Somnoma: The Sleepsick

by Overlord_Mordax

beta! This is rp text that's only had a first pass of spelling/grammar editing, and posted for archival purposes. Please don't read if that's not something you're prepared for.

Drawing room mystery/Occult horror. Vaguely based on Pathologic and starring a version of Daniil, sort of.

Original source: https://archiveofourown.org/works/34554649

Chapters: 6

Words: 229309

Exported with the assistance of FicHub.net

next chapter chapter list

Day Zero: Consultation

Chapter 1: Day Zero: Consultation

Day Zero: Consultation


Dear Daniel, I hope this message finds you well, as I am certain that you are surprised to receive it. As you no doubt have heard I have been researching abroad in a small town in the region of Simarka, Mosgrav; a little place called Tadibya. In the past few months I have happily been hosted by a relatively wealthy farmer by the name of Konstantin Chernoff and his family. Unfortunately I must confess that I have recently fallen ill, and that this poor town, which is quite remote, has no physik of sufficient canny to diagnose my symptoms.

You may ask why it is you I write to, who are a far journey away, and not to some doctor from Mosgrav City. The reasons are three. Firstly, because I have always admired your daring and unorthodox approaches to medicine and would trust implicitly a colleague far more than any Mosgravan barber.

Secondly, as I am certain you know, the capital here is consumed by the fervor of revolution as ever, and none know when the spark may become flame. While Tadibya is far enough away to avoid the fire of revolt, such times make it uncertain that a capital doctor could be contacted reliably, let alone arrive.

And thirdly, while I certainly hope that you will be motivated by the plea of a fellow scholar in need, take note that here in Tadibya I have uncovered in the local populace information which may be key to your own area of study. While of course it is difficult in the field of folklore to separate that which is legend from that which has a basis in fact, I have increasing reason to believe that the traditions of the people here may hold the secret to life extension, if not outright immortality.

For that reason, if none other, I ask that you make haste to see me in the town of Tadibya. If the administration quibbles about the cost of your transportation you may inform them that Mr. Chernoff has graciously agreed to reimburse any costs incurred by your travel. I suggest that you charter a plane for the first leg, and then take the Mosgrav express through the Simarka station. From Simarka, a coach will be able to bring you to Tadibya. Perhaps the same coachman I am bribing handsomely to make certain this letter reaches your hands in the fastest manner possible. The journey all told should take only four days if you act with all haste.

Finally of course, if you are at all interested in coming to my aid, as I do hope you are, I shall include the list of my symptoms thus far: fatigue, sweating, difficulty breathing, darkening of the veins, sluggish heart rate. I hope to see you, rather than your reply, as soon as possible. All the best, Elias Banbridge


The shabby coach slowly shook Daniels bones as it rattled and trundled its way down the dirt road in the Mosgravan countryside. They were only a couple of hours outside of Simarka and already all semblance of civilization had vanished. The windows were drawn against the mist that mistook afternoon for night, leaving the traveler in near darkness as well as silence. Across from him, his companion sat silhouetted in what little light there was, all sharp lines and glinting spectacles. The rain pounded a tattoo on the coach's roof, no doubt leaking into their luggage, and other odd sounds drifted across the cold, soggy moor. Perhaps it had been a mistake to heed the letter at all.

Daniel passed another ticking moment of time in adjusting his fine leather gloves. Two quick tugs on each wrist as he flexed his fingers, and they were once again snug against his long and slender fingers. Perhaps it had been a mistake. Perhaps he should have stayed behind at the University with his familiar autopsy tables and the ever looming threat of the bursar and dean deeming his research *an unproven sham*. No. That wouldn't do. His ear twitched in frustration just thinking of it. He could think of a hundred reasons why *not* to travel to this rural rattrap….but his colleague's claim that this town held the secret to immortality drew him in regardless. If it was superstition, then he would simply cure Banbridge and leave… writing it off as another failure. But on the off chance that the old fool was on to something… He glanced at his companion, slowly picking her out of the oppressively misty dark.

The woman's eyes were almost lamplike behind her spectacles in the darkness, a pair of pale, golden moons that caught his gaze almost as soon as it fell on her. She smoothed the corset of her dress and yawned. "Hardly the most soothing carriage ride-- especially after the train. Feels like I'm going to shake to pieces." Her name was Trifena Evgenii-Smythe, her name an obvious product of a mixed marriage-- but she'd introduced herself quite familiarly as Fenya. She was some sort of undifferentiated mustelid species, mixed heavily with cat, grey mottled fur contrasting with cascades of pitchblack hair and the most enormous tail Daniel had ever seen.

Fenya. The name still felt far too familiar for someone he just met. But Daniel didn't see the point in arguing. He smiled thinly at her, and nodded his head in agreement. "I suppose it would be too much to expect proper roads from a town as remote as this. Much to the dismay of my spine." Daniel's sleek black tail was curled over his lap, slightly bushed from the constant jolts and rattles of the cart around them. "Mosgrav never has taken well to the modern way of things. Most especially out here in the sticks."

"Its true," she nodded, sighing a little dramatically and leaning back into what could be called the seat's cushions if one were *very* charitable. "The further one goes away from the cities in my mother's country, the further one goes back into the past. At least it's probably not going to be on fire. Unlike the capital."

Daniel thought, briefly, about leaning upon his hand and propping himself on the side of the cart, but a sudden bump shook that notion right from him. Instead, he simply folded his hands atop his lap, as his tail bushed up all the more. "At least. From the whispering at the train station, it sounds like another old fashioned Mosgravian revolution is just waiting for it's coming spark." He glanced briefly at his bag, from which stuck a few fliers he'd been too polite to turn down at his last stop. "They're already spreading pamphlets."

"It always starts with pamphlets," she sighed. "They burn well. I'd say I'd like to watch from afar but I don't think there's a lens sharp enough for the distance. Is this your first time in Mosgrav?" Fenya's voice had if not a hint, than at least an *insinuation *of the Mosgravan accent, though her diction was Astorian perfect and her words lacked the thick, growling quality that Daniel had heard so much of on the trains.

Daniel raised his eyebrow with a passive shrug, though the way his dark furred ears tipped back betrayed his feelings on the matter. "I've been here once before. To the old capital to investigate a man they said couldn't die. Each attempt to put him to rest, he would simply get back up and continue on as if nothing had happened." Daniel smirked thinly. "He died of food poisoning the day I arrived. Leaving me stuck in the city for an entire week with nothing to study."

Fenya covered her mouth with a black gloved claw. "Oh that's *terrible*," she said, clearly trying not to laugh. "At least you knew which meals to avoid while you were there."

"From my experience in the Capital, the answer to what to avoid should have been 'everything'. " Daniel drawled.

"Well if you didn't find the food in the capital appetizing, you'll be absolutely shocked what they eat out in the villages, I'm afraid. My mother always warned me to stay out of places like this."

Daniel grimaced. "… some days I wonder how the people of Mosgrav survived. Your mother was a brave woman, to make it to adulthood under these conditions." He leaned back, but another rock of the carriage set his fangs clanging against each other, driving him to sit up straight again. "Please. give me fair warning. Is it worse than New Astorian trail food? Because that's a culinary disaster I'd sooner avoid repeating."

"I've never had the displeasure," she admitted. "How do you feel about turnips? It's mainly turnips."

Daniel closed his eyes. "I feel after this trip, I'll have grown to despise them, no matter any feelings of mine going in."

The carriage jolted again, and then rolled, finally, anything but gently to a halt.

Daniel opened his eyes, glancing out the window. "Either we're there, or we're in for a Mosgravian highway robbery. What a treat."

They had come to rest outside possibly the single dreariest town that Daniel had ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on. Low, grimy buildings slumped inelegantly over marshy ground. Where the ground hadn't been cleared thick brambles threatened to take back what they had once possessed. A wood of sparse, ugly trees knotted their way around the town’s outer perimeter, as if cupping in the thick, almost black mist that slithered along the ground and permeated the air. And over it it all, in the foggy distance, the shadow of some indistinct monument loomed.

"Well." Daniel's eye fell upon the strange and looming shadow in the distance, before tracing it's way through the black mist hanging in the air. "I can hardly fathom how my esteemed colleague fell ill in such a sanitary and cheery town. A mystery for the ages."

Fenya leaned over, craning her neck to see from behind his shoulder, the frilly bodice of her dress brushing his coat. "About what I expected," she sighed. "I promise you it doesn't look any better once it started snowing."

"And is that to be expected this time of year, Fenya?" Daniel drawled, drawing a bit more into himself as he stared out the window."Are you used to this sort of… area."

She shook her head. "It'll have just melted, thank goodness. We're more likely in for a terrible drenching rain and sucking mud holes."

"Wonderful." Daniel drawled. "Simply wonderful. At least I brought my good boots."

They heard the thump of the coachman leaping down from the driver's seat and his thick, black wool cloak briefly obscured their view. "Gotcher luggage," he said as he yanked the door open for them.

Daniel slipped out of the carriage, and onto the ground below with a low grunt. "it's much appreciated. Be careful, there's sensitive equipment in there."

The coachman grunted as he climbed to the top, while Fenya slipped out after Daniel. One of the bags thumped wetly into the ground as it was dropped unceremoniously.

Fenya yelped and jumped out of the way.

Daniel winced, and for a moment his dark eyes were clouded with a dark emotion as the bag kicked mud up onto his boots and shins. "What… did I just say, coachman?" He gestured "there's supplies in there that a town like this simply *cannot* replace! so *do* be more careful." He tilted his gaze up at him "and besides, you startled the young chemist."

"I'm fine," Fenya insisted breathlessly, though her ears were flat and her tail bristled. "… but thank you." The discussion was interrupted by the screeching scrape of the door of the nearest building- an ugly two-story thing, blocky and functional with the look of a shop or storeroom about it.

All of Daniel's stark black fur prickled up at the sound, sending his tail into a bush and his ears flattening on his head as the sound cut through him like a knife. "Ghhh!!"

A pale furred shape in a grey cloak and hood hurried out of the building, holding a lantern that swung in their hand, casting a shine on their large, awkward spectacles with every motion. "Sorry! Sorry! I didn't expect you so soon!"

"Clearly, or someone would have thought to grease the door hinges beforehand." Daniel murmured to himself, before raising his clawed hand in greeting.

The figure raised their free hand and pulled their cloak back slightly. They had a wide, earnest face and large, pale blue eyes. "You're the doctor from Astoria, uh… yes?" Behind, Fenya was busy finagling the rest of their bags down with the coachman so he didn't just *toss* the rest of them.

"That would be I." Daniel dipped into a brief bow. "Daniel Delgrave, of the Astorian University."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," the… boy? maybe? offered, bowing awkwardly back. His thickly accented voice was full of breathless excitement. "Ah, I am Mirta-- Mitrophan Tadibyov. I was told to expect you." Fenya shook out the hem of her dress, counting over their bags as the carriage was already pulling stiffly away.

That was as Mosgravian a name as any he'd heard. Daniel nodded slowly. "It's a pleasure, Mirta. Was it Elias who sent you?"

Mitrophan shook his head. "No sir, it was master Chernoff, sir. Is Elias the scholar who has been staying with him? Professor Banbridge?" Elias Banbridge was certainly *not* a professor. So either the kid had made the assumption, or Elias was being a bit… hyperbolic… in his introductions.

"well. Seems he got himself a bit of a promotion while he was out here in addition to a nasty bug." Daniel drawled. "regardless… yes. You were sent by his host, then?"

He nodded. "That's right, sir. I mind the post office- such as it is, and the comings and goings, and Master Chernoff said you might be arriving any day." "Chernoff," Fenya muttered very quietly, fixing her skirts. "What a name…."

Daniel glanced her way "Is it?" He nodded to the boy. "So you're the town postman."

Mitrophan saluted and smiled brightly. "Yes sir! Since last autumn."

"Cherno is a deity of evil in Mosgrav," Fenya murmured.

"Wonderful." Daniel said, though it was unclear of which of the two it was directed towards.

"Here ah, allow me to help with your packages… I believe it's going to start raining soon." Mitrophan looked up at the sky briefly.

Daniel nodded, turning to pick one up from the muck with a grimacing look at the sky. "We'd best get all this inside then. There's important equipment in these bags that simply cannot be damaged."

"I will do my best," the young man nodded, picking up a pair of bags with what looked like great difficulty, and shuffling into the open door. Fenya sighed, and picked up her own bag, dragging it through the mud.

Daniel hefted a bag of his own… with a bit of difficulty. But with a sidelong glance, he did offer to take Fenya's bag as well.

"I would have packed lighter if I'd realized when I left the university I'd be making a side trip," she admitted, grudgingly allowing him to take one of her several bags.

He nodded, and hefted her bag to his shoulder with a slight wince of effort. "You couldn't have been expected to know when you set out on your vacation to Gaea's premier exporter of violent revolution that the University would hold your train fare hostage." He chuckled darkly "but here we are. Partners in this fool's errand. Hopefully at least *something* will come of it."

"Something besides a high laundry bill I hope," she agreed as they made their way inside. The interior wasn't much nicer than the exterior, but it was clear at least that someone had put the effort to try in. There was a rug on the floor, threadbare though it might be, and the bell on the desk in front of the mail pigeon holes was shined bright. There was a large, perhaps optimistically so, box for incoming mail and a twin for outgoing. Also optimistic, or perhaps merely old, was the bright if muddy old landscape painting of the town hung above the desk.

Daniel was at least just happy to be back inside and out of the incoming rain. He chuckled softly. "Don't get your hopes too high. But perhaps, somehow, we'll find the secret I've been searching for in this little town." Glancing up at the town painting, he commented to Mitrophan. "Delightful little post you have here, young man." He commented "I can't imagine you see much business, though."

"Not right now, no," he said, shaking his head. "But boss Andrei says that business is going to expand. After the mess in the capitol is sorted out, our little Tadibya might even be busy." Fenya made little scoff under her breath and masked it with a cough.

"Nothing like a revolution to drive up business." Daniel drawled. "How exactly does he expect to put Tadibya on the map?"

"I wish I knew," Mitrophan sighed, his ears sagging somewhat. "My father refuses to speak of it, at least to me."

"your father?" Daniel inquired, slowly resting Fenya's bag on the floor.

"Mayor Tadibyov," he admitted, seeming a bit embarrassed about it. "But I am not interested. We must get you to Master Chernoff before the evening."

"The mayor's boy." Daniel chuckled. "… alright then. If we must get to Master….Chernoff… then lead the way."

The postmaster pushed up his glasses. "It's all the way across town, I am afraid. But…. that is not very long all things considered."

"Well we'd best hurry before the fates decide we were dry long enough." Daniel snorted, "and open up the storm clouds just for us."

"I am sorry that I do not have a spare cloak for you," he said, waving them to the door, which was still ajar, letting in the cool late afternoon mist.

Daniel pulled the bags back onto his shoulders and hurried out into the cool air with a shiver. "I've got one packed away in my things. I just… didn't expect to need one quite so soon."

"Oh!" Mitrophan blinked as he saw Daniel pick up his bags. "Please sir, I seem to have forgotten-- Mr. Chernoff has given me another request."

Daniel paused, and glanced at Mitrophan. "… yes? And what would that be?"

"With Professor Banbridge's illness, he thinks it would be better if you had other lodgings, and asked me if you could use the spare room above my post office."

Daniel set the bags down. "That would probably be for the best." He bowed his head. "Thank you, Mitrophan." He paused a long moment. "And for my companion?"

Fenyra raised her eyebrow, clearly curious about this as well. "Ah, I am sorry master doctor, we did not know that you would be bringing an assistant," he admitted awkwardly.

"…" Daniel cleared his throat. "… I see. It's not exactly *proper* ." He said "but it's how it is. So long as my companion doesn't have a problem with things."

Fenya's ears flicked embarrassedly. "If our friend Chernoff has no other ideas, I'd rather sleep inside than out, certainly. Besides who needs propriety, right?" Mitrophan gave an apologetic smile. "Ah, well. Perhaps Master Chernoff will have some other idea. But if he does not you are of course, both welcome. i will not gossip." He led the two of them back out into the foggy, marshy street.

"Your sealed lips on the subject are appreciated." Daniel said, "the last thing I need is people spreading rumors that I'm like our friend Bainbridge." He glanced at Fenya, his ears swiveled and pointing low and outwards. "In the name of science and convenience we can throw propriety out the window. At least just this once."

Fenya gave a smile, sly smile. "as long as the admins don't hear of it." Mitrophan nodded, leading them down along a curved road to the south of town with a number of small buildings along it. They seemed to be small shops for the most part, though only a few of them seemed open, and many seemed to include personal dwellings.

"This far out in the countryside… I doubt they will." He let his tail swish through the mist behind him as he walked. "hm. Is this the town center? Or is residential and commercial all sort of….mingled together?"

"You could say so. But, ah….The town is a bit spread out," Mitrophan explained. "This is where many do shopping. The governor's office, and guard station are also near, around the town square. We will also pass the houses of those with means. The workers and the Fishery are in the north, along the river. Some consider it a less than savory area."

"the dock worker and factory districts in Astoria carry a similar reputation." Daniel commented. "Some of it's earned. Some of it isn't."

"Some of it is the smell," Fenya added. "I can not imagine that our dear Mosgrav river smells better than yours," Mitrophan sighed. "In the summer the area is best avoided by those whose nostrils are easily overwhelmed." They came along a sturdy, almost stately two story building, if only by comparison to its squat brethren, though the architecture was a century out of date, even for Mosgrav. Large bushes had been planted in front of it, but they seemed foreign, and limp, as if the soil here could not support them.

"Someone didn't read up on botany before trying to spruce up their house." Daniel commented. He looked up at the house with a questioning look. "… who's home is this?"

"Ah… Governor Alekhin," the postman nodded. "His home and office. It ah… used to be the post office, when I was a child."

"Sounds like the mail got demoted," Fenya observed quietly.

Daniel nodded in agreement. "I wonder why they moved buildings."

"I wouldn't speculate," Mitrophan said, sounding a bit demoralized. "After all I am certain there must be a better reason than the governor wanting a grander building."

"you'd be surprised how simple local politics can be, young man." Daniel said as he continued past the stately building.

"Almost as petty as inter-department politics," Fenya added. Past the governor's office was a large public square with a sad pavilion at the soggy center. There were a few trees here and there, though their leaves had barely yet started to bud. Here and there a few grey looking people in stiff, grey looking cloaks went about their business. But Daniel's eye was drawn to the one colorful figure among them. Tall and gawy with a bright red pelt the vulpine was wearing a garish outfit of faded purple and yellow stripes, a long cap of the same between his ears. leaning against a tree, he was juggling five…. turnips.

"….." Daniel's steps slowed as they passed the vulpine in the clown… no, no… jester's outfit. "I'm sorry, Mitrophan. But why does your town have a resident jester?"

Mitrophan averted his eyes. "Ah that's--" "Lukyan, master foreigner!" the jester called to him with a bright smile. "My name is Lukyan! And I am a poor player strutting and fretting!" They were quite a distance away from the man yet-- he must have keen ears to have overheard the encounter.

Daniel grimaced. He'd always disliked clowns. "And I'm just strutting on my way, good sir. Great many things to do today, you see."

"Strut quickly then, master foreigner! Not a lot of time to lose in these parts. I'm sure I'll see you and your lady around."

Mitrophan looked mortified by the entire incident.

"I have a name. It's Daniel." He called. "Please use it." He shook his head. "….you and your lady" he muttered to himself as he picked up the pace. "someone around here likes to presume."

Fenya sniffed. "Probably hoping we'll toss him a coin or two." "I wouldn't doubt it," Mitrophan mumbled as they passed the square. "I'm told he hangs about in the bar enough."

"Ah. One of those types. I suppose, from the look of him, he was hoping we'd provide him the means to keep his habit afloat for another night."

"Given that we don't exactly blend in, the locals will all probably assume we're made of money," Fenya sighed. They passed a couple of large, abrupt looking houses in decent repair. One even looked like it had recently been painted. Or there had been the attempt at least. As it caught Daniel's eye he also noticed that there was a familiar symbol painted above the door. Black horns on a silver crown. The symbol of the Eastern branch of the Faithful church of the Horned.

"… Money they'll find we simply do not have." He chuckled "especially as a student of thanatology." HIs eyes lingered on the symbol briefly. Daniel hurried his steps "ah. The Horned God has a presence here, too. Wonderful."

"I'm not surprised," Fenya yawned. "Last time I checked the central church was still trying to expand their dreary faith all over little places like this. They gained a lot of power in the last revolution." Mitrophan's ears flicked and lowered on his head. "yes… it was about then that the Faithful came to tadibya. But ah… while Father Preobrazhensky is a very nice man… ah, the church hasn't exactly had much success as you can see." The postman gestured across the street from them as they headed toward it. A great, handsome church in the Faithful style… or at least, the frame of one. The base was there and the iron for a tower. One window had even been set in. But it looked as though construction had been stopped only a very little way after it had begun.

"I for one won't miss the droning of their sunday mass." Daniel said dismissively as he walked by. "….i'm not surprised they'd try to build a grand cathedral even in a place like this."

"If they'd managed it would probably have sunk into the muck anyway," Fenya said. "I'm glad that sort of thing is on its way out back in Astoria." "On its way out?" Mitrophan asked. "Oh yes," Fenya said. "Science marches on you know."

"Science's progress, by its very nature, stamps out base superstition" Daniel waved his hand. "I believe in facts, figures. The pursuit of Gaean immortality by *scientific means* . Not by lofty speeches about the nature of the soul and promises of a world beyond. Astoria's become enlightened as of late….and is all the better for it."

"We could do with more of that here," Mitrophan sighed. "even if the Faithful haven't gained much ground, it's all because no one here wants to give up their own superstitions."

"Local religions?" Daniel scoffed. "Backwater superstition is often far more illogical than even the Faithful's drivel."

"You don't have to tell me that. All the old wives tales," Mitrophan nodded glumly. "and lately there's talk of some vampire too and even my father puts stock in it."

Daniel stared at Mitrophan. "….a vampire. In this day and age? Really?"

"I know," Mitrophan nodded. "It's one thing for old women to whisper about but…." "At least vampires are classy," Fenya shrugged. "One could do worse for a monster."

"But it's still superstitious nonsense. Grown men and women shouldn't fall victim to daydreams of night stalking monsters and bloodsuckers in coats." He scoffed, smirking thinly at Fenya. "While I would agree… I've heard tell of vampiric creatures far more hideous than what the Astorian serial authors like to wax poetic over."

"It's true," Fenya sighed. "The Mosgravan stories of vampires I've heard are decidedly *un* romantic."

"Tragic. But at least I won't have to worry about anyone mistaking me for some sort of vampire." Daniel laughed. He glanced at Fenya. "I imagine not. Mosgrav's myths always did tend to be rather… dreary."

They turned the corner by the old church and headed north, walking past a number of small, joined up houses and townhouses in rows. The lamps here were already lit, their sullen fiery glow doing little to keep away the mist and chill. "My mother used to try to tell me some of them when I was a very little child," Fenya said with a smirk. "But father made her stop after I had nightmares."

"That must have been quite the interesting upbringing you've had, Fenya." Daniel commented as he took in the dreary little town around him.

Here and there more of the citizens of Tadibya went about their business. Once, Mitrophan even got a wave from a man across the street, and waved back. But mostly people seemed content to either stare, or keep to their own business. "I suppose," she shrugged. "You're from Mosgrav, miss?" Mitrophan asked. "My mother was. From Volga. My father is Astorian."

"From all I know of Mosgrav, Volga might as well be a world away from Tadibya." Daniel mused.

"Yes," Mitrophan nodded. "It's west of the capital, isn't it?" "Yes. Closer to Ifrit than it is to her," Fenya agreed. They turned again, back southward, passing a building even larger and older than the Governor's. This one was built in bone white brick, and the skeletons of ivy clung to it, large dark windows like eyes staring out at the town were dampened by the fog.

Daniel chuckled "Mosgrav is a large and varied place." His eyes fell upon the massive building. "….and just what is this?"

Mitrophan looked up at it as they passed. "Ah, that is the home of the Osgrovs. One of the town's oldest families, along with my own."

"the Osgrovs." Daniel nodded. "… they certainly seem to be people of means, from the looks of that home."

Mitrophan bit his lip, his expression slightly dark. "Yes…. their wealth was accumulated over many generations, as is the case I suppose, with most such families."

Daniel glanced at Mitrophan and nodded slowly. "What exactly do they do?"

"Their head of house, Pyotr Osgrov was the town's… healer, for many years," he said. "His son, Sasha is our doctor now." Mitrophan's expression lightened considerably.

"Elias said this town didn't have much in the way of medical professionals." Daniel said carefully. "Was I misled?"

Mitrophan's confusion was obvious. "I'm not sure, sir. Though I do remember hearing that Mr. Banbridge and S-Doctor Osgrov had some sort of argument a while back…"

"… is that so?" Daniel raised his eyebrow. "About what, if I may ask? Did Elias sleep with his wife?"

Mitrophan flushed slightly and laughed. "That would be news to us all, master doctor. So far as I or anyone in town knows, Doctor Osgrov is unwed, despite the efforts of a few ladies in town."

"Unfortunate for them." Daniel chuckled. "….if not that, though, I'm curious just what their argument was about."

"I confess that I am as well, sir," Mitrophan nodded. "Whatever it was, it got us dragged half way across Mosgrav in the middle of a crimson spark," Fenya sighed. They passed the back side of the unfinished church and turned again, toward where the little houses were beginning to thin out with more room and land between them.

"Remind me to thank Elias later after I save his sorry behind." Daniel drawled. "Hopefully things hold off long enough for us to leave before the fireworks really start."

"Hopefully," Fenya sighed. "Only time will tell I suppose." At the end of the road was another of the large, archaic buildings, this one in a greyer stone than the Osgrov manor. It sat lonely beside a large, soggy field dotted with wooden out-buildings.

"time will tell." Daniel mused. "Mirta. What is this building? another home?"

Mitrophan smiled a bit at the familiar address from Daniel. "Yes, master doctor. This is the house of the Chernoff family. We've arrived."

Daniel stared up at it for a moment. "It's larger than I expected from Elias' letter."

"They are a large family," Mirta said. "With many of the farmhands who live there as well."

"ah." Daniel nodded slowly. "That… might be bad news if Elias' ailment turns out to be anything… communicable."

"Do you think it's serious?" Mirta asked. "No offense to yourself sir, but I got the impression that professor Banbridge could be a bit… dramatic?"

"I'll admit I don't know him all that well." Daniel admitted. "But I doubt it's serious." He glanced up at the house. "It's just something to keep in mind, provided the worst case scenario."

"Good thinking, sir," Mirta nodded. He led them up the long path to the double doors of the old house and knocked on a large, tarnished brass knocker.

Daniel folded his hands behind his back, waiting for the answer. "Likely he just caught something from the local center of ill repute." Daniel drawled. "A brothel likely, if this town's big enough to house one."

Mirta nearly choked. "w-we don't have one of those."

"Then the bar." Daniel chuckled, "Nothing, a few antibiotics won't help."

The big double doors clicked open and a mountainous bear man stood there. Handsome, with black fur and coal black eyes, a square jaw and broad shoulders. He wore the clothes of a laborer but their cloth was of significantly higher quality. "Ah, Mirta, welcome," he said in a warm, gravelly voice. "These guests… are they?" "Ah, yes, Master Chernoff."

Daniel had to tilt his head up to meet the man's eyes. "My name is Daniel Delgrave, of the Astorian University. I'm here to check on my colleague and ensure his health."

The man nodded and extended an arm to shake his hand. "Thank you for coming," he rumbled. "I am Konstantin Chernoff. Elias has been my guest here. Please, come in. All of you." Mirta glanced at the sky. "Actually Master Chernoff, I must return to the post office I'm afraid." "Ah. A pity. But of course."

"I'll see you later tonight Mirta." Daniel nodded towards him. "Thank you again for the lodgings." He glanced at Konstantin with a nod. "Gladly. Is Elias up and about, or bedridden?"

Any trace of a smile left the man's face as he opened the door further for them to enter. "I fear for him, doctor."

Daniel frowned slightly, flexing his fingers as he secured his gloves. "Is that so? Can I ask your observations?"

Konstantin led them into a wide, achingly archaic front room, where a fire was roaring in the old fireplace against one wall, large, old paintings dancing in the firelight. "He sleeps a deathlike sleep, but calls out in terror."

Daniel stepped inside the warmth of the front room, brushing his hand through his hair. "hm… some sort of coma, then? One where he's… able to vocalize."

"Interesting symptom," Fenya murmured, looking around curiously. "In the last hours he was awake, he did not seem to know where he was," Konstantin explained.

"Did he say anything to give you that impression?" Daniel asked. He went over the symptoms in his head. *Fatigue. Sweating. Difficulty Breathing. Darkening of the veins. Sluggish heart rate. and now….a dreaming coma.* The fatigue, breathing issues, darkening veins and heart rate could all be attributed to a thickening of the blood….but this. It warranted some thought.

"He was speaking as if he were in his university," Konstantin explained. "He was apologizing to someone who I did not know. Please, ordinarily I would offer you first my hospitality before all else. But you must examine him."

"…." Daniel rubbed his chin, before nodding. "Of course. After I determine a little on Elias… I'd like to speak to someone about something he mentioned in a letter to me. But only after he's been seen."

"Of course, doctor," he nodded. "Please, both of you, this way." He motioned for them and led them through a long, rather wide hallway, toward the back of the house.

"How many people live in this house, Konstantin?"

"Myself. My wife. Our three daughters, and two of my field hands."

"Has anyone experienced undue fatigue, or shortness of breath? Perhaps a sluggishness to their heart rate or strange vein coloration?"

Konstantin frowned. "one of my field hands has seemed more tired than usual. I did not connect the idea until you spoke."

Daniel's lips tightened slightly, and he casually pulled a face mask out from his pocket. He tied it around his face, and offered one to Fenya. "interesting. I'll take a look at Elias, but there's always the concern that his condition is contagious. We may have to enforce a quarantine on your house, should it prove to be the case." He paused "Can you retrieve your field hand? I'll investigate him after I have a look at my colleague."

"I'll fetch him," he said as they came to what seemed to be the house's large kitchen. There was a vat bubbling away on the stove. "If that is the case we are fortunate that Elias is already in one of my far buildings."

"Well that was forward thinking," Fenya murmured.

"Luck, or the simple desire to keep a stranger far from his daughters." Daniel mused. "Likely the second one." He murmured back. He glanced over at the vat. "Good. That should make things easier to keep contained, if it turns out to be something we should look out for."

The bubbling liquid was a pale brown, and smelled heavily of onion. And radishes. A stew of some kind. Konstantin nodded in understanding, and led them out the back door into the field.

Daniel turned away from the meal and stepped out into the field. "So, Konstantin. You're from one of the larger families in the area, hm? An old family?"

"That is true, doctor," he nodded. "My family has lived in Tadibya for many generations, though our house is not so illustrious as some."

"It seems functional. Sometimes that's all you could ask." He glanced out at the misty horizon. "what can you tell me about Tadibya?"

"It is an old place," he said. "For the most part we are a quiet, humble people here. we have seen our share of tragedy."

"quiet and humble. I heard that some are looking to upset that balance somewhat and put Tadibya on the map… so to speak." Daniel mused. "what sort of tragedy, if I may ask"

"All kinds," he sighed. "But if you are here, perhaps the death of an honored guest will not be one." He gestured to a small, freestanding building of wood.

"I'll do my best." Daniel said, before walking towards the building. "if we're lucky, it'll simply be a strange form of mold poisoning, or some other simple ailment."

Konstantin unlocked the door with a long brass key. Inside was a small apartment. There was a simple wardrobe. A writing desk, and a rather large bed in the small room. Laying upon that bed was the slender, pale form of Elias Banbridge, a moist cloth on his forehead as he lay in stillness, his chest rising and falling quite slowly.

"Elias." Daniel announced to the room. "i've arrived. We're here to check up on you." He waited a few beats to see if the prone form of Elias showed any signs of hearing him.

The figure lay still, and didn't answer.

There was a thick, herby smell in the room- incense probably.

Daniel tightened his face mask, and walked in. Carefully, he sought the source of the smell.

There was a small ceramic dish near the bed where a thumb-sized lump of herbs was gently smouldering. Behind him Fenya put down her veil and strode in--though there was not much room.

Daniel bent down over the herbs "what is this?" he mused. "can you discern it, Fenya?"

Fenya came near and gave it a sniff. "Mmmm… mint and hide-bud, I think. The kind of thing my aunt would insist was good for breathing. Despite it being you know. Smoke."

"Yes, nothing's more beneficial to a man who can't breath as a room full of smoke." Daniel drawled. "No offense to your aunt, I suppose."

"Oh no, please. Someone needs to offend her."

"I like you." Daniel chuckled. "you've got a good head on your shoulders, Fenya." He picked up the bowl, and took it outside, where he upended it and stomped out the ashes.

It wasn't difficult. The soggy ground all but extinguished it the moment it touched.

Daniel brought the bowl back inside, and placed it on the ground with a low sigh. "There. Now he'll be able to breath." He stepped up to Elias, and looked him over first and foremost.

Elias was a slender astorian feline with a mottled white and brown coat and hair. Though Daniel hadn't known him well, he thought he looked as though he had lost weight beneath the thin cotton nightgown he wore. The pink of his ears was darkened, and Daniel could see that the small veins there were nearly black.

"It's like his blood is thickening…" he murmured. "like a severe infection." He reached into his shoulder slung bag, and pulled out a small box containing a few vials and needles. "i'm going to get a sample to investigate later."

"I can handle samples if you need an extra set of hands," Fenya offered.

"That would be much appreciated Fenya." He said with a little nod of his head. He tapped the syringe, and made sure to clear the needle of air.

It was easy enough to draw the blood-- the veins were very easy to find under his pale fur. The blood that came out of the syringe was also dark- darker than normal certainly.

Daniel injected it into a vial and made sure it was properly sealed before handing it to Fenya and taking a second sample. "With his blood in this state, I'm shocked he's still breathing." He mused. "it looks horribly infected."

"I was about to ask you professionally if blood was supposed to look like that," she drawled, putting the sample in a small padded case from her bag.

"Professionally, no. No. Blood is most assuredly not supposed to look like used engine oil from one of Astoria's more *disreputable* factory complexes."

"Color me surprised. But preferably not *that* color."

Daniel laughed under his mask. "let's… avoid… this color." Carefully, he lifted one of Elias' eyelids to check his eyes.

The veins in his eyes were black as well. In fact the entire sclera was beginning to darken.

"that…" Daniel frowned "hm. Doesn't look good in the least." He let his eyes close, and checked his heartbeat instead, putting his fingers to his throat.

The heartbeat was there, and it was remarkably steady. but it was slow. Very slow. Perhaps half of what Daniel would expect in a normal, healthy patient.

"His heart is beating quite slowly as well." Daniel mused. "It's no wonder his body can hardly function… and in fact… shut down so completely."

"I'm no medical student, obviously," Fenya said, "but typically in an infection wouldn't his heart be pumping faster to try to compensate?"

"exactly." Daniel said "which is what makes this… so curious. He should be hot, flushed, his blood pumping through his veins faster than normal… but this…"

"Seems strange," she agreed. "But indeed… no wonder he's unconscious."

"His body has shut down due to the lack of oxygen running through his veins. It's likely the cause of the coma… the darkening of the veins… all of it."

"So it could be a lung problem?"

"That's my concern." he mused, and retrieved his stethoscope. Bending down, he listened to Elias' breathing. "A shame I can't simply see inside his chest."

"That would be a useful miracle," she agreed. Elias breathing was weak, and shallow, but Daniel didn't hear any gurgling or wheezing.

"no gurgling… no fluid in the lungs or constriction of the airways…"

"Curious," she frowned.

He nodded "It's simply weak." he mused quietly. "Which makes me wonder if perhaps… it's an affliction that's targeted his heart." Surprisingly, he didn't sound sure. "i've never seen an affliction like this."

"That's… interesting at least?" she offered. "if not so good for our friend Banbridge here."

"Very interesting." Daniel murmured. "But quite bad for our chances of an early departure… or Elias' health in general." He lightly slapped Elias' cheek, checking for a response.

There was no reaction, his head lolled.

"Looks like a coma to me." Daniel said. "No sign of these 'screams of terror' however."

There hasn't been-- until right at that moment Elias sat bolt upright, yelling in a strangled and hoarse voice like a devil had grabbed his cock.

He nearly clocked Daniel on the head, sending the scientist stumbling a few steps back with a shouted series of selectively curated curses.

Fenya had yelped, pressing herself against the wall, her tail bottlebrush. Elias screamed again, his body jerking as he sat up, his eyes still closed. And then he collapsed back onto the bed.

Daniel held his hand to his chest. "ghh." His own tail had bushed up, and his eyes had narrowed to mere slits. "I can't say I'm a fan of this symptom."

Feyna smoothed her tail with her hands. "No…. me either."

Daniel took a moment to calm himself, smooth out his fur, and take a breath. "I wonder if he's dreaming" he murmured.

"Perhaps," Fenya nodded. "Our host indicated he was hallucinating before he succumbed."

"they did say that." He took a deep breath. "But one doesn't dream while in a coma. The mind simply… ceases it's usual functions. It's been tested… the movements of the victim's eyes don't match those of a normal, dreaming subject."

"Another strange symptom, then…"

"It seems Bainbridge has caught himself quite the unusual little bug."

"Must have been quite the unusual courtesan."

Danial stifled his laugh with the crook of his arm. "From what I've heard, that's just how he liked them." he glanced at the prone man, frowning under his mask. "Still… I'd like to figure out just what's going on with him… and if it's likely to spread."

"That would probably be best," she agreed. "We can't drag him back on the train like this I think."

"No. We'll have to care for him here, root out the cause of his illness and… hopefully..cure him." He sighed "I hope you're prepared to share a room for some time, Miss Fenya."

"I'll try to bear it with grace," she drawled behind her veil.

"as will I." Daniel sighed. "….I'll have to get a closer look at this blood sample… maybe some tissue samples as well."

"Probably a good idea. A shame we don't have access to the astorian medical labs. Or even Doctor Corby's."

"I'd rather avoid Doctor Corby if it's all the same to you." He drawled. "The man….there's simply something *obscene* behind those eyes of his." He shrugged his shoulders. "Regardless, I wish we had a proper lab… but we'll make due with what we have… and perhaps what that 'healer' has too."

"He might have something you can use at least." she agreed.

"we can figure out more about their spat, for one thing." Daniel mused. "… it's possible this is a poisoning of some sort, especially if it doesn't spread."

"Scandalous if true," she agreed. There wasn't much left to do at the moment here-- unless they wanted to snoop through Elias' belongings.

Which was exactly what Daniel began to do. "Help me look through his things. He might have some equipment that can come in handy… or a clue to how he got into this state. Sussing out what happened is so often tied to figuring out exactly what it is that's ravaging his body."

"I see you really don't stand on propriety," she mused, sounding pleased as she moved over to help him.

"Propriety is all well and good until it gets in your way." Daniel chuckled "… I believe in getting things done, propriety be damned."

Elias didn't have much in the way of belongings with him it seemed, which was certainly consistent with the speed at which the entire trip had been planned. They turned up plenty of clothes, including one shirt which was about three sizes larger than the others, a number of books of poetry and folklore, one of which was written by Elias himself, and a large bag of toffees, all stuck together.

"hm." Daniel looked over the books briefly. "….none of this seems particularly useful."

"Hold on," Fenya murmured. "Doesn't this look a little thick to you?" She indicated a hardcover volume of poetry which indeed seemed to be bulged in the middle.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and picked it up. Carefully, he flipped through it to find the abnormality.

Stuck inside the book he found another, much thinner volume in an unmarked leather binding.

Daniel frowned, and flipped it open to the first page. "well this is odd. His journal, perhaps?"

It did indeed appear to be his journal. The first page was a rather mundane account of his first day of the past year, and a rather tiresome bit of poetry about the passage of time.

"Ah. Yes. I remember why I avoided him back at the University now." Daniel said, before flipping to another page.

Flipping through the book revealed a few things. Firstly, that Elias seemed to pay an inordinate amount of attention to the type of shoes men he met were wearing. Secondly, that he was *not* discrete in his affair with the bursar. And thirdly-- that about half of the pages in the back of the journal had been torn out.

"…." Daniel frowned, and tapped his finger on the book "The pages….which presumably had information on this little expedition of his… all seem to be torn out." He shook his head. "Nothing in here seems to matter as much as that… unless he caught this strange little disease from kissing some Mosgravian's boot."

Fenya raised an eyebrow. "we should at least consider it a possibility, I suppose."

"I wonder where the rest of the journal has gone to." He flipped through some of the other books in the hope he'd locate at least a page. "and why in Gaea would he have torn them out?"

"And what did he do with them?" Fenya asked. "The stuff with the bursar got pretty steamy in a boring kind of way." None of the other books held anything of interest unfortunately. All there really was to go on was the last page before the rest had been torn out. *Konstantin and his wife have been very generous in allowing me to stay at their farm while I make my study of the local superstition. I am fortunate as it seems despite recent events the beliefs here are very much a living tradition of the supernatural. For the residents of Tadibya their involvement with the mystic begins at---*

"Certainly it wasn't exciting enough to remove." He mused. "it seems he came to this town to investigate the local faith…." Daniel scoffed. "To study their folk beliefs and traditions in the supernatural. It cuts off in the middle of his explanations…" He tapped the book's last page. "meaning what was removed must have been details on his research here on that subject… and the leadup to his illness."

"Well, that might be *slightly* more interesting than another affair?"

"It'll either be interesting, or utter nonsense." Daniel said. "… but I keep coming back to the question of 'why remove those pages.' "

"I suspect knowing their content would help us guess," she sighed.

"Perhaps we should ask Konstantin and his wife just what Elias had been up to"

Fenya nodded. "If they don't know, they might know who--" She was cut off by another sudden strangled howl from Elias on the bed.

Daniel winced "gh…" He looked behind him. "I wonder what torments him so."

"Ugly shoes?"

Daniel snorted. "I can only imagine being tormented by… shoes… in my nightmares."

"I suppose I've had stranger nightmares," she admitted. There didn't seem to be much left to examine in the small room.

"The land of dreams is a strange and nightmarish place." Daniel agreed. "…..but I think we're done here for now. We'll analyze what we've gotten and see what we can figure out."

Outside the little shack, the bear Konstantin was waiting with a nervous look on his broad features.

"Konstantin. He's… worse than I thought he would be, honestly." Daniel said. "I've never seen a disease quite like his symptoms, but I'm withholding judgement until I can look over the blood sample I retrieved."

The farmer's shoulders sagged. "I see. That is indeed grave news, master doctor."

"HIs blood is black and sluggish as oil." He said carefully. "and he seems to be stuck in a sort of… dreaming coma."

He nodded, a broad frown on his face. "I see…."

"Rest assured. I'll figure out just what's afflicting him." He paused. "But if it turns out to be transmissible… I want you and your entire house on quarantine until we can determine it's safe."

"Under quarantine," he frowned. "will we be able to work the field,, master doctor? It is planting seasons."

"We'll determine that when the time has come to make a decision." Daniel waved his hand. "In the meantime… I find myself with a lack of information on my colleague's movements pre-infection."

"Ah," he nodded. "His movements…. My wife is about to serve dinner. Perhaps?"

"I imagine as his hosts you might be able to tell me a little something about that? He mentioned that he was looking into your… local supernatural traditions."

"Yes. That was his business here."

"I imagine he went all over town asking about it." Daniel drawled. "I'd like if you could perhaps give me as detailed a list of who he visited and when."

The big man scratched his head. "I don't know all his movements, I'm afraid. Some, I can give you. Some I am sure he kept to himself."

"Anything you can give me…" Daniel said. "and as much as I'm loath to ask… anything on the subject of his research. If I know what he was looking for, I can fill in the blanks."

"That, I can help with," he agreed. "Come." He waved them back toward the house.

Daniel followed him, though at a distance that he could talk to Fenya if need be.

"Get ready for your first taste of Mosgravan food," she murmured to him.

"I can't say I'm excited. Any… warnings?"

"Do you like onion?"

"It's… serviceable… when used sparingly."

"It is not used sparingly in Mosgrav."

"….wonderful" Daniel sighed, and pinched his nose. "i'll adapt. It's… fine."

They made their way back through the muddy field, their host as quiet and grim as the town around them. As they reached the back door the dark, low clouds opened up and it began to rain.

Daniel took a few steps forward and into the safety of the home with a grimace. "And just on time, we're out of the rain."

The large, onion-scented kitchen was now significantly more crowded when they arrived inside. A broad shouldered woman with dark hair cascading down between her soft ears was serving bowls of the stew into large wooden bowls, a large pale-furred baby in a sling around her body. There was a wide eyed five year old girl sitting at the table with a thumb in her mouth.

Daniel stepped inside, his tail flicking some of the rain from his tail as he dipped into a brief bow. "Thank you all for your hospitality… both towards us, and towards my colleague."

The woman nodded. "Welcome to our house, doctor." Konstantin gestured. "This is my wife, Darya."

"The pleasure is mine, Darya." Daniel nodded his head. "and the young tots?"

"Two of our children. Darchik," she gestured to the girl at the table, "and Mirya." She tapped the baby gently, who yawned.

Daniel gave them a short wave. "Good evening, children." He tightened the gloves on his hand. "I was speaking with your husband outside about some information I require for my investigation."

"Your investigation?" the woman raised her eyebrow as she pressed a full bowl into his hands. "Please. Sit."

Daniel took the bowl, and looked into it with a quirk of his eyebrow… but nonetheless obeyed the instruction and took a seat at the table.

The woman served the rest of them, and then sat at the table herself. "What is it you are investigating?" she asked. "Darya," Konstantin said patiently. "He is investigating the professor's sickness."

"He sent for me specifically in a letter." Daniel said, not yet touching the meal. "And taking a look at him, he was right to do so. He's knocking on death's door." A smile cut across his face. "And the best person to turn to when one's so close to death is the man who's going to defeat it once and for all. As Astoria's finest Thanatologist… I intend to bring him back from the brink."

"Ah," Darya nodded."I suppose I did not think of it as an investigation. What happened is simple."

"Darya," Konstantin said gently, but firmly.

Daniel held his hand up to Konstantin, and leaned forward. "Is that so, Darya?" He asked, tenting his fingers. "In your opinion..exactly what was it that happened to Elias Bainbridge. Don't hold back. You've got my curiosity."

"A curse of the evil eye has weakened his heart," she said with a shrug. "he will succumb and become a dybbuk-- a Husk."

"The… evil eye." Daniel said slowly. "and you claim he's on his way to becoming… what, exactly?"

"A Husk. One of the evil dead, lingering on, sewing mischief and chaos. Tadibya is plagued by them." Her face was absolutely stoney. Fenya-- who was picking at her stew, looked dubious.

Daniel laughed. It came on just a bit too suddenly for him to clip off. "A lingering spirit? I'm sorry Darya, but… all I hear as a scientist is this." He pointed his spoon to her. "He caught some disease local to your area, previously unstudied due to how remote your hamlet is. This affliction must be something you've seen before, as people have taken it's shocking symptoms and fatal outcome and twisted it into a fairy story, likely used to scare children into staying in their beds." He chuckled. "Meaning this is something I can beat. Your 'evil dead' won't plague your town any longer once I banish this sickness once and for all."

"If that is something you can do, master doctor," the woman said, "then you are more miracle worker than any who has dwelled in this town before. But I suspect you are full of hot air." Konstantin grimaced. "*Darya, please*, the doctor has come a long way and he is not part of our customs and trials. And do not wish such a fate on poor Elias." "*Poor Elias*," she snorted. "Of course."

Daniel's lips quirked in distaste. "Your attitude towards a man currently dying under your roof is certainly….hm." His ears flicked atop his head. "Despite my detractors… I've made leaps and bounds in my study of human immortality….which *includes* the curing of the sick. I'll cure Elias of this 'curse' with the power of modern thinking, with or without your belief in me."

Darya relented somewhat, cradling the baby in her arms and sighing. "I am sure you mean well, master doctor.

"I do. Everything I do is for the betterment of our kind and the future of science." He waved his hand. "I don't know the ways of your town, that much is true….but there's a point where fables and truth intersect….and in that, I aim to find what's attacking Elias from the inside."

"And I will very much be curious what you find," she nodded.

"For that I'm going to need a bit more information… I suppose… on where he might have caught this from."

"For that, you will have to ask my husband," Darya said with a shrug. "I mind the farm and my own business. I don't keep track of where free men spend their time."

"What convinced you that he was cursed and not simply sick?"

"As a mother, and a farmer I find that sick people tend to have fever, or cough, rather than scream and turn black, doctor. But I'm sure you know better than I."

Daniel opened his mouth to retort, but closed it a moment later with a disgruntled "hm." He took a bite of the stew instead.

Could food be simultaneously bland and overspiced at the same time? Somehow this managed. It seemed to mostly be mashed roots and some kind of meat, but the overpowering tastes were of onion and pepper.

His time in Mosgrav was going to feel very long indeed. He took another bite, trying to ignore the overpowering taste. "I admit, these symptoms are very unusual. Not like anything I've seen back in the capital….but… this is a very different ecosystem." He waved his hand "we've seen the 'Barnacle Pox' for example. Hideous disfigurement, due to ruptured boils and advanced necrosis of the flesh. But even that has a severe fever associated, as… frankly, the body tries to burn it's intruder out of it's system."

Darchik pulled her fingers out of her mouth long enough to ask, "what's necrosis?" "It's when your flesh dies a little at a time, sweetie," Fenya answered. "Oh." The little girl nodded. Darya frowned.

Daniel nodded "It's often caused by various sorts of infection, though some venoms have been known to induce it as well….interesting stuff, but not exactly dinner conversation."

"No, I do agree," Konstantin nodded. "Doctor, you said that you study…"immortality" as you called it?"

Daniel nodded "that's correct." He waved his spoon in the air. "Death is mankind's greatest enemy. A foul adversary that seeks to strike us in our prime and temper our exploration of the world's mysteries." He pointed his spoon across the table. "But I seek to rid ourselves of Death's limiting presence. There's tales of immortality the world over… meaning there's some sort of truth to the concept of some triumphing over death to gain… enhanced longevity."

"Does being immortal count if you can be killed in your estimation, doctor?" Darya asked.

"Currently, I'm looking towards stopping the ravages of time. Immortality in stopping the body's self destruction, to preserve and extend one's lifespan." he waved his hand. "….someday, perhaps, we can find a way to transcend even the crimes of man. But that's a step for another day."

"Then you will be pleased to know that Tadibya is home to what you seek. Or was. Until five years ago, the leaders of our town were immortals," Darya told him matter of factly.

Daniel's eyebrow raised slowly. "You say your town leaders… were all immortal." He paused "but they're dead now."

"Yes," she nodded. "Dare I ask what killed them?" Fenya dared. "Fire," she shrugged. "They were burned at the stake by the Faithful as witches."

Daniel grimaced. "….barbaric." He said, taking a sip of soup. "The cruelty of man in full display." he sighed. "I'd have very much wished to speak with them." He tented his fingers "i'll settle, of course, for access to any documentation of their lifespan for my records."

"You'd find at least some in the town hall," Konstantin said.

"I'll make that one of my stops in town then. And may I ask how old they were when the church burned them?" Daniel nodded. "and for that matter… did they ever say what it was exactly that gave them such long lives?"

"They kept their secret closely guarded as they kept all of our rituals," Darya said. "As for their age-- more than a hundred. But they were as fit and youthful as you or I."

"Hm." Daniel frowned. "over a hundred yet retaining their youth." He leaned back in his chair. "It likely wasn't… ritual..that did it. Perhaps a serum… or an abnormality in their cellular makeup…"

"Only Master Yahontov and Mistress Morozov wore makeup," Darya clucked. "But beyond that I couldn't guess."

Daniel opened his mouth, before he closed it with a short chuckle. "no..no." "not cosmetics, Darya." He held out his hand, and pointed to an exposed section of his arm "All the people of Gaea, no matter their species, are made up of microscopic structures called cells. The Astorian University, since their discovery, has made leaps and bounds in understanding how they affect each and every aspect of our bodies… and… as I've discovered, it's precisely their processes breaking down and slowly decaying that leads to our slow march to death."

She raised an eyebrow. "An unpleasant sounding business. Surely the body is one whole structure itself?" "Its many structures, acting together as one," Fenya said, yawning.

"What my colleague Fenya has said." He nodded, gesturing with his hand. "We're all made up of countless structures, working in unison. Cells, nerves, organs, skin. All working to push us forward and keep us alive. To formulate everything from emotion to base movement."

"An interesting philosophy of life," Darya mused.

"It's more than philosophy." Daniel said. "it's verifiable fact. We've developed microscopes powerful enough to witness cells in action. Countless studies verify our claims."

Darchik took her fingers out of her mouth again. "Cells like a prison?"

Daniel laughed. "no..no. Cells like…" He fished in his pockets and pulled out a notebook. He passed along a diagram to show the little girl. It had a magnified view of a hand, with a cutout depicting the skin cells within. "They're simply the building blocks of your body."

"Oh like stones." The little girl nodded.

"like stones, building the great palaces of our bodies." Daniel nodded back. "That's right, pumpkin."

"Smart kid," Fenya murmured. "It sounds like your studies are fascinating, doctor," Konstantin said.

"They certainly are." He chuckled "I'm pleased you agree."

He nodded to Fenya. "Your daughter seems like she has an inquisitive mind. That's good in a child."

Darya chuckled slightly. "She asks many questions. You'll tire of them, master doctor."

He took a sip of his soup. "honestly, I'm always pleased to answer what I can."

The little girl gave Daniel a shy smile. The soup meanwhile, had lost enough of its pungence to be at least mildly enjoyable. Certainly not the worst thing he'd ever eaten.

He smiled back at the girl, as best he could… he never really was one for broad smiles. He returned to the soup with a fervor now that it had become palatable.

"What about you, miss?" Darya asked. "are you a doctor as well? or our new friend's companion?" "*Darya*," Konstantin's voice was slightly strangled. Fenya's ears flicked and she tapped her mouth with a napkin. "Ah. Neither really."

Daniel's ears flattened back. "gghhh…" he cleared his throat. "… Fenya is a fellow student at the Academy. A chemist on vacation who's to share a train ride home with me to… cut down on Academy costs. We're working together, in a way."

"A chemist?" Darya asked, her nose wrinkling. "Does that mean you make powders and ointments and things?" "After a fashion," she said, her ears still a bit flat. "Cells were mentioned as the building blocks of living things-- a chemist studies the building blocks of every kind of matter,, to learn how it is corporated and discorperated."

Daniel nodded. "medicine and chemistry often go hand in hand."

The rest of the meal was spent discussing the fields of medicine and chemistry. Darya seemed interested, if skeptical, and Konstantin listened, though his face was drawn with worry.

When the meal ended, Daniel took a moment to try and get Konstantin alone.

It was easy enough, as Darya pulled Fenya aside to help her with the dishes and she was too polite to decline. Konstantin brough Daniel into a handsome parlor room and offered him a seat. "I need a drink, doctor. Would you like one?"

"After today? How could I decline." He sighed. "it's… an inauspicious start to things, I'll admit."

He took a bottle of vodka out of where it rested on a bookshelf and poured it into a couple of glasses. The liquid was crystal clear. "for that I must apologize, master doctor. Here. This was distilled by my grandfather."

"By your grandfather?" Daniel took the glass and gave it an appreciating sniff. "I'm sure it's a fine alcohol then."

There was the heavy scent of alcohol, slightly smooth, and almost nothing else. This was fine stuff. "Farming feeds bellies, but distilling pays debts," he said with a slight smile. "That's what my grandfather always said." He downed quite a lot of the clear alcohol in one shot.

Daniel took a much smaller sip. "your grandfather sounds like a wise man. I've never been of farmers stock… but I can appreciate the work they do."

There was a characteristic burn to the vodka, but it was an appealing one. It was certainly better than what they were exporting to Astoria. Konstantin nodded. "I've never known any other life, but nor would I want to."

Daniel nodded back "It seems to suit you. Though I'd say you should take a visit to our capital, at least once. Simply to see the sights." He paused "and perhaps to bring me a bottle of this." he raised the glass "this is perhaps the best vodka I've ever had."

He chuckled slightly. "My family is honored. As for the capital, Elias too says I should see it, so perhaps you are both right."

"It's a wonderful structure one should always see at least once." Daniel said. "I could show you the University."

"I am certain it would be a sight to behold" he said, pouring himself another and topping off Daniel's glass.

Daniel laughed, and took a long sip of his vodka. "it's certainly nothing like the countryside….all looming metal… factories. People making a living in the industrial age." he swished his drink "the only part of it I care for is the chance to do my work under the eyes of people who *should* understand."

"Oh? you are not so fond of it?"

Daniel looked into the glistening liquid in his glass. "I'm always impressed by the wonders created by the university. But the modern city…" he shook his head. "I sometimes wonder if it's doing all it can to extend the life of the common man." He shrugged "and I've encountered… naysayers, in the University itself."

"Naysayers? To a doctor?" he wrinkled his brow.

"To me, at least." Daniel laughed bitterly. "They find my field of study to be… futile. A fabrication, or a fairy tale all it's own. They think it impossible to make a man immortal and beat death."

"I suppose they're not unlike the Faithful in that," he murmured.

"I've never been fond of the Faithful." Daniel frowned. "Anyone who stands in the way of understanding or progress… the Deans of the University, the Faithful…. "

"You will find yourself in mixed company then, in Tadibya my friend," he sighed. "some of us here turn our heads to the future, but some look only to the past. My wife unfortunately is one of those who does not think that things should change. Myself-- i think progress can only help us. What can it do to a farmer besides make easier his work?"

"We're men of a similar mind then" Daniel nodded. "medicine and science can extend a farmer's life… keep them fit enough to work. Keep them happy, as the work becomes easier… yield more produce than ever before." He raised his glass. "Progress marches forward and carries us into a golden age….and while I'm not sure Astoria's quite reached what a golden age *should be*…. we can only ever strive for better." He sipped his drink "your wife… is she invested in the old ways of this town?"

He raised his glass with Daniel and drank, before nodding. "Invested? Perhaps. Or perhaps she simply wants things to continue to be as they were when she was a girl. Change, I suppose has never favored her."

Daniel downed another long sip of the vodka, before asking "No? how so?"

"She was a favorite of Mistress Morozov's in her youth. And betrothed to her nephew, Vadim-- our mayor, now. I think she feels that things have been taken from her perhaps," he sighed.

"ah… a possible disciple of the immortal Mistress." Daniel mused. "… she was betrothed to the mayor, then? Dare I ask?"

"He broke off the betrothal in favor of another woman," he said.

"ah…" Daniel sipped his vodka "….a bit of an awkward situation."

"Yes. Darya was humiliated. She would seek no other matches for many years."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Daniel said. "Though it seems she opened up again eventually."

Konstantin sighed and spread his arms. "What can one do? Life goes on even after heartbreak and wounded pride."

"life goes on." Daniel chuckled "as they say. I hope things are in a happier place… and that perhaps one day Darya can see that progress isn't… all bad."

"Perhaps. Maybe you will make a…. positive impact."

Daniel chuckled 'that's my hope… I'm aiming to rid Elias… and perhaps this region… of this 'curse' of his."

"Curse or not, I hope that you can heal poor Elias."

Daniel nodded slowly "same… we weren't close at the university but… he seems to be suffering terribly from this affliction."

"It pains me to see my guest suffering this way," he agreed.

"I just wish I knew where he could have contracted it from." Daniel sighed.

"As do I," he sighed. "I know he traveled extensively in town, speaking to both notable families and to fishermen and other humble workers. Even the children."

"A busy little bee, then." Daniel drawled. "I'll just have to do much the same."

"I wish you great luck then. if you require introductions to anyone I can make arrangements; but news spreads fast in Tadibya. It's likely you will have people's curiosity by morning."

"And then everyone in town will be looking to make introductions with *me*" Daniel's ears flicked as he took a long swallow of vodka

"Indeed," he nodded. "You are a novelty here, as was Elias."

"The strange outsider, here to poke his nose into town business. I've been in this position before."

"Oh?" the bear man cocked his head, regarding daniel with curiosity.

Daniel chuckled softly. "I've been all over the world looking for the secret to immortality." He sipped his vodka. "To the jungles of Khan, searching for an immortal spider priest. Dead on arrival….to New Astoria, to hunt an unkillable outlaw….also… dead..upon my arrival."

"It sounds like you have a trace of bad fortune, master doctor," Konstantin said with some wry humor.

"If the gods do exist, they most assuredly are having a laugh at me." He drawled. "And continue, given the state of your own immortals."

"I wish that I had had better news for you to report on that front."

"Perhaps I'll manage to dig up a few of their secrets while I'm here….regardless of their current state."

"Perhaps," he agreed. "But do be careful. The old town board may be five years dead but their names still carry power in the town."

"… given how much respect they garnered, I can only imagine they still loom over the town like ghosts."

"Indeed," he nodded. "and that doesn't even count those who believe they do remain as ghosts."

"Which…" Daniel sighed "I imagine is a significant number of people."

"yes," he sighed. "More vodka?"

"Please." Daniel held out his glass with a slight frown "….what were they like?"

Konstantin tipped another few fingersworth of vodka into his glass. "They were larger than life of course," he said. "I always found them…. forbidding."

Daniel's head was already starting to feel as foggy as the streets outside.

Daniel raised the drink to his lips, but didn't take a sip. "I can only imagine." He murmured. "How many immortals were there?"

"Four," he said, downing his third glass. "Masters Volkov, Yahontov, and Osgrov, and Mistress Morozov."

Daniel took a hesitant sip. "did they control various parts of the town's infrastructure? Or were they a… council of sorts overseeing things?"

"Both?" he offered. "It is… difficult to explain. They ran the town both politically and spiritually."

"Spiritual leaders as well as political leaders… a dangerous mix."

"They held total power in the town," he agreed.

"Absolute power is difficult to question or make progress against." Daniel held his glass to his lips again, frowning. "There's no balance to it."

"No," he agreed. "And it… lingers."

Lingering too was the rushing inside Daniel's head. It was making it rather harder to think than he would have liked.

Daniel put the glass down, shaking his head somewhat. "That it does. It's..ah. Influence. I imagine it causes people to cling to the way they ran things like a limpet."

"I am afraid so," he nodded. "But I have kept you. It is growing late. Is there any more I can do for you this evening- or that you need me to do for Elias?"

"keep him… warm. perhaps. Don't burn herbs in his room, as the smoke will restrict his breathing." Daniel frowned "and keep people away from him as much as you can. at least until I can determine if it's communicable."

He nodded. "I will get another blanket. And tell Darya no more herbs."

"Some… perhaps, could be useful if diffused another way. A paste, perhaps. But the smoke is only going to irritate the lungs."

"A paste," he nodded. "I will tell her."

"Thank you." Daniel murmured 'Meanwhile I feel that vodka's gone to my head."

"Ah in Astoria it is not so strong, yes?" He chuckled. "But it will do you good in the rain. Come. You and your assistant may borrow rain cloaks."

"they dilute it with water." Daniel drawled, and stood with a low grunt "again, I appreciate the hospitality"

Konstantin stood as well. "Of course. I will see you out. And my home is open to you any time. I will send word to you if there is any change in Elias' condition."

Daniel nodded, and brushed his hand through his hair with a sigh. "It's appreciated. You'll see me tomorrow, more than likely… I'll be making the rounds, as they say."

When Daniel and Konstantin got back out they found Fenya in the kitchen with Darchik on her lap telling her a story. As Daniel got closer he realized the story was in fact about the time the Physics chair had gotten in a duel with an Advanced Mathematics Professor.

Daniel laughed as he approached "Interesting story to tell the kid, Fenya."

She shrugged and smiled, helping the child down to her feet. "It was one I knew she wouldn't have heard before." She looked up at Konstantin. "You wife asked me to tell you she was taking care of the stills in the cellar if you need her." Konstantin nodded. "My thanks. And for watching Darchik. She can be a handful." "It's nothing." She stood. "Are we leaving then?" she asked Daniel.

Daniel pressed his hand to his head with a nod. "I think we should go over what we've learned in the privacy of our room, Fenya."

The inside of Fenya's ears flushed visible as they flicked on the top of her head. "Indeed," she agreed, straightening her bodice.

Daniel failed to recognize the untoward insinuation in his own comment as he offered his hand to help her up . "Tomorrow is going to be a long day"

She took his hand, standing rather more steadily than Daniel himself was feeling. "I suspect that you're right." The walk back to the post office was even drearier than the one from it-- as now a heavy rain was beating a tattoo on the muddy streets.

Daniel huddled in his jacket "It's no wonder this place breeds strange disease" he muttered "with it being this damned damp all the time"

Fenya had pulled the cloak Konstantin lent heavily around her, its outline making her a mere dark shape in the rain. "And I thought the weather in Astoria was nasty."

"At least we see a clear sky enough to remember what one might *look* like in Astoria" he grumbled. "Here it must only be the stuff of fanciful daydreams"

"So it must," she agreed with a sigh as they passed the looming shape of the half-finished church again.

Daniel glanced at the church as he passed "the Faithful have been particularly… uncivilized… around here I've heard"

"That doesn't surprise me in the least," she said. "They never seem to have gotten over the 'conversion by the sword' ideal. But I wonder why they never finished the church."

"Komstantin tells me people in town are torn between two camps… those who look to the past and those who look to the future. It's likely that there was pushback from a good percentage of the town's people after the church burned their religious leaders at the stake"

"that's enough to abandon grand plans, in my opinion"

"Mmmm, possibly," she agreed. "A wonder the town is still stan--" A shriek cut through the gloomy night like a knife.

Daniel faltered, his hands tightening around his coat "what in the blazes?" He didn't stop to stand shocked… instead, he made his way with hurried steps towards the source of the shriek, breaking onto a run once he had his footing

Fenya's footsteps were right behind his as they dashed across the hard, muddle cobblestone street to the source of the noise. Through the fog, Daniel saw the silhouette of a great, broad figure with long legs, shrouded in a cloak, knelt over a figure sprawled on the ground.

"…." Daniel's lips tightened. Some freakish ruffian, no doubt. His fingers went under his cloak to grasp the Astorian man abroad's best friend…. A heavy revolver pistol. Drawing it, he aimed at the broad figure and barked out "YOU! Step away from your victim, cur."

The figure didn't answer, but jolted, seeming to turn and look at Daniel for just a moment before it started to move with speed like a phantom deeper into the fog. It was clear that if Daniel were going to fire, he would have just one shot.

Daniel aimed, and pulled the trigger.

The shot went wild, that much was clear, and the figure vanished without a trace into the fog-- just before someone slammed into him from behind. "Oof!" It was Fenya.

Daniel stumbled forward with a muttered curse "damn it! He got away!!" His eyes flicked to the figure on the ground as he righted himself "Fenya, help me examine the victim. We need to determine if they need medical aid"

"Right away," she nodded, disentangling herself and kneeling beside the figure, looking him over. "He's bleeding."

Daniel bent over him with a wince, his head throbbing from all the exertion while drunk. He inspected the wounds "….a bad night for a glass of vodka" he murmured

The man's throat was sliced deeply across the artery-- he'd bleed out if Daniel and Fenya didn't work fast.

Daniel hissed, pulling off his tie and using it as an impromptu compress against the wound to stop the blood flow while they got to work. "Seems we met our vampire" he hissed "Fenya, hold this on his throat."

"Got it," she nodded, pressing it firmly to the wound.

Daniel opened his hip pack and took out his tools, as well as some antiseptic "….poor man" he muttered, as he looked up at the sky "we should get him somewhere inside… safe. where I can operate."

Fenya looked around, holding the man's injury carefully. "There's a couple of apartments nearby, or there's some shelter in the church ruin. Or that big place-- I think Mirta said it was the Osgrov's?"

"the church isn't likely to be sterile" Daniel murmured "and a rich family will have the means to part with medical supplies if I don't have enough.."

"Right," she nodded. "Can you help me pick him up?"

Daniel nodded, and prepared to brace his legs. "Ready?"

There was an awkward moment where the large, ungainly man slipped in both their grasp, but Fenya managed to catch him. "Whoa! Let's uh… try that again, doctor," she said catching her breath.

Daniel winced "… I didn't expect to be manhandling men in the rain today, Fenya" he explained. He tried again

The two of them managed to distribute his weight better on the second go, and they carefully hefted him over to the doorstep of the grand, white bricked house.

Daniel balanced him in one arm, before knocking heavily at the door.

The heavy, old wood of the door seemed to absorb the sound of the knock, but a moment later the door clicked open. "May I help-- you?" a pair of pretty, wide blue eyes stared at him through a crack in the door.

"my name is Daniel Delgrave" Daniel said a bit breathlessly, "I'm a physician from Astoria, and I need to come inside. We have a badly wounded man and I need to operate *now* if I'm to save his life"

"Oh goodness, of course," she said in a dreamy, breathless voice, pulling the heavy door open on a large, handsome parlor. The girl who had answered wore a pale nightgown that blended with her fur and her long, pale locks of hair.

Daniel nodded his thanks. He gestured to Fenya, and began hauling the man inside. "Thank you, Miss. You may have saved this man's life just now"

Fenya helped finagle the man inside and they carried him into the foyer. "There's a table just in here," the breathless girl said, gesturing past the threshold of a double door. "Do you think that would help?"

Daniel nodded "we need to keep him flag and still while I work, thank you. If you have any antiseptic, or alcohol, that too would be of use"

"I'm sure we do," she nodded. She led them into what appeared to be a large dining room with a dour painting of a handsome blond man scowling over it, before vanishing into another door. There was a large, heavy dining table that would work well for their purposes.

Daniel glanced briefly at the painting, before carefully laying the man out on the dining room table. He checked his breathing after he had him settled

The man's breathing was rapid, and shallow. His nose was pale. He was a tall and rotund brown bear man in merchant's clothing. Daniel's makeshift bandage was swiftly becoming soaked through.

"Damn it." Daniel hissed. "Once we have that alcohol, I'll sterilize my tools and attempt to mend the wound." he fished into his bag, and brought out a small bottle of painkillers, and a strong antibacterial serum. "… We'll save you, good sir. Just hold on a little longer."

The woman swept back into the room with a bottle and bandages under one arm, and a rolled piece of fabric under the other. "I thought these might help," she said, putting them on the table beside them.

Daniel nodded at her with a thin smile "thank you." He paused, as he soaked a piece of the fabric in his antibacterial serum. "what's your name?"

"It's Lydia. Lydia Osgrov."

"It's a pleasure, Lydia." Daniel said, before he removed the bloodied tie, and pressed the antibacterial soaked cloth to the wound before the blood could flow anew. He braced the man down to prevent him from jerking up.

The man seemed well and truly unconscious.

"Let me know if you need an extra set of hands," Fenya offered, watching nervously.

"… I think I just might." Daniel said, looking the man over as he washed the wound with the antibacterial. "… soak some more of this cloth in alcohol and get me a bowl to sterilize my tools in."

"On it," Fenya nodded. She grabbed a bowl from a nearby cabinet of dishes and filled it with alcohol, before soaking the cloth.

Daniel soaked his needles and other surgical tools in the bowls for a few minutes as he stemmed the bleeding and sterilized the wound. "….i wish he was still awake to give us some feedback."

"if I could wake him up for you, I would," Fenya agreed.

Unfortunately it was beginning to look like the man wouldn't wake up again at all. His breathing was getting shallower by the moment and Daniel could tell that he had lost *a lot* of blood. "Lydia what's going--" a fresh voice, male came from the other room as a figure stepped into the doorway. "Someone's hurt?"

Daniel's teeth grit as he continued trying to save the man's life, his hands shaking slightly. Inwardly, he cursed the amount he drank, and cursed his inability to do something as simple as stop a man from bleeding out. "… Yes." He said after a moment. "This man was mauled in the streets by a maniac."

The man nodded grimly, and pressed his chest to the chest of the man on the table. "His heartbeat is fading. I have a stimulant. Lydia. My workroom. The blue bottle on the table on the left. Hurry there isn't a moment to lose."

"yes brother!" Lydia breathed and hurried out of the room holding her skirts.

Fenya raised an eyebrow.

"wonderful.." Daniel muttered to himself. He glanced up at the man "you're the town's healer, then? Perhaps you can assist me. He lost a lot of blood by the time I got to him."

"So it appears," he nodded, looking the man over. "I am Sasha Osgrov. Let us try to heal this man." The man was slim, and tall with a fine featured face and blue eyes like his sister.

Daniel looked up at him, before nodding slowly. "It's a pleasure…" He looked back at the dying man with a determined frown "Let's heal him indeed. I won't let some playacting vampire take a life tonight."

"Yes, I've seen the result of several attacks," he said. "None have yet lived to my knowledge." Lydia hurried back in and pressed a bottle into Sasha's hands. "Here."

"This one will." Daniel hissed through his teeth. "I'll make sure of it."

Sasha took the vial and loaded it into a large syringe he pulled out of his coat. "Hold him down please," he nodded to Daniel and Sasha.

Daniel grabbed the man, and pinned him to the table with a nod. "What is that stimulant of yours?"

Fenya held down the man's legs. "Its distilled from an herb," he said. "Grows is Quezecotl as well as southern Mosgrav I believe." He injected it into a vein in the man's chest.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "interesting. I've heard of such thing, but studies say it's quite dangerous. Most often it's not worth the risk."

"I wouldn't try it if he weren't on death's door already," he said, watching their patient carefully. The body convulsed suddenly under Daniel and Fenya.

Daniel held him down with a sharp hiss. "Be still, lad. We're going to save you."

His eyes shot open suddenly as he pulled against them. "V-vampire!!"

The man lurched and half-escaped Daniel's grip, but Lydia helped push him back down, shushing him. "Easy, easy," she cooed. "You'll be alright. No vampires here.":

He looked about the room, wild-eyed and shuddering.

Daniel jolted with a hiss of breath "….I hate these sorts of stimulants." he muttered. "No vampires, lad. but you can tell us all about it once we fix the gaping wound in your neck."

The man whimpered and squirmed slightly, but went slack, his eyelids fluttering. "*Dear mother*," he murmured, terror thick in his voice. "Easy now," Sasha said.

"… there is a theory of mine. " Daniel said slowly "….it's purely theoretical, of course, but it's one I've proposed numerous times for testing at the University."

Sasha nodded. "One moment," he said, before putting his ear to the man's chest again. "Definitely stronger now… you were saying?"

"If he's lost a good amount of blood… we could attempt a transfusion."

The pale haired healer raised an eyebrow. "Transfusion?"

Fenya perked up. "Oh, I read that paper."

Daniel chuckled, running his hand through his hair with a nod of his head. "it's the transfer of blood from one host to another… to replenish the supply. I've written extensively about it in the past as a method to save those normally deemed past saving."

"An interesting theory," Sasha agreed in a mummer.

"Are you going to attempt it?" Fenya asked with a note of eager curiosity in her voice.

Daniel nodded. "I am. but only *after* we close up that gash in his neck. If i'm to spend my precious lifeblood I'd prefer it not to splatter all over this nice man's walls instead of flowing gently through our victim's veins."

"I think he'll survive the next few minutes," Sasha said. "Do you have stitching supplies on you or shall I fetch mine?"

Daniel gestured to the bowl beside him "Sterilized already. I'm prepared to operate."

"Be my guest then," he said, giving a generous wave.

Daniel took up his stitching supplies and took a deep breath. "here goes. Please, keep pressure on that artery for me."

Fenya held the artery for him as best she could while he stitched. It seemed the alcohol couldn't interfere with that at least, and the wound was neatly stitched shut.

Daniel looked over the man, testing the stitch to make sure it would hold. When he was satisfied, he stepped back. "now for the hard part."

Sasha waved a hand for him. "Doctor-- may I consult with you for a moment over here?" he gestured away from the patient.

Daniel walked over and away from the patient with Sasha. "yes?"

"Between your work and my drug I believe this man has a fair chance of survival," he murmured. "With all respect to your work, Are you sure you want to risk an unproven treatment on those chances?"

Daniel glanced over at the man on the table with a sharp frown. "I'd like to take the necessary steps to ensure survival."

"And will your procedure *ensure* survival? or are you subjecting him to an unnecessary risk?"

Daniel frowned. "progress takes risks." He gestured to the man. "I'll look over the results and determine what the patient needs."

"Very well. But please speak to me before you attempt this procedure, if you believe it to be necessary."

Daniel nodded stiffly, and returned to the patient with a critical eye. "Now…"

The drink had definitely gone to his head. It was hard for him to discern whether he felt the patient was stable or not.

"Ghhhhh." Daniel dropped his head into his hands. "this is why you shouldn't operate on three glasses of vodka."

Fenya frowned and looked the man over. "He seems alright to me, in my unprofessional opinion. His color is bad but his breathing is definitely stronger."

"he's fine then." Daniel waved his hand. "we'll save the experiment for the next disaster."

Lydia leaned in beside him. "My brother is a healer," she cooed deamily. "Leave him here tonight and we'll watch over this poor man."

Daniel glanced over at her. "I'm a man of medicine myself, but my quarters aren't currently suited to housing a patient. If your..brother… watches over him for tonight, I'd be much obliged."

Lydia smiled dreamily. "Of course. I'm sure you saved this man's life by bringing him here."

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "that was my goal. I'm simply pleased that the job is done. My needlework sealed his artery, and your brother's concoction kept him alive long enough for me to do so." He waved his hand "and another life was saved from the treacherous hand of death."

"Yes," she nodded. "But what about you two? is there anything we can do for you?"

Daniel glanced down at his blood soaked hands. "…." "A sink. And perhaps a discussion tomorrow."

Lydia nodded. "Of course. Right this way." After Daniel and Fenya had washed up and made plans to discuss in the morning, the two of them headed out into the night once more.

"… hm." Daniel said as he entered the rainy night once more. "… interesting pair….and an interesting end to a spot of morbid excitement."

"Very interesting," Fenya said. "Though I'm a bit sad we didn't get to see your method."

"Given the presence of a throat slitting madman in the streets." Daniel said tensely. "I imagine we'll get the chance to test it before our ordeal is done."

"Speaking of that… didn't that wound look awfully clean to you?" Fenya said. "I heard that vampires bite the throat out of their prey but whoever did that *definitely* used a knife."

"I've heard the same….but this 'vampire' was using a knife. A sharp one too…." He shook his head "leading me to my theory of 'a madman in the streets' "

"Well I certainly don't believe it's a real vampire so a madman sounds much more likely. Or woman I suppose, though that figure seemed very large.."

"They could have been a woman, true. But the silhouette." he thought for a moment "… hm .Tall, broad shouldered..long limbed…"

"Sounds almost like Spring-heeled John. Remember that farce?"

Daniel snorted. "Unfortunately I do. Half my assistants failed to show up out of fear of some demonic murderer."

"And it all turned out to be a bunch of unconnected murders and an urban legend," she sighed.

"surprise. surprise." Daniel drawled "the leapfrogging demon from hell wasn't a real creature at all."

"Even the skeptics were expecting some lunatic in a pair of springed boots," she said. "I remember the physics department even arguing if it could be done without breaking both your ankles."

"I… remember participating in that debate." Daniel said. "Mostly by dropping a replica of the Gaean skeleton from the top of the physics building wearing ridiculous shin boots and watching it's body shatter into dust."

Fenya smothered a laugh with her hand. "That was you, was it?"

Daniel chuckled "I got tired of hearing that debate day in and day out, so I sought to finish it"

"I'd say you had the final word alright." As they neared the post office, the strange enormous silhouette they had seen on their way into town loomed in the distance.

"…" Daniel frowned at it as he walked through the rain "I'd say…" He mused "Fenya, do you have any idea what that monstrosity is?"

"Hmmm…." She paused squinting at the shape. "Some kind of tower? It can't be a house, maybe a monument of some kind?"

"it's… very tall. " He said "taller than anything I would have imagined a town this small would have looming about"

"Agreed," she nodded. "Perhaps if our postman friend is still about we can ask him?"

"good idea" he agreed "he's likely to know."

"I rather doubt it's somehow invisible to people of the town," she chuckled.

Daniel laughed "I wouldn't put it past them to have some sort of taboo on speaking of it"

"*Ugh* good point," she shook her head in wry amusement as they arrived at the door of the post office.

Daniel knocked, before pushing the door open "hello?"

The door creaked open and they let themselves into the warm room. There was a small fire in the fireplace and candles lit in sconces. Mirta was behind the desk and perked up when he noticed them come in. "Welcome back!"

Daniel nodded, "thank you, Mirta." He stepped I side and took off his cloak… His jacket was stained with blood… it would need a good washing.

"Oh dear-- ah, did everything go alright?" Mirta asked, seeing the stain.

"We encountered your vampire and saved the victims life" Daniel said, stripping out of the bloody garment.

Mirta stood, bracing himself on the desk, his eyes wide. "You did??"

"yes, he's currently resting at the healer's house" He hung his jacket up and smiled at Mirta "a job well done, eh?"

"I'd say so!! But-- what of the vampire?"

Fenya frowned. "mmm…"

"My shot went wild," Daniel said. "But if I see him again, I'll finish him once and for all."

"Did you get a look at it? was it a real vampire?"

Daniel scoffed "despite his lanky limbs and broad shoulders…" He waved his hand "a real vampire wouldn't need a tool, such as a knife, to hunt his victims"

"A knife?" Mirta blinked. Fenya nodded. "The wound was quite obviously from a flat blade."

"it was precise. Thin. No teeth could tear like that"

"I see," he nodded, rubbing his jaw. "I didn't think it could really be a monster, but it's still a relief to hear… Not that people being attacked by men is any good either…"

"a man is easier to stop than the mad figment of people's imaginations" Daniel drawled

"That's true," he nodded. "And you said you saved someone's life, so that's fantastic."

"it is… I'm hoping, perhaps, that this will deter the killer until they can be caught"

"Hopefully us interrupting him rattled him," Fenya agreed.

"and if not, perhaps I'll get a second shot" Daniel chuckled darkly

"No wonder you two got back so late," Mirta said shaking his head.

"that and a dinner with our colleague's hosts makes for a long night"

"I imagine you'll be wanting to get some rest then," he said. "I brought all your luggage up and I did my best to make the room comfortable/ ."

"thank you Mirta. You're a saint"

"It's no trouble," he nodded. "Anything else I can do for you before I close up?"

Daniel shook his head "unless you have some hot tea… no, I cannot think of anything"

"Oh there was one thing actually," Fenya said. She looked at Daniel. "That building?"

Daniel snapped his fingers "I'd almost forgotten yes…" He gestured out the window "what *is* that towering thing?

"Towering thi-- oh! you mean the Rookery," he nodded.

"the rookery." Daniel asked with a quirk of his eyebrow "what *is* it?'

He scratched his head. "Ah, well… it's sort of sacred I guess? It was built centuries ago. Its hollow inside I guess but almost no one goes in."

"a sacred building is it?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "what's inside it?"

"I wish I could tell you. I've never been in there."

"hm. I wonder…" He rubbed his chin "it's possible Elias tried to go in there… if he was poking about for information on the local faith"

"Maybe we should go investigate it tomorrow?" Fenya offered.

Daniel nodded "we'll do our rounds and check out this 'Rookery' "

Fenya nodded. "Sounds like we'll have a full day."

"The first of what I've the inkling will be many Fenya." He sighed "Until we figure out the source of Elias' strange affliction."

They said their goodevenings to Mirta as he closed up the office, and headed upstairs. It was a surprisingly large room, and there was a fire burning in the fireplace there warming it considerably against the dreary spring cold. There luggage was against one wall neatly. There was a large desk, two writing chairs and a large, comfortable looking arm chair; a dresser with vanity mirror, a large cabinet with foggy windows a tea table, a bookshelf, two small windows with their shutters tight against the draft, a two cushioned couch or "loveseat" as they had recently become known in astoria-- and a bed. A *large* bed. But just one.

Daniel cleared his throat. "ah. Well." He glanced at Fenya. "… if you wish to have the bed to yourself, I can try to make due on the couch."

Fenya's ears flattened slightly as she looked around the room. "Don't be ridiculous," she said with a taut edge of embarrassment. "That couch is only two thirds your size if you try to lay on it…"

Daniel chuckled softly "I'm a scientist. I've weathered numb legs and worse." Still, he glanced at the bed.

"You're a doctor. Don't try to tell me that sort of thing is good for you," she sniffed. "Besides, a whale could have privacy on that bed…."

Daniel laughed, brushing his sopping hair back with his hand. "… I suppose you're right about that. It's half the size of New Astoria."

"Anyway the town here's already decided I'm your kept woman," she said with a mixture of amusement, contempt and embarrassment. "Might as well sleep comfortably."

"Might as well." He said with a shake of his head. "I'm terribly sorry about their presumptions." He gave her a sympathetic smile "Such is the way of small rural towns in the middle of nowhere, I suppose. Frustrating as it is."

She ran her fingers through sodden hair, giving her locks a nonchalant toss. "Frustrating but, well, I doubt gossip from here will travel back to my reputation in Astoria…"

"I'd be certain to help sort it out even if it did, Fenya." He dipped into a small bow, before he began pulling off his gloves with a low sigh. "… this town is as backwards as it is baffling."

She chuckled and returned the gesture with a small curtsey. "So it is," she agreed, easing herself into the armchair and starting to unlace her tall, stiff boots.

Daniel did the same, glancing up at her. "How was your time with Darya? Doing the dishes. Did she say anything of note? "

"She was mostly quiet, but she did ask me about you. How I knew you. What were you like."

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "About me. Whatever for?"

"I suspect she mistrusts you."

"Given what her husband said, I have little doubt she thinks I'm trouble on legs." He drawled. "She's a staunch adherent of the old ways in town… and was supposedly favored by one of the immortals." "

"Really?" Fenya smirked. "Better watch out, if she fancies herself a witch she might try to give *you* the evil eye."

"Wonderful." Daniel drawled "then I'll turn into one of her folksy creatures of the night. What was it she said….it started with a d…"

"*Dybbuk*," Fenya said, her bare trace of an accent coming through heavily when she said the word.

Daniel settled on the edge of the bed. "mmm." He nodded his head once. "Just what does that mean, Fenya?"

"I suspect it might be a little different here-- legends are very regional and Mosgrav is pretty big-- but generally speaking it's the soul of a dead person possessing a living host."

"I suppose that's one way to extend a lifespan." Daniel said with a wry smirk. "… though the way Darya spoke of it made it sound less like an intrusive spirit and more of some sort of empty troublemaker."

"Yes," she nodded. "She called it a *husk*… I haven't heard that term used before. Aside from peeling vegetables."

"Likewise. Like she believes him to be emptied out. HIs soul to flit away leaving only the flesh."

"I suppose it makes sense if you believe in that sort of thing."

"I suppose." Daniel shook his head. "good for me, I never… really have."

She sighed. "Nor I-- not since i was a child anyway. The world's a frightening place for people who believe in monsters."

"it's frightening enough as it is." Daniel said, dusting himself off, and moving to unbutton his sodden shirt before stopping. "We don't need to invent creatures of the night to populate our nightmares."

"No, we ah, don't," she agreed, flushing slightly. "Hmm."

Daniel glanced at her, "yes, Fenya?" He lowered his hands to his knees.

"I'm trying to decide whether undressing in your presence is less embarrassing than a grown woman changing clothes under a blanket."

"I was starting to wonder about the same." He drawled "In the inverse."

Her ears ficked and she fanned herself thoughtfully. "I'll just undress in the corner and assume you're being a gentleman. How's that sound?"

"and I'll assume the same of you as I undress by the bed.… in the inverse."

"Excellent. That's settled then," she nodded, grabbing one of her bags and marching awkwardly to the corner.

Daniel nodded, grabbing a bag of his own and keeping his eyes on the floor as he began to strip.

Even trying to keep to himself he kept catching the sight of Fenya's tail swishing in the mirror.

It drew his eye once, the fluff of her tail drifting past the corner of his eye drew a reflective glance as he was halfway out of his soggy, slightly bloodied pants.

She was half undressed and he caught the curve of her thigh as she faced the corner of the room.

Daniel returned his eyes to the floor with a soft clear of his throat, before he unbuttoned his shirt.

The cough made Fenya turn her head slightly-- but she snapped back to the wall when she realized he was still dressing.

Daniel fished a silken set of black pajamas out from his bag, and slipped into them without another glance upwards.

"Are you decent?" Fenya asked a moment later.

"In dress, at the very least." He chuckled . "yourself?"

She chuckled back and turned around. "Dressed," she agreed. She was in diaphanous, but very much opaque black nightgown with a high collar.

He looked her over, before glancing at the bed. "That's a fetching nightgown you have, Fenya."

"It wouldn't do to be seen in something shabby-- even out here," she said, flicking her hair back. "Thank you."

"certainly not. There's reputation to consider. And comfort." he agreed, smoothing out his fine silk pajamas. "and you're quite welcome."

"How about you? Pajamas comfortable?" she chuckled nervously sitting down on the other side of the bed. "They look nice enough."

He laughed, a bit awkwardly. "Quite comfortable. Thank you, they're a gift from a contact of mine. Imported silk from the east… monogrammed. Simple yet fashionable."

"Ahhh, from Khan?" she asked. She looked over the bed, contemplatively.

He glanced at the bed with her, judging logistics. "From Khan. He's an antiques collector there."

"Sounds like a fascinating person to know," she nodded. "Hmm… do you get up in the middle of the night often?"

Daniel cleared his throat "only if something disturbs my sleep."

"Noted. Would you like the wall-side or the open side of the bed then?"

"Depends on how often you tend to get up, Fenya." he countered

"Expecting me to prowl the hall like a bat?" she teased.

"Stalking about like a vampire in the night?" He smirked. "you have the look of it, in a way."

he chuckled, clarifying "the Astorian, romanticized version, at least."

"Good thing I was with you the whole night or you'd suspect me," she replied dryly.

"You're certainly a lot better looking than that hooligan we spotted." He waved his hand.

"Well! what a compliment for a lady you already have in bed, Doctor Delgrave!" her ears flicked, gently turning pink.

Daniel cleared his throat into his hand, his ears turning a bit pink themselves. "Yes indeed, Miss Evgenii-Smythe. Indeed. I always aspire to be a gentleman I suppose."

"Well then I suppose we should put ourselves to bed like the gentleman and lady we are," she said with a little cough in return. "I'll take the inside if you please?"

"and I'll take the outer edge." He nodded slowly. "My apologies for the rooming situation."

"Just another trial to suffer at the hands of the school administration I suppose."

"I hope it's not too hard of a trial to suffer, Miss Evangii-Smythe."

"Is that a trick question, Doctor Delgrave?"

"I don't…" His ears flicked down as he cleared his throat again. "no?"

She chuckled embarrassedly and shook her head. "No Doctor, it's… fine. Really. Either of us trying to be noble and avoid it would just be silly. I certainly don't expect you to turn out to be some kind of midnight letch."

"I'm not Elias Bainbridge." Daniel scoffed

She snorted a laugh. "Thank goodness."

"you can trust me to be a perfect gentleman." he held his hands up. "out of respect for you, and my own self respect."

"I shan't fear for my purity while you're around I'm sure," she drawled.

"Nor I, my own." Daniel retorted

"At least not until you manage to wake Elias up."

"then I fear neither of us will be safe"

"A true hazard to both of our chastity," she nodded, settling in on the far side of the bed.

"We'll have to watch one another's backs."

"Keep that pistol loaded, then, Doctor."

"And at my hip, in case of lecherous scholars, Fenya."

He chuckled, shaking his head. "this is exceedingly ridiculous, however."

"I know. It keeps dawning on me afresh," she sighed amusedly. The fire in the fireplace was starting to burn down to embers.

"have I told you what Konstantin told me yet?"

"I'm not sure you had gotten a chance," she admitted, taking one of the fat pillows and situating it between her arms.

He leaned back. "It seems these immortals, in addition to holding favor with various members of town….I had gotten some gossip about his wife and her ex-betrothed, for example…. were town spiritual and political leaders. They were in charge of everything until the Faithful burned them at the stake for witchcraft."

"I see," she nodded. "You hadn't mentioned it, but I had sort of assumed it already. It's how it is in a lot of these little backwaters. Though usually not to this extreme."

""hmm." Daniel nodded. "that makes sense. It isn't preferable, but it makes sense." "I just find it interesting. It seemed they had their hooks all over this town… and a number of people still follow them, even after they're gone." He mused to himself "while local folklore doesn't matter much to me… it mattered to Elias. So I can only imagine he was trying to follow their footsteps."

"That would certainly make sense with his field," she nodded. "And he'd need some kind of breakthrough before he showed his face again at the university."

"especially with the unpopularity of his field as of late. " Daniel agreed. "… it would push him to be a little desperate."

"I almost have a little sympathy for him. Almost."

"I have… some… given my similar situation." Daniel sighed.

"Don't tell me *you* had an affair with the bursar as well?"

Daniel laughed out loud "no, but the bursar hates me for *another* reason."

"Dare I ask? I'll admit I've heard your name come up a few times but no one ever exactly says what the scandal's supposed to *be*."

Daniel sighed softly "people think my field is the work of fiction. They hear me proposing that I can find immortality and they scoff at me and call me a fool."

"Ah," she nodded. "Is that all? Medicine must really be different because no one bats an eye at a chemist trying to turn lead into gold."

Daniel scoffed softly "It's a popularity contest. My pursuit fell out of favor with the powers that be, and now I'm a laughing stock as the man who seeks to kill death." He glanced at Fenya "… is that your goal, then? Lead to gold?"

Her ears flicked. "What would you say if I told you it was?"

"I'd say it's no stranger than seeking immortality." he said with a sly smile "and could be very profitable if true."

"There are more precious substances than gold," she said. "But…. I *am* studying the secret of transmutation."

Daniel nodded slowly "It makes an amount of sense. Compounds are combinations of elements… so what says elements can't be altered into something else with the right stimulus?"

"Add this, take away that," she nodded. "The trick seems to be in not making it explode."

Daniel chuckled "and what a trick it is. no… I can see the pure, logical science in your goal. And I believe it could do medicine wonders if you managed to tap into it."

"I'm certain the applications would be… diverse," she agreed with a little smile.

"like ensuring the supply of a rare material needed for a tincture or antivirus"

"Exactly," she nodded. "It might even be possible to synthesize something like blood. Which would be useful if your transfusion becomes reality."

He mused for a moment over the idea. "Now wouldn't that be something. The transmutation of the blood…"

"It would solve the pesky difficulty of finding someone to take it from anyway," she chuckled slightly.

Daniel chuckled "you aren't wrong about that. Alright,Fenya. Consider me a supporter in your pursuit of chemical transmutation"

"And you can consider me a supporter of immortality. Anyone who tells you they *don't* want to live forever I suspect must already be looking for a way out."

Daniel scoffed softly "we agree on that. Immortality is the key to.our future. And I intend to find it." He offered a hand "to mutual support"

She reached across the bed and shook his hand, her fingers long and delicate, but her grip firm. "To mutual support."

He firmly shook her hand in return. "Then I'm pleased the Administration placed us together for this venture."

"Their bad planning is our good luck--in this narrow circumstance."

"a far cry from how their usual meddling turns out" Daniel drawled

"We ARE still in rural Mosgrav though. "

"true. It's no luxurious beach in Mordona" Daniel said dryly "but we'll make do"

"we will. Which, I suppose involves managing to get some sleep," she sighed.

Daniel stretched, and nodded 'as much as I've always loathed sleep.."

"Can't get anything done with it, can't get anything done without it," she commented wryly.

Daniel nodded with a soft scoff. "Perhaps after I kill death, I'll move on to the sandman."

She chuckled. "A labor I'd be happy to assist with."

Daniel laughed. "Then nothing will stand in the way of productivity. All the time in the world and no sleep to spoil it."

"An absolutely lovely idea. But for now we'll have to deal with it."

"Alas." He lay back on his pillows with a soft yawn "we'll rise early tomorrow… and have quite the long day."

And sleep they did, eventually, the sound of the dying fire and the heavy rain eventually putting them both to sleep despite the circumstances.


Day One: Examination

Chapter 2: Day One: Examination

Day One: Examination


Daniel woke up with the feeling that he'd had uneasy dreams. That, combined with the strange, if comfortable, bed and the warm lump of weight against him as he awoke, meant that it took him a moment to remember exactly where he was.

Daniel stirred, blinking against the fuzzy shapes of the room about him until they swam into focus. He groaned, rolling over slightly into the weight as he remembered that yes… he was in the middle of a country town in Mosgrav. To solve a mysterious disease afflicting a colleague. And he was currently sleeping in the same bed as a bright young chemist.

