Previously: Yi Fan tried on the mask and ended up naked and powerless. Biryukov thinks the mask is a weapon intended to assassinate the Cobalt Czar. And now…
â€œKill the Czar?â€ Yi Fan asked incredulously. â€œNo one would dare.â€
â€œSomeone obviously does,â€ Biryukov replied. â€œThink about it. The Czar is the most dangerous man alive, incredibly lethal and almost impossible to hurt. But if you had a device that could take that away from him, make him ordinary…â€
â€œBut who would want to?â€ Yi Fan asked.
Biryukov laughed. â€œWho wouldnâ€™t?Â The world tolerates our little paradise here because they are afraid of him, but they would all like to see our master fall. The question is, who figured out how to do it?â€
â€œIâ€™ll ask him,â€ Yi Fan said, turning to Twain. She suddenly realized just how naked she was in this room with the Czarâ€™s pet torturer, and not just physically. The curse that no longer haunted her also no longer protected her. She desperately wanted to go to her room–she had somehow convinced Biryukov to do a preliminary interrogation here at her home, rather than the Czarâ€™s dungeon farther away–and change clothes while she got her thoughts in order.
[blockquote type=”blockquote_quotes” align=”left”]His face twisted as his body grew larger and bluer, and black hair sprouted from his head. Soon, he was the spitting image of the Czar…[/blockquote]But she was afraid to leave Twain alone with the cruel Russian.
â€œDonâ€™t bother,â€ Biryukov said. â€œI donâ€™t care.â€
â€œWhy not?â€ Yi Fan asked.
â€œBecause Iâ€™m going to do what this man failed to do,â€ Biryukov drew a pistol from under his jacket and aimed it at Yi Fan. â€œIâ€™m going to use the mask to rob the Czar of his powers and then kill him.â€
â€œBut why?â€ Yi Fan asked, staring at the pistol. â€œAs soon as the other nations discovered he was dead, they wouldnâ€™t hesitate to attack.â€
Biryukov smiled. â€œNo, they wonâ€™t. Because they wonâ€™t know.â€
His face twisted as his body grew larger and bluer, and black hair sprouted from his head. Soon, he was the spitting image of the Czar. Twain gasped at the sight.
â€œWhat good will that do?â€ Yi Fan asked. â€œYou can only assume his appearance, not his powers.â€
â€œIâ€™ll bluff. The nations fear him enough to leave us alone in all but the most desperate of situations.â€ Biryukov shrugged. â€œAnd if they do call his bluff someday, Iâ€™ll have a fortune laid aside. Live in luxury in the south of France or someplace. Then they can nuke this place flat for all I care. Give me the mask.â€
She clutched the mask tighter against her pubes. â€œNo. We should give the Czar the mask. He would reward us for our loyalty.â€
â€œDonâ€™t be stupid,â€ Biryukov said. â€œHe would more likely kill us to keep the mask a secret, since itâ€™s the only weapon that could possibly hurt him. Even if he didnâ€™t, he wouldnâ€™t reward you, who took his most valuable servant from him.â€
Yi Fan cursed. Biryukov was right. The curse was what made her valuable to the Czar; he would not share her joy at its loss.
â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ Twain asked.
â€œHe wants the mask,â€ Yi Fan said.
â€œGive it to…â€ Twain jerked as shots echoed loudly in the small room.
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