in the space of a few short decades, that which we had spent generations, centuries, millennia, in building. Perun and Veles were cast down, and without the strength of the peoples’ beliefs to sustain them they were unable to respond. Those of us who survived were forced to mime the hateful rituals of the Enemy.” Boris–or was it Triglav?–advanced on Pyotr, his three goat heads leering over the tattered remains of his uniform.

“I don’t understand!” Pyotr cried, brandishing his Obrez pistol. “Why try to make things worse?”

“This is an opportunity. In chaos are always opportunities. When people lose faith, we of the old gods suddenly find our playing field leveled. When people who believe in nothing are in power, we grow stronger.”

“And Feodor…?”

“We need intermediaries as we always have,” said Triglav offhandedly. “Now, since you have proven yourself adaptable, will you join him? The Germans are fleeing, the Bolsheviks are weak and tottering in Petrograd, and we are well-placed to sow chaos and misery and death among those that remain. If you assist us, you will be spared.”

“What kind of god would want to sow misery and death among its own people?”

“Beyond punishment of the people of this land? Simple. We are spirits of this place, and our thirst can only be slaked with blood. For too long have we had to content ourselves with a trickle, and a pious trickle at that. We have worked for many years to undermine the new faith and its defenders, and our efforts are finally about to bear fruit. We haven’t been closer to our return, our rebirth, in a hundred years.”

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“Oh, not the whole world,” the demon said, daintily sawing at its nails with a file. “But for everyone inside the Bijouplex, it’ll be the Book of Revelations. The end part, with the fire and such, not the boring intro.”

“Why tell me this, then?” Irv asked.

“Pure sport. Every few decades my lads do a little bit of Armageddon here or there. You know, to keep our hand in. But it can get a little dull–screams and seared flesh and the like. So every now and then we’ll make things interesting by telling someone about it and watching them scurry about trying to do something.”

Irv was on his feet. “You mean I can’t stop it?”

“Did I say that?”

“Well, can I?”

“Perhaps,” the demon grinned coyly. A whiff of brimstone filled the room as it exhaled. “But you’d best be quick about it. Look Who’s Oinking begins at 5:10, and there won’t be any theater left for the 7:30.”