The chemist has somehow made her way across the sea of bed during the night, and was curled up with her back against him, arms around one of the large pillows like it was a stuffed bear. It might have been at least partially because one of the windows seemed to have burst open in the night, extinguishing whatever was left of the fire, and leaving a puddle on the old wooden floor.

Daniel felt a slight flush under the fur of his face, and sighed. With the situation of the window, it couldn't be helped. But it still made for an interesting wakeup. He gently tapped her shoulder with his clawed finger.

"Mmm?" she stirred gently against him for a moment, and then seemed to come awake all at once. "Oh. Ah. Hmm.. Good morning." She turned toward him, scooting a little extra space between the two of them.

Daniel cleared his throat, holding the covers up somewhere around his neck. "Good morning. You seem like you slept well."

She frowned, her ears flicking slightly. "I feel rested, but I think I had a bad dream…." She shook her head. "No matter though."

Daniel frowned slightly "funny. I feel the same. My dreams were troubled, not that I know precisely what troubled them."

"Probably the storm," she sighed, gesturing to the window. "Looks like it got nasty."

"we'll have to see if we can get something to latch the window more effectively." He said. "The storm seems to have raged all night long."

She nodded. "I'll clean up the mess if you could get the fire going," she offered. "whenever you're ready to get up."

Daniel lay a moment more in the safety and comfort of bed, before he rolled out of it and stretched. "It's gotten a bit chilly for my liking." He admitted

She nodded and yawned as she got up after him. "I have to agree. I'm amazed the puddle hasn't frozen."

Daniel got to work on the fire. "I'm amazed we didn't turn into icicles in our sleep.'

"One more reason not to complain about sharing a bed then I suppose. If you'd had taken the couch you'd have died of hypothermia." She set about finding a rag and cleaning up the wet spot on the floor.

He chuckled "I suppose you can feel free to use me as a source of warmth. I wouldn't want you to *perish*"

"Is that a backhanded plea for my body heat I hear?" she asked with amusement.

Daniel coughed, nearly dropping a fire poker on his foot. "I wouldn't call it backhanded or a plea."

"Careful now," she said, her ears flicking with embarrassment. "I was only teasing. I *do* need to put on something more substantial before I'm an icicle though."

His own ear flicked. "hm. For the best. We've both got to brave the Mosgravian cold in due time today."

"I definitely prefer the spring in Astoria," she sighed. "would you mind heading down to see if Mirta has any tea while I get dressed?"4

"not in the least." He paused "however, I'd like to dress after… I think I can survive Mirta seeing me in my pajamas."

She chuckled. "If your dignity couldn;t bear it I'd understand."

"My dignity can survive this trial." Daniel drawled.

"I won't doubt it," she agreed with a wry smirk. "Thank you, doctor."

He gave her a little salute, before he walked out of the room and down the stairs.

Downstairs the candles and the fire were lit again, bathing the dreary little post office in a warm glow. He could hear someone working away behind the counter.

Daniel walked out and around to the counter with a half smile. "Good morning, Mirta."

Mirta popped up from below the counter. "Ah! Good Morning master doctor. I hope the room was alright…"

"it's a lovely room. Though we may want something stronger to latch that window with." Daniel said with a slight bow of his head. "It blew open and nearly chilled us to the bone, last night."

"Ah, I'm terribly sorry," he nodded. "I shall try to fix it today."

"Much appreciated. And… would you happen to have any tea?"

"Oh! Yes, certainly," he nodded. "Oh, and some mail came for you, doctor."

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "Some mail, for me?"

"Yes, early this morning," he nodded. "I know one was from the Mayor's office. I'm not sure about the other two." He offered him a couple of letters.

Daniel took the letters in his hand, and turned them over "i'll be sure to read them, then… how interesting."

One was addressed to Doctor Delgrave and was a simple folded note, one to 'The Doctor from Astoria which had a handsome red seal', and another to 'the master doctor' which was in a simple folded envelope, but of good paper..

"hm." Daniel tucked them under his arm, and nodded to Mitya. "Just point me towards the tea and I think that's all I'll need for now."

"One second," he nodded. He reached down into some boxes and brought up a box of tea leaves. "There's a water closet at the top of the stairs too, if you didn't see it before."

"I had not." Daniel bobbed his head, taking the leaves ."But it will come in handy, thank you."

Mitya nodded and gave him a little salute. "let me know if there's anything else I can do for you, sir."

Daniel saluted him in return, keeping a firm hold of the letters and leaves. "In a little bit, Mitya. Once I'm properly dressed." And with that… he went back upstairs.

Fenya was dressed, and poking the fire up. "Have we achieved tea?"

"Tea, and correspondence." he chuckled. "and there's a water closet near the top of the stairs, Mitya pointed out."

"I'll get some water then," she nodded. "I wondered what the door was for." She grabbed the kettle from where it rested on top of the fireplace.

"Now we have our answer." He chuckled "and while you do that, I'll see what people had to say to me."

"I'll be curious to hear." She took the kettle and went to go fill it while he looked at his mail. Which letter to look at first?

He started with the one that knew his name. He opened the letter addressed to Doctor Delgrave.

A careful script read: "Doctor Delgrave, Our patient has lived through the night and has regained consciousness. If you would like to examine him before I send him on his way please convene at my residence before the noon hour. -Sasha Osgrov"

"… i'll be sure to do that, Sasha." Daniel drawled. He moved on to the letter bearing the red seal.

Cracking the seal he opened the letter on handsome and official parchment. "From the office of Mayor Vadim Tadibyov: The mayor is pleased that the noted Astorian doctor has chosen to visit our beloved town, and would be honored to receive his presence at his office in town hall during the hours of 9am to 5pm."

"I see." Daniel mused. "A meeting with the mayor, by five pm… and a meeting at Sasha's before noon."

Before he could read the final note, Fenya came back from the water closet and hung up the kettle on the hook over the fire. "How's the correspondence?"

Daniel glanced up at her. "Not bad. Sasha says we should come before noon if we want to examine last night's victim….and the mayor wishes to see me before 5pm."

"I see we've got a lot of visiting to do," she said. "Anything else?"

Daniel waved the last letter. "Just this. I haven't had the chance to read it yet." He opened it up, and read it over.

"Master Doctor I would be pleased to treat you and your associate to dinner tonight at Grandma's Pub. Please alert me by reply if you are able to meet. Of course I understand if a man such as yourself finds the evening hour quite busy. - Andrei Morozov."

"hm." Daniel raised his eyebrow. "….we've been invited to dinner."

"Well, that's charming if unexpected."

"isn't it?" Daniel mused. "By one Andrei Morozov, at 'Grandma's Pub.'. Shall I send a reply saying we'll attend?"

"I suppose?" she said. "Unless we'll be busy with something else-- or you think he's going to try to poison us."

"I can't imagine why." Daniel raised his eyebrow "I don't think I've made *that* many enemies yet in town."

"A bad attempt at humor on my part," she admitted dryly. "Though they do favor poisoning in Mosgrav."

Daniel raised his eyebrows "well isn't that…" He paused for a long moment. "Delightful."

"Don't have lunch with someone you know wants to kill you and we should be fine," she offered. She put some tea leaves in a couple of mugs as the kettle started to whistle.

"i'll..keep that in mind." Daniel said. "And aspire to stay on people's good sides." He nodded. "yours especially, chemist."

"I *do* know all the good poisons," she admitted, pouring hot water for their tea and putting the kettle back on top of the fireplace.

"Has anyone ever told you that you look radiant in the morning hours." He drawled.

Fenya smirked and offered him a cup of tea. "The immortalist is good at improving his chances of survival I see."

Daniel took the tea with a smirk. "I wouldn't be very good at my job if I wasn't, Fenya."

"Touche," she purred, falling gently into one of the chairs. "So… what does our morning look like?"

"Visiting our victim, perhaps taking a look at the… Rookery… and meeting some townsfolk in the hopes of tracing Elias' steps."

She nodded. "The Osgrov's first, then?"

"The Osgrov's it is." He said "after our tea, of course."

"Of course," she agreed, swirling hers around in her cup. "And we should potentially look into some breakfast."

"That might be a good opportunity to make a few connections… perhaps at the inn."

"Probably the best place if we're not looking at street vendors," she nodded.

"If we see any decent looking vendors, we'll stop. But I think we'd best find our way to the inn for a little breakfast."

"I'm sure our friend Mitya can tell us where to find the inn."

Daniel nodded, and sipped his tea. "once I'm dressed, we'll ask him then."

"Shall I step out of the room again?"

She paused. "Or ask while you dress?"

"If you could ask, we could kill two birds with one stone."

"It's my pleasure," she bobbed her head.

Daniel nodded to her, finishing his tea and placing his cup down.

She finished her own and stood, fluffing out her long dark hair. "Take your time. I'll be right downstairs."

Daniel nodded, watching her go. "I'll be down post haste."

A moment later she was gone with just the clicking of her heels down the stairs.

Daniel dressed himself, choosing a smart yet practical ensemble in mostly black, and topping it with his signature cloak. Once he was satisfied, he turned, and walked down the stairs with his bag over his shoulder.

Fenya was waiting for him, leaning against the wall. Mirta must have been in the back doing mail things because Daniel didn't see him.

Daniel gave her a half wave "did you manage to get directions, Fenya?"

"I did," she nodded. "Mitya says just take the right turn past the town square and the inn is up the street."

"not a bad walk then." Daniel tugged on his gloves. "Shall we?"

"Let's," she agreed.

Together, they walked out into the streets of town, hunting for the inn.

The sky was clearer this morning though by no means sunny. The mist had mostly gone though, and thanks to that, walking out of the post office they both got a full view of the Rookery in the distance. Standing at least 60 or 70 feet tall was a giant structure of pitted grey stone shaped like a narrow bell, with a graceful curve upward, topped with a large round bulb. It was difficult to tell from the distance, but it might have been covered in carvings.

"…." Daniel raised his eyebrow at it. "… what a strange, occult structure. We'll have to get inside."

"We will," she nodded. "You could certainly see the whole town from up there if nothing else. If there are any windows."

"If there are any windows, we'll have a birds eye view of everything this little hamlet can offer."

"Well, unless you want to go try to climb it now, we should probably leave it be for the moment."

"I'd like to at least get seeing the patient out of the way first, before we go hiking up an old rock."

"And me in my heels," she drawled. They passed by the little shops, many of which were open now. They could smell baking bread and smoking meat.

Daniel took a deep breath as they walked "at least this place smells nicer in the morning than it did in the dead of night."

"Almost overpowers the smell of mud," she chuckled.

"Almost." Daniel chuckled "and that is all I can ask."

They passed by the governor's manor, getting closer to the town square. A pair of gardeners were hard at work packing soil around the bases of withering plants.

Daniel raised his eyebrows "they should know those plants don't belong here…"

"I suppose it doesn't matter depending on who's telling them what to do?"

"the governor, I would suppose." Daniel scoffed. "They'll just keep dying in this state though."

"Hubris," she said, shaking her head as they passed and came toward the square.

"Unrelenting hubris and obsession with appearances." Daniel drawled "vanity."

"And not the fun kind," she agreed. "Oh good morning doctor!" an unctuous voice called as they reached the square. "in better spirits today I hope?"

Daniel had to stop himself from hissing out a long sigh. He whispered to Fenya. "is it the thrice damned clown?"

Fenya craned her neck up and looked over the courtyard, before leaning in and nodding. "It's the clown."

"Oh doctor! doctor! I've got a bellyache won't you come and check me out?" the clown laughed.

Daniel dragged his hand down his face before turning with a thin smile "I imagine it's connected to the bad taste you're spitting up. A true sign of unbalanced humors."

The clown paused for a moment and then let out a braying laugh. "OH! Am I the doctor today and you the jester? Let me give you my hat!"

"Keep it. I'd drop dead if I was seen in such a thing."

"Some doctor you are, killed by a hat!" he sniggered. "Let me read your palm!"

Daniel stared at him "do you ever… stop?" He pulled his glove off and shoved his hand towards the jester. "If it'll cease this song and dance, here."

Lukyan beamed brilliantly and grabbed his hand, tracing his claw over the lines. "Yes yes, I see. It was a mad passion that brought you here."

"The only thing mad here is you, jester." Daniel snarked.

"Not *your* mad passion, doctor. *Obviously*," he grinned. "But it looks like you'll have a chance to wield that too, as well as your scalpel. The thing you desire and the thing that desires you are both within your reach."

"the thing that desires me, Jester?" he snorted "and just what might that be?"

"Some great beast whose eye you've caught it seems," the jester grinned. "You might be able to avoid it. you might not."

"it wouldn't be this *vampire* of yours, would it?" he snorted.

"Could be. Could be." he nodded.

"Well why don't you tell your mystical spirits and fortune telling imps to pass along the message that I'm not interested, hm?"

"Oh I'm sure the beast already knows your feelings Big D," the clown grinned. "come back if you ever need a hint hmm? Press A not to die!"

"What the hell is he babbling about?" Fenya murmured, standing nearby.

"press a to… not…" He frowned 'what in the blazes are you on about, you absolute buffoon?"

"don't worry about it, don't worry about it," he grinned. "Go about your day. I'll be here if you need me. or not. We are Kitsunese if you don't please."

"… w… what?" Daniel frowned "Jester, you're as unfathomable as you are irritating."

Lukya gave a sweeping bow in reply.

"Wonderful. Pleased that that pleased you." With that, Daniel turned away from him "let's get going Fenya. I've had enough mirth for this morning."

Fenya nodded and beckoned him along. "*Someone*'s got enough mirth for all of us. That clown."

"What in the blazes was he even going on about." Daniel muttered 'press a to not die. kitsunese… this nonsense about a beast." He snorted 'Clowns like him are nothing more than madmen in funny hats."

"At least they have the courtesy to wear the uniform and warn you I suppose," she sniffed.

"I'd be more thankful if it didn't seem as if he was treating me as the punchline to his private joke."

She shook her head. "I wouldn't take it to heart if I were you. I'd imagine he's just pleased to have a new target. no doubt all the locals have become inured to his madness."

"I imagine so." Daniel murmured. "He'll get bored of me soon enough."

"He's likely got a short attention span." Past the commons, they turned down a street they hadn't been down yet, toward the north. There was another large house off across the street to the left where the sign of the faithful was displayed.

Daniel grimaced slightly. "the faithful.." he murmured quietly. "I wonder who lives in that house.."

"I suppose we could find out."

"I suppose we could… after breakfast." Daniel shook his head. "nothing good of venturing about on an empty stomach.

"I might bite someone's head off if nothing else," she mused..

"If it's the clown, I think I'd pay to see it." Daniel drawled.

"I'll keep it in mind," she promised with a smirk. They passed a couple of small houses which had a wide space between them through which they could see the smaller houses past them on the next street over. On the near side to them they approached a low, functional little building with a pair of men in uniform standing outside smoking.

Daniel raised his eyebrows, and stopped near them. "hello. Would this be the local home of law and order?"

One of them nodded. "Yes," he agreed in a thick Mosgrav accent. "Tadibya is protected by standing militia. You are… visitors?"

Fenya nodded. "From Astoria."

"mm hmm. Doctor Delgrave and my associate, Trifena Evgenii-Smythe . We're in town to look into Elias Bainbridge from the University." he agreed with Fenya, nodding

"Well Doctor if you run into any trouble just give a yell, eh?" The big bear's mustache wiggled below his nose.

"gladly." Daniel nodded his head slowly. "I doubt I'll have much trouble saving for the annoyance of street performers."

The other guard snorted. "Lukyan harassing you?"

"I get the feeling that's just his… way."

"You'd be right about that then, doctor."

"Wonderful. I'll strive to take the long way around him then."

One of them chuckled. "Good luck."

"thank you." Daniel chuckled "Now if you don't mind, I'll be on my way. Breakfast is calling."

The pub, as it turned out, was the very next building past the guard station. Unlikely to be an accident. It was a rough 2 story building with a sign in the shape of a knife and fork.

"Not the most imaginative inn sign I've seen." Daniel commented as he pushed at the door.

The door opened to a large public area with benches and long tables as well as a few smaller, more private tables along one edge. Across the room was a long counter with a number of stools. There were a few men and women at the stools and long tables, mostly dressed in laborer's clothing, though a few among them looked to be of the merchant class. A knobby-kneed child of perhaps 8 or so was weaving in between, delivering loaves of bread and mugs of coffee to the diners, while behind the counter a handsome and wizened old woman with a careful bun of white hair and a shawl over her shoulders minded a pot on the fire. The room smelled of a dense mixture of smoke and bread, lard and beer and coffee, along with the fishy stink of the laborer's clothes.

Daniel brushed his hand through his hair and around his ears before he stepped inside with a cordial smile.

Only a very few of the heads turned to him and Fenya-- but the woman behind the counter immediately looked up and fixed him with shrewd, clear eyes. "Welcome, strangers."

Daniel nodded his head to her, and approached the counter with a small wave. "Good day to you, ma'am."

"If you're looking for a meal, have a seat," she nodded to the two of them. "I'm Yana Bobkin. Folks around here call me Granny or Nana Yana."

"it's a pleasure to meet you, Yana." Daniel took a seat at the counter. "My name's Doctor Daniel Delgrave, of the Astorian University."

Fenya took a seat beside him, carefully gathering her skirts. "And I'm Trifena Evgenii-Smythe. Also with the University." "Huh. Don't get many fancy educations in these parts," the old woman grinned. She had almost all her own teeth, and those that weren't were replaced with gold ones. "You two here to knock a few heads together?"

Daniel laughed, "in a fashion. One of our… associates….found himself ill in town, and I was asked to deduce just what had happened to the poor sot."

"Aha I knew it!" She nodded, slapping the counter. "That Professor fellow, I'll bet."

"I'm sure you've ran into him? he wasn't a professor." Daniel chuckled "But Elias Bainbridge."

"Not a professor, eh? That's how he introduced himself. And I've seen him often enough." she nodded.

"of course he did." Daniel chuckled under his breath. "Would you know anything about his movements before he became ill? or when you noticed the symptoms?"

"Asked me a lot about the history of the town that one," she nodded, placing a couple of plates in front of them. Fresh bread and smoked fish, along with boiled eggs.

Daniel looked at the plate with a hungry appreciation. He nodded slowly. "he's a student of folklore, so I imagine your local history was of some interest to him."

"Seemed like it," she nodded. "he was all over the place asking this and that to my customers." The small child came up and offered them large mugs of hot coffee.

"What sorts of questions, may I ask?" He reached down and took a mug. "Thank you young one."

They looked up at him with big eyes and nodded. "That's Fofka," Nana Yana said waving her hand. "Not too talkative but good at staying out from under foot."

"Fofka." Daniel raised his eyebrow. "well, The coffee is much appreciated. Such a thing is a near necessity in the medical business."

"well we've always got the kettle on so stop in for coffee as often as you like," Yana offered

"I might very well take you up on that, given the number of things we have to do today." Daniel sipped his coffee.

The coffee was black as night and strong as an ox. It tasted like it might have been double, or even triple brewed.

Daniel didn't flinch. He just tipped it back. With coffee this strong he might not even *need* another cup.

Fenya looked a little startled, but grinned and drank heavily as well. "Got a long to do list huh?" Nana asked.

Daniel nodded. "We've got a mysterious disease and no clear leads… not to mention several people looking for my attention."

"Huh. Mysterious, is it?"

"I've never seen anything like it. No trouble with the lungs save for the shallow breaths. Slowed heartbeat, black blood…"

The woman snorted. "Black blood eh? Sounds like a hell of a *disease*. Is it catching?"

"We aren't sure as of yet. I haven't had the chance to check my sample." He raised his eyebrow. "… why do you say it like that?"

"Say what?" she asked with another gilded grin

"Disease."

"Well it don't sound like no disease to me," she said. "But I'm no educated doctor neither."

"what does it sound like to you, then?" He inquired with a raise of his eyebrow.

"Sounds like his *lelek* is out of control."

"… his lel.." Daniel downed the rest of his coffee before blinking at her. "I'm afraid you'll have to explain that to an outsider, Yana."

"Ah…." she nodded and tapped her chest. "His dark heart. His *lelek*. If the heart is damaged, the dark heart will try to move in."

"his… dark heart. Damaged in which way? blunt force? a wound?"

"A wound is possible," she nodded. "So's a heartbreak, or a crime, or a terrible secret."

"…." Daniel looked at his empty coffee cup, and closed his eyes. "hm. So if any of these come to pass… his heart rots? Is that what you are saying?"

"Aye," she nodded. "Though if he's strong enough he could fight the *lelek* off. If not, it'll seize him for its wickedness. A healer could fix him up, but we got none since the Faithful came through."

Daniel waved his hand. "You have a healer." His lips upticked in a slightly smug smile. "I'm one of the finest doctors the University has to offer. A doctor of thanatology, one who fights death itself. This wickedness is clearly some sort of infection. And any infection can be cured."

She grinned widely. "Oh is that so? well I'm pleased to hear it. Plenty of death around here to be fought with."

"I encountered an agent of it last night." Daniel said "and I saved the victim's life. If there's death to be fought here, then by the laws of science, I'll fight it."

"Brave man," she nodded. "Foolish maybe, but brave. I like that."

"I… don't… consider myself a fool. But thank you Nana Yana."

She nodded. "Well, I better get back to cooking-- unless ya need any more help, mr. doctor."

"For now, I think we're doing fine."

"Then please enjoy breakfast. On the house this morning for the great healer and company," she grinned. "But t'morrow I start charging."

Daniel chuckled. "you're generous. Thank you very much. I'll make sure this gift doesn't go to waste, then."

She chuckled and nodded and left the two of them to their breakfast.

Daniel glanced at Fenya, as he chewed on his bread.

"She seems nice. Ish."

"mm.." Daniel nodded. "I'm not sure if she believes in my ability to cure the man or not."

"No, she's hard to get a read on. She might be serious, or she might be laughing up her sleeve at us. I'm not sure."

Daniel nodded. "well….regardless… we'll solve this little mystery and show this whole town what science can do.'

"Seems like it'll be a big revelation to some people."

Daniel chuckled 'such as it is in a small town like this."

"Exactly," she nodded. "I think the only science they've mastered here is making coffee."

"and what a glorious science it is." Daniel said. "I could use coffee that strong back at the University."

"I'll see if I can weasel the method out of Nana over there," she said wryly.

"if you could, you would be my hero, Fenya. You would make a friend for life."

"Cheers, then" she smirked, raising her mug.

Daniel raised his own, though he'd already finished it. "Cheers, Fenya."

Soon enough they'd finished their breakfast, too. It was simple fare, but not a bad sign if they were going to be back for dinner.

Daniel stepped out into the morning air with a stretch. "not as bad as I feared. Quite good, in fact."

"I'll admit I've definitely had worse," she agreed. "To the Osgrov's then?"

"to the Osgrov's." He nodded. "And from there, we make what we will of the day. I'd like to see the rookery, myself."

"It's a curious structure certainly. Looming."

"looming, mysterious…" He smirked thinly "And likely one of the places our dear Elias visited before he fell ill."

"I can't imagine that he avoided it," she agreed. "Hmmm… should we follow the route we know, or take a chance there might be a shortcut up and around?"

"We have some time, and we probably should get to know the town" Daniel said "let's take a shortcut."

"Up this way then," she nodded, starting further up the road rather than back the way they'd come.

Daniel strolled alongside her, keeping his eyes on the streets as he went.

A little further up the street was a large, low building with a number of vodka bottles hung outside the door like a makeshift sign, or perhaps windchime. The windows were small and barred with iron. And it certainly didn't seem to be open.

"A bar, perhaps?" Daniel mused. "perhaps the one the clown is known to spend his time at."

"I'd bet on it," she nodded. "Probably won't be open until the end of first shift."

"Perhaps tonight we can… have a drink together." He chuckled. "and hear the local gossip…"

"I could be persuaded," she agreed dryly. "Have you ever been in a Mosgravan drinking establishment before?"

"Never. I'm sure it will be… an experience. I take it you have?"

"I have *not*," she said with a smirk. "In fact my uncles strictly forbid it."

Daniel smiled, waving his hand. "well your uncle isn't here. So why not delight in a personal taboo? It's likely Elias ventured there, regardless. Someone might have more information."

She chuckled. "Very likely indeed. Alright, I'm persuaded."

"Then tonight, after dinner, we drink." he walked past the bar. "If nothing else, it'll be an interesting experience."

They were getting closer to the river, and with it the smell. One thing to thank the cold for, it kept the scent down. There were scattered, rough looking houses here, and warehouses nearby. They came to a crossroads. One direction would take them back the direction of the post office, and the other the direction of the farm.

"hm." Daniel thought to himself for a moment. "… which way was the good healer's house…?" He wanted to be out of this… ruffian's warehouse district post haste.

"further this way," she said gesturing toward the direction of the farm. "Ughh, I think we're going to pass the docks."

"wonderful. The smell will absolutely make my day." Daniel drawled as he followed her towards the farm.

They passed the warehouses, and could see the dock in the distances where nets full of fish were being unloaded and large men carried large boxes.

"hm. Seems fishing is a big industry around these parts…"

"I'm surprised anything edible comes out of that river."

"Oh, I doubt it's all that edible. Less than toxic, perhaps, but certainly not anything I would consider *food* "

"it's like eating fish out of the factory district in Astoria."

She grimaced. "Now I recall there was smoked fish with breakfast."

"…." Daniel frowned "cooking it that long likely kills any of the microscopic little beasties…." he hoped

"I'll defer to your opinion as a doctor," she said though she sounded less than enthused about it.

"Often disease… is caused… by…" he cleared his throat. "germs. Microscopic organisms… rather than miasma as some would claim. Quite a few of these organisms are killed by high levels of heat.""

"Disgusting," she said. "But I suppose at least they can be killed."

"Absolutely disgusting." He agreed. "But it's something *beatable* "

"I'll keep it in mind," she murmured as they walked. "Hey brother!" someone called from the other side of the street. "Got a light?"

Daniel glanced up and over with a raise of his eyebrow. "A light? " He reached into his pack "I suppose I have a pack of matches."

A black furred badger in a cap grinned and held out his hand, a large hand rolled cigarette in his mouth. "You're a saint, brother. You want some tobacco?"

Daniel handed him the matchbook with a chuckle. "I might as well, thank you."

The man passed him a palm sized paper bag of tobacco with a grin and lit up his own cigarette, before passing the matches back. "Smoke it in good health, brother."

"thank you." Daniel put the tobacco in his pack. No sense smoking it now. "And the same to you… comrade?"

Fenya shook her head as they started back down the street. "Mosgravan manners can be so different from Astorian, don't you think?"

"quite different." Daniel mused. "I imagine trade is done quite freely about these parts?"

"By the lower classes definitely," she nodded. "And no one's afraid to stop one another in the street. In Astoria you'd assume he was going to mug you after all."

Daniel chuckled. "I'll admit, I was concerned. But… he seemed like a friendly enough sort."

"I'd wager you don't have to worry *too* much about random assault. Although still a non-zero number."

"there's always ruffians. I can handle myself well enough, if need be."

"You were certainly quick enough last night," she said, not un-admiringly.

Daniel rubbed the back of his neck with a slight laugh. "well, thank you Fenya. I still wish I managed to tag the beast, but… such is life."

"Who knows… maybe you'll get another shot." They came out of the poorer district to a few rows of middling apartments and another cross-street but this time the decision was obvious. The northmost turn only led to the river.

"well… I'd certainly like to avoid the river." he mused, and turned the other direction.

They headed south down a row of nice houses, and Daniel was pleased to note that he recognized the street, though this time they were coming from the opposite direction.

"ah, and here we are. Back in familiar territory."

"Among the elite of the town it seems, such as they are."

"Such as they are." he chuckled softly. "….I'm quite curious about this healer. It seems most don't respect his authority on the subject. Given that Yana outright said there were no healers in town….Elias said much the same."

"That's true," she nodded. "I admit I'm curious about it myself."

"He seems… fairly competent. I suppose.." Daniel shrugged his shoulders "But I suppose we'll see."

As they neared Osgrov manner they found the building beside it, a small, one story affair with a single window and a little sign in it which said "Office".

Daniel stopped, and knocked at it's door. "I imagine this is where his practice is done? rather than on his kitchen table."

"That would certainly be my guess," Fenya nodded. A moment later Sasha was at the door. He had dark circles under his eyes this morning, and was wearing a formal coat instead of the dressing gown they'd seen him in the night before. "Ah. You got my note."

Daniel nodded. "I did. I hope your night was restful."

"As much as could be expected. Feel free to come in."

Daniel gave him a thin smile, before stepping inside. "thank you again for your assistance."

Sasha nodded, leading them inside. It was a small, decidedly functional space. What its function was was…. a little unclear. There were a couple of cots and things that Daniel recognized as medical instruments, but there was also a large hearth with kettles, and bunches of dried herbs hanging from strings on the ceiling.

Daniel glanced around with a slightly puzzled look. "hm. You certainly collect a lot in the way of herbs." he mused.

"The people here are reliant on them," he nodded.

"Do they have much effect? Aside from… well. those like that plant you used last night. Which i've seen here and there in Astoria, myself."

"Their efficacy is… situational at best," he said. "but there are times when it's useful. And they go some way to boosting my credibility."

"I can only imagine." Daniel hefted his bag on his shoulder. "The people around here don't trust in modern medicine, from what I've noted."

"No, quite the opposite," he sighed. "Anyway, our patient from last night is in back in the private room if you'd like to see him."

"it's the struggle." Daniel said with sympathy, patting his shoulder. "please. Let me see the patient."

He gestured and led them through a door in the back into a small extra room. There was a large (shuttered and shaded) window in here and their patient lying on a somewhat more comfortable bed than the medical cots in the front. Daniel could see right away that his color was better.

Daniel glanced over him. "Remarkable. I'm pleased our treatment worked so well."

"As am I," he nodded. He lit a lamp in the room. "Pavel-- doctor Delgrave is here to check on you."

The man in the bed stirred. "Mmm… Oh… doctor?" he seemed to have been napping.

Daniel bent over the bed with a slim smile "you may not remember me, sir, but we the ones who rescued you last night."

"Huh…. thank you," he said thickly, nodding.

"Are you feeling alright?" Daniel kept his eyes on the man's, noting the pupils.

"Mmmm… my neck hurts," he admitted. "And I feel weak. I had bad dreams."

"Bad dreams. hm? were they particularly vivid?"

"Foggy," he said, shaking his head. "Something was following me."

"perhaps the vampire?" He mused. "You're likely experiencing trauma from your injury."

"Maybe," he murmured. "Will he come for me again? Have I been marked?"

"he's just a man." Daniel consoled. "Men can't mark and track people like some kind of hellish predators. They're simply men. You're safe now."

"He was no man…" Pavel shuddered. "He had his teeth at my neck."

"he had a knife." Daniel corrected. "The wound on your neck wasn't a bite. It was a slice from a straight edged blade."

He reached up to touch the bandage gently. "Knife… perhaps. But he still had a monsterous thirst for my blood."

"We're dealing with some sort of madman." Daniel agreed. "… or simply an individual who wishes to partake in the blood of his fellow man. But such men are likely to make mistakes… sooner or later."

"If…. you say so, doctor," he nodded.

"I do. You say you feel weak? Likely due to the blood loss. But it will replenish in time. Eat red meat. Stay hydrated."

"Red meat?"

"Red meat. . Cow. Lamb. The like."

"yes," he nodded. "will that keep the vampire away?"

He could hear Fenya sigh from the doorway.

"It'll make it so you regain your strength. So you can clobber the 'vampire' instead." Daniel drawled.

Fenya cough-- clearly to cover a fit of laughter. Pavel nodded. "Ah. Yes. Anything else?"

"Carry a blade, I suppose." Daniel shrugged. "I mentioned hydration, but it's important. Try to avoid heavy workloads for now as you're likely to become dizzy."

"I will try," he nodded. "Though I am a stock worker."

"Then you'll be fine. Stocks are only taxing on the mind and the wallet."

Pavel gave him a puzzled look.

"Shelves, doctor delgrave," Sasha said.

".ah." Daniel cleared his throat. "This is most certainly not Astoria. Take a few days off."

He nodded. "Very well."

"Good. You'll be fine in due time, mr. Pavel."

"Unless there's anything else you'd like to ask him, Doctor, I'm going to send him home," Sasha said

"no. That should be all."

Pavel nodded and stood. He offered his hand to Daniel's to shake.

Daniel took his hand and gave it a firm shake.

The man said brief farewells, and headed out.

Daniel watched him go, before he glanced at Sasha. "Did his rest seem disrupted last night?"

"Yes," Sasha nodded. "He seemed quite restless. But not unusual given the drug I administered."

"I imagine it might have contributed to his panic dreams."

"Very likely. However I am sure he'd trade his life for a few bad dreams. Wouldn't you?"

"Very much so." Daniel agreed. He glanced at Sasha. "we really haven't had the chance to get properly acquainted, have we?"

"Unfortunately not," he nodded. "I'd say we were both in a bit of a hurry last night."

"not to mention the late hour." He offered his hand. "I'm Doctor Daniel Delgrave… of the Austorian University. I'm a healer."

He shook his hand. "Sasha Osgrov. A student of medicine as well. And your companion?" "Trifena," she introduced simply. "I'm a chemist."

"It's a pleasure." Daniel said. "Trifena and I are on an expedition to look into the state of Elias Bainbridge… who's fallen quite ill."

"So I had heard," he said, frowning.

"I'm surprised he hadn't spoken to you about it, given that you're a fellow doctor."

The doctor's ears twitched. "I'm afraid that Banbridge didn't hold me in high regard."

"May I ask why? He's a student of folklore, hardly someone versed in medicine."

"Yes," Sasha sighed. "he was trying to interrogate me about folk medicine and I told him he was wasting his time. We…. got into a rather heated argument."

"He's always been far too invested in that sort of thing." Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose. "But it's good to hear that you're a man of modern medicine."

"I studied at the university of Mosgrav for several years," he said. "though I'm ashamed to say I was not able to finish my course of study."

"no? Did something happen, or was it simply a matter of ill timing?"

"I had to return to make certain that my sisters were cared for and that this town was not without its own healer, reticent as they have been to accept my efforts."

"ah, I see…" Daniel nodded in understanding. "You're an honorable man, then."

"Thank you," he nodded. "I admit my life has not gone according to my own plan. But… we must be able to adjust."

"such is life." Daniel agreed. "my academic career certainly hasn't reached the heights I dreamed of just yet….but hopefully this town of yours can change that."

"Oh? I'm curious why you'd say that."

"because of my field. The study of Thanatology." He waved his hand. "the study of death itself… and the hopes to use that knowledge to extend human life."

"Ah," he clucked, his expression darkening. "your interest is in the former town board then."

"That it is. If I can find the secret to their long life… perhaps I can use it to give everyone the gift of immortality."

"long life is hardly immortality, doctor," he said. "However I hope you are able to find the reason-- so that you can quell the notion of any supernatural origin."

"I doubt it's supernatural… likely a twist of the cells… some concoction. Something simple and easy to explain." He nodded slowly. "A longer life, while not immortality, gives us more time to search for the perfect solution."

"I more than agree," he nodded. "I wish you good luck in your research."

"Thank you. I might very well come to you for a bit of back and forth sometime. Having a fellow student of medicine around can only be a good help." He paused. "what do you make of this?" He pulled out the vial of Elias' blood.

"might I use your microscope, if you have one?"

"Is that oil?" he asked. "And certainly."

"that's Elias' blood." Daniel said with a frown. "though I understand the mistake." He moved to the equipment, and looked for some slides to put the blood on.

There was a small stack of slides next to the microscope.

Daniel took a slide, and spread some of the blood upon it, before slipping it into the microscope and taking a look.

It was difficult to see the sample through whatever inky darkness occluded it. He could certainly see blood cells but… they didn't look healthy.

"….disgusting." he muttered as he attempted to zoom in on them with a crank of the knob.

Fiddling with the knobs he managed to get the image a bit larger without making it too blurry. Well… the sample was definitely low in oxygen… that was one thing.

"Low on oxygen… considering his difficulty breathing and the slothful heartbeat, that's unsurprising…"

"Would that turn it black?" Fenya asked curiously.

"not… really.." Daniel said. "this is unusual."

"May I have a look?" Sasha asked.

Daniel backed away, and gestured. "it's as if there's some kind of secretion, or sludge taking the place of the fluid around the cells."

Sasha leaned in and peered at it for a moment, frowning. He stood. "That is…. odd. I wouldn't normally suggest this but…."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "but…?" he asked

"You might consider diluting the sample in order to get a better look."

"I do have more," He admitted. "in the vial. I took a substantial amount of blood." He glanced over "you wouldn't happen to have some distilled water, would you?"

"A small amount yes," he nodded. "I'll be a moment, it's in back." He headed into another door.

Fenya shook her head. "Now I want to see. Just out of curiosity."

Daniel glanced "please, be my guest." He shook his head. "this is going to sound… unpleasant….but it's as if the very fluid of his blood has started to rot."

Fenya leaned in and peered into the microscope with a fascinated expression. "That *is* unpleasant," she agreed pleasantly. "If that's the case one wonders how he's still alive!"

"I can't even fathom." Daniel mused. "blood shouldn't have this color or consistency… It's…" He frowned "it's not something I've ever encountered before."

"Do you think it could be a poison?" she asked. "Something that he's been injected with?"

"it could be a poison." he mused. "do you have any thoughts on that, as a chemist?"

"It's difficult to tell with the sample the way it is," she said. "I can't see *anything*. Hopefully Sasha's idea will help."

"I hope so." Daniel said. "I can't get a good look myself….the hope is I can see some bacteria… germs… floating about."

Sasha came back from the other room with a small jug of clear water. "Here we are. Let's see if this can clear things up."

Daniel nodded, and stepped away from the microscope with a thin smile "we can hope. Let's give it a try."

Sasha grabbed an eyedropper and another slide, setting the jug down. He sucked a little into the dropper and offered it to Daniel.

Daniel took the eyedropper. Leaning over the microscope… he let a drop hit the slide before he zoomed back in.

He could see the black blood and the water mixing on the slide, tendrils of black fog seeping into the clear liquid and turning it grey. And in the grey he could get a better look-- along with the blood cells there were tiny pinpricks of black…. something.

"here's something." he murmured, zooming in… this time on the black pinpricks.

There wasn't much more he could magnify the image-- but just as the sample was blotted out by darkness again as the black particles spread-- he saw one zigzag.

Daniel frowned, and jerked away from the microscope. "….well. It's alive." He said, "It seems we have a little germ of a friend after all. And one that can survive being away from its host a half day later."

Fenya bent down to check the sample again. "Really?… oh… its all black again now."

Daniel nodded. "Maybe another drop of water…" He raised the dropper and let another drop fall.

The drop of liquid overflowed the slide, and with it, black liquid spilled on the microscope's mirror. Three drops worth of undiluted black liquid.

Daniel grabbed Fenya, and eased her back and away from it ."damn it!" he hissed. "Keep away, the stuff's likely still infectious."

Fenya gasped as she was grabbed but easily hurried away. Sasha took a step back as well. "Thank you," Fenya murmured. "I'll…. keep my distance."

Daniel carefully slipped his face mask on, and switched out his thick leather gloves for a sterile pair of thinner leather gloves out of his bag, and nodded. "you have sterilization equipment, don't you?" He asked Sasha. "Blast, I shouldn't have been so careless."

"I have alcohol. Do you think it will need something stronger?" He frowned.

"perhaps. I don't know the nature of this foe just yet." Daniel said, retrieving a small cloth, and wrapping it around one finger from the middle.

"Here," he nodded, handing him a bottle of what looked like vodka. "I'll get something stronger."

Daniel nodded, and soaked the cloth in vodka. "Good. this'll take care of the initial cleansing."

Fenya wrung her hands as she watched while Sasha grabbed another glass bottle from across the room. He brought it over and uncorked it, moving to hand it to Daniel. There was a strong smell from it.

Daniel glanced at it, taking it in his hands and giving it a look. "this should do the trick alright."

Fenya gave a sniff and raised a hand. "Hold on… That smell-- is that chlorine bleach?" Sasha nodded. "It is. Powerful disinfectant. They use it in great amounts at the fish plant." "They may," she said dryly. "But I wouldn't use it anywhere you've just put alcohol."

Daniel raised his eyebrow. '….well? why not?"

"How do you feel about inhaling chloroform, doctor?" she asked with thick irony.

"….." Daniel paused for a long moment. "After that one time freshman year, I'd say I'm not feeling quite so warm on a repeat test."

Fenya raised an eyebrow but let it pass… for now. "Then I would douse the area thoroughly in pure water before getting the bleach involved." Sasha nodded. "I can finish the cleaning, doctor. Though I appreciate the gesture."

"Understood." Daniel sighed. "please be careful with it, we're not sure if it's contagious, and it's a nasty little bug if so. So… if you finish the cleaning, take great care. I wouldn't want a fellow healer getting sick."

"I will absolutely take great care," he nodded. "I wouldn't want to get sick either. Terribly inconvenient wouldn;t you agree?"

"Dreadfully so." Daniel agreed. "but thank you for your help. "

"of course. Pardon if I don't shake your hand on the way out."

Daniel chuckled darkly. "you're forgiven, given the circumstances."

They parted ways with the healer, and headed out into the street again.

"….well that was interesting, minus the setback." Daniel mused

"who hasn't tipped over the odd slide?" she said waving her hand. "But it certainly was…"

"Usually I try to avoid doing that with mysterious possibly incredibly deadly diseases." he drawled.

"Probably best practice," she admitted. "Though I'm still curious about the chloroform incident you mentioned.:

Daniel's ears tipped back in embarrassment. "Back in my first year of university, I was assigned a lab partner in my biology class. We had a… fundamental disagreement on the theories surrounding how a disease is spread." He paused. "I may have called him the son of a fisherman and a sea cow, and told him that his theories were as dense as… well." "regardless, he took offense. And happened to have a few bully boys for friends. Next thing you know, I'm chloroformed in the back alley by the dorms and wake up surrounded by exactly the kind of gents one would wish were the product of some pugilistic fever dream."

"Goodness!" she blinked. "That wasn't exactly what I expected… what happened when you woke up?"

"I'm almost curious to ask what you expected." He said. "And as for how I got out of it…" Daniel spread his hands. "I fought as honorably as a man in that position could." He paused a moment "I went for the smallest one, gave him a harsh anatomy lesson, and slid between them while he was distracted. They may have been a crew of lumbering oxen, but he who's fastest wins."

Fenya's frown split into a rather nasty grin. "Congratulations on turning a bad situation around, doctor. As for what I thought… well, I suppose I assumed someone handed you the wrong beaker by accident or purpose. In the chemistry department that sort of thing gets passed off as a prank."

Daniel laughed, flashing a grin of his own at Fenya. "My thanks, Fenya. If you seek victory… don't be afraid of life's little shortcuts, I say." He chuckled softly "I see, however, that the chemistry department has just as wonderful a sense of humor as the medical wing."

"So it would seem," she chuckled along with him. "The Astorian university certainly has a *refined* culture."

"A refined culture of bitter rivalry, petty pranks, and unsolicited violence. Old Astoria U…." he put his hand to his heart. "where great minds foster, or die trying."

"As the motto goes *carpe faucium*," she snickered.

*Seize the throat.*

Daniel laughed out loud. "Fenya. Your sense of humor and my own share delightful similarities."

"Perhaps we should team up and put that miserable clown out of a job," she suggested with a smirk. "Speaking of which, where should we head to next?"

Daniel thought back to his timetable. "we have some time before our other meetings." he mused. "we should check on Elias, as we're nearby… and perhaps make our way to the Rookery to have a look about." He chuckled 'we can save thrashing the clown at his own game for the bar, later tonight."

"Sounds like a solid plan," she nodded. "You're right we're very close to the Chernoff house."

"an economy of movement is paramount in… long expeditions like this." He shook his head. "i'd really rather avoid wasting time trudging back and forth needlessly."

"We'll probably want to save the Rookery for after lunch then, since it's directly on the opposite side of town from the farm," she said as they got started.

"perhaps we'll stop and get the mayor over and done with on the way then, provided we can cut through town and will likely pass them"

"I wonder if anyone's got a map of this town," she mused as they headed past the increasingly sparse houses toward the farm.

"Perhaps the mayor. He took a special run to a press a few towns over just to get some maps to try and bolster the town's tourist industry." he drawled. "or some such nonsense."

Fenya chuckled. "We can hope, at any rate."

"Either that or I'll take another crack at cartography and pray it's not quite so disastrous as last time."

"You seem to have quite a few disasters in your past, Danochka," she said with dry amusement.

"Such is the path of science." he chuckled. "….it was in New Astoria… on the trail." He paused a moment before he asked. "Danochka?"

Her ears flicked as she glanced over toward the farm. "Your given name is Daniel, isn't it? In Mosgrav you'd be Danochka."

Daniel's own ears flicked. "That's true." he mused. "i suppose so… one of the intricacies of Mosgravan language, I imagine?" He stuck his hands in his pockets, smiling slightly "Danochka."

"Mmhmm… sort of a foreign way of doing nicknames. But I think they have a nice sound to them…" They made their way to the front of the Chernoff farm, and found Darchik sitting folded up on the steps, drawing aimlessly in the dirt with a stick. She looked miserable.

"I have to agree." he nodded slightly "Something about it has an appeal, Fenya." He paused when he saw Darchik, and strolled on up to the little girl, bending at the knees to reach eye level. "Good morning, pumpkin." He said as genuinely as he could. "Penny for your thoughts?"

She looked up at him with quite the pout on her pale furred face. "I'm gonna be in trouble."

"you're going to be in trouble, hm? What happened, young one?"

The pout increased. "Lost it."

"You lost… what?" He asked curiously "perhaps it's something I can help you find."

She looked down at the dirt and scribbled in it with her stick. "My factory."

"your… factory?" Daniel asked

Darchik nodded quite seriously.

"what sort of factory is small enough that one can lose it?"

"It's made of wood," she said earnestly. "It's really important."

"If you tell me what it looks like, perhaps I can locate it for you?"

"It looks like a little wooden girl," she explained. "I think maybe I left it in the grove…."

"The grove?" He asked. "If I may ask… why do you call it a factory if it's a small doll of a girl?"

"’Cause that's what Iochka said it's called."

"hm. and who is Iochka?" He asked.

"Iochka Volkov. He knows stuff."

Daniel took out a small book, and noted the name down. "I see. Well. I'll take a look around the grove. It's near your home, isn't it?"

"It's near the church," she shrugged.

"near the church." He nodded. "well, rest assured, I'll find your factory. or at the very least look for it, pumpkin."

"Thank you," she nodded. "It's really important. Iochka will be mad if its gone."

"Does Iochka tend to get irrationally angry at things? Just what makes this factory so important?"

"Iochka's nice," she frowned. "Don't say he's bad."

"now I didn't say that." Daniel held out his hands with a grimace. "I simply asked a question. Jumping to conclusions will only lead to slippery slopes, young Darchik"

She looked up at him with big eyes. "A slippery slope?"

"That's right. A slippery slope. Full of treacherous misunderstandings, and tumbles into faulty logic. You wouldn't want that, would you?"

The little girl thought about it for a long moment. "Can I push someone else down?"

He laughed out loud. "You can, if you want to lead them to an incorrect assumption. Which can be quite the useful skill."

Darchik nodded quite seriously. "I'll do that then." Behind, Fenya smothered a giggle with her hand.

"good. But not me, because I'm trying to help you, Darchik. I was simply trying to gauge the level of upset this Iochka would get if I were not able to find your factory, in which case I would divert any wrath to myself."

She sucked on her fingers and nodded. "You'll talk to him if you can't find my factory?"

"i'll talk to him. " He said with a nod.

"You're nice," Darchik decided.

Daniel chuckled "I do try, young lady."

Darchik went back to playing in the dirt, this time with less of a miserable expression. "You have a way with children," Fenya commented.

Daniel straightened up, and stretched his back as he nodded to Fenya. "I've had experience." He chuckled softly. "you tend to learn fast how to deal with children when you're tasked with tutoring one who's reaction to things she dislikes is 'attempt to shoot it.' "

"Another disaster of yours?" she asked with pleasant amusement.

Daniel chuckled. "….I wouldn't call little Lulu Skyfire *my* disaster. That would be her parent's doing." He paused. "though I suppose I took on some of the responsibility by sponsoring her for the university's girls school."

Fenya blinked. "Hold on just a moment…. you're talking about *Lulu Skyfire*?"

Daniel raised his eyebrows at her. "I'm rather nervous to ask if you know her."

Fenya's voice was a little strangled. "Let's say I've had the pleasure. I do some tutoring at the girls academy."

"my deepest condolences. Rest assured, her mother is just as much a terror as she."

"*So I've heard*…. Goodness," she shook her head. "I never would have guessed."

"Yes. It was I who unleashed that little monster upon Astoria."

"Some type of grand experiment?" she asked teasingly.

He flushed, rubbing his neck. "in a fashion. Truth is, I owed her parents a bit of a debt after my misadventure in New Astoria. They saved my life, you see. And over the weeks little Lulu's particular brand of precocious mischief grew on me. So, in repayment of their kindness, I offered to get the girl some proper schooling in Astoria."

"Kind of you. Though maybe not kind to Astoria."

"Astoria's survived worse than one little girl." Daniel drawled. "Besides. If she raises a little hell on campus, I won't complain. Especially after they slashed my funding."

"How fiendish," she said rather admiringly. "Shall we knock, or go around to check on Banbridge?" she gestured to the Osgrov's front door.

"Let's at least say hello before we check up on Bainbridge. Just in case we need to run off to some hot water and alcohol for an emergency disinfection."

"Good point," she agreed and knocked on the door. A moment later, Darya answered the door. "Welcome back," the woman said dryly.

"Darya. What a delight." Daniel said. "I hope you're doing well."

"I'm delightful," she said. "Why don't you come in." She beckoned them stepping back into the hall.

Daniel stepped inside. "and how's the family?"

"Darchik's been in a mood all morning and the baby won't stop crying."

Indeed, they could hear the sound of a baby wailing from deeper in the house.

"Well… I've got a solution for Darchik's mood." Daniel chuckled 'I offered to help her find something she's gone and lost. As for the baby." He raised his eyebrow "what's the cause of her temperament?"

"As far as I can tell she's in a mood too," Darya sighed. "I've changed her, fed her, burped her, rocked her. Old Mistress Nika would know what to do but I'm at a loss."

Daniel sighed. "i suppose I can take a look." He raised his eyebrow "mistress Nika?"

"The old Mistress Morozov," she sighed. "She was our town's midwife and we've not seen her like since that fool church took her for a witch."

"ah, one of your immortals. A shame about the witch burnings." Daniel said. "I'll take a look, perhaps the child has a slight fever, or a mild ailment I could help with."

Darya nodded with a pensive look. "Alright, if you'd like. Though I'm no stranger to a fussy baby."

Daniel shook his head. "no I imagine not." He said with a smile. "but while you have a doctor in town, I might as well take a look." He tightened his cufflinks. "perhaps sometime soon we can sit down and have a chat about these masters and mistresses?"

"If you can get her to stop wailing I'll talk about anything you like," she said. She waved them in and led them up a narrow set of stairs.

Daniel smiled thinly "that's wonderful. Darya, I very much appreciate it."

Upstairs they swept into a small nursery room with a crib and a children's bed. There were a few toys scattered around-- this was probably also Darchik's room. The crying was incredibly loud here.

Daniel grimaced slightly. "oof…" he murmured. He stepped into the room and moved towards the crib. "Alright, let's see what I can do."

"Do you want me to stay, or will I only get under the doctor's feet?" the mother asked dyrly.

Fenya had already gone over toward the crib as well.

"Do whatever you wish, Darya." Daniel said. "just allow me to work." First, he checked the child over for any sign of fever or visible illness.

Well, there weren't any signs of fever, and the baby was a healthy weight. But it also immediately spat up on him.

"g….gh." Daniel said, using a handkerchief to wipe it up. "Delightful."

"I never did like babies," Fenya murmured with a sigh.

"Not the maternal type?" He asked dryly, as he held the baby up, and looked her in the eyes. "now… what's wrong with you, young one?"

The baby whined and cried as Daniel held her, squirming uncomfortably in his arms. A problem with digestion might cause crying like this. Or there was another fairly reliable possibility. The baby might have started teething.

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "….hm." He thought for a moment. "Darya. Do you have anything chewy of relative cleanliness? "

"Mmmm, hold on a moment," she said, reaching into her bag. "I have a rubber spoon. Will that do?"

"I suppose it would." Daniel said. "If it's what I believe it to be."

She handed him the spoon. It was about hand length, made of strong but pliable rubber. "Oh?"

Daniel offered the spoon to the baby, bouncing her gently in his arms "come on. Chew away." he murmured. "if this doesn't solve it, call me. What's likely the case here is your child's teething and in a spot of discomfort. Chewing on something rubber eases the pain. It's a reflex inborn in everyone." He paused "if chewing on the spoon fails to help, it's likely a digestion issue, of which I have a remedy or two."

The baby took the spoon in her mouth and started gumming on it determinedly, the crying stopping.

Darya raised her eyebrow. "She's a bit young for teeth."

"They could be coming in early, I suppose." Daniel mused. "how old is she?"

"A little under five months."

Daniel laughed. "while that's… perhaps… a tad early, it's not too far off the usual. She's just getting her teeth in a little early."

"Darchik's teeth didn't come for almost a year."

"Typically they start about 5 months in, according to most studies." Daniel said, gently bouncing the baby as she teethed. "Every child is different, of course. But on the whole, they tend to fit the pattern."

The baby made little babbling noises as she chewed, seeming happy now. "Well, doctor," Darya sighed. "It seems you are the better mother than I."

"you're a fine mother, Darya." Daniel said, and offered her the child. "It's just a matter of science."

Darya took the baby in her arms and bounced her. "I suppose."

"You can keep the spoon," Fenya offered.

Daniel nodded "your mistress Nika likely knew the same sorts of things, but learned from experience rather than rigorous research."

"I'm certain she knew a great deal," she said with a sigh. "She was supposed to help bring Darchik into the world."

"The Faithful carry with them all sorts of… convictions." Daniel shook his head. "misguided as they are, they turn to barbaric sacrifice in the name of their horned god. You have my sympathies."

She bounced the baby in her arms. "You had questions for me. Come."

Daniel nodded, and followed her. "I did. Fenya, you don't mind a brief delay, do you?"

"Not if you don't," Fenya said with a smile.

"not in the least." he chuckled. "I've been curious about this town's….particular situation… since I've heard of it."

"Me too, honestly." Darya brought them into a small parlor and settled down with the baby on her lap, gesturing for them to sit as well.

Daniel took a seat, and folded his hands on his lap. "So… Darya. I wanted to ask you about the Masters and Mistress. "

Darya nodded. "Yes. I'm happy to answer your questions."

"I heard you were… favored… by the Mistress." Daniel ventured carefully.

"Speaking to my husband?" she asked

"We may have had a drink or two the other night." Daniel said with a wave of his hand.

"Men," she clucked. "Yes, I was one of the Mistress' pupils."

"why don't you tell me a little more about her, if you please."

"What would you like to know about?"

"You say you were one of her pupils… just what were you taught?"

"The first thing she taught me was how to read," she shrugged. "And she taught me what herbs do this and that."

"Herbs can sometimes make for decent medicine." Daniel nodded slowly. "..so she taught you some reading… some herbology…"

"I helped in birthing babies every now and then."

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "… so training you to be the next midwife for the town, hm?"

"That;s what I was given to understand."

"And did she happen to mention anything about… her lifespan?"

"Not to me, I'm afraid, doctor. But it was common knowledge that she was many decades older than she appeared."

"She never mentioned it? Not even to claim it was some fell magic?"

"if it was fell magic I don't think she'd be mentioning it, do you?" she snorted.

Daniel shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose not." he sighed "then how about her as a person. What was she like?"

"She had a terrible sense of humor, and she smoked enormous, disgusting cigars, and she would flirt with anything with a cock between his legs."

Fenya snorted back a laugh in utter surprise.

Daniel choked, stiffening slightly "she sounds… like… a hell of a woman."

"She may not have looked her age but she certainly acted it," Darya said dryly.

"Clearly." Daniel said with a stiff smile. "and how old did she look?"

"About 25 or so."

"and yet she was over 100…" he breathed. "Fascinating…"

"And she took the secret to her grave as far as I know," Darya said, shaking her head.

"It won't be a secret forever." Daniel said slowly "I'll figure it out… and give it to the world"

"Do me a favor, doctor?"

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "yes, Darya?"

"if you do find it, I would like to be the first to know."

Daniel nodded. "From what I understand, that would very much be within your rights."

"I'd be pleased if you did consider it."

"Consider it a deal… in exchange for any help you could give me in finding it out."

"I'll let you know if I think of anything that could help you, then."

Daniel bowed his head. "you're a saint, Darya."

"hardly. I should call you one for helping with this little cabbage here," she said gesturing to the now sleeping baby.

Daniel chuckled, and gave her as warm a smile as he had in him. "It was nothing. I was happy to help. She seems happier now."

"Thank goodness. Maybe we can both get some rest."

"I should let you get to that." Daniel chuckled "I need to check on Elias, myself."

"Good luck to you on that matter," she said dryly.

"Have you heard anything this morning?" He asked.

"I wouldn;t want to interfere with your 'investigation'" she said. Daniel got the feeling she wasn't exactly well disposed toward Elias.

"You seem to dislike him." Daniel said bluntly. "Can I ask why? aside from his…" He paused for a moment. "well recorded eccentricities."

"What makes you think I need any more reason to dislike him?" she asked somewhat sharply.

Daniel shrugged. "the level of your disdain, mostly. It makes it seem more..personal."

"Doctor if you think my reasons for disliking him are personal, have you considered maybe you shouldn't be asking personal questions?"

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "…" He looked at Fenya "am I asking too many personal questions?"

"You're certainly asking personal questions," Fenya offered with a spread of her hands. "Too many is a matter of opinion."

"It's too many for me, doctor. Thank you very much," Darya hmphed.

Daniel spread his hands. "I don't mean to offend, Darya. But you have to understand where I'm coming from." He leaned in, and turned his expression stern and somber. "You have a *very* sick man staying under your roof. A man with a disease I've not encountered before, with symptoms so dramatic that I'm not quite sure what to make of it just yet." He gestured towards her. "A man that you spend quite a bit of your time insulting, and showing a blatant disregard for if he lives or dies. Can you guess why I might be curious just what your reasons for that may be, or shall I continue?"

Darya drew herself up in the face of his words. "Oh yes, doctor I perfectly understand the accusation. If you must know why I dislike the man currently lying in the bed in the field apartment right now I will have you know it is the same reason which I have disliked all the men whom have lain in it previously, all of whom I assure you are still very much alive and healthy. But you can talk to my *dear husband* about that. In fact you can talk to him about any other questions you have as well." She shouldered past him and stomped out of the room.

"I think I may have made her angry." Daniel said slowly.

Fenya watched her go with a mixture of surprise and resignation. "Seems like it."

"if you have any advice on how to ah, apologize for that sort of thing. I wouldn't say no to it." he thought for a long moment. "though there appears there's… more to the whole thing than I initially thought."

"Well, I certainly wouldn't try to apologize right now," she said. "you'll need to give her time. But yes, I suspect you're right."

"Perhaps later today, or even tomorrow." He agreed. "she does need a bit of time to simmer down before I attempt it." He sighed. "….perhaps I should talk to her husband about it later."

"I might try to be a bit more delicate about the matter when you do."

"…." Daniel sighed "I'll do my best, but I'm afraid social delicacy isn't exactly my forte"

"At least try to duck if he goes to deck you then."

"I'll… do my best to." He drawled. "… Once I heal Elias however, I may very well deck *him* for all this nonsense drama we have to wade through."

"I think that would be entirely justified," she agreed dryly. "I may have to get in line."

"Let's go see if he's died yet or not." Daniel drawled, walking out of the house and towards the guest bed.

Fenya followed him out of the house into the open air. It was getting cold again and the clouds were gathering thickly.

Daniel looked up at the sky with a sigh "A storm's likely going to hit again, isn't it?"

"weather prediction isn't my specialty but it certainly seems like it."

"I can't wait." he shook his head. "The streets will become a slog of mud and mush once more."

"as if it had a chance to be anything else," she sighed. They arrived at the little hut in the field.

Daniel took a deep breath of the relatively clean air, and pulled on his face mask. "here we go."

The room looked much as it had the day before, but this time there was no trace of smoke inside. Instead now there was a slightly sweet, acrid smell in the air.

Daniel sniffed once. "… hm." He tried to discern the smell… was it one he'd smelt before?

It smelled somewhat familiar but it was difficult to place….

"I'm not the only one smelling that, Am I Fenya?"

She sniffed it as she stepped in behind him. "No… I definitely smell it too…"

"It's familiar but I can't quite parse it.." he walked up to the bedside and looked down at Elias.

Just as Daniel noticed that Elias' ears were darker than the day before, the patient's mouth dropped open and he gave a strangle yell.

"hhhh." Daniel jerked away, his fur bristling as Elias screamed. "he's worse than yesterday."

"Well that's not good news," Fenya said, smoothing down her tail.

"no it's not. The infection is spreading… his ears are dark with that oily blood…"

"Poor bastard," she murmured.

"His blood's infested with… those little microbes I spotted in the sample." He mused, and bent down to give him a full rundown. Temperature… heartbeat… breathing…

His heartbeat and his breathing were both slow his temperature…. was actually clammy…. cooler than it should have been.

"….his body temperature has dropped."

"You said he didn't have a fever before, right?"

"no. He didn't. But this is significantly worse than a baseline temperature."

"That's what I was going to guess."

"Regardless, it's clear he doesn't have much time left." Daniel murmured. "and this disease continues to operate in strange, strange ways."

"Do you think it's even possible to save him?"

"yes." Daniel said firmly. "it's never too late to save someone… even after the moment of 'death'

"That's a hell of a daring proposition" she said with a little smile.

"it's the very foundation my branch of medicine is founded upon." He said with a nod, glancing at Elias. "we can save him."

Elias groaned, his fingers twitching as he lay there.

Daniel mused for a moment. "I wonder if a sedative would ease his nightmares..>"

Musing on the idea, he's not certain whether it would or not.

"only one way to know…" He hesitated before he snapped his fingers. "no! A stimulant to try to quicken the pace of his heart!"

"Ah, like the other night!" Fenya nodded.

"exactly." Daniel mused, rustling in his bag. "I might have something on hand that could work."

"If you don't, I might be able to synthesize something if given a few hours."

"If it works, I could use you making more." He said, pulling a vial out from his bag "but I have something here that should do the trick for now."

"Oh good," she nodded. "I can set up my equipment in the post office. Assuming Mitya doesn't object."

"I doubt he'll mind." Daniel filled a syringe with the fluid, and administered it into the arm of Elias.

A moment later he groaned again and his fingers twitched more heavily.

"…..Elias." he said slowly "can you hear me?"

He groaned, twitching and stirring, his eyelids fluttering.

"I think I made it worse. " Daniel said, watching him for a moment. "or better. Hard to tell at this stage."

Fenya leaned over his shoulder with a speculative look on her face. "Hmmmmm…."

Elias opened his mouth and Fenya winced, waiting for the scream. But he only groaned again.

"no scream… a good sign." He leaned in and listened to his heartbeat.

His heartbeat was *much* faster and stronger now-- not alarmingly strong but *almost* normal.

"that brought him back to stable levels… perhaps an antibiotic as well?" He reached into his bag, and injected a liquid antibiotic into the man.

Fenya quickly scribbled down what Daniel administered, and checked her pocket watch to add the time of day.

Slowly the twitching and trembling that Elias was doing started to slack off.

"I think that did the trick….I think it stabilized him enough that we might be able to keep him… here… until we figure out exactly what this thing is doing to him."

"Buying him time buys us time," she nodded.

"That it does." Daniel said, and once more checked the man's breathing.

His breathing, too was stronger, like his heartbeat.

"There we go." He smiled wider. "We found the cocktail."

"Nicely done, doctor," Fenya nodded with an answering smile.

He dusted his hands off. "We should work on creating a bit more of the needed drugs…" he tapped his bag "I have a limited supply. And in the meantime, we continue tracking down the origin of this little bug, so we might better understand its nature."

"I'd say that's a good plan. And goals we can pursue in parallel."

He nodded slowly. "Between the two of us and the local healer, we should have the situation well in hand."

"I'll withhold premature congratulations but consider them on the horizon."

"premature congratulations breed bad luck." He said with a shake of his head. "but we should keep positive."

"Indeed. Anything left to do in here for now, or?"

"no, I think we'd best be getting on with our day. Especially given the additional tasks. "

She nodded. "A busy day for us."

"A busy day indeed….meeting with the mayor… finding a child's lost….'factory'….tracing Elias' steps and visiting an ancient relic."

He paused. "then dinner and drinks."

"Can't forget those," she agreed.

"I'll need them after today." he chuckled.

"Can i say that I will too?"

"Yes, yes you may" He chuckled. "we're in this together at this point, Fenya."

"Then I'll definitely need a drink tonight," she chuckled with him.

"you and me both." he chuckled. "Shall we?" he gestured out the door.

She nodded and the two of them headed out the door. "Where are we bound next? Did you still want to go see the mayor?"

"yes… let's see the mayor, then loop around to the orchard."

"we'll want to head back toward the town square then."

He nodded, and stepped out into the open air, taking in the smell of the incoming rain as he pulled his mask from his face.

The air smelled heavy with rain, and with traces of soot at chemicals presumably from the large fish processing plant by the river.

"mmm." He shook out his hair, and started on his way. "at least the rain will smother that fish smell."

"That will be a blessing. We'll just have to hope it doesn't rain fish," she said with dry amusement.

"given the strangeness of this little town, I would hardly be surprised."

"Under the right conditions it's possible," she nodded.

"After a big storm, or a tornado, I imagine."

"Exactly. water spouts pull little fish up into the clouds," she nodded. "I read a study on it one time."

He chuckled. "i remember that study, actually. Some people were convinced it was due to some land up in the clouds."

"As I recall the paper was written out of spite to put a break in that faction's funding."

"As all great papers are." he purred. "Spite is the driving force of science, sometimes."

"Does spite drive you, doctor?" she asked with a smile.

"Spite… has given me an edge on occasion. but what really drives me is my goal." He waved his hand "… death is mankind's enemy. And I wish to end it."

"Are you just that noble, Danochka?"

"Well…" He paused a moment. "I suppose there is quite a part of me that simply wants to stick it to the deans. And everyone who ever doubted me."

She smirked a little. "I don't blame you."

"They've called my science fantasy and madness again and again." he smiled thinly. "But who's the one who nearly brought back the dead? who's the one who'll find immortality?"

Fenya shook her head. "I can't imagine anyone's in a better position than you are."

"it's my life's work… " He shook his head. "it'll be for the betterment of our kind… and for a bit of personal satisfaction."

"An enviable combination," she nodded. They were coming to where the half-built church stood. They heard noise coming from it.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and walked slowly towards it to try and peek inside.

It wasn't difficult to get a good view, and as they came closer the noise resolved into voices speaking in hushed tones-- minus the odd yelp or giggle. There was a small cluster of children hanging about, seated on various ledges of partially built stones.

Daniel glanced at Fenya. "… not the safest playground out there."

"Survival of the fittest I suppose?" she said with a little frown.

"In which case I think we found the ones lagging behind." Daniel drawled

"There's always a few I suppose."

"I'm contemplating if I should say something or not."

"Hmmm," she considered, peering through the half built stone arches. "I suppose you could? Children don't usually take kindly to that interference, though."

"True. But I don't expect to interfere as much as….possibly ask a few questions."

"I'll certainly back you up. Not that you need backup to deal with children."

"You'd be surprised." He drawled. "after meeting Lulu I know the true depths of savagery and violence that children can stoop to."

"…..fair point."

He nodded to her, and slipped inside the arch. "excuse me, children?"

They looked up at him with the smooth coordination of a wolfpack orienting to its prey. Half a dozen pairs of eyes were suddenly on him.

Daniel's smile went a little rictus. "hm." he cleared his throat. "I hope you don't mind if I ask a few questions. I'm new in town, you see."

A lanky wolf boy of perhaps around nine or ten, with black hair cut sharply around his chin, crossed his arms. "What do you need, old man?"

"*old man*" Daniel's fur prickled in irritation. "I'll have you know I'm *quite young* for a doctor of my caliber, you little pest."

"Sure," the boy grunted. "whatever you say, old man."

"Indeed. Whatever I say, pipsqueak." Daniel countered. "so why don't you stop shooting your mouth off, and answer my questions."

"You haven't asked any, old man!"

"I was about to you insufferable *shrimp*!"

"well why don't you ask, huh? Got all day to stand around, old man?"

"What's your name, urchin?" Daniel sneered.

The boy sneered right back. "Ioseph Volkov the Third! How about you, gramps?"

"*Doctor* Daniel Delgrave. Of the *Astorian University*, you fetus."

"Oooooh, a doctor, I'm so impressed. Aren't we impressed boys?" The boys, and girls, jeered along with *The Third.* Fenya, standing behind Daniel shook her head with a sigh.

"I'm surprised your family made it to a third generation with this display of *charming* personality." Daniel drawled. "now shut up." he pointed idly to the boy. "This church, it's formally abandoned by the faithful?"

"How should I know?" he snapped. "Why doncha go ask a priest?"

"Why don't you *hold your tongue* " Daniel growled "Unless it's to answer *constructively* "

The boy looked like he was about to come back with another retort, when another little boy-- one with hair and eyes much like Iosef's but smaller and more slight of frame, burst out into tears.

Iosef looked from the boy, to the doctor and back. He squeezed the boy's hand and whispered something. The other boy sniffled and wiped his eyes, nodding.

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "my apologies for making you cry, young one. I simply ask that Ioseph here takes me seriously and answers my questions without the attitude."

Ioseph sighed. "Alright. Whatever. True, doctor," he boy offered crabbily. He got up and stuck out his hand.

Daniel took his hand and gave it a firm shake. "Thank you Ioseph." he said with a slim smile. "Let's start over, shall we?"

He nodded, and shook his hand just as firmly. "Sure."

"good." He cleared his throat. "I take it this place is fairly abandoned for you kids to have taken it up as your own personal playground."

Iosef nodded. "yeah. No one from the church ever comes around."

"have you any idea why those damned fools abandoned this ostentatious little project of theirs?"

"Sure, that's easy," he nodded. "It's because of the curse."

"the curse." Daniel said flatly

Fenya meanwhile choked back a scoff. "Yeah," Ioseph nodded. "Obviously."

"I just breezed into town." Daniel drawled "So I may need this… curse… explained to me."

Ioseph shrugged. "It's the curse the town leaders laid when the church had 'em executed," he said matter of factly. "They say they found the head priest on his way out of town just days later, with his heart torn right out of his chest."

"his… heart… torn from his chest." He frowned. "… was there anything else unusual about the corpse?"

"I mean,, just the usual you'd expect from Heart Eaters." "Blood everywhere!" one of the children from the chorus added. "Broken ribs!" another put in. "Black eyes!"

Daniel frowned deeply. "Explain what a heart eater is." He paused, his eyes widening "….and… circle back. What's this about Black Eyes?"

"Where are you from o--doctor?" Iosef snorted. "Who doesn't know about Heart Eaters? They're monsters that come in the fog. They can see evil with their lanterns and if they catch a person with a bad heart they'll tear it out and eat it!"

Quite a few of the children looked genuinely afraid of this idea.

"So a boogeyman." Daniel scoffed. "A wraith stalking about the night snatching up bad little boys and girls." "We have similar stories back in Astoria… but I assure you that the root cause is something far more mundane."

He shrugged. "It's your heart, doc."

"I doubt any heart eating fiend would want mine." He said with a snort. "….but tell me more about the black eyes."

"It's how you can tell their hearts were bad," he shrugged.

"Did any other part of them turn black? their veins, perhaps?"

"How should I know? I ain't a heart eater!"

"mmm. I suppose you aren't. But if you're not careful one might come for you."

He stuck his tongue out. "Heart eaters don't scare me. I know what I'm about."

"And what's that, young man?"

"I'm the captain."

"The captain of what, pray tell?"

He gestured to the other kids.

"and just what might this collection of trouble be?" Daniel drawled "… and how does it protect you from 'Heart Eaters'"

"We're Misha's Circle," he said. "As for how it protects us, that's a secret doc."

"Misha's… Circle." Daniel mused. "and who is this 'Misha' ?"

"Misha the Carver!"

"… the Carver." Daniel said "that sounds ominous."

"And vague," Fenya murmured. "Anything else you want doc? Don'tcha gotta go pay taxes or heal the sick or something?" Iosef asked.

"I don't owe any taxes to Mosgrav, thank you. Besides, the way things are going in the capital, I highly doubt there'll be anyone to pay taxes *to* by weeks end." He sniffed. "That's all… for now. But I know your name and face, boy. I'll be back."

"Gonna tell my dad on me are you, doc?"

"I might. I could get you and your little circle locked in your bedrooms with no supper."

"Joke's on you then. I bet you don't even know who he is." The other little boy tugged Iosef's arm. "*Iochka….*"

Daniel glanced, watching the boy out of the corner of his eyes, before he smiled thinly "Actually. I do."

Iochka crossed his arms. "Yeah well… don't tell him okay, doc?"

"Silence can be bought." Daniel said with a thin smile.

"I answered your questions!"

"This time. In this moment." Daniel crossed his arms. "But what's to say you don't go back to the *old man* insults and obstinance next time?"

"We've got a truce," he grumbled.

"There we go." Daniel said, offering his hand. "signed with a handshake. It's an unbreakable pact, do you hear me Ioseph?"

Iochka nodded, and shook his hand. "My word is my bond."

"As is mine." He said with a smile. "then I look forward to our next conversation."

The boy nodded. "yeah. Sure. You know where to find us."

"hanging about old, abandoned, cursed churches." He chuckled. "of course."

"How about you, doc? where are you hanging about?"

"By the post office. We're being put up there for the remainder of our stay."

"Got it," Iochka nodded.

"See you around, Captain." Daniel gave him an idle salute, before he turned and walked away

Fenya waited until they were quite a few paces away from the children to speak. "Well that…. hmmmm…."

"Hmm." Daniel nodded slowly.

"I *think* that went well?"

"it went as well as it could, talking to a fetus."

Fenya laughed and shook her head. "I can't believe he kept calling you *old man*. Well, I suppose around here they don't really live long enough to know what one looks like."

Daniel laughed. "No, I suppose to them, someone in their mere thirties must seem to be a grandfather."

Fenya nodded with a smirk. "Exactly."

"Goodness only knows what they think of *me*."

"only good things, I'm sure, Miss Fenya." Daniel said. "you're a fetching young woman." He glanced at her. "and a damn fine scientist. I can already tell."

"was it my my expert knowledge of chloroform?" she asked jokingly, her ears flicking with embarrassment.

"That and your particular field of study." he chuckled. "And your willingness to help me make more antibiotics."

"I can't imagine why I wouldn't be willing. I do love a good science experiment."

"Who doesn't?" He chuckled. "A good science experiment does wonders for the heart."

"Something the humanities department will never understand," she chuckled with him, though her ears were still a little pink.

"No, sadly not." Daniel laughed, shaking his head. "just look at poor Elias."

"No I'd wager his heart's not in such good shape at the moment."

"He could have used a little tinkering with chemistry or a spot of experimental biology."

"Experimental biology may be exactly what got him in this mess. Or experimental anatomy."

Daniel scoffed, covering his mouth with his hand. "… you may very well be right about that."

Fenya shook her head. "It's like my mother always said, if you're going to put something in your mouth you should know where it's been."

Daniel's face turned the slightest bit red, as he made a sharp sputtering noise.

Fenya smothered a laugh with the back of her hand, grinning. "Too much, Danochka?"

"No, No, it was ah. Exactly enough, I would say."

"Good then," she chuckled a little more and coughed. "So… that boy… you think it's the one Darchik was worried about?"

"yes." he mused. "yes i do. Darchik seems to be a part of his little child gang." He glanced up at the sky in thought. "which means this 'Misha the Carver' likely refers to woodcarving, if nothing else… given the 'factory' was described to me as a small carved figure."

"well at least it isn't a gang dedicated to the vampire or something then," she sighed.

"Thankfully." He drawled "I wouldn't put it past the kids of this town."

"Nor I," she agreed, shaking her head. "They seem to have interesting hobbies."

"I suppose one must when the only alternative is digging up turnips." he drawled, keeping an eye out for either the grove or the mayor's house.

They neared the town square again. Daniel could hear the grating voice of Lukyan catcalling someone else.

"great." Daniel moaned. "he's still alive."

"we could whip up some of that chloroform…."

"….I'm legitimately tempted. The town would call us heroes." He glanced at who was being harassed.

It looked like one of the guards-- in the same uniform he had seen earlier.

"That is, if the guards don't flatten him first, I suppose."

"Maybe we'll get lucky and it'll be enough distraction for us to slip past."

Daniel nodded, and attempted to pass the clown without being noticed.

"Ah! There he is!" Lukyan called immediately, waving. "Master Doctor! this fine gentleman was just asking about you!"

"Kill me now." Daniel dropped his head into his hands. "Fenya, please, put me out of my misery."

"Hand me the pistol," she said flatly. The guard turned toward them, a tense expression on his face. "You are the astorian doctor?"

"… that would be me." Daniel said, looking up at the guard. "I hope I'm not in any trouble."

"No," the guard said. 'I am afraid that is someone else." "Oooh," Lukyan grinned. "What's the dish/"

"Please tell me it's Lukyan." Daniel drawled.

The guard scoffed and waved them away. "No. Sasha Osgrov sent me after you."

"Sasha Osgrov?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "whatever for?"

"He said there was somebody sick at his shop you'd want to look at."

Daniel frowned deeper. "….that doesn't bode well. I'll make my way there post haste."

The guard nodded. "Do that. It sounded fairly urgent."

"Understood." Daniel nodded, and turned to hurry towards Sasha's clinic. "come on, Fenya. I… have a bad feeling about all this."

"I'm not so keen on it either," she agreed, her soft steps squelching in the mud behind him as they turned heel and headed back nearly the way they'd come.

"Well… with any luck it's just a small thing… something we can deal with before finishing our other chores." He took a deep breath. "I hope."

A few minutes of quiet power walking later they found themselves back in front of Sasha's office.

Daniel pulled on his mask, and gestured for her to do the same. "just in case." he said, pulling on his thicker gloves.

She did the same, wrapping her scarf around her face. "Good idea."

Daniel nodded, and pushed open the door.

Inside there was a woman laying on one of the cots. Sasha was hovering over her. He turned as the door opened. "You got my message."

"I did. The guard told me you needed to see me right away."

"yes," he nodded. "She came in an hour ago, complaining of fatigue and night terrors. Now she's unconscious."

"Fatigue… and night terrors…" Daniel hissed through his teeth. "… similar symptoms to Elias. Let me see her." He walked over to the woman and looked her over with a frown. "… who is she, and where in town is she from?"

"Ulyana Ananov," he said. "She's an… entertainer."

"A prostitute," Fenya murmured.

Daniel's ears flushed and tipped back "ah." He leaned over her and began investigating her for any signs of blackening veins.

Her inner ears were pale, and it was difficult to see, but yes, if he looked carefully he could see that her veins showed signs of darkening. He felt his own blood pressure rising.

Daniel cursed under his breath, his heart pounding in his chest as his blood pressure rose. He Listened to her heart, his stethoscope held in his trembling hand.

It was slow…. not nearly as slow as Elias' but noticeable, and her breathing was labored.

"….it has enough in common." He said as he stood up. "To determine that it's quite likely that she's suffering from the same affliction as my colleague."

"I worried from what you said that would turn out to be the case," Sasha said.

"and you were absolutely correct." Daniel frowned. "…. I wonder if the two had any contact… or if they contracted the disease from the same source."

"We can ask when she wakes up," Sasha mused. "Assuming she *does* wake up," Fenya pointed out.

"Elias is still asleep, in a dreaming coma." He closed his eyes. "… we can hope she'll wake up at least a few times more before she falls into the same state."

Sasha nodded. "I understand… we'll have to make good use of the time we have then."

"we shall." Daniel took a deep breath."…." "Damn. I was hoping this would be an isolated case. But this brings further complications to the forefront."

Sasha nodded. "It seems it's spreading…"

"A deadly, and infectious disease is the last thing a town like this needs." Daniel murmured. "it was hard enough to stabilize one man… but if this becomes a big issue.."

"It would be really bad, I imagine, Fenya speculated.

"Terrible. We don't currently have the supplies to stabilize more than a few patients." He said, "And with the capital in the state it's in, I doubt much will come in the way of supplies even if we did appeal to the authorities."

He took a deep breath behind his mask. "we simply have to hope this is localized to….two… cases. Two cases who in all likelihood slept together."

"You think so?" Sasha asked. "That they slept together, I mean."

"Possible. Elias was a notorious flirt. I wouldn't be surprised if he frequented the local… entertainers."

"true, but I thought--- never mind," he shook his head.

"I always thought he… frequented both ballrooms, if you catch my drift. I could be wrong, however." Daniel shrugged.

"Ah… well that would explain that then," Sasha said, his jaw tight.

"hm?" Daniel glanced at him.

"Nothing," he said, waving his hand. "It's irrelevant."

"It could be relevant." Daniel said slowly. "Depending."

"It's mere lurid gossip."

"If it's to do with Elias, anything, even gossip… can have its place in helping us determine his footsteps, so we might better understand where he caught this thing."

"I really don't think this will add anything to our investigation, doctor. Please take my word for it."

"mmm." Daniel crossed his arms. "If you *insist* I *suppose* i'll drop the subject."

"I appreciate it," he said. "I must apologize for sidetracking us."

"You have my forgiveness."

Sasha nodded, and pushed his pale, fluffy hair out of his face. "That aside, what can I do to help you with this situation?"

"I'm… currently unsure." Daniel admitted, leaning against the counter as he thought. "I didn't expect another case so soon… the logical step would be to make some time to visit her place of work."

"That may be… difficult," he admitted.

"and why's that?"

"Given her source of income I have no idea where she works," he sighed. "Nor will she be likely to tell us; whether it's her own home or the, well, flophouses."

"the flophouses… are a likely vector for disease, unfortunately. If their standards of care are anything like those in Astoria."

Sasha nodded. "You aren't wrong…"

"I'll make them a stop on my way around town then."

"You can find them up by the river, toward the eastern side of town."

"Noted. Eastern side of town." Daniel murmured. "Keep an eye on her… if she starts to have night terrors, or her heart rate dips… give her stimulants and antibiotics." He paused another moment before he said "… and if she wakes up, get as much information from her as possible."

he nodded. "Of course. Do you have any other specific questions to ask?"

"What she's been doing the last few days. If she knows Elias… ask her if anyone near her has been acting strange… that sort of thing. Try to determine how she might have come down with the illness."

"Understood," he nodded. He picked up a tablet of paper nearby and scribbled down a few notes.

"thank you, Sasha."

"Of course I'll send you a message as soon as anything changes."

"I appreciate that. I'll keep an eye out for the couriers."

He nodded. "Good. Hopefully they will bring good news."

"That's my hope as well, Sasha."

Fenya sighed. "we should probably be on the lookout for anyone who seems sick as we move around town too, huh?"

"That's what I was thinking as well… ask people if they've had troubled sleep… fatigue."

Sasha nodded. "I'll ask anyone that I see today."

"And we'll ask those we run into as well."

"Good luck then," Sasha nodded.

"I'll see you later." Daniel nodded his head, before turning for the door. "Be safe, Sasha."

"You two as well." A moment later, Daniel and Fenya were out the door again, and headed down the street.

"…..what a day this is turning out to be. My fears may very well be realized by night's end."

"Your fears?"

"that this is contagious." he murmured. "and that it's going to spread."

She nodded gravely. "yes… I thought you might mean that…"

"An unknown disease running rampant in a small town….without intervention, it isn't likely people will survive."

"not exactly where I wanted to spend my vacation-- though I suppose you may feel slightly differently?"

"It's not exactly where I was looking to spend mine, either…" he sighed. "but…" He glanced out at the town "we'll have to do what we can."

"well… it's not my area of expertise, but you can count on my help."

"I appreciate your help, Fenya. Truly. You may be able to help me fashion chemicals to keep these people alive, for one thing."

"I'll certainly do my best," she nodded. "It'll be an interesting challenge I'm sure."

"Perhaps you'll get the chance to prove your transmutation." he said with a smile. "And i'll find my immortality through this little nightmare."

"That would certainly be a light in the darkness."

"there has to be one." Daniel said. "This can't be *all* bad."

"I'll hold you to that," she said with dry amusement. "Shall we get back to the mayor's office or change of plans? It's just a bit after noon now."

He took a deep breath "the flophouses will be better to visit in the later afternoon.. Let's stick to the current schedule "

Fenya nodded. "Right. Well, if nothing else we're getting plenty of exercise. Though I wouldn't call this air exactly 'fresh'."

"hardly fresh" he agreed . "The place smells like a polluted river at the best of times."

"probably because of the polluted river," she agreed slyly.

"we may want to look into that, too" he mused. "I read a fascinating paper by a fellow scholar back at the University about the effects of factory runoff on a population."

"Hmm, that's a good point. Perhaps some kind of toxin chemical or a parasite…."

"Given it's mobility, my bet is on parasites….one that's been thriving in the polluted water. Or virus from the unsanitary conditions."

"wonderful," she sighed. "Maybe we *should* try to avoid the fish."

"I'm getting the sense that'll be more difficult than previously believed."

"Unfortunately you may be right…."

"I'm getting the sense that it's a *staple* of the region."

She sighed. "Danochka, if the whole town is consumed by this and we manage to get out alive…. I won't tell anyone if you don't."

Daniel glanced at her with wide eyes for a moment, before a sigh broke through his own lips. "….my lips will be forever sealed as well, Fenya."

This time when they returned to the town square, Lukyan was absent-- perhaps owing to the fact that it had passed the noon hour. The mayor's office was only a bit further up the street.

Daniel continued on his way, tapping his finger against his leather journal as he went.

The town hall was an ugly but functional two story building, with a single guard standing outside smoking.

Daniel approached with a wave ."I'm here to see the mayor."

The guard nodded to him. "Sure."

"I take it I'm expecting?" or security was just that lax.

"Sure," he grunted again. "I see we're safe from harm," Fenya murmured.

"Enjoy your smoke break." Daniel drawled, before walking inside with a nod towards Fenya.

Fenya followed him in through the gate toward the building proper. The double doors were wedged open with a large rock.

"… either the mayor isn't actually that important of a man, or home security and…." He glanced at the rock. "…..basic functionality isn't quite up to snuff around here."

"Well, I guess it's *technically* a public building since its town hall… but still."

"Still. You wouldn't get ushered in to see the district mayors that easily in Astoria.

"No you'd have to fill out a form in triplicate at least."

"Ah, the red tape of the capital." he drawled. "how I miss it."

"After you, doctor," she nodded with dry amusement, pulling the heavy door open, away from the rock.

Daniel gave her a little bow, before stepping inside

The building might have been quite lavish and modern… once. But that time was long past. The marble flagstones were covered in a thin layer of grime. The portraits on the walls were as well.

"….I'm getting the sense this place is not well cared for."

"No, it sure doesn't seem like it," Fenya agreed. There were four doors-- two on each side of the hall, and a wide staircase leading up to the second story.

"I'll have to ask the man about it, I suppose." Daniel glanced through the first door on the left.

The room inside had a long table, and more portraits hung up.

"… and not a single soul within it." He drawled, before checking the door on the opposite side of the hall

This door was also propped open with a rock. It was full of pew style benches facing a podium.

"…." He shook his head, "again with the rock." He tried the next door down on this side.

The next room was filled with boxes.

"wonderful." Daniel turned and checked the opposite door.

It was locked. Or maybe stuck. No rock.

"….." He took a deep breath. "Fenya. I don't think they have the keys. Or at the very least….there's *quite few* of them."

Fenya snorted. "Good one. Oh…. you weren't joking were you?"

"No, I'm downright concerned it's not a joke."

"That's…. concerning," she admitted.

"it is." Daniel drawled. "I suppose we'll see when we go upstairs." He started on his way up

She followed him holding up her skirts gently as they ascended. The upstairs immediately seemed a lot better kept. At least they dusted up here.

"The first floor is… disused, but it seems they prefer elevation." Daniel drawled.

"Seems that way," she agreed. There were lit lamps in sconces along the wall.

Daniel glanced along the hall, keeping an eye out for the mayor's office.

He didn't have far to look. There was a closed door with a brass plaque right near the stairs.

Daniel walked right for it, and pushed it open with the authority of a man invited

The man at the desk in the room was leaned forward with his head resting on his arms, which Daniel caught a glimpse of before he sat bolt upright eyes wide. "Hello! Yes?!"

"Good afternoon, Mayor." Daniel bowed. "I'm Daniel Delgrave, of the Astorian University. You sent for me."

He smoothed back the fur between his ears and nodded. "Yes! Yes! Thank you for coming. Is that an associate of yours in the doorway?" Fenya was lingering behind him.

Daniel glanced behind him 'Yes, this is Fenya. also of the University. She's a chemist."

"Ahh, yes, quite,," he nodded. "well come in the both of you, have a seat." He waved at a couple of comfortable looking chairs in front of the desk.

Daniel took a seat in one of the chairs. "You know, my friend, I was worried nobody was in, going by the vacancy of the first floor."

The mayor, a wolf of perhaps ten or so years Daniel's senior nodded. "Ah yes… I should have realized. We get visitors so rarely and everyone here knows the situation."

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "might I ask what you mean by 'situation' ?"

"The offices downstairs are not typically used," he said waving his hand. "Barring for town meetings of course. It's mostly… records."

"That would explain all the boxes.." Daniel mused

"Indeed," he nodded. "Can I offer you a drink?"

"A drink would be lovely." Daniel nodded. "but… perhaps something non alcoholic. I'd like to have my wits about me."

He chuckled. "Of course, I understand. I will have someone get us some tea then." He pulled a cord beside his desk and Daniel could distantly hear a bell ring.

"There's someone else in this office?" Daniel asked with a raise of his eyebrow.

"My secretary, a few doors down," he smiled rather sheepishly.

"Good to know." Daniel chuckled. "While we wait… how have you been feeling, Mayor?"

"Feeling?" he cocked his head. "Ah you mean in the sense of my health?"

"Precisely." Daniel nodded

"Well enough I suppose," he chuckled. "A little tension in the neck and shoulders-- but I wouldn't imagine you'd be a massage doctor."

"Sorry, no, I'm a thanatologist."

"I'm afraid I'm unfamiliar with the specialty."

"I study death, and the prevention of death."

"Ahh, a generalist then," the mayor nodded as the door clicked open behind them.

"More of a specialist." Daniel murmured. "My study is done in order to unlock the secrets of immortality."

Before the mayor could answer, the woman behind them asked "Can I help you, sir?" "Ah yes, my dear, please fetch myself and our guests so tea." "of course sir."

Daniel glanced behind him, curiously.

A young bear woman in a plain dress was already disappearing from the doorframe.

Daniel glanced back at the mayor. "where were we?"

"Ah, you were explaining your profession to me I believe."

"ah yes. I study immortality. Extension of the lifespan, that sort of thing."

"Ahh. I suppose you came here wanting to speak to our town board, then…. that's unfortunate," he said gloomily.

"… terribly so." Daniel said. "I came because a colleague said this place might hold some answers for me… but it seems those I'd wish to speak to are dead and gone. Again."

"Five years so I'm afraid," he sighed. "terrible business…. terrible."

"The church burned them, didn't they?"

"Yes," he nodded gravely. "So they did."

"….may I ask how the town allowed them to get away with burning them? I can't imagine many were happy to see the church attempt to assert that sort of control and cruelty upon your town leaders."

"We certainly were not," he said with a sigh. "But the Faithful had the backing of the military… owing to the situation in the capital at that time."

Daniel snorted. '… the military. Supporting such barbarous behavior with armed force." He tented his fingers. "your town leaders weren't witches… but they were people with a secret of scientific merit."

The mayor gave him a pained smile. "I agree with you wholeheartedly, friend doctor."

"I'm sorry for getting so off track… you mentioned in your letter that you wished to see me."

"Yes indeed," he chuckled. "But no need to apologize-- as I said we get very few visitors-- I simply wanted to meet you."

"it's an honor to meet you, Mayor." Daniel bowed his head. "i'm in town to help cure Elias' affliction, predominantly, with my interest in your town's… ex-elders… secondary."

"Ah yes," he nodded. "The folklore professor… he's ill? That must be why he hasn't been back to dig through the records again."

"I'm afraid he's afflicted with something rather nasty." Daniel said slowly. "his blood's practically turned to oil."

The mayor grimaced. "That *does* sound nasty…."

"As mayor… have you seen anything like that before? Blood turning black… eyes turning dark… slow heartbeat and fatigue?"

He frowned, thinking about it. "Something about it sounds familiar…."

"Please, anything you can tell me would be a big help:

"Hmmm…" he rubbed his chin. "Well…." he looked rather sheepish.

"….yes?" Daniel asked with a note of mild confusion.

"You may think this sounds silly."

"I doubt anything will sound silly in my current situation, Mayor."

"well, it…. it sounds like a curse that I heard about as a child."

"would this be the one in which someone's heart is torn from their chest for being wicked?" Daniel drawled.

"No, quite the opposite" he said, shaking his head. "About those who died with improper burial."

"… hm." Daniel leaned back. "… I'll listen to the tale. Perhaps I can find the grain of truth in it. Please. continue."

"The story is that if someone dies and their heart is allowed to wither in their chest, rather than being burned and replaced with their phylactery, then the person's body would be invaded by their evil spirit and rise as a kind of ghoul."

Daniel's eyebrow raised "… I'm sorry… please repeat that for me."

"When you die, they take the heart out of your chest, burn it, and replace it with your phylacteries. To keep your body from rising as host to an evil spirit, supposedly. Or at least they did until the Faithful came."

Fenya coughed politely and covered her mouth.

"So under this summation of yours, Elias is already dead." Daniel said. "i'm afraid he seems to be very much alive…"

He spread his hands. "You asked me if it reminded me of anything, doctor," he said. "So I told you. I warned you it might sound silly."

"no." Daniel sighed, rubbing his face. "well yes. It sounds ridiculous to me, but every story comes from *somewhere* There's a scientific fact somewhere in there." He paused "tell me about the phylacteries."

"They were little dolls that master Yahontov made," he said. "And I presume his father before him but that's long before my time. They were supposed to hold all the evil in your other soul so it didn't affect your life."

"mm. and your 'other soul' ? what is it."

He scratched his head. "I'm afraid that's really all I know about the theology of it. you have a soul and an evil soul. And the evil soul wants to get into your body."

"Fenya, is that… something you've heard before?" Daniel asked.

Fenya frowned. "Maybe once or twice… it's not a common story I'm familiar with though."

"hm." Daniel thought for a moment. "your burial procedures….in addition to taking and replacing the heart…."

"yes?" he cocked his head.

"What else do you do?"

"Ah well, the body is buried in the graveyard, and the ashes of the heart are scattered in our sacred grove."

"Sacred grove, hm?" Daniel thought for a moment. "…..I was hoping I could find a connection between the change in burial practice and the start of this illness…"

"Well none of our birth or death rituals have been performed in five years I'm afraid."

"Then the timing doesn't add up." Daniel hesitated a moment. "there's a second case of whatever Elias has contracted in your town, Mayor."

He raised his eyebrows. "a second?"

"yes, an entertainer has had symptoms quite a lot like those Elias has displayed

"I see…." he nodded. "An entertainer as in…." "Yes, mayor," Fenya said, rolling her eyes. "Well then I suppose you know how it's spreading, doctor," the mayor nodded.

"It's… possible that it's spreading that way. It might be for the best to put a tighter lockdown on that sort of thing." Daniel cleared his throat. "but we don't know for certain until we investigate further."

"I see…" he frowned, tapping his fingers together. "Let me know if you want me to make some kind of official announcement-- for all the good it would do."

"It wouldn't do much good?" He cocked his head. "No offence, but aren't you the bloody mayor?"

"I am," he nodded. "But everything's supposed to go through the governor now."

"Installed by the military and Capital, I imagine?"

The mayor nodded and sighed. "Precisely."

"mm. So you've got little to no power, and the town's presided over by an outsider."

"So it goes, my friend doctor," he agreed.

There was a little knock, and the door opened.

"Ah. here's our tea."

Daniel turned to glance at the receptionist again

She nodded to him, and wheeled the little tray in. "Thank you, my dear," the mayor nodded. "Anything else I can get for you?"

"Have you been feeling alright, Miss? no lethargy, exhaustion, bad dreams?"

"I always have bad dreams," she said staring him in the face with a dry expression.

"Well that's a terrible shame." Daniel said. "You should try getting to bed at a reasonable hour with some hot tea and honey before bed. Preferably one made to relax the muscles. Decompress."

"Mmm. Thank you." she nodded, and looked at the mayor, who shrugged. "Any more questions, sir?" she asked.

Daniel shifted in his chair, and mouthed 'cheerful girl' to Fenya.

Fenya nodded back slightly. "If that's all I'll take my leave." "Yes, of course," the mayor waved a hand, and the woman left.

"… is she okay, Mayor?"

"My niece," he sighed. "She's always like that. I think she thinks it's amusing."

"hmm." Daniel chuckled softly. "I suppose it is, in it's own way."

The mayor nodded, and offered them each a cup. "Reminds me of me when I haven't had my coffee," Fenya said slyly.

Daniel chuckled "Perhaps we can grab some more coffee on our way out, just to keep both our spirits up." He took his tea, and had a sip.

It was a little weak, and a bit lemony, but basically fine.

Daniel sipped it slowly. "Regardless… where were we?"

"The governor, I'm afraid. "

"What can you tell me about this man?"

"Arrogant. Bullheaded. Former military." "Great," Fenya muttered.

"Just what we need. " Daniel murmured. "a stubborn Mosgravian military man."

"Hopefully we won't have to deal with him?" she offered.

"We can only hope.' Daniel drawled. "if we stay out of his way, we shouldn't have any cause to meet him."

The mayor sipped his tea. "Do you two think you'll be here long?"

"Oh, I hope not. Things in the capital are a bit of a mess and I do have my research to return to… but we'll be here long enough to… see what we can do about Elias and the other victim."

"well if there is some kind of sickness your presence is appreciated I'm sure. Old Pyotr could have whatever it is beaten in a heartbeat I'm sure but he isn't around anymore of course…"

"mmm. I assure you, I'll prove to be just as useful as your old Pyotr."

"I certainly hope so," he nodded.

"This won't become a problem… we have two patients, but i hope to stop it at that."

"Good. My office will of course help you in any way we can."

"It's good to know I have an ally in town." Daniel said with a small smile.

"Is there anything I can help you with right now?"

"At the moment?" Daniel thought for a second "any medical supplies would be appreciated."

"Not my office's specialty, but I'll see what I can do. I'll have whatever I can get sent to your lodgings by this evening."

"much appreciated." Daniel thought for a moment "we shouldn't have any trouble getting into your rookery, should we?

"The rookery?" he cocked his head. "what do you want to go in there for?"

"Retracing my colleague's footsteps." Daniel said. "it's likely that he's gone inside there."

"Ahh," he nodded. "Well no you shouldn't have any trouble, assuming the caretaker isn't too troublesome."

"the caretaker?"

"Old Rook. He's notoriously…. hmm…. difficult."

"hm. Anything the mayor can do to make things go smoothly for me?"

"Well… you could tell him I gave you permission to look around. But… he considers the rookery his own to guard after the Faithful incident."

"Send word to him that I'm coming and that I mean no harm. I'm simply conducting a scientific investigation."

He nodded. "Very well, doctor."

"thank you. And if you know of anyone else who might give us trouble….I'd appreciate it if you passed along a little help greasing the wheels."

"I'll certainly do my best," he agreed.

"Much appreciated. Can you think of anything else, Fenya?" he asked

Fenya considered. "You said that Elias was going through the records here. Was there anyone helping him with that?" "Hmmm…. he may have asked a few questions of my secretary, but other than that usually no one's around here, unless the Captain's stopped by to file some papers."

"Then I'll be sure to talk to your secretary then." Daniel nodded

"Feel free," he nodded.

"Oh and feel free to poke around the records room yourself if you need to for any reason."

"if we feel we must, we will." Daniel said. "But for now, I think your secretary can help save us a little of that time."

Mayor Tadiyov nodded. "Of course. Thank you for satisfying my whim and coming by, doctor."

"I'm quite pleased to have, Mayor Tadibyov. I'll consider you a friend and ally while I'm in town."

"I'm very pleased to hear it, doctor Delgrave." He stood and offered him a handshake.

Daniel took his hand and gave it a firm shake.

Tadibyov's handshake by contrast was practiced-- but still a little limp. The man nodded to him. "It's been a pleasure to meet you. And Ms. Fenya as well." "Likewise." Fenya purred.

Daniel smiled at him. "it's been an honor. I'll see you again, I'm sure" He said before he turned and headed out of the room with Fenya.

Fenya headed out with him back into the hall.

"that was an interesting encounter, wouldn't you say?"

"Certainly," she nodded. "For a variety of reasons."

"It seems his power in town's been all but stripped."

"The witch hunt--politically motivated perhaps?"

"I wouldn't be surprised. It sounds like a big attempt to get this town under the Capital's thumb… and away from the grip of it's immortal leaders and old power structure."

"Doesn't exactly seem to have worked out though."

"no. Now you have a town divided." Daniel mused. "between those looking to follow the capital and those invested in their old ways. A fragmented town full of strange disease and a structure that will not hold up the moment strain is put on the system."

Fenya shook her head. "Not exactly a great situation," she said dryly.

"no, it's certainly not. It's… less than ideal. Especially with the capital on the verge of revolution."

She nodded. "Indeed…. we shouldn't expect much help in a tight spot."

"Meaning it'll be you and me against whatever decides to rear its ugly head, Fenya."

"If that's what circumstance decrees, then I'm pleased with my luck in lab partner at least," she chuckled.

Daniel laughed with her. "… frankly, I'm quite pleased, myself. You've proven both good company, and good help."

"Flattery will get you everywhere," she chuckled, flicking her ears. "Well.. shall we go interrogate the secretary or do you have another plan?"

"No, I think first we should have a chat with the morbid young secretary. If we know what Elias was looking for… we can trace his steps more effectively."

She nodded. "True enough. I think the mayor said that her office was down the hall?"

Daniel nodded, and strolled down the hall "I think she'll be hard to miss, given she's likely the only other person here."

There was another office with the door slightly ajar.

Daniel knocked on the door

"Come in."

Daniel pushed the door open and walked in with his usual slightly cocky smile.

"good afternoon."

This office had a more useful look than the mayor's own, with filing cabinets along one wall and papers stacked on the desk. The woman behind it looked up. "Mm. Hello."

"thank you for the tea." Daniel said. "do you have time for a brief chat?"

"As much time as I ever do."

"My name is Daniel Delgrave, of Astoria's University. Might I ask your name?"

"Fedosya Morozov," she nodded.

"Pleasure to meet you." Daniel nodded in return. "Fedosya, I heard you'd assisted my colleague Elias Bainbridge in his searching of your records?"

"Assisted is a strong word."

"Care to tell me about that?"

"What do you want to know?"

"what exactly was he looking for?"

She shrugged. "Mostly documents written by people who are no longer living. News articles. Journals, letters. Things like that. We mostly keep things like birth and death records, but we have a few more personal records that were donated."

"that makes sense." Daniel mused. "and I imagine he seemed fairly fixated on your old town leaders?"

"He was more interested in records or rituals performed and things like that," she shrugged. "But yes once I told him that wasn't something we kept a record of he was interested in the board."

"interesting." Daniel mused. "sounds like Elias, I suppose." He thought for a long moment, before nodding his head. "… and, when did you see him last? Did he seem well at the time?"

"A bit more than a week ago," she shrugged. "He seemed… tired."

"then he was already sick at that point." Daniel said. "His fatigue only got worse from there."

"has he died, then?"

"Not yet. we're still working to prevent it."

"One can hope he'll be grateful if you do."

"I take it he didn't show much gratitude for your help?"

"He seemed very focused on his research."

"Allow me to extend an apology." Daniel snorted. "on his behalf, though I hardly think he deserves it." He dipped his head. "most people from the University appreciate the assistance they get."

"The secondhand apology won't do anything for my opinion of him but-- I'll allow it not to color my opinion of the two of you."

"I appreciate it." Daniel said. "He's a bit of an idiot, Elias."

"You don't say."

"I hope he wasn't too rude. He's got a bit of a… reputation."

"I'm not surprised," Ms. Morozov agreed. "He was…. fine. No worse than many."

"you encounter a lot of unpleasant sorts?"

"People generally show up at my office when they want to complain about something."

"ah, yes… the clerical position's curse." Daniel frowned.

"So it goes," she nodded.

"you have my sympathies." Daniel paused a moment. "I'm sorry to ask this a second time, but I really need to know." "Have you felt any irregular fatigue or nightmares? Sluggishness of the heartbeat? In the last few days."

She frowned. "I've been feeling a bit tired," she admitted. "I assumed it was the miserable weather we've been having."

"The weather's been… bad." Daniel admitted. "But I'm concerned due to the fact you were working near him while his symptoms were developing."

"What should I watch out for?" she asked.

"darkening of the veins, ears or eyes. Fatigue. Nightmares. Restlessness. Slow heartbeat… trouble breathing."

She frowned. "Are nightmares really a medical symptom?"

"My theory is the disease places stress on the body, which causes a state of restless sleep that feeds off that stress to create a sort of fevered nightmare state. It's often shown that stress can lead to foul dreams. At least that's what was determined in Dr. Haley's latest research study 'The State of Sleep.' "

"I see," she said, frowning. "Alright. What should I do if any of this happens to me?"

"Come write or see me at the post office post haste and I'll get a start on treating you. We're currently looking into the disease so if I keep you healthy enough while we study it, I could find a cure and administer it."

She nodded. "Alright. I'll be keeping an eye out for symptoms then."

"Please do." Daniel nodded. "We simply must stay on top of things if we're to succeed in curing the two victims we have already."

"I'm no doctor but that sounds obvious," she agreed blandly.

"mm hmm. But you'd be surprised how many people think they can be obstinate and get in the way of such a simple concept."

"I'm a public servant, doctor. I'm not surprised."

"I'll do what I can to make your job as easy as possible then." Daniel nodded once. "If you know of any town medical records, I would be much obliged."

"I'm not certain anyone keeps records of that," she said. "But if they did they'd be at the Osgrov manor."

"mm." Daniel nodded. "I'll ask Sasha if he would allow me a look then. Thank you."

"Of course," she nodded.

"Stay safe, and let me know if you feel under the weather Ms. Morozov."

"Of course. Have a good afternoon doctor. Miss." she nodded.

With that, Daniel left the room.

Fenya followed him back into the hall. "What do you think?"

"She seems like a nice enough woman. bad position to be in." He paused. "I'm concerned because she was near Elias in a small area and she's having some… fatigue problems. So warning her should help us mitigate matters."

She nodded. "Hopefully it's just the job and she doesn't get sick. Though if she does…."

"We'll have another patient to examine."

"One at an earlier stage."

Daniel nodded. "examining a disease at its earliest stage can do wonders for figuring out how to stop it….in which case we could save her life long before it was put into danger."

"Indeed," she agreed heading back toward the staircase. "That would certainly be… ideal."

"it would be. Of course, I wouldn't wish this on anyone… so I'd like to simply make do with what we have already."

"Not the type to go spreading a disease to see how it functions? No wonder you're on the outs with the department," she drawled.

"What can i say?" He drawled "I'm a bleeding heart."

"I won't tell," she smirked.

"please. As long as the blood doesn't start running black and thick as oil, I suppose it's nobody's business but our own."

"Exactly," she agreed, heading back down the stairs with him.

Daniel cracked his fingers. "I think we'll solve this one, Fenya."

As they headed back into the downstairs area Daniel's eye fell on the portraits again. This time he noticed there was something odd about them. For one, they were quite lifelike. And for two, they were all in the same rather dull brown color scale.

"….." Daniel stopped to look at them more closely. "… now what is this?"

Looking up closer the paintings were…. marvelously detailed. It was uncanny. "Hmm?" Fenya cocked her head and peeked over his shoulder. "Oh! it's a Doggrowtype!"

"mmm?" Daniel glanced over his shoulder at her.

"I don't know how much you know about optics, but… you know a painter's camera?"

Daniel nodded slowly "I think I've heard of it, yes."

"Doggrowtypes use a special lens and chemicals to burn a permanent image onto paper through a camera. These aren't paintings, they're images of life captured with light and chemicals."

Daniel whistled softly. "now that's an impressive invention."

"Isn't it? They showed us how to make the chemicals in one of my seminars. It's fascinating stuff."

"How long is the exposure?" he mused.

"Between five and ten minutes-- which is why they're all seated, as you can see," she nodded to the portraits.

"Then probably not much use for capturing images of the ill." Daniel shook his head. "which would be an exceedingly useful item."

"I'd love to find a formula that would make it faster," she agreed.

"if you think of it while we're here, I'd be quite impressed." he chuckled

"I'll certainly look into it," she nodded. "The process is expensive at the moment too-- these must be important people."

Daniel looked them over one by one. "the old town leaders?" he mused. "or the old mayors?"

There was a beautiful young wolf woman with pale fur and hair, and a wide, rather predatory smile. A handsome dark furred wolf man in the prime of his youth with cold blue eyes. Another pale wolf, this one a man with a serious expression, and a black bear with a very cute face and wide eyes.

"….hm. Fenya. do you think these might be the old Council?"

"Well, there's four of them, one of whom is a woman, so deductive reasoning says yes. Also it looks like the name plaques have been removed."

"Likely due to the… problems… caused by the church." Daniel mused. "….how interesting. They all looked so… young."

"They do," she nodded. "And the Doggrowtype method isn't very old. So these are pretty recent."

"likely from just before their deaths." Daniel mused, brushing his hand over one of the paintings. "Meaning they really were… physically young and healthy."

"Then what we need is to find out how old they actually were, wouldn't you say?"

Daniel nodded. "exactly . That could be done with town records, or medical records from our friend Sasha."

She nodded.. "Hopefully the records exist."

"if not we will have to rely on word of mouth, as much as I hate to admit it." Daniel walked outside

"I'll admit I'm skeptical but even if those people were only say, 50… I hope I look that good."

Daniel chuckled to himself. "As do I. It's been my dream, ever since I was a young med student."

"to beat the sands of time. not… ah. Look good until I die."

"I won't spread tales of your vanity, Danochka," she chuckled covering her mouth.

Daniel snorted. "please, the dean would never let me live it down."

"The dean will be jealous he missed the boat."

"… on your research I mean."

Daniel snorted " he'd better be. I'll be lording over it until his inevitable demise, if I manage to find the secret."

She chuckled. "I'd say dump some on his grave but I don't want him to come back."

Daniel laughed out loud. "no. That's better spent on giving it to people who *actually* deserve it." He paused. "I. e everyone but that utter moron."

"It just goes to show that academics aren't the way to move ahead in academia."

"it's a popularity contest." Daniel snorted. "which if I had my way, I would fix. It should be about the science; the academics!"

"I'd imagine outliving the competition would help your chances, so there's that."

"One way to change the system, after all, is to outlast it."

"Indeed," she agreed. "Something Mosgrav wouldn;'t know much about."

"no. They prefer their change violent, sudden, and redacted a scant five years later."

"just invent political terms already, for goodness sake," she said gesturing.

Daniel laughed out loud. "do you think anyone ever… tried… pointing that out?"

"If they did they must have burned them at the stake," she chuckled. 'So I won't be the one to try."

"Maybe i'll send an anonymous letter." He drawled.

"Oooh, clever thinking."

"they'll never know it was me." he chuckled. "Should we check out the Rookery next, or the sacred grove?"

"Hmm, I think unless we want to go up near the river we'll basically run into the sacred grove on our way to the rookery."

"perfect. I'd rather avoid the toxic puddle they call a river anyway."

She nodded and gestured for him to follow her out of the town hall again. "As would I."

Daniel followed her down the street, his hands in his jacket pockets. "Hopefully we can find the girls….factory….and move along quickly."

"Factory…. that's right…." she paused. "You don't suppose…."

"I've had an inkling as well." Daniel said. "phylactery, right?"

"It certainly sounds a lot like it, don't you think?"

"Especially mispronounced by a young child." He said. "And it would make sense why one would tell her not to lose it."

"It certainly would," she agreed.

"While I hardly believe in such a superstition." Daniel said. "I wouldn't want to see the poor girl get upset. So I suppose we should find her 'evil spirit receptacle."

"I'm curious to get a look at it."

"same, admittedly."

They strolled back down the street toward the square, and across the street to the south of town, Daniel could see a large grove of pale trees that stood apart from the rest of the swampy forest.

"Now that must be the sacred grove…"

"It certainly stands apart," Fenya agreed.

"I wonder what sort of trees those are." He mused.

"Unfortunately I'm not much of a botanist," Fenya admitted as they approached.

"neither am I. A shame. they're rather beautiful."

They were tall, and slender with white, unbroken bark and pale green, almost grey leaves that reached toward the heavens. Hanging among those branches were some small objects tied by hemp cord that were tugged softly in the breeze.

Daniel shaded his eyes to get a better look at them all.

The little objects appeared to be small dolls carved out of pale wood, with aged stains on them. There were about a dozen or so swinging there. As for the type of tree,, he was no expert but the name 'Birch' came to him, though it could be any number of subspecies.

"They're some sort of birch." He mused. "it must be where they hang the phylacteries…"

"I suppose so," she said. "But if that's the case shouldn't there be… well… more of them?"

"Now that's the question." Daniel mused. "….i could be off base. It might be best to ask a local." He turned his eyes towards the ground.

The grass grew thick here, and more lushly than he had seen since further west in Mosgrav. Laying among the roots of the trees was another little doll.

Daniel scooped it up, and tossed it in his hand. "this must be it, hm?"

"Unless one of the others has come loose, I'd imagine so" Fenya nodded.

"I'm sure the girl will tell me one way or the other." He noted the curious growth of the grass. "….lush area, isn't it?"

"It is," she nodded. "It's certainly nicer than the rest of the growth we've seen around here."

"I wonder if the roots of these trees help… protect it from the elements?"

"That could be. There's different trees about a hundred yards from here-- should we check if it's the same?"

Daniel nodded, and started towards the other patch of trees. "hm… Now you have my curiosity."

Fenya followed along after him, and as they passed the threshold of the white trees, the grass below them became more sparse and yellow.

"… and lo. The moment we leave, the grass returns to it's deadened state."

"So it does," she nodded. "Despite the tree roots here too."

She gestured to the perfectly ordinary thick brown trees that forested the area beyond the white grove.

"hm….I've heard that some trees provide certain nutrients that stimulate the growth of other plants. Perhaps it's a case like that."

"Very possible," she nodded. "It's also possible it benefits from the attention of the townsfolk in some way."

"If it's a holy site, I can only imagine it would." He said with a nod

"Perhaps they water it, or use some kind of fertilizer," she shrugged.

"that would make the most sense." Daniel said with a nod. "Nothing to get too excited about. Just an interesting little curiosity."

"Certainly something to note," she agreed.

"If nothing else, it's an attractive little area." he continued on towards the rookery.

Fenya walked with him as they continued back down the lane in the direction of the post office. The sun was high in the sky now--though difficult to see through the gathering dark clouds.

Daniel shaded his eyes. "….the storm's coming." he sighed. "hopefully we can get things settled before the rain begins."

"And hopefully Mitya's fixed that window," she murmured.

"The last thing we need is that window blowing open during the full force of the storm." Daniel chuckled. "though I suppose we could try switching places on the bed if it would make you more comfortable."

Her ears flicked in embarrassment. "I'm sure that's not necessary, but thank you all the same."

"Well, if you change your mind, just let me know." He said with a flick of his tail.

She nodded. "I will… say… Do you mind if I have a look at that doll? I didn't really get a good look at it and I admit I;'m curious."

Daniel nodded, and handed it to her, glancing over his shoulder at it as he did.

"I'm a little curious myself."

She turned it over in her hand, slowing her walk. The little doll was crude-- quite crude in fact. The ones hanging from the trees had seemed smoother in feature, whereas this was amateurish at best, covered in little nicks and scratches. It was broadly the shape of a peanut with a little face carved into it (poorly), and a dark, old brown stain across the pale body.

"hm." Daniel mused. " i wonder if she carved it herself."

"Maybe," she said, biting her lip. "Is this blood?"

"that's… what it might be." Daniel frowned, and leaned over her shoulder to get a better look. "hm."

She held it to show him. It *did* look like blood that had dried and soaked into uncured wood.

"….." Daniel took a deep breath. "yes, it seems she likely went and gave it a bit of her blood to complete whatever folksy ritual the whole thing entails."

"Imagine someone letting a five year old have a carving knife," she tutted. "They must have a lot of spare children."

"I suppose that's the nature of small towns. Nothing to do, lots of dangers…"

She shook her head. "I suppose we'll have to ask Darchik."

"I'll keep it in mind when we loop back that way." He glanced at the looming structure ahead, "For now, we step out of our usual field and dabble a little in archeology."

The rookery loomed over them as they reached the edge of the road near the post office where they'd have to break off to approach it. There was no formal path through the sparse grass, though there was a narrow track beaten by moderate use.

Daniel turned and started out over the narrow track. "…..i'm not surprised this isn't paved with stone at all."

"It seems like not many people have call to come this way."

"I suppose not. I wonder what's inside.."

"Hopefully we'll get to find out.… doctor… do you see that?" she paused and pointed to the top of the bell shaped tower.

Daniel shaded his eyes and peered at the top of the tower with a frown. "… what is it?"

There was a thin plume of wispy black smoke trailing from the top of the stone tower out into the sky.

"… now that's strange." Daniel mused. "Smoke? What could they be burning in there?"

"I've no idea. Though… I suppose if there is a caretaker, like the mayor said, he might need a fire for warmth…"

"That's true. It's likely just the caretaker's fire." Daniel said. "or something symbolic for their local faith's purposes."

"True. I probably just didn't notice it the other day," she nodded.

"Nonetheless, we can always ask the man."

"If we can find somewhere to knock," she mused. As they came upon the tower, the base of it- at least the part they faced, was entirely smooth.

Daniel frowned. "well that's…." He paused. "hm. they said there was a way in."

"Maybe around the back?"

Daniel nodded, slowly walking around the edge of the structure.

Not only could Daniel not find any entrance to the tower as he walked around on it, he caught his boot on a half-buried rock and ended up half-falling right into Fenya as he came around back to the front.

"Oh!"

Daniel's eyes widened slightly, and he stumbled to his feet again with a flustered cough. "my apologies, Fenya."

"whoops!" Fenya chuckled embarrassedly and reached to help steady him. "Are you alright?"

He nodded, and attempted to gain some of his lost dignity back. "I'm…" He paused a long moment. "fine. I'm fine. Just slipped on a rock."

"They really ought to pave this area," she agreed. "Did you see an entrance?"

"no, I haven't seen anything." he sighed . "i'm admittedly a little puzzled."

"How odd," she mused, approaching the tower. She gave it a little knock.

It certainly didn't *sound* hollow. But then it was presumably a pretty thick stone.

Daniel gave it a solid kick with his steel toed boots.

They made a little more noise than Fenya's shoes, but mostly they just sort of knocked against his toes.

"Hm." Daniel waved his hand. "let's take another pass."

Fenya nodded, and walked around with him. "I wonder how you're supposed to get in and out? It's certainly not obvious…

"

"no it's not." Daniel said with a frown. "But there *has* to be a way in." He rubbed his chin as he thought. "perhaps some sort of ramp that folds upwards like a drawbridge?"

"Maybe?" she nodded, craning her head to look upward as she shaded her eyes.

Daniel looked along the wall for any seams or cracks…

He didn't see any, unfortunately.

Try as he might, Daniel couldn't think of how else one might get into the damned thing… but he did think it was likely someone else would know.

"… we're going to have to ask someone." Daniel sighed. "After all that walking. But it can't be helped."

"Well, at least we're close to home base?"

"At least." Daniel agreed. "why don't we go see what our host has to say on the subject."

"Good idea," she agreed. "Lets watch for stray rocks on our way back to the street," she teased lightly.

Daniel's face flushed red, and he coughed again into his hand. "… of course, Fenya."

She chuckled and they headed back to the street. It was only a few dozen yards further to the post office.

Daniel smoothed out his coat with a soft laugh. "I suppose I've teased you enough to have earned that, Fenya."

"I hope my teasing doesn;t offend," she said with a smile. "It's well meant."

"Not in the least." Daniel brushed his hair over his ear with a nod. "it's charming."

Her ears flicked gently and she smiled. "well I'm pleased to hear it," she said as they came back to the front of the post office.

Daniel gave her a small smile, before he pushed the front door of the post open.

"Mirta, are you in?"

The young man popped up from behind the desk. "Oh! I didn't expect you back so early."

"well…" Daniel chuckled "we had a bit of a question.."

"Oh? Ask away, of course," he nodded.

Mitya gave him a slightly nervous smile.

Daniel leaned on the counter. "Don't get too flustered now. We just need to know how to get into the rookery."

"The rookery?" he cocked his head. "why would you want to go in there?"

"Call it a professional curiosity." Daniel said

"Oh… well," he pushed his hair back behind his ear. "I've never been in there, but I think there's a cellar style entrance."

"A cellar style entrance. No wonder we missed it."

Fenya scoffed. "we looked up, but not down. A bit of an oversight."

"I suppose it can't be helped." He chuckled "now we know what we're looking for."

"So we do. Shall we go try again?"

Daniel nodded. "Thank you for the help Mitya. We'll see you later."

"Oh, sure. Uh, good luck, doctor. Miss." As they strolled out of the post office fenya sighed.

"Yes, Fenya?" Daniel asked, smoothing his hair out in the breeze.

"hm? Oh… I just suppose I see why Elias told everyone he was a professor," she chuckled slightly.

Daniel chuckled with her. "I suppose you can call yourself a professor." He winked. "… i would of course, not contradict you in the slightest."

"You're very kind," she said with a sly smirk. "I wonder if it's too late."

"Not if you're aggressive enough about it." Daniel smirked back.

"Well then, doctor," she said with amusement. "how about you help me be aggressive about it from now on?"

"Absolutely, Professor." he said with a flick of his tail . "We'll start with this groundskeeper."

"Sounds perfect, Doctor," she chuckled as they strode back out across the wet field toward the tower.

"So I suppose we'd best keep our eyes on the ground for the entrance to this subterranean nonsense."

"If we don't see it, maybe we should jump up and down," she said dryly.

"If nothing else, it may annoy the man into coming out."

"Just what I was thinking," she agreed as they reached the base of the rookery again.

This time, Daniel kept his eyes on the ground as he walked.

Daniel spotted the dirty handle of a door covered in mud and leaves.

Daniel bent down, and grabbed the door in his gloved fingers, giving the handle a sharp yank.

He saw the large iron lock as the mud fell away from it as it was lifted-- obviously it hadn't been locked. It revealed a large staircase downward.

"Well. That's convenient," Fenya said.

"isn't it?" Daniel said with a smug little grin. "looks like we have our way in."

"Well then doctor, is it ladies first or does a gentleman spring the trap?" she teased.

"allow me, professor" Daniel chuckled. "If nothing else I can amuse you if I slipped into the abyss" He took the first step down into the underground area

The staircase seemed well maintained under that first step. They weren't well lit but he could see a dull flaming glow from the bottom.

Daniel frowned as he trudged forward "watch your step… it's rather dim."

"I'll be careful," she nodded gently stepping down after him with a hand on the wall. At the bottom there was a short hallway, lit by small strange lights.

Daniel leaned in to look at the light in curiosity.

It sat in a dish and glowed like a flame, but there was neither an obvious fuel nor smoke.

"hm. Interesting… i wonder just how it works." He mused as he continued down.

"It might be some kind of chemical light," Fenya suggested. At the bottom of the stairs, he saw that the short hallway ended in… a stairway up.

"I'll be interested to hear your theories then." He frowned "what's the point in stairs down if they're just going to end in stairs up again." He gestured to them "it'd be more economical to just have it be a straight bloody line!"

"Hiding the door I suppose?" Fenya mused. "Seems foolish to me."

"incredibly foolish." Daniel scoffed, before walking up the stairs. "I'll never understand country people."

"I suppose to be fair to this crop of fools, this structure probably predates even their grandparents, unless I miss my mark."

"True." Daniel agreed. it's….quite the ancient structure, isn't it?"

"It certainly *seems* to be. But that's just my impression," she said as she followed him up.

"Which leaves me wondering why all the secrecy to get inside." he mused. "… and just what chemicals do they use to keep those lamps lit."

"Should I… appropriate one for research?"

Daniel paused a moment before giving a firm nod. "absolutely."

She grinned like the cat who got the canary and hurried a jar out of her bag.

Daniel shifted slightly so he was standing in front of her, as if to block her from sight.

There didn't seem to be anyone around but Fenya didn't complain about the gesture. She put the bottle on top of the flame, and slid a paper beneath it.

To her slight surprise, the light kept shining as she trapped it in the jar.

"fascinating little thing, isn't it?" Daniel mused. "… keep it safe, I suppose and we'll look into it tonight."

She nodded, and put it carefully in her bag. "even if it goes out, I can analyze the compounds."

"Indeed… a chemical structure like that might prove to be a pretty good source of long lasting light if harnessed."

"It may very well be," she agreed, smiling brightly. "Shall we press on?"

Daniel nodded, and gestured forward "up into the mysterious tower. I'll go first and bear the brunt of any unpleasant social encounters." He started forward again.

"If they ask us to leave, I'll ask to speak to their manager," she said dryly. The staircase led up to a large, round room that was clearly the body of the stature. It was bulbous and tall ceilinged, and without window, lit instead by the small smokeless flames. Along one wall there was another staircase that led upward and a few feet away in the floor was another large trapdoor.

"hm… looks like we have our choice of down or up." He looked around the massive round room, seeing if there was anything *in* there aside from the trapdoor and stairs.

There was a tapestry hung on one part of the wall breaking up the perfect circle.

Daniel walked towards it, craning his neck to take the tapestry in.

The tapestry was an old and confusing mess of hooded and robed figures that looked like it hadn't been cleaned in a generation. But…. he saw something at the foot of it. What looked like a discarded piece of paper.

"… hm." Daniel walked over, and bent low to pick it up.

It was a small piece of crisp, white paper, slightly smudged and torn at two edges. Notebook paper. There was writing on one side.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and read over the writing.

*hasn't been performed in over five years. Despite this it seems that the young children of the town have begun to imitate the ritual. I have yet to discover if this is a spontaneous mimicry or if one of the older townsfolk is telling them what to do. Likewise I still have been unable to gain access to the so-called 'cairn' and see this hoard of phylacteries myself. There must be thousands of them.*

"ah. so there's a cairn full of the town's phylacteries…" Daniel mused. "and this… must be from Elias' notes. Meaning he *did* make it in here."

Fenya cocked her head. "Oh? Wasn't his notebook torn up?"

"It was" Daniel mused. "… everything from the dates that would be relevant to our investigation… torn to shreds. And lo, here one lies in the shadow of the practices he so wished to study."

"Do you think that supposed caretaker shredded it?" she asked, peering over his shoulder at the paper.

"that's one guess. Be it him or another, it's someone who wanted to keep the fact that he found out about some old town ritual secret."

"Hmmm…" she frowned. "Well, finding one part of it is better than nothing I guess."

"Perhaps our thief's more careless than they'd like to believe." Daniel drawled "and we'll get lucky with some other scraps of Elias' journal."

"That *would* be lucky," she agreed.

"Then let's hope luck's on our side." He smirked thinly, before trying the trapdoor in the center of the room

The trapdoor rattled as he pulled on it. It seemed to be locked.

"Looks like luck decided we had enough."

Daniel gave it one more hard tug with a huff. "there's always upstairs."

She nodded. "maybe we can find a key."

"that's the hope." Daniel smirked as he started up the stairs. "And so far… no groundskeeper."

"No… which means we should either watch our backs or keep our eyes out for a body," Fenya murmured, following him upward.

"… the last thing we need is a body on our hands." Daniel muttered "I'm no criminal investigator."

"I'd rather not be implicated in a- death either," she agreed.

"So if the man's dead let's simply resolve to turn around and walk away." Daniel waited a moment before he offered a half sincere, "I jest, of course."

Daniel recalled that there had been a death the year prior in the chemistry department, and inquiries had been made about the potential involvement of several second year students, although ultimately no arrests had been made.

"Of course, doctor," she said with slight amusement.

Daniel raised his eyebrow slightly. "…" He glanced at Fenya out of the corner of his eye. "have you had to deal with that sort of unpleasantness before?"

Fenya coughed, her ears flicking. "Ah… looks like you heard about that."

"Word gets around campus, unfortunately." Daniel said.

"I hope you won't judge me for a bit of scandal," she said as they reached the second floor. The view of the room was blocked by the backs of what seemed like a row of bookcases creating a sort of hallway

"Certainly not." Daniel brushed his hair over his ear with a frown. "we've all been involved in a little scandal, after all." He glanced around at the bookcases, looking to see if he recognized any of the books within. "I'm more curious if anything."

The tomes were unfamiliar, and appeared to be in a language other than *lingua astoriana*.

"well, I wish it was as interesting as it sounds then," she chuckled.

"I imagine some poor fool found himself on the wrong end of a science experiment?" Daniel said with a note of jest in his voice.

"Just about," she nodded as they got to the end of the little 'hall'. It turned inward to the bulk of the room. "The idiot set himself on fire overnight."

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "….he…" He walked into the main room proper, out of the little hall "lit himself on fire overnight."

"Mmhmm. It happens pretty regularly to first year chem students. But Tim wasn't a very popular young man." Peeking into the main room he saw a stone floor with an intricate pattern, and several raised podiums of stone. There were more shelves built into the area giving it a more square appearance and there were stones and knives and things on them.

"so everyone suspected murder, when the damned fool did himself in." Daniel snorted. He paused before the podiums, and looked down at the pattern below his feet. "hm… ritual objects."

"Well," Fenya drawled. "I can see why the church called them witches, but that's no excuse for barbarism. and exactly. They interviewed everyone who had been in the department that night. Working alone doesn't give you a very good alibi."

Daniel shook his head. "The school's… always out for a scapegoat. You learn that early in the Astorian University." he glanced at her "I'm pleased you got out from under their critical eye, however." He walked to one of the podiums and lifted a knife. "….these are tools of witchcraft, but I've never approved of the church's heavy hand."

The knife was made of black stone and it had more of the unfamiliar language carved into it. "Nor have I," she agreed. "As for Astoria, you're right about that. Thankfully they don't look too hard once a convenient scapegoat has presented itself."

Daniel held it up to one of the strange lights with a frown, trying to parse the unfamiliar language. "No, they certainly don't." he snorted. "They consider it all well and 'swept under the rug' "

"Indeed. So it was a simple matter of planting some evidence of what *should* have been obvious all along. Honestly, having to rig an investigation to get the true outcome is so Astorian i practically felt patriotic."

Daniel nearly dropped the knife as he coughed. "… damn!" He laughed out loud "….it's probably the most patriotic thing an Astorian can do, Fenya. I'm impressed."

Fenya chuckled and her ears flicked nervously. "Why thank you Danochka. But do be careful with those knives. They look very sharp.?"

Daniel's ear flicked as well. "… i'll be careful." He lowered the knife. "i'm just trying to parse this language."

"May I take a look?" she asked, coming up close to him.

Daniel nodded, and held the knife up for her.

She leaned in close and appraised it closely. "Hmmmm…. I've seen letters like this before…."

"you have?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "where?"

"Some of them are consistent with letters from ancient alchemical sigils. But…. there's more of them that I don't recognize."

"now that's interesting." he mused. "Perhaps the alchemical sigils you recognize stem from a similar root as this lexicon.."

"That might be the case," she nodded. "or it's possible they're being used in conjunction with another set of symbols. You can't exactly make words with alchemical sigils…"

"how interesting." Daniel mused. "I wonder if anyone in town knows how to read the things."

"Hopefully," she said with her brow knitting. "Or maybe there's a key somewhere in astorian."

"We could only be so lucky." He murmured, turning the knife over in his hands.

It had a certain weight to it. Carefully balanced.

"this is a nice knife." Daniel mused.

"I wonder if they're all the same?" Fenya mused. "Maybe take one… as a sample."

Daniel flipped the knife in his hand, and wrapped it with some cloth from his satchel before pushing it inside with his other tools.

"Shall we see if we can get up any higher?"

Daniel nodded "Do you want to take the lead this time, Professor?"

"Why certainly, doctor," she gave him a little curtsey and a smile. She looked around and didn't find a staircase, but a cord hanging from the ceiling. "We may have to climb."

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "how's your upper arm strength?"

"I was on the ladies rowing team for a semester," she said.

"then you'll have no trouble with this rope." Daniel said with a soft laugh. "mind if I ask you to go first?"

"Oh!" she chuckled. "No problem at all," she nodded. She grabbed the dangling rope and-- it pulled open a concealed panel in the ceiling.

A ladder started to slide down.

Daniel opened his mouth, before he closed it again. "… Well don't i feel foolish."

Fenya chuckled. "Mmmm… oops?"

"Well it solves the problem of climbing up." he laughed

"Still want me to go first?" she asked, helping the ladder to unfold the rest of the way.

"Since there's no risk of me falling upon you" He drawled. "i can climb my way up first if you wish."

She smirked and gave a little beckoning gesture. "Be my guest."

Daniel began climbing up the ladder, moving carefully up the rungs to the area above.

The room he ascended into was lit by more of the small lamps, and boxed into a square with more of the shelving. There were a bunch of boxes peeking out from beneath a large old piece of what looked like sailcloth, and there were a few sparse pieces of furniture. A table. A bad. A single chair. Rather than books, the shelves here were covered in a collection of small stones, bottles with small objects in them, and objects of what looked like pure detritus; things like fish bones and old springs. There was another cord hanging from the ceiling.

"I wonder if this is where the groundskeeper stays." Daniel mused as he looked over the room from the landing

Fenya came up behind him and had a look around as well. "Someone certainly seems to. And they're the neatest packrat I've ever encountered."

Daniel didn't immediately see anything in the room that stood out to him.

Daniel took a little stroll around the room, his hands behind his back "a collector… of… nothing in particular it seems."

There were a few pieces of quartz crystal among the rocks, but nothing strikingly valuable. Many of the bottles had preserved insects in them. There was a coin whose face had completely eroded away.A couple of pieces of glass jewelry.

"… i wonder why they've collected all this… discarded garbage."

"Reminds me of the sort of things little children bring home after a day at the park, don't you think?"

"It does." Daniel mused . "Children's treasures."

"Certainly a bigger collection that most ever achieved…."

"I suppose that's what happens when you keep it up for long enough."

"I guess so. Most people grow out of it of course."

"Our groundskeeper may not be 'most people' I suppose."

"Also very possible,"she said. "Especially around here."

"Indeed, the isolation really makes people hold tight to their particular quirks." Daniel mused. "move up or investigate this room more thoroughly?"

"Hmmm," she put a finger to her lip. "we don't know how much time we'll have to look around by ourselves…"

"then let's keep heading up." Daniel said, grabbing the rope and giving it a tug

The door slid open and the ladder came out, narrow, and leading up into the dimness.

After straightening it, he started his way up the ladder.

As he climbed it became apparent that the next floor was *not* lit.

"Maybe that light you took will come in handy." Daniel murmured as he climbed up.

"I'll pull it out then," she agreed. Daniel found himself in almost complete darkness as he reached the top of the ladder.

Daniel shimmied off to the side so Fenya could stand, and shaded his eyes. What he wouldn't give for a candle..

Fenya carefully shuffled next to him, pulling the small light out of her bag. It was still shining. It wasn't MUCH light, but it was enough to illuminate perhaps a three foot circle around them.

Daniel stepped slowly forward. "I suppose they ran out of 'magic' lights by the time they got up to this floor." He snarked

"I suppose they did," she said, shadowing him closely. The floorboards creaked under them.

He tried to make out *something* in the darkness as he walked

He made out…. the curved wall. It was *very* curved here. And the ceiling seemed quite low. Were they at the top?

"I think this is the final floor." He mused as he hugged the wall, and walked along it

The curve was tight, starting close at the floor and bulging outward, as if they were standing in a fishbowl. As he put his hand on the wall he realized that it was not smooth like the stone of the floors below was, nor was it stone at all. But rather it was rough and uneven, as if covered in poorly applied plaster, or wrinkled paper and glue.

"…." Daniel cleared his throat. "fenya? Bring the light closer to the wall."

"Of course," she agreed, coming up to stand shoulder to shoulder with him. She held the little jar up, Daniel could see the cracked and wrinkled surface of the wall-- white, rather than black like the stone.

"… now isn't that interesting?" He said, poking his finger at it. "it's not stone at all."

It was quite rough-- almost sharp.

It reminded Daniel of something…. "It's like papier mache," Fenya murmured, just as the thought struck Daniel as well.

Daniel nodded. "… it is. But why would it be coating the walls at the top of a stone tower?"

"I have no idea. It certainly looks solid from the outside…." she paused, her ears going low. "The whole thing couldn't be made out of the stuff, could it?" Daniel certainly didn't think that could be the case.

"no… there's no possible way it would stand up all these years made out of a child's bloody arts and crafts project."

"You're right of course," she nodded. "Thank goodness. But then why?"

"i'm tempted to peel some of it away." He drawled. "But I don't think the locals would take kindly to that."

As he spoke, Daniel heard footsteps below them.

Daniel cursed softly "… damn it." He waved his hand. "hide the light, Fenya."

She shoved it quickly in her back.

Despite this, the steps were coming closer. They hadn't brought the ladder up with them.

Daniel snuck over towards the ladder, intent on pulling it up before the other party saw it was down.

Unfortunately by the time he got there, he reached down to pull it up just as the other party was peering upward. A black cloaked figure in a feature obscuring hood.

Daniel's skin prickled, and he stumbled backwards in the darkness and away from the portal . "Damn" he whispered

He fell backward into Fenya, who righted him gently. "Steady there, Doctor," she murmured. "Snooping around?" a surprisingly warm, thickly accented voice called.

"I wouldn't call it snooping so much as a professional curiosity!" he called back

"Well then, would you like to professionally come down here, or are you going to professionally keep hiding in my attic?" Fenya fought back a snort of laughter.

Daniel groaned into his hands. "This is ridiculous." he muttered and started to climb down the ladder.

"I have to agree," she murmured as he climbed. The robed figure was waiting for him with crossed arms at the bottom of the ladder.

Daniel straightened up as he hopped off the ladder, and dusted off his coat with a charming smile. "hello. I wasn't aware this place was off limits."

"I'd say no one in town doesn't know that but you seem to be from out of it."

"We're from the Astorian University." Daniel said with a wave of his hand. "And when we expressed interest in going inside the Rookery, nobody in town told us otherwise. In fact most seemed puzzled but gave the impression it was open to the public."

"I see…." There was a gentle susurrus from inside the dark robe. "well I suppose that can't be helped."

"I hope we haven't offended." Daniel said with a nod of his head. "Would you be the Groundskeeper?"

"I would," he said. He reached out a hand-- or rather a claw, to shake. It was black and scaled with sharp nails obviously filed down.

Daniel shook the clawed hand with a quirk of his eyebrow. "it's a pleasure. I'm Daniel Delgrave, doctor of thanatology."

"A pleasure to meet you, Doctor Delgrave," he said nodding. "I'm Rook, as you surmised, the caretaker of this monument." Fenya finished her way down the ladder as well.

"it's a pleasure, Rook." Daniel dipped into a slight bow. "I have to say you gave me a fright." He chuckled. "don't run into many mysterious hooded figures as of late, you know?"

"My apologies. It is… traditional." He pulled back the hook to reveal a striking black-beaked head covered in dense black feathers and a pair of golden eyes. Some kind of corvid-- certainly not usual around here.

"oh!" Daniel said in slight surprise. "I suppose it must be, then." He smoothed out his ears, as they pricked back up . "I have to say it's rare to see an avian such as yourself this far north."

"Truly I am a bird without a flock," he agreed. "would you mind if we chatted on the bottom level? This one is my bedroom I'm afraid."

"I wouldn't mind in the least, Rook." Daniel nodded as he gestured. "Shall I go first?"

A few moments later the three of them were on the original floor in the room with the tapestry. Rook produced several chairs from a previously unseen corner.

"Please have a seat."

Daniel took a seat, and folded his hands upon his hip with a nod. "thank you."

Fenya did as well. "Yes thank you. I'm Professor Trifena Evgenii-Smythe by the way." "A pleasure to meet both of you," he nodded. "So, what brings you to my rookery?"

"As I mentioned, professional curiosity." He chuckled. "For two reasons… one… there's an illness currently infecting two individuals out in town that I'm looking to stop. And for that purpose I'm retracing Elias Bainbridge's steps before he fell ill. And two, I was curious if it held any information on subjects of my personal study."

"I see…" he said, clicking his beak. "Yes, Elias was here some weeks ago."

"I imagine he couldn't keep himself away." Daniel drawled. "might I ask if anything happened?"

"He asked for my permission to visit the cairne."

"And did you grant it?"

"I did."

"Can you tell us about the cairne?"

"It's where the phylacteries were kept. Are kept, I suppose."

"Why that phrasing?"

He shrugged. "The rituals are no longer being preformed. None of the phylacteries are removed, and no new ones join their ranks."

"Interesting. And he wanted to go there… likely to study the phylacteries themselves."

"Yes," Rook nodded. "He spent some time sketching them as I recall."

"Interesting. Can you tell me some about these phylacteries?"

"There isn't much to tell," he shrugged. "They're made from wood in the grove and each belongs to a citizen here. Mistress Nika would deliver a child and then Master Iosef would read its fortune. Master Misha would carve a totem from the family's tree, and Master Pyrotr would bind it to the child's heart and deliver it to the cairne."

"hm… and what was the purpose of these heart-bound wooden totems?" He asked "someone gave me a little information earlier… but you seem quite knowledgeable on the subject."

"It acts as a vessel or body for the second soul of a person, in order to keep it from trying to affect that person's own body."

"So you propose everyone has… two souls. I recall one is supposed to be evil? Or did I misunderstand."

"That is how I understand it as well," Rook nodded.

"Interesting concept, if one that's utterly outside of any scientific fact."

"As far as I was aware the soul in general was a realm outside of scientific fact," Rook shrugged. "But I'll admit I'm not very educated."

"is that so?" Daniel raised his eyebrow. "How did you come to be the keeper of this place, anyhow?"

"It is the only home I have ever known."

"you were born here?" Daniel asked

"Indeed."

He agreed with a nod, but Daniel got the sense that perhaps there was something he was holding back.

"I get the sense that there's something more that you're not telling me." he mused.

He raised a feathered eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"

"I'm good with people." Daniel lied with a smile. "reading expressions… I just have the feeling there's something more that you haven't told me."

"I can't stop you from feeling that way I suppose."

"Please, anything you can tell me, no matter how unrelated you may feel it is, is valuable to our investigation… one that can save lives in your own town."

He shrugged. "I'll tell you-- though I doubt you'll believe me, doctor."

"There's truth in any statement, if you look hard enough." Daniel said with a smile. "please go on."

"Very well. I was created here. Not born."

"… created." Daniel asked with a raise of his eyebrow.

"yes. I don't have any other details. I was only zero days old at the time," he said with dry wit.

Daniel laughed softly "I can forgive you for merely being freshly created." He leaned on his hand. "what makes you say you were 'created' rather than born?"

He shrugged. "It's what my creators told me, and I have never seen any evidence to the contrary."

"and who were your creators?"

"The four town masters, naturally."

"Interesting. So you say the town masters… created you. Out of what?"

"I'll be honest-- I never asked."

"huh." Daniel mused. "My guess is they simply took you in and raised you."

"An answer as possible as any other I suppose," he agreed. "Perhaps your parents did the same."

"For a given value of raised." Daniel drawled.

He shrugged. "My condolences. I only raise the idea that it is equally likely we've been lied to our caregivers about our origins. Pardon-- I'm assuming you don't remember the day you were born."

"While my memory is first rate, even I don't remember that day clearly." Daniel leaned on his hand.

Rook nodded sagely. "I rest my case."

"regardless." Daniel said. "it sounds like you grew up quite entrenched in their teachings."

"I would not hesitate to agree with that statement."

"How interesting." Daniel mused. "then do you know anything about this curse the children were talking about?"

"It depends on what curse. The one the masters put on the town, or another?"

"The first one… though I didn't know there were others."

He shrugged. "None particularly notable, but you never know what children might be gossiping about."

"That's absolutely true. Children have the… wildest… imaginations."

"Indeed. But if it's the curse on the town then yes, that did happen."

"why don't you tell me about that."

He shrugged and blandly replied. "As the town masters were horribly burning alive they swore that their deaths would mark the ruin of the town; that its heart would die and its people would become mad beasts cursed to wander the earth, and the wicked faithful would have their hearts torn out and devoured."

"why would they wish that on their own people?" Daniel frowned slightly.

"I'm afraid I can't speculate, as I've never been burned alive."

"Neither have I." Daniel snorted .

"I have to wonder if they somehow released a pathogen with their deaths…"

"I can't say that I don't believe it would be within their power."

"What would you call 'the heart' of this town?"

"The grove I suppose?"

"It certainly seemed healthy. The trees weren't rotting."

"Not that I had noticed either," Rook admitted.

"Yet, we have old stories of hearts torn from chests and people's blood turning black in their veins. How interesting."

"These are certainly trying times."

"they are… but I plan to stop this nonsense. What can you tell me about this 'vampire' roaming the streets."

"not much, I'm afraid. I spend most of my time in this tower. You caught me on a grocery run."

"ah. Groceries, quite important." Daniel nodded. "you haven't heard anything about a monster prowling the streets.?"

"Only a mention here and there. Idle gossip."

"I saw a tall, lanky creature attempting to slice a man's throat open."

"That does sound like a vampire," Rook agreed.

"or a lunatic" Daniel drawled

"who says not both?"

"I've never seen a vampire wandering about, where I've seen plenty of madmen. I go to the Astorian University, after all"

Rook chuckled. "I see. I suppose I've never seen a vampire either when it comes to it."

"perhaps if it's proven by science, I'll believe it. Until then however…"

"If there *is* a vampire of course, you could certainly be the one to prove it couldn't you?"

"I can imagine it would give me some degree of acclaim" he smirked slightly.

"Aren't vampires meant to be immortal as well, Doctor?" Fenya murmured with a chuckle. "Could be a lead."

"albeit one with some awkward tradeoffs" he drawled.

"Not a fan of blood, doctor?" the Rook chuckled, cocking his head in amusement.

"blood and I have an interconnected history" he snorted "but I've had a taste and found it wanting"

"I'm sure that's a fascinating story," Rook commented. "But I suppose you're the one asking questions here."

"precisely. We can save my blood drinking adventure for another time" he nodded firmly. "May I ask about the top floor of this structure?"

"You certainly may."

"Why are the walls coated in paper mache?"

"Paper mache?" he frowned. "I'm not sure I--- ah. Yes, I see what you mean." he nodded and seemed to reflect for a moment.

"may I ask?"

He rubbed his beak. "It is part of a….. ritual."

"a ritual? Care to explain it?"

"It is to keep this place from… leaking."

"one would think a better material would be used if that's the case. One less likely to turn to pulp"

"I certainly understand your perspective."

"can you explain it to me?"

"I doubt that I could, doctor. As I said. It's a ritual."

"mmm… well pretend I'm a mystical man, then"

He scratched his beak thoughtfully. "The paper is made from pulp of the fallen branches of grove trees. It has the same sort of protective and captivating power as a carved phylactery."

"how interesting… so there's something up there worth protecting in, essentially, a massive phylactery"

"Astute of you," he said clicking his beak. "That is the other name for this monument."

"interesting… and just what is it holding?"

"An evil spirit, obviously."

"mm hmm..who's?"

"I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that, doctor."

"hmmm" He leaned back "I have a theory, myself, on how all this can play into our little drama outside"

"I'm curious if you'd indulge me," Rook said.

"your elders… they knew many secrets, clearly. These lights, long life, and…. 'curses'. It's my belief that perhaps this disease… labeled as an evil spirit or curse… Was kept in check by their 'rituals' by way of using a natural antibiotic in the Grove tree's wood. Something that could stave off infection, perhaps." He tapped his chin "meaning when they died, they laid their curse by way of sowing fear to scare out the Faithful, knowing full well that without their knowledge that the disease would spread once more. "

"That's a very logical train of thought," he nodded. "Sounds about right to me," Fenya murmured.

"Under every myth is a rational explanation" Daniel purred. "Misinformation or misunderstanding of a natural process"

"Well…." Rook said thoughtfully, as he scratched the underside of his beak with a black claw. "I suppose that all depends on what you consider natural or unnatural in the end."

"anything that can be scientifically assessed with repeated documentation" Daniel said "I believe my senses, and my data"

"A broad definition."

"I've seen some… odd… things. But for something to be natural, it must be repeatable, able to be documented, and scrutinized. Not like the subjects of fairy tales and household myths."

Fenya nodded. "If something works… reliably and repeatedly… that's science." "Mmm… well I suppose I won't contradict you," Rook offered.

"I appreciate your courtesy." Daniel drawled. "… that being said, even that which seems fantastical… may have a scientific truth hiding within it."

"Well, that being said-- did you have any other questions for me?"

Daniel thought for a moment 'hm. Have we missed anything, Fenya?"

Fenya put a gloved finger to her lip. "Mmm…. I suppose we could ask to see the cairne, like Banbridge did."

"Yes, I'd rather like to see this cairne myself." Daniel nodded.

Rook scratched his chin. "I suppose that I could show it to you. I'm afraid it's not all that interesting however."

"Interesting or no, it's another step in the footsteps of my colleague… and perhaps a step closer to the origin of his infection."

"Very well," he nodded. "But don't say I didn't warn you.

"You did, and the warnings are appreciated."

Rook stood. "Shall we then?"

Daniel stood, dusting off his coat. "Lead the way, Rook."

Fenya stood as well, straightening her skirts, ears flicking. The Rook nodded, kneeling in the center of the room where the trap door Daniel had been unable to open was. He lifted it.

"ah, for this we've got to burrow further into the earth then. Wonderful" Daniel chuckled.

"The earth is excellent for dampening power," Rook said as he started to descend the staircase.

"Dampening power." Daniel raised his eyebrow. with a flick of his tail, he followed Rook down.

The walls here were not stone but packed earth, aside from the sconces where the strange fires glowed forth from. This staircase led down, much further down than the first, and with Rook leading he couldn't see the end.

"may i ask about that fire you've got in here?" Daniel asked curiously as they descended "it's rather unique."

"Hmm? Oh. That was what the masters made for light."

"Do you know anything of its composition?"

"I'm afraid not. I'm a bit worried they'll go out in fact." "Hmmmm…." Fenya mused.

"If they did you'd be rather stuck in darkness." Daniel laughed "A shame, if you don't know how to fix them."

"I quite agree," he nodded. They reached the bottom of the staircase, and Rook stepped aside, giving Daniel a view of a cavernous area lined with shelves dug into the earth. Each one was inhabited by numerous nearly identical dolls, each covered with a splash of blood.

"….hm." Daniel stepped inside, gazing around the area with mild curiosity. "so this is where the ritual dolls are kept."

"That's correct," Rook nodded. Daniel saw as he observed that each was labeled with a cloth tag-- but the markings on it were meaningless to him.

"and what do these writings say?"

"I believe they refer to the families and specific individuals the phylacteries belongs to."

"… ah. Interesting. You can't read them then?"

"I'm afraid not."

"What language are they written in?"

"My masters referred to it as 'archaic'."

"Some folk language, then?" He mused, leaning closer to one to peer at the cloth tag.

"I never heard them speaking it, if that helps," Rook offered.

"It does. It might be some sort of code, then. Perhaps."

Fenya nodded. "It's true, it might be a cipher instead of a language…."

"It would make sense if the elders wanted to obscure their methods."

"reminds me of the university."

Daniel glanced over his shoulder at Fenya.

"You haven't had any of your fellow students try to hide their notes that way? "

"most of my fellow students are idiots." Daniel drawled.

Fenya shook her head sadly. "Almost a shame."

"by and large they make up for a lack of subtlety and cunning by being antisocial and isolationist instead"

She shook her head again. "The chemistry department all have shockingly long noses when it comes to sticking them in other people's research."

"I suppose when the secret to your success may lie in another's formula, it pays to be a bit of a snoop."

"What fascinating dramas the two of you seem to have," Rook drawled.

"Such is the life of the Astorian University's Elite." Daniel said "Fenya here is a professor, after all. And I'm an acclaimed doctor."

"What esteemed guests I have snooping in my tower," he chuckled. "Well…. have you seen what you wanted to see?"

"May I borrow one of these figures?" Daniel asked, gesturing to one of the phylacteries .

Rook's eyes widened. "One of the phylacteries?" he asked, sputtering

Daniel nodded once. "I'd like to examine a small sample under my instruments."

The caretaker scoffed. "I'm afraid I absolutely can not allow that, Doctor Delgrave. These are people's souls we're talking about-- and evil at that."

"hm." Daniel raised his eyebrow at them "awfully small containers for the evil in people's souls, wouldn't you say?"

"I imagine you'd think it should be bigger?" he grumbled, watching Daniel closely.

Daniel nodded as he looked closer at one of the 'vessels' "I've seen men all across Gaea, Rook. There's more evil in them than a child's doll could hope to hold."

"Maybe so," Rook nodded. "But be that as it may, I can not allow you to remove any of the phylacteries from the cairne."

"Perhaps I can take a small scraping?" He asked.

"I forbid it," he shook his head. "I am afraid I am going to have to ask both of you to leave."

Daniel held his hands up "I didn't mean to offend, good sir." He said with a thin smile "I'm not here to cause trouble. It was a mere request, and now that it's been denied, I will kindly drop the subject."

"I'm pleased to hear that," he drawled.

"Is there anything else you wish to show us?" Daniel continued ."Or anything else that our colleague wished to see?"

"This is where his tour ended."

"then perhaps we might as well be on our way." Daniel dipped into a low bow "Thank you for your time, Rook."

"Of course. You're certainly the most polite intruders I've ever hosted." He gestured for them to return to the stairs.

Fenya snorted.

Daniel started for the stairs with a shake of his head. "I feel it's fair to note that the locals told us this was more or less a public structure."

"Pardon me my amusement," he said, shaking his head as well. He followed the two of them up the stairs.

Daniel chuckled "I understand. You have to take amusement where you can get it, after all."

"It doesn't usually come to me by itself," he admitted wryly.

"Not many visitors to the pit of evil human souls, then?" Daniel asked with a wry smirk.

"Shockingly most people stay away from this place."

"I'm surprised. Perhaps you should think about opening a cafe down here. Light a few more lamps, serve coffee and scones. The ambiance would do wonders for your patrons, I'm sure." Daniel drawled.

"I'll consider the menu, I'm sure."

"We'll be there opening day." Daniel said with a soft snort. "until then.."

"Until then," he nodded. "I trust you can let yourselves out." He gestured to the stairs to the surface.

Daniel nodded, and started up the stairs "indeed. Be safe, Rook."

A couple of moments later and he and Fenya were above again, the sky steel grey, mist having gathered while they were beneath the earth.

"well. That was enlightening" Daniel said as he started along the path back to town

"It certainly was," Fenya purred. "Come on let's get out of here-- I have something for you."

Daniel nodded as he hurried along the path with her. "do you now? More than that light or knife we made out with?"

"We absolutely pillaged the place," she murmured with pride. "I got you a soul."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "how positively Astorian of us." He purred in return. "a soul? That should prove a fascinating research subject, don't you think?"

"I certainly think so," she agreed. "if nothing else it might be an amusing souvenir. Now no one can claim you haven't got one."

Daniel laughed. "That'll show my fellow students in the biology department."

"I rather thought it might," she agreed, chuckling with him. "where shall we head?"

Daniel flipped open his notebook "let's see… we had a few other appointments, but we may have some time before them.."

"I know we were supposed to meet someone for dinner-- I don't think we had any other engagements today? Oh-- we may want to give Darchik back her 'factory'."

"We also had a plan to visit the bar of ill repute" He pointed out "but that's a nighttime activity. For now we might as well give Darchik her phylactery back."

She nodded with a smirk. "Ah yes, how could I forget the bar."

He smirked back "no doubt it'll be instrumental in helping us trace the origin of this disease to its source."

"No doubt," she agreed. As they passed back into the town proper and well away from the tower, she reached into her bag and produced the wooden doll.

Daniel glanced at it with a curious smile on his face. "you've certainly got some quick fingers, Fenya."

"Don't give me *all* the credit," she smiled. "he had his eyes firmly on you."

"I can be terribly distracting, or so I've been told." Daniel chuckled darkly. "It seems to have served a purpose tonight."

"So it does," she agreed. "And I can attest to your ability as well."

"If you ever need me to draw the eye again." He purred. "just give the word."

"I shall certainly keep that in mind."

"we make a good team, Professor." He stuck his notebook back in his pocket.

"I'm starting to think that we certainly do."

"Perhaps we'll collaborate on a project back at the University." He said as he turned down the path to head towards the farmhouse.

"I could definitely see an intersection in our research," she said, walking down the increasingly familiar path with him.

"Immortality and the philosopher's stone are said to go hand in hand."

"So the legend goes," she agreed. The heavy clouds above them rumbled with the sound of distant thunder.

Daniel glanced up at the sky with a frown. "indeed. So it's worth the pursuit…" He paused "….tonight's walk is going to be far from ideal."

"Unfortunately. I'm expecting another rain storm."

"A shame I left my umbrella back home."

"Maybe we can find someone who'll sell one--they *must* have them here."

"It's possible… perhaps there's a store hiding here somewhere." He chuckled "though it's hard to pick them out when most buildings look the same."

"It's true," she nodded. "I could probably find the bakery but an umbrella shop… hmmm… well a dedicated one doesn't seem in the cards."

"Maybe a general store, if we're lucky." Daniel mused

"That would probably be our best bet."

"Keep an eye out, then, hopefully we'll catch one before the rainstorm."

Fenya nodded. "I'll do that."

"much appreciated Professor Fenya." he smirked, and gestured to the farmhouse ahead. "Now, let's go make a young girl's day."

The fog thickened as they walked through the increasingly familiar town, making it hard to see the farmhouse even as they approached.

"I hope the fog lets up soon." Daniel griped "With a madman running about, the last thing I want to be is lost in the fog."

"No that sounds like a recipe for a horror novel doesn't it?"

"it does. And I'm afraid I don't have many shots left in my revolver should we meet the fiend again."

"I wonder if that can be rectified?"

"The general store might stock bullets… if we're lucky. If not… well. I may have to find another means of personal protection if the streets are truly dangerous."

"Have you ever used a sword?" she asked with a chuckle.

"… a sword?" Daniel chuckled "… I can't say I have, outside of a few fencing lessons."

"Oh so you*have* had lessons," she teased as they arrived at the house.

"I didn't say i did very *well* in them." He chuckled.

"I suppose you didn't," she agreed, shaking her head. The fog thinned a little, and they found Darchik sitting on the steps again, now having drawn an elaborate scene in the dirt.

"Darchik." Daniel called "we found something of yours."

She looked up, a little 'o' on her face. "you found it?"

Daniel fished out her 'factory' and offered it to her. "right where you said you'd left it."

She hopped up and took the object gently. "Thank you so much!"

"you're quite welcome." Daniel nodded ."And we met your friend, as well."

She cocked her head. "Oh?"

"Your friend Iochka." He said "Charming little scamp, isn't he?"

She nodded. "I guess."

"I didn't tell him you'd lost your factory, but I did ask him a little more about them. And a little more from that Rook fellow."

"You saw Mr. Rook?"

"we did. We visited him in his home." Daniel nodded

"My momma says to stay away from him."

"Is that so? Does she say why?"

Darchik shrugged. "She says he's a dog without a leash."

"Which is funny cause he's a bird," she added.

"hm." Daniel raised his eyebrow "… interesting assessment. He seems..fine, however. Personable."

"Personable?" she asked, cocking her head.

"He gave us the chance to sit and talk with him. Personable means..ah. pleasant in manner."

"Oh. So he's nice?"

"precisely." Daniel nodded.

"I wonder why mom doesn't like him then…."

"I suppose I'll have to ask her." Daniel chuckled. "Regardless… it seems you have quite the interesting little object there, Darchik."

"You don't have one?"

"i'm afraid I don't." He shook his head. "It seems it's a local custom. We don't have anything of the sort in Astoria."

"Does that mean you're evil?"

Daniel chuckled darkly "I should hope not. I don't feel particularly evil. "

"Hmmm…." she looked him over, not seeming convinced.

"Do you think I'm evil?" He raised his eyebrow with a slight smirk. "I'm wounded."

"I don't know," she shrugged. "I just know the factories s'posed to stop you from being evil."

"From what I've experienced." Daniel drawled "your own actions and choices are what stop you from doing evil."

She cocked her head quite far, looking at him almost as if she were trying to turn him upside down.

"I understand your 'factories' are supposed to absorb the darkness in your hearts or some such." He waved his hand. "But outside, in the world I'm from, every man is in charge of managing the darkness in his own heart and their own actions."

"But how do you stop the bad you from doing bad things?"

"By learning what the right thing to do is, and holding yourself to that standard. You reign in those impulses and instead aim to do good with your energy, rather than evil." He waved his hand. "And should you fail, the law comes in and takes care of the rest."

She chewed on her thumb. "Huh….."

Daniel nodded. "as far as I've experienced, there's no external 'bad' me to get a handle on. Instead, there is simply my own morality to follow."

"Maybe you just haven't seen him."

"Is that so?" Daniel chuckled "have you seen your own bad Darchik?"

"Uh-uh. Because it's in here." she tapped the phylactery.

"indeed." Daniel said slowly. "But what about all the people outside of this town?"

"What do you mean?"

Daniel chuckled "people outside of this town… or at least, people in parts of the world i've visited, don't have factories to house their evil selves… but most haven't seen them wandering about, either."

The little girl seemed to turn that over in her head for a moment. "wait…. but that means that….." her nose wrinkled.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "yes?"

She opened her mouth to answer as the door behind her opened inward. Darya was there, baby in her arms. "Having a chat with my eldest are we, doctor?"

"Darya." Daniel said with a smile "how lovely to see you. I was returning something she'd told me she'd lost in town."

"How very kind," she drawled. "Darchik, sweetheart, keep better hold on your things." "Yes momma," she muttered grumpily.

"I simply wanted to help." He waved his hand towards her. "And it led us to some interesting places, so I certainly won't complain."

"Well. If you'd like you can keep drawing in the mud-- or you can come in and have some coffee."

"I wouldn't say no to some coffee." Daniel dusted his knees off, glancing at Darchik's drawing in the mud as he did

"Come on then," she nodded. "and you too, Darchik. It's going to rain."

Darchik pouted, but stood.

Darchik had scribbled what looked like a bunch of figures among the trees, with a giant figure standing over them, slightly apart, and holding something indistinct in its hands. A knife maybe?

"…" Daniel frowned at it briefly, before heading inside. He logged it away in his memory… and his notebook, before slipping it back into his pack.

Fenya hung back with him for a moment. "Some drawing, mm?"

Daniel nodded "unnerving to say the least"

"maybe we can get a chance to ask her about it?"

"perhaps. It depends on if I've offended Darya" he chuckled

"I'm not sure we've yet to do something that *doesn't* offend her," she admitted.

"one can tell from the merest glimpse of her expression" he nodded firmly

Despite this, she had two cups of coffee ready for them in steaming mugs on the table.

"It'll be a wonder if you two don't catch cold," she asserted brusquely.

Daniel chuckled, bowing slightly as he entered "my apologies. We were simply interested in your daughter's… imaginative… drawing" He sat at the table "many thanks for the coffee"

Darya waved a hand. "You're my guests aren;t you? sit."

Daniel took a seat and lifted his coffee "indeed. How's your young one been?" He gestured to her youngest "better?"

"Better," she nodded, watching Fenya take her seat as well. "Not quite so fussy, at least for the moment."

"I'm glad I could help" he chuckled and took a sip of his coffee.

The coffee was good. Hot and rich. "Mm." she nodded.

"How have things been here, since this morning?"

"well, our boarder hasn't died yet-- for better or worse."

"Given how much pain he's likely to be in…" Daniel shook his head "someone else in town has his symptoms."

She raised her eyebrows. "Someone else hmm?"

"an… entertainer… in town has manifested similar symptoms."

Darya snorted. "well I suppose that wasn't too unlikely."

"I suppose not. But it means it's likely communicable."

She frowned, her brow knitting. "Hmm."

"Something to consider in keeping your family safe….though we don't know how it spreads just yet. " He sipped his coffee. "it could be a… sexually transmitted disease, given the two parties involved."

Her jaw locked. "I think that's…. unlikely," she hissed.

"hm." Daniel sipped his coffee again. "I didn't necessarily say with each other. We've yet to investigate further for any other sick individuals." He raised his eyebrow "though your reaction is telling."

She locked him with laser focus eyes."I dare say we are coming close to a discussion we've had before," she snapped. "One which I believe I told you to take up with my husband."

Daniel held his hands up "… the topic didn't come up." He murmured. "perhaps we can try talking about it, between us?"

She raised a stern, quiet eyebrow at him.

"I'm only going to keep stumbling into these minefields if I'm not given a little context, Darya."

Fenya sighed. "Would you like me to take Darchik out of the room?" "I think you'd better," Darya breathed dangerously.

"Thank you Fenya." Daniel nodded slowly.

Fenya gently ushered the little girl out of the room and soon it was just Daniel and the seething Darya.

Daniel sipped his coffee. After another awkward moment, he took a second sip. And in another moment, he stalled with yet a third.

She crossed her arms. "*well* doctor? what is it you want to ask me?" Ice should have formed spontaneously around the room.

Daniel swallowed his coffee while it was still warm in the rapidly dropping social temperature. "I'd like to know just what's gotten under your skin with my less than esteemed colleague and your husband. I have my suspicions, but it'd be rude to assume."

"Oh no, please doctor," she breathed. "Do go on. I want to hear your *suspiscions*."

"I'm getting the sense there may have been a bit of an affair." Daniel tugged his collar.

"An affair."

"An affair." Daniel repeated.

"Do go on."

"Must I?" Daniel sighed in exasperation. "I'm a damned scientist, not a bloody hack of a so-called *psychologist*. Can't we simply be straightforward?"

"Yes why don't we," she said. "Tell me just what it is you surmise."

"The general thrust of all this nonsense, as much as I've been able to surmise, is my damned jackrabbit of a colleague attempted and perhaps succeeded in seducing your husband." He spread his arms out "there. Are we finished ? Or have I grasped at the wrong damned straws?"

She sucked in a breath through her nose and seethed further. "No doctor. you have your straws."

"I'd thought so." He sighed. "I'm terribly sorry. I can see why it's a sore subject for you."

"I'm glad that you can see that much at least."

"I imagine it's caused some strife between you and your husband?"

"Some, yes," she agreed with a curt nod. "The men he brings home are usually not this troublesome."

"It seems you two have a rocky relationship." Daniel nodded again.

"It has its benefits and drawbacks as any does," she said. "now. Do you understand why I say the curse is unlikely to be transmitted as you say *sexually*?"

"I… suppose I do." Daniel cleared his throat. "… regardless."

"Yes?"

"two people have it, and that's something to be concerned with."

"I don't disagree," she shrugged.

Daniel nodded. "as for your husband and your troublesome guest. I hope you can see that I'm not trying to add to your troubles here. They had their… tryst… but I'm simply here as a doctor, not a dear friend of his or another problem in your life."

She fixed him with her steely gaze. "That remains to be seen, doctor. However-- I believe you are sincere."

"I… appreciate that." He sighed. "I feel we didn't start off on the best foot."

"I doubt there was another foot available," she said grudgingly.

"I imagine not." he waved his hand. "but perhaps we can make one, hm?"

"Is that something you can do doctor?" she asked, with a slight wry edge to her voice. "make feet willy nilly?"

"I am a genius, after all." He smirked 'anything is possible with raw materials and some electricity.'

"Hmm" she sipped her coffee. "Well then I'll take your foot I suppose."

Daniel sipped his, "Then it's a fresh start, is it?"

"Let it be so," Darya agreed.

"Good." he chuckled. "now, I got to learn some interesting things about the town's history from the children about town and that Rook fellow…"

"Is that so?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"we learned a little about these… phylacteries, I believe they're called?"

"from old Rook?" she asked.

"Mostly from one of the scamps in town." Daniel drawled "though Rook had a few things to say about them as well."

"What do you mean?" she asked with a frown.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… in what way?"

"About the 'scamps'?"

"Ah," Daniel leaned back and looked at the ceiling. "one of the young boys is going around playing local leader."

"As children do I suppose. I'm a bit surprised they even remember the tradition though."

"They must have picked it up from somewhere." Daniel mused. "Regardless, they're quite well informed on the subject."

"I suppose that they must have, " she mused. "Probably someone's drunk uncle…"

"Likely. They say it's going to protect them from danger so i can't see the… direct… harm."

"They say what is go--are they *making* phylacteries?"

Daniel blinked at her "….y.." "Yes?"

She looked momentarily horrified before her expression returned to its regular frown. "I…. see.'

"From the sound of it that's… less than ideal?"

"Well…. they can't be doing it *correctly.*."

"hm." Daniel tented his fingers and leaned forward "well i've seen the ones they've made… may I ask how one is made *correctly?* "

"I'm afraid I can't tell you," she said, shaking her head. "Only the town masters knew. Misha, specifically, made every one himself."

"A lot of work for one man." Daniel mused

"There are only a few births a week or month here," she said, shaking her head.

"so plenty of time and supply to whittle another doll from the grove's branches."

Darya nodded. "Indeed. And whatever else needed doing."

"They seem like they were productive people." Daniel noted "always with something to do."

"Indeed. As most of us are in this town."

"I imagine so. even if the streets seem quiet."

"No one likes the rain."

"Ever since we've arrived, it seems it's all this town has had."

"Maybe you brought it with you."

"Perhaps I did. Things are turbulent out there, after all. What with the whispers of revolution about."

"we are far away from there. Sometimes I am very grateful for that."

"It won't touch you this far out, that's for certain." He agreed

"No," she said, shaking her head. "the capital has their problems and we have our own."

"Can I ask about the problems this town's been facing lately?"

"I suspect you are familiar with most of them now."

"I suspect so, but it can't hurt to hear a little more."

"What do you want to hear? About the rain? The bad fish? The fact that we are having fewer children?"

"All that?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "I'm not one to believe in curses, but…"

"But it sounds like one doesn't it?" she said leaning on her hand.

"it certainly does." Daniel mused "When did it all start?"

"when else? Five years ago. And getting worse every year."

"So it all began when your local leaders were killed." He rubbed his chin. "yes, Rook said something of the sort as well."

"I imagine that's when his own luck turned if nothing else."

"If nothing else." Daniel paused a moment "Just what is the story with that man? He says he was created rather than born."

"That's correct," she nodded.

"May I ask?"

"About?"

"… all that? The creation of a man outside of the normal methods is a particular fascination of mine. Humor me."

"I wish I knew," she shrugged. "He's been around much longer than I."

"How long?"

She shrugged. "He's never said. I've never asked."

"Alright." Daniel paused for a moment "Darchik insinuated you weren't a big fan of the man. Is that true?"

Her lips pulled. "I have no idea why she would have said that."

"She said you called him a 'dog without a leash' or something of the like."

She scoffed. "Ah, that." She was quiet for a moment. "He was more polite when the masters were alive."

"ah… and once they were gone, he lashed out more often?"

"I wouldn't exactly call it lashing out but he doesn't know how to keep a civil tongue in his head."

"He was awfully blunt when we met him." Daniel chuckled. "It was almost refreshing, compared to the University."

"Mmm. Astorians," she waved her hand.

"It's certainly culture shock."

"For everyone involved, I'd wager."

"I hope our presence hasn't been *too* disruptive."

"Less than Banbridge certainly."

"I know I already asked but… do you have any idea about the sort of activities he'd gotten up to,… outside of the obvious?"

"I wish I knew," she said shaking her head. "Once he told me he was trying to resurrect the dead town masters. But I think he was simply making a foolish remark."

Daniel snorted "Bainbridge?? He said *that?* "

She nodded. "Indeed. And then he did that stupid little chuckle of his."

"I'm in luck that I've never had to hear it." Daniel smirked.

"That is luck," she agreed.

"I'm starting to think he may have done something supremely stupid." Daniel mused "in his search for 'bringing your elders back' "

She raised an eyebrow. "You think he was serious?"

"knowing Bainbridge's studies and… idealism… he may well have been serious, at least on some level."

Darya scoffed. "Well. Huh."

"He was on the search for immortality, after all"

"and who better to ask then immortals….immortals now in your debt for resurrecting them?"

She raised her eyebrow. "But wouldn't he have already solved the problem if he could resurrect men burnt to ashes? He'd hardly need their help."

"True enough." Daniel mused. "but I can't presume to know the mind of a folklorist."

She snorted. "I can. The man was mostly interested in the old ways, and in debauchery. A terrible mix if you ask me."

"I have to agree, wholeheartedly, on that Darya."

"That's something we agree on then," she nodded.

"Did he mention any other goals?"

"he kept talking about 'publishing' and 'rebuilding his reputation'. I think at one point he said he'd 'show them all'. I stopped listening."

Daniel scoffed quietly "you're kidding me."

Darya shook her head. "No."

"I don't think all the papers in the world could rebuild the man's reputation." he chuckled softly.

"No, I think not," he clucked.

"All this just assures me that whatever he was up to here, he was willing to take dangerous, even risky steps to do it."

"I don't think he knew the word 'caution' in anything he did if you want my opinion."

"in affairs both research and otherwise." Daniel snorted "I once again agree."

Darya nodded and sipped her coffee, rocking the baby in her other arm.

Daniel sipped his coffee with a shake of his head. "at this point, I'm just hoping to figure this illness out. Once I do I'll cure the moron and send him shuffling home."

"I'm surprised you don't just smother him with a pillow," she muttered. "But that's why you're a doctor and I am not I suppose."

"Because my goal is to defeat death." Daniel said, sipping his coffee. "to give up on a mystery like this and simply kill the man just because I'm not much a fan of him would be giving a victory to the enemy."

"You're a stubborn man, I'll give you that," she said tilting her chin slightly toward him.

"You'd be surprised how often I get that." he chuckled with a slight nod towards her. "but thank you."

"It's the only compliment you're likely to get from me," she said, chuckling slightly with him.

"I'll take it." He finished his coffee."Thank you again for the coffee."

"Of course. Feel free to stop by for more while you run yourself ragged on a fool's errand."

"I'll feel free to." Daniel stood with a stretch . "Though, it won't be a fool's errand if I nip this little sickness in the bud before it becomes a real problem."

"Good luck, doctor," she nodded, standing as well. "I'll be seeing to dinner now. will you be joining us?"

"We've actually received an invitation to dinner." Daniel chuckled softly "perhaps tomorrow, though. I'm hoping tonight's dinner provides us a lead."

"No skin off my nose," she nodded.

"Indeed." Daniel paused. "as an aside… would you have any extra umbrellas lying about?"

"Didn't bring your own, eh?"

"I'm afraid I left it at the post.'

She shook her head. "Check the lefthand closet on your way out. Take the black one."

Daniel bowed his head. "much appreciated, Darya." He flashed a thin smile "I'm sure I'll see you again, soon."

"It probably can't be helped," she said dryly with a smirk. "Until then."

"Until then." He chuckled softly, and waved before he set out to get Fenya.

Fenya was waiting in the parlor with Darchik on her lap, telling her, from the sound of it, a modified version of Hansel and Gretel.

Daniel leaned on the doorframe, waiting a moment while she finished.

Darchik nodded to her and hopped off her lap with a satisfied look, and Fenya stood. "I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long."

"no." Daniel chuckled "I just finished up with Darya." He gave a little wave to Darchik. "you two seem to be having a nice time."

Darchik nodded with her fingers in her mouth. "Mith Fenya knoth fun thtorith."

"I imagine she does. She's quite the interesting woman." Daniel agreed, leaning down to pat her head. "Now you take good care of that factory of yours, hm? We'll see you later."

Darchik nodded seriously and plodded from the room.

"I see you found an umbrella," Fenya observed with a smile.

Daniel held it up with a chuckle "Darya was kind enough to allow us to borrow it."

"I'm a little surprised. Did she hit you with it first?"

"Shockingly no." He chuckled. "we reconciled somewhat, over our mutual distaste for my patient."

She smirked. "Mutual spite bringing people together since time immemorial."

"It's the great unifier." Daniel smirked "shall we brave the rain?"

"Lets," she nodded. "Hopefully it's a big umbrella."

"I'll let you have most of it, even if not." Daniel offered. "It's only polite."

"A sexist, are you, doctor?" she teased with a smile.

Daniel put his hand to his chest. "Not in the least, but how can I blame the bad weather for my less than personable attitude towards some of these locals when I'm bone dry?"

Fenya chuckled. "Touche. Out we go then." she gestured toward the door.

He nodded, and stepped out into the heavy air of town.

The heavy air had already started to bead up and fall, raindrops splattering on the already soft gravel roads.

Daniel opened the umbrella, and held it between them.

It did turn out to be fairly large-- if they stood shoulder to shoulder it would cover them both.

Daniel stepped closer with a nod, and started down the path towards town. "… how are we doing on time, Fenya?"

"We're approaching dinner time, but we have some wiggle room."

"Anywhere you want to visit?" he asked in amusement. "Given the bar is *post* dinner."

"Hmmm… we'll probably want to have a look around the slums at *some* point. For all we know there are already more people fallen ill."

"That's my thought." Daniel nodded. "do we have the time at the moment?"

She checked her pocket watch and nodded. "-- assuming we don't dawdle. And by dawdle I mean get caught up in something ridiculous."

He gave the umbrella a twirl. "Then let's hope for the best. Shall we?"

"Lets," she nodded. Her heeled boots crunched the gravel beneath them as they began to walk north.

"I have a concern that this illness is already spreading far faster than we anticipated." He mused as they headed towards the slums. "If that's the case, we may have to establish a quarantine."

"If it's already spreading, do you think a quarantine will help?" she asked

"if nothing else, it'll help slow the spread." Daniel pointed out. "Especially if any afflicted are added to the quarantine. Better a trickle than a flood, after all."

"Very true," she nodded. "Well, if it comes to that I'll certainly back you up."

"I appreciate your help. A Professor seconding my opinion is absolutely valuable in a situation like this, wouldn't you say?"

"I certainly would," she smirked. They walked up past the bar, which was now obviously open and full of early drunks. The sound of raucous laughter could be heard from inside.

"They're certainly having fun. I hope it's half as lively when we visit later." He mused, pushing on towards the residential part of town.

The air was noticeably heavier as they headed north on the long street, the air gaining a thick fishy smell, nearing the river.

"… wonderful." Daniel muttered. "it's just like the Astorian docks. My favorite."

"Mmm, charming. Seems they're the same all over." Indeed, like astoria, this area was teeming with large, brutish men shifting large boxes, lengths of rope and other heavy items. A massive processing mill with rows of black windows like the twinkling eyes of an insect pumped grime into the air from its many chimneys.

"Delightfully industrial. I'm glad the people of this town embraced such bustling industry." he drawled. "So far nobody seems too terribly ill, though."

"No, thankfully not," she murmured, staying close to Daniel. The workers here had thick brows, and mainly worked shirtless despite the chill, their bestial muscles shining with rivulets of rain water.

Daniel stepped a little closer to Fenya. "Not gents I'd like to get on the bad side of, however." he muttered

"No indeed," she murmured. "Nor the 'right' side should it come to it, speaking for myself."

"I would call that another facet of their bad side."

"Mmm," she nodded. They passed a spot where there was a knot of men huddled beneath a wooden building's outcropping sharing cigarettes and a bottle in a paper bag. One of the men gave Daniel a nasty look as they passed.

Daniel gave him a genial bow with as bright a smile as he could manage.

"*Vhat are hyu looking at, leetle boy?*" the man snorted, brow furrowed. His accent was so thick Daniel could hardly parse it.

"I'm afraid I don't have a clue what a leetle is." Daniel drawled "but I'm merely taking stock of my surroundings, good sir."

The bullyboys snickered and the glaring man snorted. "*Vhell hyu had better move along, leetle boy. Hyu vill be tekkin none hof our shahk.*"

"shahk?" Daniel asked, genuinely confused

"Hare hyu playink ghems, leetle boy?" the man demanded, sneering. Fenya cleared her throat. "Doctor we should…." A couple more of the men looked over her way.

"Professor, I think you're right." Daniel put his hand on his hip, flashing a smile as his fingers brushed the belt near his pistol. "enjoy your day gentlemen. We'll be off now."

"Hoh no, Hy theenk hyu should be stayhing vith hus for lesson, da?" The man sneered, and the other three pressed in close. One of them dropped the bottle on the ground where it shattered. "De lady, too, do?" Fenya stepped backwards, her arm in Daniel's. It looked like things were about to get ugly. Nearby, the shift whistle blew, cutting through the rain. The bully boys looked at one another.

Daniel's hand pulled away from his pistol and his eyes narrowed slightly "looks like you'd best go back to your work, gents."

The man spat on the ground and waved a hand at him. "Bah! hyu not vorth my time. Come." he waved to the others, and they shouldered past the two of them and into the crowd. Fenya watched them go nervously, looking visibly shaken.

Daniel let out a deep sigh, putting a steadying hand on Fenya's back "that… could have gone better."

"Y-yes I'd wager it could have," she agreed, adjusting her glasses. her ears were flat on her head.

He kept his hand on her for a moment, catching his own breath. His tail had bushed somewhat. "They're awfully quick to anger. I didn't think my remark was… that smart."

"I think they were looking for a fight," she said, leaning against him slightly. "we ah, certainly stand out."

He nodded, not pulling away. "we certainly do. Good targets for irate locales spoiling for a fight."

"Yes, ah, I'm pretty sure they're not supposed to be drinking on the job either."

"I'd imagine not." Daniel drawled. "not that it'd stop louts like that."

"No," she shook her head, taking a breath. "I expect not."

"i'm sorry about that, Fenya."

"far be it from me to blame you for the actions of a load of dock louts."

Daniel nodded. "They're a little more… reactionary… than many of their Astorian contemporaries. "

"I suspect astorian dock men work longer hours," she observed. "less excess liveliness to burn off."

"Idle hands are the birthplace of lapsed morality, as Cromwell would say." he drawled. "Shockingly in this instance I'm agreeing with him."

"Shockingly," she agreed. "Well… shall we press on, or have we seen enough for the moment?"

"I've yet to see any sign of illness, but I doubt we'd see it in those hardy brutes. Let's press onward."

She nodded, staying close to him as they started to walk again. "I've always noticed the kind of gutrot men like these drink will stave off anything-- right until the moment they die of it."

Daniel kept close to her as well, trying not to show how badly he himself had been shaken. "Alcohol can cure any ill but the alcohol itself."

"Indeed," she nodded. They walked shoulder to shoulder in the rain. Eventually, as they passed the mill, the crowds of burly men started to thin out.

"Now, just to find the homes of the poorer folk in town. Or a market. Anywhere we can start asking about."

A market seemed to be exactly what they were heading into. Sad stalls with limp awnings were buffeted by the rain, while people with umbrellas, and some without, did necessary shopping despite the weather.

Daniel kept an eye on them, looking for anyone with visible signs of fatigue… or anyone who might look willing to have a word with them

One of the shopkeepers who was selling knitted goods, was standing a bit limply over her stall.

Daniel approached her, waving cheerfully in her direction "hello."

She coughed into her hand. "How can I help ya, master?"

Daniel glanced over the goods "I'm looking for a scarf." he said "… are you quite alright?"

"Plentya scarves as ya can see," she nodded, gesturing to a few. They were mostly undyed though there were a few that were. One brilliantly red, and a one in blue and black stripes. "M' fine, thank you for askin."

"You seem to have a terrible cough." he said. "i'm a physician, so I can't help myself when I notice these things." He pointed to the blue and black scarf "How much for that one?"

"It's the damned rain," she said, shaking her head. "Makes it feel like I can't breath." She named a relatively low price for the scarf, though it was probably a half-day's wages for anyone around here.

"I'll buy it. Do you want one, Fenya?" He asked, glancing at her. "would you like me to take a look? I might be able to do something to ease that trouble."

"They *are* quite nice," Fenya murmured. "Thank you for buying," she nodded. "But I don't know what ya could do for my chest."

"I'll take the red one as well." He said, forking over the money with a thin smile. "… as for your chest, I know a few handy tricks if you'd just let me do an examination." He paused "has anyone else around you had similar problems lately?"

She handed him the scarves, her breath heavy. "Similar problems?" "He's a doctor," Fenya explained.

He nodded. "I am. Shortness of breath, fatigue… a darkening of the veins, perhaps?"

She frowned and offered him her wrist. The veins where the fur was shortest were prominent and slightly darkened.

"Is there a poultice for it, doctor?"

Daniel frowned slightly as he took her arm to look it over. "I'm working on something of the sort, madam. But it's important for me to ask….how many people that you know of are experiencing similar symptoms?"

"I couldn't say," she said. "The air's been heavy lately. I know Katya was complaining of trouble breathing and having the sweats, Doctor."

"Katya?" He asked. "might you mark down her address as well? And… keep an ear out for any similar complaints."

"Ahh, what for, doctor?"

"I fear that it's a tad more than the heavy weather." He said "the more I know, the easier it will be for me to be able to find a solution however."

"Ehhh? Find a solution?" she blinked, frowning. "You don't have something for it?"

"not instantly." Daniel said, handing the red scarf to Fenya. "These things take study. Every affliction is different after all. It's all about finding its weakness and the right way to strike it down." He smiled thinly "and then, once i find that solution, the disease is cured."

Fenya took the scarf gently under her arm. "So you're a doctor, but ya don't know what this disease is?"

Daniel scoffed between his teeth "Only a bloody idiot would go around telling people they know anything about a *mystery plague* before they know a damn thing about it. That's what *research* is for."

She put her hand to her mouth, eyes wide. "Plague?" Her voice was loud, and attracted looks from a couple of nearby vendors and shoppers.

Daniel pressed his hand to his face with a long hiss of breath. "damn it." "It might *not* be a plague." he tried to defend "just a contagious and potentially deadly affliction involving the curdling of the blood." He paused "nothing to worry about. Especially since Doctor Daniel Delgrave, of the Astorian University is on the case for a cure."

She frowned deeply. "So it's serious then, is it? Plague or not? Am I gonna die, doctor?"

"I have children at home you know."

"I'm well aware that many of you have families." Daniel held his hands up. "But if I'm doing all I can to prevent death. But for that I need *information*. I need to know how many afflicted, how it's spreading, and it's nature."

"Needs information he says," she breathed. "tells me I might be dying and says he needs *my* help." she huffed.

"i'm afraid that's… how medicine works." Daniel said thickly. "Answers aren't simply manifested out of thin air. If I can *understand* this thing, i can end it. And I'm already making progress, but the last thing I want is it getting out of hand."

"getting out of hand!" she said breathlessly. "It's only my life and he doesn't want it getting out of hand."

Daniel grit his teeth. "Please. I *implore* you to calm down and stay rational about this."

"And how would you like me to stay rational?"

"By not getting so upset." Daniel frowned "Just because I don't have the cure *right this bloody moment* doesn't mean I can't find it before it's too late."

"Before it's too late?" she demanded hoarsely.

"… meaning before it spreads too quickly to be properly contained." he said with a tight smile on his face. "….hah."

"Listen." he tented his fingers before gesturing to her with both sets of fingertips "I understand your town used to work on a different sort of healing… but I'm trained in the medical arts, you see? I'm the man who will one day cure death itself… so a disease like this, given a little time, is nothing I can't solve."

Fenya, leaned in, nodded. "I can vouch for the doctor's skill," she said. "He cured a terrible plague back in astoria-- and-- while he hasn't got a cure yet, he does have something that will help stave it off-- isn't that *right* doctor?" She said, lying through her teeth.

Daniel flashed a bright smile. "That's absolutely correct." he said "let me just…" He rummaged in his bag for the drugs he'd given Elias. "find them.."

"Isn't it in my bag, doctor?" Fenya asked, batting her eyelashes with a smile.

Daniel nodded "that's right, I had you hold onto it. Thank you Professor." he bowed his head. "you've always been the greatest help to me."

"I do my best doctor," she said with a smile. She pulled out a vial and passed it to the woman. "two drops of this in your tea, at breakfast and before bedtime. Don't skip a dose. You might feel some cramping, but that means it's working. Is that everything doctor?"

The woman took the vial nervously, looking to Daniel.

Daniel nodded slowly. "it is. Just make sure to stay indoors and keep your workload as light as you can."

She nodded. "Right… have you got a clinic I should come by if it gets worse?"

"yes. I'm working out of the Post Office….but I'm sure we can use the small clinic in town. Sasha's clinic."

"Master Osgrov's clinic?" she asked. "you workin with him?"

"He's offered his help in addition to his clinic and it's facilities, yes."

"Hmmmm. I don't know if I approve of him, but if you're just working there it's fine," she nodded.

Daniel nodded with a smile "I am the head doctor on this case, after all."

She nodded. "Alright. I'll come see you if things take a turn for the worse."

"much appreciated. And if anyone else has symptoms like yours… tell them to stay indoors as well, and relay word to Sasha's clinic."

"or directly to me, via the post."

She nodded. "Alright. I'll do that."

"Much appreciated, ma'am." He bowed "thank you for remaining calm."

"Calm's my middle name. And come see me if you ever need more fine knitted goods."

Daniel nodded. "I will be sure to do so. And this scarf will do wonders against the cold."

Fenya nodded. "Indeed. But the doctor has a lot of business. So we must be going."

"Enjoy your afternoon, ma'am." He waved, and started off… if a little stiffly.

Fenya walked off with him and held out her hand. "Give me your scarf."

Daniel handed it to her as he walked.

"we'll boil these when we get back to the post office."

Daniel nodded. "for the best. Last thing I want is to become sick on the job." He sighed.. "But my fears are realized. it's already spreading."

"It seems that way," she frowned. "The dark veins are unlikely to be something else, unless I miss my guess?"

"the dark veins seem to be the telltale sign of this particular ailment. The shortness of breath… the fatigue… those are symptoms, but the *veins* are the sign."

"Some of these people we might have to shave to see it," she half joked.

Daniel laughed. "i'll buy a pair of clippers. and we'll go about town shaving all the dockworkers."

"I'll cook up some tranquilisers."

"you'd need enough to put out an elephant with those men." Daniel snorted.

"Good. Light doses are always harder," she grinned.

"Perfect." he smirked "then I'd say get working right away."

She nodded with a smirk back. "Of course doctor."

He checked his watch "but that'll have to wait until after dinner."

"yes, I think it's time to get back."

Daniel gestured towards town. "then let's be off."

She nodded and the two looped back the way they came. "I'll be glad to get out of this smell," she murmured.

Daniel nodded. "Any longer and I might have lost the sense in self preservation."

"I'd prefer to lose my sense of smell," she joked.

Daniel smirked, "likewise. I'd be surprised if it wasn't already starting to go by now."

"We'll have to see once we get out of this stench," she clucked.

Daniel nodded, holding the umbrella over them. "I think today's been very productive, stench aside."

"we definitely have more information than we did this morning."

"And more subjects, if the two we have in bedrest prove to not be enough."

She nodded. "Oh yes. It sounds like we have plenty more."

Daniel sighed "let's just hope the cure's not made from anything particularly rare."

The dock area had cleared a bit of the crowds-- probably many of them were now in the processing mill-- as they passed through. "Goodness forbid it involve gold, hmm?"

"if it does, then perhaps your alchemical experiments may very well come in handy." He winked.

"we can solve two riddles for the price of one."

"Defeat death and find your philosopher's stone." he said with a warm chuckle. "lucky us."

"It would definitely be a turn around as far as luck is concerned."

"I'd consider that the perfect ending to this little disaster"

"I couldn't imagine a better one personally," she agreed. They hooked around the street leading back south and the smell began to abate as they neared the bar and Grandma's pub.

"How anyone can stand it by the river, Is beyond me." He shook his head, as he made his way into the front door of the pub.

"Their senses are likely dulled by exposure," she mused. The pub was a little busier this evening than it had been that morning, full of the low hum of chatter.

Daniel glanced about, looking for the source of their invitation as he moved inside.

"Likely, though no less unpleasant.

A tall, slim man in a nicely cut astorian style suit waved to him from a quiet table in the corner. He had a sharp, lupine face, black fur and piercing green eyes.

Danie's eyebrow raised as he waved to the man in return, and walked up to him with the greeting of "good day, sir."

"Good evening," he said in a warm voice heavy with a Mosgravan accent. "the astorian doctor, I presume?"

Daniel nodded, slipping into the seat. "That's right. I'm Doctor Daniel Delgrave… of the Astorian University."

"And I'm his associate, Professor Trifena Evgenii-Smythe-- also of the university." The man nodded. "As you already know, I am Andrei Morozov. Please, sit with me."

Daniel nodded, and took a seat. "it's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Morozov."

"No no, the pleasure is all mine," he said, smiling broadly. "It's wonderful to have guests here from such a far and renown nation."

"An appreciator of Astorian Culture, I see." Daniel flashed a smile "Aren't you a sight for sore eyes, then."

"I can certainly imagine," he grinned. "Our town has far to go to rival the cities of astoria."

Daniel glanced around the pub. "indeed. but I take it you're one of those hoping to elevate this town into something greater?"

"That's correct. You have seen the mill on the river, yes?"

"Simply can't miss it." Daniel said with a slim smile.

"That is my mill," he said with a smile. "It was my father's before me but then it was not so great."

"is that so?" Daniel raised his eyebrow. "I take it you expanded it into the thing we see today?"

"Oh yes," he nodded. "In the last few years we are bigger than ever before. I hope that when I am old and my daughter is grown, it will be something for her to run proudly."

"Who wouldn't want to leave a legacy for their children?" Daniel nodded slowly. "Has the mill helped the town prosper in recent years?"

"Our revenue is increasing in terms of exports," he said. "quite noticeably. But I face a bottleneck. Our population is not growing, and few want to move here. I want to invest my money to make us a prosperous town, and attract more workers so we prosper yet more. But I am met with nothing but argument." he shook his head.

"I've heard the reason for the decline in population is trouble with birthrates. Is that true?"

"I'm no midwife," he said with a shrug. "But i've heard something about that. It has not yet effected my workforce,, but if it continues…."

"it'll only lead to a decline in workforce and productivity… not to mention the town's future."

"Indeed," he nodded gravely. "It is just one of the riddles I must solve for the sake of my beloved home."

Daniel nodded slowly. "A terrible shame.. How do the other locals take your desire to put your little town on the map?"

"Some of them are receptive," he said. "But some are stuck in the old ways."

"Those who still wish to adhere to how things were under your old town masters and mistresses?"

"Ah so you are familiar with the situation?"

"i've been slowly getting up to speed with town events."

"May I ask what brings you to town, doctor?"

"I'm here to cure an illness. One contracted by a colleague… and one that seems to be afflicting a fair few more than I previously suspected."

"Ahh business then," he nodded. "Your colleague. Would he be that Bainbridge man?"

"He would be." Daniel nodded "He's fallen rather ill."

"how troubling."

"it would seem the affliction's effecting a few other people around your town, as well." Daniel said, slowly and softly, as to not draw alarm.

Morozov rubbed his chin. "I see. That's even more troubling."

"it is. If it's not too much, might I ask you to check your workers for signs of infection?"

"Of course," he nodded. "How would I proceed?"

"If any of them seem sluggish, or like they're having trouble breathing… have someone check them over for blackened veins."

he raised a dark eyebrow. "Blackened veins?"

"This particular ailment darkens the blood. It seems to thicken it, as well, into what is almost a sludge."

He grimaced. "That's rather disgusting, isn't it?"

"It's not the most ideal illness in the world, no." Daniel drawled

"I suppose the most ideal one is one you wouldn't know you had," he mused.

"I suppose….however, any illness is, by its very nature… not ideal." Daniel leaned on his hands. "I'd like to cure this one, but it won't be easy if it starts to spread like wildfire."

"Understood. If I find any ill workers what would you like me to do?"

"Report it to me." Daniel said "….it's possible we'll have to enact a quarantine should things get bad, But my hope is your workers will be healthy."

"It is my hope as well," he nodded. "Illness among the workers tends to spread."

"it's true… hence why quarantine may become necessary."

"Indeed. But… it seems you are quite the selfless man. Coming to town to assist one man and taking the welfare of our town to heart."

Daniel smiled thinly . "I'm a doctor. It's my duty to defeat death at every turn. Perhaps, if I'm lucky, this investigation will bring me another step closer towards my ultimate goal while I cure your town of its ills."

"I see," he nodded, stroking his chin. "You have great ambition it sounds like."

"Ambition is necessary in a field like mine" Daniel chuckled.

"Medicine?" he chuckled with him.

"Thanatology." he corrected with a low chuckle "The study of death… and how to prevent it. The ultimate affliction."

"Thanatology," Morozov repeated, stroking his chin. "That sounds like a most impressive area of study."

Daniel nodded, folding his fingers before him. "I'm the premier thanatologist in Astoria. it's a very exclusive field of study."

"I can imagine not many would be up to the task."

"The hunt to end death once and for all is a task most shy away from." Daniel agreed

"But if you find your goal it will bring much good fortune to everyone-- yourself included, eh? I imagine the man who beat death would become a very rich man indeed."

"Rich, *and* immortal." Daniel laughed. "though the money is hardly why I'm pursuing this dream."

"Might I ask?"

"I find the concept of death repulsive." Daniel said. "It's a hard limit on the potential of our kind, forcing us all into the trap of mortality." He raised his hand "if I slay Death itself, then our kind is free to create and proper without the axe of age hanging over our necks."

Morozov smiled broadly. "Now that is ambition, my friend."

"Without ambition, we stagnate, Morozov, my friend."

He slapped the table. "Yes! this is what I have been trying to get across to my fellows, you see?"

"Then we're birds of a feather." Daniel chuckled "so to speak."

"So to speak," he chuckled. "But I believe this is a most excellent meeting of the minds."

"I have to agree, Mr. Morozov." He nodded firmly

"You may consider me a friend to you, I think, Doctor," he said with a smile. "Is there anything I can do to help you, beyond what you've already asked?"

"Well." Daniel chuckled "perhaps there is… but let me ask… did you have anything you wanted to discuss with me? You invited me to dinner after all."

"I did, I did," he nodded. "I must confess, doctor, it was terribly selfish. You see I have a great interest in your native country."

"Is that so?" Daniel flashed a smile "I can tell by your fashion sense, somewhat."

"I'm pleased you noticed," he nodded. "It's terribly difficult to get clothes like these here."

"You have to have them imported, I imagine?"

"Indeed indeed," he nodded. "And it's an expensive business as there are very few doing the importing."

"I can only imagine it gets downright expensive." Daniel shook his head. "it's a shame that trade isn't more open between Astoria and Mosgrav."

"It is," he nodded. "Perhaps though, we could do more to open it up?"

Daniel leaned on his hand. "a business proposition then?"

"Indeed! if it were something that interested you. Or if you are not-- perhaps you could simply make some introductions?"

"I could be convinced." He chuckled "though I'm hardly much of a tailor….though I do know a good one."

"I'm sure there are plenty of tailors in Astoria who might want to sell their services through you as a middleman, hmm?"

Daniel rubbed his chin. "Oh, I'm certain there are. Absolutely certain. Though… I likely won't be in town long after this plague is cured."

"Perhaps we could correspond?"

"Tell you what." Daniel said with a nod. "We'll give it a try. Perhaps I can be of service in exchange for all you can do to help me here."

"I would be in your debt, even so" he nodded. "and I am a man who pays his debts."

"As am I. So I believe this could be a rather fruitful partnership."

"I'm thrilled that you might be game for it," he nodded.

"If nothing else, it's interesting." Daniel chuckled "and who am I to deny a little assistance to a kindred spirit?"

"Well said, well said," he nodded. "you have my deepest gratitude."

"and you have mine." Daniel purred. "as there may be a way we can help one another."

"Excellent! And on that note, shall we eat?"

Daniel chuckled. "yes. Why don't we. Thank you again for the meal."

The meal came-- a quite hearty stew and brown bread, along with mugs of very drinkable beer (practically considered water in Mosgrav and suitable for giving to all but the most easily intoxicated). Over dinner, Morozov asked both of them many questions about Astoria. About the college, the capital city, culture and the rest.

Daniel offered all he could, telling the man in intricate detail of Astorian culture and especially the University.

Despite initial reservations… the food and drink more than suited his palate. He found himself enjoying the meal quite a bit by the end.

Fenya too chatted along, and seemed satisfied enough by the meal. Morozov was certainly cheerful, he seemed to love hearing about Astoria. The man had clearly been born in the wrong country.

"you certainly seem to love our country." Daniel said with a warm smile. "Have you ever thought of immigrating?"

"Perhaps when I retire," he said with a dreamy smile . "I couldn't leave my family's mill you see. Not until I know it's in good hands."

"ah yes. "Daniel nodded. "you mentioned you were leaving it to your daughter, yes?"

"Indeed," he nodded. "Once she's a little older I intend to teach her the family business."

"how lovely "Daniel nodded "I always thought more young ladies should get into the field of business. it's not something you see nearly enough"

"indeed," he nodded. "Some would say that it is because I have no son, but the women in our family have always done great things."

"I believe you." Daniel leaned on his hand. "Do you have a missus, then?"

"My wife Sofya," he said with a pleasant smile. "I assure you she is nothing short of delightful."

"I've yet to meet her." Daniel chuckled "but i'm sure she's all you say and more."

"Perhaps you would like to come and have dinner with us some time soon? When you are not busy attending to your research."

"Perhaps tomorrow." Daniel said, "I'll make a note of it, and be sure to attend."

"My family would be honored. Simply send us a note if something comes up and interferes, yes?"

"I'll be sure to do just that, my friend." He paused. "on the side of business however, loathe as I am to bring it up…"

"Yes, my friend?"

"If there's anything in the way of medical supplies or compounds that you could offer to my colleague and I in these trying times… or even if you know of anyone who might have such things and could put in a good word, that sort of thing could very well save lives."

He stroked his chin. "Ah…. there may be someone I could connect you with… but here is not the place to discuss it."

"then after dinner." he chuckled. "….it's much appreciated. With the support of an illustrious man like yourself….we'll beat this thing."

"Indeed we will," he said, standing and offering Daniel his hand. "I must be going unfortunately-- but the two of you please stay as long as you like and enjoy yourselves on my credit."

Daniel bowed his head. "A shame. I look forward to our next meeting."

"As do I," he said with a smile. "Until then my friend."

"Until then, my friend." Daniel said

And with that, the mill's master left the two of them at the table as the pub thinned out. Fenya leaned on her elbows, looking thoughtful.

"hm." Daniel leaned back in his chair "well that was certainly an interesting encounter."

"It was," she said, tapping her lip. "What do you think of him?"

"He was certainly excitable. Seemed enamored with Astoria, but rather tied to his mill here."

She nodded. "Yes…. that he did."

"He seems like he's looking for every opportunity to bring Astoria here if he can't go out to meet it." He shrugged 'how about you, Fenya?"

"he certainly seemed companionable," she said, frowning slightly.

"He did. But there's something on your mind."

She waved her hand. "It's nothing. I suppose I just didn't like him."

Daniel leaned on his hand. "Maybe we can talk more about it back at the post."

"Shall we get going then, doctor?"

Daniel nodded, finishing the last of his bread before he stood. "lets."

When they headed outside, the twilight was growing, and fog had begun to gather around their ankles. A little further down the street there was more noise coming from the bar.

"Did you want to put off our visit to the bar, or…?" he asked. "I do what to hear about your assessment of that man."

She glanced down at the bar and tapped her gloved finger on her chin. "What's your opinion?"

Daniel thought for a moment "He had more going on behind that smile than he wanted to let on. Perhaps he saw an easy way to get the things he wanted through a pair of 'like minded Astorians' ?"

She chuckled slightly. "I meant about the bar-- but I think there's definitely an element in what you're saying."

"ah." Daniel chuckled '… my apologies, Fenya."

She shook her head. "It's nothing, Danochka. But we ought to decide before we both catch a chill."

"Would you care for a drink with me?" he gestured. "though I understand not wanting to drink in such a dire situation."

She shook her head. "Let's go for a drink."

Daniel nodded, and pressed on into the bar, pushing the door open with a low chuckle. "we could use it after today."

There was a short set of steps leading down into the bar, which had stone walls and was dug somewhat into the earth. Rough hewn tables were shoved here and there, along with benches, but mostly patrons were either standing at the bar, or huddled around the one large table, shoulder to shoulder. At the top of the stairs, Daniel could see over them, and saw that a raucous game of dice was being played by the rough looking men-- older ones than they had encountered in the street mostly but some young. Behind the bar, a dark haired wolf woman was pouring drinks of vodka into shot glasses for the eager patrons, and cutting above the noise were the sounds of a strange keening and clacking song coming from a corner of the room.

First thing came first….Daniel led Fenya to the wolf woman at the bar. They were going to need a drink for this.

Immediately there were eyes on them-- if nothing else they were probably a quarter smaller than anyone else in the bar. Fenya drew herself up with a haughty chin as she muscled in a space at the bar for the two of them. "exciting place," she murmured to Daniel, just barely audible over the noise and music.

Daniel laughed "isn't? Far more lively than the student's bar on campus…." He glanced about, and strolled forward with the air of having owned the place. "It's charming in its way."

The woman at the bar grinned at the two of them. She was quite scantily dressed, with sleeves that stopped at her mid forearm, and a low cut dress that showed heaving bosom and lengthy cleavage. She leaned in especially close to Daniel. "Drink for you and the lady?" she asked with a grin.

Daniel's eyes glanced over the woman for the briefest of moments before they fell back on her eyes. He nodded "I'll have a vodka." He glanced at Fenya "and one for you as well?"

Fenya chuckled. "I doubt that they serve anything else." "Good thought, sister," the woman nodded, pouring two glasses. As she leaned near them Daniel got a whiff of a scent he was familiar with. Opium.

Daniel chuckled slowly. "ah." he glanced at Fenya "it's possible they serve something a tad stronger, I'd imagine."

"Not in bottles, handsome," she purred, pushing each of them a glass of the clear liquor.

"no I imagine not." he flashed a smile. "I might be interested, however." He picked up his glass, and raised it to Fenya. "to success, Professor."

"To success," Fenya nodded, and raised her glass with him, before downing the drink.

Daniel downed his as well, swallowing the burning liquid in a single gulp

There was an appealing burn to the vodka-- much better than the stuff they got in astoria. In fact-- it was exactly the same stuff that Konstantin had served him. Hadn't he said that his family distilled it?

Daniel tapped his glass on the table in thought "this tastes familiar." after a moment, he pointed "Konstantin served me the very same vodka" he mused at the bartender

The woman grinned widely. "Chernoff?"

"that's right." Daniel chuckled "the very same!"

"My big brother," she explained.

"Amazing!" he chuckled. "I had no idea his younger sister ran the bar!"

"I'm sure he has many more interesting things to talk of than me," she purred. "But I'm curious how you know him."

"He's… our host of sorts while we're in town." Daniel chuckled "….I'm the physician called in to cure Mr. Bainbridge."

"Mr. who?" she cocked her head.

"… Elias?" Daniel said "his… guest? the irritatingly inquisitive folklorist from Astoria?"

"Oh *Elias*," she nodded. "He's been around here a few times."

"I imagine so. He's not a man to give up drink."

"No he was drinking like a fish in here," she nodded. "You said he's sick?"

"Terribly sick. His blood's turning to sludge as it is."

"Well it wasn't my booze, I promise." She scoffed. "Sounds like he could use another drink if you ask me."

"I'm afraid I'm not comfortable tipping vodka down the throat of a man in a screaming coma." Daniel drawled. "i'd much rather save the drink for myself."

"Pardon me did you say a *screaming* coma?" she asked, pouring them each another drink.

"yes." Daniel said with a nod. "by which I mean the man's in a coma and should by no means be dreaming but somehow found the strength to manage a nightmare or two….of which he'll occasionally sit bolt upright and scream like a man possessed."

"*Scourge's blood*," she hissed. "I'd almost believe he *was* possessed. Poor bastard."

"I don't believe in possession." Daniel took a long sip of the vodka . "Which means his condition's curable. One that I intend to fix….especially as it seems to be somewhat…." He hesitated a moment. "Catching."

The woman quirked an eyebrow. "Catching?" Fenya nodded. "Unfortunately."

"it's either stemming from a common source, or it's contagious." Daniel fussed with his gloves. "A woman in the market had it, as did a dancer currently in the care of Sasha at his clinic under my request."

She held up a hand. "That's terrible. But do me a favor and don't talk about it any more in my bar. It;'ll scare my customers."

"I don't intend to scare anyone." Daniel sipped his drink 'just be careful."

"Sure," she nodded. She bustled away, pouring more drinks down the line.

Daniel sipped his drink "hm. our host's younger sister.' He shook his head. "how interesting."

"very interesting," Fenya agreed, taking a long sip of her own drink. "I had no idea he had a sister."

"neither did I . He certainly didn't mention it. "

"I'd ask if they're on the outs, but she *is* selling his vodka…."

"She is… so they can't be *that* much on the outs. Perhaps it just… didn't feel pertinent to him to mention?"

"Perhaps," she said. "You've talked to him more than I have, does that sound right?"

"I'm really not sure." he shook his head. "he seemed pretty open… but I suppose in the end there was a lot he hadn't told me."

"Hmmm," she swirled her drink around in her glass. Across the room, someone slammed fists down on the dice table. A shouting match was starting.

Daniel glanced over his shoulder "well. this is likely to get interesting. "

Fenya looked as well. "Think they'll put bets on the fight?" she chuckled.

"probably. Should we weigh in?"

"Maybe we should," she murmured. There was a beefy dock worker in a stained sleeveless undershirt sizing up a narrow, knifelike man with an eyepatch and a greatcoat.

"I'm putting my money on the scrawny one."

"Interesting bet," she purred, narrowing her eyes at the two. The other gamblers had backed off. The one-eyed man was grinning as the big man inched closer to him.

"I've seen men as small as that in action. They make up for their size in their particular capacity for violence."

"I suppose he *is* already missing the eye." The big man went for him, and eyepatch almost *immediately* got him by the collar, a knife to the throat. where had the knife even *come* from?

"see what I mean?" Daniel chuckled softly

She whistled. "You're not wrong," she nodded. Behind the bar Konstantin's sister heaved a sigh. "At it again, Maxi? At least take him outside, I can't have this here."

Daniel clapped "Bravo, Maxi." He called it "hell of a fight."

A couple of the other large men had pulled Maxi's opponent away from him, and the narrow man sheathed his knife and took a bow. He blew a kiss-- and it wasn't immediately obvious if it was at the bartender or Daniel.

Daniel cleared his throat. "Scrappy gentleman, isn't he?"

"Very," Fenya agreed. "Seems like he's got an ego on him, too." She didn't sound unappreciative.

"He certainly does. Impressive, in it's own way." He leaned on his hand "I may have to meet his man."

He was in fact, swaggering right toward them-- or at least toward the chair. "You might get your chance."

"looks like it." Daniel downed his glass of vodka.

After his second full drink of vodka he was *definitely* feeling it. Just like he had the night before.

"great." he muttered, balancing the glass on it's side. "I need more practice with this damned stuff."

Fenya giggled and leaned slightly on him. "With what? Men with eyepatches?"

Maxi was ordering a drink quite close by.

Daniel flushed slightly "Fenya!' He shook his head with a chuckle "with the *vodka* Damn it." His shoulder lightly bumped hers.

"I'm sure I could handle men with eyepatches just fine."

She giggled again. "Let's find out. oooh, here he comes." She bumped him back. Maxi, drink in hand, strolled his way to Daniel. "Good evening my friend."

Daniel cleared his throat, and raised his empty glass. "Good evening, stranger"

He paused for a moment "good. Evening. My apologies."

Maxi smiled dashingly and raised his glass. "Unusually to see a pair of strangers around here."

Daniel leaned back, slightly against Fenya as he laughed. "We're a pair of academics from Astoria, passing through for a small medical job." He raised the glass with a smile. "I understand we're a rarity around these parts"

"A rarity indeed," he purred. "Though by no means unwelcome."

Daniel chuckled "well I'm pleased to hear it… seeing as how you deal with unwelcome company." he winked

"Oh him?" Maxi grinned widely. "He's just a sore loser, you see?"

"i noticed" Daniel drawled "he'll be even sorer in the morning, judging by the way you handled him"

"Maybe he'll learn not to have such a temper then, hmm? What about you? Do you dice?"

"dice?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "you mean gamble?"

Maxi smacked him on the shoulder in a… well… *probably* friendly way. "Exactly!"

"I've gambled here and there." Daniel said slowly "Cards and the like."

"Not dice then, eh?" he grinned. "Cards are alright but not exactly this lot's speed. Too much reading," he joked.

"It's a national pastime where I come from." Daniel laughed "but I imagine the intricacies go over louts like that lot's heads." He smirked slightly "though I've certainly *seen* dice played."

"Well if you care to play, I'm your man for a wager."

Daniel cracked his fingers. "i might as well give it a whirl. If for nothing else than the pleasant company."

"And how about the lady?" he asked with a smile. Fenya put her hands up. "I don't gamble, sir. I've studied statistics!" she broke out into a giggling fit.

Daniel chuckled "she's a Professor down at the University." He nodded sagely. "A real genius with chemicals and the like."

"The fairer sex are so often smarter than we brutes, eh?" he chuckled. "Hmmm, depends on the lady and the gentleman I think," Fenya giggled.

Daniel leaned on his hands, glancing up at the man. "Depends indeed." "I'm a renowned doctor. but I like to think I can hold my own in a number of ways."

"How about at dice, doc?" he grinned.

"Only one way to find out." He gestured. "shall we?"

"Good man," he grinned. "What shall we wager in?"

Daniel thought for a moment 'what's customary in these parts?"

"Oh, around here people mostly play for boring things like money."

"Well I wouldn't want to be *boring*." Daniel chuckled

Maxi looked him over with a smirk, looking, perhaps for anything valuable on his personage. "Neither would I."

"Then let's make it an interesting bet."

"Very well-- how about this. Best of three, loser owes the winner a favor."

"oh, Danochka, that's a dangerous bet," Fenya breathed excitedly.

Daniel paused a moment. "A dangerous bet." He offered his hand. "But one both profitable and *certainly* Not boring." "you're on."

Maxi slapped a pair of dice down on the bar with a grin. The bartender swished by and gave a half-disapproving smirk. "Swindling my customers again, handsome?" "Yes, dear," he purred.

"I think you'll find me harder to swindle than your average dockman." Daniel said with a wave of his hand. "why don't you… explain the rules to me."

"Oh I assure you, it's very simple," he grinned. He began to explain the rules, which were indeed, simple enough for even a drunk dock worker.

Daniel was actually familiar with the rules, but Maxi explained them as if he was a newbie.

An edge he hoped might ease him into a victory over the one eyed gambler. He flashed a smile "I think I've got the hang of it now."

"Well then, lets make our first roll, shall we?"

Daniel nodded and scooped up the dice. "Let the best man win."

Both the first rolls came up good-- but better for Maxi.

"Oooh, shame about that," he said with a grin. "But it's still anyone's game."

"I suppose it is." Daniel chuckled. "… I suppose it is. Anyone's game, my friend."

He shifted his hand, preparing to cheat on the next roll.

"Can I blow on your dice?" The drunk Fenya asked with a giggle.

Daniel held his hand with the dice towards her with a grin "I'd be delighted, professor dear. Perhaps it will bring me a spot of luck.""

Fenya leaned in and gently blew on Daniel's dice. And then the next hand began.

Daniel rolled an *excellent* almost a sure fire winner. Fenya squealed with excitement.

Maxi's dice came down.

The best possible result.

"Well… I think that's 2 out of three," Maxi chuckled. "Too bad."

Daniel stared at the dice for a long moment. "…." He fixed his tie with a soft hiss of breath "you're one lucky man, Maxi."

"That's what they tell me, my friend," the one eyed man said with satisfaction. "But I'm also a magnanimous man. What say you pay my tab for the evening and we'll call it even?"

Daniel spread his hands "a magnanimous man indeed." he offered his hand to Maxi with a wink "you have yourself a deal, good sir. I'll look forward to a rematch some day."

"As do I," he grinned, offering him his hand. "You're sharper than you seem, my astorian friend."

Daniel chuckled "I have a few tricks up my sleeve, after all"

he grabbed his hand, and gave it a firm and hearty shake

The man's hand was lean, and his nails trimmed. "I like that in a man, doctor," he chuckled. "Let's have a drink together and then I'll be on my way."

"Absolutely." Daniel nodded. "my treat. Have a seat"

"Don't mind if I do," he purred, having a seat with the two of them at the bar.

The bartender came over and smiled. "So how'd it go?"

"it was close, but Maxi here is a lucky, lucky man." Daniel leaned on the bar "I'll be covering his tab tonight."

"Should have expected that," she chuckled. "Shall I get you three another round?"

"Please. Of your finest vodka, if you don't mind"

"I don't mind at all,," she grinned and poured a glass for each of them.

Daniel nodded. "much, much appreciated." He chuckled "the sting of defeat, and the burn of alcohol."

Maxi raised his glass. "So it goes."

Daniel raised his glass "to a good game, and the hope for a rematch."

"To good sports," Maxi added with a smile. "Cheers!" Fenya declared. They all clinked their glasses together.

With that, Daniel slammed back a long swallow of the drink.

Daniel slammed it back without difficulty. The world momentarily doubled- but his vision righted itself surprisingly quickly. Just in time for him to feel a body fall against him.

"Whoops!" Fenya giggled as she grabbed Daniel's coat trying to right herself.

Daniel blinked, scooping her in an arm to keep her from toppling over. "ah! Fenya, seems your drink's gotten the better of you."

She looked up at him with wide, dark eyes. "No….no I rather… I rather sink--THINK! that drink hash gotten the *worst* of me!" She started off on another giggle fit.

She tried to right herself, and fell against him again.

Daniel kept his arm around here, patting her shoulder as he laughed. "I'd say it's knocked you flat, Professor Fenya. This might be the most I've heard you laugh since we've met." He glanced at Maxi with a little shrug and a smile.

Maxi chuckled. "Perhaps I'm not the only one who should be getting home about now?"

Fenya shook her head, smiling widely. "I laugh. Laughing is *normal*!"

"It seems so, Maxi." he chuckled "perhaps we can talk sometime soon, hm?" He smiled over at Fenya, "Even a couple of University stiffs like us can laugh, it's true."

"I'll see you around then, doctor. You should be able to find me. If you can't, just ask my dear Mila here." he motioned to the bartender, then waved as he headed out. Fenya was half leaned against Daniel and half against the bar.

Daniel waved back, shaking his head. Once he was gone, he turned his attention back to Fenya. "you look a tad dizzy."

She tried to smooth her skirt and stand but wobbled again. "I *am* a tad dizzy I'm afraid."

Daniel steadied her, looping his arm around her shoulder. "How about I help you get back to the room, hm?"

She leaned against him, "Hope that I didn't spoil the evening!"

"not in the least." He said with a chuckle as he paid the tabs, and headed for the exit. "I'd say it's been one merry night indeed."

She wobbled a bit, leaning on him as she walked. "Very merry," she grinned. "You even made friends."

"it seems I did, and a very dangerous friend indeed." He held her against himself, using his own far steadier gait to keep her balanced and on her feet as they went

"Knife man," she nodded sagely. The rain was drizzly and the sky was dark. The mist had gathered up, thick and visible around their ankles.

"Knife man, good gambler." He agreed, patting her back.

She nodded happily. "I bet he *was* cheating."

"Cheating well enough that he outcheated me." Daniel tutted his tongue. "But, we know for next time." As he leaned on her and walked, he kept his eye out ahead. He still hadn't forgotten the previous night's incident.

She gasped. "You were cheating?" she asked, sounding impressed.

Daniel nodded, "After that first roll, I could tell that blind luck alone wouldn't do much to help me win… so." he waved his hand "I used a trick or two I picked up at the University to try and tip fate in my favor….though, it seems, I didn't tip it quite enough."

"You'll just have to outcheat him next time!" she nodded.

Daniel gently bumped her shoulders. "I'll work on my technique." he winked "and we'll win for sure."

She bumped him back, staggering gently. "Yeah! then you can have a knife fight, danochka! or would it be a scalpel fight?"

"Scalpel on my end, knife on his." Daniel helped steady her again "Is that sort of thing up your alley, Fenya?"

Fenya giggled again. "Well, alleys are dark aren't they? So my alley has knife fights. sometimes."

"that they are." He laughed "Well, I like the man well enough, so I hope it wouldn't come to that… or at least that it stayed a *friendly* knife fight." "what's a stabbing between friends?"

"especially ‘Cause you could sew the loser up! right?"

"especially then." He chuckled "what's the fun if I couldn't? We can all have a drink and laugh about it after."

"Exactly," she nodded. She leaned a little closer to him as they walked through the rain. "It's cold."

He unhooked the umbrella from his side, and opened it up over them as they walked. "It's terribly cold." He said, glancing up at the sky. "Feel free to keep close, if it'll help you stay warm. Terrible time to get sick, in weather like this."

The sky was black-overcast without a single trace of moon or stars. Fenya leaned into him. "I don't want to get sick."

He frowned at the moonless night, and brought her in a little closer. "I'd rather avoid either of us getting sick." He admitted.

She was warm against him in the cold, even under her layers of dress. Dimly lit by street lamps, they could see the post office just ahead.

"nearly there." he said, rubbing her shoulder. "Then we'll get you into bed where you can sleep off the inevitable hangover."

She giggled. "Ooh, I might be able to mix up a hangover cure though…."

"is that so? That would be *invaluable* come morning"

Fenya nodded as they reached the post office. "yes I wouldn't want to suffer through whatever this leaves behind."

Daniel sighed with a bit of relief as the night's walk was uneventful. He smirked at Fenya. "neither would I. I can only imagine it'd be an absolute nightmare."

"I'll admit I've never been hungover before but the boys in the department look like they feel *awful*."

Daniel rubbed his neck "I can assure you Fenya, they were hardly exaggerating."

As Daniel came to the post office door, he noticed that it was standing slightly ajar.

Daniel frowned. "… well that isn't good." Slowly, he pushed the door open, and peeked inside with Fenya still held close and his free hand moving towards his pistol.

Fenya peered in with him. "What isn't good?" she asked. The post office was dark-- their friend Mitya must have left much earlier.

Daniel put his finger to his lips "Door was open." he whispered, and unholstered his gun. "Stay close, and behind me." Slowly, he eased into the room to look for anything amiss.

Fenya nodded, staying quiet as she eased in behind him. At first glance at least, the room seemed to be normal. Not that he was overly familiar with it.

Daniel eased a little deeper, peeking behind the desk as he approached it.

There was an overturned candlestick behind the desk, the candle itself a little ways away as if it had rolled. Some wax had gotten on a few fallen letters.

Daniel frowned, and lifted the candlestick with one hand as he glanced down at the letters "This was knocked over… I doubt Mitya would leave a burning candle out to fall to the ground. not near all this paper."

"Yeah that seems…. bad," Fenya agreed. One of the letters was addressed to Elizabeth Alekhin. Another to Lydia Osgrov.

Daniel read them over briefly. "… hm. I wonder if someone was trying to read these… or if they were incidental in whatever happened here."

Daniel couldn't find a signature on the one to Lydia, but from what he could read, it seemed to be a rather lurid love letter. He caught the phrase 'heaving breasts'.

"Heavens." He muttered, and tried the one to Elizabeth instead.

This one's handwriting made it all but impossible to read, but he *did* manage to make out the signature. Katrina Volkov.

"Interesting." He made a note of both. WIth that he stood, and looked around the back of the post office. "Now let's get to the bottom of this."

Fenya leaned against a wall. "I don't see anybody here now…. though they might be upstairs…"

Daniel nodded, and clicked the hammer back on his pistol as he offered a hand to Fenya. "then let's get upstairs and find out."

Fenya took his other hand and nodded. "Lets."

They weren't that loud going up the stairs-- but weren't that quiet either. Fenya tripped slightly halfway up and nearly pulled both of them down.

Daniel yelped, grabbing a hold of her to stop her from toppling down the stairs… and banging his knee on them as he went "Damn!!"

Fenya cringed and whispered. "Sorry!! sorry!"

"it's..it's fine." he murmured, gesturing up "no sense being quiet now, though. let's go." He hurried up the stairs, with her hand in his, holding tight to his gun just in case.

They burst onto the scene to find--- absolutely no one. At least at first glance.

Daniel peered around the room, his gun drawn as he investigated the shadows with a sharp frown.

Almost nothing was out of place as he checked around the room. Except….. had his luggage been unfasted when he'd left? he thought he'd closed the bag.

Daniel hissed through his teeth. "Son of a bitch." He hurried towards it, and flipped the top of his luggage open with the pistol's barrel.

There was….. his things in it. Though they did seem to be shifted around, nothing appeared to be missing. Or added.

Daniel frowned. "….Then why? Why rustle about in my things and not take a bloody thing?"

Fenya came nearby and leaned over him. "Maybe…. they didn't find what they wanted?"

"Indeed." he frowned, and put his hand on his bag. "I wonder if it has anything to do with the….items… we procured."

"Maybe…. you think Rook came looking for it?"

"It's possible." Daniel mused. "It's something we shouldn't discount… and it means I should keep my bag where I can see it at all times."

Fenya nodded, sitting down on the bed heavily. "dah…. damnit."

Daniel sat next to her. "Indeed." He frowned slightly "….this is troublesome. I'll have to have MItya reinforce his door and windows while we're here."

Fenya nodded and leaned her head against his shoulder. "Good idea."

He put his arm around her with a sigh "Now… what's the best way to stay secure *tonight* ." He looked up at the ceiling. "Make sure the door is locked, for one."

"maybe put a chair in front?" she offered.

He nodded. "Good point. I'll do that too… then we just need to secure the window."

"Not sure how we can manage that…." she shook her head against his shoulder.

"Perhaps barring it somehow…"

"Too bad neither of us is a mechanical engineeeeeer."

"a dreadful shame." he chuckled, glancing at the structure of the window. "though.."

She followed his gaze blearily. "Yesh?"

The window was high over the bed-- a couple inches down from the ceiling. It was about twice as long as it was tall-- and it was just tall enough for a large man to squeeze through. There was a hinge on the top, and a knob at the bottom where it could open or close, with a metal wedge to prop it open at the bottom.

Daniel looked up at it with a frown. "I could latch the hinge and try to wedge something between the top and the bottom of the frame….it might make it a tad more secure."

"oh! That's a good idea," she nodded. "Ummmm… what about…. the door stop?"

"Brilliant idea, Fenya." He nodded "that might just be the ticket."

She grinned. "We're a couple of smaaart academics."

He grinned back "that we are, Fenya. As brilliant as the day is long."

He gestured "want to give me a hand?"

She stuck out her hand. "Yes!"

Then she burst out in a giggle fit.

Daniel stared at her hand for a long moment. "wh…" Then he slapped his palm to his face with a muffled snort "ah, I get it."

She covered her face with both hands and gasped for air, trying to stop laughing. "Sorry!"

Daniel laughed with her, shaking his head. "no, no don't be." He smirked "You've got one interesting sense of humor, Fenya." he winked, and took her hand as he stood.

She squeezed his hand and stood, still drawing long breaths as she composed herself. "Sometimes being overly literal is just very funny to me."

Daniel chuckled "I can see the humor, admittedly." He shifted to latch the window shut, and held out his hand for the doorstop.

She managed her way to the door,, and brought back the doorstop, offering it to him. "Your wedge, doctor!"

"thank you, Professor." he smirked. "Now let's drive a wedge between us and our interloper." He worked to knock it into place.

Fenya broke into another peel of giggles. "As long as it's not just between us!"

"Certainly not." Daniel put his hand to his chest. "How could I do such a thing to a charming intellectual like yourself?"

"with a hammer!" she snickered.

Daniel laughed out loud. "Certainly. but I'm afraid I'm currently quite hammerless."

"Well that's good for me then," she nodded. The wedge meanwhile, was pretty satisfyingly stuck.

"That takes care of the window problem… now the front door" "Very good. Besides. there's much better things we can do with our night than get hammered."

"Didn't we get hammered already?" she giggled.

"Damn." Daniel dropped to the bed "I suppose we failed to avoid *that* tonight."

"Oops!" she shook her head.

"Alas." he hopped down, and steadied himself "I'm going to block off the front door."

"I'll help," she said wobbling after him.

He nodded back at her "need a hand down the stairs?"

"Maybe," she admitted

he offered his arm to her as he stood on the precipice.

She linked her arm with his. "I'll try not to fall again."

"I'd appreciate it. I'd put a damper on the night to have to tend to a broken leg." He lead her slowly down the stairs

They crept successfully back down into the postal area. "I have to agree."

Daniel walked to the front door and gave it a lock… and then dragged Mitya's chair over and jammed it under the handle

"There!" Fenya nodded with satisfaction.

Daniel nodded firmly "Now we're safe and sound, Fenya."

"yes. Good." she nodded leaning against him. "No vampire prowlers."

"No vampire prowlers." He let himself lean back with a shake of his head. "Though I'd make sure no vampire, wicked doppelganger, or ancient evil could get to us. The power of logic, and a little .45 reassurance can stop any phony supernatural foe we face."

She smiled widely. "given how you fought off the one before,, I believe you.:

He flashed a grin, as he helped her up the stairs. "I intend to do the same with any haunt this place deems fit to throw at us."

She let him help her, leaning close in to him, her ears flicking gently. "How gallant of you, danochka."

His ears tipped back as he cleared his throat. "Well. Gallant isn't something I'm often called."

"Do you fight off many vampires?" she teased.

"No I can't say I've made a habit of it yet." He put his arm around her as they crested the top step. "Though with my luck, perhaps it'll find its way into my routine."

"I imagine you'll get more people calling you gallant then," she nodded. "Hmmmmm." she leaned into him as they returned to their room.

Daniel glanced at her as they shuffled their way towards the bed. "I suppose I would. Wouldn't that be a change from 'whackjob' and 'madman' " He chuckled. "… what is it?"

"I was just thinking I might be a little jealous if you were running around saving people from vampires."

Daniel settled back on the bed, settling beside her with a curious raise of his eyebrow. "Jealous, hm?"

Her ears flicked and she giggled. "Its *our* thing."

Daniel's ears flicked atop his head in response, and he smoothed them out with the palm of his hand. His arm lingered around her as he chuckled. "I suppose it is, isn't it? So I'll be sure to honor that by saving any vampire hunting for when it's you and I together, hm?"

"Perfect," she nodded. "I can hand you the stakes. or bullets I suppose."

"and I'll trust you with the garlic and holy water concoctions." He purred. "and together we'll be an unstoppable team."

"Watch out vampires," she murmured half draped against him. She yawned widely.

He patted her back "Fenya and Daniel are on the case." He stretched "though… perhaps it can wait until sunrise."

"Don't wanna fight vampiresh drunk?" she giggled letting herself fall back on the bed.

Daniel kicked off his boots and dropped his overcoat, before hiding his bag under the bed. "Oh, it doesn't sound like the *best* idea."

"what if the vampires are *also* drunk?" she asked. "…. Doctor…. i don't think I can get my boots off."

Daniel glanced over at her, and tutted his tongue "well I'll just have to help you." He knelt before her,and started removing her boots "If the vampires are drunk… hm. I suppose we'll have to cut them off."

Her boots were quite tall and intricately laced. It wasn't a surprise she wouldn't be able to remove them. "At the neck!" she laughed.

He worked his way from the top to bottom, loosening the laces as he went. "It wouldn't be in vain to aim for the throat, it's true." "Lovely boots, Fenya. These are quite well made."

She giggled, holding her feet still. "Why thank you. I happen to like them."

He pulled her first boot free. "As do I." He said, his tail swishing behind him. "you've got good taste."

The boot came off, revealing her rather delicate foot-paw. She wiggled her toes. "As I've noticed you do too. ooooh it feels good to have off though."

Daniel glanced at her foot before starting on her second boot. "There's nothing like kicking off your boots at the end of the day." He chuckled "but thank you."

"Nothing like it," she agreed. "You know Danochka….."

Daniel pulled her boot from her foot, and set it down next to the other one. "Yes, Fenya?"

"I think I may be rather drunk."

Daniel laughed "I think you might be, yes. *quite drunk* . But you're a charming drunk, so worry not."

"Me? charming?"

"you." Daniel nodded. "Absolutely charming."

"you flatterer," she giggled.

"Should I refrain?" He asked, his ears flicking

"On the contrary."

"Then allow me to continue." He chuckled 'For all the nonsense today had to offer, you were *quite* pleasant company."

"Why I could say the shame of you, doctor," she giggled.

"Shame has nothing to do with it." he laughed

"Oh no?" she asked, her ears flicking as her second boot came off.

"I certainly don't feel ashamed in finding you good company."

"even when I am most wretchedly *drunk*?"

"oh, I'm not in the most sober state myself." He laughed. "and even then."

"You sheem pretty sober to me," she teased. She patted the bed next to her.

He placed her boots off to the side, and hopped on the bed beside her "only because i'm trying *quite* hard to seem so."

"Then it's an effort that;s paying off!" she giggled.

He leaned against her with a chuckle, trying to kick his own boots off. "I wouldn't want to make a fool of myself after all."

She leaned into him, much more openly than she yet had, possibly because of the drink. "Certainly not."

He kept his arm around her as he leaned back. "Regardless, i'm a little worried about your potential hangover, Fenya."

"worried? About me?"

"Oh, very." He leaned heavily on her.

She slumped so that her head was slightly resting on his chest. "I'm touched."

He leaned back, rubbing her shoulder "well, we've gotten to know one another in the past few days. I'd say I've earned a little concern over you."

"Well… I suppose you're welcome to be concerned. It's a bit sweet," she giggled, her ears flicking.

Daniel put his hand to his chest "me, sweet? Now that's a concept"

"I know," she nodded sagely and drunkenly. "It's like finding out that *I'm* not all bad."

"shock, I think we've made a valuable discovery here tonight"

"Imagine! perhaps we should use alcohol in *all* our research!"

"that could yield some interesting results, I'm certain" he leaned back against her, before tipping down and falling on the bed

"Whoops!" she giggled as he fell next to her. "Yes indeed!"

"oops" he laughed "though I can't imagine the deans would much like that "

She held up a finger. "Maybe….. maybe…. they can shove it where the sun doesn't shine!"

He laughed "perhaps they'd actually learn a thing or two if they did"

"Like how to be polite to researchers!"

"and how to appreciate *real* science"

She curled her body slightly against him. "That will shock everyone involved!"

"we would revolutionize the scientific world, no doubt" He rested his arm under her head again, chuckling. "Amazing."

She lay happily on his arm, a big, drunken smile on her face. "We shaved the day."

"saved it even" he chuckled "though I suppose we couldn't save all it's fur"

She snickered leaning her head into his shoulder. "That would be funny."

Daniel chuckled, putting his hand atop her head. "wouldn't it? A day utterly defined by it's baldness."

She leaned into his hand. "Letsss not go bald."

"I'm sure you could alchemize something to prevent it, Fenya." His fingers idly ran through the strands of her curly hair, near her ears.

She giggled. "That might be worth asss much asss the gooold."

"Imagine all the fatcats back home." he laughed, his finger brushing her ear "with their thinning scalps and patchy fur."

"Oh I can *imagine* alright," she grinned, nuzzling his hand.

"They'd pay through the snout for a cure of that nature." He laughed, scratching the base of her ear.

Fenya couldn't help herself. She started to purr.

Daniel chuckled, continuing to scratch her ear. "well that's an awfully precious noise."

her ears flicked embarrassedly and she squirmed against him. "I can't exactly help it with you doing that!"

His own ears flicked, and he shifted to scratch along the side of her ear instead. "no I imagine I'd do much the same in your situation."

"What would you do if I did that?" she asked, her foot kicking gently.

who knows." Daniel chuckled. "It's a mystery."

"A mystery I;'ll solve!" she said, but it was cut off by a yawn. "when I'm not about to fall assleep."

Daniel laughed, and smoothed out the fur on her ears, before finally pulling his hand away "perhaps that's the best idea."

"Did you have sooomething else in mind?" she asked, still against his shoulder.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, his ears flicking "something else?"

She giggled and looked at him with golden eyes. "You said it's the best idea. as if you had another one."

His ears flicked back, as his face started to burn "ah, well… it… it would likely be in our best interest to get a bit of sleep."

"Yuuup, thaaaats what I said," she grinned widely.

His ears flicked more firmly, as he cleared his throat "i ah..well. Hm."

her moonlike yellow green eyes locked with his gaze, a big grin on her face.

Daniel's face was bright red under his fur, his ears flattening somewhat in embarrassment.

She can;t help but break into another giggle fit-- this time hiding her own face with her pillow.

Daniel sank into the sheets with a laugh of his own "you're teasing me, aren't you?"

She continued to giggle into the pillow, kicking her bare feet.

He laughed, shaking his head. "you are. And I'm the fool. Daniel the fool."

She sucked in a deep breath-- still on the pillow-- and crooked her finger, beckoning him closer.

He leaned in close to her, "hmm?"

She sat up suddenly and pressed her lips to his in a surprising move. "There! would I kiss a fool?"

His ears flattened as their lips met, his face burning with flustered surprise. "mmph!" His tail thumped against the bed before he managed "n-no, certainly not. I can't imagine why you would."

She giggled again, and then seemed to realize what she'd done-- covering her face with her hands.

Daniel cleared his throat. "well, the drink brings out something quite bold in you, Fenya" he laughed, his ears flicking atop his head.

Her ears flicked. "It must be my mosgravan side," she half-squeaked.

"well, it's certainly intriguing." he leaned over to rustle her ears again. "I have something to thank Mosgrav for."

She leaned into his hand, though with much more embarrassment this time. "I…. suppose I do as well. Goodness. No wonder my mother told me not to go in bars."

"I can certainly see her point." He laughed. "Do you regret it?"

"Not one bit!"

He smiled, his ear twitching "neither do I. So I'm rather glad you braved the bar with me."

"Good!"

"I wouldn't mind another, admittedly"

"Oh no?"

He chuckled "Well… you are charming?"

She flushed and her ears flicked embarrassedly. "I guess that makes two of us."

"Though perhaps we should save it for the morning." He teased. "after the hangover has passed."

"Maybe just *one* more. And then we'll be good and go to bed."

"It's a deal, Fenya." he purred "one kiss and then bed."

"One kiss and then bed," she agreed, ears flicking. She leaned in.

He leaned close, his hands resting on her shoulders as he took a deep breath.

Fenya let her lips press to his-- less chastely this time.

Daniel, now prepared and less surprised, returns the kiss with the same lack of chastity, pressing her slightly into the bed as he holds her.

Fenya hesitantly put her arm around him and leaned into the kiss.

The two Scientists embraced in atop their borrowed sheets, kissing deeply and eagerly in the Mosgravian night.

After the kiss finally broke, Fenya buried her face in Daniel's shoulder again.

Daniel brushed his fingers through her hair as he lay back with a smile on his face. "… well. I'd say that was even better than the first.."

She nodded against his shoulder, ears flicking. "Definitely." Came her muffled response.

"Ah.." his ears flicked "i'm feeling a tad dizzy." he laughed, "don't know if that's on account of the alcohol or..well.'

"As am I," she agreed, easing slightly off of him. "Perhaps we should…. call it a night."

"Perhaps we can" He laughed, tugging his collar. "If nothing else I'd like to get out of these clothes…." He paused "..an..and into some proper bedclothes."

"I'm glad you added that part or I might have felt misled!"

He flushed, his ears flattening again "… well hell, while we're both *drunk?* "

"I;ve heard it's… traditional?"

He raised his eyebrow "tradition, is it?"

"At least according to the sorts of trashy novels I've sheen passet around!"

His ears flicked "Well we can't discount a source that reputable, can we?" he joked

"We can't! though it doesn't mean its *good* advice."

He laughed "No, we can't. Given it's source I'd say it's dubious at best."

Fenya nodded against the bed. "Truth be told… I'm not certain how mush long I'm be awake."

"Then perhaps we'll put it on the backburner for another time, Fenya."

he winked at her.

She attempted to wink back, but just managed to close both her eyes. "Letsss change for bed."

"think you can get dressed on your own, or are you likely to fall over." he teased

"Ahhh… that's rather a difficult question!"

"isn't it?" he stood, wobbled a bit, but avoided falling down. "Let me just… change, then… we'll see if you need any help, hm?"

"Alright!" she nodded. "Try not to strain yourself!" she giggled

"mmm." Daniel smirked "we'll see if I can manage."

He started to undress himself.

He had…. some difficulty.

"hm." Daniel said, as he got his head stuck in his shirt.

Fenya giggled from the bed. "Not as eashy ash it lookssss."

Daniel wobbled, nearly falling over as he failed once more to get his shirt off his head. He was baring an awful lot of chest in the process, too.

"Oh my!" Fenya laughed. It was unclear which elicited the response, the chest or the falling.

Daniel finally tore his shirt from his head with a gasp of air. His ears were pricked up and his tail was bushed as he tossed it aside "dammit."

"Well done, doctor!"

Daniel huffed, smoothing out his tail with his hands "Just you wait, I'll ace the next bit."

"I'm sure you'll get full marks."

Daniel attempted to rid himself of his trousers next "are… you going to be watching this next part?"

"oh ahh…. perhaps not." she squeaks, burying her face in a pillow.

Daniel laughed, and started to pull them down, hoping that he didn't tangle his legs along the way

he did a bit-- but he managed to get them off at least.

Daniel tossed his clothes into a heap, and stretched "now where did I put those bedclothes.."

That was a mystery…..

He looked around with a frown "… dammit."

Ahah! they were right on the chair!

He grinned, and grabbed them. Now the hard part… he started to dress.

It was hard… but he DID manage to conquer the task.

He dusted himself off with a laugh "Hah! Well. that's done with." He glanced towards the bed. "now it's your turn."

Fenya was breathing evenly, face half-stuck in her pillow.

His ears flicked "you weren't looking, were you?" He asked with a raise of his eyebrow

She didn't answer.

His ears flicked "well regardless, the deed is done!"

Fenya snored.

"… ah, she's asleep." Daniel walked back to the bed, and tucked her in with a soft chuckle "I suppose it won't hurt to sleep in her clothes tonight."

He slipped into bed beside her, and stretched "it'll be a long day tomorrow, however."

The rain pattered against the window soothingly and as soon as Daniel eased into bed, Fenya's body shifted up against him, a warm weight.

He simply curled up against her, and let himself finally drift off to sleep.

Daniel is awoken sometime later in the black of night to the sound of loud banging.

Daniel shot up, looking first at the great window overhead.

*something* looked back at him.

Daniel was too startled to look away. He stared it dead in the eyes, rooted to his place on the bed. What in hell *was* it?

Whatever it was-- it was beating at the window, trying to get in. Was it some kind of starved dog??

Wait…. this was the second floor.

Daniel felt a chill run up his spine, as he leaned up and pressed at the window with both hands….trying to help it stay shut He hissed, using the opportunity to look the damned thing in the eyes… to get a logical shape of it…

he could see a face…. or something like a face, pressed to the glass. A pair of grey hands pushing at the window.

Daniel pressed back, his eyes narrowed against the horror on the other side. "what in the name of reason *are* you?" he hissed, nudging Fenya with his foot. "Fenya. I need that knife or my Gun."

Fenya was Out Cold.

Daniel grimaced "on my own then." He banged the window at the beast "SHOO!"

The thing banged another time-- and then vanished.

Daniel fell back to the bed, his heart hammering in his chest "…." then he leapt up, and grabbed the bag with the knife and his pistol belt.

The rain pattered outside. He managed to grab his bag.

He pulled it onto his lap, drawing the knife and settling back on the bed with Fenya. "….I won't be able to sleep after that." he hissed.

Strangely though, the pounding lull of the rain, and the alcohol in his system do take their toll, and he finds himself quickly dozing.

After it all… he did slip back into the land of dreams.


Day Two: Diagnosis

Chapter 3: Day Two: Diagnosis

Day Two: Diagnosis


When Daniel woke up the room was full with a grey light, and cold as a devil's taint. The rain was still pounding on the window. Fenya was curled around him.

Daniel held her close as he caught his breath. Memories of last night's horror resurfaced as he pushed his bag… and it's weapon… away from himself "Damn it.."

Had that really happened? The bag in his lap said yes, but it felt like a dream.

Fenya stirred against him.

"Good morning Fenya." his voice was hoarse as he spoke.

"nnnn? Danochka?" she takes a breath and coughs into her hand. "It's *freezing*."

They hadn't lit a fire last night.

Daniel nodded, leaning closer to her "….we forgot the fire."

"Ah." She pressed her palm to her forehead, leaning against him heavily. "Hmmm… I think I do need to make that hangover cure."

Daniel put his arm around her, nodding slowly "….that would probably be for the best." He glanced up at the window "….i think we should block off that window every night from now on, as an aside."

She looked up at it. "I don't disagree… but what makes you say?"

Daniel rubbed his eyes, grimacing at the slight headache last night had caused "….I think something tried to get in. Woke me from a dead sleep."

Fenya frowned. "Get in? Like, a cat burglar?"

Daniel pressed his hand to his face with a shake of his head. "you wouldn't believe me if I described it to you. It was likely a dream… or… the darkness playing tricks on me, but.."

"Better safe than sorry," she murmured. She slid into a sitting position next to him.

He sat up slowly "It looked like some horrible combination of man and beast. Grey, snarling like a hound."

"Well that sounds…. horrifying…"

"It wasn't the finest way to wakeup, that's for certain."

"Sorry to hear it," she nodded standing as well. She wobbled slightly and put a hand on her head. "Uuuhhhh."

Daniel reached out to steady her "Let's get that hangover cure started, shall we?"

"Yes that will…. certainly be for the best," she said, leaning on him for a moment before moving over to the table and her chemical supplies. "Could I perhaps ask you to start the fire?"

Daniel nodded, and walked over to the fire, where he gathered the materials to start it up . "Next time… we really shouldn't forget the fire."

"No that was definitely a mistake," she nodded, hand on her head briefly before she got to work.

"We were a bit too preoccupied to notice." he chuckled tiredly, as he worked to start the fire up

"So we were," she said, ears flicking. "Do you ah….."

"remember it?" Daniel asked as he added another log, lighting the fire on the kindling beneath it. "yes, I..ah, do" His ears flicked.

"… as do I," she nodded, ears flushed.

Daniel cleared his throat "well ah. I wouldn't exactly take most of what was said *back* "

"I ah, think I might be a bit annoyed if you did," she admitted.

"likewise." he said with a flick of his ears. "No, I meant it all. but it certainly all came out at once."

"I suppose that's the power of strong drinks…."

Daniel's ears flicked again, as the fire roared. "Especially when you have two too many."

"Yes ah, I think I'd better hold myself to two at the most if we do that again."

"likewise." he chuckled, "we can avoid the hangover….and the falling asleep before we even get dressed in our nightclothes."

She looked down at her clothes. "Er… yes. Not the most comfortable proposition, that."

"No, I can't imagine so" He warmed his hand by the fire. "I would have woken you but you were dead asleep."

"I don't even remember dreaming," she said shaking her head. "So I must have been."

"you were well and truly out of it weren't you?" He mused.

"I must have been if I slept in my clothes and you couldn't even wake me up for monsters at the window!"

"I wish I could have." Daniel mused "a second opinion would have been a good thing to have."

"I would have loved to give you my opinion," she agreed. "Even if it was to help you out of some kind of waking nightmare."

Daniel walked back to the bed, and sat upon it with his head in his hand "First burglars who don't take anything, then *that* monstrosity." He smirked "I'm not a man to believe in curses, but that was certainly a run of bad luck."

"It certainly was," she agreed, she sighed. "Oh… did you want to have a look at that doll by the way? or wait until *after* i've cured our headaches?"

"I'm clear headed enough to take a look now." He stretched, and looked Fenya over before grabbing his bag. He reached in and searched out the doll.

The doll was at the top of her bag, wooden and old.

Daniel pulled it out, and turned it over in his hands to inspect it. "I'll need my tools."

The doll is lighter than it looks like it ought to be. It *certainly* is hollow. It's also evident at a glance from the way the blood has darkened that it's human. "They're here," Fenya motioned as she worked at her own little set up.

"Coated in human blood." Daniel murmured, giving Fenya a nod as he walked to his equipment. "hollow. I'll have to break it open after I take some samples from the outer casing."

Fenya had set his equipment up on the other side of the large tea table. There was a comfortable chair, and all of the supplies he had brought with him that were too heavy, delicate, or valuable to walk around with on his person.

Daniel sat in his chair, and got to work. First he took some scrapings of the blood, putting it on a slide… then some of the wood itself for another slide. He investigated the blood, first, under his microscope.

There wasn't too much he could tell from the old, dried blood, but it was definitely human, and it seemed healthy. Young even.

"The blood of a child, perhaps? They did say that they were made when a child was born." He murmured to himself as he checked the wood scrapings next

The wood was pale, and a bit pulpy-- was there more he was trying to understand about it?

He was trying to see if there was anything visibly different than average wood. He'll do chemical tests after, but for now he's establishing a baseline.

It seems like pretty normal wood. It is VERY pale though.

"hm. I'll have to try to test for chemical reactions." He glances at the doll "but first…" He reaches for a small saw with miniscule teeth, and grabs the doll "let's break this open…..we'll put it back together once we're finished, of course."

The doll, which is about as long as his palm, and pearlike in shape, rests on the table, waiting to be sawed open.

Daniel put it on it's side, resting it on a metal tray. Slowly, he started to saw it about a third of the way down.

He didn't have long to saw-- about half an inch- before the saw seemed to hit the hollow space. As he kept sawing he started to smell something.

Daniel pulled his mask up, but not before he caught a whiff of the smell. What did it smell like? "Fenya, put some facial protection on."

Fenya already had her mask on and gave him a thumbs up. "Got it." It smelled…. dessicated.

Daniel grimaced "we may need to air the room out when i'm done." He took care to crack the doll in half. "this smells vile."

"Yes I have to agree with you there," she nodded.

The more the smell filled the room the more Daniel recognized it. Dried placenta.

"… ah." Daniel said, cutting it the rest of the way open 'It's a placenta."

"Seriously?" Indeed, as the doll came apart, the old, dessicated and mummified remains of the placenta spilled onto the table.

Daniel nodded. "the inside of the dolls contain a dried placenta, and are coated in the child's blood.

"Well, I guess that tracks with what we know so far. Disgusting practice."

"Mmm" Daniel nodded "not much of a fan of it myself." He turned it over and placed the placenta on a slide, looking at it closer.

It was probably about 20 or 30 years old from what he could tell.

"20-30 years old." Daniel mused. "I wonder whose this was."

"If we could figure out what was written on the label we might know."

Daniel looked the label over. "hm… it's likely that nobody quite remembers this language."

"Unfortunate for our purposes."

"very." Daniel said, tapping it "so… nothing 'extraordinary' about it. Simply a placenta, some light wood, and blood."

"dare I ask what you were expecting?"

"admittedly, i'm not sure." Daniel chuckled "from the secrecy it could have been anything." He scraped off some placenta and wood into a petri dish, and spritzed it with a chemical compound. "Perhaps a kind of mold is present?"

"Very likely," Fenya agreed, stirring some kind of concoction.

Mostly when he inspects it all he sees is typical tissue deterioration… there's *something* else there but he can't put his finger on it.

"Fenya, can you take a look at this for me? there's something about this that I feel I'm missing."

Fenya stood, steadying herself for a moment. "Let me see…."

Daniel stepped away from the dish

Fenya stepped up to it, and peered in.

She frowned, and looked closer, frowning more deeply. "There's something familiar about the way this looks. I can't make heads or tails of it though I'm afraid."

"Damn it." Daniel muttered "Maybe I'll try again after that hangover cure clears my head somewhat."

"Might be for the best," she agreed. "It's just about done."

"excellent" Daniel stretched, and put the saw down "….I doubt it, but I was sort of hoping there might be some link between the disease and these objects."

"You think there could be?" she poured the cure into a pair of mugs.

"It's possible… from what I've heard, the town's troubles all started with the death of their local leaders… who were the only ones who knew for certain how to make these things."

She passed him a mug. "Hmmm… that's certainly true. I wonder if they did anything else significant besides make these? and run the town, obviously."

"it sounds like they presided over the births….made these objects… ran the town." He thought for a long moment "Oversaw rituals… which were likely all nonsense or..at the very least… a show layered over an actual beneficial action."

"It sounds like we should put some time into finding out more about them perhaps."

"it seems so." Daniel agreed, taking the mug and drinking it down.

It tasted mostly like rather watery coffee, with an undertone of yeastyness.

it was… fine… enough that he drank it down in a few gulps. "hm. Would I regret asking what's in it?"

"Only if I gave you the answers at the macro level," she shrugged.

"please." Daniel said, and placed the empty mug down.

"Caffeine, potassium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, sucrose, carnitine, and ascorbic acid."

Daniel nodded "all part of a balanced breakfast."

"I think it might taste better cold," she nodded. "But we were in a hurry."

"let's give it a try some other time." he chuckled "for now it hits the spot."

Indeed, his headache was already starting to subside. "Excellent. Some breakfast probably wouldn't go amiss either."

"likely not." He stretched "but now that my headache is gone… i'd like to take one more look at that sample."

"Be my guest," she nodded, gesturing at it.

Now that his eyes were properly functioning, it seemed obvious. It was difficult to see but there was *movement*.

"….well. Will you look at that." he murmured "it's moving." He watched the moving particles closely.

Their movement was familiar. In fact…. wasn't it the same way that the particles in the blood sample the day before were moving?

"I was right, Fenya." Daniel said, watching them move "there's a link!" "the same living *moving* specimens in the infected blood sample are all over this sample as well! the dolls and the plague *are* connected!"

"You're joking! how old is that sample?" she peered over his shoulder-- not that she could see anything.

"over 20 years old and it's still got these animate particles." He backed away and offered the microscope to her.

She peered in it and her mouth opened gently. "Damn…. it *does* look awfully similar. But instead of it being in the blood, it's in all the tissue…"

Daniel nodded "infesting it. Like a parasite of sorts"

"If it's a parasite, ‘how can it survive so long in dead tissue’ is the question. Unless that's common and I'm merely ignorant on the subject?"

"no it's… odd." he frowned "whatever it is,it's… unique. and it's clearly dangerous."

"Clearly," she nodded. "The question is what is it and what do we do about it?"

"that's the question." He mused. "… This sample is invaluable, you know." He smiled "we can test various ways to kill this thing….and then once we find one that sticks… we simply test how effective it is in a living body."

"oh that's clever!" she nodded.

Daniel chuckled "isn't it?" he glanced at the sample with a smirk "We'll start with simple sterilizing agents."

"Always a good idea to start with the basics," she agreed with a similar look on her face.

"After that… we'll start looking at more complicated means… and perhaps asking around for more information on these 'witches' of theirs."

"Sounds like an excellent plan, doctor."

"I don't have a doubt in my mind that we'll crack this thing, Fenya."

He carefully began putting away the samples in small beakers and vials, sealing them with corks and setting them at the center of the table for later study.

"If you're confident then so am I, Danochka."

Daniel nodded to her, smiling thinly "We just have to be quick about it before the damn thing starts to spread."

"Indeed," she nodded. "So given that what would you say is our next move?"

Daniel thought for a moment "try to procure supplies for your chemistry, so we can start developing possible cures… get a sample of a living tree from the grove….check on our patients and… see if any of our contacts can be of any use to us."

"Into town we go then," she smiled. "I'd ah, better change clothes first."

Daniel chuckled "and I should get out of my pajamas."

"Unless you want to make a *very*casual impression."

"oh yes, that's the way to the town's heart." He drawled "I'm certain of it."

She giggled and her ears flicked. "Well if you're *sure*."

"Yes, everyone wants to see me in my silk pajamas, clearly. That won't make them laugh at all"

"Definitely not. Serious mosgravans never laugh. Not even when they're drunk."

Daniel chuckled "you were laughing an awful lot last night."

"That must be my ridiculous astorian side," she protested amusedly, ears twitching.

"oh you must be mistaken." Daniel grinned "astorians are notoriously serious."

"Oh is that so?" she purred.

"oh absolutely. You can tell just from our rich culture of stuffy superiority."

"Hmmm you may be right about that," she grinned slyly.

Daniel's ear twitched "so it's a mystery where those giggles of yours came from, if it wasn't your Mosgravian side, nor your Astorian side."

"A true mystery indeed," she nodded. "We may have to run further tests."

"I'm for it if you are, Professor" Daniel picked up his bag with a wink "shall we?"

She stood. "Lets." After a few minutes the two were dressed and ready for the day.

Daniel headed downstairs 'I wonder if Mitya will be cross with us for blocking the door."

"…. I had forgotten about that," she said quietly as they headed down.

"As had I." Daniel mused "but given the situation last night, it was an important step to take for our safety." He walked to the door, and removed the chair.

Mitya-- from behind the counter jolted. "Oh! did you put that there?"

"I had to crawl in a window you know!"

Daniel jolted in surprise "….there… was a window left unblocked?"

"Unblocked in that it finally opened after I rattled it for half an hour! I nearly went to the guard."

Daniel grimaced "….we had a break in last night. And a second attempted one later in the evening."

"Oh dear…" he rubbed his face. "I take it it wasn't you who threw the letters everywhere then…"

"No, that would be our nocturnal interloper… who also went through my bloody things upstairs." He put his hand on his hip. "then some unholy maniac went banging on my window in the dead of night… on the second damned floor." He shook his head "so we took a few precautions."

"I…. see. Well I can hardly fault you for that," he sighed.

"Indeed. Sorry for getting in the way of your work, however."

"It's alright," he said sighing again. "I've spent most of the morning getting the letters back in order. I'm afraid the mail's going to be delayed."

"Did you lock up last night?" Daniel asked "… because if you did you may wish to invest in better locks."

"I mean I THINK I did," he said rubbing his face.

"you may want to be sure… and invest in those locks anyway."

"Yes, I'll see if I can get the money for it," he sighed.

"I'll see what I can do to help, hm? I've got a little money saved up for my venture here, after all."

"I couldn't possibly take your money, doctor…" he protested.

"please. It's for both *my* security and yours, Mitya."

He frowned. "if I can't get my father to pay for it I *might* allow you to make a donation."

"Good." Daniel pat his shoulder "Because I'd really like to know I can sleep soundly in my bed, eh? *without* inconveniencing my gracious host."

He smiled. "well that is a nice thought. I'm sorry about your sleep last night, doctor."

"oh, it's alright." Daniel said "no harm was done… at least as far as I could tell."

"Aide from the mess," he nodded. "Oh… if there are any letters for you I haven't spotted them yet."

"Ah, that's fair." Daniel nodded slowly "If you see any, please try to send word."

"I sure will," he nodded.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Yes. I have some very important samples upstairs….can you make sure nobody gets in to touch them? They're potentially….dangerous."

"Absolutely. Nobody should be going up there anyway," he nodded.

"It's much appreciated Mitya… as I said, someone rifled through my things last night… and these samples are *very* important."

"I'll protect them with my life, sir."

Daniel bowed "you have my thanks, Mitya."

The postmaster gave him a salute in return.

Daniel nodded. "Keep up the good work, lad. I'll be going now."

"Take care you two," Mitya nods, waving them on their way as they go.

Daniel waved, and turned to head out the door and into the day.

It was stiflingly foggy, and the sky was almost as dark as it had been the day before.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "….nasty day out isn't it, Fenya?"

"It certainly is," she said, scooching closer to him. "Absolutely dreadful."

He nodded, keeping close as he opened his umbrella… just in case. "it's nearly as dark as night."

"So it is," she said, gazing up at the sky. There were places where the clouds seemed even blacker. "Danochka…."

Daniel frowned, following her gaze "yes, Fenya?"

"Doesn't it look like the clouds are coming from the rookery?"

Daniel frowned deeply, staring at the Rookery with a raise of his eyebrow. "….that's impossible…"

Indeed it did look like a large plume of black smoke was rising into the air and becoming the clouds. Wait…. hadn't there been smoke coming from the tower yesterday? They'd never found any source for that.

"…." "what's going on in there." Daniel frowned, "… i think we should find out."

She nodded. "I heartily agree…"

"Shall we make that our first stop after breakfast?"

"Absolutely, doctor."

He nodded, and headed towards the inn "I wonder if it's common around here… I'll ask while we eat."

"Are we going back to granny's then?"

Daniel nodded. "Seems like the best place to grab a bite around these parts. Dinner was promised to our friends at the farmhouse, however."

Fenya nodded. "Oh yes. well, we probably need to visit them again anyway."

"Especially to check on our patient." He headed towards Granny's pub.

"Which I suppose we *must*."

"I'll admit, I'm not much a fan of the man." Daniel said, pushing the door open.

"I didn't even know him and I don't like him," she said. The pub was much quieter this morning than it had been the night before. Just a few, rather grumpy customers sat around, the little assistant running around fetching plates. Probably few people wanted to brave the weather even if they were locals.

Daniel gave the assistant a little wave, before he sat by the counter with a thin smile "he's been nothing but a problem. That's enough to make him an irritation."

"However he went and got himself sick it was probably being a nuisance too."

"From all we heard? Absolutely. Sticking his nose into everyone's business and being a downright pill."

"I don't believe in hexes but if I were a witch I'd do it."

Daniel laughed out loud "you know what? So would i."

Fofka padded over with a pair of bowls. "Breakfast?"

"Yes, if you don't mind, Fofka."

He pushed the two bowls onto the table. "Drinks coming."

"Thank you," Fenya said, giving him a smile.

"Much appreciated." Daniel purred, flashing a grin "coffee if you don't mind."

The child bobs his head and hurries off.

Daniel looks into the bowl, stretching out the cricks in his back

"Feeling alright?" Fenya asks. "Oh… you slept sitting up part of the night didn't you?"

He nodded slowly "thanks to our visitor." he grimaced "….it wasn't comfortable, but it was necessary."

"If you want, I could help keep watch this evening."

"If you wouldn't mind." he sighed "we can alternate." He takes a bite of the morning meal.

"Doesn't bother me," she nodded. "It seems sadly necessary." The food was a heavy porridge, all carbs and fat-- very much a laborer's breakfast. It was extremely densely flavored, and Daniel felt like if he ate very much of it he wouldn't be hungry until well toward dinner time.

Lucky for him, he wasn't planning on stopping for lunch. He dug into it. "sadly I believe it is… and if we get another look at the thing, we can figure out just what it *is*"

"I certainly hope we can," she nodded. "You don't think it was the vampire do you?"

"It might have been." He mused "for a given value of 'vampire' "

"Obviously it can't be a *real* vampire," she agreed as the boy brought them their coffee.

"but it very well could be that horribly lanky gentleman we tried to gun down the other night for the assault of the shop clerk."

"That's exactly what I was thinking," she nodded

"Perhaps he came by for a spot of revenge." he mused

"Could be…. also I know we were considering that Rook fellow…"

"it's possible as well." Daniel agreed "there's a few options."

"We haven't *exactly* made a string of enemies, but…."

"we may have taken a step or two towards a few peoples bad sides." He drawled

"It's a possibility," she agreed dryly.

"especially given our liberal acquisition of research materials." He smirked.

"I *have* heard that some people disagree with such scientific methods."

"a shame. But unavoidable in a town like this." he sighed

"very," she agreed. "We'll just have to soldier on."

"In the name of Astoria, Science, and our own ambitions, we must do what we must"

"So we must," she agreed with a smile.

He grinned "cheers, Fenya. To science."

She raised her coffee and clinked it against his. "To science."

He grinned, and tipped the coffee back in a long sip.

It was good coffee.

Damn good coffee. and he was going to need it. He finished it and gestured for refill. He returned to his meal "….Hopefully we can find out what's going on with that smoke."

"If it is smoke," she said. "Could be steam."

"it could be." he mused "That could also be steam. It could also have some oil in it."

"Oil…. hmm that would certainly thicken it."

"It seems… curiously thick."

Fenya nodded. "So it seems. Perilously difficult to sample the air of course."

"Terribly, though we can try to get a dish out over it and see if we can catch any particles."

"I'm willing to try if you are."

"It's a plan then." he chuckled 'lets hope we can find the source."

"Well we know where we have to check at least."

"the Rookery itself" he finished off his porridge and placed the money on the counter.

She nodded, finishing hers too. "Exactly." Granny leaned over. "Heading off to the Rookery eh?"

Daniel nodded. "to see what's going on with that thick smoke."

"Smoke?" Granny raised a silver eyebrow.

"you don't see it? the thing's letting off more smoke than a factory."

"Can't see a damn thing with this fog," she said with a smile

"… the fog's practically coming from the damned thing."

"How strange," she said, shaking her head.

"You really can't tell?"

"Sky ain't the thing I spend most of my time looking at." She smiled.

Daniel got the impression that while she was telling the truth, she wasn't exactly being *honest*.

"no I suppose not." He folded his hands "Granny, You're a good woman, so don't take this as any disrespect… but I feel there's more to this than you're telling me. Would you mind parting with the whole truth?"

She snorted. "What's that, young man? You'll have to speak up, I'm a little deaf in my good ear."

"I feel that there's *more* to what you're saying than what you're *telling* me" he said a little loudly, and clearly.

She cupped her ear. "Ehhh? there's *war* at the *spelling bee*? What kind of nonsense is that?"

Daniel's smile grew a little rictus. "There's MORE to what you're SAYING than what you are TELLING ME" he says, even louder.

Fenya covered her mouth, looking somewhere between amused and irritated.

what patrons were left were staring now.

"Eh? More? Can't say there is, sonny!"

Daniel tented his hands "Granny." He slowly pointed his tented hands her way "why? why this?"

"Why what?" she grinned that old woman grin. "Why the pub? Somebody's gotta feed people."

"Oh absolutely. What a saint you are, Granny. I *appreciate your help immensely.* . Now if you excuse me I have to stop your people from bloody *dying* of a horrendously painful plague." He bowed "Good day."

"Aye, good luck with that, youngun," she nodded.

"I'll need it." He said, turning to walk out of the room *especially if everyone's as unhelpful as this.*

Fenya followed him shaking her head. "well that was…"

"Irritating." Daniel finished for her.

"Vastly."

"I have to wonder why she isn't willing to damn well *say* anything. "

"It might just be because she's an annoying old lady. But…"

"she's hiding something." Daniel said "that much is clear."

"She IS the oldest person I've seen around…"

"I can't help but feel she's firmly on the side of our superstitious lot, and likely finds our interference irritating."

"Very potentially," Fenya nodded. "Maybe we should find some way to corner her…."

"If we work together, I feel we can manage it."

"We should certainly try," she agreed.

"It's a plan." he chuckled 'Perhaps if we get a moment today or tomorrow." He headed towards the Rookery

She followed after him, back the way they had come from the post office.

"Let's hope… in vain I'm sure… that Rook will be open to talk to us today."

"Hopefully," she agreed, turning her collar up as the rain began. They couldn't see very far in all the mist.

Daniel kept close to her, his lips tight as they pushed through the thickening mist. "This weather is terrible"

"Feels like it keeps getting worse."

"Every moment." He agreed "I almost expect the sky to turn black as night at this rate."

"I wouldn't be surprised," she frowned. They got closer to the tower which loomed even in the fog.

Daniel glanced up at it… was it still billowing smoke?

There was still the plume of black coming from its tip and spiraling lazily into the rest of the dark sky.

"… there's something so odd about that dark smoke." he muttered

"we certainly didn't see any place for a fire in the tower."

"no, I didn't see anything like that." He frowned "… which is what worries me."

"I suppose it could be some chemical byproduct…."

"Of what, though, is the question.."

"It certainly is," she mused. "I know of a few compounds that could make that effect but it would be difficult to get the ingredients in quantity.

"Is that so?" He asked "..i doubt Rook's just got them lying about."

"I didn't see any, but I suppose we can't rule it out."

"are they dangerous?" he asked curiously "the chemicals."

"About half of them," she nodded. "the others are merely a nuisance."

"Great. Just what we need….a mad occultist pumping chemicals into the sky."

"Sounds like home," she joked

"doesn't it?" he smirked, “if you replace occultists with industrialist."

"Same idea, different word."

Daniel laughed "you know Fenya… if nothing else, meeting you makes this trip quite worth it."

She smiled and her ears flicked as she leaned a little closer. "Well, I'm pleased to hear that in any case."

Daniel offered his arm as they approached the looming structure. "As am I. You're certainly good company."

The structure loomed there, solid and menacing as it had before.

"I'd say that makes two of us then."

Daniel gave her a smile, before he walked for the trapdoor with her nearby.

It was a good thing he had a rough idea where it was or he'd never find it with the fog roiling around their ankles. As it was, he only barely managed.

Daniel pulled the trapdoor up, and gestured inside. "let's go solve a mystery."

At least-- he tried that. This time the door opened a sliver and then stopped short.

It was chained from inside.

Daniel frowned deeply "… he's locked us out."

"How dare he," Fenya says dryly.

"Do you have anything in that kit of yours that might weaken that chain?"

her smirk curls. "are you suggesting breaking and entering?"

"It's… urban archeology."

"Ahh of course," she nodded. "In that case I might have something."

Daniel smirked thinly "please."

She swung her bag off her shoulder and started to rummage through it.

Daniel waited in the fog, his hands in his jacket pockets.

Fenya rummaged in her bag for a moment before bringing out a pair of thick gloves and two vials. She put the gloves on first, before pouring the contents of one vial into the other. As it started to hiss, she poured it on the part of the door with the chair. The hissing got louder, and Daniel could see the stuff eating away at the wood.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "impressive stuff, Fenya. Quite impressive."

"Many thanks," she purred. She stuffed the empty vial with a cloth and put it back in her pack. The mixture ate away a fist sized chunk of the door, and Daniel heard the chair fall loose.

Daniel reached in and pulled the door open with a smile, "shall we pay Rook a visit?"

"Lets," she nodded, shouldering her bag again.

Daniel stepped into the darkened area, and once more descended into the Rookery

He didn't seem to be about as they descended the short staircase into the lowest room above the cairne.

Daniel glanced around it, his hand resting at his side "what say we go to the top?"

"Seems logical to me," she nodded.

Daniel nodded, and began to ascend the tower once more

They headed up the stairs to the second floor where the strange books and the stone podiums were.

Daniel once more looked around this room, before he moved to head up the ladder. Was anything in here making that smoke?

There didn't seem to be anything in here. It was a pretty open room.

Daniel nodded, and continued up the ladder.

Rook's bedroom with its shelves full of small stones and old bones.

Daniel looked around the room carefully this time. Looking for a way further up, perhaps… or for the source of the smoke.

There was the trap door in the ceiling that would lead to the apparent highest level-- the unlit one where he had been caught the day before.

Looking up at the trap door he came to the realization that there was *definitely* no chimney in here. How did it stay warm? they certainly weren't freezing like the post office.

Daniel frowned deeper "….there's no chimney in here Fenya… yet it's warm. Not like the post. That means…"

"There's something else keeping it warm," she murmured. "And it's not fire…. At least not a fire in this room."

"We saw the cairne…" He frowned 'and we should investigate that top room, I suppose. But.." He looked at her with a raise of his eyebrow "do you think it's chemical, somehow?"

"I would think it would have to be." she said. "Unless he's feeding a fire somewhere in here and piping it out."

"possible." Daniel murmured "but why would it produce so MUCH smoke. It's like a factory."

"That's the question," she agreed. "and is it intentional or a side effect."

"I suppose the only thing we can do is locate the source." He gestured, and started to climb up "let's start by going up here."

She nodded and followed after him.

It was still black as pitch up there.

Daniel frowned, and looked at Fenya "Do you still have that light?"

"No, I left it with the equipment so I could run some tests…."

Daniel nodded slowly "ah. well." he rummaged in his pack to see if he'd perhaps brought his matches. "we can always steal another, or….hopefully I might have something of use here…

He does not in fact have his matches. And he hears a cough from below them.

"Damn it." Daniel muttered under his breath. "hello." He called down the ladder "we saw smoke coming from your Rookery and were afraid there might have been a bit of a situation"

"We have to stop meeting like this, Doctor," the Rook says dryly from below them.

Daniel shrugged his shoulders "it must be fate, my dear Rook." he purred

"I'm terribly sorry to hear that you're fated to hang around in my dusty attic so much."

"we can't all have lofty destinies, I suppose." Daniel said, "do you have a light?"

"I do," Rook said while Fenya was biting her hand- perhaps to stop from laughing. "Will you refrain from dissolving my front door a second time if I show you the attic?"

"Absolutely, absolutely my dear man." Daniel said, putting his hand on his chest. "but I assure you it was out of nothing but pure concern. Your Rookery is smoking like an Astorian politician."

"How terribly kind of you to rush in to help." Rook climbed the ladder and stood with them. For a moment he was nothing more than another silhouette in the darkness. Then he produced a small light in his hand. As he had seen the day before the ceiling was curved and quite low. The walls also curved; the whole room came to a half-globe with the walls bowing out like a fish bowl. The walls were not the smooth stone of the lower floors but still covered in that poorly applied paper.

"hm." Daniel walked around the room, investigating every nook and cranny as he went. "… how odd."

As he walks along he finds that small spots of the unevenly plastered white pulp are now darkening-- some have turned fully black. There are specks here and there and some spots as large as his thumbnail or larger.

Daniel frowns, and places his gloved hand on one of the darkened spots "… Rook. What's this?"

"You're not going to like the answer."

"I've gotten used to that sort of thing." Daniel drawled. "please."

"It's the evil contained here pushing its way out."

Fenya snorted.

"Very ominous." Daniel mused. "Can you explain just what you mean?"

"I believe I explained myself yesterday."

"The evil in man's souls stored in the walls of this massive structure,and so on and so forth?"

"Yes. And papering the walls to keep it inside?" he said.

"It seems your paper's doing little to stop it as of late." Daniel said, inspecting a dark spot. "i'm going to take a sample."

"Wonderful."

Fenya offers him an empty vial.

Daniel nodded, and took the vial….carefully he took some samples of the darkened paper. "Rook, when did this start happening? and is it connected to that smoke rising from the Rookery?"

"Almost certainly," he agreed. "And it's been getting worse and worse for the last five years."

"Connected to the whole fiasco with the church, you think?" Daniel mused

"Certainly certainly."

"I ask this genuinely." Daniel said. "….did they do anything with this room of the tower before they died? Is there something that *they* did that isn't being done now"

"I'm certain there was," he said. "They had many rituals and preparations."

"and you wouldn't happen to know any of them, would you?" Daniel drawled "… what if I told you that I'm fairly certain whatever's leaking through your walls here is connected to a plague currently spreading over town?"

"I still wouldn't be able to tell you."

"… hm." Daniel thought for a moment '… so what *is* the source of the heat in here? the smoke?"

"I've never tried to find out. The smoke however, is new, Doctor."

"you never tried to…" Daniel shook his head "… it is, hm? Can you show me it's source?"

"The smoke?"

Rook looks confused.

"yes." Daniel frowned "… all smoke has a source, doesn't it?"

"Doctor I already told you where it was coming from."

"the evil behind the paper?" Daniel drawled

"The evil escaping *through* the paper," he clarified.

"mm." Daniel said "and what would happen if I cut a bit of the paper open to look behind it?"

"I would attempt to stop you, Doctor."

"because it would let the evil out?" Daniel asked

"Yes, Doctor," he said, somehow both condescending and tersely. "Come now you can't be serious," Fenya scoffed.

Daniel shook his head "i think this little tower of yours is linked to the disease I've spotted around town, Rook. Unless you're telling me that you're covering up a severely infectious or *parasitic* substance with paper and that's somehow keeping it in….then there's no harm in me checking behind the paper.'

"get out," He said, moving between daniel and the wall.

Daniel sighed "must we do this again?" He held his hands up "I'm looking to protect your people here, Rook. But nobody in town's willing to give me a straight answer."

"I'm looking to protect people as well, doctor. And I tend to do it without *Stealing things* and destroying property."

Daniel's smile grew a little tight "ah. Well I can see I've offended you." he dipped into a low bow. "… let's discuss this like civilized men."

"Let's get out of my attic first then," he suggested tersely.

"indeed." Daniel murmured. "… Indeed." he backed away from the wall, and went to go down the ladder

"you too," Rook says, glowering at Fenya. She sighed. "fine, fine." She came down the ladder after Daniel, and Rook came down after her. He pushed the ladder up and closed the door.

"I'd just like to say, again, that breaking down your door? that was out of concern."

"I'm sure it was," he said dryly.

"You said you're trying to help." Daniel said "can I ask how?"

"I've already told you," he said tersely. "It's hardly my fault when you damned astorians don't believe what I'm saying."

"the paper again?" Daniel asked.

He pinched the bridge of his nose "… do you have any of it that you haven't used? Perhaps I can see if it has some kind of… protective composition."

"I do," he said. "I suppose I could give you a piece if it'll stop you tromping around in the Grove."

"I very much appreciate that." Daniel purred "we're not trying to disrespect you."

"I know, that's what makes it so amazing how good you are at it."

Fenya nearly choked.

Daniel snorted "Very good one, wonderfully played."

Rook chuckled slightly. "In any case. I'll bring you the 'sample' this evening."

"I appreciate it." he said with a nod "I feel that despite our differences, we're both working towards the same thing…" He paused 'From different angles."

"Indeed," he agreed. "I appreciate your good intentions."

"as I appreciate yours." He said with a nod "Even if I don't quite understand your methods."

"we find each other at a similar impasse."

Daniel nodded slowly "I've found evidence of the plague inside samples we've taken. A small, microscopic organism of some sort that writhes about in the blood, or in long dead tissue."

"Plague you say." he raised an eyebrow

"I would have said isolated illness… but we have two patients at an advanced stage and evidence it's already spreading amongst the lower classes"

"Delightful," he intones. "So it begins. Or continues I suppose."

"I don't intend to let it spread much further. " Daniel said "I'm going to solve this thing."

"I wish you all the luck in the world, doctor. Meanwhile I'll continue my efforts here."

"Best of luck, Rook." Daniel said with a smile "and if you can get me a sample of that smoke." He offered him a small dish "just see if you can get some particles on there, please?"

"I'll try, Doctor. No promises."

"I appreciate it. I'd like to test it's composition."

"If you can I'd certainly be curious what you find."

"I'll share my results, if you share your own." Daniel purred "perhaps we can find a middle ground."

"Fine with me. But perhaps we should have these meetings somewhere besides my attic."

"wherever you like, my friend" Daniel waved his hand. "wherever you like."

"How about at the church then."

"the church it is." Daniel nodded "Provided those children aren't traipsing about."

"Lets meet at night. They'll be gone by then.

"Understood." Daniel said "Bring light, we've had some… nocturnal encounters, as of late."

"I'll make certain to come equipped."

"Much appreciated." He paused "have you had any trouble at night?"

"Have I been attacked by a vampire or something you mean?"

"that's the question, isn't it?"

"Alas I haven't had the privilege."

"the privilege." Daniel snorted 'something assaulted our window last night, rook. It was somewhere between a man and beast, and struck the second story window."

"Heavens."

"Does that sound at all familiar to you, rook? Something of that nature?"

"Hmmm. Could be a husk."

"And a husk is?"

Fenya speaks up. "Oh! Darya mentioned them, remember, doctor?"

"… ah." Daniel nodded "the people who've been consumed by their internal darkness or something of the like, yes?"

"Those whose souls have been compromised."

Fenya frowned. "Darya said heart."

"Same thing."

"Depends who you ask, Rook." Daniel said "heart and souls are often seen as two separate concepts."

He smiled tightly. "Let me clarify-- same thing in this context."

"ah, well." He thought for a moment 'from a scientific perspective, they could be someone who's so far gone from their disease… the rotting of their mind, or what have you, that they've essentially *become* husks."

"You're the doctor not me," he shrugged. "Catch one and tell me if it's the case."

"Challenge accepted." Daniel purred. "I'll capture one of your Husks and see what makes it tick."

"I look forward to that, doctor. I'll meet you this evening at the church. After sundown."

"see you at church, Rook." Daniel said "and sorry about the door."

"Water under the bridge. Just please don't break into here again."

Daniel nodded "Unless it's a serious situation, I promise."

"I'd prefer a strong agreement but I suppose I'll take what I can get/"

"I make no promises if your door is locked and I hear you screaming for dear life." Daniel drawled "if you catch my drift."

"Very well you damned meddling astorian," he agrees amiably enough.

"It's our national pastime, meddling." Daniel said with a slight smirk. "Thank you for understanding."

"Of course." with a few more parting pleasantries he ushered them out.4

Daniel stood out in the fog outside the Rookery, smoothing out his jacket with a long sigh "… well. we have samples."

"which is better than we had before," she said. "But we definitely don't have answers."

"it certainly is….but I hope with our hard word we'll get at least a few of the answers we seek."

"We can hope. If anything it's something interesting to have a clandestine night meeting."

He laughed "it's delightfully shady, isn't it? Almost a thrill in concept alone."

"Indeed. Even if it means braving the weather and any husky vampires."

"Husky vampires." Daniel drawled "hm. That's a phrase, alright."

She chuckled. "I'd hoped you'd like it."

"It certainly brightened the mood." he smirked "… but hopefully the vampires are either easy to suppress, or nonexistent tonight."

"Hopefully," she agreed with a sigh. She stretched. The sky was far from clear despite it being around noon. It was hard to see the sun behind the clouds.

"where shall we go next?" he mused "perhaps to Sasha's?"

"we probably should check in on how things are going there."

"We do have a patient. And I'd like to see if him and his sister are holding up alright."

"yes that seems like a good idea," she nodded. "His sister?"

"I believe she was his sister? the girl I saw the first day I arrived. When we were patching up the wounded man."

"Oh her!" she nodded. "I;d nearly forgotten in the chaos."

"I'm curious if she seems a little more… lucid… now."

"We should check," she nodded.

"alright then. to the Osgrov household" Daniel purred.

"To the Osgrov household," she nodded. "You know, we're certainly getting our exercise."

"we certainly are. I'll be in fantastic shape by the time this mess is done." he walked through the fog beside her

"Certainly one thing to be thankful for," she agreed dryly. "Not that you seem to be in bad shape now."

"I often go for walks and jogs around campus when I find the time." He admitted. "it helps me think"

"Mmm they say fresh air will do that."

"A little exercise, some fresh air." he mused "and time away from the morons in my department"

"Isn't that the dream," she chuckled. A few people passed by them on the street going about their business. They were quite bundled up against the fog.

Daniel gave them a little wave as he passed "It's necessary in the University, given the sheer density of the idiocy." he shrugged "sometimes I visit Lulu at the girls boarding school on my walks, often I regretted it."

"Only often? She must really like you."

"I was stuck with her for months on the frontier." he drawled. "I think she got attached. Like a tapeworm."

Fenya chuckled. "Sounds permanent. My condolences."

"A true tragedy, I fear I may not survive." he intoned

"I'm sure Lulu will be happy to tell everyone your story. At length."

Daniel smirked 'until they're sick of hearing it. and each time it becomes even more and more fantastical."

"Oh yes. At some point i'm sure the two of you will have killed a god and you nobly sacrificed yourself only to become worshiped in his stead."

"Which will be, of course, incredibly awkward when I visit the next week." he snorted

"extraordinarily," she laughs.

He shook his head. "children. This is why I don't tend to deal with them."

"Definitely for the best."

"Agreed." Daniel nodded as they walked through town "children and jesters both." He kept a wary eye out for *the fox*

"watching out for the clown?" Fenya murmured.

"I am. I don't think my heart can take it today."

"Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll be off to lunch."

"is it possible he sustains himself on something other than the death of comedy?"

"It's possible, danny but not likely!" the clown shouted from behind him.

"kill me" Daniel drawled

"end my suffering, Fenya."

She put a hand on his back, and hurried her pace. "Let's just get out of here." "Awww… running away? Won't have much a chance to do that for long."

Daniel frowned and turned to face him "and why's that, clown?"

"A joke of course, danny-boy! I'm a man of laughs!"

"I'm afraid I don't get it" he frowned 'and it sounded oddly like a threat."

"A threat?" he gasped and put his hand on his chest. "Why I would *never.*."

"no, I think you very well might. Care to explain the joke?"

"Oh nooooo, doctor, I couldn't! Don't you know an explanation kills a joke?"

"I'm starting to wish *something* might wind up killed." Daniel muttered to himself. "Well. Long before I lose my chance to run away, I hope, at the very least… I can outpace you."

"Happy travels then, doctor! I expect we'll be seeing a lot of each other!"

"Oh I hope not." Daniel said, as he walked as fast as he could away from the man.

Fenya marched with him until they'd gotten well away from the square, turning onto the street where Osgov manner lied.

"I hate that clown." Daniel said, approaching the manor

"I never liked clowns in general but this one in particular is irritating," she agreed. "Are we going to the house first then?"

"Yes, we might as well." Daniel nodded "better chance of checking on the two of them there."

She nodded and followed him up to the impressive, weathered old manor house.

Daniel knocked on the door once they approached, nodding his head.

Though she wasn't wearing a nightgown this time, Lydia answered the door with the same dreamy smile and breathless voice as the night they'd met.

"Oh…. hello again…. is anyone hurt this time?"

Daniel bowed his head "luckily, no." he said "we simply came to see you and your brother."

"My brother's at the clinic right now."

"I'll have to visit him there, then." He paused "how are you feeling, Lydia?"

"I'm alright….. you would like to come in?"

"Absolutely, thank you."

Lydia wafted away from the door, letting the two of them inside the handsome old house.

Daniel walked inside, glancing around "I'm pleased we aren't barging in in the middle of the night again." he chuckled "I know it was a bit of a rude wake up call."

"That's okay…. I wasn't sleeping…." She led them into a room that seemed to be part garden-- there were plants everywhere, and a few chairs here and there.

"That's a surprise." he chuckled "you seemed rather sleepy."

She smiled and sat down, folding her hands in her lap. "Do I?…. Im sorry…."

"Are you alright?" He asked, standing by a chair

"What do you mean?" she asked, giving him a soft smile.

"Healthwise. there's a sickness going around town." Daniel said.

"Oh….. no… I'm not sick yet," she said shaking her head.

"yet? I do hope it stays that way, Lydia. Be careful around the clinic, hm?'

"I don't usually go to the clinic." she shook her head.

"That's good. We don't know how infectious this thing is as of yet."

She nodded with concern. "It sounds like you have a great trial before you…"

"Likely" Daniel sighed "but we're hoping to come out the other side all the better."

"That would be a wonderful victor," she said breathily. "… though…. a difficult one."

Daniel nodded "… how much do you know about the situation?"

She shook her head. "Just what I've seen with my own eyes…."

"has that been much?" he asked

"I don't find myself leaving the house much."

"May I ask why not?" Daniel asked

"I just feel safer here," she said with a smile.

"Safe from what?" He asked in curiosity

"Monsters, obviously," she said. She laughed suddenly, like the shattering of glass.

Fenya gave Daniel a look.

Daniel glanced back at Fenya "… monsters?" he cleared his throat "that's an ominous statement."

"Isn't it?" she said, catching her breath. "It's very ominous."

"I'll admit, I don't exactly see ghouls and goblins wandering the streets in broad daylight."

"No…. some of them wear the skins of men." she laughed again.

Daniel raised his eyebrow at her laughing fit "is that so..?"

"haven't you noticed?"

Daniel tapped his fingers gently on the table "… noticed what, exactly?"

"The monsters of course! I'm sure you've seen one at least….."

"What are the signs of these monsters?" He leaned on the table "how would I spot one?"

"Their soul is black."

Daniel tapped his finger on the table again "you mean they have the sickness. The one I've been finding traces of all over town."

"That's one kind of monster." she said with a smile.

"….and what else?"

"The ones you can't see until they've already got you," she said staring at a blank spot on the wall.

Daniel turned to stare at the wall with her "….hm. Then no point looking out for those, is there?"

"They'll find you anyway," she nodded. "Even when you feel safe."

"Local spooky woman can't stop saying ominous things," Fenya muttered.

Daniel stifled a chuckle, and covered it with a clear of his throat. "And how do you know about these invisible wraiths?"

"They visit me sometimes."

"… do they now. And they haven't struck you?"

"Just because a monster feeds on you doesn't mean it kills, doctor….."

Daniel stared at her for a long moment "excuse me."

She blinked back at him. After a moment she gives a quizzical tilt of her head.

"Are you saying that these monsters feed on you… regularly, and they keep you alive?"

She nodded. "… is that strange to you?"

"A bit." Daniel mused "may I see your wrist?"

"Of course." She nodded and offered him her delicate wrist.

Daniel brushed her fur out of the way and tried to get a good look at her veins.

Her veins weren't dark, but her wrist was covered in bruises.

"I notice you're quite bruised." He pointed out. "pretty much all over."

She smiled and cocked her head. "Am I?" she asked dreamily.

"you are. Where'd these bruises come from, might I ask?"

"Oh….. here and there….."

"are you… alright?" he asked seriously

She giggles and smiles. "Thank you for worrying about me."

"I'm a physician, I can't help myself."

"It's your duty? or your nature?"

"A little of both." he chuckled, letting go of her arm and shaking his head "is that the work of your monsters, though?"

She nodded quietly. "Directly or indirectly."

"indirectly?"

She smiled hauntingly. Mmmhmmm"

"Well… try to stay safe from them, hm?" He said with a thin smile "we should visit your brother and our patient."

"Must I?"

"must you….what?"

"Try to stay safe…."

Daniel tented his fingers "… why would you *not* want to stay safe, young lady?"

"… why would anyone do that?"

"….self preservation." Daniel said

"… no…. the other one…."

"….I'm not sure I get what you mean."

"I mean what you asked," she said blinking.

"I said try to stay safe." Daniel said with a tent of his fingers. "… and then you said why would anyone do that….and I said… self preservation. I'm not sure which other thing I said."

"No," she shook her head. "you didn't."

Fenya started massaging the bridge of her nose.

"i'm very lost in this conversation, young lady. Care to explain?"

"Not really," she sighed. "It seems like you wouldn;t understand even though you know the answer."

Daniel's jaw set. "…." He pressed his hand to his face "I'll give it some thought."

She smiled dreamily at him. "I know you will."

"Indeed." He bowed to her… before turning to leave "stay safe."

She didn't answer this time. Fenya followed him out of the room.

Daniel walked into the fog once more, and made for the clinic 'hm… Fenya…"

"Yes, doctor?" she asked dryly.

"I'm not so sure about that girl."

"You know Danochka, I think she's a cup or two short of a tea service."

"that would not surprise me." he mused "… did I miss something in that exchange?"

She shook her head. "If you did then I did as well I'm afraid. You mentioned she was bruised up though….."

"bruised all over her arms." he said "likely elsewhere as well."

"Is that something you've encountered before?"

"in a few cases…" he said, thinking for a long moment 'both… situational and medical."

"It sounds like something we should give some thought to," she nodded as they came to the clinic.

He nodded in agreement. "that's right, we should." he knocked on the door

Sasha opened the door in a surgery gown. "Ah. Doctor."

"Sasha. How's our patient?"

"Things are grim," he sighed. "And I've seen two more patients this morning."

"…." Daniel shook his head "may we come inside? I fear we'll have plenty more before the week is done.'

Sasha nodded. "You may. you may want to wear that mask you have also."

Daniel nodded, pulling his mask up "wonderful."

Fenya pulled her scarf over her muzzle as well and Sasha waved them in. There were two fresh patients laying on cots in his main office. One of them was unconscious.

Daniel frowned deeply, "I see… two more patients…" He walked in, and looked them over "this is already spreading Sasha… there are afflicted in the slums as well"

"I suspected as much after this morning," he sighed.

Daniel sighed as well "now we simply find the remedy… and see if we can get a quarantine"

"Indeed," he nodded. "Both of these two have the darkened veins."

"I see" Daniel turned to the one that wasn't unconscious first "Let's get started"

The man-- a laborer most likely by the size of his muscles, was writhing on the cot.

Daniel cleared his throat "may I speak to you while you're awake?"

The patient moaned gently, his eyes blearily open. "Are you a physic?"

"I am" Daniel said with a nod "tell me how you're feeling. In detail"

"Cold…. got aches… all through my body," he mumbled. "Nightmares… can't tell if I'm asleep or awake half the time."

"it sounds like the same" Daniel murmured "tell me. When did you start feeling this way? And… have any of your co-workers been feeling the same?"

"Started feeling run down… bout a week ago," he murmured. He paused to gasp and cough.

Daniel listened "a week ago. I see. "

"He's also been having trouble breathing," Sasha adds.

"a telltale sign." Daniel murmured "… has anyone in your factory complained of the same?"

He murmured something looking into the distance beyond Daniel

Daniel frowned "do you mind speaking up?"

HIs gaze jerks back to daniel. "Huh?"

"you said something just now." He said with a slim smile "can you repeat it?"

"Oh…. sorry… what was the question?"

"Has anyone in your factory complained of similar symptoms." Daniel says again, crossing his arms.

"Oh… uh… a few of the guys," he rasped. "Thought it was the smoke getting to us at first…"

"It's not the smoke." Daniel frowned "we have to shut the factory down. Too many people in close proximity will *breed* this thing."

"Shut down the factory?"

Daniel nods firmly "you can always *start up again* . But this disease is going to be spread *rapidly* in these conditions."

Sashsa cleared his throat. "I doubt that is going to fly with the factory boss."

"Oh, I doubt it will." Daniel drew himself up "but I'm afraid that he'll simply have to *deal with it.*"

"He's not going to close it just on your say so," Sasha said shaking his head. "you'll have to convince the governor to order it closed."

"that's the plan for the day, then." Daniel purred.

"Good luck with it," Sasha sighed.

"Any advice, my friend?"

"He's a man who likes his comforts."

"ah." Daniel mused "perhaps a little liquor to ply him into a state of… cooperation?"

"I am absolutely not recommending you bribe a public official, doctor. "

"heavens no, that would be a crime." Daniel drawled "I'm a law abiding Astorian."

"Yes, Astorians are famed for that."

"aren't we?" Daniel smirked thinly "… i found something out about the disease, though."

Sasha raises an eyebrow. "You did?"

"in private, perhaps?"

He nodded, and waved. "Come to my office."

"Should I come too?" Fenya asks

"Not that I don't want you there, but… i was wondering if you could do me a favor." he leaned over 'Get some blood samples, and… see if we have anything we can use like the pain relief cocktail we used on Elias for these people."

"Ahhh," Fenya nods. "I think I can manage that for you, doctor."

He nodded "i'll fill him in on the… placenta situation."

"Good idea." Sasha raised an eyebrow. "And with that, lets move to my office."

Daniel nodded, and headed into the office with Sasha. "I imagine you're curious."

"Deeply," Sasha admits, leading him into the small back office from before.

Daniel steps into the room, and closes the door "We had a hunch about the origin of this little bug of ours."

"I see…" Sasha sat down and waved his hand to a chair for Daniel.

Daniel took a seat, and tented his fingers "So we borrowed a phylactery."

"Excuse me?" he looks taken aback.

"… we borrowed a phylactery. I would appreciate it if you wouldn't tell anyone."

"Well I… yes I can see why you wouldn't want me to. Consider it our secret."

"I appreciate that. What I found on the inside was rather interesting, though….placenta. Dried, aged placenta of over 30 years." He smirked "….and when observed through a microscope… it played host to hundreds of little… flitting… creatures. Rather like the ones infesting the ill's blood."

"I see," he stroked his chin. "So the placenta had the disease?"

"it did. And it survived being held in a dead, sealed environment for 20… 30 years or so." He shook his head "… fascinating, isn't it? There's a clear link between this illness and this Mistress' ritual."

"Do you think that's how it's showed up then?"

"Given Elias was one of the afflicted." Daniel mused "… he was poking all around that sort of thing."

"Cracked one open and got it in his face?" Sasha mused.

"Entirely likely. Or something far more foolish. The man was an idiot, Sasha."

"On that we agree," he said, setting his jaw.

"I take it you had a run in with him?"

"As I mentioned, he started an argument when I told him he was wasting his time researching folk medicine."

"Ah yes." Daniel nodded. "you're completely right, too. Look where it got him? Sick with an archaic disease kept safe behind bloody *paper*"

"Forgive me for gloating a little," he said with a smirk.

"No, I think you're completely in the right here." he said with a low chuckle "… you deserve the gloat. Only now whatever he has is spreading."

"yes…. that is far from ideal."

"it certainly is." Daniel tented his fingers "… and there's whatever that smog is coming out of the Rookery. I'm a little concerned it's… an airborne variant."

"Yes…. I've been concerned about that smoke too…"

"i'm glad I'm not the only one." Daniel grimaced "Granny acted as if it were all some big joke when I asked about it."

He sighed. "Typical of her."

"She seems like the type." Daniel drawled "things could be in flames and she'd still act like she was mishearing you when you told her to grab a bloody bucket of water."

"Sometimes I think she hates the town honestly," he said, shaking his head.

"is that so?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

He shrugged. "Sometimes she's a sweet old lady. Sometimes she;s very nasty."

"it all depends on the mood you catch her in. Lovely.'

"I suppose you could avoid her."

"I often try."

"It's hard when she's manning one of the few places to eat in town.

"That is a difficulty," he shrugged.

"Regardless… have you ever seen anything like this sickness?"

"No. Never," he shook his head.

"the… energetic movement of the particulates suggests something alive" He murmured "And to stay alive in dead flesh for so long, it has to be hardy."

"It would have to be practically immortal," he mused.

"Which is… hm." Daniel frowned "concerning."

"To say the least," he nodded. "Something like that sounds… difficult to get rid of."

"We have a good sample… we're going to see how it reacts to different compounds." He shook his head. "my concern is it may survive on it's on easily… on surfaces… in the air…"

"And thus be easily transmissible…"

"Leading to a detrimental spread if we don't *take proper precautions*" He hisses "and with the Capital about to go up in flames…. we don't exactly have a flow of plentiful supplies."

"No." he furrowed his brow. "in fact we would be quite on our own I would wager."

"utterly. And with so few people versed in even basic medical safety…"

"Disaster. Ruin."

"The prediction of those old leaders of yours… made real by cold, hard science." He shook his head "there's a link somewhere….a chemical on that paper, or a… practice that removed the infected tissue.."

"Between the leaders and the disease?" he raised an eyebrow

"It's logical if we remember inside their 'magical phylacteries' we find a near identical strain of the bloody thing."

"Hmmm…." he stroked his chin. "begs the question how it got in there. You're right."

"If only everyone who knows anything worth a damn about them weren't all superstitious to a fault." he muttered "and unwilling to help the course of science."

"Yes that is a problem…." he sighed.

Daniel looked pensive. "i'll be thinking on how to bypass that little problem… though… I had a few questions on another subject as well.."

"Ask away."

"It's….about more of this 'folklore as a means of explaining disease' angle…" He paused "I talked to your sister."

"Ah." His mouth becomes a hard line.

"She spoke about monsters in human form." he said "… and while I didn't believe much of it, she mentioned the symptoms of this disease. The blackening veins."

"Did she?" he frowned.

"she did." He mused 'said it was a way to tell who was one of those monsters in disguise.'

"I see….." he frowned again. " perhaps she saw one of the patient's ears….."

"that's possible. I just thought it was worth noting that she might have seen one of the infected about. She claims that 'monsters feed on her' as well. and when I was checking her for signs of infection, she had some bruises on her wrist. " He gauged his reaction as he spoke

He shook his head. "She's always been a bit… hysterical. I'm sorry to say the bruises are likely self inflicted."

From his expression at least, Daniel felt that Sasha believed what he was saying…. but there might be more to it.

Daniel raised his eyebrow slightly, imploring him to go on. "likely… but..?"

He frowned. "If I tell you, it must be in confidence."

Daniel nodded slowly "Not a word will leave this room. Save for Fenya, if you allow it."

"I'm sure Fenya is a lovely person, but I'd rather it stay between us unless you deem it absolutely necessary."

Daniel thought a long moment before he nodded.

He took a deep breath. "My sister was terribly abused by our father," he admitted. "It traumatized her deeply. She hallucinates and has been known to harm herself. She self-medicates despite my protests, and sometimes that only exacerbates the problem."

Daniel's lips grew tight "… I was afraid it was something of that nature." He bowed his head "i'm sorry to hear that. I hope for her sake, and your own, that he's no longer a part of your lives."

His ears flicked. "yes. He's five years dead as a matter of fact."

"indeed.." Daniel nodded. "… that explains the entirety of the situation. It was a doctor's concern."

"Of course," he nodded. "You understand why I don't speak of it. And why I'd rather it remained between us."

"Indeed. I'll keep this to myself, Sasha."

"I truly appreciate it."

"with that out of the way." he mused "My current thought is this 'vampire' and these 'husks' everyone speaks of…"

"mmm," he nodded, "carrying the disease?"

"Late stage infected carrying the disease… perhaps the ability to tell nightmare from reality breaks down and they become violent."

"My unconscious patient has been exceptionally fitful…."

"and Elias has been… fitful as well. Yelling about nightmares he's having in his sleep."

"It seems like there's a component of the disease affecting the brain…"

"It's entirely possible that at an advanced stage, it practically renders a man feral."

"Ah…. like the the water dread***…" he nodded. "Lets hope it does not have a similar mortality rate."

"We can hope not." Daniel frowned thoughtfully "… I had one of them try to break into my room last night, you know. "

"They did?"

"They did." Daniel frowned "Looked like a man but..not… banging on my window."

"Hmmm… some kind of deformation?"

"that's my thought… perhaps brought on in the late stages of this illness." He frowned "like… the Barnacle Pox of Astoria."

"Ah yes, I've read a bit on that one from that researcher Andromeda. From what he writes it sounds nasty."

"Andromeda?" He raised his eyebrow "ah, Stella, yes." He nodded "….yes, she's written in graphic detail about that particular ailment… though I'm not entirely sure she's got the source quite figured out."

"A lady researcher? I wasn't aware. But regardless-- if this disease leads to disfigurement….'

"Indeed." Daniel said, "but as for the disease… yes. That could be… unpleasant… as it progresses."

he snorted "and fuel the fairy stories of monsters and demons in the streets."

"Yes that's likely. This lot is… extremely superstitious in quarters."

"i

"I've had the misfortune of noticing that for myself' Daniel drawled

"That didn't take long."

"No, but let's just say I've had a few run ins that drove it home rather clearly "

"Unfortunate," he sighed. "but not surprising."

"Everyone either seems to believe in monsters bumping around in the night…" He scoffed "or in the magic of your local leaders.'

"yes," he nodded. "Somehow even the children. I suppose they get it from their parents…."

"I did run into them playing Cult in the church." He drawled "making phylacteries and following that one boy around like he's some wise sage.'

"Making phylacteries?" he raised an eyebrow.

"yes." Daniel nodded "He's got all the children in town making little carved dolls."

"Which child?" he asked.

"Iochka" He said with a nod.

"Iochka…. Volkov?"

"that's the one." Daniel said.

"My great-nephew. The son of our stalwart captain of the guard," he murmured.

"… ah." Daniel said slowly "… Well. He's… a unique child." That's about the best compliment he could manage.

"Indeed. But I'm more curious where he's come up with this game. Iosef is not a superstitious man. Nor my aunt Katya."

"He mentioned a Misha. Misha the Carver, but otherwise…" He shook his head "i'm not sure. He's not… very… respectful towards his elders."

His ears flick, "I'm sorry… he mentioned *whom?"

"He says he's the leader of 'Misha's Circle' . Which, now that I think about it… is the name of one of your now deceased 'immortals' isn't it?"

"Yes indeed," he agreed grimly. "The, as you mentioned, carver. He carved the shapes of the phylacteries from grove wood."

"hm. Then it's doubtful they learned from him." Daniel looked up at the ceiling "rook, perhaps?"

"Possibly but he almost never leaves the Rookery."

"they could have sought him out." Daniel said thoughtfully "….Perhaps another of the town's elderly?"

"Perhaps. But I wonder why…."

"Perhaps to start the practices with some new blood." Daniel mused, shaking his head. "or just to give the children something to do."

"Perhaps," Sasha nodded. "I wonder if we can find out…"

"I'll look into it, if you do." Daniel agreed "maybe we can figure something out. "

"Good. Please let me know if you find out. I'm…. frustrated, that these old superstitions are still finding root even after…."

"After they should have been left in the past? I'm afraid I agree."

he nodded. "Indeed…."

"I'll see if I can ask the lad himself. I have some dirt on him."

"Some… dirt?"

"He doesn't want me to rat him out to his father."

"Ah."

"So, perhaps I can drag the information out of him." He smirked "and get to the bottom of this nonsense."

"If you have trouble, send him to me. He might open up more to someone familiar."

"I may very well do just that." Daniel drawled "he was kind of a little bastard."

He laughed. "Stubborn like his father."

Daniel chuckled "what's the man like?"

"Passionate. Stubborn, as I mentioned. Believes it's his duty to protect the innocent."

"Sounds like a good enough man, then."

"Without a doubt. If there's one good man in town, it's Iosof Volkov."

"If I went to him… would he help us try and enact a real quarantine?"

"If he believed the disease was a threat I think he would certainly be on your side."

"then we simply need to compile the evidence that it *is* a threat and present it to him. Would you help?"

"of course," he nodded.

"then we may have a valuable ally." Daniel smiled

"Perhaps. He's not as widely respected as he should be-- at least not by those in power."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "no?"

"Unfortunately not. The governor considers him a peon to be ordered about, and the mayor seems to have some kind of grudge against him."

Daniel shook his head 'the curse of being the one competent man in a bureaucracy of idiots I suppose."

"He would certainly agree."

"he sounds like my kind of man." Daniel chuckled "I'm sure I'll like him very much."

"I suppose you'll go see him after this?"

"yes… before we try to even bother with the powers that be and that fool factory."

"If nothing else it'll make a good warm up for you."

Daniel laughed "I imagine I'll need it."

"Good luck to you," he nodded.

"Let me know if you need something for a headache afterward."

"I very well might." Daniel chuckled "Between the old wives tales and the *aspirations* of local politics."

"A heady combination indeed."

"I dare say it's going to take all my strength to simply survive and avoid flinging myself from the highest building." he drawled

"I wish you luck."

"I appreciate that, and You, Sasha. Having a science minded medic in town…" he chuckled "it's a relief beyond compare."

"I can imagine. It's honestly a bit of a relief for me too."

"is that so?" Daniel chuckled "well I'm glad."

"It's nice to have someone else here who doesn't believe everything's down to spirits."

Daniel chuckled "I'm glad you agree. Now… let's see how Fenya's been doing in our absence."

He nodded. "After you, doctor."

The two of them headed back into the other room where it seemed that Fenya was just finishing up taking blood samples.

Daniel gave her a little wave "Hello Professor."

She waved back. "Hello, doctor. Things are well enough out here."

"How are the patients?" He asks as he tightens his gloves.

"The unconscious one started babbling while you were gone. He's stopped now though."

"anything interesting?" Daniel mused

"Only a few words."

"Dare I ask?"

"You're not going to like it."

"Have I liked anything thus far?" Daniel drawled

She opens up a small notebook and adjusts her reading glasses. "The words I could make out were: blood. hunger. kill. steal."

"great." Daniel said "maybe my theory is right after all. Fantastic. Just the best."

"I told you you wouldn't like it." Sasha sighed. "I confess I don't like it much either."

"like they were muttering out their dark desires." Daniel murmured.

"It certainly won't assuage those who think it's supernatural," Sasha commented bitterly.

"no, it certainly won't." Daniel muttered. "but it's a breakdown of the brain, not ghosts and goblins."

Fenya nodded. "The problem is getting other people to believe that I guess."

Daniel sighed "… if only we had some solid evidence… and a dozen years to send these people to proper academia."

"A luxury we don't have unfortunately," Sasha said.

"So we'll have to make do with our own wits and not let ignorance win the day."

"So it goes with men such as us."

Daniel chuckled "men and women, like our dear Professor Trifena here." he gestures to her.

Sasha smiled. "Yes, my apologies. men and women."

"I do appreciate being included. But perhaps we should get moving if we've done all we can here for now?"

Daniel chuckled "indeed. We'll see you later Sasha. We can't waste anymore daylight, however… be well."

Sasha nodded. "Of course. Feel free to check in whenever you have a moment."

"I'll be happy to." Daniel said, with a bow of his head before leaving.

They headed back out into the soggy air of the town. It had stopped actively raining but the mist was oppressive.

"… this mist doesn't want to dissipate." Daniel murmured "keep your mask up, we don't know if it can go airborne."

"Good idea," she murmured. "How went your meeting?"

"it went alright. I found out some interesting tidbits of information… and found a good person for us to speak to. The captain of the guard… he's a logical man, and one who can very well help us shut the town down if we show him enough evidence."

"Captain of the guard hmmm? Sounds like he could be a useful man."

"very useful." Daniel smirked "He's the type to do whatever he must to protect the people in his charge."

"Ahh. Nature's babysitter."

Daniel snorted out loud "Precisely. Which is quite useful for us."

"Let's head for the station then," Fenya nodded. "Assuming we can find it in all this fog."

Daniel nodded, shielding his eyes as he walked through the foggy streets "I wish the sun would come and clear this all away.'

"It'd have to break through the mess up there first I suppose," Fenya complained waving vaguely up in the direction of the sky.

Daniel frowned at the sky "indeed. Mosgrav really has the worst weather."

"Honestly this is particularly bad even for mosgrav. I might prefer the snow."

"Perhaps when this is all said and done, we can take a nice vacation to the capital and watch the bonfires of revolution to relax. " He drawled "for fun."

"For fun," she agreed with an amused snort. "That sounds lovely."

"doesn't it? We can ingratiate ourselves with the new ruling order before the *next* revolution turns us into villains."

"Oh I *do* love the nasty posters they come up with about a month before they come for the old regime's blood."

"they're a work of art in and of themselves." Daniel said "I've always admired it from afar."

"From afar is probably the best angle to admire them from. So lets make sure we're not ins mosgrav for more than 5 years."

"Good point." He smirked,craning his neck to see if he could locate the station "We'll stay for precisely 4 and a half."

The stubborn fog wouldn't part but as they rounded the town square, they managed to avoid the clown at least. A sudden gust of wind blew something into Daniel's face.

Daniel sputtered, reaching up to grab at *whatever* just smacked into his face.

It was a partial sheet of crinkled paper-- torn on two edges, with writing all over it.

Daniel frowned slightly. He read it over. "… detritus?"

Immediately, he recognized the hand writing. *The name of the town 'Tadibya' means 'boundary' in the ancient tongue of the people here. Specifically it refers to the boundary between life and death, or between sleeping and waking, both of which are treated as equivalent in the superstition here. Tradition treats Tadibya as the town as existing on the border between the mortal world and the world of….*

"….." Daniel snorted "or serendipity, it seems." He turned the paper over in his hands "Elias' lost notes."

Fenya cocked her head. "Seriously?"

Daniel nodded, and handed it to her "see for yourself."

She took it and read it over with a frown. "Goodness. It certainly is. What ridiculous luck."

"incredibly ridiculous." he mused "… it seems the locals believe this place to be a boundary between worlds, or some nonsense like that."

"like the pit into hell or something?" she murmured.

"Precisely. Or 'into dreams' i suppose, as this implies are the same thing."

"What a refreshingly healthy outlook on sleep," she lied.

"isn't it? No wonder they're all so well adjusted."

"Yes it really makes it obvious," she agreed dryly. Through the fog they came to the station, with its one guard standing out by the iron fence.

Daniel cleared his throat "excuse me, sir, we're here to see the captain of the guard."

The shabby looking wolf man looked up from his half-smoked cigarette. "Got an appointment?"

"yes" Daniel lied.

"Name?"

"Daniel Delgrave, of the Astorian University." He drawled.

"Never heard of you."

"That sounds like a personal issue,then" Daniel smirked thinly "This is a matter of life and death, however, so I insist you allow me in."

"Lemme go to the boss' office," he grinned.

"Much appreciated." Daniel said firmly.

The man nodded, and, cigarette still in his mouth, slowly made his way inside.

"How rude," Fenya snorted once he was out of earshot.

"Incredibly rude. Not the tightest ship this man is running, is it?"

"No it doesn't seem to be," Fenya frowned. "I hope it isn't a bad sign…"

"I..hope not either" Daniel said with a sigh. "… it bodes poorly."

Fenya sighed. "I suppose all we can do is wait…"

"Indeed. I hope the man has the sense to allow us in.'

"Hopefully," Fenya agreed. "he seemed a bit lax."

"Especially for a door guard."

Minutes passed.

Daniel grabbed the door handle "Forget this nonsense. I'm going in."

--just as the door opened and the wolf guard stood there.

"Get antsy?"

"People are dying, you know." Daniel said dryly.

"Right. Better hurry up and get to the office then instead of standing around here."

The cigarette was gone. Or rather, had been replaced by a fresh one.

Daniel's smile was a little tight as he nodded, ears flattened in quiet irritation. "of course. Much appreciated, good sir." He pushed past him and into the office.

The wolf turned and swaggered through the front office. There was a large desk with a fat bear behind it, small spectacles parched on his nose. A great strapping bear with shiny epaulettes was lecturing a handcuffed drunk who didn't seem to comprehend the stern talking to.

"….hm." Daniel said slowly "… and where's your Captain of the Guard?"

This was the cue for a weaselish wolf to pop his head out of a nearby door. "Eh! cap'n I got that evidence you were lookin for all locked up!" "Good job then," Daniel's guide grunted. "I'll be in my office."

He turned and gave Daniel a grin.

Daniel's ears flicked, and he drew his hand up to pinch the bridge of his muzzle to stop the stress headache from coming on. "….Oh how wonderful to meet you, Captain. I can already tell we'll get along swimmingly"

"Funny how you can get a sense of that right away, eh?" The shabby wolf grinned and waved him into a nearby office door. "Shall I wait out here, Doctor?" Fenya asked.

"If you wish, Fenya." He bowed his head. "See if you can get a sense of things for me?" He walked into the room with the wolf, running his hand through his hair to smooth it out.

Fenya nodded. "I'll do my best. Good luck." Captain Volkov led Daniel into a cramped office. There was a mess of papers on the desk in stacks-- broadly speaking it seemed to be an attempt at an 'inbox and outbox' but the inbox seemed to be sorted into several smaller, messier piles. There was a large, mounted and stuffed head of a feral wolf above and behind the desk.

Daniel looked around the office, blinking slowly at it, before looking at the feral wolf's head stuffed above the desk with a quirk of his eyebrow "Cozy."

"My home away from home," he agreed.

"It has the look of a place well lived in."

"I like to give the wife some space now and then," he said. "But enough about me. You said people are dying, Mr…..?"

"Doctor Delgrave." Daniel said "… of the Astorian University." He sighs "And yes. I fear what I've found will prove quite deadly… or at the very least dangerous, if something isn't done about it soon."

"Ah. A doctor," he puffed on his cigarette. "have a disease you want me to lock in the drunk tank? I'm sorry to tell you that doesn't usually work out."

Daniel opened his mouth, before pressing his hand to his face "No I don't want you to jam it in the bloody drunk tank. I want your help in enacting a *quarantine*" He sat up, and placed both palms on the man's desk. "we have a *plague* here, Captain. One that spreads quickly… infects, and sends it's victims into fits of violent pain and waking nightmares."

"Wonderful. That's exactly what I was hoping you'd say before lunch." The man sighed and pulled a bottle out of the top drawer.

"I know, it really sparks the appetite, doesn't it? Shall I tell you how it curdles the blood into a thick black sludge then? Or perhaps how it might wind up disfiguring victims and leaving them with frenzied minds? that this may be the thing behind your little so called *vampire* problem."

"You really know how to ease a man's mind doctor. Congrats on the bedside manner." He poured some yellow liquid into a large glass. It was quite a lot.

Daniel nodded "I get that a lot." He purred. "I frequently score quite high on patient surveys."

"No doubt." He wiggled the bottle at him. "want some?"

"… honestly, yes, I think I very well might."

Volkov poured him quite a large glass. "Cheers."

"Cheers, my friend." Daniel gave it a brief sniff, before taking a sip. "to apocalyptic plagues."

"To apocalyptic plagues," Volkov agreed. The drink…. smelled sweet, and tasted sweeter.

It was lemonade.

A very nice lemonade.

Completely sober.

Daniel was almost thankful. Perhaps the Captain wasn't as… hm… troublesome, as his first impression implied. Daniel took a long sip. "I was referred to you by Sasha."

"Gonna have to be more specific than that, doctor," he said, sipping his lemonade. "I know about four Sashas."

"Osgrov." Daniel drawled.

"Ah," he nodded. "That Sasha."

"I was under the impression you two were quite close."

"We grew up together, broadly speaking. Sasha's a few years younger."

"Interesting… regardless, he said you might be able to help. Said you were a man who cared about the people."

"That's certainly true," he agreed, puffing on his cigarette. "They're a bunch of idiots but they're our idiots."

"Isn't that always the way?" Daniel drawled. "… well I can tell you that your poor idiots are getting sick out there, and it's likely to become a pandemic if not handled correctly."

"wonderful. How the hell do we stop it?"

"quarantine. I need that factory shut down, and I need people to damn well stay inside unless absolutely necessary. I need this town *shut down* until we can figure out how to kill this thing."

"You realize that's gonna be hell to enforce."

"Absolute hell" Daniel agreed "A nightmare. But you know what else is a nightmare?" He tents his fingers "A town full of disfigured corpses."

"Obviously," he agreed. He scratched his muzzle. "The real problem is gonna be the men at the top."

"That's why I came to you… you might know a few ways to… work with them."

He sighed. "Wonderful. So you're hoping I can cut the red tape."

"help, at least. Or back me up when I march in there and cut it for them."

"I guess it can;t be helped." he shotgunned the last of his lemonade. "So what evidence do you have?"

"i can show you my patients." Daniel said, "if you wear protective gear, I feel they'll give you more than enough proof." he sipped his lemonade. "… they're not doing well. Any of them."

He snorted. "I don't need to be marched down to the ward. I need a report I can give to a couple of idiots who will."

"How about I write that up for you post haste,hm? And bring you a sample of the infected blood?"

"Will an idiot be able to see there's something wrong with the blood, doctor? In your professional opinion."

Daniel snorted "Oh, i think they'll get the picture. Blood isn't exactly supposed to look like bloody motor oil, after all."

"Alright sure. Bring the sample then. Also give me your best doomsday report for if we don't quarantine and double the pessimism."

Daniel laughed out loud. "Can I use the word 'apocalyptic', or is that too big for them?"

"Hmmm, it's a big word but it *does* sound dire."

"then I'll be sure to pepper it heavily throughout." He purred.

"Excellent. I'll schedule a meeting with the governor if you can get it for me by tomorrow morning."

"I can." Daniel said "I'll get that for you and more. In the meantime." He bowed his head "I appreciate your help, and if we can try and keep people… distanced, somewhat, that would be ideal."

"Distanced?" he furrowed his brow.

"Let's avoid big crowds, gatherings… you know what I mean?"

"Ah," he nodded. "Well we can try anyway."

"If there's any community events, I'd say shut them down."

"You;re not going to make either of us popular men, doctor."

"I'm not aiming to be popular." Daniel purred "I'm aiming to save lives."

"Lets see if we can manage it then," he nodded. "I'll rally the troops-- assuming I'm allowed to do anything."

"I'll make sure you are, Captain. I thank you for your help.."

"if we can avoid a massive plague outbreak I'll be the one thanking you."

Daniel chuckled "when we stop it, how about you and I have a drink together. Lemonade or alcohol, your choice."

"I'll stick with lemonade, doctor," he nodded. "But sure."

"No matter what. an outing, my treat."

"I'll hold you to that."

Daniel nodded. "… just have to stop the plague first."

"as easy as going to visit the shops."

"i'll pick up some eggs, some bacon….and a complete shutdown of the town for a proper quarantine, please."

"Actually-- that includes the markets I assume?"

"it does. Very much so. Infection can travel on goods rather easily."

"Alright. we'll need to come up with a way to keep people from starving then. Try to add that to your report."

"Rationing, I would imagine. I'll be sure to add it to my report."

"Please do," he said with a tired sigh.

"We're going to be in for a hard road, Captain, but I'm pleased to be on it with a man as dedicated as you." he bowed his head "thank you in advance."

Volkov shrugged. "Lets not go around giving ourselves medals til the jobs done."

"No, we'll save that." Daniel drawled "For when we return victorious."

"And if they don't give us medals we can go for their kneecaps."

"I'll be right there with you, hammer in hand." Daniel drawled. "Mosgravians typically use the hammer for that sort of thing, yes?"

"Oh yes. And occasionally the sickle as well. we're farmers you see."

"oh of course. Good for taking out the *back* of the knees, those."

"I see you're a man who understands the logic of the peasants."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "First time anyone's ever said that about me, but I suppose I'm glad?"

He chuckled slightly. "Well doctor. I'd say the two of us have much to do today."

"it seems we do." Daniel stretched "Let's craft an apocalyptic vision to terrify even the stodgiest politician"

Volkov stood and offered him his hand. "Sounds like a plan, doctor."

Daniel shook his hand firmly "we'll meet tomorrow morning?"

Volkov had a firm handshake as well. "Tomorrow morning."

Daniel nodded "it was a pleasure meeting you Captain. I'll see you then."

The captain nodded, and ushered him out of the office.

Daniel stepped back out into the main room, and looked for Fenya.

Fenya was sitting on top of the front desk, engaged in some kind of rather intense sounding discussion with the fat bear behind it.

Daniel listened for a curious moment.

"In Astoria we've mostly put the roving child gangs *to work*," Fenya explained. "It cut violent crime by 3% according to Cromwell."

"3%. Huh…." The bear stroked his chin.

"She's right." Daniel said, walking up to the desk "We've had a drastic decrease in youth crime since workhouses became common."

"Sounds wonderful," the sergeant said. "Got kicked in the knee by one of the little darlings last summer and I'm still feeling it…"

Fenya turned to see Daniel. "How'd it go?"

Daniel snorted 'kids are the true monsters." He glanced at Fenya 'well… we have a mission for today."

"We'd better get moving then, it sounds like"

"I'd say so… we have to craft an apocalypse in only a day." He drawled

"Not quite what I was expecting," she nodded dryly. "Sergeant, it's been a pleasure."

"Ah… good luck, miss!"

Daniel gave the man a salute, before heading outside with his hands in his jacket pockets.

The fog had lightened just a touch- it must have been early afternoon- but it was still basically impossible to see.

"So…. dare I ask?"

"He agreed to help us, but we have to make a case to the authorities. The powers that be won't agree to shut down the town unless they're properly scared into cutting the red tape. So we need evidence that this thing is as bad as we say, and a proper report that makes it look even *worse* to convince them, with the Captain's backing, to shut the town down."

"Ahhhh, mosgravan bureaucracy." Says the astorian.

"Indeed." Daniel said "so we're gathering samples, evidence, and our worst speculations to make sure this thing is taken seriously."

"That's a pretty tall order," fenya said with consideration.

"it is….but I think we can manage it."

"You'll certainly have my assistance, Danochka. So what first?"

"We go see our worst patient and document just how bad he's gotten."

She nodded. "Elias then."

"Precisely." He headed towards the farmhouse. "then we take some samples, some statements from Sasha….see if we can find more infected…."

"We can talk to that woman from the market I suppose…"

Daniel nodded "… and see if we can check the factory itself."

"Wonderful," she murmured. "I expect it'll be educational."

"oh I'm sure it'll be both educational and an absolute joy."

"I suppose we should get moving," she sighed. "Not that I was expecting a lazy day."

"Neither was I." He agreed with a shake of his head. "It's going to be… busy."

"So it is," she nodded. "More walking in this dreadful weather. If this was Astoria I'd hire a cab."

"If only." Daniel mused 'but it's good exercise, I suppose."

"we'll have calves to be reckoned with soon."

"The buffest scientists in the University." he drawled.

"If only that were a more impressive boast."

"I suppose we could throw the deans out their own windows." He joked, looking at the farmhouse looming ahead.

The farmhouse looked foreboding, huddled low in the shimmering fog, like a beast waiting to pounce on its prey.

"….hm." Daniel frowned, "I'm glad I'm not a man of superstition."

"What makes you say, danochka?"

"the farmhouse looks particularly… hm… in the fog today."

"Particularly…. ah. yes. I think I see what you mean."

As they got closer they heard thickly accented voices--mens-- raised in argument.

Daniel frowned, and listened as he approached.

"I vill naht vork vith that creature on the property any more!" the man shouted. "He will bring us all ruin! the fields are in disarray!" "Jashenko, listen to me. He is a sick man. There is no curse. It was some kind of animal…" "You are wrong! I have seen him vander the field at night!"

"….." Daniel put his hand to his chin "… it seems we have a problem… and perhaps confirmation of my theory." he murmured in thought.

"Should we listen a little more?"

Daniel nodded slowly.

"That isn't possible! He's tied up! Perhaps you're seeing things?" "Just vhat are you accusing me of, master Konstantin??"

"tied up, hm?"

"I don't recall that being the case yesterday," Fenya murmured.

"neither do I… meaning perhaps he's started….wandering about in his waking dreams."

"Perhaps…." They didn't hear what Konstantin replied, but Jashenko yelled. "No! I vill not have it! I vill not stay here like this!"

They saw a figure stamp off in the fog.

Daniel watched for a moment more, before he approached "good day."

Konstantin sighed. "Welcome back doctor."

"I hear there's been a bit of trouble about."

"More than is healthy I am afraid," he said, heaving a great sigh. "my workers are rebelling."

"Given that Elias seems to be walking about now? I can hardly blame them."

"Ah. You overheard that."

"Voices were raised, it was hard not to overhear."

"So it is," he sighed. "Yes. He has begun sleep walking."

"has he done much while wandering about in his sleep?" Daniel asked curiously.

"No, I… I caught him basically walking into the wall of his room."

"….eerie." Daniel murmured. "Just wonderful. I suppose this supports a theory of mine."

"Oh?"

"I'm afraid this disease is far worse than I thought. And may be connected to your little 'vampire' folk tale."

"Connected? how so?"

"I fear that in the advanced stages it affects the mind, and sets people wandering, beholden to their dreams."

"I see…. that's troubling my friend."

"it is. "Daniel said "which is why him walking about like a wraith is less than ideal."

"Yes… you're certainly right about that," he sighed.

"I'll have to examine him as soon as possible. Has anything odd happened around here in the last few days?"

"Aside from my men claiming they see revenants in the night?"

"mmm. yes." Daniel nodded "though I'm interested in those reports."

Konstantin shook his head. "My friend, they are nothing but superstition. As for anything else odd, no I am afraid not."

Daniel rubbed his chin "hm. Well. I suppose I'll see for myself when I check on the patient"

"Of course," he nodded.

He paused a moment "how's your youngest doing? Better since we helped with the sleeping issue?"

"Sleeping issue?" he asked with a frown.

"remember?" Daniel mused "the child was being fussy? I gave some medication to help?"

"Ah yes of course," he smiled. "Sorry, Darya usually takes care of the children. I'm sure you understand."

"I don't have children, nor a spouse" Daniel chuckled "but I'll take your word for it"

"A lucky man perhaps," he chuckled with him. "But I am certain if our baby were not well she would let me know. Loudly. Thank you for your help."

"always happy to help" Daniel said, shaking his head "though we have a busy day today, so it's probably best I see Elias now."

Konstantin nodded. "of course. I must tend the field-- especially considering my lack of help. But if you need me I will be here."

"I'll seek you out then." Daniel nodded his head

Konstantin nodded, and turned back to his fields.

Fenya motioned toward the out-building Elias was in.

Daniel nodded to her, and started off towards the building "hm…"

"Thoughts, doctor?" she murmured

"I'm concerned that the fool's mobile now." He muttered. "… I think perhaps the farmhands may have seen more than Konstantin thinks they did, too"

"I'm concerned about that too," Fenya nodded. "Do you think we should… relocate him?"

"Perhaps to a damned cell if he's that mobile" Daniel said with a frown. "We can have him walking about like a plague rat"

"No I'd say that certainly wouldn't be ideal."

Daniel nodded, and walked to the building. He listened closely to the door as he approached "far less than ideal."

He heard what sounded like muttering from within. It was impossible to make out any words however.

Daniel pushed the door open a crack, slowly.

It opened easily, and he saw the same room he'd been in several times before, Elias laying on his cot writhing-- his wrists tied to the bed.

Daniel cleared his throat. "Elias, can you hear me?"

Elias grunted and whimpered, twisting on the bed.

Daniel walked towards the bed, his mask still firmly on his face.

Elias' eyes were closed.

Daniel leaned over him, and looked at how he, visually, was doing.

His ears were quite dark, and his fur was drenched in sweat. There was a grimace on his face.

Daniel parted his lips to look at his gums and teeth, with gloved hands.

The researcher snaps his teeth at Daniel's fingers but doesn't manage to connect. Daniel could see that the tongue and gums were starting to turn black in patches.

"disgusting." Daniel frowned, pulling his fingers away "He's in bad shape." he bent down to listen to his heartbeat and breathing.

His heartbeat is good… but his breathing is shallow.

"Hm. Still having trouble breathing." Daniel sat up, and drew out a small needle "time for another blood sample."

"Of course," Fenya nodded, furnishing him with another vial.

Daniel took it, and began drawing blood from Elias' arm.

It was difficult, given how much he kept moving.

Daniel grabbed his shoulders, and shoved him down "Stay STILL!"

"Want a hand, Danochka?"

"I could use one, Fenya." He said with a nod "please."

She nodded, and came up, holding Elias' arm still-- with some effort. "He's really started thrashing hasn't he."

"He certainly decided to get very lively." Daniel drawled, and stuck the needle in his arm.

Elias' whimper turned into a howl and he started to gnash his teeth.

Daniel drew blood from his arm, not really caring to be gentle as he deposited it into the vial "the man's acting like a feral dog."

"A little bit much like one!" she agreed, gritting her teeth as she held his arm still with force.

Daniel drew the blood, and retreated from his body with a frown "let him go."

Fenya let him go, and he immediately started straining in his bonds again.

Daniel leaned over and opened his eyelid with his fingers.

Black veins were crawling through his eyes.

Daniel examined them closer. "hm… what sort of state of dreaming are you in, Elias."

The blacks of his eyes were wide and dilated, and they darted rapidly in many directions.

"It's really like he's dreaming." Daniel murmured. "A dreaming coma… in which he gets up and walks about."

"That's a bit of a nasty trick isn't it…."

"it's bizarre, is what it is." Daniel mused. "… I wish we knew where he GOT the damn thing from."

"I didn't see a cracked open phylactery in his stuff at the very least."

"So he didn't eat an infected placenta like some kind of horrible goblin man."

"not unless he disposed of the evidence."

"….please, I was trying to hope that he didn't do something so stupid."

"we can only hope," she sighed.

"Remarkably, he's looking… vastly worse than last time."

"I have to agree…."

Daniel frowned, "I'm going to test something, but I want you to get someone strong to help me if it turns out to be a mistake."

"Danochka…."

"I want to see how capable of movement he is…"

She raised an eyebrow. "well…. that's direct."

"I can't very well gauge it while he's strapped into bed ." he said "… but I don't want to risk him getting loose."

"I'll go get Konstanin then… but don't let him loose til I'm back."

"I won't." Daniel said, nodding firmly. "Safety first."

"Good," she nodded and headed out, leaving him alone with elias.

Daniel knelt by the side of the bed, and checked his pulse with his fingers '….you're an idiot, but you don't deserve this. Nobody does." he muttered

His pulse was slow, and steady, but quite faint.

Suddenly, jarring the silence he heaved against his ropes. "Help!"

Daniel stifled a shout, falling backwards "… DAMN."

"Doctor!" Fenya shouted as she threw the door open.

"Elias is alarming as ever." he muttered, dusting himself off.

She gripped her heart. "You gave me a scare." "And me," Konstantin agreed behind her.

"I was just taking his pulse." Daniel sighed. "and he screeched help in my ear like a banshee."

"Of course," Fenya sighed. "he's dreadfully difficult:

"The worst patient I've ever had, and I'm counting the frog who exploded."

Fenya shook her head. "Oh dear…" Konstantin sighed. "Miss Fenya said that you needed my help for something?"

"I want to see his level of mobility, but the last thing I want is for him to escape."

"Ah. You want me to untie him?"

"yes. Briefly. So I can get a sense of if his motor skills are still functioning properly."

Konstantin nodded. "Alright."

"I appreciate your help, Konstantin."

Konstantin nodded again and leaned over to undo the bonds. He stepped back, and for a moment they were all watching Elias writhe on the bed.

Daniel waited, looking at Elias intently as he writhed about "Elias."

He didn't answer or seem to hear.

Daniel grabbed a broom, and reached out to poke him roughly in the face with the handle. "Elias, you absolute buffoon."

"Ahhhhh!" he cried and lashed out, swatting at the broom.

"enough motor control to have a response to stimulus." Daniel observed, before whistling "here boy, Elias, Come over here."

Fenya smothered her laugh in her hands.

Konstantin coughed. "He doesn't seem to be able to hear anything. At least that I say…"

"Interesting." Daniel walked over to him, and waved his hand over his face. "No response to aural stimulus."

Elias swatted at his hands. "Ah! Please!! Help!"

"help with what, Elias." Daniel asked, checking how his legs were moving.

Elias… sat up all at once and lurched toward the door.

Daniel backed up, watching him move with a frown "… hm."

he didn't try the handle- he just thumped against the door.

Daniel watched him go "… he's too out of it to use the handle. Meaning if he was getting out, someone would need to open the bloody door for him."

Konstantin grunted. "exactly what I was trying to tell my man."

"Indeed." Daniel mused "which means if we reinforce the door well enough, it'll be an effective barrier against him spreading this thing all over town in his sleep."

"You don't think it's kinder just to tie him down?" Konstantin asked. "I worry he may hurt himself…." Konstantin gently put himself between the man and the door.

"oh, he'll be tied down. But with the way he's jerking about, he might very well break free."

"Ah," Konstantin nodded. "That I can get behind."

"then we'll reinforce the door, so he doesn't go wandering into your home."

"As long as we can still get in."

"Maybe locks on the outside would do it."

"That I can do something about," he nodded.

"good." Daniel mused, and looked at Elias "… let's get him tied back down."

The big bear of a man nodded and scooped Elias, kicking and screaming, into his arms. "Back to bed, Elka," he murmured.

Daniel cocked his head to the side.

Fenya too, watches, her expression invisible behind her scarf, as Konstantin ties the man back to the bed.

Daniel waits, pulling off his gloves slowly "hm. Any other tests you can think of that need doing, Fenya?"

"Potentially…" she considered. "A nail scraping perhaps? or a bit of skin?"

He nodded, and retrieved his scalpel "good point. Once he's secure, I'll get the samples."

"you;re not going to hurt him?" Konstantin asked as he finished tying him up.

"Just taking a few samples. Routine tests." Daniel said

"Alright…" Konstanin nodded and backed off, while Fenya handed over another sample jar.

He took the jar, and first took a nail scraping with the edge of his knife.

He managed to get a good nail scraping.

Next, he took the scalpel and prepared to cut a small bit of skin from the more infected patches of Elias's body

Elias, surprisingly, was lying fairly still.

The sample was easy to get. Just as Daniel was moving back, Elias started to writhe again.

"*No! The heart! you can't!"*

Daniel raised his eyebrow, listening closely "what's this now?"

"*the heart! you fool! You'll*"

And then he screamed.

Daniel grimaced "if only there was a sterile location to do a proper open heart surgery. I could get a sense of things "

"Heart surgery?" Konstantin asked with concern and surprise. "what for?"

"he's babbling about the heart, isn't he?"

"I suppose," he said, furrowing his brow. "guess you're right. Maybe it hurts or something…."

Fenya frowned. "we could probably do it at Sasha's…."

"true… we'll have to transport the man safely, however"

"That would be difficult," Fenya sighed. Konstantin was looking nervous.

"but it could be useful" Daniel mused "if for nothing other than as an example of what a later stage infection can do to to the heart and lungs"

"It won't…. you don't think it'll… bring him to harm, do you?" Konstantin asked. "Cutting people open…."

"it's surgery" Daniel said, waving his hand "people survive it at least a solid 70% of the time. Common procedure."

"70%…." he looked grim. "Then…. should you not avoid it until necessary?"

"perhaps." Daniel looked down at Elias "but it could be what saves his life in the end" He paused "You're worried about him. Yes?"

Konstantin nodded. "I must humbly admit that I am."

"hm" Daniel mused "well… we'll be doing what we can to ensure his survival."

"I beg of you to do so, doctor," he nodded.

"don't worry" Daniel looked at his samples idly "this sickness won't survive Daniel Delgrave"

Konstantin nodded. "Then please tell me if there is anything more I can do."

"If you can think of any metaphorical heart he may be speaking of, perhaps that's where he picked this thing up" Daniel said, a bit distracted .

Konstantin furrowed his brow. "I suppose…. no…."

"hm?" Daniel glanced up at him

"There is an old legend. Almost no one speaks of it."

"why don't you tell me, hm?"

"I don't know much," he said, shaking his head. "But I know my grandmother spoke of 'the heart of Tadibya'."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "do you have anything more on that?"

he wrinkled his brow deep in thought. "she said it was what gave the town its life."

"an interesting myth. Did she mention where it was?"

Konstantin shook his head. "Not that I can recall."

"perhaps I'll ask around" Daniel mused "could be a lead"

"I hope it helps," he offered with a sigh.

Daniel nodded "if nothing else there's always surgery I guess" he said with a smirk.

Konstantin nodded, missing the joke. "I should return to the fields…"

"Enjoy yourself" Daniel drawled "we'll be around."

Konstantin nodded, and left the room.

"…..well." Daniel said to Fenya "this has been… illuminating."

"It certainly has," she agrees dryly. "Any thoughts?"

"Either we're going to need to open the man up, or perhaps his feverdreams of this 'heart' mean something." He smirked "like where he might have gone and caught this damn thing from."

"Either one is certainly an intriguing possibility."

"it is… we'll have to ask around, I think."

"Another question we have for people."

"One of the many… many we have on our plate." he drawled

"At least we got some more samples. What do you think of his movement?"

"Distressingly mobile, luckily almost as stupid as he is awake." Daniel drawled "the fact he can't operate a door is reassuring."

She snorted slightly with amusement. "Indeed. But it begs the question who the farmhands saw, if anyone."

"Perhaps our mysterious **vampire**" He mused.

"Ah that's a good guess," she nodded. "And troubling."

"very." Daniel looked thoughtful as he tugged off his gloves "….this whole thing is troubling."

"Deeply. it's the sort of thing I'd be fascinated to read about-- if it was happening a thousand miles away."

Daniel snorted "Likewise, but here we are in the thick of it."

"So we are," she said, tossing her head gently. "We'll have to make the best of it."

"Become the heroes of science you read about in only the most riveting papers." He smirked.

"The most riveting and unlikely," she admits. "Like when Doctor Breckenridge ate that mummy hand."

Daniel snorted "Is that the one where he claimed it was still wriggling about?"

"No, that was Doctor Albertson. Breckenridge insisted that the mummies were transmuted into marmite."

"ah, yes, how could I have forgotten." Daniel drawled "you have to forgive me, I mixed up my mummy hand eating experiments."

"There are so many I can hardly blame you for the confusion."

"I have to wonder what the bloody fascination is. They're dead. it's not like archeological cannibalism is going to do *much* "

"I had a friend in the department who wanted to use one to make *paint* if you believe it," Fenya said, shaking her head.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "*why*?""

"He insisted it was the richest brown one could achieve."

"….great." Daniel said "wonderful use of dried up old corpses."

"Isn;'t it just?" she shook her head.

"… regardless we should probably be off." He chuckled

She nodded. "Yes, we'd better. Ah… off to where exactly?"

Daniel thought for a moment "hm. Perhaps to the market and factory."

She nodded. "Wonderful. The scarf stays on."

"I'm not taking this mask off all day." Daniel drawled "this place is likely going to become a hotbed of disease in no time at all."

"My least favorite kind of hotbed," she sniffed, and opened the door.

Daniel stepped outside with her "funnily enough, mine too."

The fog was growing again… but at least it was dryish now.

Daniel pulled his mask up "… what do you make of this heart business?'

"It makes about as much sense as anything else I suppose…."

"mmm." Daniel nodded "we can try asking Granny, but she's… hm."

"Kind of a bitch?"

"A massive bitch." He agreed, heading towards the slums.

She followed with him, back to the road and heading north. They hadn't actually taken this particular road yet. There were a handful of houses and another old manor.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… hm. I wonder who's manor that is."

"I suppose we could knock."

"… you know what? why not?" He turned and walked towards the manor

She followed him up. The manor was handsome… but it looked less well taken care of than some of the others.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and knocked heavily on the door "it's not as upkept."

"No it isn't… hmm…" Daniel could see candlelight beyond the curtains of the windows, but no one answered immediately.

He waited a moment before knocking again.

The door practically flew open. "Hoooooold on… I'm coooomin'." A rather beautiful and pale, if disheveled wolf woman answered the door.

Daniel dipped into a light bow "good afternoon. My name is Daniel Delgrave, Doctor of the Astorian University."

"And Professor Trifena Evgenii-Smythe," Fenya bowed slightly as well. "From same." The woman blinked dizzily at them. "Izzat right? What…. can I do fer you two?"

"we were on our way to the factory district, when we noticed your home." He paused "… we're in town for some medical business, so I was hoping to introduce myself."

"I sheeee," she smiled at them both widely. "Would you like to come in fer a drink?"

Daniel glanced at Fenya "we might have a spare moment or two, I suppose."

Fenya's ears flick and she nods. "I suppose…" The woman smiles wider and waves them inside. "come on then letsh not stand around."

Daniel steps inside. This woman seemed… drunk as a sailor.

Not only that, he noticed as he followed her. Though it looked at first like she was in a skirt as she walked he could see that it was in fact a pair of loose and voluminous pants.

The house meanwhile, was much more nicely kept than the outside. However in contrast to the other manors he had been in so far, everything looked relatively new inside.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "So… may I ask your name?"

"Oh!" she nodded as she led them into a nicely stocked bar and study area. "Katrina, dear! Katrina Volkov!"

"the Captain's wife?" Daniel followed her into the bar

"Oh, you know Iosef?"

She sat in a large armchair, and waved for them to do the same.

Daniel took a seat "I met him just today. He seems like a good man, he's helping me with my little..medical project."

This seemed to strike her as funny and she started chuckling. "Oh how fun! and what about you, dear?" she asked of Fenya with a purr. Fenya's ears flicked. "I'm on sabbatical, and the good doctor is assisting me with my return journey."

Daniel runs his hand through his hair, leaning forward in the chair. "We've found ourselves stuck in town for a while while we deal with our wayward folklorist."

"Oooh, you mean that Elias fellow?" she asked, She began pouring drinks.

"Yes, the dolt who went and got himself dreadfully ill."

She offered them each a drink. Unlike what they were used to in town, it was a cocktail of some kind. "Oh dear. The poooor boy didn't seem to have any sense! I'm not surpriiiiised!"

Daniel took the drink and took a sip "The man hardly had a functioning brain cell in his head… and that was *before* the sickness started driving him mad."

The drink was quite sweet, and a bit fruity. Definitely had some vodka in it though. "Driving him mad?" she gasped.

Daniel sipped it again "the man's been stuck in a coma that he's somehow dreaming in. All nightmares."

"That doesn't sound good at allllll," she shook her head.

"Oh it's definitely not," Fenya agreed.

Daniel nodded slowly. "no, and it'll likely kill him if we don't do something about it, from the way his breathing's been starting to degrade."

"Goodness! the poor fellow."

"Dreadful, isn't it?" Daniel chuckled "and Fenya and I have wound up right in the middle of it all."

"Well is it exciting at least? Solving a medical mystery abroad?" she asked with a grin. "*I'd* be excited. Can I help?"

"It's certainly exciting." He smirked "and I won't say no to your help, Katrina. If you're offering."

"Oh I absolutely am," she said, beaming

Daniel chuckled "might I ask how you'd like to help?"

"Ahhhh…." this seemed to throw her unfortunately. "Well…. huh."

Daniel chuckled "I'm sure there's a way you can help."

"wellll, if you tell me what you need maybe I can think of it? Oh! have you shpoken with my nephew?"

"Sasha?" Daniel chuckled "oh yes. he's letting me use his clinic and helping us watch over the ah..ill… as this thing spreads."

"Ahhhh, good! good… but thatssh one more introduction I can't make…"

"Well." Daniel chuckled "… we're trying to shut the town down. Is there any way you can help with that?"

"Shhhhut the town down?" she blinked.

"Quarantine." Daniel said "… to prevent the rapid spread of infection."

"ooohhhh…. issh it that bad?"

"Given that if we can't find a cure everyone in town could die while we're cut off from proper supplies and care in the capital? yes."

"That's terrible…. Oh!!" she beamed again. "You should talk to Elsha-- Elshabeth!"

"Elizabeth?" He raised his eyebrow

"Elizabeth Alekhin," she nodded. "She'ssss the governor's wife."

"the governor's wife." Daniel mused "now that could be useful."

"Sheee's a good friend of mine," Katrina grinned.

"Maybe you can put in a good word for us, hm?"

She nodded. "I'd be haaaappy to."

Daniel raised his glass "you're a delight, Katrina."

She raised her glass to him. "Awww, you're sweet. And *you're* shy." she winked at Fenya.

Fenya's ears flicked. "Just quiet."

Daniel chuckled slightly. "I certainly wouldn't call Fenya shy." He tipped his drink back.

"Oh nooo?" Katrina smiled

"Not since I've met her." He winked at Fenya,

"Hmph," Fenya chuckles. "How long have you two known each other?"

"Less than a week." Daniel said "but it's been one hell of a bonding experience."

"You can say that again," Fenya nodded.

"Sounds like quite the whirlwind," Katrina grinned

"Certainly has been." Daniel laughed "and that's not counting the whirlwind that blew our window open the first night."

"Blew your window open?" Katrina sits forward.

"Blasted it open in the dead of night, soaked half our bed." Daniel laughed "Remember, Fenya?"

"Oh I'll never forget," Fenya snorted. "Damned weather."

"It IS pretty bad this year!"

"This fog alone is a damned nightmare." Daniel agreed. "But I woke up with Fenya half curled against me for warmth!" He laughed. Perhaps he was a little tipsy.

"It was freezing!" Fenya half-yelped defensively, her ears reddening.

Katrina chuckled. "Ah I see. That's how it is."

Daniel's ears flicked "it's true, it did get rather cold."

"Well if you get cold again miss Fenya, it's always warm at my house." she grinned.

"Ah, yes… I expect it is," she chuckled nervously, ears flicking.

Daniel's ears turned red, flicking slightly "ah." He sipped his drink "regardless, thank you for the good word."

"Of course!" she smiled. "I'll talk to her tomorrow. If you see her before then just tell her who sent you!"

"Wonderful." Daniel purred "I'll be sure to do that."

"Have another drink?" she offered.

Daniel glanced at Fenya out of the corner of his eye.

"we do have some things to do today….given our deadline of tomorrow, but perhaps later?"

"Do come over any time," she said fondly. "Both of you."

Fenya was already getting to her feet. "Thank you *so* kindly for the drinks."

Daniel nodded his head "Absolutely, Katrina. We'll see you another time. " He stood with a slight bow of his head, and a wave goodbye. "Ta ta for now."

"Ta!" the drunken woman called back with a wave.

It seemed Fenya could not get out of there fast *enough*.

Daniel walked out into the foggy air, and pulled his mask back up "well. that was interesting." He said as he stepped outside.

Fenya took a deep breath as they got out of the house and then sagged. "It… certainly was. Goodness."

Daniel gently patted her on the back "that was probably the most forward woman I've ever met."

"yes ah… yes…" her ears flushed and flicked. "She certainly was forward…"

"Unabashed." Daniel added, his own ear flicking.

"She um… was it just my perception or…?"

"No, she was turning her, ah, attentions towards you." Daniel tugged his collar.

"That's ah… that's what I thought," she murmured.

Daniel nodded "I mean, you are a fetching young lady." He murmured "but Hell was she forward."

"She certainly was," she nodded. "And…. isn't she the captain's *wife*?"

"Yes, I do believe she is." He cleared his throat "perhaps they… subscribe to the Mordonan… philosophy of love."

"Ah… perhaps," she agreed bashfully. "Did the captain seem, ah… did he…?"

"…" Daniel thought for a long moment "I'm not sure… but… perhaps…"

"Hmmmm…" her ears flicked embarrassedly.

"hmm…" Daniel's own ears flicked "a… anyhow…"

She coughed into her fist. "Indeed, ah….moving swiftly along…"

"as far from here as possible" he murmured, walking along the path towards the factory

She fell into step with him, as they both hurried through the fog. "Actually, Danochka…. wouldn't she also have been that little boy's mother?"

"…..the little cult leader?" Daniel thought for a moment "….yes, yes she would."

"Huh."

"mmm" he agreed "and his father wouldn't be fond to find out what he's been up to

"I expect you're right about that. Are you planning to tell him?"

"I might, once it dries up as a tool to get the kid to cooperate"

"Good point," she nodded as they passed Sasha's clinic from the opposite side. A pair of children ran down the street chasing a cat through the fog and laughing.

Daniel watched them go for a moment before he continued on

"but we'll see."

"I suppose we will," she nodded. The further down the street they got the more the smell of the river intruded.

"I hate that river" Daniel bemoaned

"It's certainly become my least favorite thing here. Well. aside from the disease. And I guess the thugs."

"they all go hand in hand for an unpleasant experience" he drawled

"They certainly do," she sighed. "Not one of mosgrav's most scenic areas. Even when you CAN see in front of your face."

Daniel chuckled "and what *are* Mosgrav's most scenic areas?"

"well…" she tutted thoughtfully. "It has some very nice bridges. And palaces, if you like that sort of thing."

"I suppose I wouldn't mind seeing them once" he mused

"Perhaps after the fires have settled. There's a reason they build in stone around here."

Daniel snorted "now that makes sense. Perhaps then"

They heard the sound of the crowds at the dog as they approached. Distant barking dogs. Laborers grunting and yelling, the clinks and clanks of chains and gears.

Daniel frowned as he pressed deeper "like a slice of Astoria."

"Yes, and not the part I'm keen to visit."

"no." He said, heading towards the factory "but if we're looking for disease… we start with the laborers."

Fenya nodded. "What's the plan, Danochka?"

"I'm going to see if I can get some data." He said "… perhaps, if I must, with an organized inspection."

"The fish plant then?" she asked

"the fish plant." he sighed

"Lovely. One of the few buildings we can actually *see* I suppose." Indeed the monstrous structure loomed on the side of the river, jutting out of the fog with its high windows like mournful eyes.

Daniel looked at it with a firm frown "keep your scarf up while we go in. It's… likely to prove to be a hotbed of disease."

"Even if it's surprisingly sterile I doubt that it'll smell like daisies."

"It'll smell like fish and unwashed men." Daniel grumbled "and guts."

"Delightful," she sighed as they approached it. The press of bodies was thinner than it had been last time. There was nothing in the harbor now-- likely they were mostly inside.

"… packed like sardines in their own factory." Daniel murmured "As a sickness rages." He made his way for the main doors.

The main doors were a pair of beaten iron portals, looming tall above them, with no windows.

Daniel frowned, and grabbed the door, trying to push it open.

Unfortunately, it didn't budge.

"Maybe there's someone we need to talk to?" Fenya supposed.

Daniel kicked the door in lieu of a knock "hm. Perhaps." He listened for any movement.

The kick echoed through the fog. But… There was a grunt behind them.

"Need somethin?"

"We're looking to get in." Daniel spun to face the voice.

A slightly less burly dock worker with a grey muzzle faced them. He had a soft hat perched over one ear and his arms folded over his chest. "Yes?"

"We need to perform an inspection. It's a medical business, you see."

He jerked his thumb. "You'll vant to go around back then."

"This isn't the front door?"

"Yhes. It *iz* the front door. You vill vant to go around back."

"… fine." Daniel sighed 'thank you mister…?"

"Doborovsky," he said, waving a hand.

"Delgrave." Daniel said, "thank you for the tip."

He tugged on the soft edge of his hat. "Yep." He sat down in a chair by the front doors.

Daniel nodded, and waved for Fenya to follow him as he tried to make his way around the building

Fenya followed after him along the narrow ledge by the river. "Was he some kind of guard?"

"I think so. Or a greeter." Daniel snorted "someone to point people in the right direction, I suppose."

"Hmm…." The water lapped gently at the edge of the pier a few feet away, eerie in the fog. From inside they could hear the clank and rumble of work.

"The sound of industry churning along." he said as he made his way carefully around.

"How lovely," she said flatly. "I'm glad I didn't wear heels."

"They'd certainly make this slog a lot worse, wouldn't they?"

"I might hit a rut and fall right in. That would be a disaster…." Finally they reached the end of the pier, which spread out a bit and gave them space to get around to the back of the building. There were some boats tethered there with nets in them.

Daniel snorted "in this disgusting slop they call water? it'd be more than a disaster, it'd be a health hazard." He glanced at the boats "nearly there."

The back of the packing plant had a much smaller door than the front, and there didn't seem to be anyone there. It was partially open.

Daniel pulled it open and stepped inside.

Even through his mask he was immediately assaulted by the smells of fish and offal and sweat. There was a rude sort of antechamber here before the main plant, with boxes of fish for processing stacked high, almost maze like.

"guh…." Daniel swooned at the smell "… I hate this." He muttered as he pressed forward through the maze of fish.

Fenya held her arm over her face in addition to the scarf. "Has this sort of thing ever killed anyone?" she asked.

Daniel shook his head "no…." he paused "at least I *hope* not."

"These boxes don't look the most stable," she complained as they wove through them.

"No they don't. This entire place is… ill designed." Daniel glanced at them "Dreadfully unsafe."

"Yes… maybe you should talk to your friend the owner about that…" she frowned. "There's got to be a way into the place proper around here doesn't there?"

"there must be." Daniel mused "… but the question is where." he chuckled softly "and friend is… stretching it somewhat."

"He seemed to like you quite a bit…."

She snorted. "Seemed being the operating word I suppose."

"Precisely." Daniel mused. “As you said, we should be careful trusting the man."

"Indeed," she nodded-- just as they came to a dead end among the maze of crates.

"Damn it." Daniel cursed softly

"we could double back around and try another path. I'd suggest we climb over but I'm not entirely certain that would be safe…"

Daniel looked at the crates with a frown "….likely not."

Indeed they seemed to creak more the longer he looked at them.

"let's go back and find another way around."

Fenya nodded. As they turned around, Daniel noticed the hem of a diaphanous white dress disappearing around the corner into the box-corridors.

Daniel frowned, and hurried in the direction of the dress "hello?"

There was no answer. The corridor was short, and branched two directions at the end.

Daniel cursed and tried his luck. He went left, hoping to catch sight of the dress again.

He has just enough time to see the back of a pale haired woman in a while dress disappear out of the maze-- and through the door they had originally entered.

"Ugh… a circle," Fenya snorted.

Daniel frowned "… did you see that woman, Fenya?"

"Woman?" she blinked. "I'm afraid not."

"… hm." Daniel frowned, and looked outside, poking his head from the back door "I swear I saw her…"

As he poked his head out, he got another glimpse of white vanishing into the fog not too far away.

"….." He waved for Fenya to follow, as he hurried towards the glimpse of white, running into the fog "I'm going to find out just who this is."

Fenya blinked, but started after him into the fog. "right!"

Daniel ran out onto the narrow strip of dock alongside the plant. Despite the fog and the rough boards, kinesthesia didn't fail him and he managed to avoid falling straight into the disgusting river.

Fenya's footfalls behind him fade in the fog as he catches sight of the white hem in the mist ahead.

Daniel frowned, pushing onwards as he called "You there! Stop! I just want to talk!"

There was a sound like a breath all around him as he ran into what seemed to be a clearing or pocket in the fog. It surrounded him like a bubble, and he could hear a susurrus like wind through the trees. Standing just at the far edge, half vanished into the fog was the figure of a beautiful woman with dark fur in a pale dress. She had a hungry, canny expression.

Daniel frowned slightly, glancing around the area with a curious yet wary expression. his mind told him *this wasn't normal*, but his curiosity drove him onward. He stepped towards the beautiful woman, and spoke "who are you?"

Ahh Daniel could see was the circular slice of the dock planks, the fog, and the woman. She smiled at him, and held up a finger to her lips. As she did, Daniel realized that he recognized her face from somewhere.

Daniel blinked slowly . where had he seen her face before? "… why were you following us?"

Where *had* he seen her before. That was an important question. It had to be someone in town, right?" she smiled and held her hand out to him. There was a piece of paper in it.

Daniel stepped forward, coming quite close to the woman as he took the paper in his hand. It… likely was. Unless this was all some strange dream and he'd pulled the face from elsewhere in his travels and experience. "Why do you look so damned familiar?" he asked, as he glanced down to the paper itself.

The woman smiled at him again as he took the paper, that hungry, canny look still in her eyes. As Daniel took it, he realized it was folded around something heavy.

Daniel opened it and glanced at the item it contained. He felt like he was being watched by a predator under the woman's stare.

Inside the paper-- which had some hastily scribbled writing on it, was a small, leaden-silvery key, quite tarnished.

He read the writing, as he held the key in his hand. "interesting.."

The handwriting was unfamiliar, quite neat and rather archaic in script. '--go awry. It is obvious that Marta has done something to bewitch my dear little Vadim away from my so carefully selected match. Frustrating, but I must admire her cunning and determination. Darya, in contrast has proven herself quite loyal, perhaps to a--"

"Daniel!" a voice called through the fog from behind him.

Daniel startled, and looked up suddenly from the note. Gripping it tightly in his hand, he looked behind him.

The woman was nowhere to be seen, and the neat clearing in the fog had melted away. Behind him, Fenya jogged in to view, panting.

"There you are!"

Daniel frowned….his hand gripped the key as he stared at the place the woman once stood. "….Fenya…" he said "… I think this place may very well be getting to me." he looked at his hand. Did he still have the note and the key?

The note and key were indeed in his hand. She took a deep breath. "getting to you?" she asked. "Danochka you vanished for almost five minutes. I thought you might have fallen in the river!"

Daniel certainly didn't feel like it had been more than a minute.

Daniel frowned deeper "….five minutes? I… " he looked at the note again "… hardly feel as if I've been gone more than one. Odd… I'm sorry to have worried you Fenya. I'm not sure entirely what happened." He looked at the key with a furrow of his brow "….but…"

"What have you got there?" she asked, cocking her head.

He turned, and showed it to her. "I think this… note… was written by Mistress Nika… ah Morozov… the contents make mention to something Konstantin and his wife told me about some troubles in their shared past." He looked the key over more closely now "… it was wrapped around this key."

"Well that's…. certainly an interesting thing to find lying on the ground," she murmured as she looked at it closely. As Daniel showed it to her he started to realize that while they were still on the dock-- they were actually quite far from the fish plant, back closer toward where they had been the other day getting harassed.

"…..indeed." He said, holding the key up to the light. "…..I seem to have wandered quite far in my distraction." He hesitated, almost telling her that he hadn't found it on the ground. It was a visible hesitation.

Fenya nodded. "I suppose so. You must have been very distracted…"

"Fenya." He said after a moment "… are you *sure* you didn't see anyone? No woman in a dress?"

She shook her head, her ears flattening slightly. "I'm sorry, Danochka, I really didn't see anyone. I suppose I could have missed her in all this fog but…."

"… a woman gave me this note and key, Fenya." He frowned "….it was either that or a trick of the fog, but I saw her clearly."

Fenya blinked. "She gave it to you? You didn't say… bend down to pick it up?"

"….That's what I mean about my concerns of this place getting to me." he muttered. "I could simply be overtired."

She frowned. "Wonderful. Danochka,,, would you let me take a look at your ear for a moment?"

Daniel nodded, frowning slightly "… yes, you may."

Fenya leaned in quite close and gently pinched his ear between her thumb and forefinger, giving it a careful look.

Daniel took a deep breath. Internally, a concern was welling up within him. Concern that his safety precautions hadn't been enough, that his careful attention to detail and sterility had been impacted by his desire to solve this thing.

She let his ear go gently and shook her head. "No black. So, you *probably* weren't hallucinating."

"Thank hell." he murmured. "…. I don't think I was hallucinating, but the fog was terribly thick."

"Fog doesn't usually make me see strange women," Fenya chuckled slightly. "Let's assume you actually saw someone until we're proven otherwise."

Daniel nodded "the worst thing is how familiar she looked." He shook his head. "… regardless, we'll figure this all out."

She nodded. "We will. But… I feel like we're not going to get into the processing plant right now unfortunately."

"It seems not. Not unless mysterious women from the fog decide to open the door for us." he snorted

"You wanted to visit the market. Shall we do that or do you want to try to follow up on this key business?"

"I'll admit I'm a bit curious about the key." he mused. "… but the market is likely on the way back to town anyway."

"Yes it's about equidistant either way we go from here. Though the market is closer to the post office-- if we go there and then back to the chernoff's or sasha's we'll be doubling back around."

"it's true." he mused "… I do need to see if any letters came for me, however."

"Good point," she nodded.

"so let's cut through the market, check for signs of infection… get our letters….and perhaps pay a visit to Mistress Nika's old homestead, if we can find it."

"If nothing else we could ask someone. Though there should be a public record of it somewhere."

"If nobody's willing to part with the information, we might go searching for it in the mayor's office."

Fenya nodded. "Just what I was thinking, Alright, break's over I suppose."

"Break's over." He agreed, and gestured forward "shall we?"

The two of them headed through the fog of the afternoon toward the market. Despite the weather it was busier than the last time they had been there, some men, and children, and quite a few women wandering between the stalls making purchases.

Daniel kept a close eye out for anyone moving sluggishly, or any sign of darkened veins in the ears as he passed here and there, looking through the stalls "Busy day at the market."

Fortunately or unfortunately he's almost immediately successful. He spots a couple of men passing a bottle back and forth that both look worse for wear- and even at a distance he can see the beginning of black veins in one of their ears.

Daniel frowned "….Fenya. it looks as if it's already spreading. Rapidly. I see evidence already and I've not even pulled anyone aside for an inspection."

fenya grimaced. "I was worried that might be the case."

He looked around "anyone who looks worn down… likely is already infected, spreading it to everyone at the market."

"What should we do?" Despite the crowd there was noticeably little 'bustle' in the market. It seemed a fair few people were tired today.

He hissed "i'm not sure. We don't have the *pull* to just order the place closed yet. We don't have any backing from the powers that be."

"Not the governor or even the mayor," she murmured in agreement. "Damn…"

"We have the captain on our side but we need **proof**"

"Surely just seeing how many people at the market are infected counts for something?" she said uncertainty.

"I hope so." Daniel was making notes. "… if I must, I'll simply drag the man here and show him the nightmare his town is descending into."

"It might be necessary," she sighed.

"I'm just..concerned that we're a little late."

Fenya nodded gravely. "Medicine isn't my specialty obviously but… I understand your concern, Danochka…"

he nodded to her "… it's already spreading, and it'll spread even more today with how busy this market is… every day we don't have precautions, this gets worse."

She bit her lip. "I…. do have an idea, doctor. But it isn't a very nice one. And it may….cause difficulties."

Daniel stretched "… I'm listening."

She lowered her voice. "We may not have any authority, but that….isn't the only way to clear the market."

"….ahh." Daniel's eyebrows raised "… I think… i might understand where you're going with this."

"We could do something that would….make everyone leave the market for the day. I have some chemicals that could start a ah…. controlled fire…. if you don't have any other ideas that would do the job."

Daniel thought for a moment "….how likely would it be that it'd be traced to us?"

She pushed her reading glasses up. "I wouldn't be able to guess honestly, there's too many factors involved. It's… not improbable that it might be."

Daniel thought for a long moment. "… can we minimize actual damage?"

"With the fire idea? There's likely to be *some* damage but the actual buildings around here are stone, and everything's damned soggy to begin with…"

He took a deep breath. It was inadvisable… but…. "No." he shook his head "no we can't' risk making a bad impression on the governor. We need their support in order to get a proper quarantine in place."

Fenya nodded. "I thought you might feel that way. But it was prudent to lay our options on the table."

"it was. And it's a tempting idea, but if it's traced back to us we can kiss any official support goodbye."

"Yes and being outlaws could become tiresome rather quickly."

"I'd rather avoid being hunted through the streets like a trapped animal, eking out an investigation while the powers that be call for our heads." he drawled "that sounds exhausting."

"Not conducive to a good night's sleep at all," she agreed. "well then…. do we have any more business here in the market?"

"no, my fears are confirmed." he sighed . "unless you want to buy a scarf, I'd say let's move on."

"I think I'll pass on a second one today." She nodded and turned to start moving again.

Daniel walked with her, heading towards the post office "… what a strange town, wouldn't you say?"

"Incredibly," she agreed as they headed south, away from the fish smell. "And somewhere between exhausting and exhilarating."

"Oh I have to agree. In all my years of college, I've never been through such a strange…." He paused "no. there was the time with the Viper Gang….and my trip to Khan…"

He waved his hand "regardless, it's absolutely exhilarating."

She chuckled slightly. "Are you thinking you'll come out of this one with another student?"

"if they're half as troublesome as the last? Hell I hope not."

"For both of our sakes I'll hope the same," she said with amusement. The street down toward the post office…. trailed off into an empty field.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… hm. I suppose we haven't….been down here before."

"Damn… well," she supposed. "If we keep on walking we should get to the post office anyway, road or no. But our shoes are likely to be a bit wet."

Daniel shook his head "I wear boots for this very reason." He started tromping across the field.

"Agreed," Fenya nodded, striding after him into the fog. It was even more dense here where there grass kept the moisture trapped better than road.

Daniel grimaced as his boots sunk into the mud. "….bloody hell. " He glanced around him as they walked "… wonder if anything is out here."

"Anything like ah… a vampire?" she murmured.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… nervous about the vampire, Fenya?"

"It's hard not to consider it when we're out here by ourselves," she admitted.

He nodded slowly "… I won't lie, I am a little concerned.." he sighed "but… the man seems to be nocturnal."

"Yes, and the sun's not quite ready to go down yet. Even if it is bloody dim already."

"It is." He nodded "… and it's dreadfully foggy. Hard not to imagine something slinking in the mists."

"Like whatever was at our window last night…."

"…." Daniel shuddered "that thing chilled me to the core."

"I'm sorry I wasn't awake to see it…."

As they were talking, Daniel heard a hoarse noise muffled in the fog.

Daniel was about to answer when his voice died in his throat. "… what?" He listened closer.

Fenya paused as Daniel did. "Hmm?" The noise came again. It sounded like a kind of raspy croak. or perhaps a croaky rasp.

Daniel's hand went for his gun, gripping the handle as he peered into the fog "… hello?"

The noise answered-- it almost sounded like a cough. Daniel could see a shadow in the fog.

Fenya stepped closer to him.

Daniel raised his pistol, putting the weapon between them and the figure in the fog "… who are you?"

There was the frog-like coughing noise and *something* leapt out of the fog toward them. Man shaped in tattered rags and looking *wrong*. Fenya screamed.

Daniel took a step backwards with Fenya. His fingers tightened on the pistol's grip "Don't move! I'll shoot you!" He hissed "I won't hesitate to kill you if you intend harm."

The person, or creature-- had mangy fur and it was hard to tell what race it might be. It staggered, weaving back and forth like a boxer or a drunk.

Daniel's gun lowered slightly…..to aim at the creature's leg "you have *three seconds to say who you are.* After that, I *will* shoot! this is a gentlemanly warning!"

It cough-growled, and made a leap toward the two of them, claws out.

Daniel lifted the gun rapidly towards the beast's head, and fired off a shot, his brow furrowed.

The gun banged off a sharp report just as whatever it was got within inches of the pair of them. It staggered back, a hole blown into the side of its face, black ichor weeping down the wound.

Daniel frowned, and stepped forward "….what in the hell are you?" He aimed at it's knee, and tried to bring it **down**

The shot went wild as the thing stumbled backwards, clearly alarmed by either the wound or at least the noise. It hissed and gurgled and looked like it was going to come at them again-- but then it stopped as a light shown through the fog.

Daniel used the moment it was distracted to rush forward and try to pistol whip it between it's eyes.

Pow!! he clubbed it between the eyes-- which were hauntingly dark and soulless like black pits. It barked a cough and collapsed to the ground. "Hey!" someone called from behind them.

Daniel stood, shaking, as he glared at the figure under him, too hopped up on adrenaline to pay the call much heed "… Fenya….I need some rope. *we've found ourselves a brand new patient.*"

She started digging through her purse. "I have uh…. hemp? thread? Damn it I didn't think to bring *rope*." "Hey! Hey doctor!"… was that…. Mitya's voice calling through the fog.

"that's… fair…" Daniel glanced up towards Mitya. "Mitya, I hope you brought some sturdy rope."

Mitya held a lantern up as he passed through the fog into view wearing a heavy, dark raincoat. "Rope? What for?"

"We found ourselves an unruly patient." He bent down, and pulled the creature's rags away

Unfortunately, as he went to do that, he realized that the damned thing had vanished the second he looked away.

Daniel frowned…"Fuck." he said, in a very unastorian kind of way "fuck. Fuck. Fuck."

Fenya looked back and nearly choked. "What?! where is it?!" her voice went several octaves higher than usual.

Mitya blinked. "Doctor? Miss Fenya? Are you two… okay? I heard a gunshot."

Daniel nervously loaded another bullet into his gun "….we were attacked, but our assailant appears to have… shaken off his wound… and….unconsciousness….and slipped away."

"Attacked?" he gasped. "Muggers?"

"… strangest mugger I've ever met." Daniel murmured "but from the **ichor** that leaked from the wound… I'd say perhaps it's more likely he's one of our projected **late stage infected**"

The ichor… now THAT was still there. A splash of black tar on the mist covered grass. "Infected…. you mean like Mr. Banbridge?"

Daniel frowned….and scraped it up with his tools, putting the sample in a fresh vial. "… just like that, only far, far worse. Mind gone….behaving like an animal."

Mitya looked stunned. "That's terrifying. It sounds like a tale my grandmother would tell."

"ah… is that so?" He asked, looking the ichor over in quiet curiosity.

It looked almost exactly like one of his recent blood samples-- at least from this point of view. Mitya nodded. "Ah… yes? She often threatened me with shambling revenants and monsters…."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "and it seems there was a nugget of truth in it all." He paused “who was your grandmother, by the by?"

"well, I suppose the woman in question wasn't *technically* my grandmother," he mused. "My twice great aunt or something like that?"

Daniel glanced at him, "oh? who was it?"

"I always called her Granny Nini," he chuckled nervously. "But I believe her name was Nika? She was my grandfather Tadibyov's sister or something like that."

Daniel paused "… so you were related to Mistress Nika?" He looked thoughtful for a long moment "… interesting."

He nodded. "I mean, it's not all that unusual to be related to them. I don't think there are many related to master Misha, but the others all have large families still living."

"how interesting." Daniel mused "… where's her house?"

"Her… house?" he blinked. "I guess that would be either Tadibyov manor or Morozov manor depending on if you mean before she married…."

Daniel pulled out the key "where would this likely go to, something in the pre marriage or post marriage manors?"

Mitya blinked again. "A key? I'm not sure I understand."

Daniel showed it to him "….a woman gave me this key, with a note left behind by the late Mistress Nika."

"Oh….goodness… Maybe Morozov manor then? I know Nini--mistress Nika was said to keep scrupulous diaries."

"That could be useful," Fenya murmured.

"it could be incredibly useful." He mused '… we'll have to find our way inside."

"You'll have to get Mr. Morozov's permission," Mitya nodded. "Or his wife's I guess….."

"I'll probably ask his wife." Daniel mused "if it's all the same.

"I believe her name is Sofya," he said, helpfully.

"Thank you Mitya." he smiled "by the by… did any letters come for me today?"

He nodded. "actually yes. I ah finally got done sorting the mail."

"Sorry about that, my friend. Safety… especially given this most recent attack… is key."

"I guess it must be…." he nodded. "Ah… hold on a second…" He started rummaging through his bag.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, watching him.

He pulled out a couple of envelopes and handed them to Daniel. "Ah, I believe one of these came a little later in the day than the other. I'm afraid I don't remember which though."

Daniel nodded slowly "thank you, my friend. You've been a delightful help."

Mitya raised his lantern in salute. "I'm glad… I ah, managed to talk my father into installing better locks as well…"

Daniel saluted him back "thank you, Mitya. That way I won't have to lock you out every morning." He chuckled. "… with… problems stalking about at night, I don't feel comfortable without a few locks in the way."

"I can hardly blame you," he nodded. "Though…. they won't be able to have them installed until tomorrow."

Daniel sighed softly "… we'll make due."

Mitya nodded. "I'll sleep in the office tonight, if you think that will help."

"it would, yes. And we'll… block the door."

"Alright. I'll head back and start getting things ready then."

"You're a treasure, Mitya," Fenya said

"you truly are." Daniel said with a smile "An absolute treasure."

His ears flicked embarrassedly. "Just trying to help out. See you two later!"

"see you later, Mitya." Daniel chuckled "now let's get out of this fog, Fenya."

"Lets," she nodded as Mitya vanished into the fog. "oh! but…. where are we going now? we were going to stop by the post office."

Daniel thought for a moment "why don't we pay a few *house calls* " He looked at the key "we have some snooping to get up to."

She nodded. "Let's get back to the road, and maybe take a look at those letters too."

Daniel nodded "once we're out of the darkness of this damnable mist." he agreed, walking towards town.

It turned out they had been surprisingly close to the road when attacked, and only a few dozen paces later they found themselves standing by the old manor near the post office.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… unsettling how close we were to home." He murmured, and pulled out the letters to read them.

One of them was addressed in a familiar hand, the other an unfamiliar loopy script.

Daniel looked at the familiar one first.

It turned out to be from the plant boss, Andrei Morozov. *Daniel, I am terribly sorry to pull the rug out from under you like this, but I am unfortunately the one who will not be available for dinner this evening, to my regret. Business has suddenly come up, and I am unable to avoid it. However, I was able to procure an amount of medical supplies for you, and have had my man deliver them to warehouse 7 for pickup at your convenience. If anyone gives you any trouble fetching them simply show them this letter. Best regards, Andrei*

Daniel raised his eyebrow "urgent business he says… well. At least his man was able to get us some medicine. We'll have to stop by and retrieve that, post haste."

Fenya nodded. "Yes we will. A shame we didn't get the message earlier when we were nearby."

"It would have saved us a little time." he chuckled, "but it was my doing, I suppose, for locking mItya out." He paused and looked at the second letter

*Doctor, My apologies for being so incoherent when you'll see me this morning. Things will not be going well in the fight between monsters and men. The both of us will have our battles with them today but I fear that only you will come out the victor. My monsters are stalking me even now. Don't worry. Even with what you said it isn't your fault. You are a fine man, though you won't understand me when I explain. I will not be safe, doctor, I cannot be. Not for others to do so. That will be the crux of our misunderstanding I think. But I know that your well wishes will be well meant. You though, must be careful. You and your companion must be safe if there is even a chance for the rest of us, monsters and all. -L*

Daniel read the letter a few times, his brow starting to furrow as he got to the end… and started from the beginning again. "…. *damn it* "

Fenya blinked as she watched him. "Is… something the matter?"

Daniel just wordlessly handed her the note.

Fenya took it curiously… read. it. Held it up to the light with an expression of consternation, read it again, and handed it back to him.

"I hate that."

"Yeah." Daniel said "I also hate that."

"Why on gaea is it written if *future tense*?"

"Because presumably she wrote it before we arrived. Or would like us to think that." Daniel murmured.

"Does she want us to think that she's *psychic*? That's absurd," Fenya snorted.

"It would go hand in hand with the ghosts and goblins she claims to see." he said "….I hope she doesn't do anything rash."

"I'm not sure what she would do to be honest," Fenya muttered. "Though I agree…."

"I don't know." Daniel murmured. "but the whole thing gives me a bad feeling"

"I certainly can't say it doesn't give me one. Do you think we should go back and check on her? Or… something?"

"… perhaps we should, before the day's end. Just to be sure she's alright."

She pulled her pocket watch out of her cloak. "It's about 3 o'clock now…."

"… we'll make the loop. Check the manors, get our medicine, and….then check her." He looked at his map "that… would be optimal, wouldn't it?"

"Yes that sounds like a well thought out route," she agreed.

Daniel nodded slowly "… alright, then let's get to it before we run out of daylight."

She nodded, and started walking with him. "When we get back to Astoria I shall hire someone to carry me everywhere on a palanquin."

Daniel snorted softly "I know the feeling." He said with amusement. "Perhaps I'll buy one of those fancy *motorcars* the New Astorians are obsessed with."

"That would certainly make you a sight to behold on the streets of Astoria," she considered with a smirk.

"I could run over the dean and become a national hero." he drawled as he walked towards the manor houses

Fenya chuckled as they passed the apartments and shops with actual buildings on their way, headed once again toward the public offices and the town square.

"My hero as well."

He flashed a smile "well now, is that so?"

"For running over the dean with a shiny piece of antiwalking technology? without a doubt."

Daniel bowed "it's a pleasure to do so for my new favorite chemist." he winked

"I'll be sure to invent a new fuel source for your toy," she teased.

"My hero." he purred, as they approached the manor houses.

It turned out that they would actually pass the Osgrov manor on their way to Morozov manor.

"Change of plans, we visit the young lady *first* " daniel mused

"I should have realized we'd pass it. All these families are neighbors."

"it's true." he chuckled "Damn my memory"

"We should really see if there's a map in the mayor's office…."

"that… might be something we should do." He chuckled "perhaps if we have time today."

"I suppose we'll see." Fenya nodded, and held her skirts up as she headed up the couple of steps to the manor's door.

Daniel approached the door, and knocked firmly upon it.

There was no answer.

Daniel knocked again, frowning. "….come on…"

There was a long moment.

Fenya peered at the drapes. "The curtains are closed…."

Daniel grabbed the door handle, and tried to push the door open.

It clicked open easily. It wasn't locked.

Daniel pushed the door open, and walked inside with a frown. "hello? Lydia…?"

There was no one in the entrance hall. If he wanted to look around, he could reach the kitchen, the parlor he'd been in earlier, or the stairs from where he was standing.

Daniel first checked the kitchen… his hand near his belt as he went "… i have a very bad feeling about this." he murmured "but hopefully she's simply asleep."

No one was in the kitchen. It was quiet, and dark. The only remotely interesting thing was some spilled grain on the counter.

"Hopefully," Fenya agreed, creeping in after him.

Daniel frowned, and checked the parlor next

Ah…. there she was. Asleep in the long divan at the edge of the room. She was wearing a different dress than the one he'd seen her in before, this one lower cut, framing her soft throat and small breasts. Her lips were rouged and the inside of her ears pinked, her hair curled.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "….hm." He cleared his throat "Lydia?"

Fenya lingered in the doorway behind him. As Daniel spoke, Lydia stirred gently. "Already?" she murmured quietly in a confused voice. "It's still light out….?"

Daniel knelt by the divan, "it seems so. It's me, Daniel Delgrave. I… received your letter, and I wanted to ensure you were well."

She blinked at him with her large eyes. "Daniel…..?"

Daniel noticed that her eyes were *extremely* dilated. She was certainly on drugs. Sleepily she asked. "Is Andrei with you?"

Daniel's lips tightened slightly. "No, I think he's been..distracted by some work at his plant." *drugged and waiting for the fish boss?* "You're waiting for him?"

She rubbed her eyes gently. "Waiting?" she made a soft noise and sat up slightly quickly. "You should go, doctor."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… might..I ask why?"

"You're busy aren't you?" she asks. "If you linger, we'll both get in trouble. It will make it difficult for you."

"in trouble with whom?" Daniel asked "Andrei?" "This is already difficult as it is… I think I can handle a little more ." He shook his head "… your letter this morning was… alarming, to say the least."

She looked at him with big eyes. "Please doctor…. not tonight."

There was an edge of desperation to her voice.

Daniel frowned "…." He glanced at Fenya over his shoulder "….Lydia. I don't have a good feeling about any of this."

Fenya spread her hands as Daniel glanced at her-- she didn't have any idea what to do. "Doctor, you're so nice. Has anyone ever told you you're a nice man?" Lydia reached up and touched his face. "I promise I won't fall to your enemy tonight."

"… I don't get that often, but I thank you for saying so.." He said, brow knitting slightly in thought. "I… should hope you won't. " He set his jaw "Tell me straight out, is Andrei harming you? Is he one of the 'monsters' you spoke of?"

She smiled dreamily at him and 'booped' him on the nose. "I'm going to finish my nap, doctor."

Daniel's ears flattened back at the boop. "…" He stood with a soft sigh "rest well, Lydia. " he dipped into a bow "… I'll see what I can do from out there."

She patted his face and laid back down, closing her eyes. "You're a nice man," she murmured. her chest started to rise and fall steadily.

Daniel stood, and walked with a heavy expression back to Fenya. "a nice man, she says…." He pinched the bridge of his muzzle "… Fenya, i need to speak with you outside."

Fenya nodded silently, her own face rather grim. She turned and started outside.

He followed her, jaw set, until the two of them were once more out in the fog "….my bad feeling has turned into an absolute sinkhole" He said "….it's far, far worse than I thought."

"I have a bad feeling that I agree with yours," Fenya said.

Daniel rubbed the space between his eyes, brow tensed "….It seems your assessment of Andrei was..quite justified."

"Y-es… I'm starting to have an idea why I didn't like the smell of him…" she admitted.

"… as am I ." he frowned deeply "… she was *incredibly* drugged, Fenya….drugged, made up and waiting for the man. " He tensed "I wouldn't be surprised if that's where her bruises came from, as well."

Fenya's ears flattened. "It seems…. likely."

"when she talks of monsters wearing human skin… I think I finally understand just what she meant."

"Unfortunately. Do you think she *just* means… him?"

"No." Daniel frowned, "I don't. Not from the way she phrased that letter and our conversation earlier."

"That's what I was afraid of," she murmured. She glanced down and across the street a few hundred yards where Morozov manor loomed, engulfed by fog.

Daniel frowned slightly "… we'll get to the bottom of it and… make sure we put an end to it one way or another."

He glanced at the manor with a soft sigh "..shall we?"

"Yes… Although…."

Daniel cocked his head 'hm?"

She opened her mouth, and then closed it. "No… never mind."

Daniel shook his head. "no, I'd like to hear if it's all the same."

She pursed her lips. "I was going to suggest the possibility of sneaking in."

Daniel looked thoughtful "that… might actually be a good idea."

"I suppose the problem is we don't know how many people live there, or when they'll be gone. Though, I suppose we know Andrei won't be there tonight."

"indeed." Daniel mused "… perhaps we can stake it out, hm?"

"That might be a good idea," she nodded. "Let's see…. Mitya said he has a wife…"

Daniel nodded slowly "he did say that. and he mentioned he had a daughter."

"Hmmm…." she glanced down at the house again. "How old I wonder? Not old enough for a business…"

"Possibly one of the children running about with the jr. Cult Leader."

"I suppose we could see if the wife is home…."

"perhaps we'll get lucky and gain the ability to..poke around unsupervised."

"If not, we could potentially ask some… leading questions, about her future availability."

Daniel nodded, a slight smirk crossing his face "….brilliant."

"I have a sneaky idea or two, doctor," she said, adjusting her reading glasses.

"One of many reasons why you're so delightful, Fenya." he purred

She curtsied. "Happy to be of service, doctor. Shall we?"

Daniel chuckled, and nodded. "we shall." he walked through the fog towards the manor, a grim determination in his eyes.

The two of them cut a striking figure walking through the billowing mist, passing under the few street lights in town as they reached the tall, imposing manor. Rather surprisingly, there was a pair of styled iron horns above the gates.

Daniel raised his eyebrow as he looked up at them "hm. i wonder why."

Unfortunately Daniel couldn't think of any particular reason as they passed through the gate. Fenya looked up at the house. "I don't see any lights…"'

"we may be in luck then." he mused. He walked to the door… and gently knocked on it.

The knock seemed muffled by the dense fog. No one came to the door.

Daniel tried the door with a slim smirk.

Unlike the Osgrov house, this one was decidedly locked.

Daniel huffed… and tried a window.

It was either stuck or latched as well.

Fenya frowned. "Hmmm….."

Daniel looked thoughtful for a long moment "back door, perhaps?"

"Worth a try," she nodded. She stepped carefully down the stairs, and started around the hedges.

Daniel followed her, frowning slightly as he went. "… i hope we can get in."

"So do I," she said, keeping her eyes on the windows.. In the back there was a small, rather neglected garden with some childrens toys in it. There was also a back door.

Daniel attempted the back door, hoping someone had forgotten basic safety this morning.

It rattled gently in his hand. Fenya frowned. "Damn…."

Daniel looked at the lock with narrowed eyes.

"I do have some chemicals," Fenya offered. "Or hairpins."

"hairpins." Daniel said "we'll… melt their lock as a last resort."

She nodded and fished in her purse, handing him a large black hairpin.

Daniel took the hairpin, and fished in his bags for a long, thin medical tool, which he inserted into the lock with the hairpin.

He rattled the tools around for what felt like *much* too long, as Fenya started to look more and more nervous.

But finally, there was a satisfying click.

Daniel sighed with relief, giving her the hairpin back as he put his tool back in his bag. And he pushed the door open with a smirk "…..and we've done it."

Fenya breathed quietly as she put the hairpin away. "well done, Danochka."

Daniel nodded "thank my early years in university." he purred 'and my rivals in the medical department."

"Ah, Astoria U, what practical knowledge you teach." She gripped the knob with gloved hand, and pushed the door gently open.

Daniel chuckled, slipping inside the house to look around.

The back door opened into the kitchen it seemed, dark, and smelling of old burned wood.

Daniel looked around for a moment, before pressing on through the room. they had to be *quick* about this… and efficient.

There wasn't much of interest in the kitchen, though Daniel understood what the horns on the gate must mean as he saw a pendant of the Napthan goddess hung on the wall.

"… ah." Daniel murmured. "… followers of the Horned God." He looked, and pressed on to the next room, keeping an eye out for any doors or junctures.

The hall led to a parlor, and a staircase, as well as a few closed doors that might be rooms. or closets.

Daniel investigated the parlor first

The parlor was quite handsome and tasteful, with a large bar area-- though upon inspection there were more mixers than alcohols. There were several shelves full of books, and a large portrait adorning one wall. Daniel recognized the figure in the painting immediately. It was the woman who had given him the key, posed next to a stocky man who resembled an even older Andrei, perhaps in his 60s or 70s. The woman didn't look a day over 25.

Daniel *froze* His eyes widened slightly as he stared at the painting "Fenya, you won't believe me when I say this…"

She paused behind his shoulder and followed his gaze. "Yes?"

"that's the woman who gave me the bloody key."

She blinked. "you're sure?"

"I'd recognize that face anywhere." he murmured "right down to that look in her eyes."

Fenya strode forward quickly and looked closer at the painting. There was a small plaque which she read aloud. "Melchor Morozov and his wife, Nika."

She paused. "Danochka this painting is dated 70 years ago."

Daniel nodded slowly "… that doesn't surprise me." He said "she was one of the immortal leaders, the ones I wished to study."

"Perhaps she has a living relative with a strong resemblance?" Fenya offered.

"We'll have to ask." he said "still feels like seeing a damned ghost." He briefly looked over the types of books they had

"I can imagine…"

There's nothing that stands out on the book shelf. Daniel got the suspicion that the books might be mainly for show.

"hm. " Daniel mused, and checked the first of the closed doors

Closet, closet, closet…..

Daniel grimaced "… Fenya, no luck." he headed up the stairs "who needs so many damned closets?"

"The man DID seem to be obsessed with clothes," she said, following him up.

"… so true." he murmured, looking around as they ascended.

The stairs had recently been re-carpeted it seemed…. Upstairs there was a long hallway with several doors.

Daniel tried the first, hoping for not another damned *closet*

It wasn't a closet. It was a rather large room done up in some of the brightest colors he had seen since entering the town. There was an enormous vanity with a mirror ringed with candles like that of a stage star.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "now this is… interesting." He walked into the room, looking around.

It's almost certainly a woman's room. There's an old poster on the wall, framed, that announces the 'Beautiful Diva Sofya'.

"Someone used to be an actress from the look of it. Can you see anything, Fenya?"

Fenya frowned and looked around. "Let me see…."

Daniel waited, looking around himself with a sigh.

"I don't see anything all that interesting, I'm afraid."

Daniel looked over the vanity… just in case.

Among the items scattered on the vanity, mostly makeup, and small trinkets, there's a small silver box, about the size of two fists.

Daniel slowly opened the box, as carefully as he could

The box was locked.

Daniel tested to see if the key he was given would work

The little keyhole turned out to be the perfect size. It clicked open.

Daniel raised his eyebrows higher… and looked inside.

Fenya held her breath. Inside…. inside there were a few things. A couple of small folded pieces of paper. Several rings and a bracelet with charms.

Daniel first unfolded the papers, reading them over one by one.

One was a torn, stained fragment of an old journal in the same script as the one he had been given earlier.

*--dream sometimes about that night beneath the stone. Trusting Pyotr with the knife █████████hests. I wonder if that was the last time we all trusted one another? Perhaps. Since then we have all grown older. Wiser. More twisted. Like the r██████████████████heart of the world which we share. It seems such a small thing to need its blood. Are we monsters for that? Or simply closer to Gaea herself, whose blood runs in our veins. Returning moon after moon to share that same---*

Daniel's eyes widened "…" He slipped it into his notebook with his other letters "….a sliver of their secret." he murmured, reading the next.

Another journal fragment *-me instead of Pyotr. Isn't burying people his business? Perhaps Iosef doesn't want to make a fool of himself in front of another man. As if I wouldn't judge him just as harshly. There was no need to go and break her like--* There was one more piece of paper.

Daniel slipped the fragment in his notebook, before reading the last. "..damn."

Fenya raised her eyebrow. "I… see."

"It seems there was some sort of drama among them." He murmured, reading the last slip of paper.

The last slip of paper was… a list of ingredients, some of them quite common, ending with 'three drops of human blood'. The top of the paper read 'temporary'.

"temporary." he mused "….how interesting." He looked into the box, picking up the bracelet to look it over.

carved symbols shaped like eyes hung from it. "Oh… that's a folk charm," Fenya said.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "is it? Of what sort?"

"It's supposed to ward off evil, I believe. They usually give them to children, or people who think that witches are after them."

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "witches. I see.. . I wonder if it works for madmen plagued by horrifying illness." he drawled.

"Perhaps we should take it just in case."

Daniel chuckled, slipping it on his wrist before he looked over the rings

one of them was a wedding ring, there was no doubt about that. The other two merely looked expensive.

"Just rings." he mused "nice ones… and it seems that *someone* doesn't like to wear their wedding ring."

"I wonder if it's Sofya's or…."

Daniel nodded. "It could be….ah, Nika's, potentially. regardless, we probably shouldn't *take it* "

"Probably not," she agreed. "Shall we lock the box again?"

Daniel nodded, closing the box and locking it behind him. With that… he walked into the hall to check the next room.

The door opened on a rather lavish bedroom with a number of homey astorian touches. There was a fancy teapot on the table in one corner.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "ah, i know who's room *this* must be."

"Our dear friend Andrei," she said distastefully. The sheets on the bed were fine silk. There was a copy of a large holy book on the bedside table, which also had some kind of funny contraption on it that looked almost like a lamp. The nightstand had a single drawer, firmly closed.

Daniel investigated the… pseudo lamp?

There was a strange bulb inside the shade, and a little chain hanging down from it.

Daniel pulled the chain with a raise of his eyebrow.

The room lit up all of a sudden, the bulb inside glowing brightly and nearly blinding them.

Daniel had heard of this.

Electric light.

Some fellow in Astoria was trying to get them put all over the place.

Daniel snorted under his breath "….this nonsense will never catch on. Too unwieldy, too rare." he pulled the chain again, and attempted to open the drawer.

The light turned off, and then the drawer slid open. There was a pistol inside, and some papers.

Daniel picked up the papers first, frowning.

They seemed to mostly be business letters, as he looked through them. Routine orders for fish, replacement parts, and… nope….nope nope…. that's an erotic letter theere.

Daniel froze, and as much as he was loath to read it, he decided to check who it was to.

It was half finished, and it appeared to be from Andrei to… Mila.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "Mila?"

He shook his head "it seems he's….certainly not limiting himself to one woman, that's for certain." He put it away, and picked up the pistol instead.

"Is that a gun, Danochka?"

Daniel nodded, checking if it was loaded "it seems to be."

It absolutely was loaded.

"….do you want a gun?" Daniel asked Fenya.

"At this point I think it couldn't hurt," she nodded.

She held her purse out.

Daniel dumped the gun, safety on, into her purse. "now we're both armed." He shut the drawer, and gestured "let's see what else this house has to offer."

"This is certainly a bit thrilling, isn't it?" she declared with a smirk.

As Daniel gestures he notices the book sitting on the table again. There's something a bit off about it.

"incredibly so." he agreed, smirking slightly. But… the book caught his attention. He gave it a closer look.

He wasn't sure quite what caught his attention as he looked at it. was it's spine slightly misaligned?

Daniel picked it up… and attempted to gently pull the spine from it "… what's all this now?"

The spine pulled out of the cover--- it wasn't a book at all, it was a hidden box. Inside were a small stack of extremely rude novels.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and looked over the covers "… what a lustful man."

They were… extremely smutty. One of them had a woman all bound up. Another had a man fastened into some contraption.

"….." He held them up to Fenya "….I have few words."

Fenya flushed deeply. "Oh….oh my. Ah…. these might be a bit… illegal." She fanned herself.

"… I wouldn't be surprised."

He looked one over, skimming a few pages. "hm."

"fondling her pale, heaving breasts," "her soft throat bruised under his fingers" "fleshknife stabbing her again and again sending her closer to her little death"

"…" Daniel closed the book. "… hm."

Fenya, who had been peering over his shoulder, cleared her throat. "yes… hm."

"he's into some…." He looked at it; "risque stuff."

"yes. Ah." she coughed. "Well. It must certainly…. stimulate the blood."

"I suppose he very well needs it for whatever that little blood ritual was." Daniel said dryly

"Or maybe it's the reverse?" she mused. "Maybe he needs the ritual to ah… preform."

"ah, yes, human blood in order to get *horny* . The trials and tribulations of age."

Fenya nodded. "Devastating. I'm glad I'll never get old."

As they talked, they heard a sound from downstairs-- or perhaps outside.

"likewise." Daniel chuckled….before he cursed under his breath "… well. Now we try and slip out undetected. This… will be the hard part."

"Oh… dear," she breathed. "I'll… follow your lead."

Daniel went through the floor plan as best as he could tell from the outside. Could they get out the window?… it likely would require climbing…

if they went out the window they'd be in the back yard-- but they'd definitely have to climb down. If there WAS any way to climb down. On the other hand taking the stairs would put them right in the line of sight of the front door for at least a moment.

Daniel peeked out the window quickly. Did it look like a challenging climb?

There was a drain pipe going down. It was… potentially navigable?

Daniel grimaced "are you ready to do a bit of climbing, Fenya?"

"No, but I'm not ready to do a bit of getting pinned with burglary charges either," she said, moving toward the window.

Daniel opened it, and gestured "you go first, and I'll make sure the window is closed behind us." he murmured

Fenya nodded. "Got it. Let's see if I can still do this." She shimmied her body out the window and reached for the drain.

Her fingers slipped against it and she scrabbled with the slick, wet metal of the drain. She made a soft squeaking yelp as she started to slide down-- not *completely* out of control but much, *much* to fast.

Daniel winced, and hopped out the window after her. It wasn't like he'd be able to stop her, but he damn well was going to **try**. He shut the window behind him, and tried to climb down. "damn it, damn it, damn it." He whispered.

He threw his arm out to grab her just too late, and watched as she hit the mud, toppling into a heap.

*shit*

He started to climb down after her, hoping to all of science that she wasn't injured.

Daniel managed to control his descent better than she did, and landed on his feet next to her.

He dipped down, and whispered "Fenya, are you alright?"

He checked her over quickly for any obvious injuries.

She groaned and looked up at him, covered in mud. "Gaea damn it…."

He didn't see any blood, and from her eyes she didn't seem to be concussed. There'd *certainly* be some bruising.

Daniel winced, and offered her a hand up "Gaea damn it is right." he murmured "… let's get somewhere safe so we can rub something on those bruises."

She took his hand shakily. "Yes… I think this dress might be done for, too…" She looked as though she'd fallen into a mud puddle from two stories up.

Which she had.

He helped her up "… as it's my fault, I'll make sure to get you a new one once we return victorious from this little nightmare."

She leaned on him, wincing slightly as she put weight on one leg. "Normally I'd hold you to that, but I *was* the one who suggested sneaking about like a freshman."

Daniel wrapped his arm around her "… you might have a sprain. i'll look at it once we get off this man's property." He helped her towards the back edge of the property, trying to get back to the street. "I suppose we've both gotten older from our carefree days of breaking and entering."

"We need to get on that youth serum, ASAP it sounds like," she nodded. "Before we both wither up into dust." She limped with him back to the gravel road. Thankfully, whoever had made the noise was already inside. A light was now glowing from a room that was probably the parlor.

"Please." Daniel drawled "before we get any older." He chuckled, looking over his shoulder "… at least we escaped the burglary charge… at the expense of your leg."

"A fair trade off given that I've got my own personal medical staff, I'd say."

"Agreed." he said "… though it does make the rest of today's little adventure… complicated."

"Given all the walking you mean?" she asked dryly, limping along down the road with him.

Daniel nodded "… we can call it a day, if you feel we must."

She grimaced. "You're the doctor…. will it get worse if I tough it out? We wanted to pick up those medical supplies…"

"it depends." Daniel said "….it honestly might… putting strain on something like this, depending on the exact nature of the injury, could cause permanent damage."

Fenya hesitated. "I have to admit I don't like the sound of that…."

"Neither do I." he said "….how about we take a look at that leg, and we'll decide from there. We're right by Sasha's clinic."

She nodded. "On your advice, doctor."

Daniel nodded, and helped her limp her way towards the clinic 'if we get you a splint we should be fine, either way."

The clinic wasn't far at all. Practically across the street; and Fenya limped against him toward its warm light, reaching the eaves just as it started once again to rain.

Daniel knocked on the door, before easing it open "Sasha. We need a bed for a moment."

Oddly enough, no one answered.

Daniel pushed the door open, frowning.

The lamps were lit low, and the two patients from earlier were asleep in their cots, one murmuring to himself the other still. Sasha was nowhere to be seen.

"He must be out," Fenya murmured.

Daniel frowned, and helped her to one of the empty beds "I suppose so.."

"Maybe he needed something from the shops," she supposed. Achingly, she sat down on the cot.

He nodded, and pulled her dress up enough that he could get a good look at her leg.

She flushed a little, looking off away as he examined her leg. Her soft, dark fur was covered in mud. As he gently felt for damage, she winced and he could feel the telltale sign of what was probably a hairline fracture.

Daniel cursed softly. "That's a hairline fracture. We're going to have to splint that. It'll..very much impact your mobility for a while."

Fenya grimaced. "That's….. less than ideal."

"Far less than ideal." he walked over, and searched for some supplies to splint her leg "it is what it is."

He found them easily. If nothing else, Sasha was quite organized.

Daniel went back to Fenya, and worked to get her leg patched up. Hopefully he could find some painkillers for her.

Her ankle was starting to swell, it seemed. "Thank you for your help, Danochka…"

Daniel grimaced. "we need something for that inflammation." He murmured "… but you're quite welcome. sorry I wasn't able to catch you in time."

She waved a hand. "We got down didn't we? Probably the best result we could hope for…"

"It's true. We weren't *caught* " he murmured "so I will call that a win." He fashioned the splint onto her leg, and looked for some anti-inflammatories.

Her ears flicked gently as he tied up her leg. "A win's a win," she agreed.

Unlike the splinting supplies, the anti inflammatories weren't immediately obvious-- probably because Sasha had quite a lot of things in herbal and pure forms instead of compounds. He *did* find what he was looking for, but some mixing would be necessary.

Daniel sighed, and gathered the items, and a mortar and pestle "I'll mix you up something for the swelling." He smiled at her "A win is a win, though you're quite right about that."

"Usually I'm the one starting up a witch's brew, between us," she chuckled. "Funny to see you do that."

Daniel smirked, mixing the ingredients with an amused smile "Desperate times call for desperate measures." He purred "I can only hope that I manage half as well as you."

"I'm sure your talents will carry you through."

Daniel crushed and mixed the materials with a soft grunt of effort "I took a few classes in chemical compositions… a doctor has to know his medicine after all."

"Can't leave it *all* to the chemists," she teased.

"no, or how else could I tell when one was trying to poison me to help one of their friends in my department get ahead?"

"That would be a very brief problem to have indeed."

"Or a frustrating one, if they only wanted to poison me *a little*. " he made quotes " 'as a joke' "

Fenya chuckled. "Touche. That *would* be a pretty funny joke."

"Just what I expected a chemist to say." He tutted his tongue, and dumped the powder into a little pouch, which he handed to Fenya.

"Of course," she chuckled. "How do I take this?"

"Maybe dissolved in alcohol I hope?" she half-teased.

Daniel chuckled, and glanced around… did Sasha keep any alcohol around? drinkable alcohol, of course.

Well… there was alcohol but… no… that definitely was methyl alcohol.

"hm." Daniel chuckled softly "no luck, Fenya."

"damn," she shook her head with a smirk. "Water then? Or do I put it under my tongue?"

"i'll see if I can get you some sterile water." he mused, looking around

That he found easily enough. Sasha had a few jugs of the stuff.

Daniel poured some in a glass, and dumped the mixture into it before giving it a good stir and handing it to Fenya. "there you have it. The worst cup of water you'll have all week. I hope."

She chuckled and raised it. "Here's damned well hoping." She tipped it back and drank the bitter, sour liquid. "Ugh."

Daniel sat at the edge of the bed "that should help some."

"At the very least the lingering taste should distract me from the pain."

"It's a natural painkiller in that way." Daniel drawled

"How clever," she said dryly back. "Should I expect any other side effects?"

"An aversion to falling out of windows." he added

She laughed and shook her head. "Well doctor, I can definitely say I'm having that one."

"I'm afraid that one takes quite a while to fade." he smirked

"I shall just have to live with it, I suppose."

"I'm sure it'll prove healthy in the long run."

"I shall take your word for it."

"how's it feeling?" he asked "the splint?"

"Stiff," she admitted. "But definitely better than without it. You miracle worker."

Daniel chuckled, spreading his hands with a little bow "I do what I can, Fenya."

She smiled at him. "Better than most. Shall I put some weight on it, or not yet?"

"try it and tell me how it feels." He chuckled softly "and I'm pleased you think so."

She hopped down off the cot gently and tested her weight on it. "Hmmm."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "how's it feel?"

"Like a leg, which is certainly better than before." her tail swept gently behind her.

Daniel chuckled "let's try walking a bit on it"

She nodded and started gingerly across the room.

Daniel watched, keeping an eye on how well she was able to walk.

She was definitely limping, but much less badly than before.

"well… if it doesn't hurt, we could likely continue across town like this."

"I'll probably feel it later, but let's go."

Daniel nodded "… alright. Then the medicine?"

"Lets go get it. before it's pitch black."

Daniel nodded and offered his arm to help her take more of the weight off her bad leg.

Her ears flicked embarrassedly, but she took him up on it, leaning on him gently. "Thank you, doctor."

Daniel gave her a thin smile, nodding "Pleased to help. I'll see if I can find you any crutches or some such while we go."

"Lead on," she nodded as they headed out.

Daniel led her back outside and into the fog.

It was even darker now, and still raining. Everything was soggy, and the few streetlights were struggling to illuminate anything.

"Seems like I spoke too soon."

"… more time has passed than I thought." He frowned, thinking to himself "… should we turn back, or try our luck ?"

She pulled out her watch. "No, it's only 4:30…. it's just…. dark."

Daniel frowned, and made his way towards the warehouse. "… why?"

"The rain?" she supposed. "Though it's quite dark even for that."

"… it's far too dark for it to just be rain and fog." Daniel said warily as he walked along the street.

"It's like it's night already," she murmured, hurrying along with him as best she could.

He nodded as they went as quick as they could "… which is dangerous in this current time.."

"Quite… who knows who's lurking about…." she tugged her collar up as they headed northward toward the river.

He agreed with a nod, stalking forward with his free hand by his pistol belt. "… we'll… be fine. I'm certain of it."

"Yes… after all we *must* have used up our bad luck for the day."

"We absolutely have to have." he drawled "anything more would be bloody unfair."

It's seemed they truly had for the moment at least. There was a lot of commotion from inside the bar as they passed, but nothing jumped out of the fog to eat them.

Daniel sighed happily, pressing onwards towards the warehouse "no drinks tonight, I think"

"yes I'm not sure my head could take it."

"no, I don't think mine could either." he sighed softly "what a day."

"What a day is right." The smell of fish hung heavy in the air as they reached the dock. The laborers were muscling back and forth with crates.

Daniel pulled out the letter, holding tight to it as he muscled past laborers, and towards the warehouse itself with Fenya.

"feels like we've been here an awful lot," she murmured.

"yes… it's been one of the longest damned weeks of my life."

"Up there with New Astoria?"

"I don't know." He said "at least in New Astoria, I had the decent company of Lulu's parents, and the bloody gang.…" he paused "and no diseased revenants leaping out of the fog to try and bite my throat out."

"Hmmm, so what you're saying is this tops it."

"oh absolutely. New Astoria was child's play compared to this nonsense."

"Almost sounds like a vacation then," she said. They came to the warehouses, which lined the far side of the dock.

"I might very well go back." He said with a soft snort "once this is all over." He walked right for them, holding out his note like a badge to do whatever the hell he wanted

If it worked at the university, it'd work here, right?

The problem was…. which warehouse was he supposed to be going to?

Daniel frowned. He read the note again for any clue.

The note said *warehouse 7* but if they were marked he couldn't see it through the damned fog.

"…..i'm going to punch this man in his bloody snout."

"I must admit I'm a bit annoyed as well," she said, sounding *very* annoyed.

"….we have to find warehouse 7. In the fog."

"… how the bloody hell are we supposed to do that?"

"Ask someone." Daniel sighed, and walked for the first of them.

Nearby a wet, brutish shirtless man was carrying a crate of fish through the rain.

"You!" Daniel called to the shirtless man "yes, you, come here!"

The man stopped short, and jogged over to Daniel. "Hyes?"

"Where's warehouse 7? This damnable fog is obscuring the signs." he held up the note "i'm here for my bloody medical supplies."

"Oh! Sebben?" The man rested the whole crate on one shoulder to scratch his head. "Furthest one. Can't miss."

"take me to it."

He nodded. "Da." he waved his hand and led them down the row of warehouses. Fenya had trouble keeping up.

Daniel lingered to help her, hoping that with the two of them working in tandem, they could keep up.

She struggled, but between the two of them they managed to keep up with the long strides of the dockworker as he led them to the last warehouse before the market.

Daniel glanced up at it "Thank you. You can return to work now." he said, before helping Fenya towards the warehouse.

The man nodded, and hefted the crate again, as Fenya and Daniel made their way to the warehouse. The large, cracked windows barely showed any light.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… dank and despressing little building, isn't it?" he murmured, as he walked for the door

"More than a little," she agreed. The large, wooden double door was ajar as he approached.

Daniel pushed it open and pressed inside.

The inside was large, and rather dank, smelling of fish and smoke, with water dripping from places in the ceiling and boxes stacked everywhere.

Daniel coughed softly, covering his mouth as he looked around for anyone who might be able to just get him his supplies so he could leave this reeking place.

Another worker came out from behind a stack of crates, this one with slighter build and a small pair of glasses. "This is a restricted area," he snapped.

Daniel raised the note "We have *authorization*, young man."

"Authoriz--" he looked at the note with narrowed eyes. "Ah. My apologies."

Daniel flashed a thin smile "thank you for your patience."

"Of course," he said, still sounding troubled. "Please wait right here."

"Indeed." Daniel folded his hands behind his back.

Fenya leaned on a stack of crates, watching as the man headed off behind more boxes.

"I wonder what's on his mind." Daniel mused.

"Probably wondering when he can go home and have dinner, if he's anything like most public workers."

She eased some of the weight off of her bad leg.

"I can hardly blame him." he sighed "we have to figure out dinner."

"yes given that we won't be having it with Morozov…. and I believe we told Darya we were busy tonight? or was that yesterday?"

"yesterday." Daniel mused "… so i suppose we can have dinner with them again."

She nodded. "We could. Or I suppose we could go to granny's?"

"….no, i'd rather avoid the woman for now." Daniel drawled.

"I thought that might be the case." The man came back, carrying a small crate about the size of two shoeboxes.

Daniel smiled thinly "thank you, good sir."

He offered Daniel the crate. "Of course."

Daniel took the crate, and looked it over "Thank you. These will come in handy, I'm certain."

The crate was *heavy*.

"Good. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"I'd say come help us bring it home but you seem like a busy man"

He smiled tightly. "Very busy, I'm afraid," he said to the mostly empty warehouse.

"well it was a pleasure to meet you"

He nodded. "Of course. I'd offer to shake your hand but I can see they're both occupied."

"I'm Daniel Delgrave." he purred

"Simeon Bedovich," he nodded. He paused then. "You're the man from Astoria aren;t you?"

Daniel nodded "that's correct. I am."

"You certainly picked a bad time to visit."

"is that so?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "why?"

"Terrible veather," he said shaking his head. "I've never seen it this dark."

"Not usual for this part of Mosgrav?" he asked "… i've noticed it's been… less than ideal as of late."

"We usually get rain," he shook his head. "Some mist. But not like this."

Daniel frowned "… not like this." he mused "… I wonder what's the cause of it all."

He shook his head. "Who knows. Maybe there really is a curse."

"I doubt that." Daniel drawled "it might have something to do with how the capital is on fire."

"You think the smoke finds its way even here?"

"perhaps it's a large enough fire to cause sufficient damage to the weather." he mused "particulates and all that."

"Yes, ah, particulates," he nodded, clearly not understanding at all.

"mmm. Regardless, you're right about me choosing a bad time. Things seem to be becoming rather unsafe as of late."

"So they do," he nodded. "well… good luck I suppose."

"I appreciate it. Same to you, as well."

The man nodded, and picked up a nearby clipboard, letting Daniel and Fenya know they should be on their way.

Daniel turned and helped Fenya get back on her feet to leave the warehouse.

Fenya tried not to lean too much on him, given that he was also carrying the box.

Daniel held the box tight, but still attempted to help her hobble her way out of the workyard.

"Well, that at least went… somewhat smoothly," Fenya said.

"somewhat. We have the medicine, at least… and your leg is holding up."

"It certainly is," she said. "Though I must say I;m absolutely *dying* for a hot drink."

"as am I." He mused "… coffee?"

"or tea, if *anyone* has any."

"Right now I'd accept old boot water if it was hot," she muttered.

Daniel snorted softly "let's get you something better than *boot water*"

She put her arm on him and nodded. "Lead the way, Danochka."

Daniel chuckled as he led her down the street "How about hot drinks and dinner with our hosts?"

"I'll take it," she nodded with a slightly pained smile.

He nodded, and helped her along towards the farmhouse, taking it as slow as she had to.

They made their way slowly down from the dark docks, the rain hammering on their oiled cloaks, the box heavy in Daniel's arms.

"I hate the rain." he said "every day we're here I hate it more."

"you know before now i *liked* the rain," she admitted. "But I think I have to agree with you."

"Nothing like too much of a good thing to make it *dreadful*"

"Truer words were never spoken," she agreed. They limped down past Sasha's office, and were passing the bones of the old church when a tall and gaunt shadow loomed out of the darkness.

Daniel froze, and stopped Fenya with his arm, stepping before her with his hand on his hip near his gun.

"There you are," Rook snapped. "I was beginning to think you'd asked me out here only to forget our meeting altogether."

Daniel sighed with relief, and lowered his hand away from his gun "… we had an accident." Daniel said

He raised an eyebrow. "That's…. unfortunate." "It certainly is," Fenya agreed She took her hand away from her purse where she too had been reaching for a gun.

Daniel flashed a thin smile "….so. How about we have our meeting. You wouldn't happen to have anything hot to drink, would you?"

"Unfortunately not, but we can at least get out of the rain." He gestured to them to come sit on some beams under the half-finished ceiling.

Daniel stepped into the church, and looked around "sorry Fenya." he murmured "we'll grab that drink once this is done."

Fenya nodded and sat down on the stone, raising her foot. "I certainly hope so." Rook looked between the two of them with something approaching curiosity.

Daniel raised his eyebrow at Rook "yes?" he asked "Fenya was saying she wanted a hot drink to stave off the cold.."

"Of course," he nodded. "I was just wondering about what misadventure had befallen the two of you."

"Well." Daniel drawled "I was given a mysterious key by a woman that looked distressingly like the late Mistress Nika."

Rook raised an eyebrow. "A key? By mistress Nika?"

"Indeed. A key to a silver box containing some old writings of hers."

"May I see them?"

Daniel opened his notebook, and nodded "if you wish, perhaps you can tell me some about their contents."

He took the offered notes and read them in the glow of a small lantern that was sitting beside them. "Interesting…. these are definitely Mistress Nika's…."

"interesting… They seem to talk of some kind of practice… and a recipe?"

Rook nodded. "One of their healing draughts, I believe."

"… healing draughts?" Daniel mused "if it's functional it could come in handy."

"I have no idea if it would work for anyone but the masters, but I suppose you're welcome to try."

"I'm willing to give it a go." he purred, and put the notes back in his bag. "….Regardless, did you manage to find anything?"

Rook… hadn't actually offered the notes back yet.

Daniel held out his hand "mind if I take those back, Rook."

He frowned. "Ah yes, of course." He handed them over.

Daniel took them, and put them back in his pack "…. thank you." he raised his eyebrow "now about my question."'

"The grove wood you asked about? Yes. I have some."

"much appreciated" Daniel purred "… and you'll be interested to know that we nearly had your vampire for study"

"Is that so?" he asked, drawing a small bag from his cloak.

"shot it down and knocked it out, but it slipped away after a brief distraction. "

"Probably simply evaporated into the fog," Rook offered, along with handing Daniel the bag.

"I think it's more likely he ran off but…" He shook his head and took the bag "thank you"

"Of course. I hope it will help you."

"I hope so as well." he purred "it may hold the key we need."

"well… I suppose given the weather we shouldn't keep one another."

"Likely no. Best of luck in your efforts, my friend."

Rook nodded, standing with his lantern which swung and glowed in his claw.

"Be safe." He waved idly.

Fenya stayed seated for the moment, watching as the bird man and his lantern reseeded into the darkness and fog and rain.

"…."Daniel shook his head "… at least we got our paper."

Fenya nodded. "He didn't want to give them back did he?"

"no he sure didn't." He snorted "I think he wanted to hold onto them."

"I wonder why…."

"Likely because he believes they made him, I suppose." Daniel mused "It's like me holding onto his mother's private diary."

"Hmm." She made a face. "I suppose it would be kind to give them to him once we're done with them in that case. "

"i'll be happy to give them to him once we're done with it all" he agreed "But for now, we need it."

Fenya nodded. "I quite agree."

"It's settled then." He said, and threw his bag over his shoulder, with the other bag inside it, and reached down to pick up the crate again .

With difficulty, Fenya stood as well, and pushed back a few loose strands of hair. "Let's get back to our evening constitutional then."

Daniel nodded "Constitutional." he chuckled "indeed. Dinner, warm drinks..then home."

"Home which should have nice shiny new locks on it…. tomorrow."

"tomorrow. And a chair under the door again tonight."

"It's a plan," she nodded, liming with him down the road toward the farm through the rain.

Daniel headed down the rainy road, slogging along with the crate in his hands "good plan." he mused "if only we had a good hand truck."

"Think it would even roll in this muck?"

"… point," he drawled, "I miss astorian roads."

"Who would have thought," she agreed dryly.

"It only took trudging through the swampy streets of the middle of nowhere to remind you how delightful a little proper city architecture is."

"And buildings with more than two floors."

"and proper lighting."

"That's the dream."

If it hadn't been for the fog, the farm would have been in sight by now.

Daniel peered through the fog with a disgruntled look "nearly there I think"

"I should hope it hasn't decided to grow legs and walk away," she said, an edge of exhaustion and pain in her voice.

"Does that commonly happen to homes in Mosgrav?" he offered her his shoulder

"There *is* a legend about it," she said, leaning on him a bit.

"of course there is." he said, helping support her best he could. "let's hope it doesn't magically come true."

"If it does, it had better come and pick us up."

"and carry us all the way to the bloody post office."

The farm finally came into view, half swallowed by the fog.

Daniel sighed with relief "no feet to be found."

"Almost a pity," she chuckled.

"Agreed." he mused, helping her to the front door, which he kicked gently in lieu of knocking.

Darchik answered the door, looking up at the two of them with her moonish eyes.

Daniel looked down at her "Hello Darchik."

"H'lo." she nodded seriously at him.

"and how are you today?" He said, balancing the crate enough to rustle her hair "better than yesterday?"

She nodded quietly. "Uhuh."

From the other room Konstantin called. "Darchick? Who is at the door?"

"can… we come in?" he smiled thinly "this is heavy."

"Oh…." she looked up at it. She turned back towards the hall. "Can the doctor and his lady come in?"

Fenya's ears flicked embarrassedly.

"His l.." Daniel's ears flushed bright red and tilted back "ah."

Fenya stares at the door frame, her ears flushing as well.

There was a shout from inside the house and Darchik nodded. "you can come in."

Daniel's ears were still tilted back as he stepped into the house "much appreciated."

"yes… very much," Fenya agreed, pushing her wet hair back.

Konstantin's shadow fell on the hallway, and a moment later he appeared.

"I did not expect the two of you this evening," he said, not unhappily.

Daniel chuckled softly "we were invited for dinner tonight… at least we were yesterday."

Konstantin chuckled. "Of course. It was only that you seemed so busy earlier. Come, you are just in time."

"we were." Daniel chuckled "but we have quite a lot of evidence already."

"I'm pleased to hear it for your sake," he nodded, leading them into the bright, warm kitchen. It was a huge contrast to the outside.

Daniel pulled off his cloak "is there somewhere I can put this crate down?"

Konstantin nodded. "Please. Anywhere we will not trip on it, yes?"

Darya turned from where she was putting plates together. "Turned up for dinner, have you?"

Daniel set it at the edge of the room, and nodded to Darya "are you surprised?" he chuckled "nice to see you, Darya."

"Hmmm. I feel like I should never be surprised with you. Sit." She waved to him with a smirk. "Both of you."

Fenya gratefully arranged herself at the table, her wet cloak already hanging in the entry hall.

Daniel took a seat, after hanging up his own cloak. "much appreciated." he purred "we've had a rather long day. "

"I can tell," Darya nodded, heaping onto shallow bowls large portions of steaming goulash with large chunks of soft vegetables and thick gravy. "you look like a pair of drowned rats."

"That's the pleasant Mosgravian showers we've been slogging through all day." Daniel drawled. He looked at the goulash with a slim smile "… that looks lovely, however."

"There's plenty," she nodded with satisfaction. "I expect you both to eat at least one bowl." Konstantin smiles. "The weather… it has been terrible these past few days."

Daniel chuckled "At least." he agreed "i'll be sure to do just that Darya." He winked at her, before nodding to Konstantin "it's been dreadful. And..ah." he frowned "the fog was thick enough that we nearly found ourselves jumped by an assailant."

"You must be a trouble magnet," he rumbled, not unkindly. "Is that what happened to your leg?" he asks Fenya.

Fenya looks at Daniel.

"Vampire attack." Daniel said "She fell and fractured her leg while we fought a heavily infected individual off. "

"Heavily infected?" Darya raises an eyebrow but just shakes her head. "well. Thank goodness you're both as safe as you are."

"From the blood that we retrieved from him." Daniel mused "it matches the same sort of….samples… we attained from Bainbridge and otherwise infected individuals.. but yes. thank goodness we're both safe."

"Blood…" Konstantin sighed. "So there are more of these--- cases?"

"Oh yes," Fenya frowned. "there certainly are."

"Several around town. I'd advise staying indoors."

At this, Darya narrowed her eyes at Darchik. "What?" the little girl asked innocently.

Daniel glanced at her with a curious look "hm?"

"You heard him," Darya said. "There's husks out there. You want to get eaten?" "Iochka can deal with husks!" Darchik declared. She took a butter knife off the table and mimed fighting.

Daniel stared at the scene, suddenly having flashbacks to Lulu and the Viper Gang. *this didn't bode well*

Konstanti put a large hand on his daughter's head. "Darchik. Please put that down."

"Awww….."

"She's spirited." Daniel said, chuckling "I'm certain she could defend herself from one of the creatures if need be." He winked at the little girl "you remind me of someone I met in New Astoria once, young lady."

"I do see the resemblance," Fenya murmured with slight horror. Darchik cocks her head. "New Astoria?"

Daniel nodded "Far off across the sea" He explained "is the continent of New Astoria. It's a large land, filled with snowy mountains, and rolling fields. Dense forests and harsh deserts." He chuckled "….Astoria set up colonies there, only to find the land a bit resistant to Astorian Law….which is how gangs, such as Viv's Vipers and the Hell's Gate Gang formed in the lawless west. One of the two I traveled with for a time."

Darchik looked rapt. "Which ones are the good guys?"

Daniel chuckled "it depended who you asked. If you asked the Desert Rangers, they're all the bad guys." He leaned on the table "But in the grand scheme of things, that would be Viv's Vipers. A rowdy group out of New Astoria's southern edge, and Dorado." "the Hell's gate gang were murderers. Cruel, Sadistic, greedy, and led by a man they claimed could not die." He took a bite of his goulash, before he continued "while Vivian and her Vipers… they protected a number of smaller outpost towns from the hand of Astoria, and the influence of folks like Hell's Gate. They were still *criminals* of course. but they had a sense of honor." He chuckled "I acted as their doctor for a period of time while I studied their enemy's supposed immortality. Where I met a young woman just as spirited as yourself."

Darchik listened with fingers in her mouth, fascinated. She pulled them out to ask. "Did you get shot at all?"

Darya stood. "Alright, Darchik my sprout, it is *bedtime*."

Daniel laughed softly "Not me. But if your mother says it's bedtime, it's bedtime."

Darchik pouted. "I want the rest of the story when it's *not* bedtime."

Daniel bowed his head "I'll make some time to tell you the whole tale, sometime soon."

"I'll hold him to it, Darchik," Fenya said with a smirk. "I want to hear the end of this one too."

The moon eyed girl nodded, and her mother shooed her, walking behind her as they toddled off to the bedroom.

Daniel chuckled "it's… an interesting little tale" He admitted.

Konstantin smiled. "Sounds like my daughter is not the first precocious girl you have taken a fondness to."

Daniel chuckled "no. I suppose I have a soft spot for troublemakers." He shook his head "I wound up helping sponsor Vivian's daughter, young Lulu on her education in Astoria. A bright and inquisitive mind should be fostered with proper education after all." He looked into his glass "but young Lulu certainly is…."

"Trouble and a half?" Fenya suggests with a smirk.

"I was trying to think of the polite way to say 'nightmare' "

Fenya snickers. "Hmmm… whoops."

Konstantin chuckled. "I see. And she will be in your country… until she is grown?"

Daniel nodded "That she will. Until she completes her education and decides where to go from there."

Konstantin chuckled. "Not that it's any of my business, but I wonder if you'll be asking her to stay?"

fenya's eyebrows raised slightly.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "I suppose that depends on how taken she becomes with Academia. If she enjoys it enough, I'll offer to sponsor her into the university proper. If not… well. She'll return home a wiser woman than she left."

The bear man nodded, still seeming amused. "I can tell education is important to you, doctor."

"Education is incredibly important" He said, waving his glass as he spoke. "Education is the way we enlighten ourselves for a better future."

Konstantin nodded. "Out here in Mosgrav almost nobody has an 'education'. Especially not the girls, you see?" Fenya sniffed. "Unfortunately true."

"which is a dreadful shame." Daniel says. "I wish it wasn't the case, given how many avenues an education opens up for you."

"I suppose," he nodded. "Though I suppose there wouldn't be much here for someone educated to do,, when they're not chasing around folktales."

"that's not entirely true." Daniel purred "Education could bring new architecture. New cures for disease. New systems and technology to revitalize your home."

Konstantin takes a long drink. "Hmmm. Morozov has said the same thing."

"hm." Daniel shook his head "….well, regardless, it's the truth."

"Truth it may be," he sighed. "But people don't like change. Darya could have gone to the city, and gone to school. But…." he shook his head.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "oh?"

"It was not what she believed in," he sighed.

"A terrible shame." Daniel said "but it's all a matter of choice, I suppose." he leaned on his hand "but, the University is always open for those looking for an education."

Konstantin nodded. "I suppose it is…"

"With a sponsor, of course." He smiled.

"yes," he nodded, rubbing his chin. "Is that really something you'd be interested in with Darchik?"

"If you wanted to send her to the city for an education, I'd certainly be willing to sponsor her." He waved his hand "assuming I survive this little nightmare, of course."

"Assuming of course," he nodded. "I shall keep it in mind. You're… very generous, doctor."

"I do try to offer opportunities when I see them. She's an inquisitive young lady."

"Yes," he chuckled. "She certainly never stops asking questions."

"I've noticed. I have the feeling she's quite the brilliant young lady."

"She's a delight-- when she's not trying her mother's patience," he smiled.

Daniel chuckled "oh I can only imagine. She seems as precocious as she does bright."

Darya finally wandered back into the room. "Talking about Darchik?"

Daniel nodded "indeed. she's a bright young lady."

"Mmmm," Darya shrugged. "So…. you say it isn't safe outside?"

"it's… not the safest." He said with a nod "the disease is spreading, and we've been attacked at least once."

"you've encountered the dybbuk then."

"Tall, monstrous gentleman spewing black blood all over the place?" Daniel purred

Darya nodded. "That would be one. Yes."

"mm. Well we were attacked by a man matching that description, yes."

"Tch. I shouldn't be surprised. As I said, the town is plagued by them. It's only getting worse."

"They seem like late stage infected." Daniel mused "the blood they carry and… general….. appearance, matches some of what I've seen with this illness."

"Infected. Tch. Infected with evil."

"Infected with evil." Daniel leaned thoughtfully on his hands "actually, Darya. After dinner, might I speak with you privately for a moment?"

She raised an eyebrow, but nodded. "I suppose."

"much appreciated." he folded his fingers "….infected with evil." He chuckled softly "… it's possible that there's a link there."

"Shall I let you talk then?" Konstantin asked with a small smile. "I'm finished."

Daniel nodded "if you don't mind."

Fenya cocked her head, ears perked. "Shall I, or?"

Daniel chuckled "you can, Fenya, mostly I have some questions about some of the local stories and about the former Mistress of this town."

Fenya nodded. "I'll stay if it's all the same to you then. I think I'd like some more stew."

Konstanin smiled and excused himself from the room.

Daniel nodded, and took another bite of his goulash "so… Darya."

Darya brought Fenya another bowlful of the goulash and sat down. "So. Doctor."

Daniel tented his fingers "first question is this…" "Is there anyone in town who looks nigh identical to Mistress Nika?"

Darya snorted. "Near identical? to Mistress Nika? What a foolish idea."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "no daughters? No siblings?"

"Any siblings she had are long dead," she said, shaking her head. "The mayor is her great grandson, I suppose."

"not him then" he mused "….I met a woman in the fog, who gave me a key and a note. She was a strange woman, not saying a word save for with her eyes. And looking at portraits of your Mistress Nika, there's little doubt that it was at least someone who looked like her"

Darya's reaction was immediate, and if she made an attempt at subtlety she certainly failed. her mouth fell open and her eyes went wide as she froze. "You *saw* Mistress Nika?" she breathed. She leaned forward, her hands on the table. "She *gave* you something? where is it?? give it to me!"

Fenya jerked back at the other woman's sudden outburst as it brought her a little *too* close for comfort. "Goodness!"

Daniel jerked back as well, his eyebrows shooting up at Darya's rather… animated reaction. "Darya… the goulash" he chided "you nearly ended up wearing it"

Darya grimaced and eased backward with a frown, touching the front of her dress just to make sure. Still, the intensity hadn't left her eyes. "Yes. Thank you doctor. So."

Daniel took a deep breath "unless I'm seeing ghosts I doubt I saw your Nika, but… she gave me a key"

He paused "and a note."

She gave him a stern look. "What makes you doubt it was a ghost?" she asked and then sighed. "Never mind, doctor. I think I know the answer to that easily enough. Well-- what did the note say?"

Daniel nodded slowly "perhaps I did see her, or perhaps there's something in the fog… but" He pulled out the note and read: '--go awry. It is obvious that Marta has done something to bewitch my dear little Vadim away from my so carefully selected match. Frustrating, but I must admire her cunning and determination. Darya, in contrast has proven herself quite loyal, perhaps to a--""

Darya's expression went *rictus*, her pupils shrinking to pinpricks as she stared, suddenly like a block of ice.

*"Marta*," she hissed. "I knew. I *KNEW*."

Daniel put the note away "….I'm sorry to give you confirmation."

Her nails caught in the wood of the table. "It was *deliberate.* She took *EVERYTHING* from me." Her voice was a dead, hoarse whisper. "I will kill her."

Fenya looked at Daniel with increasing worry.

Daniel raised his hands "now don't do *that*" he said,frowning deeply. "Darya. Calm yourself and listen to me, please "

"No." she breathed. Her ears were almost flat on her skull, her lips curled. "The time to be calm has *long* passed."

Daniel suddenly slammed his hands on the table "That's ENOUGH, Darya!!" He nearly shouted "The last thing this *damned* town needs is more corpses! I came to you for *answers*, not a bloody *vendetta*"

Daniel's response at least shook her out of the blood fervor for the moment, her expression of fury retreating slightly under startlement as she winced. "Damn it…." she hissed.

Daniel's fur was bushed on his slender tail, and his ears were tilted dangerously. "The last thing you need is to spill bad blood during a *bloody epidemic*" he hissed "do you understand?"

Fenya's ears flicked as she watched, and she nodded. "It's a terrible idea, frankly, Darya." Darya looked away, and slumped back down into her chair.

Daniel took a deep breath "I'm sorry for what happened" he said "I am. It seems you were robbed of quite a lot via the machinations of another." He shook his head "but killing her and in turn *killing any ounce of freedom you have* won't change the past"

She took a breath in the mirror of his, and closed her eyes. "You are… correct. I let my passion control me for a moment."

"good." Daniel said "don't… do something evil when you yourself says that leads down Elias' road, hm?"

She nodded. "You're too sensible, doctor," she says, sounding quite annoyed at the idea.

"I'm a sensible man." he said, running his hand through his hair "….but don't do anything foolish, please."

"I can't say I won't think about it," she said. "But you're right. Damn."

"Good." Daniel sighed "….it seems like it was a bad situation, however."

"She stole my husband," she growled. "My whole life."

"… can you tell me about her?"

"Marta?" she snorted. "She's petty. Foolish. The local gossip."

"And how was she back in the day?"

"Much the same," she snorted. "I should have known she was a schemer but I thought she was too much of an idiot."

"So disarming, hm?" He frowned slightly, looking thoughtful "… What was her relationship with you and Nika?"

She shook her head. "She was just another girl in town. She was jealous of my betrothal, that was obvious."

"hm." Daniel nodded slowly "I see."

"Do you think there's anyone else she's done this sort of thing to?" Fenya asked.

Darya sniffed derisively. "Probably. She's been very *fortunate.*"

"ah. Can you explain? Perhaps we can ask around if we know where to look."

"She is a peasant girl. The daughter of some fishermen," she waved a hand. "She married the mayor. She has two sons. No one ever says a word about her."

"Almost sounds like she's living a blessed life." Daniel mused.

"Charmed, I would say," Darya drawled.

"So it would seem…" He mused "… what can you tell me about Nika's matchmaking process?"

She shook her head. "Not much. She seemed to do it on a whim. Except for her family. She matched them meticulously."

"interesting…" He mused

"So…. what?" Fenya asked. "She just randomly decided that two people should get married and everyone went along with it?"

Darya nodded. "Yes."

"might I ask what happened when someone's heart yearned elsewhere?"

"People know how to manage their private lives in this town I assure you."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "so you just had a widespread culture of…." he paused "Mutually agreed upon infidelity?"

"I wouldn't say widespread necessarily," she shrugs. "But yes."

"ah." he nodded slowly "I see."

Fenya's ears flicked gently. "Interesting," she said, coughing.

"very." Daniel ran his hand through his hair. "… can you tell us about….the fish boss' wife?"

"Sofya?" Darya asked. "Let me guess, she tried to proposition you?"

"not as of yet." Daniel drawled

"Is she likely to?" Fenya asked, her ears flicking again. "Huh. Well. I'm not one to gossip."

"That would make two notorious flirts in town then." Daniel murmured "we'll prepare ourselves."

"Who was the other?" she raised her eyebrow. "No wait. I suspect I know." She looked at Fenya, who flushed.

Daniel nodded slowly "… indeed." his ears flicked "… regardless, do you know of any reason she might have had the box that the key I was given went to?"

Darya's brow furrowed. "She-- Ah. Of course. Her husband is Morozov. Mistress Nika's wed family."

"that makes sense." Daniel mused "her wed family, hm?"

Darya nodded. "She's the reason the Morozovs got rich in the first place, I'd wager. She was born a Tadibyov."

"Is that so?" He asked

Darya nodded. "The matriarch of both houses."

"Then she was a powerful woman indeed."

"You have no idea."

Daniel nodded "though I suppose if I did meet her, I might get *some* idea." he paused "i found other notes, as well."

"Of Mistress Nikas?"

"yes, of Nika's." He nodded "something about the rituals she performed."

She pressed her hand to her mouth. "Rituals?"

"yes." He looked thoughtful. "if i show you, will you be able to tell me anything about them?"

"Possibly," she said slowly. "I did learn at least some of what she had to teach."

Daniel took out the two notes from the box, and passed them to her "tell me what you think of these."

She read them with furrowed brow, and read them again. "Pyotr. That must be Pyrotr Osgrov. The healer."

"is that so? Sasha's father?"

Darya nodded. "Without a doubt."

"Though I'm not sure about the other person she's referring to. The one who didn't want to face Pyotr. It must have been one of the other two."

Daniel nodded slowly "Interesting… and the recipe?"

"I can't be certain," she said. "But I think it may be one of the salves that pyotr would use on patients."

"interesting." Daniel mused, and looked the papers over again "it seems there was some strife between the Masters and Mistress."

"It may seem surprising, but I suppose there is always strife in any group," Darya mused slowly.

"Not that surprising. We go to the university."

She raised an eyebrow. Fenya smirked. "Higher ups always have their infighting."

"Anyone who goes to school learns to recognize things like…. mild poison. Or clearly false assignments meant to get you out of the way during a particularly important testing phase…"

"Not exactly how I pictured a school life," Darya admitted dryly. "Regardless."

"Indeed… we're no strangers to strife in a group."

She nodded. "Well… whoever she was referring to. It was either Misha or Iosef."

"Interesting… is there anything else you can tell us about that situation? or why….this Nika lookalike would wish to point us to it?"

She shook her head. "She must have her reasons… maybe so you could bring them to me?"

"Perhaps…." he mused "How strange, wouldn't you say?"

"I'd say it's the best news I've heard in years," she muttered.

"is that so?" Daniel asked.

"yes. If Mistress Nika is returning then I am sure things will be set back to the way they are meant to be."

"…." Daniel tilted his head back in thought "… hm."

Fenya caught his eye with a skeptical look.

Daniel returned it, nodding slightly "I just wonder if any of this has anything to do with the illness….after all. Elias did hollar something about the heart."

"Probably because he is being consumed by darkness," Darya said.

"No, I think it's got something to do with a physical location." he murmured "or at least, one he must believe is related to his current plight."

"A location?" Darya raised her eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"The note that Nika left… did mention a 'heart of the world which we share' " He said "leading me to think that, while metaphorical, it means something specific."

She drummed her fingers on the table. "Yes….. hmmm… it could be… no…"

Daniel raised his eyebrow "no, please."

"Well…." she mused. "Once or twice I heard her speak of a 'heart of the town' or 'heart of the world'."

"… indeed." Daniel mused "….i've heard mention of that as well."

"From who, if I can ask?"

"your husband mentioned it, and I believe I've heard it elsewhere." he mused "I think Rook?"

"Both of whom also have ties to the masters…" Fenya mumered.

"indeed." Daniel nodded "… which means there's a lead there."

Fenya nodded.

"May I ask what you're thinking?" Darya asked.

"I think whatever this heart is relates to the illness currently spreading about. It might very well be the origin point, and if that's the case, i can take samples and work out a way to reverse engineer a cure."

"An interesting theory," darya shrugged. "But I don't see how they could be related."

"you can't?" He raised his eyebrow "we know Elias was… notorious for his slinking about in areas of folkloric significance. And he *knows* about it despite it being a more obscure myth, from the sound of it. Perhaps he found it, and picked up the disease there trying to foolishly recreate some half heard fairy tale of his."

"Hmmm… meddling in forces he didn't understand… perhaps that IS what happened."

Daniel nodded "that sounds like Bainbridge."

"It certainly does," she admitted darkly. "It sounds like we'll have to follow up on this heart thing then," Fenya murmured.

Daniel nodded, looking thoughtful "the problem is hardly anyone knows the story.."

"Yes, it seems as though they kept the information tightly to their chests," Fenya agreed. "I wonder why…."

"Because we're outsiders." Daniel said, glancing at Darya. "… perhaps an insider can loosen their tongues for us?"

"I would have to know who's tongue to loosen first," Darya said.

"….the innkeeper." Daniel said "I think."

"Grandmother Bobbin?" she raised an eyebrow. "Hmmm."

"Yes indeed." Daniel frowned "… she was keeping secrets this morning, and playing games."

"That sounds like her; unfortunately."

"If you can help us get something out of her about the heart, I would be much appreciated."

"She's…. extremely difficult…"

"I understand, but if we're going to get to the heart of the illness and stop this town from rotting from the inside, I need to know whatever she's keeping so tight to the vest."

She rubbed her jaw, and after a moment, nodded. "Very well. I shall speak to her. But you owe me, doctor."

Daniel nodded "… I owe you, Darya."

"Good," she nodded and picked up the empty plates.

Daniel leaned back in his chair, looking thoughtful.

Fenya looked thoughtful as well. She cocked her head questioningly.

"This whole thing. " he mused "I feel we have a lead… we just have to follow it. But the problem is…" he chuckled "… it hardly feels properly scientific, chasing after old folk tales."

"I have to agree," she chuckled slightly. "we do have those samples to check over though. Oh-- and you still have to write that report for tomorrow."

"Report?" Darya asked.

"indeed." Daniel murmured. " I need to compile a report to convince the governor to allow me to enact a proper quarantine."

"Ah." she sniffed. "You'll be lucky if you manage it. The governor doesn't listen to anyone around here. But maybe since you're not from the country."

"and I write an apocalyptic enough missive, perhaps I can scare him into listening to reason."

"Hmmm. he's ex-military you know. I'm not sure he's the type to be intimidated."

"I've barked at military before. I'm certain I can manage."

She snorted. "I won't be the one to argue with you then."

"mmm… it's worth a try, anyway. And we do have substantial evidence that this town could perish without intervention."

"I too worry that the end is coming," Darya admitted.

"you do, hm?" He sighed "I'm pleased it's not just me. But I can *stop it* if i get enough cooperation."

"Perhaps. But what you will be stopping is the curse of the town masters."

"…" Daniel sighed "… curse or not, the town doesn't deserve to die because of something they likely couldn't control, yes?"

"Perhaps. If the mistress has appeared to you, maybe she's decided that we do not."

"Wouldn't you say?" Daniel nodded "… I think your people don't deserve to die for something the Church did… so I intend to stop this illness as soon as I can."

Darya nodded. "You move your hand to do more than most."

"hm? You think?" Daniel chuckled "I suppose I must be a very diligent man."

"The people here keep to their own business," she said. "Even men like Morozov and Alekin who want to bring changes here."

"hm… that can lead to stagnation, instead of progress. And something that stagnates long enough breeds all manner of sickness."

"Maybe," she said. "But none of this would have happened had the church not come to drag us all kicking and screaming into modern Mosgrav."

"I… disagree with nearly everything the church does." he frowned "this especially was barbaric. Modernity isn't something to run from… but there, they were just bringing zealotry."

Fenya nodded. "The church is hardly 'modern' in any case. In my view it's just another archaic institution."

Darya shook her head. "regardless. Your interference here--- I only hope that it will be beneficial. The Mistress's appearance gives me some small confidence."

"I'm pleased to hear it brings you confidence." he stood "… we should prepare for tomorrow."

Darya nodded. "Of course."

Daniel smiled "thank you for the hospitality and the meal"

"Of course. You are… better guests than our other one at least."

Daniel chuckled, ``I'll take that as a great compliment."

Fenya gently got to her feet and nodded with a chuckle. Darya just waved her hand. "Bah. Get out of my kitchen, both of you," she said not unpleasantly.

Daniel bowed, winking at her before he walked out to grab his cloak and crate. "Until another time, Darya."

Fenya hobbled a little slowly after him, putting on her own cape.

Daniel offered her his shoulder, as he nudged the door open.

She leaned on him, and they headed out into the darkness. At least it seemed to have stopped raining.

"I say we take the lack of rain as a good omen." he joked, as they hobbled out towards the post office.

Fenya nodded. "As good of one as we can get, I think."

"So… what did you think of all that?" He asked as they walked

"It was… certainly interesting," she murmured. "Darya seems convinced you saw a ghost."

"She does. And i admit, while I don't believe in ghosts, the whole situation gives me a strange feeling."

"Same.. I can't really wrap my head around what might be going on. It can't have been a hallucination. You certainly met *someone*."

"I certainly did. But the question is who and why did they look like Nika?"

"I *suppose* that could have been some kind of… disguise? Induced hallucination?"

"induced hallucination." he chuckled "perhaps, but I don't know the *way* it was induced on me."

"A gas could be responsible…."

"in the fog?" He mused "Perhaps, but It likely would have *smelt* of something."

"Likely, but not necessarily. Weren't we by the river when it happened?"

"… we were." He agreed "With the smell of fish everywhere."

"So that might have overpowered the scent of some kind of chemical…"

"likely. but who in this town could get their hands on something like *that?*"

"Not just anyone certainly…." she mused as they neared the post office.

"It's not like this town's famous for it's chemists." He drawled.

"No. But it is famous for its 'witches'."

"You have a valid point." he said thoughtfully.

"Also I suppose if there's anywhere in town chemicals *are* going to be used it would be at the processing plant."

"… very good point." he agreed "… and I do have my suspicions about that man."

"Agreed," she nodded. "We have a lot to think about."

"and a lot to study." He sighed "and a lot to write."

"I get the feeling it's going to be a long night, Danochka."

"A very long night, with too little sleep." He sighed, and pushed the door to the post office open.

It opened gently and Mitya sat up with a snort from where he'd been dozing in his chair.

"Doctor!"

Daniel bowed his head to Mitya, before helping Fenya inside and closing the door. He moved to block it tight with another chair, before flashing a smile at the young man "Sleeping well?"

His ears flicked embarrassedly. "Ah… honestly not very well no."

"Fair." he sighed "I'm sorry to hear it."

He shook his head. "I'm just worried about more break ins…"

"As am I… I blocked the door so we should prove safe for the night."

Mitya nodded. "THank you for doing that. I won't unblock it until morning."

"good. No matter what you hear, keep that door closed." He said.

He nodded. "If… something strange awakens me, I'll come and get you."

"please. We'll need to know as soon as possible."

"I'll make certain then," he nodded. "Oh, since I was here I started the fire for you upstairs."

Fenya smiled. "You're a treasure, Mitya."

"An absolute treasure, Mitya. What would we do without you?"

Mitya smiled embarrassedly. "You exaggerate, doctor. But I;'ll take the praise. Hopefully we'll have a quiet night."

"It'll be a long one, but I can hope for a quiet one as well." He agreed

"I'll start some tea," Fenya said. "As….soon as I get up the stairs. Oh dear."

Daniel grimaced slightly "… this will prove troublesome." he admitted, "Shall I try carrying you up?'

Her ears flushed. "I shouldn't trouble you. I'm sure I can make it."

"no, no." he shook his head "it'll be simpler if I carry you."

"If you say so, doctor," she nodded, looking quite embarrassed.

Daniel nodded, his ears tipped back. "..i'm happy to help" he murmured as he moved to lift her, placing the crate down.

She obligingly put her arms around his neck.

It was… precarious going for a moment, but he managed to heroically carry her up the stairs.

He might have thrown his back out though. Maybe he should work out more.

He grimaced slightly, but helped her up… and placed her gently on the bed "..i need to work on that, but.."

Her ears flicked and she looked away a little shyly. "Well you ah, managed to get me up here. So… I'm in your debt."

Daniel's ears flicked, his eyes averting off to the side "ah, well then." he cleared his throat "… I'm just glad you didn't have to walk the way up those steep stairs."

She smiled at him gratefully, pushing her hair back. "Hopefully we won't have to jump out another window-- fun as that started out."

"It was a good time for a while, wasn't it?" he chuckled, sitting beside her. "until that final slip.'

"It certainly was," she said, smiling as she eased her leg up gently. "Exhilarating."

"Reminds me of my youth." he chuckled "and all the trouble I got into."

"That makes two of us then," she smirked. "Though I must insist that I'm still *in my youth* as a lady."

"of course." He stood, bowing his head "I'd never say otherwise. I'll be right back… I'm going to grab this evening's spoils from downstairs."

"Alright," she nodded. "I can manage to put the tea on…."

"You're a saint, Fenya." He purred, before heading downstairs.

Downstairs, Mitya was quietly sorting through some mail. At least the place was warm at the moment.

Daniel bowed his head to him, as he hefted the crate "best of luck to you tonight, Mitya."

He smiled nervously. "To you too… Uh… can I ask what's in the box?"

"Medical supplies" He chuckled "from a benefactor."

"Oh! That's good-- right?"

"hopefully. I haven't had the chance to take a good look… but if we're lucky, these will come in handy."

Mitya nods. "if it uh, turns out to be something you need help getting rid of, just ask me."

"is that so?" He chuckled

"well I mean, within reason?" he chuckled.

"I'm mostly curious what you might think it *is* " he chuckled

"Goodness, I have no idea," he rubbed the back of his neck. "I was only trying to be helpful. I've helped S-Doctor Osgrov get rid of medical waste sometimes."

Daniel raises his eyebrow "oh." he chuckled "That would be very useful, actually."

Mitya gives him a smile under his hat. "Oh! good then!"

Daniel nodded "you're a great help as always, my friend."

Mitya nodded, "Thank you, doctor!"

"you're welcome," he said, as he hefted the box up the stairs.

It was much easier to manage now that he wasn't trying to half-carry Fenya as well.

Daniel walked up, and placed it on the floor by the bed "ready to see our spoils?"

Fenya was sitting by the fire when he came back, the kettle hung above it. She smiles. "I have to admit I'm very curious."

Daniel nodded, and attempted to open it "as am I."

It comes open easily enough, despite the top having been wedged in pretty tightly. Inside are quite a few objects packed in gauze.

Daniel looks through them one by one.

Well, there's copious gauze. And…. yes definitely at least 10 doses of opium. 5 of cocaine. And 3 of strong antibiotics.

Oh and there was a bottle of leeches.

"oh, we have leeches, Delightful." Daniel said, "feeling any serious swelling, Fenya?"

"No I think I'm set in that regard," she nods.

"Then we'll save it…" he paused. "i wonder how they react to the infected…"

"Good question," she nods. "They can't get any blacker."

"it'll be interesting to see if they can leech some of the disease out of them or if they'll succumb themselves."

"I wonder what would happen if they did succumb," Fenya mused.

"I suppose that's what science is all about… finding the answers to these little questions."

"I would have to agree," she said. "So we;lll have to try it. For science."

"for science." He grinned, and put the materials over by their work desk "speaking of which… we have samples to look through."

"We certainly do," she nodded, taking the corked and cloth wrapped vials out of her purse.

Daniel took them gently, and set them beside his tools.

There was the blood, the tissue and the nail samples.

He starts with the blood from the patients.

Now that he knew how to look at the blood, it was easier to understand what he was looking at. Surprisingly the sample from Elias today looked the same as the last had. The other two samples however… were different.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, looking at the others "that's… concerning."

"What is it?" Fenya asked curiously. The other two samples-- one of them appeared to only have a few traces of the inky blackness in his blood so far. The other-- the one who seemed almost just as far along as Elias, had his own sample about half taken over.

"….one, it's good to see that they aren't *too* badly infected yet… but the other is already nearly half consumed."

"That's…. unfortunate," Fenya nodded.

"it is. Yet they seemed nearly as far along as Elias… perhaps that stage hits even before the blood is fully infected."

"And then has a sort of lingering effect?"

He nodded "indeed…" He frowned, as he checked the nail samples next.

The nail samples of the least infected patient appeared unchanged, as did Elias's sample. The sample of the most heavily infected of the two other patients however…. had small traces of black in the otherwise dully colored nail keratin.

"hm. It's in the nails. Unsurprising, I suppose."

Actually…. if the heavily infected patient has black in his sample *why didn't Elias'?*

Fenya nodded. "I wonder if it's progressing through all the tissue?"

Daniel frowned deeply "…." He looked again at the samples "… perhaps but… Elias doesn't have any in his sample in the least. No black in the nail sample at all.'

"None?" Fenya raised an eyebrow. "That's surprising."

"None." he said quietly "so *why* if he's less far along."

"I suppose the patient may be more susceptible?" Fenya suggested. "though I can't imagine a reason."

He makes a note on a pad "… something to keep in mind, I suppose. We'll investigate further to see if we can answer that question."

"It's a small sample size so far," she nodded. "Could be anything really, right?"

"Indeed." he agreed. "it could be anything at all." He moves to put slides containing the skin under the microscope.

Elias's skin sample seemed relatively ordinary for an unhealthy astorian.

"… I'm… shocked." Daniel murmured, and tried one of the other infected.

The heavily progressed patient had traces of black matter in his skin.

"….but *why not Elias! the man's *heavily* progressed! and yet…"

"And yet nothing," Fenya said, peering at the sample herself. "That IS strange."

Outside, they heard a strange sound. A ticking, reedy and metallic sound, that resolved into a solemn melody.

Daniel raised his eyebrow. He listened closely for a moment "what… is that?"

"Music?" Fenya murmured. It was coming from the street below the window.

Daniel stood, and opened the window enough to look out at the street below.

Outside, a rather shabby figure was standing in a bare patch of streetlight, mostly obscured by the fog. The instrument in his hands was some kind of breathing box, and he leaned against the lamp post.

"Hold on… didn't we hear that music in the bar? It's a bit hard to remember…"

"… we did." Daniel said. "… shall I go investigate?"

"I *am* a bit curious what he's doing playing in the middle of the night to no audience."

*The middle of the night. It was barely 8pm.*

It felt like the middle of the night in a town like this. He stood "I'm going to go see what the man's on about." He blocked the window again, and put on his pistol belt, before looking over his shoulder "… shall I?"

"I'd come with you, but given my leg…."

He nodded "I understand, Fenya….I'll let you know what I find." He headed down the stairs

Mitya was asleep in his chair, the door still blocked with the other chair.

Daniel moved the chair, before he slipped out into the night.

The wind had picked up-- but it didn't seem to blow the mist away at all. It did however carry the strains of the melody quite nicely.

Daniel followed the song towards where he'd seen the figure, stepping through the wind and the fog.

The disheveled, long haired figure looked up as he approached. Some sort of wolf phenotype, patchy black and white, with a crooked cap on.

Daniel bowed his head in greeting "… good evening."

The man grins at him and gives him a wink-- and makes him wait a moment as he finishes the song.

Daniel nods, leaning against the post office with a thin smile as he listens.

The box ticks along as he plays the strange, mournful melody. The last notes of it disappear slowly into the fog.

"Got a cigarette?" the man asks.

Daniel reaches into his pocket, pulling out a pack of Astorian cigarettes. He offers one to the man. "Lovely instrument you have there, stranger."

"Thank you kindly, stranger," he said with a heavy accent.

"You're welcome." He said slowly, and looked the man over. "Do you usually wander about in the middle of the night with a song in your heart?'

He chuckled. "I've been known to. When I'm not singing for my supper."

He takes the cigarette and lights up with a match from somewhere in his coat.

"have you had any?" Daniel asked "Supper, I mean."

"Not for a couple of nights," he chuckled. "Such is life."

"Let me treat you." Daniel said "I don't have much, I warn you, but." He shrugged

"You're too kind," the man grins. "What do I call you, master….?"

Daniel chuckled "I wouldn't call myself *too* kind. But…" He waved his hand "Doctor Daniel Delgrave… of the Astorian University."

"Tomya," he nodded, holding his instrument under the crook of one arm and offering his gloved hand for a shake.

Daniel took his hand, and shook it firmly "it's a pleasure, Tomya. Do you have anywhere to stay?"

"Ehh, I stay here and there," he grinned, waving his hand after the handshake nonchalantly.

"You'd best be careful." Daniel said, with a mild concern in his voice "the streets aren't safe here as of late, or so I've heard. We have an outbreak on our hands and man attacking man."

He raised his eyebrows. "Well that is certainly not good news."

"no, I'd say it's not." Daniel said "Is there anywhere for a gent like you to stay safe around these parts?"

Tomya smiled. "Why, are you offering me a room?"

"We don't have much space, but I could put in a word with our host." Daniel said

"You two share a room then?" he grinned.

"….Mitya and I? Heavens, no." He said with a chuckle "… unless you're referring to Fenya, then..yes, my colleague and I share a room."

"Well I normally charge extra for couples but since you are being so nice." he slid closer to him.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… charge extra?"

he sputters slightly "….and we aren't a… ah… we're… colleagues."

"Ahhh," he nodded sagely. "Can we kick her out of the room for an hour?"

"…" Daniel cleared his throat "… I think we might,….need to take a few steps back in this conversation."

"Of course, master, we'll take it at your pace," he purred.

"I ah." Daniel glanced down the street, just for somewhere to look "… are you propositioning me?"

"….you gonna turn me into the guard if I am?"

Daniel shook his head "no." He said folding his arms "but it's dangerous work to be doing in times like these."

He scratched his ear. "Sounds like that's a 'no' then."

"I'm just a little surprised, is all." Daniel drawled "Do you often play music to attract customers?'

"Of various types, yeah."

Daniel chuckled "interesting tactic."

"You came out, dincha?"

Daniel laughed "I suppose you have me there, Tomya."

"Think I saw you at the bar the other night, actually," he said looking him over. "was that you?"

Daniel nodded slightly "You probably saw me and Fenya there, yes. I recall I heard your song there too."

"Oh you heard then! always gets a little noisey in there."

"What with all the fighting? I can imagine." He chuckled "but no, I thought it sounded familiar."

"And now fate has brought us together."

"that's a… romantic way of putting it." Daniel said "trying to break out the pitch again?"

He chuckled and pushed his fingers through his long hair. "Offer stays open-- but I'm not the pushy sales type."

Daniel looked the man over a little closer. "hm.."

He looked a little familiar, actually, minus the white patches of fur.

Daniel raised his eyebrow… and leaned a little closer, trying to place it "hold on.."

Tomya looked despite his shabby clothing *quite a lot* like Mistress Nika.

Daniel's eyebrows raised, a look of familiarity in his eyes as he stared at the man "… you…"

"I can take off the shirt if you want, master," he grinned.

"Ah." Daniel's ears flushed, flicking back slightly "… In the middle of the street? hardly proper." He paused "… you look very familiar, Tomya."

"Familiar, hmm?" he batted his eyelashes at him. "Look like an old flame?"

"Something like that, I'm sure." He drawled.

The wolf grinned like a fox. "You're pretty eye catching yourself."

"is that so?" Daniel said, folding his arms "Like an old flame?"

"Like a mysterious lover in a dream," he declared, still grinning.

"you're going to make me blush, Tomya." He said with a slight smirk of his own.

"I wouldn't want to bully your dignity, master," he purred.

"has anyone ever told you that you look an awful lot like Mistress Nika?"

"You know, she used to say so herself, bless her heart," he said with a smile. "were you a caller of hers?"

"I'm afraid I'm a little too new in town to have been." he said with a wry smirk

"Now that's a shame," he chuckled. "I think our lady would have eaten you right up. I'm a little jealous."

"Oh I'm sure she would have. It's a shame I never had the chance to meet her in person." He crossed his arms in thought "….are you a relative of hers?"

His ears flicked shyly. "we from the same tree, da," he grinned.

"The same tree." He chuckled… and paused "… hm." He looked at him a little closer "Darya said her siblings were all dead. and the mayor was her great great grandson or whatnot." His fingers tapped his arm "… and when I mentioned seeing someone who looked like Nika, she said it was impossible, as nobody did."

"Darya?" he cocked his head. "Darya who?"

"Darya Chernoff." he gestured vaguely towards the unseen farmhouse.

"Tch. Chernoff. That explains it then. Never liked me when we were kids."

Daniel cocked his head 'is that so?"

"Jealous,"" Tomya nodded. "Sad. She's always been a possessive type."

"Why was she so jealous of you?" Daniel asked "… and I've noticed that somewhat, yes."

"Cos of Mistress Nika"s attention of course," he chuckled, his ears flushing.

Daniel put a cigarette between his lips "… do tell."

"Not much to tell, is there?" he smiled. "Bit cold out here, idinnit? wanna come with me somewhere to warm up? have a nip?"

Daniel glanced up at the window "… tell you what. You seem like an interesting man. We have a fire upstairs. Why don't we have a chat up there with my associate?"

"Well! you don't have to ask me twice, master," he grinned. "Lead the way."

Daniel ran his hand through his hair, and pushed the door open "It's not what you're likely going to think, Mitya." he called, as he walked towards the stairs.

Mitya-- who had been asleep-- woke up just long enough to see Tomya blow him a kiss. "Sweet dreams. cousin."

"Mmmnn?? huh?"

Daniel dragged his hand down his face, before continuing up the stairs.

Tomya followed him up the stairs obediently, humming a little tune under his breath.

Upstairs, Fenya was bent over a notebook by the fire.

Daniel walked into the room, dryly he announced "Fenya, I've gone and gotten us a male prostitute. Surprise."

Fenya looked up from her notebook with a jerk. "*B-begging your pardon*?" she demanded as her ears went cherry red.

"Evening, mistress!" Tomya greeted cheerfully.

"Our mystery songman happened to be for hire." Daniel drawled "And also full of *facinating* family history. So I invited him in for a bite to eat and a bit of warmth while I pry it out of him."

Her ears flicked, only losing a trace of their color as she smoothed her bushed fur. "Ah…. of course," she chuckled. "Well the tea's ready I suppose." "And it's terribly kind of you, master," Tomya said in his rough accent.

"i'm a kind man. Let's all have a round of tea then, hm? And you can tell me all about your relationship to the late Mistress Nika."

Fenya stood gently, and started pouring tea. She produced some small seed cakes from somewhere as well. "You're real interested in our lady, eh, master?"

Daniel nodded slowly "… It seems she had her hands in quite a bit before she passed. And I'm hoping perhaps some of what she knew might help me stop this little epidemic we have going on."

He chuckled, accepting some tea and a cake from Fenya, "Oh you could say that, master. You surely could."

Fenya gently offered Daniel a cup of tea and a seed cake as well.

Daniel took a cup of tea and the cake as well, smiling at Fenya . "I could," he said, blowing on his tea "… and as a slightly stranger aside… I met someone who looked quite a bit like her. Someone who gave me a key and one of her journal pages."

"Blow me down-- did you really?"

Fenya smiled back, giving the stranger a slightly dubious look-- and eased back into her chair.

Daniel nodded "I did. Strange, isn't it?"

"very strange, very strange yes," he nodded, blowing on his tea. "suits her, of course."

"I get the feeling she was the type who *would* rise from the grave to give strangers cryptic clues in the fog."

"Oh you're not wrong there, master, no indeed," he said shaking his head with a smile. "our lady was that type alright. Wonder if she'll pay me a visit, eh?"

"perhaps." Daniel purred "why would she? You still haven't answered my question."

"What question was it again?" he asked, munching at the cake. "Sorry master, I got a bit nostalgic."

"I was asking about you and Nika."

"Me and the mistress. heh, well," he rubbed the back of his neck.

"mm hm. *Do* go on." Daniel said, looking him dead in the eyes.

Tomya looked away, his ears flicking and he chuckled. "well, no need to be shy of it I guess. I was Mistress Nika's favorite of the boys, ya see."

Fenya stopped mid sip through her tea.

Daniel lowered his tea "… the favorite of the boys, hm?"

"That's right," he nodded. "She had quite the uh, stable," he chuckled. "But it was me she was… training up if you will."

Daniel's ears flushed "training you up, hm… in… her… practices?" "or.." "otherwise."

Tomya coughed. "Depends on the practice you mean, master."

"… hm. Like if I asked you about her…'rituals' what might you say?"

"I'd say I usually charge for that sort of talk, master," he said, ears flicking. "With all respect you understand."

"….." Daniel glanced at Fenya, his ears tilting back.

Fenya coughed gently into her hand. "More tea, anyone?"

"yes." Daniel held his mug out "I suppose that explains why you're out and about… playing mournful memories outside people's bloody windows at 8pm."

"Thank you kindly mistress," he said, holding out his teacup with a smile. She refilled both their mugs. "Ah… incidentally…. how old are you?" "Nineteen this past summer, mistress."

"…." Daniel sipped his tea.

Fenya sipped hers too. "….quite."

"I can tell you the juicey tales if that's what catches your fancy, master," Tomya said helpfully.

"…" Daniel's eyes went a little wide. "ah. How..juicy?"

He leaned forward. "Really juicey master," he grinned. "I can tell you all kinds of secrets of flush and passion."

Daniel's ears flicked "please sir, we're Astorian."

Tomya chuckled. "Well, that's alright, I wouldn't tell another soul-- for the right price of course." he winked cheerfully.

Daniel finally noticed…. Tomya's rough accent seemed to be slipping every now and again into something a little lighter and more refined-- for Mosgravan, anyway.

Daniel's eyebrow raised "…..Tomya. Might I ask if you're local?"

"Of course I'm a local," he said. "My family has been here for generations-- on my father's side at least."

"mm….you have traces of a familiar accent." he mused "I've heard it before, but."

"Caught me, eh?" he said in the same rough accent. And then…"When I talk like I grew up by the docks I get a little more coin. The fantasy of it I guess."

He had the same sort of accent that each of the Manored families Daniel had spoken to so far used.

"I suppose." Daniel raised his eyebrow "… that makes sense, if you're related to the Mistress' household."

"Red handed," he smiled at him. "I'm disowned anyway."

"Disowned?" he raised his eyebrow

"Mmmhmm," he chuckled. "Papa's little disappointment. Owning a big building is not the way I want to end up smelling like fish."

*ahhhh*

"Ah, I see. You're… the fishmonger's boy."

Tomya chuckled. "He'd be terribly angry to hear you call him that. So I love it."

Daniel smirked "that's part of the reason I enjoy it too."

"Not a fan of the Master of Morozov, hmm? I knew I liked you."

"the more I got to know him, the less I liked." he agreed.

"You know I can imagine, being a laced up Astorian and all," he smiled.

"I wouldn't call myself 'laced up' " he murmured

"Can I unlace you then, mister?" he grinned.

Fenya sipped her tea.

Daniel's ears flushed "….ah."

"We have a rather, long night ahead of us, I'm afraid, Tomya," Fenya said slowly.

Daniel nodded "I have to write a rather… extensive report."

"Too bad. I could help you two relax."

Fenya coughed and looked at Daniel. "Perhaps some other time?" she said politely in a rather higher than usual register.

Daniel nodded firmly "another time. Do find somewhere safe to spend the night, Tomya… and be careful with any partners you find. There *is* an illness going about."

Tomya rubbed his jaw. "I'll do just that, mister. Thanks for the tea and all."

"good. And you're welcome. Feel free to stop by anytime you feel you need a bit of warmth and a meal."

he grinned. "Might do, might do. and if you're looking for me-- try the bar first." He stood up and adjusted his cap. "Good luck with your long night, mistress." he winked, and headed down, whistling.

Daniel watched him go, shaking his head "… what an..interesting lad."

Fenya waited until she heard the door closed downstairs. "Interesting is one word for it."

"… A lot." Daniel said "he was a lot."

"Yes. Yes he certainly was A Lot," she agreed, her ears flicking. "Poor dear…."

"indeed…" Daniel frowned "disowned. and…" he grimaced "… well."

"yes….. I don't think I like the impression I'm getting of this Mistress Nika woman."

"To be frank, I don't have much of a good impression of *any* of the town's power structure. Not Andrei, not the Masters and MIstress…"

"No, nor do I," she sighed.

"I would say it's good most of them are gone, but it's clear the scars still remain." he sipped his tea

"Its true, and it feels like a lot of these people don't know how to…. well…. cope, for lack of a better word."

"no, they don't." Daniel shook his head "it's a problem."

"You know, Danochka…. I think this town has more problems than just a potential pandemic."

"I think this town is practically built on problems." he said with a low sigh.

"Not an excellent foundation if you ask me," she said, her sigh in answer to his as she leaned back in her chair.

"I'm just not sure what I'm to *do* about it."

"Nor I…." she sighed. "The least stubborn part of me is telling me to write it off as a lost cause. But…. I suppose I'm very stubborn."

"I'm incredibly stubborn myself." he chuckled "… I've gotten my mind set on fixing this mess, and I'm going to do it."

"Well then I guess we have our answer-- at least that we'll *try* to do something."

"Try our damndest." he agreed.

"So…. what new information do we have?" she asked. "That seems important to sort out."

"….we have an illness, which contains active little microscopic indicators… like some sort of parasite. it infects, and spreads through the veins, turning the blood to a kind of sludge while slowing the heart and hampering the breathing. It will eventually drop you into a dreaming coma."

'Which as I understand it is not the regular kind of coma."

"no. usually it's a dreamless sleep…"

"So that's certainly odd," she tapped her lip. "And we;ve been speculating that since Elias is infected, it may relate somehow to the local **folklore** and **town masters**."

Daniel nodded "… it certainly seems to be corroborated by the mention of the **town's heart** in his sleep, and the presence of the disease in the **phylacteries**"

"Yes," Fenya nodded. "and everyone keeps talking about hearts like they're something special-- that's connected to the phylacteries too isn't it?"

"It is… given the phylacteries store the darkness in people's hearts… which they equate to a soul."

Come to think of it, if the town had a heart, it must stand to reason that it had a connected phylactery. And vice versa.

"…..I wonder what the town's **phylactery** is."

"I wonder….."

Daniel leaned back in his chair "….would it be the Rookery itself?"

"I believe someone said it was also called the Phylactery now that you mention it."

"… then perhaps that would be it… as it's storing the town's 'evil' "

"which according to Rook is leaking."

"….what a mess." he murmured. "what a mess the 'elders' of this town left behind."

"when your exit plan is apparently 'curse everyone' what more can one expect?"

"hmmmm." Daniel snorted "we'll just have to do better."

"I'd like to think we can manage without cursing anyone. --not, you understand *cursing AT*."

"plenty of cursing at, very little cursing *of* "

"Indeed," she agreed. "So… did we learn anything from our…. unfortunate young friend?"

"….that the Mistress was training a young man for… improper work, for her own desires." He snorted.

Fenya sniffed. "yes, we certainly couldn't avoid that conclusion."

"no. We also learned that his father leaving his fish factory to his daughter isn't… exactly by choice."

"No, certainly not as magnanimous and forward thinking as he seemed to want to portray."

"no." Daniel snorted "he simply disowned his son."

"And lets him live on the street."

"as a male prostitute."

Fenya flushed, her ears flicking. "Yes."

"with no aid, or food." he huffed "no way to treat a kid."

"Certainly not."

"I also learned that Darya very much doesn't like him."

"So he said," she nodded. "Darya doesn't seem to like a lot of people. Though I suppose she might simply not remember him if it's been quite a while since they'd spoken."

"indeed…" he mused "and it seems Nika had a habit of….pitting people against one another while she played favorites."

"Sounds unfortunately familiar to some professor's i've known."

"doesn't it?" Daniel scoffed "… I'm not much of a fan of the practice."

"Nor I," she agrees. "We can put ourselves against one another well enough without help."

Daniel's ears flick, slightly "that we can. As students of Astoria."

Fenya noticed the ear flick with a quizzical look and then realized what she had said and coughed. "Er… pit ourselves. Of course."

Daniel's ears had turned a little pink, and they flicked as he nodded "In… deed.. yes."

She waved a hand to change the subject. "Aaaat any rate, we know that there was more going on behind the scenes with Mistress Nika. And we have reason to suspect, who was it again? From the note…."

"Pyotr and Iosef" Daniel murmured "who **broke** someone, leading to a burial."

"Indeed," Fenya agreed, making a face reminiscent of if someone had put something foul in her tea. "A woman, by the sound of it. Or, I suppose, someone female."

"Indeed." He murmured "but the question is *who* ."

"Depending on how old that particular scrap of writing is it might be *entirely* impossible to find out."'

"Tch, a damned shame." He agreed "… but I suppose we're no detectives. Just scientists looking to solve a damned plague."

She nodded. "It's probably better to focus on **what this information can tell us about the situation** than trying to solve possibly decades old….. mysteries."

"Indeed." he murmured softly "let's read the notes again."

One was a torn, stained fragment of an old journal in the same script as the one he had been given earlier. `--dream sometimes about that night beneath the stone. Trusting Pyotr with the knife █████████hests. I wonder if that was the last time we all trusted one another? Perhaps. Since then we have all grown older. Wiser. More twisted. Like the r██████████████████heart of the world which we share. It seems such a small thing to need its blood. Are we monsters for that? Or simply closer to Gaea herself, whose blood runs in our veins. Returning moon after moon to share that same---`

Another journal fragment `-me instead of Pyotr. Isn't burying people his business? Perhaps Iosef doesn't want to make a fool of himself in front of another man. As if I wouldn't judge him just as harshly. There was no need to go and break her like--`

And the note he had gotten directly from the figure that appeared like Nika: ` '--go awry. It is obvious that Marta has done something to bewitch my dear little Vadim away from my so carefully selected match. Frustrating, but I must admire her cunning and determination. Darya, in contrast has proven herself quite loyal, perhaps to a--"`

"hm." Daniel mused as he reread them "we have Nika orchestrating her matchmaking, only it had gone awry because of Marta and Vadim. Darya is loyal to a fault and this Marta woman is determined enough to defy the fate Nika tried to set." "In addition…. Nika speaks of a 'night beneath the stone' in which she and the other masters of town performed some kind of 'ritual' or process back when they were closer and more trusting. It seems there was a pretty heavy falling out, as their power corrupted them." He paused "….I believe she was saying the 'heart of the world' that they share was rotten, at least from context… and they mention needing 'it's blood' perhaps meaning 'the heart' itself? Gaea's blood runs in their veins… meaning perhaps they drew something from the earth and mingled it with their own blood for that immortality they were granted with?" He shook his head "… in addition, there was an incident where a female presence was 'broken' by Iosef, and buried by Nika, who disapproved. It seems in this case Pyotr was cut out of the proceedings. Possibly didn't even know."

Fenya nodded, jotting a couple of notes down. "That all sounds about right given the context… It also sounds like whatever this ritual was it wasn't, ah, 'one and done', but rather something that needed to be repeated?"

"indeed, it was something that had to be done *once every month*." He frowned "meaning it would… stop… once they died."

Fenya nodded. "Indeed. Perhaps having stopped… caused some kind of a problem?"

"…." Daniel looked thoughtful for a moment ."… it's possible that whatever they were performing was managing whatever infection was 'rotting' this supposed 'heart', metaphorically speaking of course. Perhaps their constant 'taking' every month… was managing it? And when they died and ceased performing it, this metaphorical or literal infection in the earth spread out of control. Perhaps it even began poisoning the soil, the river…."

"That's…. a really interesting possibility actually," Fenya agreed, looking intrigued.

"isn't it?" Daniel mused "… a poisoning of the land could explain the rapid spread of this thing, after all."

"It certainly could," she agreed. "Perhaps the 'curse' was less of a curse, and more of a warning?"

Daniel blinked thoughtfully for a moment, and rested his head in his chin "….you're right." he said "… you're *completely* right."

"What was it Rook said about the curse?" Fenya murmured. "I think it was something about their death being the ruin of the town and-- oh! didn't he say something about its **heart** dying?"

Daniel frowned slightly "… he did say that, didn't he? Both about the heart and the town's ruin." His lips split into a smile "….which certainly fits with all we've encountered thus far, doesn't it?"

Fenya nodded, and tapped her lip, smiling as well. "It certainly does. Well…."

"It seems this **heart** is the key, wouldn't you say?"

"Everything that we've learned up to this point is pointing us toward it."

"indeed, it is." He tapped his hand against his teacup. "….so where can we find it."

"That's the question of the hour," she agreed. "So far no one we've asked seems to know."

"or if they do, they're keeping it close to the vest." He pauses "… we should start with the descendents of the mistress and masters, of course."

Fenya nodded. "Alright," she said opening a notebook. "Let's make certain we know who those are then."

"Andrei and his kin." He said "are related to Nika."

"Through the Morozov family," she made a note, nodding. "So, Andrei, and Tomya… and I'm afraid I don't remember Andrei's daughter's name if he mentioned it."

"He didn't. Just 'his daughter'. " He murmured. "next, we have…" He thought for a moment "hm. Sasha and poor Lydia. Children of Pyotr, the old healer, yes?"

Fenya nodded. "From what it sounds, direct children, too." She made a note of it.

"indeed… and it seems he was a man with demons of his own." he frowned "dark ones."

"Indeed," Fenya said, making a face. "I haven't liked a thing I've heard about any of these supposed sorcerers. Who's next?"

"Neither have I." Daniel muttered. "next is this Iosef fellow… did we ever get a last name for him?"

"Hold on, let me check my notes…."

"I wrote them down as Morozov, Osgrov, Yahontov and Volkov…."

"… Volkov. Then the Captain's family." Daniel mused

"Isn't the captain named Iosef as well?"

"indeed." he agreed thoughtfully "… perhaps he's a II?"

"Perhaps… Oh, his boy-- the one you told off… he's Iochka too. Sounds like a family tradition, wouldn't you say?" She made a note.

"It seems like it is." He chuckled softly "….it seems like it must be. How interesting."

"Very interesting," she agreed. "Maybe you can ask the captain about it when you see him tomorrow?"

"perhaps we can." He agreed with a firm now. "now for the last of them…"

"Yahontov," she said. "Have we…. actually *met* anyone with that name?"

"I don't believe we have." he mused

Fenya shook her head. "Hmmmm… I can't think of anyone. Does that make this one a mystery?"

"It seems so. Perhaps we can ask about." He sighed softly "… so that's them. "

"So those are the people most related to the masters as far as we know-- by blood. Do you think we should note down the ones we know who were *involved* with the masters?"

"absolutely." Daniel nodded 'they will prove useful as well."

"Alright. Shall we start at the top then?"

"Rook. I would say, it is quite important here."

"Absolutely," she nodded, writing him down. "he knew them all, probably as closely as anyone did."

"he was their child in a few ways, at least as far as he tells it." He agreed.

"Yeees… I wonder if there's anyone who'd have an outside perspective on that…"

"Perhaps the old woman, who knows more than she tells." Daniel snorted

"If we can get her to talk," she nodded. She wrote down Granny Bobbin.

"There's Darya. For certain. And Marta."

"Yes," she nodded, noting them down. "We haven't spoken to Marta yet, have we?"

"no we haven't. I was planning to, tomorrow, should things go according to plan."

She nodded and made a note. "She would be Marta Tadibyov unless I miss my guess- correct?"

"..that would be the case, yes." he nodded slowly "I think we may have been referred to her at some point."

"No, it was the governor's wife we were referred to, actually," she said checking her notes. "and Tadibyov's the mayor."

"ah, yes." He nodded '… two bloody local heads of state. I'd have hoped only Astoria pulled that sort of thing."

"Seems it's gaining popularity," she sighed.

"Wonderful." Daniel drawled. "… so I suppose we should visit Marta regardless."

"I suppose we should," she nodded. "What about the Mayor himself? It seems he may have known the mistress."

"Indeed." he nodded "So we'll talk to the mayor as well." he leaned back "… we should also probably see if anyone related to the church is still about."

"Isn't there supposed to be a priest around?"

That's what I heard." He mused "… perhaps we should try to find him."

"It's unlikely to be *too* difficult," she nodded. "I'll pencil it in for tomorrow?"

"tomorrow indeed." He nodded. "Tomorrow it is." "who else.."

"Do we know anyone who might have associated with Osgrov or Volkov?"

Daniel thought for a long moment "hm… that's… a good question. Osgrov was the town healer, so…"

"Probably a lot of people knew him? At least passingly…."

"indeed. " Daniel nodded "they would have gone to him for medical advice and treatment.."

"So we can probably ask anyone already on the list."

"Indeed. And the other two." he mused "hm.."

Fenya also looked thoughtful.

"what was it that they did for the town, if NIka was a midwife and matchmaker and Pyotr was a bloody healer.."

"I feel like I remember someone saying at least one of them…"

Daniel leaned his head back "hm…" He worked to recall.

"Iosef read fortunes for the young born in town, perhaps that's something to do with it?"

Fenya nodded, and jotted it down. "A fortune teller…. interesting."

"very interesting." he mused softly .

Something else nagged at his memory.

Didn't he hear something about a *Misha the Carver*?

"….and Misha was the carver, who formed the phylacteries, wasn't he?"

Fenya slapped her hand on the table. "MISHA! He must be the Yahontov!"

"that's right!" Daniel grinned "he MUST be."

Fenya noted it down in a hurry. "So, we have a healer, a midwife and matchmaker, a carver, and a probable fortune teller."

Daniel nodded "that we do… and they all worked together to perform this… monthly ritual that somehow extended their lives."

"A monthly ritual that involved something they referred to as a 'heart'."

"or rather *the* heart."

"The heart indeed. Which resides somewhere in town, as we've discussed."

"Alright," she nodded. "So our main objectives tomorrow will be for you to make your report with the captain, and then we'll interview people on the subjects of the town masters, and the heart. Does that sound right?"

Daniel nodded firmly "yes, all while the quarantine takes care of the rabble and ensures we buy ourselves enough time to finish our investigation. I hope."

Fenya nodded. "Precisely. Then I suppose all there's left to do tonight is to write the report….. unless I'm missing anything?"

((you can roll perception if you want. vs 3))

(rolled)

There was one thing they hadn't addressed yet. The little recipe that had been with the other notes.

Daniel pulled it out "there's one more thing… it's this little recipe."

"Oh! we've had so much going on I quite forgot," she said. "While you're writing your report I suppose I could see what I can make of it."

Daniel nodded, smiling slightly "I'd very much appreciate that, Fenya. Thank you."

She smiled back and brushed a lock of hair out of her face. "Of course, Danochka. I'll pour us a fresh cup of tea and then I suppose we should get to work."

Daniel nodded. "Tea would be lovely." he chuckled "… we're going to need it for the long night ahead."

And a long night it was. Tea steamed gently in their cups, framed by stacks of papers, and medical and chemical equipment. The room was quiet, save for the crackle of the fire, the scratch of a pen, and the sound of fenya occasionally putting small amounts of liquids and powders into vials as the two of them worked. eventually. These were joined by the gentle hiss of rain on the roof of the post office.

Daniel worked hard, compiling all the evidence he had gathered. He even looked at the sample of their attacker's dark blood as he worked to compile correlations, effects, and all the dire predictions he could fit into a single report. He described the effects of the disease in detail, described the traces he'd found in various townspeople, and even went into detail about the wriggling disease itself. He worked to make it factual… but *frightening* to a layman.

It certainly seemed frightening, at least to Daniel's eye. They;d have to see how the governor would take it. Fenya, meanwhile, frowned over her own work. "Well… I had all of the ingredients except the last one," she admitted. "It's… the blood."

"the blood?" Daniel mused "hm. what sort of blood did it need again?"

"The kind that walks upright," she said. "three drops."

Daniel chuckled "so human blood." he held out his hand "here, take some of mine."

She raised her eyebrows. "Are you certain?"

"Why not." he chuckled "what harm can a few drops of blood do?"

"I suppose," she chuckled. "Alright hold on." She grabbed a little needle.

Daniel held out his hand "the things we do for science."

"So it goes," she agreed with a smile. She pricked his finger quickly and efficiently, blood welling up on the soft, furrless pad.

"and there we have it. Three drops?" he asked

"May I?" she took his finger gently holding it over one of her vials.

He nodded, allowing her to direct his bleeding finger towards it.

She squeezed it gently, and let three drops of his blood fall into the vial.

"Thank you, Doctor Delgrave, for your generous contribution to science," she teased.

Daniel smirked "it's the least I could do for the field of chemistry."

She added the rest of the mixture to the blood vial and put it gently onto a low burner. "Hopefully we'll get a good result-- though I'm not certain what one will look like."

"neither am I. I'm not even certain what it does. aside from perhaps being a 'healing' elixir."

"I suppose I'll test it, once it's ready."

"do be careful.." he said, as he finished up his report.

"There's nothing in the mixture that should be more poisonous than our little adventure last night."

Daniel laughed "… point well taken."

"If it seemed dangerous, I'd be all about finding someone else to test it I assure you," she chuckled.

"I'd recommend a few of the unsavory folks in town, even."

"You know….." she said. "I know you're a doctor and all but…."

Daniel raised his eyebrow

She coughed gently. "I just wanted you to know that I trust your judgement *vis a vis* unsavory people, should it come to that."

*Was Fenya offering to poison someone for him?*

Daniel cleared his throat. "it's something I'll certainly keep in mind. It'll be *last case scenario* but… it's on the table"

"Of course," she nodded. "At any rate, this concoction should be ready now…." she gently took the vial from the burner with a small pair of tongs.

Daniel leaned over to get a good look at it.

The entire mixture had turned a bright, unnatural pink. Fenya gave it an appraising sniff. "Sulphurous. Hints of ether. I'm going to drink it on the bed in case it makes me pass out."

"… indeed. I'll make sure you're comfortable if you do."

"You're too kind. Danochka," she said. "Would you mind holding it while I arrange myself?" She offered him the vial.

Daniel nodded, and held it for himself. He gave it a sniff.

It definitely smelled like rotten eggs. With a heady after-scent.

Fenya, meanwhile, hobbled from the chair to the bed, and started to take off her boots. "I'm lucky I can unlace these myself this evening.

Daniel grimaced slightly. "I'm pleased you can. though I would help if you needed me to."

"It's appreciated," she said, discarding her first boot. "I… oh dear. I think I do need help with the one in the splint. Should I sleep with the boot on?"

Daniel looked it over "… it might be for the best, unfortunately."

She nodded. "Alright, I thought it might be the case. I promise to try not to kick you in my sleep-- for both our sakes."

"… I appreciate that." Daniel chuckled, and helped retighten her splint.

She draws a breath as it tightens. "Hmm, never thought I'd be corseting my leg," she chuckles.

"you know how it goes… fashion changes over the years. I'm sure you'll be the talk of the town."

"Oh I'm sure," she chuckled. "I'll change into my night dress and then we'll try this new medicine."

"Shall I look the other way for you?"

"That would be the proper thing to do I suppose," she chuckled, gathering her night clothes in her lap.

Daniel nodded, leaning back on the bed, and looking at the ceiling.

A moment later Fenya said. "All clear. Can you hand me the vial?"

Daniel handed her the vial, looking her over .

The flowing nightdress was a contrast to her usual heavy and shaped attire, diaphanously flowing over her rather sharp and slender form. She took the vial from him. "Bottoms up, I suppose."

Daniel nodded, his ears flicking somewhat "be careful, Fenya."

Fenya gave him a smile. "Of course, Danochka." She lifted the vial, and drank down the entire concoction.

Daniel watched her carefully as she drank it.

Her nose wrinkled heavily. "Disgusting," she said, licking it off her teeth. "Definitely as bad as the hangover cure."

"Worse, it seems like." Daniel drawled "that one looks like it sticks to your teeth."

"Yes," she said, grimacing. "There's also a noticeably coppery taste. Something in it seems to have magnified **the taste of blood**."

"..magnified the taste of blood?" His eyebrow raised.

"… how… curious. I'm tempted to try it myself."

"I can make another batch in the morning, if you like," she said. "Oooh… I'm actually starting to feel a bit dizzy."

"perhaps, I might enjoy that." Daniel chuckled, though he watched her very carefully. His hand went to her back to steady her. "..dizzy?"

She put a hand to her head. "Er, yes. It seems so. My speech isn't slurring at all is it?"

"not that… I can tell." he said cautiously .

"Good… I think it's *just* vertigo then," she said. "Would you… ah, perhaps help me to lie down?"

Daniel nodded, and helped ease her down onto the pillows "… hm. alright."

She let him help her ease down and smiled. "Thank you doctor."

He smiled back at her "you're quite welcome, Fenya." he said "Comfortable?"

"Plenty," she chuckled. "I feel sort of tingly in fact. if you're taking notes."

"tingly?" Daniel asked, jotting something down on a piece of paper

"Hmm yes. Like… that feeling when your foot falls asleep. But a bit everywhere."

"sounds like an odd feeling." Daniel said, gently poking her arm.

"Quite," she nodded "ooh… did you touch me?"

Daniel nodded slowly "… I did. Did you feel it?"

"A little," she said, turning over dizzily to face him. "I seem to be a little bit numb."

he leaned on the bed, looking into her eyes. "A little numb all over?" he asked, placing a hand on her arm again. he gave it a little pinch "did you feel that?"

"ooh!" she nodded. "yes! but i'm not sure how hard it was meant to be."

"I didn't pinch *too* hard." he chuckled "but… interesting."

"It doesn't feel *bad*," Fenya explained. "Ah, I've sampled chemicals before that are rather meant to have an effect like this. Rather than a healing draught it may be some sort of pain reliving agent?"

"that might be the case." he mused thoughtfully "numbs the body to relieve pain.."

"I can't say I'm unhappy with the result, given my leg."

"no I can imagine it's quite nice, given."

"Mmhmmm," she said, purring a bit in her chest. "its probably not very good to have too much of though. It calls for quicksilver."

Daniel gently pats her ears "not..something one wants to habitually ingest.'

She nuzzled a bit against his hand. "No. Terrible stuff if you take too much of it. A little doesn't hurt though."

He idly pet her ears, looking at her with a soft chuckle "no, it certainly doesn't. And it didn't call for a lot, did it?"

"No, barely any," she said. "It was mostly herbs and agitated water. and the blood of course.";

"I wonder why the taste of the blood was amplified." he mused softly

"Probably bound with one of the herbs," she said, shimmying a little closer to him as she purred.

He didn't move away this time, letting her shimmy close as he pat between her ears distractedly ".. likely so." he chuckled "you're purring, Fenya."

her ears flicked as he pet them and she giggled, purring a little louder. "Oh dear. How embaressing. I don't think I can help it."

He laughed "… it's rather adorable." he teased slightly,

her inner ears flushed deeply. "I thought you were supposed to be a gentleman," she sniffed, though there was a smirk on her face.

He smirked back "should I stop?"

She gave him a shifty look. "Perhaps not."

He raised his eyebrow, scratching behind her ear.

"Now you're teasing me," she didn't complain, purring the whole time as her ear flicked.

He scratched a little lower down her ear, chuckling "perhaps a little."

She rubbed her cheek against his finges reflexively. "What a cad."

Daniel idly scratched the fur there, chuckling "I know, what would people say about me?"

"Mmmmm… there would be…. scandalous rumors I'm sure," she purred, as her body curled against him. Her large tail flumphed its way over his body.

His ears flicked, as he scratched the fur of her neck, the warmth of her tail draped over his midsection as he lay back on the pillows. "Terribly scandalous. Of the two scientists rooming together over the post."

Fenya kept purring as she nuzzled against him. "The whispers would certainly be unbearable."

"Indeed." he purred. "what would we do about them?" He leaned in, and rested against her, continuing to scratch behind her ears.

"Mmmmm, I suppose ignoring them is the high grrrround."

"I'm for ignoring them, if you are."

"The alternative is poison orrrr blackmail."

She giggled at that and nuzzled him more.

"both could work." he laughed, "I'm sure you're quite adept at the first option."

"In theorrrry only of course," she purred, her gold eyes luminous.

"of course." he purred back, leaning just a little closer. He gently pet her ears again.

She leaned in close to him as well.

His ears flicked "how are you feeling? with the medicine?"

"A little bit… mmmm… have you ever had ether, Danochka?"

"once or twice." he chuckled

"A bit like an ether haze," she admitted. "I feel rather…. untethered to my body. And yet in it at the same time." She had a dreamy tone to her voice.

"… interesting." Daniel mused "like a dissociation of mind and body?"

"Yes….. you could put it that way." She certainly had a smile on her face.

"It seems like it's a nice feeling, though." he chuckled, "you look delighted."

"Mmm, it's my reward for sacrificing my body to science, don't you think?"

"I'd say it's a reward well earned." he purred, petting her tail.

She purred again, her tail twitching. "I'm tempted to make morrrre, but there's probably safer chemicals to enjoy."

"on account of the quicksilver." he chuckled "perhaps we can experiment with something less… deadly… in high doses sometime as a… celebration." He stroked her tail absentmindedly.

"That sounds *lovely*, Danochka. we shall both deserve a break I think." She was sounding more and more dreamy and sleepy.

"I think we do, Fenya." he said, still petting her gently. He tried to urge her into sleep.

She didn't seem to need much urging. In fact, only a few moments later, her breathing had evened out.

Daniel lay back in bed, and watched the ceiling with her sleeping against him "… at least it seems to be working."

The room was quiet, save for the crackling embers of the low fire, the hiss of the rain outside, and the sound of Fenya's gentle breath, with her warmth against his body.

He lay back, and let himself relax. They had a long day tomorrow….he let himself slowly ease into sleep.


Day Three: Quarantine

Chapter 4: Day Three: Quarantine

Day Three: Quarantine


The room was not so cold when Daniel started to awaken as it had been the night before, though he still found himself quite entangled with his bed partner, who seemed to be using him as a teddy bear while she slept.

Daniel's ears flicked as he felt her warmth against him "….Fenya." he said, petting her tail gently "are you awake?"

Fenya stirred gently and stretched next to him. "Mmm?"

He stirred against her "it's morning. How are you feeling?"

She yawned and seemed to be taking stock of herself. "Better than yesterday morning, that's certain…"

He chuckled "no strange side effects?"

"Not that I--" she paused, and frowned. "hold on…."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "….what is it? something wrong?"

She sat up slowly. "Not exactly," she said. She slowly ran her hand down her splinted leg. "It… doesn't hurt."

Daniel's eyebrows shot up "… then it… *worked* ?"

"Help me with my shoe," she said, with a little excitement in her voice.

Daniel nodded, and helped remove the splint, and then her boot.

She rolled her ankle gently. "Nothing…. can you examine it for me?"

Daniel felt along her ankle, frowning deeper "… fascinating…" He examined it as he had the day before.

Daniel couldn't find the spot where the fracture had been the night before-- but he didn't feel like he trusted those results.

"…" Daniel sighed "… how about we make coffee and I try again? We'll see how it all looks when we're a little more awake"

"That may be for the best," she mused. "I'll wait til we've had our coffee and checked again to be sure. It might just be a lingering drug effect."

"indeed. An anesthetic. And I'm in no shape to judge proper medicine right now."

"Fair enough. No man should have to ply his trade before his coffee, hmm?" she chuckled, seeming to still be in some of the high spirit from the evening before.

"agreed." he chuckled softly, and patted the top of her head as he stood.

Her ears flicked slightly at his touch, and she stood as well, careful of her leg just in case. She moved over to the fire and started to poke it to life.

Daniel followed her, rolling up his sleeves… he'd slept in his clothes the previous night…

Fenya gave him a look over-- clearly noticing that he had, but not saying anything for the moment. "In a day or so's time we'll have to give some thought to bathing," she said, putting the kettle on.

Daniel nodded "we certainly will… I wonder how people go about it here."

"If there's a public bathhouse I have to say that sounds like the *last* place we should be with disease spreading."

"… agreed. Perhaps someone has a bathtub. If we're… lucky."

"well, we do have a friend or two in town," she said. "Lets not ask Morozov though," she said half jokingly-- half deadly serious.

"I wouldn't trust the man not to peep." Daniel snorted

"Nor would I," she agreed. "But Sasha and Lydia might have a bath they'd allow us to use."

"perhaps we should go there, then" he mused "… i wanted to check up on her anyway."

She nodded. "They're on the list already for today. We can get them first after the governor if you like."

"Perhaps, i could *really* use that bath."

"I have to say I could as well. Despite of course that a lady is always fresh," she sniffed.

Daniel chuckled, and leaned on the table. He grinned at her, a little teasingly "you were certainly a little fresh last night."

"*I* was fresh?" she gasped in indignation. "Why doctor one might say that *you* were downright handsy."

Daniel's ears flushed, and flicked back in embarrassment. "….handsy? me?"

"Bold, even," she sniffed, with a large grin.

Daniel rubbed the back of his neck "Only on account of how… affectionate… you were being."

Her ears flushed and she chuckled. "Good sir, I was *drugged*," she protested, hand to her chest.

"you drugged yourself" he pointed out with a chuckle

"Well! I suppose anything that happens to me is my fault then?" By now it was clear that she was teasing. She fluffed her hair.

He smirked, and shrugged in his coat "in the case of testing strange, arcane concoctions? Yes"

"Typical man," she smirked. "Blaming it on a lady."

"I suppose you can't change a man's stripes" he drawled

"I should have listened to my mother," she nodded.

"such is life" he chuckled "but in all honesty, I'm glad you're upright today"

"So I am," she said, fixing each a cup of black coffee, and passing one to him.

He took the cup,and had a long sip "it was a recipe found on some old immortal's journal page., After all."

"True enough, Did you expect it to put a spell on me?"

The coffee was quite good this morning.

He snickered "no, not in the least, but hell if I know how the damned thing could have backfired"

She chuckled. "Hell if you know indeed, You may be the doctor, but *I'm* the chemist."

"Indeed," he said, amused. "I'll trust your judgement. Even if it does make you as cuddly as a kitten"

"Well!" she sniffed. "You almost make it sound like it ought to be a nighttime habit."

His ears flushed "….well, I suppose next time the elixir isn't strictly necessary..but.."

She coughed. "I shall keep that in mind, doctor delgrave," she said, a little smile visible behind her hand.

He coughed as well, hiding his chuckle with a sip of coffee "indeed"

"Indeed," she said. "But… before that becomes a question, we have a long day ahead of us."

"we certainly do" he sighed "one of the longest days yet"

"Hopefully we can fit it all in," she said sipping her coffee.

"we have to" he said grimly "to finish this"

Fenya nodded in agreement, her hair bouncing around her face. "Agreed…"

Daniel rested his hand on the table "….I hope this report goes over well ."

"I have confidence in you. I've read your reports."

"I appreciate that," he nodded. "i was rather tired last night, however."

"It's been a tiring situation," she said. "I suppose we'll just have to hope for the best."

"We will." he nodded "we'll turn out just fine. I'm certain of it."

Fenya finished the last of her coffee. "We should probably not delay too much longer."

"No," He sighed "let's get this damned thing started."

"You wanted to check my leg one more time before we left?"

"ah yes." he nodded, cracking his fingers. "let's take a look.

She offered him her bare leg gingerly.

Well….. Daniel didn't *feel* anything wrong with the leg. But surely it couldn't be *healed*. That would be nonsense. A fracture like that would take weeks to heal, He started to doubt his previous diagnosis. Maybe there had been no fracture in the first place?

Daniel frowned "… perhaps I misjudged it yesterday….there's no fracture here."

"It doesn't *feel* fractured," she admitted. "It felt absolutely dreadful last night but-- it seems to be fine now."

"I suppose that's what's important." he chuckled

"Fresh for another day of *walking*," she chuckled bitterly with him.

"walking and talking and fighting for scraps of information." He smirked

"The last two are really more interesting than the second," she admitted, gathering up her clothing for the day.

Daniel chuckled "if only our whole day could be nothing but that."

"We ought to make everyone come to us!"

"now that's an idea." he purred, getting his boots on.

She dressed carefully-- turning around herself this morning rather than asking him to look away. "Isn't it?"

Daniel looked up at her, chuckling "perhaps we'll try to arrange it."

"Perhaps we will," she chuckled. He got a view of her nearly bare back, in nothing but a corset and bloomers.

His ears flushed, and flicked back as he watched "… hm. P..perhaps when we start the quarantine."

"That's actually a good idea," she nodded. "Almost sounds logical."

"I am a man of logic, after all."

"In a world of madness," she chuckled, cinching her dress and tying up the laces. "There."

"there we go" he chuckled with her "ready to go?'

"Ready as I'll be," she nodded, quickly tying her mass of dark curls back with a ribbon as she stepped toward hiom.

He nodded, fixing his hair with his fingers "once more into the breach"

Downstairs, Mitya had taken the chair from the door, now that it was light--- well, lightER anyway and was once again sorting the mail.

Daniel waved to him with a smile "good morning Mitya"

"Oh! Good morning, doctor," he smiled. "Did you ah… sleep better last night? no disturbances?"

"none that we remember." he chuckled "fenya was well and truly out however."

Fenya nodded. "I suppose I needed the rest." "well… I didn't hear anything," he smiled. "at least not after Tomya left. Oh! there's a letter for you by the way."

"did he say anything before he left." He asked, as he walked over to get his letter

Mitya handed Daniel the letter and then coughed softly. "Nothing really, no. Certainly…. nothing out of the ordinary."

Daniel raised his eyebrow, before he looked at the letter.

The handwriting was unfamiliar, but it was addressed to him. It was…. sloppy.

Daniel opened it up and gave it a read.

"Doctor, Managed to get a morning audience with the damned governor. Forget the station, come straight to Alekin manor by 10am. I'll meet you out front. Volkov"

"….damn." Daniel mused "….seems like we're on a time crunch."

"Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll offer us breakfast," Fenya said. "Unless… you want to split up?"

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… split up?" he leaned his head back "..perhaps. It may help us cover more ground."

Fenya nodded. "It may," she said. "Especially if you're stuck in a meeting. Just tell me where you want me to go of course."

Daniel thought for a long moment "try to see if you can get anything out of the old woman."

Fenya chuckled. "I wondered if that would be it. Alright Danochka."

"She doesn't seem to like me much." he chuckled

"Maybe I can get her to girl talk," she offered with a smirk. "Anything specific you'd like me to ask?"

"Anything about the Masters and Mistresses or the heart of the town….any 'old' knowledge that we're locked out of."

She nodded. "Got it. And where shall we meet?"

"i'll meet you there, as I'll likely need something to bloody well eat." he chuckled

"Got it," she nodded. "Well, we'll be walking at least part of the way together. We should get going."

"Indeed we should" he offered his arm to her.

She took it, despite her leg feeling fine now. "And we're off." "Good luck!" Mitya called after them as they departed.

Daniel waved to him, before he slipped out into the open air. He *prayed* it was a nice day out.

It was darker than yesterday.

The sky was a dark, sullen grey, the clouds low.

Daniel frowned as he looked up at the sky "it gets worse and worse."

Fenya sighed. "At this rate tomorrow the sun won't come up."

"….at this rate tomorrow, the sky's going to be swallowed by the bloody fucking void, from the way things have been going."'

"I wish I could say I wasn't nearly as pessimistic," she shook her head as they started down the road.

"Hard to stay optimistic when the entire town's turned into a plague riddled foggy mess."

"Unfortunately true. Astoria will seem positively tropical when we get back."

"I'm going to take a nice… long vacation somewhere sunny after this."

"Mmm, I might have to do the same."

"We could save on fare if we go together." he chuckled "down to Mordona, perhaps."

"I hear it's lovely this time of year."

"the surf, the grape vines…" he sighed "rolling fields and the quiet…"

"It sounds like paradise right about now," she said as they trudged through the fog over muddy gravel.

"doesn't it?" he sighed, keeping his eyes on the prize….he needed to get to the middle of town for his meeting.

They walked quickly and were soon approaching the town square and the gaudy alekhin Manor. "Well…. I suppose this is where we part ways," Fenya said.

Daniel nodded, and let go of her arm "be safe, Fenya. I'll see you shortly."

She nodded, hesitating for a moment.

Impulsively, she leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. "See you shortly, Danochka."

She was walking away almost before he could respond.

Daniel's ears flicked as he stood alone in the fog "…." he turned and hurried towards the manor, to try and shake off the flush in his ears.

Dark as the sky was, the fog seemed a little bit lighter for the moment, and he was able to see Volkov lingering by the gate, smoking as he waited for him.

Daniel nodded at him "Volkov, my friend."

He nodded, straightening up just a little. "Delgrave," he nodded, ot unpleasantly. "Terrible morning isn't it?"

"Dreadful." he agreed with a shake of his head "… but at least I have a few leads."

"Leads? Well that's not the worst news then."

"yeah.." Daniel frowned "sadly, they all sound like esoteric nonsense until properly examined."

"Wonderful. Sounds like the usual for Tadibya then."

"Classic Tadibya." Daniel snorted "I've been here for a week and I already feel like I know this place's nonsense like the back of my hand."

"It can be a bit….heavy handed, eh?" he snorted and pinched his cigarette out between his fingers. "Anything I need to know before we see the man upstairs?"

"incredibly." he sighed "….and perhaps. We had some discussion last night. It's possible that this is stemming from a poisoning of the earth….which means this could be transmissible through the crops and fish. Which means we're all at a higher chance of infection as long as that fishery stays open."

"Poisoning the earth?" Volkov hissed. "Why don't we all just get up and move the damned town while we're at it?" he sighed.

"Honestly it may be for the best." he drawled. "….though if my lines of inquiry manage to go anywhere today, we may be able to take a step towards **curing it** . "

"I suppose that would be ideal," he agreed.

"it would be." he sighed "as much as I hate it, it seems things tie back to your old Masters and Mistress."

"What doesn't around here?" he sighed with the weight of ages. "I had hoped after they were gone…. but no."

"hopefully this is their last bloody gasp before this town can move on for good." he muttered "the start of your troubles seems to coincide with their deaths… and we have papers indicating some sort of monthly 'ritual' they performed… which I doubt is anything magical, but it could be something that kept the poisoning of the land in check. It would make sense that it'd start going bad the moment they *stopped doing it.*"

"A monthly ritual?" He raised his eyebrow. "Hmm, I suppose, have to be a hell of a damned ritual." he snorted.

"I'll admit I don't know much about it. And part of our investigation will be to learn a little more so we can strip the magical thinking from it down to it's bare scientific roots." He waved his hand "….but if my theory is correct, then it would have been. We'd simply need to recreate it, or find a better solution in order to cure the damned town of this disease."

Volkov nodded. "Hopefully it isn't some damned mystical nonsense that can be held above everyone's head like a knife."

Daniel snorted "if i have anything to say about it, it *won't be*. The holding of mystic bullshitting over the heads of the masses like quiet threat is a *particular irritation* of mine. And I won't be having any of it."

"On that, you and I agree, delgrave," he nodded. "I grew up with all that and, let's say I'm not a fan."

Daniel nodded "… I'm glad I'm not the only one." he smiled "and I'm pleased to have an ally in this."

"I'll help as much as I can, at any rate."

"I appreciate it. just… help me sell this apocalyptic vision to the heads of state, so we can lock things down."

Volkov nodded sharply. "Not looking forward to trying to enforce that But if it'll help it'll help."

"it'll be difficult, but… it *will* buy us time while we investigate. And prevent too many cases going forward."

"As much as I complain about everyone here, I'd rather they not all die of the plague."

"I'd rather that didn't happen either. " Daniel said "if for nothing else than it'd be a complete failure of me as a doctor."

"I suspect it would be the end of both of our careers," he drawled.

"indeed.' he grimaced "let's… avoid that."

"Shall we?" he gestured to the gate.

Daniel nodded "I'm ready as I'll ever be. Let's go."

They headed through the sickly garden of foreign plants and up to the door, where Volkov knocked. A woman answered the door. She was… tall. Strikingly tall, and somewhat broad shouldered, though her dress was artfully cut to disguise that fact. A gorgeous pale furred mink, probably Mordonan, or from somewhere in that region, with a long cascade of dark curls and a pair of intense blue eyes. She had a cigarette between her lips. "*Iochka* my duck, how funny to see you here so early! Did Katya send you?" Volkov's ears flicked and he smiled. "Elizabeth. Good morning. Its… business, in fact." Elizabeth's gaze fell on Daniel with curiosity.

Daniel dipped his head in a bow. "Good morning, ma'am. My name is Daniel Delgrave of the Astorian University. I'm a thanatologist and a physician."

"So! the mysterious Astorian appears!" she cooed. "I'd been wondering when I was going to meet you! Come in, come in."

The towering woman gestured to lead both of them inside.

Daniel looked up at her, his ears flicking slightly as he strolled alongside her "I was planning a visit today, regardless, but it seems recent necessity made it earlier than expected. after this meeting, might I ask you for a moment to speak?"

"I'd love to chat," she promised, looking down at him with a smile. "You;re here for my husband, then I take it?"

The house was furnished in a surprisingly modern style-- much more tasteful than Morozov's however.

"for the moment, yes." Daniel looked around with a thin smile "you have a lovely home."

Elizabeth smiled a little. "Thank you. It's been a trying few years but I've done my best. Iochka, would you like me to let my husband know you're here?" Volkov shook his head. "He knows we're coming. You go ahead and have your coffee or whatever we've interrupted." "You're a sweetheart as usual."

Daniel chuckled softly "enjoy, ma'am. I look forward to speaking with you later."

She favored him with a smile and ducked away into the kitchen.

Volkov chuckled and his ears flicked. "Come on."

Daniel raised his eyebrow at him with an amused little smirk, "indeed. Lead the way."

"Elizabeth is a friend of my wife's," he explained, as he led Daniel up the stairs.

That letter he'd found. He hadn't been able to read it, but it had been from Katrina Volkov to Elizabeth Alekhin.

Daniel's ears flicked, and he cleared his throat. "A good friend? it's good to ah, have friends."

"So it is," he agreed. "Katya deserves friends, too." At the top of the stairs was a large oil painting of a triumphant battlefield. A handsome, if rather short and barrel bodied, brown wolf general stood at the center in honor, while beside him a quite tall young soldier with pale fur held a flag.

The tall soldier looked quite a lot like Elizabeth actually. Same pale fur, with dark hair, though short on the soldier of course. A closer glance even revealed that he was a mink. It seemed to be an illustration from the conflict with the clock king in the previous decade.

"she certainly does." Daniel agreed "she seems like an interesting woman from our brief meeting." He looked carefully at the painting as they approached. His head cocked to the side as he took it in "War with The Clock King." he mused "did one of Elizabeth's relatives fight in it?"

"I'm… not entirely sure," he said. He knocked on the door at the left of the upper hall.

"Perhaps I'll ask. I know a few people who served during that time." He looked at the scene with a raise of his eyebrow, before looking down at the door.

"Come in," a gruff, low voice barked. And Volkov opened the door. Inside was a handsome, rather small office, There was a wall of bookcases, and another wall dominated by maps with marks and pins in them. There was a Gaean globe too, and a number of sabers hung on the wall. Sitting behind the desk was a brown wolf. Broader now, and missing an eye and a corner of one ear, and greying at the temples.

Daniel opened his mouth. Then closed it. *ah.* He stepped forward, and dipped into a respectful bow "good morning, good sir."

"Is it a good one?" the old soldier grumped. "Weather's been bleak and miserable for days, boy. Don't try to sugar coat things." The glance Volkov gave Daniel-- somehow the man managed to sign with his eyes.

Daniel….grimaced "If i'm being frank." He stood up and straightened his jacket "… today's the worst bloody day I've seen in ages. And I've been stuck in a bloody sandstorm in New Bloody Astoria. There's a plague spreading, the sun's blotted out by this damnable fog, and everywhere I look I see bloody mysticism." He spread his hands "I see a damned town being consumed by a sickness that half its people want to scoff at and call *a curse*, instead of doing something about it, while the fog chokes what little life it has left out from it's rotting bloody corpse." he hissed "I think *that's* a better summation of just how *bloody wonderful* this day's shaping up to be."

The governor gave him a long, appraising look, and then finally nodded. "Yes. That sounds about right. Have a seat, boy. You too, Iosef. I'll get us something to drink."

*"Sir.*" Volkov sighed.

Alekhin rolled his eyes. "Tea then. Fine. But you;ll not say a damned word about what;s in mine. Hah!"

Daniel took a seat, and smoothed out his hair "… I'll absolutely take something to drink, however. I have the feeling I'll need it to deal with *today*"

"That's this bastard of a town for you," the man said, pouring three cups of hot tea. he poured a *generous* tot of clear liquid from an unmarked bottle into two of them. "Get sent up the river, lad?"

Volkov took a seat next to Daniel and took the unadulterated tea.

Daniel suddenly recalled that the drunk woman who'd flirted so aggressively at Fenya was Volkov's wife.

Daniel raised his spiked tea with a thin smile.…..yep. that's right. That's… hm. Indeed. "you could say that, sir. I was sent to look into what was keeping Mr Bainbridge only to find a damned disaster waiting for me."

"ahhh, Bainbridge," he nodded. "That wastrel. Sent to fetch him. what did you do to deserve that, eh?" The man took a long drink of hot, spiked tea.

Daniel took a long sip from his glass "… he is a wastrel." he agreed "….it seems what I did was 'have my name known to him' and 'I'm fairly certain the Dean wants me dead'."

"Sounds about right," the governor snorted. "higher ups are always trying to get the real workers out of their hair so they can run things the way they like," he groused.

Volkov looked at the man with a mixture of annoyance and sheer exhaustion.

"That's the way of the Astorian University." Daniel said, running his hand through his hair "….and I'm sure a man of your background knows that sometimes things must be done. Difficult things, that in the moment, may be unpleasant or unpopular."

"True enough," he nodded. "assuming the men in charge know what the hell they're talking about at any rate."

"indeed." Daniel tented his fingers "then I'm going to cut to the chase."

"I need you to help me enforce a complete lockdown of this town. I need a *quarantine* while I work, or this is just going to get exponentially worse."

Alekhin nearly choked on his tea. "A *lockdown*? What in hell's name *for*?"

Daniel sipped his tea, looking at him through lidded eyes. "First, let me ask you what your basic understanding of disease is, sir."

"Disease?" he furrowed his brow. "Happens when you've got a weak constitution, or you eat bad food."

"I see." Daniel tented his fingers thoughtfully. "I'm an expert at this sort of thing, Alekhin. I've studied disease and it's spread for years by this point. As part of my attempts to cure the *ultimate* disease, I've become intimately familiar with pestilence and plague." He looked him in the eyes "it's not just those with weak constitutions. It's not just spread through bad food." "Disease can travel in the air. through touch. It lingers on items we touch, and is picked up by others. It spreads, and with each contact it spreads even *more*. Mothers to children, children to one another, to fathers, to friends….until this whole town is choking on it's own damned blood in the streets."

Alekhin stroked his mustache thoughtfully. "I've seen blood in the streets, lad. A disease is a nuisance."

Daniel frowned "… war kills fast. Even at its slowest, you're gone faster if you take a bullet or a saber than you'd go dying from disease. Disease is slow. It eats at even the strongest man and makes him feeble." he slammed the report on the table "Alekhin. This disease slowly curdles your blood into a thick paste, infecting it. It slows the heart, and hampers the breathing. It's like you are rotting from the inside, all the while trapped in a nightmare you can't wake up from. A *dreaming coma* you can't fight with all the military history in the world. And *nobody* is exempt from it. You're just as likely to catch it as any random dock worker or housewife."

Something about this seemed to get through to the stout governor. He frowned deeply, and grumbled in his throat. "That serious, is it?" he scowled. "And I take it from your tone that it's spreading here. In this damned town."

Daniel opened his report, and pointed to the page where he detailed it's spread. Bainbridge has it. Several patients in Sasha's clinic are being monitored as the infection eats them as well. And I've noticed signs *all over* town. In dockworkers handling the fish for your meals, in the market where you buy your linens and staples." He pressed his hand on the desk "it's *all over* your town, and it's only going to get worse the longer people are milling about like nothing's wrong!"

He harrumphed and picked up a pair of reading glasses. "They can catch it-- what? Just from talking to one another? Or what?"

"Indeed." Daniel nodded "some disease spreads via the air… or through contact. Coughing and breathing." He tapped the report "we don't know *exactly* how it spreads yet as we're still cataloging cases, but it's highly likely that it can spread that way. And taking steps *now* will prevent ruin *later*.."

He put both hands on his desk. "Well then, man. You're the expert here, *apparently*. Advise me."

"I need the fishery shut the hell down. Immediately. And I need a ban on large gatherings of people until my work is done. No markets, no church gatherings, nothing of the sort. And Frankly, I'd like it if everyone stayed *inside* for a while. We can arrange rations or something of the like, if need be."

Alekhin listened quietly while Daniel spoke. He didn't interrupt, and he didn't answer immediately. He stroked his mustache. "That's a hell of a lot to ask from people," he said after a moment.

"it is." Daniel nodded "I know it is. But it's what has to be done unless we want this problem to multiply into something unreasonable….especially with tensions in the cities making it so help is unlikely to come."

He drummed his fingers on the table. "The unlikelihood of help coming is partly what makes this so difficult," he said. "I shut down the fishery and the people will starve inside of two weeks. I close the markets and the women will riot."

"I don't intend to take two weeks." Daniel said "… but isn't there some sort of *stored food?* some supplyhouse that we can use to supplement the fishery until I'm finished?"

"There is *some*," Alekhin explained. "That we've already been drawing on with the supply chain from Mosgrav down. You can't grow grain in this swamp. It's fish or nothing. What bread Tadibya has, it purchases in trade."

"hm." Daniel leaned back in his chair 'and how much in the way of fish is stored? We could salt it… preserve as much as possible for survival rationing until I'm finished."

"And who is to do the work of that, should I shut down the fishery?"

"With no new influx of fish or bread, our storehouses will be depleted in, as I said, two weeks, give or take a couple of days. And don't think I'm underestimating, young man, I'm an army man and an army marches on its stomach."

Daniel ran his hands through his hair with a low hiss "… then give me two weeks, and I'll have this bloody thing sorted. Understood?"

"As for riots, governor, my men can see to that," Volkov said, lighting up his dog-eared cigarette.

The governor hesiated, and then he nodded. "if the both of you say it's necessary-- I won't be the man who charged ahead only to get everyone killed. I'll write up an announcement. The markets and the fishery will not reopen after tonight. Curfew will go into effect at sundown. Captain-- I *expect* your men to rise to this occasion."

Volkov nodded. "I expect the same damned thing."

Daniel nodded "… and may my associate and I have permission to go where we please? We have to continue our investigation while lockdown is in place."

Alekhin snorted. "Obviously, lad," he said. He waved a finger at him. "And don't think just because you're from Astoria that my expectations aren't riding on you as well. I want a full brief from both of you at close of day for as long as this goes on. And it had *better* be less than two weeks, or gods help us all. Because no one else will."

Daniel nodded firmly, and sighed "I'll have a nightly report for you each night. Just trust me. I'll solve this thing."

"You had better," he said, draining his tea and pouring more vodka into the empty cup. "This is a hardship post for all of us, and I'm not going down alone."

"Indeed." Daniel nodded "I don't intend on going down at all."

"Good," he jabbed his desk with his index finger. "That's the attitude I want! Well? don't just hang about men, there's work to be done!"

Volkov stood, and straightened his cap.

"Thank you for the tea, governor."

Daniel stood, nodding firmly "understood governor. We won't let you down."

"Good lad."

With that, Volkov beckoned Daniel to follow as he left the room.

Daniel followed him out, his hands folded behind his back.

Volkov closed the door behind them, and then he sagged for a moment, puffing on his cigarette.

Daniel leaned on the wall, shaking his head "… we got our lockdown."

"Good job," Volkov nodded. "We'd better make the best of it."

"we'd better." he grimaced "two bloody weeks to solve an entirely new illness. Damn it all."

"The clock is ticking," he sighed. He took a long puff of his cigarette and straightened up.

"That it is." he said, shaking his head. "… It's going to be a damn long day."

"It damned well is," he agreed. "I'd better go brief the station."

"And I'll speak with the governor's wife before meeting with Fenya and starting our day."

Volkov nodded and gave him a salute. "Good luck to you, Delgrave."

Daniel saluted him back "And to you, Volkov."

With that, the captain headed down the stairs, and a moment later, Daniel heard the door.

Daniel sighed, and headed towards the kitchen, where he knocked.

"Come in," Elizabeth's low, honeyed voice beckoned him. The kitchen was as nicely appointed as the rest of the house, and in that same more modern style. The tall lady was relaxing in one of a pair of handsome rocking chairs at the side of the room, sipping her coffee.

"Watch you tail," she chuckled.

Daniel flushed, his ears flicking "Ah, yes. Wonderful joke." He chuckled as he walked over "I was wondering if you had a moment to talk.."

"Of course," she nodded. "Would you like some coffee?"

"I'd be delighted." he said "thank you."

She stood, shrugging out of the chair and pouring him some coffee out of the carafe. A soft voice piped up from behind the central kitchen counter. "Can *I* have some coffee, mama?"

Daniel glanced around the counter with a soft chuckle "a young one?"

Elizabeth chuckled. "Borya, come out and say hello. And no coffee, dear."

A small boy came out where Daniel could see him. A little grey wolf that Daniel recognized from the group of children in the church the other day.

Daniel chuckled, and waved "ah, it's you again. Good morning young man."

"morning," Borya nodded shyly. "hey… I recognize you…." Little Borya was adorable-- and looked not a thing like either of his parents.

Daniel had thought that might be the case. He smiled at the boy "indeed. I saw you at the church the other day."

Borya nodded. Elizabeth tutted. "I hope you're being careful, young man." "Course, mama," he nodded.

"He didn't seem to be in any trouble as far as I could see." Daniel smiled charmingly "Just spending time with some of his friends, who gave me a little helpful information."

"Well, that's reassuring to hear," she smiled. "You can go play now, if that's what you want dear."

Borya nodded.

"enjoy yourself young man." Daniel nodded "but be safe. there's sickness afoot."

Borya nodded. "Yessir! bye!!"

Elizabeth gave the boy a kiss on the head, and then he was gone. She gave Daniel a mug of coffee.

Daniel took the mug with a chuckle "seems like a charming young man."

"He's a delight," Elizabeth chuckled, sitting back in her chair and gesturing for Daniel to join her. "When he's not a terror of course."

"isn't' that just how children are?" He chuckled, settling into a rocking chair… and being careful of his tail.

"So it is," she smiled. "Do you have any children?"

Daniel blinked "oh,ah. Not as such. I do sponsor the child of a dear friend of mine from New Astoria… I sponsor her education at the University and keep an eye on her in a way."

"A sponsor?" she smiled. "That's certainly kind of you."

"I believed she was a smart girl, and deserved the chance to hone it. Even if she is an absolute troublemaker." He sighed "that's the closest I'm likely to ever get to parenthood, myself."

"Oh?" she smiled gently. "Not the parenting type hmm? In Mosgrav it seems practically compulsory. Not that I wouldn't have wanted to anyway."

"it seems so." Daniel mused "but… no. I'm afraid i'm quite busy with my studies…."

"Ahh," she nodded. "Not the marrying type, doctor?"

"well I… ah." His ears flushed, flicking slightly "I wouldn't say *never* but.."

"You know," she smiled sipping her coffee. "You should spend some more time with Iochka. He could use a friend, and it sounds like you'd get on well."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "is… that so? He's an interesting man, I'll admit. We've gotten along well enough thus far."

"he wasn't trying to bite your head off, so that counts for him," Elizabeth chuckled.

"I got the sense that curmudgeonly respect is about the height of it." he chuckled softly

"I'm told he has a soft side," she smiled. "Privately."

"is that so? color me surprised."

She chuckled. "Mmhmm. but, I'm *relatively* sure that wasn't what you came to talk to me about."

"No ah. I didn't come here for that. Per say."

"Consider me at your disposal."

"First, I'd like to know about you." He smiled "You're not from Mosgrav, are you?"

"How astute of you," she teased. "No, doctor I'm from Mordona."

"lovely area. Fenya and I were just discussing going there once things are said and done here." he mused

"Certainly a little more tropical than things are here," she chuckled. "if you do, you must send me a card."

"Gladly." Daniel chuckled "I did notice that the Governor is a military man. Did you two find yourselves in this little town post war? Or were you off and about elsewhere before being sent out here to…" he waved his hand "here."

Elizabeth smiled nostalgically. "It was in the principalities, actually. During the Clockwork War."

Daniel nodded, leaning on his hand as he sipped his coffee "I've heard stories about the Clockwork War." he said "I imagine the stories don't do the magnitude of it all justice."

She shook her head. "No, likely not. It was a terrible business. Grand and important. But terrible. I met Boris when he was a Major in command of a mosgravan unit. You're Astorian-- you know those stories about ladies dressing as boys to join the war?"

"grand and important indeed." He said with a slow nod. "… and yes, I've heard stories, heard songs as well about that phenomenon." He raised his cup of coffee "and bravo to them for it. That war needed as many hands as it could get, old world sensibilities be damned."

Elizabeth chuckled. "well, it was a little bit like that for me. I had run off and joined the Mordonan army as a man, and the unit I was in ended up under fire along with Boris' against the Tickers."

It was impolite to speculate, but Daniel couldn't help but consider that dressing as a man and joining the army might have been the *cough\* *expectation* of Elizabeth in her youth, rather than the anomaly.

Daniel sipped his coffee. He wouldn't speculate, certainly. In his eyes, he saw nothing wrong with a person living life to their fullest, however they wished to do so. After all, living life as you wished was the core tenant of Thanatology. He nodded "Sounds like a harrowing moment." he said curiously

"Extremely harrowing," she nodded, "and a bit romantic-- *especially* once all the fighting was done. While you're fighting for your life it's a little hard to enjoy the romance."

Daniel laughed, nodding his head "I've noticed that, somewhat." He leaned on his hand with a grin "but there's plenty of time for it afterwards, no?"

"Plenty," she chuckled. "And plenty of time for exciting revelations about the people you've been fighting with. One thing led to another."

"and here you are, a lovely couple in the heart of Mosgrav." He chuckled "… or ah, a part of it, at least."

"We lived in the Capital for a while actually," she smiled. "But Boris was…. well they did try to make it *sound* like it was meant to be a reward for service."

"but in effect it didn't seem very much like that at all?" he said "… he gave that impression."

She sighed and nodded. "Exactly. My husband can be a bit bullheaded, and he and the men in charge of that sort of thing didn't get along."

Daniel shook his head "I've had my own clashes with the powers that be, it doesn't end well for the stubborn."

"No," she sighed. "I'd be hoping that they'll call us back after the unpleasantness this year, but we've put down roots I suppose."

"It seems so. It's not a *bad* little town once you look past all it's…" He paused "Glaring faults."

Elizabeth laughed and raised her coffee mug. "Cheers to that, doctor. Like Iochka, it's got a softer side, if you know where to look."

Daniel nodded "I've been looking." He said slowly "not… ah, specifically at the Captain for his soft side, but the town."

"And what have you found? If I can ask."

"Unfortunately, a lot of old and deeply settled corruption." he said, with a frown "as well as a number of good people who don't deserve it."

"That sounds about right," she said with a sigh. "There's old rot here. The kind that's hard to cut out."

"It's still rotting now." he frowned "….i uncovered something particularly nasty involving Andrei's activities, but i'm not sure I have much proof."

"Andrei…. Morozov?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.

Daniel nodded with a frown.

"I see," she said, scowling. "I'm not *entirely* surprised, but I don't have any proof of anything either."

"I did find a rather… lurid novel in his house." he mused with a sharp glare at his coffee cup "….and… have circumstantial evidence of his actions upon a certain young woman in town.."

"Who?" she asked, her voice getting flat, and hard.

"Lydia Osgrov." he said, fingers tightening on the cup "but again… I can't *prove* anything. not at the moment."

Her fingers tightened on her coffee cup. "*Lydia?*?" she hissed. "*That's…*"

Elizabeth looked absolutely *murderous*.

Daniel nodded, leaning forward "I feel about the same. I hardly met the woman and when I walked in on her all drugged up and waiting for the 'evil spirits' to come for her….i found myself furious. Whatever he's doing, it isn't right." he frowned "i made the connection soon enough, when I found the novels hidden in his home."

She shook her head. "It isn't right…. and poor Lydia… her nightmare should have been *over.*."

"It should have been." Daniel frowned "… I just don't know what I can do to help. "

She drummed her fingers on the arm of the chair. "Lydia is… stubborn, in her own way. If someone could convince her to stay with her Aunt, I'm certain Katya would have her…."

"… perhaps I'll see if i can talk to the both of them." he murmured "… it'd mean she could be protected from the bastard, yes?"

"Andrei wouldn't *dare* violate Iochka's house," she assured him. "It's women he doesn't respect."

It looked like perhaps she had more to say, but for now at least, she held her tongue.

Daniel nodded "I got that impression from our meeting with him." He tapped his fingers on the chair's arm "… I'll see what i can do."

"You have my thanks," she nodded. "Poor little Lydia…."

"Indeed," he shook his head, "I'm learning all sorts of sordid details on people's lives… that, perhaps, was the worst i've heard yet."

he paused "… well. there was also Tomya."

"Tomya?" she cocked her head.

"I gather he's Andrei's disowned son, who was groomed by the dead Mistress for… his current profession, I gather." he grimaced.

Her tongue clicked on the roof of her mouth. "I….see. More of those damned sorcerers ruining everyone's lives."

"Not to forgive Andrei's part in that."

"indeed. " Daniel frowned "on both counts. Everywhere I go, I see people's lives ruined by the old structure of this bloody town."

"Every time I think I've decided which one was worst, I find out something new," she hissed.

"might I ask what else you've heard?" he asked curiously

She hesitated.

She got up and she closed the kitchen door. "This must stay between us, doctor," she said. "The dead are beyond caring but there are those who still breath who can be hurt by what I will say."

Daniel nodded slowly "It'll stay between us to the grave, Elizabeth. I'm not looking to hurt anyone. I just… need to know what happened here in the past if I'm to save this place's future."

She sat down again and closed her eyes, her long fingered hands trembling just slighting where they rested on her legs. "Osgrov is the one whose crimes I know best. My dear Katya…."

"It still hurts her. She drinks to escape it."

Daniel leaned over, and gently patted her shoulder. "You don't have to tell me the details if it hurts to." he said "….I got the sense he was a horrid man." he frowned "….that… explains… a lot, I suppose."

"You have heard how long lived they were, yes?"

"Indeed… it's pertaining to my study, so… it was one of the first things mentioned to me upon my arrival."

"Well," she hissed. "Pyotr Osgrov used the blessing of his long life to *linebreed* his own damned family. Like *feral dogs*." She looked incensed at the mere thought of it, her fur bushed and her hackles raised. "Katya only escaped him with Iochka's help. her sister-- Lydia and Sasha's mother was not so fortunate. Lydia would certainly have been next if it weren't for the blessed fires of the church."

Daniel's own fur raised in increasing anger. It pricked up his spine and caused his ears to flatten as he hissed through his pointed teeth. "….While I have little love for the church." he said slowly "I can more easily forgive a **bonfire of the truly damned** than a witch hunt. And it seems these **elders**deserved every log on that fire."

"I might have forgiven Nika-- the midwife-- but if what you say is true then she deserved it as well," she hissed. "I had heard of her tendency to step out with men, I had not heard that she shared the Carver's taste for youth."

"I don't know for certain." he grimaced "but Tomya's….description of how he came to his trade… implied as such." "the carver was… hm." He frowned deeper "… oh I don't like that one bit."

She nodded. "Iochka-- I don't know about the crimes of *his* father, but I have only ever heard him speak of him once. And it was of a terrible temper."

"…." Daniel shook his head. "he didn't seem overly fond of the man. Describing their 'sorcery' as being held over everyone like a knife. And I can't bloody well blame him." he grit his teeth "Damn and blast."

Elizabeth nodded. "I cannot imagine that the world is worse for any of their passing."

"no. I would say not." he growled softly. "May they stay as cinders forevermore." He frowned "it's just a damned pity that we have to dredge up their memory in order to solve this damned thing. Because the more I look, the more I feel this is all rooted in *their* meddling."

"Solve this damned thing-- you mean the disease? Iochka told me a little yesterday."

Daniel nodded, running his hand through his hair "….you two are good friends, I can tell." he said slowly "… but yes. the disease. the one I have two bloody weeks to solve and cure."

"That's a heavy sword above your neck," she sighed. "But you say it seems to be related to the damned sorcerers?"

"It is." he murmured "I'll admit to you, Elizabeth, because I quite like you, that it's….stressful." He grimaced "but yes. from my research I see… a commonality."

"I don't like the sound of that one bit," she said. "But I rather like the look of you myself, doctor. You can count on what help I'm able to give."

"I appreciate that, Elizabeth." he bowed his head "I'm glad. I'm glad for any help you can give." he grimaced "I need to find this 'heart' of town."

"The *heart*," she said thoughtfully. "Could it be their sacred grove?"

"That's what I was thinking. But it was some…" he grimaced "Ritual. that they did. Which they stopped doing when they died. Which coincides with the start of all this a little too well. I'm thinking whatever they did might have kept a pollution from the land… and now that it's not being tended to, the earth and river near here are being poisoned with this bloody parasitic sickness."

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. "I see… I'm afraid I can't be much help on what exactly that might have *been* if that was the case. But maybe it explains why all of my damned flowers keep dying."

"That… may be the case. Though it's also possible that they aren't suited to the area." he shook his head "regardless. Your knowledge of town and the people in it… is invaluable."

"I'm glad I could help," she nodded. "Sorry that my contribution was so grim."

"No. It's all things I needed to know." He sighed "… damnation."

She sighed along with him. "Damnation is right. More coffee?"

"more coffee would be lovely." he chuckled. "… so." his finger tapped the rocking chair's armrest "… what can you tell me about the Captain?"

"Iochka?" she asks, getting up to pour more coffee. "he's no intellectual but he's smart as a whip. I'm sure he could keep up with you."

"From the conversations we've had, I absolutely believe you." he smirked "he's a very clever man."

"He needs to relax more," she said. "he hasn't been the same since he and Konstantin--- ah.. well."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "may I ask?"

"I was only here for the last year of it of course."

Daniel listened curiously, his eyebrow half raised.

She handed him his coffee cup. "The way Katya tells it, they were joined at the hip since boyhood."

He took the cup, and had another sip. "… and what happened?"

She shook her head. "I haven't been able to get the story out of Iochka. But they had some kind of falling out."

"Were they…" he paused for a long moment "intertwined?"

She chuckled. "I thought I had said as much."

"I just wanted to clarify." Daniel held his hand up with a chuckle "it would be untoward to make assumptions." He nodded slowly "that makes sense, though.."

"Untoward, he says," she smirked slightly but then shook her head. "So yes, the captain is free real estate if you want to make your move, doctor."

Daniel's ears turned a bright pink, and flicked back on his head "….." He sipped his tea "*well* then. I mean. I… hm. " "*well then* "

Elizabeth chuckled again and sipped her own coffee as she leaned on the counter. "Typical shy astorian," she teased.

"He's a handsome enough man, Elizabeth." Daniel said, drumming his fingers on his coffee cup "but I'm here to solve a crisis, not find *romance* "

"Who says you can't have both, hmm?" She winked. "But I understand. Work comes first. Iochka would almost certainly say the same, so you have *that* in common. Have you met Katya yet, by the by?"

Daniel sipped his coffee, "we're both hard workers." he said "it's a good thing to have in common." He glanced at her out of his lidded eyes "I have. We met her the other day while investigating the market district. Gregarious woman, she was."

"She's my delight," Elizabeth chuckled. "she *does* need to ease up on the drink though."

"She's certainly delightful though I have to agree." He paused "are you and her…" "intertwined? I hope that's not too terribly rude to ask."

She smiled. "Don't worry, Boris darling understands our friendship."

Daniel nodded, his ears flicking "I'm very happy for all of you then." he raised his coffee "You all seem to have built quite the happy situation for yourself, and that's wonderful. I hope I can help cure this town's ills enough that you can continue to live it as best as it can be."

She raised her own and smiled. "It's unconventional, but who wants to stand on convention? and you can count on me for any help I can give on that mission. Even if what you end up needing is a saber. I'm rusty, but I'm not dead yet."

"Convention be damned." He agreed with a grin "… I won't say no to the offered saber. It may come at the time that we need it, and I'll remember that I can count on you."

"here here, doctor. And let me know if you need a good word with my husband. I know a thing or two about buttering the old man up."

"here here." he chuckled "… I'll keep that in mind." he winked "though I think I managed this time, well enough. Next time though, I'll need all the help I can get."

The conversation devolved for a few minutes into idle chatter as they finished their coffee. Unfortunately Daniel probably couldn't stay all day to converse, much as that might be appealing.

Elizabeth saw him to the door. "I hope you'll come visit again soon-- with news, if nothing else."

"I'm sure it's not the last you'll see of me" he chuckled "have a lovely day, Elizabeth… or at least as lovely a day as possible with all this going on"

"I shall gird my loins, doctor." she chuckled. "Until then." And just like that, after a *very* interesting morning, he was back out in the fog.

Daniel walked out into the foggy streets, heading towards the tavern with a resolute sigh. "… two bloody weeks…"

With any luck at all that would be enough. Either that or the town faced a lingering death….

He grimaced, not thinking about that right now. First he had to meet up with Fenya and get investigated.

The streets were quiet today, thought not silent. Still, as he fell into step heading toward the pub he thought he heard someone behind him.

Daniel glanced over his shoulder with a frown.

There was a child following him-- maybe a young teenage boy. A white wolf with pale eyes.

Daniel raised an eyebrow and turned "… hello there." he said hesitantly "are you following me?"

The wolf boy nodded quietly at him, looking at him from under a mass of hair.

Daniel put his hand on his hip "… and might I ask your name?"

He shook his head and offered him a closed hand instead.

Daniel held his hand out with a curious expression "… alright."

He pressed his hand to Daniel's and opened it without letting the man see what was in it. Something smooth and warm passed into Daniel's hand.

Daniel pulled his hand away, and looked into it "a gift for me, hm?"

The boy nodded-- and dashed off into the fog.

Sitting in Daniel's hand was a small gold coin.

Daniel turned it over in his fingers "….what in the world?"

The boy had disappeared into the fog. The coin, meanwhile, was strange. It didn't look like mosgravan money at all. It was covered in little symbols.

Daniel held it up closer to his face "… strange. this isn't Mosgravan…"

Racking his brains Daniel soon realized that the writing on the coin was a combination of Mospek- the early Mosgravan language, and some of those runes that he and Fenya had seen in the sorcerers' laboratory.

"… some sort of magician's coin then?" he flipped it, before slipping it into his pocket '… I wonder why the lad had something like that."

Its warm weight sat gently there, as he walked through the fog. He heard the warm sounds of the pub before he reached it.

Daniel stepped inside, and looked around for Fenya.

Fenya was seated at the counter, getting a fresh cup of coffee from little Fofka.

"mind pouring me one?' Daniel chuckled, sitting beside her.

"yes mister," Fofka said quietly. It was probably the first time he'd spoken at least in Daniel's presence. He poured Daniel a coffee. "Danochka," Fenya greeted with a smile.

Daniel raised his eyebrow at the kid "thank you." He smiled "Fenya. A pleasure to see you."

"The pleasure's mine, doctor," she smiled. "How did the meeting go?"

"It went… well. I think. We have two weeks of quarantine that will go into place once preparations are done.. I seem to have impressed the Governor… and I certainly seem to have impressed the governor's wife in my conversation with her afterwards."

"Well! that *is* good news."

"It is. It's only two weeks, but… we can manage it." he ran his hand through his hair "Elizabeth… his wife… did try to set me up with the Captain, however." "and offered me her and her sword should we ever need to *fight* something. Beyond that she… knows a lot about the town."

Her eyebrows shot up her forehead. "Set you up with the captain? *sword fighting*? what did I *miss*, doctor?"

Daniel laughed "..ah. quite the conversation with a very fascinating woman. I'm sure you'll get to meet her, I'm planning on speaking with her again sometime soon."

"I hope I will, if she's that interesting. Are you still wanting breakfast?"

"I think so." he chuckled "I didn't eat.." he leaned on his hands "I got some information. Not much of it good." He fished out the coin "and a strange child gave me this."

Fenya took the coin from him and turned it over curiously. "A child?"

"yes, a young wolf boy. it's archaic Mospek and those strange runes we found."

"So I see," she nodded, brow furrowing. "It's… hardly typical is it…"

"it isn't in the least. Though I don't know *why* he gave it to me."

"Well… people don't often just go around handing other people gold coins…."

"no they don't." he mused "… i wonder if it's some sort of key for that language or not."

Fenya perked up. "Doctor-- you are a genius."

Daniel's ears flicked "… hm. you think it might be?"

She held the coin in her palm and showed him. "Look here-- I only know a little bit of old Mospek, but here-- I believe this word is 'silver', you see?"

Daniel nodded, and traced it with his finger "meaning this symbol…"

She nodded. "This symbol here is the alchemical symbol for silver. Which means I *think* that these symbols are saying the same thing as what's written in Mospek."

"… fascinating." He mused. "it's a decryption key."

"A decryption key," she smiled. "What a gift to be randomly handed."

"Indeed. makes me think it wasn't exactly random…"

"Same," she said, her smile slipping a little into a slight frown. "But I suppose we shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth as they say."

"we shouldn't." He shook his head "it seems being handed keys to this mystery by strange people in the fog is a theme for me."

"So it would seem," she murmured. "But this is hardly a hallucination."

"it hardly is." He looked the coin over. "… but it is terribly strange."

"It certainly is…."

Breakfast arrived for Daniel. Fish and beans and toast. It smelled appealing.

Daniel looked down at it, and nodded "thank you for the meal." he took a bite "… regardless, did you get anything this morning?"

Fenya gave a furtive look to the woman at work behind the counter. She didn't *seem* to be listening but.

"Let's talk about it after breakfast."

Daniel nodded "sounds good to me." he ate his breakfast in relative silence, looking pensive about the day ahead.

The chatter around them in the pub was mostly about the nasty weather-- and a smattering of discussions here and there about someone a person knew being sick.

"….the sickness is spreading." he murmured

"yes I've heard people talking about it all morning," Fenya sighed.

"the quarantine should help. I just have to make sure we work fast before time runs out.."

"Yes… it's unfortunate that we only have so long…."

"Admittedly… two weeks is enough time for those that are sick to progress to a… less than ideal stage."

Fenya nodded. "Certainly. Especially with things seeming to be…."

"progressing faster than is ideal?' he offered

"That," she agreed with a little snort.

"indeed….though we have solid leads." He paused "….and an unfortunate errand to run. I'll tell you more in private"

She nodded. "We can get going whenever you're ready."

He finished his breakfast "indeed." He paused "were paying another visit to the gregarious woman by the market… just as a heads up."

"The woman-- the one with the scarves?" she asked as she stood.

"no" he chuckled "Katya, Katrina Volkov"

"Oh *that* woman," she chuckled, her ears flicking with embarrassment. "Ah. Thank you for the warning."

"I thought you might appreciate it." He chuckled "I have something to ask her."

She walked out of the pub with him and into the misty street. "Oh?"

"… without going into too much detail, I'm going to ask her to take Lydia into her home for a while"

"Ahh. You've been thinking of her?" Fenya asked.

"a tad" he admitted "… and it turns out that Elizabeth worries for her as well. She and I devised a way to help… the matter."

"I'm pleased to hear it," she nodded. "It's been a bit in the back of my mind as well. "

Daniel nodded "I can imagine..it's…" He frowned "troubling."

"It is," she nodded. "Where are we headed next? Should we talk on the way or find somewhere quiet to share our findings?"

"that, I think, would be for the best" he agreed "then it's off on our grand adventure."

"The second one then?" she said. "Let's look for some place out of the rain…"

Daniel nodded, and offered his arm "perhaps there's a quiet nook somewhere about."

She took his arm gently and swept her gaze over the misty main street. "Hmmmm."

Unfortunately the street seemed to have a dearth of unused roofs or hiding spaces. If they wanted to get out of the chill, they'd have to look elsewhere.

"Damn it, we aren't far, I'm just going to the bloody post office again."

She nodded. "Understood, doctor." She leaned close into him as they hurried back to their base.

He put his arm around hers. Purely for warmth, of course, and hurried through the rain

The two of them trip-trapped as quickly as they could back to the post office. It really was only a few minutes, but it seemed like more in the rain. "I suppose the good news is really that my leg is feeling fine."

"It is?" he asked "… I suppose you must not have hurt it too severely yesterday."

"It hurt *monstrously* last night," she shook her head "But you're the doctor." She chuckled slightly as they reached the post office.

"Indeed…" He murmured "… that medicine also seems to have done the trick."

"I suppose it did," she nodded.

"even if it did smell terrible as sin."

"And taste worse," she nodded, as they headed into the post office.

He waved to Mitya as he headed up the stairs "good morning"

Mitya in fact didn't seem to be there.… Out on his rounds perhaps?

"… hm." Daniel mused as he headed upstairs "Hope the boy is doing quite alright."

"As do I," she nodded. "Maybe he's at home?"

She climbed the stairs after him.

"He might be." Daniel chuckled "After all, he doesn't live here."

"No, he's… Mayor Tadibyov's son isn't he?"

"Yes, yes he is, if I remember correctly." Daniel nodded

"Oh! wasn't his father going to take care of locks today? That's probably got something to do with it."

She settled down in one of their chairs.

"ahhh, that's likely the ticket." He settled down opposite her, and leaned on his hand "..so.."

"So. We had a lot to discuss by the sound of it."

"we certainly do." Daniel said with a nod. "mind if i ask you to start?"

"not at all," she said. "You wanted me to ask about the masters and mistresses, the heart, and old knowledge. Well… I did ask. Of course, she was a pain about it."

"of course she was." he grumbled "it's her damned way, I suppose.'

"I did manage to get her to open up a little bit though," she said, drumming her nails on the table. "One thing she said was probably the most interesting."

Daniel leaned forward "I'm interested… what was it?"

"her mother," she explains. "Her mother was the Midwife. Nika."

"….." Daniel's eyes widened "… I'm *sorry?*"

Fenya nodded seriously. "I was shocked as well."

"As am I . I never would have guessed." he mused "….hm."

It occurs to him that Mistress Nika looked like she was in her 20s, along with the rest of the town masters. Granny Bobbin well…. she looked like a granny.

"…..it just goes to show how shockingly long lived the Masters were."

"Something else too," Fenya pointed out.

"hm?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

"Whatever this ritual was, they **didn't even share it with their children.**."

"….." Daniel grimaced "….what the hell was it that they kept it so secret?"

She shook her head. 'I have no idea. But Granny-- Yana….she must have grown up and grown old watching her mother never change…."

"…." Daniel scoffed softly "… that seems like a dreadful way to grow up…"

"I can only imagine," she sighed, leaning on her hand. "And I don't like it."

"neither do I…" he frowned "the Captain isn't fond of his father either, and rightfully so."

"It certainly goes toward explaining some of the resentment that comes off Granny in waves," she nodded

"I'd resent this town and it's masters too if I were in her shoes."

"I have to agree," she nodded. "I can imagine having a child I would share the secret to eternal youth with. Just don't *have* a child at that point. They're certainly not going to be 'passing on your legacy'."

Daniel nodded "agreed. But they selfishly guarded it for themselves."

Fenya shook her head. "Regardless. That's what I learned. That and surprisingly she didn't seem to know anything more about the Heart of the town than we do."

"Another close held secret then." Daniel mused "Damn."

Fenya nodded. "Unfortunately."

"Did you get anything else out of the woman?"

She shook her head. "I'm afraid not."

"Damn." He sighed . "Well you got some interesting and useful information at the very least."

he smiled "thank you, Fenya."

She nodded. "Of course. I'm sorry I couldn't get any more out of her.:

"It's alright, I did get quite a bit out of Elizabeth….most of which can't leave this room."

fenya's eyebrows raised. "My lips are sealed then."

"good… I learned a lot about the Masters and Mistress, and none of what I heard makes me very happy."

"I;m not entirely surprised to hear that. Why don't you give me a quick rundown."

"Misha's tastes ran *quite young* Iosef had a terrible temper Osgrov… line bred with his own family and abused them in all kinds of ways… And we know all about Nika's habits at this point."

She frowned, deeper and deeper. "I… see," she said roughly.

"Yes." Daniel frowned "… their corruption and scars run deep in this town, it seems."

"So they do," she said, taking a breath.

He nodded "i got… more detail. but that's about the gist of it. He grimaced slightly "those sorcerers let their own 'evil' run rampant."

"Power corrupts as they say."

"And they had a long time to be corrupted by it."

"They certainly did," she nodded. "Longer than most."

Daniel ran his hand through his hair "indeed. But we'll do what we can to fix things."

"Looks like we have more than *just* a disease on our plate.." She sighed, leaning a bit toward him.

"Disease and the societal ills of a sorcerer-tainted town." he drawled

"It'll be a hell of a case study."

"it'll be the report to either earn me the respect of the deans or get me kicked out on my ass."

"No inbetween," she chuckled

"none at all." he chuckled "… so we need to do… a lot today, Fenya." "we have to try to get Lydia to move… we need to investigate leads on the Heart and the Masters and MIstress'… and I think we should use that coin we've found."

"We're going to have trouble fitting it all in," she sighed. "Lets try writing up a schedule."

"Now that's a good idea." he nodded slowly "… let's start at the top."

"Alright," she nodded, getting out a piece of paper and a pen. "Give it to me starting with the most important. I'll let you know if you leave out anything I remember you've mentioned."

"I think we should pay a visit to the children of the Masters…." he mused "the Captain, Sasha, ect…."

She nodded, and wrote them down. "Sasha, Captain Volkov-- are we talking to Morozov? Or the Mayor? either? They're both related to the Midwife somehow."

"Yes, I'd like to talk to the Mayor… and *reluctantly* I suppose Morozov or his wife."

She nodded and penciled them in. "You also mentioned talking to the priest? or someone related to the church."

"ah yes." he nodded "i'd like to talk to the priest if we can find the bastard."

She nodded and added that too. "Anyone else?"

"… I think for the coin we may want to investigate the rookery again." He said "…. and I'd like to get another look inside some of the master's old things. "

"Are we hoping Rook will or won't be there?" she asked as she penciled it in.

"I think it's best if we hope for him to be there, given the last few times."

"yes he probably wouldn't take kindly to us snooping as usual," she chuckled. "Although that reminds me-- we haven't taken a look at that sample he gave us last night yet."

"that's *true.* we should check that out now while we're already here. And the blood from the… ah, figure in the fog."

She nodded and added it at the top. "Good call. Ah-- anything else?"

He leaned his head back "….visit Katrina and Lydia. And try and work that out."

"We should visit Katrina before Sasha then-- we can see him and Lydia both."

"Good plan." he nodded "efficient use of time."

She tapped her pen thoughtfully. "If we want to be as efficient with our time as possible we should visit the Rookery either first or last since its closest here."

"Last. So we can visit it with the most context from the information we gather today."

She nodded. "Alright. Then-- do you want to check on Elias this morning, or assume things are fine unless we;re contacted?"

"…." Daniel frowned "a quick look shouldn't hurt, I suppose. Just to make sure he hasn't damned died."

She nodded. "Alright, then the best use of our time will be to start there-- since it's all the way across town, then visit Missus Volkov and work our way back toward the post office. We should ask Darya or Katrina if they know where we can find the priest."

Daniel nodded "Katrina may know, and be more amicable towards him than Darya."

"yes I was thinking perhaps," she agreed. She pushed the list gently toward him. "how's this look?"

Daniel looked it over "yes… that's a good itinerary for today, Fenya." he mused "It looks perfect."

She smiled a little and flicked her ears. "Good. Then we probably shouldn't waste too much time I'm afraid. It's going to be a tight schedule."

Daniel chuckled "indeed. but well managed, thanks to you." He stood and walked to the table "let's test those items, shall we?"

"yes, lets," she nodded, and fetched both the little pouch they'd been given, and the sample.

Daniel took the sample first, and slipped it into a slide to examine.

The first slide was the wood. Little splinters of white.

At the base magnification it didn't look like anything special.

He zoomed in a little further.

The closer he got, the less white the wood fibers appeared. In fact, what he found were…..

black specks.

Daniel frowned, and examined the black specks.

Well… they weren't moving. But they were eerily reminiscent of the stuff he was finding in the blood of the infected.

Fenya watched him curiously. "Did you see something?"

"….I do." he said slowly "… the wood contains immobile traces of the black specks we're finding in the blood of the infected. It's… interspersed throughout the grain."

Fenya actually half stood from her chair. "you're serious?"

He nodded, and backed up "go on, take a look"

She stood and came over to his side of the table and peered in. Her expression turned to one of baffled curiosity. "Goodness….. it's there. The black specks."

"…" He frowned "… they're everywhere. But what does it *mean?*"

"I couldn't begin to guess, medically speaking," she said. "Chemically…. maybe something in the soil the plants are absorbing?"

Daniel looked thoughtful. "That would insinuate that it's in the earth, confirming our poisoned land theory."

"It would," she nodded. "It could also be the water of course…"

"let's grab a sample today. And some fish if we can manage it"

"Good idea," she nodded. "Maybe one of our interview subjects wouldn't mind parting with some…."

"indeed" he said thoughtfully "and we'll write it all down in my daily report"

"Daily report?"

"the old military Governor wants daily report from me" he drawled "of our progress"

"Ah. Homework," she chuckled a little ruefully. "Let me know if you want my help with that."

"I'd be delighted, Fenya" he chuckled

"My pleasure," she nodded, stepping away from the sample.

Daniel shook his head, and switched it for the sample of blood. The attackers blood

The sample was black and sludgy- tar like even. Like his original sample of Elias' blood, but somehow even thicker.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "like an even older case" He put it under the microscope

He couldn't even see through it, Not even a little.

"Do we need to dilute this one too?" Fenya asked.

"seems we do, quite a bit."

"Allow me," she said, fetching a dropper from her purse and filling it with several drops of water from the jug before offering it to him.

Daniel took it with a nod, before dripping a bit into the slide

The water seemed to slide off of it-- almost like it *was* tar.

Daniel frowned "look at this, Fenya.."

Fenya leaned over his shoulder. "Hmmmm…."

"it's so damned thick"

"It is," she frowned. "It's unnatural. How could blood that thick even…."

"it wouldn't flow. It *couldn't* flow." He frowned deeper

"Then how in gaea are they… up and moving around?" she murmured.

"that's… the unsettling question we have to answer." He tried adding a little more water.

He managed to get it to mix…. a little.

He took the opportunity to try and get a better look at the sludge.

It was like large particles of blackness were suspended in the water…..

Looking closely he could see that the particles were moving around on their own like in the other samples. However, he couldn't find *any* evidence of actual blood cells.

(pinned)

"…" *disgusting* "This man should be dead and buried."

Fenya raised her eyebrows. "Do tell.. especially curious given the quick escape he made."

"take a look, Fenya. there's *not a single blood cell in there.* Just..large… squirming particles of this nightmare tar."

She leaned in and peered at it. "Nightmare tar indeed.…..Danochka, not to question your medical expertise, but the question has to be asked. Are we *sure* this was a sample of his blood?"

"….it should have been. it's what splattered out of his bloody wound when I shot the bastard."

"Could it be some kind of…. I don't know? Pus?" she asked grimacing.

"…." Daniel shuddered "… possibly. But it's so damned similar to Elias' blood. just worse…"

Fenya looked up from the sample, grimacing. "You're the doctor between us, so I trust your assessment. It's just…. baffling."

"It could be pus." he said, looking a little distracted "… I shouldn't jump to conclusions, but.." He frowned. "hm."

"Danochka?"

"yes Fenya?"

"You just looked like you had a thought," she said, shaking her head.

"It's….just a wish, I suppose. I wish I could have gotten a good *look* at the man."

"That would certainly have been convenient," she sighed.

"I would have been able to see if perhaps he were covered in infected sores.."

"I hate to say this, but perhaps we'll run into him again?"

"maybe I'll be a little more sure with my shot this time." he mused "we could use the subject."

"we could," she agreed.

"Let's keep an eye out for our 'vampire' then."

"Consider me on the hunt, doctor," she smirked and patted her purse with the gun in it.

Daniel laughed "between the two of us, it doesn't stand a chance."

"Not a chance," she agreed with a smirk.

"I think that's the last of the samples…"

Fenya nodded. "Unless you've been going and collecting them when I wasn't looking," she teased.

Daniel laughed " I haven't' been *that* productive."

"You could have fooled me. But let's get going before we start to feel unproductive."

He shifted to his feet, and offered his arm "to the farmhouse, then?"

She took his arm. "To the farmhouse," she agreed. And they headed downstairs. At the door they nearly ran into a big, solid young bear man with a big box of tools.

"….: Daniel raised his eyebrow "hello."

The man smiled cheerfully at them. "Good morning," he said in a big, basso voice. "Mr. Tadibyov sent me to fix Mitya's locks."

Daniel tilted his head "ahh. The locksmith." he grinned "thank you."

He gave a cheery salute, bumping his own head a bit harshly and forcing him to rub it. "Of course! Name's Ivan. Nice to meet you mr. Doctor. You are Mr. Doctor right?"

"no, please. Mr. Doctor was my father." he said dryly "My name is Daniel Delgrave. Doctor Daniel Delgrave"

Ivan offered him a big hand for a shake. "Nice to meet you Doctor Daniel Delgrave. And miss?"

Fenya nodded. "Professor Trifena Evgenii-Smythe."

"Ivan Yahontov at your services!"

Daniel shook his hand "Pleasure to meet you Ivan." he said with a note of amusement "you're a gregarious young man."

"It always pays to be friendly," he said with a big smile. "or at least, it never hurts, right?"

The man had a surprisingly gentle handshake.

Daniel shook his hand before letting go. "it never hurts indeed."

Actually… hadn't he heard the name **Yahontov** recently?

Daniel paused "… Your last name is familiar, young man."

He cocked his head. "Oh? Maybe you know my wife?"

"More from my… research on the town's history."

He scratched his head. "Town's history?" he seemed to think about it. and then slapped his palm. "Oh! maybe you mean my great uncle Misha then?"

"Ah, the carver, yes?" Daniel asked

Ivan nodded. "yeah! that sounds right."

"How interesting, we were just thinking we had to find some of the family he must have left behind."

Ivan cocked his head. "Oh? Gosh is there something I can help with?"

"Does your family have anything that your great uncle may have…*left behind?*

He scratched his head. "Uuuuh… huh. That's a good question."

"Isn't it?" He drawled "….if so, might we be allowed to look through it?"

"Well, sure," he nodded. "if you want to come over I'll let my wife know. I don't know if we have much though!"

"Sounds wonderful." Daniel said "and where about is your house?"

"Right by the post office actually!" he grinned. "if you follow the road north a minute you can't miss it!"

"..convenient." Daniel said with a chuckle "wouldn't you say, Fenya?"

"Almost supernaturally so," Fenya agreed.

Ivan smiled guillelessly. "Come to think of it, why don't you come over for dinner?"

"…" Daniel looked at Fenya "think we can fit that into our day?"

"Ah… I think so," she nodded. "Assuming it's a later dinner."

"Does that sound good for you, Ivan?"

Ivan smiled. "Sounds great! it'll be easier for my wife to make it."

"Delightful," he chuckled," I'd love to make things easier on your missus." "Now, I suppose I'll see you then. We've got to head out if we're going to keep on schedule."

Ivan nodded. "See you then, Doctor Delgrave. Professor. "

"See you later." Daniel nodded his head, and headed out into the day.

Fenya headed off into the fog with him. After a moment she said. "Well… that was…."

"Fortuitous." he smirked "Very much so."

"I quite agree," she nodded. "To think he was basically next door."

"And the Great Nephew of the carver, right outside our bloody doorstep." he started for the farm.

"Indeed. I wonder if he's his closest relation?" she asked, walking quickly with him through the fog.

"I don't think the man had any children, knowing what I know of him."

"No it does seem unlikely," she agreed.

"Still, we'll learn more over dinner, I'm certain."

"I'm certain too. Did you catch who his wife was? I didn't."

"no I don't think he mentioned a name." he shook his head "more's the pity. we'll learn it in time."

"I suppose that's true," she nodded.

Daniel heard the sound of footsteps behind them.

Daniel turned to glance over his shoulder

He didn't see anything immediately, but the footsteps didn't stop either. The sound was slightly staggered.

Daniel stopped, and held his ground. "we're being followed" he murmured

Fenya slowed to a halt and stood beside him, putting a hand on her purse. "Wonderful," she murmured.

The steps were getting closer.

Daniel put his hand on his hip, near his gun "hmm.."

Swaying, a man staggered out of the fog into view, his shoulders slumped and coat open, mouth agape.

Daniel stared at him for a moment "… are you *quite alright*?"

Fenya started to slowly reach into her purse.

The man groaned-- and then he screamed, staggering forward faster toward them.

Daniel pulled out his gun, and aimed it at the man, taking a step back "halt!" he ordered "*Damn* man!"

The man staggered-- and stumbled, falling to the ground heavily, Fenya and Daniel both heard a 'crack'.

Daniel winced… He walked slowly over to the man, and inspected him for signs of injury.

The man had a freshly cracked skull, bleeding a mix of red and black, and his ears also betrayed an advanced stage of the disease.

"Goodness," Fenya breathed, fixing her skirts.

"… this man is going to die if we don't get him to Sasha and the clinic soon." Daniel said. "if he's even going to make it that far."

"Can you do anything for him here?" Fenya asked. "or should we try to carry him?"

This was *definitely* going to impact their schedule.

Daniel cursed under his breath, and bent down to see what he could do here and now. "I'll see what I can do. Best we don't move him unless we have to."

The crack wasn't as bad as Daniel had first thought. The man's breathing was shallow, but consistent. No discharge from the nose or mouth. He was unconscious but consciousness was a problem in general with the disease. As long as he could get the bleeding stopped and bandaged- the man would likely survive. At least, a healthy patient would survive.

Daniel frowned, and reached into his bag, grateful that he carried around at least a few supplies "he'll be alright if I can staunch this wound."

Fenya knelt down to help, pulling bandages from her purse and offering them. " Let's do what we can then. I can hold him."

Daniel nodded, working to try and staunch the bleeding with some cloth that he'd dosed with antiseptic.

Fenya held the man, who was mostly still, though he stirred once or twice-- that was encouraging.

Daniel's efforts slowed and staunched the bleeding, the wound bandaged tightly and efficiently.

Daniel nodded, and looked him over now in regards to the **plague**. "hm….he's in advanced stages from the looks of it."

"It seems like it," she nodded. His veins were blackened, and Daniel lifted his eyelids to see darkness spreading through his sclera.

"…..quite far along. And he was walking about as if in a waking dream."

"That would be like Banbridge. wouldn;t it?"

"Indeed. Only this man attempted to attack us."

"Yes he was quite aggressive. We were lucky the terrain was his downfall. Or at least- he was lucky. We didn't have to shoot him."

"indeed," Daniel sighed "….I suppose we better take him to the clinic… and damn our current plans."

She sighed. "It's not too far," she said. "we should probably drop him off, talk to Sasha, and then try to get back on track."

"indeed." He nodded "..get back on track."

Fenya nodded. "I'll stabilize his head if you can pick him up?"

Daniel nodded, and looped his arms under the man "you got it. Thank you, Fenya."

Fenya carefully stabilized his head and neck. "On count of three, doctor. One…. two…. three."

On three he lifted the man, and tried carrying the bulk of his weight.

Fenya stabilized his head, and tried to walk in time with Daniel. "I guess we could only have wished it happened on Sasha's doorstep and not down the street."

"If only we were so lucky." He sighed, hefting the man down the street.

The walk was as slow as it was awkward and despite their best efforts they couldn't avoid jostling the man about at least a little.

Still, the main thing they lost was time.

Eventually they wound up in front of Sasha's office, their man still breathing, and his bleeding hadn't returned.

Daniel knocked, awkwardly, upon the door.

A moment later, Sasha, in his coat and now a mask, opened the door.

He stared at them, and sighed.

"Another?"

"this one was wandering the streets in a dream, and screaming whilst charging about at people" He paused "may want to keep him restrained."

"Ah. Bring him in," Sasha nodded. "Things are getting… crowded."

Indeed, several more cots had been set up, and most of them were filled.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… good thing I started the quarantine this morning."

"You managed it?" Sasha asked. "Here, put him here." He gestured to one of the few empty cots.

Daniel laid him on the cot "careful. He tripped and fractured his skull." He shook his head "we did manage to secure a 2 week quarantine…"

Fenya eased his head down gently.

"That should help… one would hope," Sasha nodded. "what happened to this man? I see he has the sickness."

"It seems he must have been infected for some time, as he's around Bainbridge's stage of infection… when it gets that far, the victims get up, and wander about in their comas… trapped in a nightmare as they shuffle the streets."

"I've observed the same wonderful fact," he said dryly, nodding to some of the patients who were restrained. "Their dreams must be restless."

"They must be….and it's a severe problem. A mobile patient is a mobile vector for the disease."

"yes, and those who aren't aware of what they're doing can't self-quarantine, either," he frowned.

"Indeed they can't" Daniel said "….meaning they're dangers to themselves and others."

He stroked his chin. "I'm not certain what to do about that. if anything can be done."

"Restrain the ones we can find." he said "… and close doors behind them. They can't open doors as far as I can see."

"That's a blessing a least," he nodded.

"Indeed, so once we get them inside, they should… more or less be safe."

"Unfortunately they won't be able to care for themselves."

"not in the least." He frowned "which makes much of this… problematic."

"Highly," Sasha nodded.

"I'm hoping to solve it before it becomes too much of a problem."

"That… would certainly be ideal," he agreed. "Can I ask your progress?"

"…." he sighed "I think the ground itself is poisoned. Perhaps something to do with this 'heart' of the town."

"The Heart?" Sasha asked with interest.

"I've heard repeated mention of the 'heart of the town'. and supposed rituals taking place at it by the thankfully departed town masters." He crossed his arms in thought "while I don't believe the mysticism….it's my thought that perhaps whatever they did there has something to do with the taint currently spreading in the town's soil and lifeblood. When they stopped, the disease began to fester and spread, for example."

Sasha nodded with a small smile on his face. "yes that *does* sound promising. So you're going to what… try to track down this Heart?"

"that's the intention." He sighed "it's just a shame. Not even the children of the Masters seem to know where it lay. Nor anything about the so-called 'ritual' itself."

"A ritual…." he raised his eyebrows. "I think I may have heard my father speak of one, once or twice. How did you find out one existed?"

"I happened upon some of Nika's notes… from a strange figure in the fog."

"A strange figure-- one of her old cohorts perhaps?" he cocked his head. "But why would they give you her notes…"

actually, what he said was maybe more like "why would they give **you** her notes…"

"I'm afraid I don't know in the slightest." He drawled "… perhaps it's because of how well known my ambition to cure this disease is… and they recognized I was on the right track."

Sasha nodded. "Perhaps…" he nodded. "And they were about some ritual?"

"One of them was. The other was some alchemical recipe. and another was a complaint about some botched matchmaking"

He raised his eyebrows. "It sounds like they may have been legitimate then. from what little I know."

"Indeed. It was rather lucky of me to happen into them."

"So it was," he agreed. "Well, luck or not if it helps your investigation I commend it."

"Indeed." Daniel agreed "….do you remember anything about what your father told you about the ritual?"

He tapped his chin. "He told me very little," he said. "but I do remember that he would vanish completely for one day and night every month, and when he returned he was….perhaps *renewed in vigor* is the best way to put it."

A dark and angry look cast on Sasha's face as he finished his sentence.

"Renewed in vigor…" Fenya repeated.

Daniel's lips grew tight "..ah..I…" "I see. I can't say I'm fond of that notion." His voice carried a trace of anger "….regardless… it's… likely that this ritual of theirs also factored into their long lives."

"yes that seems almost certain," he agreed. "If only I'd had the daring to follow him some night, but," he shook his head. "I hated the man. I couldn't get away soon enough."

"I cannot blame you from all I've heard." Daniel frowned "Damn the man"

"Damn him," he nodded with a breath. "But at any rate…"

"At any rate, it seems I must delve deeper into them to uncover anything I can." He grimaced, "I'm loath to ask, but did he leave anything behind?"

"A lot of things," he sighed. "Many of which I'm sorry to tell you I've already been rid of ."

"As I expected might have been the case." Daniel mused "… i just need to find *something*. Some damned clue to this ritual and its location."

"You're welcome to look about in the house," he offered. "Assuming that Lydia doesn't mind. However, I ask that you not try to get into my room- I promise you, I didn't keep any of his things-- and also I'm afraid I think he kept the majority of items related to his practice… elsewhere."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "….I'll look around the home if Lydia doesn't mind. You don't want me to look through your room, however?" He hesitated "do you have any idea where he might have kept those items?"

He rubbed his jaw. "I'd prefer my private things be kept private, Doctor," he said with a sigh. "That said if you feel you've really got to look around I'd be happy to let you in. As for where he kept them, if they're not in the Rookery then I don't have any idea."

"we'll… discuss it." He offered "if it becomes necessary." He tapped his finger on his thigh in thought "… I'll check around the rookery then…." He paused "actually, I did find one item, perhaps you can tell me if it was his?"

He cocked his head. "I can do my best."

Daniel pulled out the ritual knife, and showed it to him.

He raised his eyebrow. "That knife---"

"I found it." Daniel said slowly "somewhere. It's fine."

he took a breath. "That is *without a doubt* a knife that belonged to my father."

"… ah." Daniel looked it over "I thought that might be the case."

`The knife was made of black stone and it had more of the unfamiliar language carved into it.`

"I'd seen him with it before, or at the very least one identical to it.":

"interesting." Daniel mused "… can you read this language?"

Sasha peered at it. "I'm afraid not. Though it looks familiar."

"hm. We have a coin that may help translate it, but it uses Mospek letters."

"Mospek? The old language?"

He frowned. "I'm afraid I only learned archaic lingua at school as far as dead languages go."

"Indeed… It's not something I'm well versed in myself."

"Mmm," he stroked his chin. "I'm sure someone around her knows how to read it at least. Mospek, I mean."

"Any idea who? We're… a bit tight on time."

"Some of the older folk maybe," he offered. "Granny perhaps? Or maybe Morozov…."

"… hm." Daniel grimaced "i *suppose* we do have to speak to the man."

"Something wrong?" Sasha asked.

"…." Daniel tugged his collar a bit "… what's your opinion on Morozov?"

"I don't really have one," he admitted. "He never trusted me as a doctor and the only real positive interaction I had with him was when he was trying to get me to connect him with tailors from the capital."

"He tried the same with me." Daniel said "and… recently I found out some rather unpleasant news about him."

Sasha raised an eyebrow. "Do go on."

Daniel glanced at his office "….it's not… really news that one might want public."

He looked around at the patients. "Why don't we step into my office then?"

Daniel nodded, and stepped inside

Sasha shut the door firmly and took a breath.

Daniel took a deep breath as well "….well. There's a few things I've learned about the man… and I'm… trying to do what I can to help with the situation."

"You certainly have my attention."

"….one of which is he's likely one of the causes of your sister's bruises." Daniel said slowly. "or at the very least, he's been… visiting… her. And I found evidence that he's into some rather… violent… activities."

The color drained out of Sasha's ears. "*Excuse me?*" he rasped.

Daniel nodded, an uncomfortable expression on his face "….I stumbled onto the information the other day. She was waiting for him. She had drugged herself to near oblivion and was waiting for 'an evil spirit' to visit her or some such. I spoke with her, and she let slip that it was Morozov who would be coming to the door."

His pupils narrowed to pinpricks. "That man…. *That* man is the *MONSTER* who's been hurting my sister?" he demanded. "I… I believed she was hallucinating….our mother.. she had "visions… I thought…."

Sasha put his hand over his muzzle, looking like he was about to throw up.

Daniel offered his hand in comfort, putting his hand on his shoulder "….I don't have full evidence. But.. Yes, I believe so. I don't trust the man as far as I can throw him, and….this only further cemented that feeling in my mind." he looked away "… Perhaps if she stayed with Katrina for a while, we could prevent any more of his… visitations?"

Sasha took long, deep breaths. "katrina…. Aunt Katrina? I… maybe.. but… I worry that their…. habits.. would mix poorly.:"

He pulled his hands down his face, distraught, visibly.

Daniel kept a comforting hand on his shoulder "… we'll sort it out. In the capital, we don't let such crimes stay unpunished." He paused a moment "perhaps the presence of someone to protect would help curb your aunt's… drinking… habit some?"

Sasha leaned into Daniel quite heavily, his usual regard for personal space seemingly broken. "Perhaps… but, I worry they might cross contaminate. What if Lidya starts drinking in addition to her opium? If she died, I would never forgive myself."

Daniel put his arm around him "… that's… certainly true. Perhaps someone can keep an eye on them in turn?"

"I… yes but…. the clinic, I can't…. my attention…."

"Is there anyone you trust? Perhaps I can see if Elizabeth would be willing to?"

"Elizabeth… yes. she's.. trustworthy enough I suppose," he nodded, his brow furrowed. "I can't believe I didn't see it. That it was happening under my nose."

"It was all done while you were busy. Absorbed in your work, you couldn't have known if nobody told you." Daniel offered, rubbing his shoulder "… it'll be alright."

Sasha gave Daniel a surprisingly strong hug with his somewhat noodly arms. "Doctor-- Daniel…. if I were a man to believe in angels I might believe that you had been sent to help me. But since I am a man of science, I can only offer you my sincere and complete gratitude."

Daniel hugged him back, his ears flicking slightly "ah, I… hm." he said "i'm not exactly an *angel* but… you're quite welcome. It's the least I can do… it's what any decent man would do."

"It seems that despite the best efforts of the church this town is still desperately lacking in *decent* men," he hissed.

Daniel nodded with a frown "… unfortunately so."

He took a breath and squeezed him again, before standing and pushing his hair back, straightening his coat. "So I will have to rely on you, I'm afraid."

"I'll do my best not to let you down, Sasha." He pat his shoulder with a smile

"I have great belief in you my friend," he said with a little smile. "And I will help you too, in any way I can."

Daniel nodded "Indeed, my friend. I'll take all the help you can give, and strive to help in return."

Sasha nodded. "Thank you, my friend. Was there anything else that you needed to tell me? I'm sorry that I…. was distraught."

"It's… quite alright. I could mention the… illicit novels I found in Morozov's house. Or the….fact that…" He frowned "he disowned his own son to be a prostitute on the streets."

He closed his eyes. "I feel a great hatred welling in my chest, Daniel."

"That's about the way I've been feeling the last day or so, Sasha." he nodded slowly

he closed his eyes. "I'll take Lydia to our Aunt's house. I'll sedate her if necessary."

"understood. I'll warn her ahead of time. Your aunt…"

"You're going to see her today?"

"She's on our list.." Daniel sighed "which, due to our assailant is sort of… thrown off."

"Ah. A busy schedule," he nodded. "I can hardly blame you. Please. I'll take care of things here. it's imperative that you continue your work."

"Indeed." Daniel said with a weak smile "I appreciate the understanding. We only have two weeks… less if we count the danger of the infection's spread."

"If we're moving Lydia from the house, I can use it to temporarily expand my clinic space as needed. In fact-- that makes an excellent excuse."

"it certainly does." Daniel said "… your manor can become a temporary hospital."

"So that's one way I can help," he nodded. "Let me know if you think of anything else. And I'll do the same. Don't be afraid to send a messenger. I'll pay for it."

Daniel smiled "you're a good man, Sasha. I'll be sure to do so."

He smiled back. "I do try. Alright. I won't keep you."

He opened the door gently.

Daniel stepped out into the clinic. "If you hear of anything, let me know."

"The moment I do," he nodded gravely, stepping out with him.

They caught Fenya bustling around the patients-- it looked like she was both making them more comfortable, and taking samples.

Daniel waved with a smile "hello, Fenya!"

"Welcome back, doctors. I hope I didn't overstep my bounds."

"Not at all," Sasha shook his head. "I appreciate the assistance. I should get a nurse in here some day."

"you should, especially if you're turning this place into a proper hospital for a time." Daniel winked.

"I'll see what I can do," he said with a smile. "Good luck with the rest of your day."

Fenya gathered her things up. "You too."

Daniel nodded "you as well, Sasha. I'll see you about."

Sasha bid them another farewell, and a moment later Fenya and Daniel were out in the streets again.

"I told him about his sister… he's going to help us get her to Katrina."

"That's good-- right?" she asked. "That… also explains what I heard through the door."

"hmm?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

"I could just tell that Sasha was distressed."

"he was. He… had no idea."He sighed "and was in quite the state. But I comforted him."

"Well, I’m honestly glad he didn't know," she said. "Losing the town's only other doctor as our ally would have been….. bad."

"it would have been… less than ideal." he agreed "and I like Sasha."

"Agreed," she nodded. "So as much as it may hurt him, I'm glad he didn;t know and not care. That would have been heartless."

"indeed… it would have been horribly heartless." He walked towards the farmhouse. "

Fenya followed him at a quick clip-- she actually seemed to be moving faster than before the leg incident.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… how are you feeling, Fenya?"

"Honestly? I'm feeling rather energized. Maybe it's all the chaos."

"As am I." he mused "you're moving faster than I've seen you move since… you know. the incident."

"Oh… ah… I hadn't noticed," her ears flicked embarrassedly. "Should I… pace myself?"

"no… I'm just wondering if it's perhaps an effect of that medication."

"I hadn't even considered it!" she said thoughtfully.

"perhaps I'll give it a try, myself."

"I can make up some more this evening if you like."

"Perhaps" he chuckled "that sounds like a good plan to me."

"Need a little pick me up?" she asked with a smirk.

"After today?" he smirked back "you're damned right I do."

"and you deserve it," she said as they turned down the path to the farm. "remember that it ah… made me a bit loopy when I took it."

"Then I hope you forgive me if i start purring." he said in amusement

Her ears flicked and she chuckled. "Of course."

He chuckled with her. "Regardless, it seemed like a pleasant experience."

"I can't complain about it honestly," she agreed as they made their way up the farm path.

There was no one waiting for them outside today. Neither Darchick nor farmhand.

"it's quiet today." He said as he approached the door.

"So it is," Fenya nodded. "I hope everything's alright."

Daniel knocked at the door "I suppose we'll see in a moment.."

Darya answered the door, the baby in the sling around her chest as usual. "You're a bit late for breakfast."

"I'm afraid we had a run in with a… rather diseased man who split his head open"

"How… unfortunate," she sniffed. "well, don't stand around on the porch all day, come in."

She waved them into the house.

Daniel stepped inside, and looked around "things are… quiet today." He noted

She sighed. "you'll want to talk to Konstantin about that. The hands are leaving left and right. And one of em's cursed."

"… one of them got sick, then?"

She nodded. "Didn't get out of bed this morning," she explained as she led them to the kitchen.

"and is trapped in a dreaming coma, no doubt." He sighed "damn it all."

"I expect you'll want to examine him?" she sniffed, making them plates of cold bacon and toast.

Daniel nodded "indeed. We have… 2 weeks to solve this little puzzle."

"Why two weeks?" she asked.

"Thank you," Fenya murmured as they were offered their plates.

"That's as long as the quarantine I wrangled out of the Governor will last… and likely about how long the ever worsening sick will survive without intervention… given that I don't have enough hands to take care of them all."

Darya shook her head. "Then it truly is the end of the town…."

"Not if I can bloody help it." Daniel snorted "… this town's not *doomed*. It just needs saving."

"Well as I said yesterday, doctor Delgrave if anyone's going to save it, it seems like you've been nominated."

"it certainly seems so, given how the town's every problem has been dropped on my lap the last few days."

"Every problem, doctor?" she asked, sitting down and rocking the body.

"It seems so." He chuckled darkly "Interpersonal drama… heinous actions… the town's sordid past and troubled future. And this disease."

"You're a busy man," she said.

"Too busy." he shook his head "I hardly know how I'll fit it all into a day."

"maybe a time limit will do you good then," she smirked.

"mmm." Daniel drawled "what can be better than being on a deadline?"

Fenya shook her head with a wry smirk. "I don;t know about you, doctor, but back at the university I tend to furry to finish my work the night before its due."

Daniel chuckled, "I suppose i've been guilty of the same in the past."

"Mmm," Darya shook her head. "Well, I'm not your teacher."

"Thank hell for that." Daniel chuckled, and took a bite of his bacon "….still, the deadline will keep us on track."

It was cold, but still crispy and good. Darya nodded. "Good then. I assume you're just as busy today."

"A tad." Daniel said "we have a whole itinerary that we've been thrown off of."

"By the man with the head injury you mentioned?"

"indeed. We had to take him to Sasha's clinic." He shook his head "… if only he hadn't tripped."

"I suppose you can't expect much grace out of a husk," Darya snorted.

"No, I suppose you can't. He was walking in his bloody sleep."

"Of course. His black heart taking the place of his true heart."

"mm…" Daniel frowned "… we do have evidence of the heart and blood turning black."

"See?" she shrugged. "I told you didn't I?"

"you did. I think we're talking about the same thing from different contexts."

She seemed to think about that for a moment, and then nodded. "I suppose we are. I wonder if you'll have any success treating a curse as a disease."

"I'm going to find the bloody heart of the town and see what I can do to cure it." he said with a thin smile "so yes. I think I will."

"if you find it, doctor, I want to see it."

"the heart?" Daniel nodded 'Indeed. At the moment we're trying to find anything the Masters left behind for a clue."

"The heart," she nodded. "As for anything the masters left-- I imagine most of Mistress Nika's things would be with the Tadibyovs. She married Morozov, but she doted on her birth family. When Vadim and I were small she would cart him around in her arms…"

Daniel raised his eyebrow "is that so?"

Darya nodded, a bit of a distant look in her eyes as she recalled it. "Mmhmm."

"Tell me about that."

"About her and Vadim? or her and the Tadibyovs in general?"

"FIrst her and Vadim, then the Tadibyovs, if you don't mind."

"Well… she treated Vadim like a son. She spent more time with him even than his mother as far as I know."

"They must have been quite close." He said "do you know why?"

"I'm afraid not. But she highly favored him over Andrei, her actual-- child? grandchild? I'm not actually sure."

"hmm." He nodded slowly "I suppose that makes some matters make a bit of sense."

"Oh?"

"Andrei's….obsession… with foreign culture, for example."

Darya raised her eyebrow. "I'm not sure I follow,, doctor."

"As a way to lash out against not being favored by his mother, or grandmother or whatnot." Daniel shrugged "… rejecting your Nika's ways in favor of something new and grand on the outside."

"… I suppose that could make sense," Darya considered.

"Regardless… why don't you tell me about the family."

"the mistress was basically in charge, which, yes, made her the one in charge of two of the most powerful families in town."

"…." Daniel raised his eyebrow "a lot of power for one woman."

"She and the others ran the town completely," she said. "The mayoral office was a formality. A figurehead. as were any town officials aside from Iosef of course."

"And this was a good way for the town to be?"

"Why wouldn't it be?"

"… one thing I've noticed, all across Gaea, is when power sits in the hands of the few for too long, it's only natural that corruption will start to spread."

"So you think it's more beneficial to burn the whole system to the ground and start over constantly? Like at the capitol?"

Daniel snorted "no. Not in the least. But there's such a thing as a system that changes without growing stagnant OR being utterly decimated and rebuilt every few years."

"I'll believe it when I see it," she snorted.

"I thought you might say that." Daniel shook his head "still. I'll be investigating the system more while I suss out this bloody heart."

"That's your prerogative I suppose, doctor."

"Indeed." Daniel said, standing after finishing his plate. "… would you happen to have anything of Nika's? I know you were quite close."

"A few trinkets," she admitted. "I have… a necklace with some of the ashes…"

"… the ashes? might I see these 'trinkets'?"

"I suppose," she frowned. "Assuming you're not going to steal them or take them apart."

"When have I ever done such a thing?" He said with a smile "never."

"Hmmm. I'm watching you, doctor." she said, standing. "wait here and I'll bring what I have."

"thank you, Darya." he purred

She headed out of the room, leaving Daniel and Fenya alone for the moment.

"Well. things are spreading, just as we feared."

"That's very clear," she sighed. "But Darya's being… somewhat helpful at least?"

"she is. Even if it's clear we still disagree on things."

"I suppose you can disagree and still get along after a fashion…"

Daniel chuckled "indeed. You can. Once you get to know one another a little better, you can work past your differences in opinion."

"Especially when you have important things to ask about," she nodded with a smirk.

"Like the fate of a town?" he said with a trace of amusement

"A little bird told me that might be a factor."

"A little bird, hm?"

"Alright maybe it was all the damned fog," she chuckled. "Still."

"Still." he said with a shake of his head "your foggy bird is certainly right."

Darya came back into the room with a small box in her arms.

"Darya, welcome back." Daniel nodded his head

She nodded. "Not getting up to any trouble while I was gone I trust," she said, setting her box down on the table and clearing away their empty plates.

"Just talking about our investigation. that's all." he chuckled softly

"I imagine it's preoccupying."

The box didn't have a lid, and there were several items inside. A necklace, a small dish of stones, some letters, and a stuffed wolf.

"…..a stuffed wolf?"

"It was hers," she explained. "Given to me many years ago. But I did not know if you would want to see it or not. So I brought it."

"… no, i did want to see it." he said, and picked it up to look it over "it's cute."

It was about a foot tall, and quite carefully made, obviously by hand. A pretty girl wolf in an elegant dress.

"is it meant to represent anyone?"

Darya shook her head gently. "She often made dolls."

"She was a dollmaker? how interesting." Daniel mused, and looked it over for anything interesting.

The clothing was in the quality of real clothing, simply smaller cut. It felt surprisingly heavy when he held it.

Daniel turned it over, and lifted it's dress "but why's it so heavy?"

"I've always just assumed it was filled with something--either to keep it seated or as part of a spell," Darya shrugged. "Mistress Nika said it would watch over me."

"….may I take the dress off it, and see if I can ascertain?"

Darya raised her eyebrow. "Take her dress off?"

"So I can get a better look at the doll itself and see if perhaps I can figure out what it's bloody filled with."

She sniffed. "if you must, I suppose."

Daniel took the dress off the doll, and looked at it critically.

below the dress the doll was furless, the body being instead made of a simple silken fabric.

There was a dark stain over where the heart would have been.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and pressed at the spot where the heart would have been "… a stain?"

It was blood. Definitely old, dried blood.

"…..there's blood on this doll, Darya."

Darya peered over him. "You're right." She didn't sound concerned.

"do you know why that could be?"

"Part of the spell, I assume."

He hefts the doll slightly, judging the way it's filling moves.

Around 2 handfuls of what are almost certainly dried beans shifted around as he moved it, probably as Darya said-- to stabilize the sitting doll. However---

Daniel can feel a weight in the center of the doll that doesn't shift.

"… there's something inside this doll, Darya."

"And?" Darya said, looking at him with what could only be described as 'the stink eye'.

"I'm curious what it is." he shrugged

"you're not going to go tearing open my doll!" she said, pointing a finger at him.

"i'm… no." He felt around the area, trying to get a sense of its shape. "just… feeling around, that's all."

Its shaped like a *heart*. Or rather, a stylized version of one.

"… ah. It's a heart." He handed the doll and it's dress back to Darya.

Darya took the doll from him and held it protectively in her arms. "Thank you," she said, rather shortly.

"… I didn't mean to offend." He said slowly "I'm just investigating. It's a lovely doll and It's nice that you treasure it so."

Her ears flicked embarrassedly. "I *suppose* you are forgiven."

"Thank you. " he bowed his head, before looking at the other items.

He picked up the dish of stones next.

They were small, each more or less between the side of Daniel's thumb, and a marble. They were polished smooth, shiny and semiprecious- stones like quartz and lapis and onyx.

Daniel turned them over in his hands "… interesting, I suppose. Was she a collector?"

"She used them for divination," Darya said. "She had left them at my house when…."

"the church came?"

She nodded quietly into her stuffed wolf.

Holding it, especially since she seemed to have put the baby down for a nap while she got the things-- made her look much younger and more frail.

Daniel looked at her with some sympathy for a brief moment, before he offered a hand to pat her shoulder.

She didn't flinch away, she just sighed. "Anyway… yes, she used those stones for divination."

Daniel pat her shoulder. "Divining. How interesting." He mused. "… I knew a man who did similar once." "Regardless.. " He offered them to her "… is there anything of note you can tell us about them?"

"Aside from what they were used for?" she frowned thinking. "I'm afraid not."

"That makes sense I suppose." He picked up the necklace next, and looked it over.

It was a small glass vial in a clever and attractive mesh of silver wire fashioned into a pendant charm. In the bottle was a small amount of ashes.

"this would be Nika's ashes?" He said as delicately as he could.

She nodded.

"It's a lovely charm necklace." he said slowly.

"Thank you. Ivan made it for me."

"Ivan made it?"

"He's very clever with his hands," she nodded.

"I've noticed, He's putting locks on Mitya's door today."

"Oh? Did you have a break in?"

"unfortunately we did." He said with a frown "I'm not fond of it."

"No I can imagine not."

"what can you tell me about… the event."

"Nothing," she hisses, looking away.

"I know it's painful, Darya… but we're trying to help.

"No, I mean," her breath shuddered. "I wasn't there. Konstantin dragged me away."

"… ah.." Daniel sighed, running his hand through his hair. "….ah."

She closed her eyes, holding the wolf tightly.

fenya's ears were flat on the top of her head. "What about… when the church came? can you tell any of that?"

Daniel nodded, smoothing his own slightly mussed fur with a concerned frown "….you don't have to tell us, Darya. But anything you know could help…"

Darya took a deep breath. "They rode into town from the capital like an army. There must have been a hundred of them. More perhaps. The head priest immediately started trying to take charge. Making orders. Somehow they had found out about our town's practices…."

Daniel nodded slowly "….they have task forces for precisely that sort of thing."

"I had never seen a man from the church before, doctor," she said. "Not in all my life. The man who told them-- must have been some spy. I still wonder if it was Sofya…"

"Sofya?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

"Andrei's wife," she said quietly. "She's from the capitol. She was a… dance hall girl. And she follows the Horned God."

"Ah, so that explains the decor in her home." Daniel mused

She nodded, quietly. "I'm afraid that's about all I can tell you about that."

"..perhaps we'll look into it a little further." He put the necklace, carefully, down.

She nodded. "I apologize if I'm not much help, doctor," she murmured.

"You were plenty help, Darya." He said with a nod "you've told us plenty.Thank you"

"I'm glad then," she nodded. "Is there anything else you need from me today?"

Daniel picked up the letters "i just need to look through these, if you don't mind."

Darya nodded. "Of course. I don't think they'll be much help but suit yourself."

Daniel chuckled "you never know…" He read the first of them.

It was a letter from the Mistress to Darya, from perhaps ten years before. It was the same handwriting he'd seen from her before. It was long, and sympathetic, like from a relative, or a favorite teacher, talking about overcoming life's hardships. *I could change his heart, young, Darchick, but I will not.*

Daniel looked up at her "is this from after the marriage?"

"No. It's from just before."

"… ah." Daniel said, nodding his head "… that makes sense."

The letter continued to promise Darya that she was her best student, and she would keep teaching her despite Vadim's marriage, etc etc.

"It must have been a hard time for you." Daniel said "did you love him?"

"I don't know," she sighed, her shoulders slumping. "I was a young girl. I was in love with being married to him. He was like a prince. Seeing him now--- all I have is regret."

Daniel nodded '… I suppose I can understand that."

"Thank you," she sighed.

Daniel read the next, thoughtfully.

This one was from a little later, urging Darya herself to marry, or to take a lover. It was… a little bit lewd toward the middle where it talked about the health benefits.

"…." Daniel stared at it for a moment "health benefits."

It vigorously endorsed marrying a so-called 'pliable' man whom you could 'mold to your will'.

It talked about the uses such a man could have as well.

Chief among them a lack of hesitance to make up for his many inadequacies by serving her with his tongue.

"…." "…." Daniel put the note, face down, on the table.

"Doctor?" Fenya asked curiously.

"It's not relevant to our investigation." was all he said.

"Ah," her ears flicked a little in comprehension. There was one more letter.

Daniel picked up the last letter, and read it.

*Darchick, I will be busy as usual this evening. Unfortunately due to our lesson running long the other day I will need you to be a dear and bring a jug of clear water, and my divining stones to the old cemetery sometime before sunset this evening. With thanks always, Nika*

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… what's this one about?"

Darya closed her eyes again. "It's the last message I ever received from her. The morning before--"

"… before she died." Daniel finished "… where is the old cemetery?"

"North of the post office, outside of town," she said. "No one's been buried there… since I don't know when."

"… and may I borrow the stones for a little while?"

Darya frowns. "What do you want them for?"

"I'm going to pay a visit to the old cemetery."

"You'll bring them back, right?" she asks. "Unless… **[she]** takes them?"

"of course I will." Daniel promised.

Darya hesitated, and nodded. "Alright. I…. suppose I've come to trust you enough for that doctor," she said. "But if I found out you've broken that trust it will be the last help you ever get from me."

"I won't break your trust, Darya. I promise you."

Darya nodded. "Thank you, doctor. I want to believe that what you are doing is good, and for our town's good."

Daniel nodded "… that's my intention. I'm just trying to save this town from whatever 'curse' or plague befalls it."

"I appreciate it," she said. "I hope you understand how it is… emotional for me."

"I understand completely." he said sympathetically "We're dragging up some painful memories for you I'm sure."

"Yes," she nodded. "But maybe you can help… resolve some of them."

"That's my hope, Darya. Every pain starts to ease once it's been buried."

She nodded. "Maybe you can bury this one."

"I've already got my shovel, Darya." He said dryly, with the trace of a smile "… I'll fix things."

"Thank you, doctor," she nodded. "I should go check on the baby…."

"Indeed. Tell the children that I say hello"

She nodded. "Of course. Darchick is inside today. If you have time to come tell her a story later she mentioned she'd like that." She nodded at fenya

"I'm not sure we do, but we'll certainly try."

Daniel nodded "well… our schedule's been shot, so perhaps we can push something off to tomorrow for a story." He tipped his head "we'll see, however."

Fenya smiled. "We'll reshuffle on our way out then."

Darya nodded to them and picked up the box-- leaving the bowl of stones. "I won't be surprised whether you drop by on not then."

Daniel took the bowl of stones "i'll see you later, Darya. Be safe."

Darya nodded. "And the two of you, also," she said. And then she headed out of the room.

Daniel nodded, and looked at Fenya "let's take a trip to this cemetery… tomorrow. with some supplies."

Fenya nodded back to him. "I'll put it on our itinerary. "

"thank you, Fenya" he chuckled "… busy day"

"Very…. ah, speaking of our itinerary… "

"yes, Fenya?'

"We should probably revise it a bit."

"that we should" he agreed "let's do that now"

"Alright-- do we still want to talk to Lydia today?"

"we should, perhaps… before her brother tries to move her.'

He paused "no… actually… Let's wait. We may be able to see her when we visit Katrina"

"Unfortunately, she's next on our list," Fenya sighs.

"Katrina, I mean. She's the closest."

"damn. Well….well visit and rethink how to deal with seeing Lydia later . Maybe save it for tomorrow.

She nods. "It might be advisable to give her time to adjust at any rate," she agrees. "After her WAS going to be the Osgrovs. Morozov after that."

"indeed. And I already talked to Sasha, so I suppose we visit Morozov… and his wife..next

"It's possible Mr. Morozov himself won't be there-- he may be at the fishery."

"it would give us a chance to talk to his wife without him hovering about" he mused

"we'll consider that a bonus if so then," she said. "if he's not there though we might want to track him down tomorrow."

"I wholeheartedly agree" he nodded "he can be pushed off."

"The mayor and the Rookery are on the list after that," she said, looking it over. "And we wanted to ask about the priest…"

"yes.. Perhaps the mayor will know something about them?"

"Likely," she nodded. "Though-- isn't Morozov's wife in the church?"

"….indeed, she is. She'd know for sure then"

"Why don't we ask her?"

"indeed, let's make it a point to ask"

Fenya nods and makes a note of it. "Got it."

Daniel shook his head "and what was after all that?"

"That isn't enough?"

He laughed "it's more than enough, I just wanted to make sure that was *it*."

"Thankfully," she agreed. "if we're lucky we might actually be able to get through all of it."

"And see about that story for the kid." He chuckled "…..what a day."

"That one might be tricky to fit in," she chuckled. "we should get moving. I imagine we still need to check on Elias?"

Daniel nodded, "that we do. . Hopefully quickly, given." He opened the door for her "let's go see how our patient is doing."

Fenya gathered her papers back into her bag and headed along with him out the door and into the farm field.

Daniel offered her the bowl of stones for the bag as well, as they walked towards the guest house in the back.

"My purse is getting heavy," she said with amusement as she put the stones in it. The guest house loomed distantly, shrouded in fog.

He laughed "it's reminding me that I should grab my bag….so it can become laden with this and that as well."

"The world is full of so many things," she chuckled with him.

"And a shocking number of them are important for investigation." He drawled, and pushed the door to the guest house open.

"Shockingly," he agreed. The door rattled as Daniel pushed on it.

It had been locked.

"…..hm." Daniel looked for a way to unlatch it from the outside "… well this is a problem."

"So it is," Fenya frowned. "Did we ask Konstantin to lock him in yesterday? I think we might have."

"I believe we did, but we forgot to ask him for a bloody key."

Fenya made a face. "Damn…. that… was perhaps an oversight."

"… let's leave him be for now, and investigate later, when we can get the key from Konstantin."

Fenya nodded. "Alright. On to Katrina then?"

"on to Katrina." He agreed with a nod.

"I think we'll get there faster if we cut across the field. Would you like to try it?"

"Why not." he chuckled "maybe we'll entice our vampiric friend to jump us that way." he joked as he offered his arm.

"That would be convenient for our schedule,' she chuckled.

"Let's hope he has respect for our timetable then." he smirked, and walked out into the field.

They headed across the field, through the muddle field, Fenya holding her skirts around her calves.

Daniel walked, his coat swishing along his calves as they two of them trekked across the now empty fields in the hope for a shortcut

They could see the road in the foggy distance as they walked, Fenya looking this way and that in case of vampires.

Daniel couldn't help but glance about himself, looking for any movement in the fog as they headed towards the road.

They heard the sound of rustling coming distantly from the fog.

Daniel's hand went to his pistol belt, and he leaned a little closer to Fenya "Do you hear that?"

Fenya stopped moving and listened. She nodded, her ears flicking before they perked up, rotating to find the sound.

Daniel's own ears oriented towards it as he gripped the handle of his gun.

The rustling came again-- and a flock of feral crows burst out of the underbrush, soaring into the air with a great susurrus of wings and a din of squawking and calling.

Daniel winced, and stumbled a step back as they burst from the brush "Damn it!"

Fenya yelped and stumbled backwards as well. "damned birds!"

Daniel hissed, his ears flat on his head "I'm tempted to take a shot at one out of principal." he spat.

"I wouldn't blame you if you did," she said, her ears similarly flat, and her posture tense.

Daniel nodded, his tail bushed out behind him "…..birds. bah."

Fenya smoothed her own tail with her hands, watching the crows briefly blot out what little there was of the sky. "So much for convenience. I wonder why there were so many…."

Daniel walked towards the area they had all been bunched in "why don't we find out."

Daniel barely managed not to trip over it. There, huddled in the tall grass, was a lump of black cloth.

A very large lump.

Daniel frowned, and attempted to pull the cloth away "… what in hell's name?"

Body.

It was a body.

Bloody and crow pecked.

Fenya came up behind him and her voice died in her throat as she was about to speak, into a strangled noise.

Daniel's ears tipped back "…" He managed a strangled noise "… Damnation."

Fenya covered her mouth. "Oh….. oh dear…." It looked like one of the farm laborers, at least, that's how the man was dressed, from the remains of his clothes. Male. Early thirties. It was hard to tell much more with the extent of the damage-- not without examination.

Daniel bent down, and prepared a full examination "what in hell happened?"

Despite the numerous post mortem wounds inflicted by wildlife, Daniel was able to pick out the one that killed him.

A slashed throat.

A wound nearly identical to the one from the man he'd saved the first night in town.

"….a victim of our vampire." Daniel murmured "… one we couldn't reach in time."

"how long do you think he's been out here?" Fenya asked. From what Daniel could tell-- at least a day. Almost certainly less than 3.

"Not long. It would explain a few things about the state of the body. and why nobody's found the thing yet."

"They haven't exactly been working out here," she murmured.

"no, not since things started going bad." He shook his head "… if we can find a guard back on the street, we should send them to tend to the body. the poor bastard deserves a burial."

fenya nodded. "Certainly. We should send a message if we can't find a guard."

"Good plan." He stood, patting her gently on the back "… for now we shouldn't linger by the dead."

"not during a plague."

"No, certainly not," she agreed. "I… I think we're quite near the road now actually."

He nodded, and headed towards the road with a grim frown on his face "Indeed…"

Fenya walked along with him, forgetting to hold her skirt up, the hem of it getting a little muddy just before they reached the road. Fenya's shortcut had been right-- Volkov's manor was just down the street ahead of them.

Daniel looked from side to side for a guard as they crossed down the street.

Unfortunately there didn't seem to be one around-- likely most of them had been recalled in order for Volkov to brief them on the quarantine that was starting at sundown.

"….." Daniel frowned "a message it will be. Once we get to the Volkov's, I'll compose it."

Fenya nodded. "She'll almost certainly be able to get it to them quickly too."

"Given her connection to the Captain." he agreed

"Exactly," she agreed as they hurried toward Volkov manor.

"hopefully we'll have gotten there before Sasha, she could use the warning."

Fenya nodded. "I agree-- we probably have anyway. He seemed like he had a lot to sort out today."

"indeed" Daniel shook his head "a rough day for everyone"

Volkov manor loomed in the fog as they approached-- and Daniel heard the gate creak.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and walked a little closer

"Well, if it ain't the old man," a familiar little voice said as he came closer.

There, leaning on the garden gate, was Iochka.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "if it isn't the world's shortest gang leader." He smirked "How are you today, Iochka?"

He had his arms crossed and a pout on his face. "Rotten. It's your fault we can't go out, isn't that right?"

"I'm afraid so. Big Bad Daniel enforced Quarantine to stop your friends from dying of plague." Daniel drawled

Iochka snorted. "No worry for us then. Only losers get the plague."

"is that so?" Daniel said with an amused smirk.

"Tch. Obviously.:

"then you'd best take care not to catch it" Daniel said.

He snorted. "Aw get bent old man," he stuck out his tongue. "Surprised you don't have it yet."

"I'm afraid I'm not a 'loser' Iochka." He said with a smile "so I'm not at risk."

"Tch. Whatever you say old man," he grinned.

"That's right, I am the doctor here." he purred. "actually. I had a question for you, young man."

"What kind of question?" he asked suspiciously.

"about your gang and your phylacteries."

"That stuff's top secret!"

"Even if it could save your family's life?"

"….. my family's not in trouble…. are they?"

"no… not any more than anyone else." Daniel said "… but everyone in this town is in danger if we don't get to the bottom of things. It's **rotting from the inside**"

Iochka gritted his teeth. "But…. we're supposed to be safe from that stuff… because of the **phylacteries**."

"….Tell me about that, Iochka."

"First, who told you, then how they're supposed to protect you."

The little boy gritted his teeth. "He won't like me telling you…."

"who?"

he leaned in "nobody has to know you told me, Iochka."

Iochka bit his lip. "He'll know…."

"will he? and how?"

"Because he's a magician…."

"a magician. And who is this magician?"

"Well…. his name is Misha."

"….the Carver?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "… the one who died."

"He's not really dead," Iochka said.

Fenya looked…. dubious.

"he's not?" Daniel raised his eyebrow 'have you seen him?"

Iochka nodded gravely. "He showed me how to make the phylacteries."

"that… explains how you were able to make them." He said warily "… where is he?"

Iochka shrugged. "I dunno. I only see him when he wants me to. Oh he doesn't look like he did before anymore either."

"….what does he look like? Is there any way you can convince him to speak to me?"

"He looks like **a kid**… and I donno. I could ask him next time I see him."

Daniel frowned "….a little white wolf? with pale eyes?"

"Oh! yeah that's him!" Iochka nodded. "Sounds like anyway."

"….Doesn't say much?"

"He says enough, old man."

"hm." Daniel snorted "i met him then. He gave me a coin."

The little boy cocked his head. "A coin?"

Daniel pulled it out and showed it to him "A coin."

He leaned in to look at it. "Huh…. neat."

"isn't it?" he said "….tell me more about Misha."

"He says he's going to teach me his tricks," he nodded. "He's very clever."

"….what sort of tricks?" Daniel asked.

"Well… like the phylacteries," he explained. "And he says he's going to teach me to disappear and come back like he can."

Daniel looked at Fenya with a slight frown "… and you're sure that's a good idea?"

Fenya was looking *increasingly* dubious as well.

"Why wouldn't it be?" Iochka asked.

"Things didn't go well for the Masters." He said slowly "because they let their power corrupt them."

He crossed his arms again. "I wouldn't let power corrupt me. I'd be like my dad."

"Your father is a good man, Iochka." Daniel nodded "He's a good role model. I just… heard things… about the old Masters."

Iochka frowned. "Things like what? is this about that church stuff that they were evil? I don't believe in church stuff."

"not church stuff." Daniel shook his head. "I haven't spoken to the church at all yet. Just… stories from about town. Just don't take everything you learn at face value, hm?"

"well yeah obviously I'm not *dumb*."

"don't think you are. I just think you should be careful."

"Sure old man," he nodded. honestly seeming pretty serious.

"good." Daniel shook his head "….now how will I go about speaking to this 'new Misha'." he murmured.

Fenya shook her head. "I guess we'll have to try to figure that out."

"indeed." Daniel sat up "… Iochka. Thank you for the conversation, even if you're still an irritating little sprout." he smirked

"Yeah, no problem. Even if you're still a weird old man."

"mmm. Someday you'll be a weird old man too, kid. "

"Maybe I won't grow up. You don't know."

"you're too young to be thinking of death, young man." Daniel drawled

"who said anything about that?" he pouted.

"You'll grow up, even if you don't grow physically. It's the nature of experiences." he said with a smirk.

"Yeah whatever you say old man," he shook his head. "Don't you have something to do? or are you just gonna bother me all day?"

"I'm here to see Katrina." He said, "So if you don't mind."

"My mom? Huh."

"yes, your mother." Daniel said "if you don't mind, we'll be going in." He pointed "stay inside, however. It's quarantine. "

"I guess," he grumped, and waved to them as they passed up to the front door.

"Well, that was interesting," Fenya murmured.

Daniel nodded slowly "… very." he murmured back "… and mildly concerning, knowing what i know of this Misha."

"I'd say more than mildly…."

"indeed." he frowned "….we'll have to… investigate."

Fenya nodded. "maybe mention it to his mother? I'm not sure.."

"i'll mention it to her, though it sounds like it involves more of this 'sorcery'."

"No kidding," Fenya agreed dryly. "You don't think it could really be the actual…."

"likely not… but whoever it is needs to be… spoken with, regardless"

"We'll put it on the ever growing to-do list."

She knocked on the door.

He sighed "with everything we check off, we add four more"

Fenya sighed in agreement as Katrina answered the door. She was a little more put-together this time but she still smiled all too broadly.

"ooooh, it's you two again!"

"hello, Katrina, it's lovely to see you again."

"The pleasure's all mine," she cooed.

"I imagine so" he chuckled softly. "May we come in?'

"Of course of course!" she nodded, stepping aside. "It really is nice to see you both."

"Ah, you too." Fenya's ears flicked.

Daniel nodded, stepping inside with Fenya. He rubbed his neck "indeed. It's nice to see you too. You seem as gregarious as ever."

"I try to keep my spirits up," she said. "Do you prefer the parlor or the kitchen at this time of day?"

"The kitchen sounds lovely," Daniel said, brushing his hair over his flicking ear. "If you don't mind."

"Not at all," she agreed, leading them down the hall. The kitchen was spacious, and tall ceilinged. There was a small table with a few chairs around it that she gestured to.

Daniel took a seat at the table, and leaned back with a soft sigh "what a day, hm?"

"It certainly seems to be," she agreed. "My husband told me there's to be a quarantine."

"Yes." Daniel nodded once, "for the safety of the town, we're entering quarantine….until we can solve this puzzle."

"Puzzle hmm?" she chuckled. "Oh! where are my manners, can I get you two anything?"

"All disease is a puzzle, in a way." he chuckled "… you simply have to find the solution, and you save lives." He paused "coffee, perhaps?" He looked at Fenya.

Fenya nodded. "It's never the wrong time for coffee."

Katrina smiled. "My husband would agree. I could use some too."

She bustled about getting some for them all.

"you simply can't go wrong with coffee." Daniel chuckled, waiting patiently "is there anything I can help with?"

She seemed a lot steadier on her feet today-- well-- it wasn't even quite time for lunch yet so maybe that explained it. "No no, but you're a sweetheart for offering." she smiled and handed around cups of coffee. "Sugar? we're a bit low on milk i;m afraid."

Daniel took the coffee with a shake of his head "Black is just fine for me, thank you. it'll keep me awake.""

"Still falling asleep at this time of morning?" Katrina asked, putting the metal coffee carafe down on the table as she sat with them. "I know the feeling."

"It's been a long… long day already." Daniel frowned "… that… reminds me. We found a corpse in Konstantin's field."

"A….corpse?" she blinked.

"I'm afraid so," Fenya nodded.

"..yes. One of the farmhands, I believe. Killed by our 'vampire'."

"Oh dear," she frowned, her jaw tightening. "Does my husband know?"

"not as of yet. We only found out a mere moment ago.."

"Well then" Katrina sighed. "we'd better let him know…."

"Indeed. I was going to ah, send a message."

"Good idea," she nodded. "I'll put out the flag."

Daniel nodded "good plan… after that we do have more to talk about…"

"I'll be right back," she nodded and headed out of the kitchen. "Feel free to have some more coffee."

"Thank you." Daniel stood and topped off his mug. "Fenya?"

She held her mug up for him. "Please."

Daniel topped off her glass with a warm smile 'there you are." He put it down, and sat back in his chair "what a day already.."

"What a day is right," she nodded. "Peril left and right."

"Peril, corpses, revelations."

"Our schedule is already packed."

"And yet, life keeps throwing bodies and clumsy infected townspeople at us."

"It certainly does," she sighed. "We're overbooked." She sipped her coffee.

Katrina came back into the room. "There. Next guard who passes will give us a knock."

"Thank you Katrina. Your help is *much* appreciated."

"Oh I'm happy to do what I can. For both of you." She gave fenya a little wink.

Daniel chuckled, his ears flicking slightly "ah, on that note…. there is something you should expect."

"Oh? Something I should expect?" she asked curiously.

"it's about Lydia…" He said "would it be okay if she stayed with you for a while?"

"Lydia?" she raised an eyebrow. "Of course I would not mind…. is she… alright?"

"… for a given value." He said "i found some..unsettling evidence that she was being visited by someone who wasn't treating her very kindly."

Katrina, who they had real;ly only seen smiling up to now- frowned deeply. "I see. I'll get the guest bedroom ready at once. And the fucking shotgun."

Daniel nodded "… Sasha should bring her over later today. " He frowned "… it's… Andrei, if you're wondering who, so you can keep an eye out. "

Her eyes glinted. "Andrei….. Andrei *Morozov*?"

"That's the one." he frowned sharply "… I'm looking into a way to handle it, but… yes. He's been visiting her and… is likely the reason behind her bruises."

"Oh I have a way to handle it," she hissed.

Daniel nodded slowly "….indeed. But we shouldn't do anything rash just yet. There's ways to handle this legally… once I get a little more evidence, your husband can help us lock him away."

Her gaze darkened. "Normally I would question if you think the law would lock him away-- but my husband is not one to miss his man."

"That's exactly what i figured, Katrina… he's the type who wouldn't let him slip away." He frowned "I don't want to compromise either your, or anyone you know's safety with anything rash. " he paused "the man had a gun in his home, after all."

She snorted. "I'd wager I'm a better shot than he is-- but if you think you can get him without violence--- you're a better man than I."

"I think I can, as much as I wouldn't mind the other option." Daniel said "I'm a doctor. I shouldn't take life where there's another option."

"I suppose that is true," she agreed. "In any case I'm MORE than happy to look after my dear niece."

"I very much appreciate you Katrina. you've… taken a burden off my mind today."

"Thank you for looking out for Lydia."

Daniel nodded "… she's a good person. I could tell that much just from getting to know her."

"She is," she said with a sad smile. "She doesn't deserve….."

"no… she doesn't. And that's why we'll put a stop to it… it's no 'grim duty' to bear, as she implied. It's something that *will* be stopped."

"*grim duty*," her fingers clenched. "Did she say that?"

"more or less implied it" Daniel said with a frown "… From things she'd told me earlier, the letter she gave me, and the things she said when I found her… intoxicated with drugs and waiting for him"

Katrina closed her eyes, her nails digging into her palms. "A-are you alright, miss?" Fenya asked cautiously. The woman drew a breath. "Sorry."

Daniel looked sympathetic for a moment, "I'm sorry, Katrina. But we're going to stop it. that's why I talked to Sasha about convincing her to spend some time with you while I gather evidence to… prevent it from happening."

"I thought once *the old bastard* was dead, that it would stop. That I wouldn't have to worry for her any more," she said looking away. "And now you tell me someone else has just carried it on."

"I wish I could say otherwise, Katrina." He sighed softly "but I hope perhaps I can do my part in helping bring it to a permanent end."

She nodded quietly, and took another breath. "Yes. Thank you. I'm sorry I…. I need a drink." She turned toward the cabinets, fumbling slightly. "Who wants a round?"

Daniel ran his hand through his hair "… I ah." He looked at her with a note of concern "are you sure we should be drinking this early, Katrina… Sasha and Lydia will be here later, after all."

She grimaced and paused. "It's…. just one drink," she said.

"I understand." Daniel said, "it can be tempting to have just one drink… but one drink can lead to two, to three… and so on."

Her hands were shaking gently as she grabbed the cabinet. "I'm an adult, doctor. I know my limits."

"I know you are." Daniel said "and I'm not trying to imply otherwise… but…" He sighed softly "… Katrina. Drinking heavily is not the best way to face your fears and troubles."

She didn't look at him. "And what would you suggest? As a doctor."

"As a doctor." He said slowly "I would tell you that too much drink will drive you to an early grave. It ..dulls the senses. It's not a good escape from that which troubles you, in the long run." He folded his fingers "… I don't know what exactly you're drinking to cope with" he lied "but you'll never truly heal from it as long as you cope with a bottle."

"… you sound like my husband," she said dully.

She closed the cabinet.

Daniel smiled thinly "your husband is a smart man." He sipped his coffee "… I'm simply trying to help, Katrina. this town and so many people in it have been hurt by it's past. I want to do what I can to help. And that includes you."

"I…. appreciate that," she said quietly. "Even if right now all I feel is angry and sad."

Daniel nodded, and stood to gingerly pat her on the shoulder "I understand. There's a lot to be angry and sad about… but we'll make it right. "

She nodded. "I hope…. you can do a better job of it than I did."

She sagged slightly under his hand.

"I need your help, Katrina." He said seriously "… you did a fine job, and you'll do a fine job going forward. I'm an outsider here… I can't do much on my own."

She shook her head. "What do you need?" she asked. "There's not much help that I can give…."

"information… help in keeping Lydia safe and comfortable, your backup should I ever need to confront someone. Anything you can give."

"That… I can do," she agreed with a sigh. She finally turned back toward him. She looked tired, and more than a little haunted.

Daniel nodded, and sat with her "… can I get you some more coffee?"

She slid into the chair next to him and nodded. "Yes. I think I'm going to need some more."

Daniel stood, and poured her another cup. "I imagine so." he agreed. "… here." He passed her the mug.

She took it gratefully. "Thank you. And… I apologize for my outburst." "Nothing to apologize for, right, Doctor?" Fenya said.

"It's okay." Daniel nodded 'there's nothing at all to apologize for."

"Let's just forget it happened, then," she nodded.

"Indeed." Daniel nodded. "…" He leaned on his hands for a moment "… so. Katrina… might I ask what you think of the illness going about?"

"What I think of it?" she asked. "what do you mean?"

"Just… in general, have you noticed anything about it, perhaps around the market?"

"I've definitely noticed people getting sick," she sighed.

"As have I… it's been spreading like wildfire."

"I hope the quarantine will help slow it some. My husband said that it should…"

"As a doctor, I have to agree that it should. that's… sort of why I pushed for it."

She nodded. "He said that it was your idea."

"It was… I've seen similar measures stop the spread of… less severe… diseases in small areas before. It's a good tactic."

"My husband's right too though-- it'll be hard to get people to go along with it."

"it will be." Daniel nodded slowly "… the guards will be working overtime, I'm certain."

"Yes, I probably won't see Iosya for a few days," she sighed slightly over her cup of coffee. "I hope he'll be safe."

"I hope so as well. I'll try and check on him as much as I can." Daniel nodded "he's been a big help."

"That's my Iosya," she chuckled. "Always working, always helping."

"he's a very good man, Katrina. I'm quite impressed by him in the few moments I've gotten to know him."

"He was my knight in shining armor," she said with a shy little smile.

Daniel cocked his head "yes?"

She bit her lip. "We were friends as children," she said. "He knew I didn't… want to be there. So he offered to marry me. We were quite young and…."

"It was a kind thing of him to do, it must mean a lot to you, Katrina." he said warmly, urging her to go on… but only if she wanted.

She nodded quietly. "It does. We don't have the most… typical… marriage. But I care for Iosya a great deal, and he's always looked after me."

"I ah." he nodded "got the sense that you don't have the most typical marriage from my conversation with Elizabeth." He sipped his coffee "but typical doesn't always mean 'good'. It seems you two are quite happy, and that's what matters."

"We are," she said with a smile. "Though I worry about Iosya sometimes."

"you do?" Daniel asked

"He does overwork himself."

"Something I can sympathize with." Daniel admitted

She chuckled. "You too hmm?"

"Overworking oneself is an astorian virtue," Fenya explained wryly.

Daniel chuckled "it's the national creed, I'm afraid to say." he agreed with her.

"My husband would agree with it then," she shook her head with a smile.

"indeed… but he should take care not to risk his health and safety too bad. it's… dangerous times."

"He should. If you see him-- please remind him of that for me?"

"I'll be sure to." Daniel nodded "… with all the gravitas I can manage."

She chuckled. "You seem to be good at talking to people. So I have some faith in your ability."

"He's getting better," Fenya murmured dyrly with amusement.

Daniel flushed, his ears flicking "… I've had practice, thank you Fenya." he said dryly in return. "but thank you Katrina. I do my best."

She smiled. "I can tell," she said. "but unless there's more you need-- I should get things ready for Lydia…"

"no, not at the moment.." he shook his head "unless you have any… old documentation or items left over in the house from the..ah, bad old days., so to speak. we're following a lead."

"I can look. But I think Iosya got rid of most of them. Hmm… you could check town hall?"

"Understandably. I'll take a look around town hall, as disorganized as it is however."

"If it's disorganized, that means they won't notice if you're snooping, don't you think?" Katrina said with a small smile.

Daniel laughed out loud "… now that's a good point, Katrina."

"I have a few occasionally," she says with a smile.

"More than a few, I'd imagine." he winked "which is precisely why you'll be such a good help."

She nodded. "Good luck then. I'll let you know if I can think of anything else that will help."

"Please." He nodded "… right now we're trying to track down this fool ritual the elders performed.

"I wish I knew anything of it," Katrina shook her head. "But I'm sure if anyone can find it you can."

Fenya stood.

Daniel docked his head at Fenya. "Indeed, I'm sure that we can….Fenya?"

"We were on our way out weren't we?" she murmured. Indeed, Katrina had said she was about to go start getting things ready for Lydia.

Daniel nodded, and stood "i'll see you around, Katrina." he said as he smiled. "Good luck."

"Thank you. I hope we see each other again soon." And with the pleasantries done, they headed back out into the fog. "Danochka, I hope you don't feel like I was rushing you," she said.

Daniel shook his head "no, I don't feel you were… we are on a strict timetable, after all."

"Unfortunately," she nodded. "And the Morozov house is next. Which is likely to be a less pleasant encounter."

"… lovely." Daniel snorted "I simply *cannot wait* to talk to them."

"Oh same," she agreed dryly.

He looked at the looming manors "I'm tempted to give him a piece of my mind."

"Just one piece?" she asked as they walked past Sasha's clinic toward the Morozov's manor.

"Several, and they may end with him in a few pieces as well." he muttered.

She chuckled. "I'll help you clean up of course."

"I'm sure you have some….clever little chemicals you could use to help." he chuckled

"One or two," she admitted with a smile. The house that the night before they'd leapt out the window of was looming ahead.

"I wonder if he had any idea we… ah… entered… the other day."

"Well i suppose it'll only be a problem if they have any idea it was *us.*."

He snorted softly "which they have no way of knowing."

"Exactly. Thanks to you, Danochka," she smiled.

Daniel smiled back "and to our ah, athleticism."

"Which certainly couldn't use any work," she smirked as they walked through the gate with the Horns on it.

Daniel looked up at them "the bloody horned god…"

"Bloody is right," Fenya muttered in agreement.

"I wonder… if his wife truly did call the church." he mused as he approached the door.

"I wonder if there's any way to know," she offered as she followed him up to the doorstep.

"we could always ask… or find some documentation, perhaps." he mused, knocking on the door.

Fenya made a soft noise of agreement, standing beside him as they waited for the door. A moment later a woman answered. She had certainly been beautiful once. She clearly took great pains to remain so. Pale fur and a long cascade of hair, in a stiffly structured dress. "May I help you?"

Daniel dipped into a gentle bow "Good day, Ma'am. My name is Daniel Delgrave. Astorian Doctor. May I come in?"

She blinked. "Oh! Goodness I was not expecting a doctor… Oh wait… the Astorian?"

"The Astorian." He said with a little smirk "yes, that's me."

"My husband mentioned you might drop by…. oh…. but he's at work now…."

"that's quite alright." Daniel smiled "can we speak with you?"

"Oh well… I suppose," she said. She looked him over with a curious smile.

Daniel bowed his head "I very much appreciate it, ma'am."

"Well come on in. Your lady too."

"Ah… I'm professor Evgenii-Smythe, his associate," Fenya mumbled.

Daniel cleared his throat "ah yes. She's a professor at the University. and my associate."

"Your associate then," the woman smiled, gesturing for them to follow her into the hall. "I'm Sofya. if you didn't know yet."

Daniel stepped inside "Sofya, I believe I may have heard of you in passing once or twice." he said, telling a half truth.

"My husband probably mentioned me," she said, giggling a little vapidly.

She led them into the kitchen they'd been in the night before.

"oh, Likely." He said with a chuckle, as he looked around as if it were the first time "what a lovely home you have."

"Why thank you!" she cooed. "Would you like some tea?"

She gestured to the table and chairs. "Have a seat, both of you."

"I'd love some tea." Daniel said, taking a seat at the table.

Fenya settled in with him. "Yes, thank you very much." The pretty woman bustled around the kitchen pleasantly. "Won't be too long. So-- to what do I owe the house call?"

Daniel leaned in his chair "well. a few things. We wanted to introduce ourselves… and perhaps ask for permission to look around."

"To look around?" she asked curiously.

"This is the home of the late Mistress, is it not?" he mused "or… one of them, at least."

"oooh, you mean Miss Nika?" she asked. "Yes…. that's true…."

"We were hoping to examine any of her things that still remained. We're… following a trail to find the scientific root to the old legends, in the hopes that we can cure this plague."

She put sugar and milk on the table. "Oh, that's interesting. Like that folklore professor?"

"… not in the same way. He was only interested in the stories." He put his hand to his chest "I simply want to find the source of this infection… which I believe stems from the earth itself."

"The infection?" she cocked her head blinking wide blue eyes. "Oh…. is it really that serious?"

"Dreadfully so. The town's already succumbing to it… countless people are sick."

She covered her mouth gently. "That's *terrible*."

Fenya fought not to roll her eyes.

"it's less than ideal." Daniel agreed.

"But how would looking at Andrei's grandma's things help?"

"…." Daniel paused a long moment "… because the taint in the land seems connected to whatever those 'masters' were doing out there every month."

She was quiet for a moment and then giggled. "But that's ridiculous! it was all just superstitious nonsense, you know?"

"All superstition comes from a root of truth. A scientific fact under all the bluster and boasting. What those people did involved the poisoning of the earth, so it's only natural to visit the site where it was done."

"Poisoned the earth?" she asked, sounding surprised. "What do you mean?"

Daniel chuckled "Didn't I mention? This infection is in the trees. In the soil. Likely in the water and the fish as well."

She covered her mouth again. "But that's *terrible!*"

"Already said that," Fenya muttered, almost inaudibly.

"yes, it's less than ideal." Daniel said again

"And you wanted to see Nika's things so you can get rid of it?"

"that's right." Daniel said slowly

"well I'm not sure there's much… after we got married she lived with her maiden family again."

"hm." He thought for a moment "still… there is the big portrait of her."

Fenya elbowed him in the ribs, just before Sofya spoke. "oh! you saw it coming in huh?" she smiled.

"Yes." Daniel said "and I heard about it secondhand as well while asking around about her."

"Oh! well I guess it is a pretty fancy painting. It's in the parlor if you'd like to see it. We could take tea there?"

"I'd *love* to." Daniel said with a smile.

"Marvelous!" she cooed. She poured the hot water into the china tea kettle and put it on a cart. "Lets then!"

Daniel nodded, and went to go follow her. "thank you very much, ma'am."

Fenya stood and followed them both. As they moved between rooms she whispered to Daniel, "Not the sharpest needle in the drawer is she?"

Daniel chuckled, and nodded at her. "mmmhm."

`The parlor was quite handsome and tasteful, with a large bar area-- though upon inspection there were more mixers than alcohols. There were several shelves full of books, and a large portrait adorning one wall.`

Sofya parked the tea cart, and sat down in one of the stiff, rather astorian styled armchairs.

Daniel looked up at the portrait "oh it's a *lovely* portrait, Sofya."

"My husband's grandfather," she nodded. "and his wife of course."

"oh of course. the MIstress, Nika, yes?"

"yes that's her alright. I wish I had her good breeding. Effortlessly beautiful until the very end…."

"I think it was more than simply good breeding." he mused "….but.."

"Yes?" she asked with a smile. She poured tea for each of them.

"I think it was more a matter of them finding a process of… extending one's life span."

"You think they really did?" She asked, handing him a cup of tea.

"It's possible. I briefly knew a man who wouldn't die no matter how many times he was put down."

"Goodness! seems like the men trying to kill him weren;t too efficient!"

"They were plenty efficient." he chuckled "but he just had a way of coming back."

"Goodness," she repeated. "And you think MIss Nika was like that?"

"Likely, in some way, shape or form at least." He mused "I need to examine the evidence. it's a shame the church burned her body… I would have liked to examine it."

"Hmmm…. I think my husband might have an urn somewhere…."

"i may be able to get something from her ashes." he mused "but still… a cadaver would have been nice."

She giggled. "That's the first time i've heard someone hope for a dead body, sir."

"I'm a doctor." he chuckled "We're… odd."

"I wouldn't say odd," she said, batting her eyelashes. "Just differently charming."

Fenya once again. looked like she was trying desperately not to roll her eyes.

Daniel chuckled softly "well… thank you for the compliment, Sofya." He smiled "Do you know of anything in the house that she may have left behind? besides her ashes."

"Maybe some quilts?"

"quilts? Was she fond of… sewing?"

"Oh yes she seemed very crafty," she nodded. "She made quilts and dolls and things…."

"I've seen one of her dolls" He mused "It was well made."

"yes they were very charming," she nodded. "She made one for-- well…. I've seen them." She smiled tightly.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "who did she make one for?"

She shook her head. "Please, don't worry about it. Just… someone I knew."

Daniel looked sympathetic "someone you lost?"

"Yes," she nodded, looking away, downcast. "It's still painful to discuss I'm afraid."

"I'm terribly sorry, I hadn't heard anything of the sort around town"

She shook her head, not looking at him. "It isn't something we speak of."

"I'm… very sorry to hear that" he said again "I heard you were from the capital" he changed the subject

She nodded. "Yes, I was born there. My husband and I met while he was there for business."

"tell me about that" he urged

She smiled again looking up and sipped her tea. "Well, I was a dancer you know."

"a dancer? How exciting" he chuckled

"Oh yes, it was," she agreed happily. "I was rather famous in the capital. 'The Beautiful Diva Sofya'."

"the beautiful Diva Sofya" he chuckled "I imagine your shows must have been… ah, quite the attraction in the capital" He shook his head "and your husband attended one?"

"He did," she nodded, reminiscing. "he was at the last show of the week and he sent me flowers after…."

"I imagine you got plenty of flowers" he chuckled "did these catch your eye?"

"I did get *very* many flowers," she chuckled. "But they did. Most men send roses, which you'd expect. But he sent lilies."

"ahhh" Daniel nodded with a slight smile "I see."

"I decided that I wanted to meet him. and so…."

Daniel nodded "and here you are. Out in the country in a lovely manor home"

She chuckled. "It wasn't instant of course, but he really won me over. My Andrei was too adoring and passionate to resist."

Fenya hid her grimace behind a drink of tea.

Daniel did the exact same, taking a long drink of tea "indeed"

"And it may not be as exciting here as it is in the capital but he's certainly taken good care of me."

"Ah, loyal man?" He asked

She smiled, and tossed our hair. "He's a man of his word."

Fenya caught Daniel's eye.

Daniel glanced at Fenya at that comment. "Mm".

"He's a sweetheart to me, really," she chuckled.

"I imagine so" Daniel mused, briefly lost in thought "he seems like a… busy man, however"

'Yes… especially lately," she sighed.

"oh? How so?"

"Well today he sent me a message that the workers were threatening a revolt…."

"hm" Daniel raised his eyebrow "now why is that?"

"Something about the governor trying to shut the fishery down…."

Daniel tugged his collar "haha..ah. uh. " He nodded "quite"

"Are you too warm, doctor?" she cooed. "I could open the window."

"oh no, certainly not." He said "… so the workers are rioting, hmm?"

"Threatening to," she sighed. "I heard half the guard was called in."

Daniel grimaced "oh. Wonderful. I can only imagine how pleased the Captain is going to be."

"Have you met the captain, doctor?" she asked with a smile

"yes, he and I already are getting along famously" Daniel said

"Oh really?" she smiled. "I'm so pleased to hear it! He's always struck me as rather glum and foul tempered…."

"it's just his way" Daniel chuckled "as one workaholic to another, we reached an accord."

"Not a man of idle comforts, doctor?"

"I find my comfort in a hard days work and progress " he murmured into his tea

And the occasional chemical cocktail, he didn't mention.

"What a shame," she cooed.

Fenya straightened up a bit in her chair. "In astoria, progress is more respected than it is here."

Daniel nodded "progress is the backbone of our society. Development, Science, progress, and the ever hopeful future of our people."

She smiled. "Well that sounds nice and all, but I'd rather do work that's fun and easy."

Fenya rolled her eyes.

"to each their own. But the future isn't born from the easy path" He shook his head "still. I understand the Captain"

"That's good to hear. I fear he won't be making any new friends today."

Daniel smiled thinly "He's doing something… important, however."

"Yes, it certainly seems so," she nodded. "My husband doesn't even disagree with the closing-- it's the workers who are revolting."

"I imagine they're upset at the loss of two week's pay." Daniel mused

"I imagine so," Sofya sighed. "Some of them likely have spent all their money on alcohol and none in savings."

"I'll see what I can do about rationing. I… did start the quarantine, after all." he murmured "I did discuss some with the Governor before we enacted it."

"Oh, goodness, you did?" she asked, blinking.

Fenya muttered, "shouldn't that have been obvious?"

"yes." though it was unclear who he was responding to for a moment. "Yes, I was the one who ordered the quarantine. It's to stop the spread of infection, after all."

"That certainly makes sense," she nodded. "BUt it's so troublesome…."

"Better to be troubled than dead, Sofya." Daniel said.

"I'm sure that's what my husband is telling his workers," she sighed.

"And he's right." Daniel said with a nod.

"Well… I hope it all works out in the end."

"It will, if I have anything to say about it." he said "which is why I need as many of Nika's things as I can find."

"I wish I could help you more with that… I could get some of the quilts if you like."

"please, if you don't mind."

She nodded and put her tea down. "I'll be just a moment."

Daniel sipped his tea, and nodded with a smile.

She hopped up and headed out of the room, humming, leaving Daniel and Fenya alone for the moment.

Daniel looked at Fenya with a longsuffering glance.

Fenya answers it with her own. "What a day."

"What a day indeed." he said "… I wonder how much we'll find here."

"I'm not certain the woman was hiding clues in her quilts…. we've learned a lot about Sofya though."

"we certainly have. Quite a few interesting tidbits."

"I'll be interested in your thoughts, Danochka."

"i'll have a few to share, perhaps on this walk of ours."

"A good idea," she nodded. "Oh! don't forget to ask her about the priest…."

"ah, yes, we can't forget that." he chuckled "thank you Fenya."

"I expect secretarial back pay from your department when we return," she smirked.

"I'll be sure to put in a good word for you." he said with a warm chuckle. "and make sure you're properly paid for having to spend your time with me."

"I'm a little nervous to see the rates on that," she teased.

"oh i'm sure they're simply sky high." Daniel joked.

"Only perhaps if you're going to be *charging* me."

"And your rates, Fenya?" he teased

"What do *you* think, Danochka?" She grinned-- just as they heard the footsteps return.

Daniel winked at her, before he turned towards the door with a smile.

Sofya returned with an armful of quilts. "here we are. I believe all of these were Nika's work…."

Daniel looked the first of them over with a raise of his eyebrow.

She put them down on a nearby free chair. "There you are. You can look through them."

There were 4-- neatly folded.

Daniel picked up the first, and opened it up "thank you Sofya. You're a saint.'

The first one was a complex pattern bearing a white tree in bloom, with flowers around it and a complicated border.

"I wonder if that's the tree in the grove." he mused.

"It certainly looks like one of the grove trees," Fenya agreed. "Oh yes," Sofya nodded. "The townsfolk are basically obsessed with them."

"they're said to have some interesting properties, or so I've heard." he looked over the border.

It looked a bit like a pattern of vines-- but there didn't seem to be any meaning in it. "Yes, they believe they're the bodies of their ancestors or something."

Daniel folded it, and checked the next one "… the bodies of their ancestors?"

"Yes, that's where all their remains are buried-- or part of them, I think? it's unclear to me. Heathen ways and all."

The next blanket was a simple (well quite complex) pattern of shapes and colors. It was very attractive, but probably not very useful.

"lovely blanket." he murmured as he set it aside "… heathen ways. Hm… that actually brings something up for me… ah." He paused "you worship the horned god, don't you?'

"I do," she nodded. "It's how I was raised, though most folk out here take some issue with it."

"I imagine, given the… response the Church had to their local customs."

"yes, it's a shame things had to happen so violently," she sighed. "It really ruined the church's chance here."

"I have to wonder how they found this little town." he mused "it's quite far from their other outposts in Mosgrav."

"It's true," she nodded. "I was awfully surprised that they showed up at all."

"Do you have any idea what drew them?" he asked

"Perhaps they sent out missionaries?" she said. "I suppose it never occured to me to ask."

"speaking of….is there a priest in town?"

"Just one," she sighed. "He's a novice. Or at least he was 5 years ago. I'm not sure if he's ever been promoted."

"A novice priest stuck in the middle of a town slowly succumbing to illness. Not an ideal position to hold."

"No, I should imagine he's having as hard a time as the rest of us," Sofya nodded.

"where might we find the man?"

"Oh, his house is at the cross street across from the village green and the road leading to the church ruin."

"Perhaps we'll give him a visit." Daniel nodded, and checked the next blanket.

The next blanket was--- it was a large **heart** with four crests picked into it. Around the border were a series of little lines.

Hold on…. no those weren;t just lines-- those were more of the *mosgravan alchemical script*.

"… Fenya, look at this…"

"Hmm?" She came nearer and pushed up her glasses. "Oh… is that….?"

"it's more of that alchemical script." he murmured. "… we should try and translate it."

"yes we ought to…." she frowned. "Oh! did you find something?" Sofya asked.

"we may have. May we take this blanket with us?"

"Oh! well I suppose so," she nodded. "Andrei spoke very highly of you, so as long as you bring it back I don't see that there's any harm."

"I'm so glad." he purred "it's much appreciated, Sofya."

"Is my pleasure. I'm glad they could be of some use!"

"as am I!" he chuckled "you've been a great help>"

"Please let me know if there's anything else I can do!"

Daniel looked at Fenya, inquisitively

Fenya tapped her lip, and then shook her head.

"If you see your husband, tell him it's best to stay inside for a while." he smiled

"Of course," she nodded. "And I'll do the same."

"good, good." he nodded back "it's much appreciated on both your counts."

"Of course," she cooed. "you should visit again. It's been rather nice."

"it has" he chuckled "I'm sure I'll visit again soon" He shook his head "but we have quite the day ahead of us"

"A pity, but I suppose it can't be helped," she nodded. "Shall I see you out then?"

"thank you" he nodded his head "I'd like that"

Sofya smiled and offered him her hand. "Right this way, both of you."

Daniel tucked the blanket under his arm, and took her hand to stand "I hope you have a lovely day."

She stood, beaming at him. "Thank you, doctor. You too!"

She led them to the door.

Daniel bowed his head respectfully before he turned to head out "until next time"

"Toodles!" she cooed.

And then Fenya and Daniel were back out in the foggy town.

Daniel walked alongside Fenya for a moment before he said "… toodles."

Fenya covered her mouth as she snorted. "*Toodles*."

"… she was certainly…." He paused, not quite able to find the word to describe the 'Diva Sofya'.

"She certainly was," Fenya agreed, her voice dripping with obvious disdain.

"she didn't seem to take… much… seriously."

"No she certainly did not. She seemed very….. vapid."

"nice enough but… yes. I have to agree she certainly seems to… take it easy on the intellectual side of things"

"I suppose you can't expect too much from a dancer."

"I suppose not" he chuckled "I'm surprised she moved out here"

"Must have been the smell of money."

Daniel chuckled "… the smell of money, indeed." He shook his head "..i wonder if she knows what her husband's been up to."

"I'm not entirely sure," she frowned. "I know which option I like less."

"Neither is… ideal." He murmured "what did you think of her?"

"Besides that she's an idiot? I wonder how much is an act…."

"That's exactly what I was wondering." He mused "she might be sharper than she lets on."

"If that's the case…."

"Then we'll have to take care with what we say around her," he murmured.

"We will," she nodded. "Ah, I assume we're off to the priest next?"

Daniel nodded "yes, we might as well visit this 'novice priest."

She nodded. "It fits nicely in our schedule here at least…"

"It does." He chuckled "For having our timetable shot to hell, we're not doing bad."

"No we're not," she said, pulling her watch out of her cloak briefly. "It's only about 2 in the afternoon."

"and how far down the list are we?"

"We only have the priest, the mayor and the rookery. We might actually get back to the Chernoff's for dinner."

"I suppose the young one will get her story then." he chuckled

"If we continue to have good luck this afternoon."

"… we can only hope" he sighed. "we're doing well so far."

"Let's not dwell on it, lest anything happen," she chuckled. "Did you have any more thoughts about our latest encounter?"

"I wonder who it is she was going to mention." he mused "her boy?"

"Tomya," she nodded. "That's my guess anyway."

"yes." he mused "… it's my guess as well. It would make sense, given how he was… favored… by Nika."

"Yes, it makes an unfortunate amount of sense."

"it does." he frowned "… she talked like he was dead."

"It's either how she feels, or what she wanted us to think…"

"hm. Perhaps we'll have to ask around some.

"The priest might know something. If she talks to him at all."

"given that she's one of the few faithful around, I imagine they're on good terms."

"One would imagine so," she agreed.

"If that's the case we may be able to learn a bit more.."

"We'll try, certainly. Speaking of which…."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "yes?"

"I didn't expect to find a clue in the form of a quilt-- did you?"

"no I certainly didn't… but it's *absolutely* a clue" he smirked

"….i just wonder what the text translates to."

"Same. We have a lot of translating to do."

"we certainly do. Between the dagger and this bloody blanket, we'll be up all night transcribing ancient sorcerer nonsense."

"And we won't even get to sleep in tomorrow."

"It'll be just like university again," he drawled.

"How delightful," she said as they came to the crossroads. The priest's house was across the street. In hindsight it was surprising they'd missed it-- there was a large pair of iron horns.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… there it is. The horned god's priest. A wonder we didn't see it the day before."

"I think we've often been in a bit of a hurry around here."

"…" he looked around "this is where the bastard clown often is, isn't it?" he murmured

Fenya nodded. "It is. Though he seems to have gone for now at least."

"thank hell." Daniel murmured "I couldn't deal with him today."

"No, he'd certainly ruin our schedule."

"The man's nothing but a walking distraction." he snorted, stepping up to the doorway.

The house was smaller than the manor's they'd been visiting, but it was tidy and well kept. There was another sign of horns on the door.

Daniel knocked at it with a raise of his eyebrow "and here we are."

A moment later a rather young and slender looking bear man answered the door. He was wearing simple garments and looked tired. As tired as a senior with a thesis deadline. "Ah…. good afternoon?" he hazarded.

Daniel looked him over with a raise of his eyebrow "… good afternoon. My name is Daniel Delgrave of the Astorian University."

"And I'm Professor Evgeni-Smythe of the same," Fenya introduced.

"It's a pleasure to meet you both," the man murmured. "I'm father Viktor. How can I help you?"

"May we speak to you for a moment?" Daniel asked 'We won't take too much of your time."

"Ah… certainly," he said. He looked over his shoulder into the house, and then stepped out onto the porch area, clicking the door shut behind him.

Daniel raised his eyebrow at him.

"Is it alright if we talk out here?"

"it *is* plaguetime." Daniel said "… the streets may not be entirely safe."

"I… suppose," he agreed. "Alright but, please do forgive me the mess."

"I'd never judge another man's home." Daniel purred. in front of him.

"Me either," Fenya said… possibly insincerely.

The father nodded. "Ah, thank you." He clicked the door open and led them into the hall.

Daniel stepped inside, and the first thing he did was take a bit of a look around.

The walls were covered with **paintings**. Many of them seemed to be of the town, and quite a few of them featured **fire**.

Daniel raised his eyebrow . That was… one hell of a theme.

Fenya had a similar expression on her face. "I… like to paint," he confessed. He led them to a parlor room where many of the chairs were covered in paint tubes and blank canvas. There were more paintings on the wall, and one on an easel, apparently in progress.

"As I said, pardon the mess."

"Nothing wrong with a creative streak." Daniel said with a note of caution. He looked at the one 'in progress' "interesting recurring theme."

The one in progress was similar to a number of the paintings in the room, rather than the hall. While there were still many with fire and a few with **suffering figures** the ones in here, and the one in profess in particular showed a hunched and twisted figure in handsome clothes, blood on their mouth and hands.

"Is…" Daniel said in a puzzled voice "that the vampire?"

Father Viktor nodded. "Yes… there's…. been talk of such a creature, among the public."

"I've heard." Daniel said "… and I've met it, twice now."

"You have?" he asked, perking. He chuckled slightly. "Any details for my painting?"

"A particular point of interest for you?" Daniel purred "I wouldn't have expected that from a holy man."

"Even a man of the god and goddess is allowed to have a few… interests," he chuckled. "The vampire is an adversary of good people. And that makes him fascinating."

"… I suppose that's true." Daniel chuckled softly "… well, I'll tell you that he's likely just a madman. One who's possibly infected with the plague, and acting out on whatever fell dream's come into his head."

The priest grimaces. "I wouldn't be sure of that, doctor… I've… seen things."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "… do tell."

"Let's… sit down first at least," he said, clearing off some chairs of their art supplies.

"and… you said you wanted to talk to me about something?"

Daniel took a seat on one of the chairs "it can wait until we wrap up the current topic." He said "the vampire is of… interest… to me as well."

"Alright," he nodded, sitting in his high backed chair. "Its… well… do you know about the incident?"

"The burning of the town's old leadership?" Daniel purred.

Viktor nodded gravely. "yes, exactly."

"I know a little… but most aren't very forthcoming with details."

He sighed leaning back in his chair. "Well, I was there."

"… hm." Daniel nodded "I imagine so, given…"

"That I'm with the church? Yes… no one has come since…."

"I don't imagine they'll send anyone else after what's happened." He said with a nod "… why don't you tell me about it."

He made a soft noise. Was it a laugh or a sigh? "What you say that-- tell me what even you mean."

"I mean I want to hear about the burnings, Viktor."

He shook his head. "That's what I thought. So you don't know why there is no one else from the church here. And why they won't send any more."

"no, not in the least." Daniel shook his head… though he did have some idea.

"It has to do with what you were asking me before… about what I'd **seen**…" he glanced at the paintings.

"that's right…" he said, raising his eyebrow "….why don't you get it off your chest."

The man looked distant, and sighed. "It's probably best just to tell it in order. To start with the burning."

Daniel nodded "that would be for the best, I imagine."

"I was a novice in my first year after graduation," he explained slowly, as if he were reciting a story that had happened to someone else. "My mentor recommended me for the expedition, he said because it would do me good to see life and worship outside of the capital. To really bring the horned church into people's hearts. I didn't understand at the time the full nature of our mission in this place."

"was it a crusade from the start?" Daniel asked with a raise of his eyebrow

"I was told by my superiors that word had come that the town of Tadibya was under the sway of heathen practice and sorcerous leaders…"

"were you told where the word came from?" Daniel asked curiously "this is a rather far out town."

Father Viktor shook his head. "No. No one ever told me. Usually when we receive a tip like that the person does not want to be known."

"hm." Daniel thought for a long moment "I see. We'll come back to that… please, continue."

He nodded. "There were 14 of us. Two senior clerics, 5 of us low rankers including myself, and seven deacons. We came in two caravans to the town."

Daniel folded his hands on his lap "..14? More than I expected."

"I'm not surprised. But the church took this place very seriously. In retrospect, I should have been more concerned about that."

"indeed." Daniel agreed "… it's rather concerning to me too."

Father Viktor's hands were on his knees, and Daniel could see that they were trembling. "yes…. When we got here, our seniors… declared what was here to be unnatural."

Daniel watched him carefully, he leaned over, and pat the man's knee before he let him continue. "I'd gotten the sense that it was rather sudden. some talk of the church as 'Storming into town' "

"Yes, the situation…. escalated rapidly," he sighed. "I was never privy to exactly what the seniors saw. But it must have been horrifying."

"… what they saw?" Daniel asked

He nodded. "They came into town before us. They did some… I suppose the military would call it 'reconnaissance'."

Daniel nodded, frowning slightly "by which I imagine they investigated the Masters and Mistress."

"That's what I suspect," he said leadenly. "And by their order we dragged them to the end of town."

"Which was where the burning was to be conducted."

"Yes," he said quietly, looking at his lap. "Where it was conducted. God and Goddess help us."

Daniel nodded "… thank you for this. This information is vital to my investigation. Please..continue."

He nodded, hands still shaking. "A crowd gathered. Some tried to stop us but… others didn't."

"the Masters and Mistresses were… controversial figures, who had done some unforgivable things to some in this town." He said "… it doesn't make what happened any better or worse, but it makes the difference in reactions understandable."

He nodded. "yes… well… we stood in circle and prayed as they… as they burned. But they laid a terrible curse on the town, on all of us."

"Can you tell me the curse, word for word?"

He closed his eyes. "You come to save this town, but you damn it. We are the stewards of the heart of this town, and our death will mark its ruin. The heart will die and its people will fall to evil and become mad and wandering beasts. Murdering pigs of the church faithful will have your hearts town out and devoured by them. This we promise."

Daniel paused a moment "….that's… exactly it." He looked to Fenya "… We're absolutely on the right track. That wording makes it clear that it wasn't a **curse**, but a **warning**." He looked to the other man with a nod "….and what happened then?"

Fenya nodded to Daniel. "You're right," she murmured quietly. "A warning?" Viktor asked. "You might not think it when I tell you what happened in the weeks afterward."

"I suppose we'll see." Daniel said "please go on."

"We started to build the church," he said. "With the help of local labor of course. But… after a few days-- they found the mangled body of one of my brother's in faith."

"Mangled how?" Daniel asked

"There were chunks torn from his flesh," he said, his ears pale and low. "His chest was ripped open, and the heart torn out."

"hm. that matches the description the children gave us.."

"That's not surprising," he sighed. "I'm sure parents use it as a way to frighten them. And if it was just one I would say that someone who had respected the town elders had done it. But….."

"It happened repeatedly?"

He nodded slowly. "More and more of my brothers were picked off in the same way. After five of them had died…. that's when *it* happened."

"… it?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

"Those of us remaining returned to the bones of the church where the seniors were going to hold ritual. It was early in the morning. When we got there it was swallowed up by a dark fog."

Daniel frowned slightly "… a dark fog?"

He nodded. "Like the town itself is now plunged in," he admitted, the trembling in his hands getting worse. "From within we could see swinging lights-- and then screaming. Horrible screaming…."

"….swinging lights?" Daniel's frown deepened "..what in the world?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. But I know that one of the senior priests ran out of the fog, covered in wounds, and he kept running. When the fog cleared, my remaining brothers and I found the body of the other senior."

Daniel brushed his hand over his ear "… and how did it look?"

"Like the others," he said. "Torn apart, with the heart removed."

Fenya grimaced, her ears flicking uncomfortably.

Daniel's own ears flicked "….damn." "I… can see how you would liken that to a curse."

"All of my brothers fled the town after that," he said, his nails digging into his knees. "I cannot blame them. But… I remain."

"Why do you remain, Viktor?" Daniel asked

He closed his eyes. "It is my penance to stay. Someone must bear out the curse that the church has brought here."

"A sense of duty then." Daniel sighed, and leaned on his arm "Viktor. We aren't dealing with a curse… per say. Which means it can be **healed**."

"what do you mean?" he asked.

"it's my belief that when the Masters and Mistress' died, they weren't laying an active curse upon you all… but rather a warning of what might happen should they die." He paused a moment "I've found evidence that they conducted a monthly ritual at some location called the 'heart', which gave them their long life… and I believe, perhaps, purified whatever it was they worked with. I believe that once they died with all their secrets, there was nobody left to perform this monthly ritual, and a **rot** set into the earth itself. A sickness." He frowned "the very sickness that caused me to quarantine this town. It's effects seem… similar… to this curse of yours. It drives people into a dreaming coma, and rots their blood… and sends them shambling about, attacking people in their sleep."

"I see…" he nodded. "It's possible that this sickness and the curse are the same. But… " he shook his head. "Well. I told you what I saw."

"yes." Daniel frowned "… that… perplexes me as well."

"I hope you understand why it seems… supernatural… malevolent… to me."

"I… can." Daniel adjusted his coat "there's no doubt a logical explanation to it all, but…"

"But it certainly is enough to… make an impression," Fenya murmured looking around at the morbid paintings.

"Indeed…." Viktor sighed.

"I can see it..absolutely lingers on your mind. " Daniel said "… but we're going to solve this."

"If you did… perhaps it would give me some measure of peace," he sighed. "But if you cannot-- I beg you to leave while you can. These are not your sins to bear."

"What kind of doctor would I be If I left a patient suffering." He scoffed "… like it or not, this entire damned town's become my patient, now."

"That's admirable, doctor," he said. "I hope the Goddess will guide your steps in mercy-- if she can reach us here."

"I'm not a religious man." Daniel said with a low chuckle "… but thank you, regardless."

"Perhaps not. But you are a man of **mercy** and that is the goddess' domain."

Daniel adjusted his coat again "… indeed. So… again, I suppose I send my thanks"

Viktor nodded. "I'm sure she hears them. Thank you for… listening… I suppose."

"You're welcome." Daniel mused "thank you for telling us. "

He nodded. "Of course. It's difficult to speak of but the truth is important."

"It is. especially if i'm to put an end to all this. Most people… aren't comfortable talking about it with me."

"No… I can imagine that they're not…."

"Either they didn't see, or they simply didn't want to tell an outsider… or dwell on it themselves."

"I can't blame them entirely."

"neither can I." he murmured "… onto lighter topics, I suppose…"

"Yes?" he asked with a smile.

"I noticed there's at least one of the Faithful still practicing in town." he mused "… are you close with her?"

"You must mean Miss Morozov, yes?"

"yes, that would be the one."

"No, we're not particularly close," he said shaking his head. "She attends service…."

"you still hold service?" he asked

"Yes," he nodded. "Upstairs."

"who attends? I wasn't aware there were a lot of Faithful in town."

"There aren't too many," he said, shaking his head. "The Morozovs. A few of the families of laborers. The governor, irregularly."

"that makes sense." Daniel mused "considering what I know of each of them."

He nodded. "May I ask why you asked?"

He chuckled "… two reasons. One, I wanted to see if it was specifically the Faithful being targeted, and it seems that isn't the case. Two… I'm curious what you can tell me about Miss Morozov."

"Well…" he frowned. "what sort of things do you want to know?"

"What's she like?" He smiled "what is your impression of her."

The priest hesitated. "She's always given very generously."

Daniel looked him in the eyes "there sounds like there's more."

"I'm not one to gossip, my friend."

"Don't consider it gossip." Daniel purred "consider it helping a doctor understand his patients."

He breathed out through his nose, "Well….."

There was a bloodcurdling scream from outside.

Daniel leapt up, his eyes darting to the side "….dammit." He grabbed his gun, and went running for the door.

Fenya was on her feet after him, and the priest followed with a stumble. As Daniel threw open the door, he saw a woman on the ground, struggling to fight off someone atop her.

Daniel ran forward, and **bodychecked** the figure to get them off the woman.

He dived into the figure and knocked them clean off of the woman, the two of them then going rolling several feet in the mud. The figure made a startled noise.

Daniel raised his gun, and pressed it to the figure with a low whisper "Don't move!" He looked over his shoulder "Fenya, Viktor, make sure the girl doesn't slip away, we have to check her for injuries!"

Fenya nodded. "Yes doctor!" she said, kneeling beside the woman.

The man groaned on the ground and blinked, his eyes thick with black veins. "Where am I?" he murmured.

"On the ground." Daniel said unhelpfully, before pressing the gun against the man "You were assaulting a woman in the street by the priest's house."

"W-what?" the man's eyes opened wider. "No…. this is a dream…"

Daniel frowned "this is no dream. You're sick, and acting out whatever dark dreams you're having while 'asleep'. Come with me, you need medical help. I'm going to take you to the hospital." He looked over his shoulder "Fenya, is she alright?"

The man nodded slowly. "Could you… maybe not point that gun at me?" the man murmured dazedly. "She'll live, I think. She's fainted, but aside from that it's just some deep scratches…."

"….we'll try and disinfect them at Sasha's. We don't know how this thing spreads." He frowned "… I'm afraid that isn't an option until we have you properly restrained." He hefted the man up, and nodded to Fenya "can you or the priest carry her?"

Fenya frowned and looked at the priest. "I think between the two of us," she said. "But It will be a walk to Sasha's…."

"Ah, I may be helpful there," The priest said. "I have a small cart that I use for groceries…."

"please bring it out." Daniel murmured "… damnation, this is…" He pinched the bridge of his nose "so much for a *damned* timetable."

Fenya grimaced. "So much for it indeed. This is getting bad."

Without a word, the priest hurried to get the cart.

"… it's getting *very* bad. These people shouldn't be out in the damned streets in the first place."

"They'll know by tonight, I suppose…."

The man had fallen into another fitful slumber as they spoke.

Daniel nodded, frowning down at the man "… this " he pointed to him "is just what I was afraid of."

Fenya nodded. "yes it's exactly the sort of thing we talked about," she said, her ears flat on her head. "Damn…."

"the man thought he was still dreaming." he snorted softly "… yet he was clearly mobile."

"Walking around town, enacting violent dreams…."

The wheels of a small cart scraped the ground--Father Victor brought it around-- just barely big enough to hold both of the people.

Daniel lifted the man, and dumped him into the cart "… it's not an ideal situation." he said "in the least."

Fenya and the priest lifted the woman and settled her in as well.

"No… this is terrible." the priest frowned. He looked pale and nervous.

"I knew things were getting worse, but this has… progressed."

"Is there anything more I can do to help?" the priest asked.

"ah.." Daniel sighed "… dredge up anything you may have from the time of the burnings. Any… mementos or things left behind, and send them to me by courier."

He nodded. "I'll do so, doctor."

Fenya grabbed the handles of the cart. "we'd better get moving."

Daniel nodded, and waved to the priest "thank you. Be safe until then."

He nodded. "Good luck and godspeed."

"Indeed. Same to you." Daniel nodded, before he helped Fenya push the cart off and down the street.

Fenya pulled it with him, moving quickly. The cart was heavy, and the road was rough, but it was better than trying to carry two people.

Daniel sighed softly "… I wonder how many more of these… infected… are wandering about."

"That's…. a terrible question to consider," she muttered. "Damn…."

"it is. But I'm… concerned it's more than we could hope to want."

"I'm having the same fear," she said. "But I don't know what more we could possibly do about it."

"We just have to solve the underlying problem and worry about making a proper cure when we do."

"That's probably the only avenue…"

"it likely is." he frowned '….what do you make of that 'fog' story?"

"it's the obvious supernatural element, if there were to be one," she considered. "after all, the priest says nothing of seeing an attacker…."

"just a fog filled with lights, and the sound of… bloody screaming."

"Those lights, that's certainly a strange element."

"yes… like lanterns, perhaps? or..something else."

"Lanterns… that seems reasonable. But if there were a bunch of people doing the attack, where did they go?"

"I suppose they could have scattered in the fog and confusion." he mused

"Perhaps," she nodded. "The priests would have been distraught in any case. Unlikely to notice."

"that's true." Daniel nodded "it's my current theory, anyway."

"It's a good theory," she agreed. "Damn, this is *really* going to cut into the rest of our day…"

"… it certainly is." he murmured "and we've hardly gotten half the things we needed to do."

"That's not true," she said. "Not counting getting our time cut short with the priest we only had two tasks left-- and then potentially storytime."

He nodded slowly "ah. well, storytime may not happen given the way things are going, but I suppose we'll see."

"So we will," she nodded as they came within sight of Sasha's office.

Daniel went double time, gently pushing the cart towards it with a sigh "hopefully the woman won't become infected by this nonsense.'

"Hopefully not… " she sighed. "Maybe the scratches weren't deep enough."

"they looked rather nasty at first glance, but… we can hope."

They came to the door of Sasha's practice and Fenya knocked.

No one answered.

Daniel knocked again. "…."

Still no answer….. had he gone with Lydia or something?

Daniel attempted to open the door

Unlike the day before when this had happened-- the door rattled. Locked.

Daniel frowned deeper "this… is a problem"

Fenya cursed under her breath. "Of course this happens *today*. What can we do?"

"breaking in probably isn't the best option " he muttered "but it's tempting"

"It certainly is," she murmured. "Damn….."

Daniel looked at the people collapsed in the cart "we can't *just leave them* "

"No… who know's when he'll be back. But…. he has patients doesn't he? he can't be gone long…."

"yes but these two will only be out so bloody long" he muttered "… this is a setback."

Fenya grimaced. "Damn damn damn….."

In the cart, the unconscious man groaned and shifted but didn't wake.

Daniel glanced down at him "… and a messenger won't do us a lick of good. "

"No, he'd probably be back by the time one found him," she sighed. "Danochka…. should we break in?"

Daniel nodded "we'll leave a note and explain the..dire situation"

"I'm sure he'll understand given the circumstances."

"Indeed" He gestured "let's pick the lock then, shall we?"

Fenya nodded and got the pins out of her purse, offering them to Daniel. "This is becoming a habit."

Daniel took it with a nod "indeed. It's a return to old bad habits" he chuckled

"So it seems," she agreed. "If you can't manage to get it open I can give it a try…."

Daniel shook his head. "i can manage it." he got started on the lock

And manage it he did, quite quickly. The lock clicked open for him.

Daniel smirked, and pushed the door open. "Help me wheel them inside."

"I don't think the cart will fit," she said-- but she was already scooping the woman up.

Daniel nodded, and grabbed the man… hefting him up in his arms.

The two of them were just barely able to carry both victims inside.

It was going to be hard to find a place to put them. There was another patient since they'd been there that morning. The beds were filling up.

Daniel grimaced "… that hospital needs to open soon."

"The sooner the better," she agreed, getting the woman into one of the few spare cots.

Daniel nodded, hefting the man into one of the last ones around.

"There… should we… clean her wounds? Or leave it in the note."

Daniel nodded "we should clean her wounds as fast as possible . It could make all the difference in the world.'

She nodded. "Then I'll undress her. You gather what we need."

Daniel set about gathering disinfectants and bandages with a sigh 'indeed."

He was already becoming familiar with Sasha's office. He found the bandages and disinfectants right away. When he returned, Fenya had the woman stripped to her underwear.

Daniel looked her over with a critical eye. How bad were the wounds… and was there any sign of infection yet?

Fenya had been right the wounds *were* fairly superficial. Still, blood had been drawn….

and…. yes… at the edges Daniel saw a speck of blackness.

Daniel hissed, and started cleaning the wounds… starting with alcohol. "… there's some of the infection already setting in."

"Already?" Fenya asked, a note of alarm strangling her voice.

"… yes." he frowned "come look." He was trying to clean the area, hoping the alcohol was doing *something*.

Fenya came near, her scarf around her face and peered carefully. "Damn…. you're right of course."

"…." He sighed, his own mask up around his mouth "….it's… concerning, isn't it?"

"More than a little, yes," she agreed, her voice tight.

Daniel rubbed some antiseptic into the wounds "… a simple scratch and it spreads so damned fast."

"I wonder if it has to do with how advanced the infection is in the spreader…."

She paused. "er.. vector? Is that the word I'm looking for? Oh you know what I mean."

Daniel nodded, working on bandaging the woman up "… I think that might be the case, yes. The more advanced stage the infection, the easier it spreads to a new victim."

The work of cleaning and bandaging her wasn't difficult at least. He finished quickly. "So it becomes more powerful the more advanced it is…"

Daniel grimaced "… indeed it seems to. Which means our timetable is a little stricter than previously envisioned."

"Wonderful," she sighed. SHe looked at the man they'd brought in. "We should tie him down."

Daniel nodded, and looked around for any sort of restraint they could use.

It seemed that Sasha was prepared-- there were some leather straps nearby-- it seemed to be what some of the other patients were restrained with.

Daniel grabbed the leather straps, and began binding the man down with them.

"I'll write that note," Fenya said, grabbing some paper off the desk.

Daniel nodded towards her "you're a saint, Fenya. thank you."

"Me? A saint? It had better come with a pay raise," she said dryly. She put the note where Sasha could easily see it. "There."

Daniel nodded, and gestured with his head "shall we try to salvage the timetable?"

"Let's do our best," she sighed. She offered him her arm.

Daniel took her arm, and strolled out into the fog with her, closing the door behind them "where to next?"

The sky was already starting to darken. It was about 4 oclock now. "The mayor, or the rookery."

"the mayor, perhaps… the rookery is going to take quite a bit of time."

Fenya nodded. "Let's hurry back that way then. I'd say we lost about an hour to that debacle…"

"A whole damned hour." Daniel muttered "let's hope another bloody fool doesn't come stumbling out of the shadows as soon as we get there."

"I'd be tempted to bloody leave him where he lay,' she griped as they hurried.

"We're in accord on that." he chuckled dryly, walking double time towards the Mayor's office

The fog had gotten darker. If the sun was still up, it was impossible to tell.

Daniel grimaced, "… Fenya, I don't like this weather."

"Nor do I," she murmured.

"Not enjoying our fair climate?" the damned clown asked as he came out of the fog-- they had reached the town square.

Daniel hissed under his breath "Do you *live* here??""

"Live here, Dannyboy?" Lukyan grinned. "Why I'm hardly any more than a figment of your imagination. But I wouldn';t worry about *me*. Aren't you already running late today?"

"…." Daniel sneered "yes, yes we are. What do you *want* Lukyan?"

"Want? Oh, just to tell you you're *really* running out of time."

"….Go take a dip in the fountain, clown."

He laughed. "You're not taking me seriously are you? But it's not just the curse you know. Tick tock tock tick. Time marches on. The seasons change. The time for horrors is fast approaching!"

Daniel frowned "….Lukyan." He walked up to the clown and grabbed his collar '….explain yourself, *now*. What in hell are you going on about?"

The clown laughed in his face. "You will never understand my friend. never never. To ponder it would only infuriate you. Only the soul that is deeper than your soul understands. But hurry! hurry! before everything falls apart."

Daniel's eyes narrowed "time won't run out while i'm here, you little pest. Trust me on that." He dropped him, and turned "Fenya, let's leave this circus."

"Maybe, maybe! We'll see what kind of sway you hold!" He laughed as he hit the ground.

Fenya took Daniel's arm again. "And not a moment too soon, Danochka," she snorted at the muddy clown.

Daniel had a glower on his face as he walked through the fog "what a fatalist clown." he muttered "time of horrors my ass."

Fenya shook his head. "The ranting of a madman."

"It's a wonder they haven't thrown him out of town by now. "

"Probably someone's nephew or something," she sighed.

"….that's an interesting question." he mused "who's child *is* he?"

"I've no idea… perhaps we should ask around?"

"Perhaps the mayor will know, I suppose." he agreed

"Perhaps," she agreed as they reached the town hall.

Daniel nodded, looking up at the structure. "we're looking for anything the Masters and Mistress left behind and a conversation with the mayor, no?"

"Yes," she nodded.. "The mayor is the midwife Nika's grandson. Apparently a favorite of hers."

"mmm." Daniel nodded "so I have a few things I wanted to ask him."

Fenya pushed the door of the hall open-- it was just as empty as it had been last time. But now Daniel heard shouting from upstairs.

Daniel frowned, and walked towards the sound of shouting, hoping to catch a bit of it as he approached

"You can't just let him walk all over you! Close down the town? we'll all starve!" "And?" another voice answered. "If we DON'T shut it down everyone will die of the plague!" "I have yet to see ANY evidence of this supposed plague!" Neither voice belonged to the mayor.

Daniel listened for a moment, his lips tight. And just who was it that was speaking?

One voice-- the one against the quarantine-- was a woman's. The other was a man. Neither were ones he recognized.

Daniel pushed his way into the room "no evidence, hm?"

There was a bear man in functional but high quality clothes on one side of the desk, slim and broad shouldered. On the other side was a woman in quite a fancy and severe gown. In the center, at his desk the mayor looked so nervous he might have a stroke.

As Daniel entered, all eyes fell on him.

Daniel tightened his tie, and smiled "my name is Daniel Delgrave… of the Astorian University." he paused "*Doctor* Delgrave,if you don't mind."

The woman put her hands on her hips. "*Well* doctor, I hope you have an explanation for my husband on the subject of this madness, and this insult!" "Dear…." the mayor frowned, fussing with his lapels.

"if you mean the insult of me going to the governor instead of the mayor to gain permission for my quarantine…" He waved his hand "I was simply told that a quarantine would have to be okayed by him. No insult meant, simply expedience"

"Quite right," the male stranger nodded, stroking his mustache. "And you didn't even think to *tell* my husband?" the woman demanded haughtily.

"Im here, aren't I?" Daniel fixed her with a hard stare "I simply didn't have the bloody time to stop by yesterday. Not when every hour out of quarantine is another madman in the streets"

"Here now!" the woman snorted. "When nothing can be done!" "What's being done is what should be done you unreasonable woman!"

Daniel snorted, crossing his arms. "You want the quarantine lifted, do you?"

"You bet I do!" she snapped. "You didn't consult with my husband! whatever this supposed disease is it can't be bad enough to justify closing the fishery and the markets!"

A rather thin, and dangerous smile crossed Daniel's face "you don't think so, hm? Well. There's ample proof that this disease is worse than you can possibly imagine." He gestured with one hand at the door behind him "This town is going to die, my lady. And from what I've seen in my patients… it isn't going to be a comfortable death. That is, unless drastic steps are taken urgently to allow me to do the work I *have* to do."

She stomped her foot. "If there's proof I *demand* that you show it to me!"

"Dear…." the mayor murmured.

"It's right down the way." Daniel said "in Sasha's clinic… or wandering the streets."

"Wandering the streets?" she demanded. "I've been trying to tell you, you foul tempered woman!"

Daniel nodded, "those far enough along….and trust me… it sets in quick… wander in a dreaming coma. They *walk the bloody streets* and attack people they see out of blind fear! And in DOING so, spread the bloody infection to THEM if they don't tear their bloody throats out first!"

"Tear their *throats* out?" she hissed. "You can't be serious. You're not describing a disease doctor! you're describing a curse!"

"Marta…." the mayor sighed.

"There's no such thing as a curse." Daniel said "but there is such a thing as *madness* borne from illness affecting one's mind. If they think they're in a dream, they'll attack without fear of consequence."

She snorted. "You ignorant city boy," she snapped. "You have no idea how little you know!" She turned around and shoved her way past Fenya, who gasped out an 'excuse me!' as the woman slammed the door behind her.

Daniel turned on his heels "… ignorant city boy…." He snorted under his breath "charming."

Vadim sighed and lowered his head to the desk. A muffled "I'm sorry about her" came.

"hm. Thank you for the apology, Vadim." Daniel said, and leaned on the desk "you understand the importance of this quarantine, don't you?"

"Yes," came the muffled reply.

The other man in the room sighed. "A necessary evil. Women don't understand these things I'm afraid."

Fenya coughed. "*Some* women, sir."

"some women certainly do understand. Gender has little to do with the ability to understand severity… and it seems that Miss Marta hasn't seen enough proof to understand just how much trouble you're all in."

"My apologies, dear," the man said to Fenya. "But yes I suppose I agree." The mayor just sighed between his arms. "Was there something you needed, doctor?"

"a few things." Daniel said. "First," he glanced at the other man, "I don't think we've met."

"Ah yes I don't think we have," the man smiled and offered his hand. "Ruvik Petrovich-- my boss has spoken highly of you, doctor."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Ruvik." He nodded "might I ask who your boss is?"

"Andrei Morozov," he said. "I am his assistant."

"ah." Daniel nodded slowly "his assistant, hm?"

"Indeed. I take care of business when he's otherwise engaged."

"otherwise engaged." He nodded slowly "in..deed. you must be a capable man, then."

"I like to think so, doctor."

Daniel gave him a smile "thank you for supporting our quarantine." He turned back to Vadim with a nod "I have a few questions for you… as well as a request."

The man nodded. "If you-- either of you-- gentlemen need me further I'll be downstairs."

With that, Petrovich left the room.

Vadim gave Daniel a halfhearted smile. "Well… I'm happy to listen I suppose."

Daniel nodded, and turned to Vadim with a nod "I need to talk to you about your grandmother."

"My grandmother?" he sat up, lifting his head off the desk finally.

"Nika." He nodded "… we're following a lead that may save the town, but it involves her and her cohorts."

He smiled. "Well… that sounds like a nicer conversation than I've had all day."

"I imagine so." he smiled back "I heard she rather liked you."

"We got on well," he said with a smile. "She always wanted to have me at her side when I was young."

"is that so? Did she teach you anything?"

"Oh yes," he nodded. "She passed along many of her recipes."

"you must be one hell of a cook then." he chuckled

The mayor chuckled. "I'd like to think so. But of course I still can't match her."

"you don't have hundreds of years of experience, I suppose" he chuckled

"A pity," he smiled. "I'll probably never get there."

"you can always try" he smiled "what was she like?"

"Oh always busy busy busy," he chuckled. "And a bit cranky sometimes but very doting."

"oh I imagine." He mused "… did she ever tell you what she got up to every month?"

He raised his eyebrows. "You mean with the other town masters?"

He nodded "yes indeed"

"I'm afraid not. They were very secretive."

Vadim stroked his chin. "All she would tell me was that they were very important, and she dared not miss one."

"Given the state of things now that they're being missed." he mused "she might have been right."

The mayor touched his chin. "You think the-- goodness you might be onto something…."

"My thought is that whatever they were doing was keeping this sickness of the earth in check. Now that they're gone….it's spreading out of control."

The mayor chewed his thumb nervously. "Oh dear…."

"which is why I'm looking for anything I can about them and their practices…" He paused "and any falling out they may have had."

He cocked his head. "Falling out?" Fenya nodded. "If you remember any disagreements between them…."

Daniel gestured to Fenya "just as my associate says."

Vadim stroked his chin. "Well, my grandmother always got on best with Misha. I don't think she liked Master Osgrov much at all-- ah, he was our Healer."

"mmm… did she ever say why?"

"No, never," he shook his head. "They just avoided each other. Which was unfortunate given their dovetailing professions…"

"indeed." He frowned "… I wonder what exactly was the incident that turned them against one another."

"It's probably in her diaries somewhere…."

"Would you happen to have them?"

"I do believe they're at home," he said. "But…. we don't go into her bedroom…."

"May I have permission to enter?"

He closed his eyes. "It's hard for me to say yes," he said. "But I cannot imagine that in such a time of troubles my dear grandmother would be offended by it."

"Finally someone reasonable," Fenya murmured almost inaudibly.

"thank you, Vadim. You're a… delight." he said "I'm glad you see where we're coming from." He paused "… I saw someone who looked just like her in the fog, you know."

He twitched upwards. "Did you?"

Daniel nodded "she'd given me a key and a piece of Nika's diary."

He covered his mouth. "Oh my…. you're sure it was hers?"

"I could show you. I'm sure you could verify."

"I'd be more than happy to!"

Daniel fished out the journal scrap and showed it to him.

As Vadim read it, his brow furrowed. "Ah…. this… is certainly my grandmother's handwriting…"

"….." Daniel paused a moment "which uh, one did I give to you?"

Fenya caught Daniel's eye with a growing look of potential horror.

"It's… about my wife, Doctor," he said, tugging at his collar.

"…." Daniel's ears flicked "I'm sure it's just taken out of context.."

"She writes that Marta bewitched me… does she mean it as an exaggeration or…." He wasn't really speaking to the doctor but he WAS speaking out loud.

"…." Daniel raised his eyebrow slightly

He rubbed the back of his neck. "Doctor, do you believe in… well… love potions and that sort of thing?'

"….not really, though I suppose you could manipulate the mind with a potent enough cocktail of drugs."

"I suppose," he said, his thumb against his jaw. "No…. it's ridiculous-- sorry to waste your time with such ideas."

"no, please." Daniel purred "go on."

"I'm not sure there's much to say," he said. "I suppose my feelings for Marta were… sudden. But isn;t that the way of things?"

"it can be." Daniel nodded "… I suppose she could have… made an effort to woo you." he shrugged

"She… *could* have," he admitted. "But it isn't exactly what happened."

"… and what happened?"

"I came upon her in the market one day, and was struck by her beauty…."

"had you known her before then?"

"No, I don't believe we had ever met…."

"but she certainly wished to get to know you, from the sound of it."

"I… suppose that she must have," he murmured. "I have always thought our meeting was by chance…"

"by clever design all things can seem like chance" Daniel chuckled

"Certainly true," he nodded. "My apologies I shouldn't be troubled by this…"

"no, that's quite alright. This town seems..full of its little dramas"

"I suppose that's life in a small town for you," he said with a strained smile.

"indeed" he mused "still… I'm curious if you would have wished for things to turn out different."

"I…. really don't know," he sighed. "A-at any rate, why don't you come to my house tomorrow morning, and you can take a look at my grandmother's things."

Daniel nodded "that would be appreciated… and.." He paused "if you can have someone fish out *anything* of theirs or about them from the records downstairs….we can go over it all tomorrow."

He frowned. "I can try, but I don't know how much anyone would be able to find before tomorrow morning I'm afraid.":

"if it can be an ongoing search… perhaps? We'll look too of course… but we're quite busy"

"I imagine what with this terrible disease," he nodded. "I'll have my assistant look into it."

"much appreciated. We'll help as we can… and anything will help"

Vadim nodded seriously. "Thank you, doctor. We must do what we can to help one another."

"Exactly, a sensible man can see that." he chuckled "… we need to help one another through all this."

"Certainly," he nodded. "It's not the time to be quibbling about politics… I wish my wife could see that."

"Perhaps we can convince her in time."Daniel sighed "… it's no time for politics. Just action."

Vadim sighed. "I wasn't born to be a man of action. But I;ll be trying my best."

"no?" he chuckled softly

"No," he chuckled painedly. "Mayor wasn't ah…. well it wasn't exactly supposed to be a difficult position when it passed to my hands."

"given that the Masters and Mistress took care of most things." He mused

"You grasp it aptly, doctor," he sighed.

"And now here you are, thrust into the rigors of politics."

"I'm a pitiable man, truly," he admitted with that same pained smile.

"But you're surviving admirably, despite it all."

"Well…. thank you, doctor."

"you're welcome, Vadim. Is there anything else you might be able to tell me about… all this..?"

He rubbed his chin. "You've heard about dybbuks by now I assume?"

"yes, but I'd certainly like to hear what you have to say about them."

"well, my grandmother used to frighten me with stories of them…"

"and what did she say?" he asked curiously

"That they were monsters with poisoned hearts, seeking to slake their lust for violence on their fellow man."

"That certainly sounds like the diseased we've run into…" He paused "… as well as some *other* people."

"Yes," he nodded, "It's what I've heard some people saying…."

"I think the stories and the disease are connected. A fanciful name over a devastating illness."

"Do you think… it only takes bad people then?" he asked with an almost fragile sound to his voice.

Daniel brushed his hair "… I think 'bad people' are more prone to taking risks and failing to be properly safe… so they're more susceptible to the disease, yes."

He rubbed his jaw. "That's a good point-- oh-- oh dear," he frowned and his brow furrowed.

"… yes?"

"The bar's going to have to be shut down too, certainly….."

"Absolutely." Daniel nodded "it… has to."

He grimaced. "That's… going to make some people very unhappy."

"… it will." Daniel agreed "but it's unhappy or dead."

"Yes," he sighs. "It won't be pleasant to explain that. Oh I hope we can reason with them-- maybe I can blame it on Alekin…."

"perhaps you can." Daniel laughed "but I'm certain they'll listen to reason."

"I'm not," Vadim grumbled. "Bunch of drunks."

"Tell them that they can bloody well drink at home." He shook his head "hell.'

"Sorry to complain, doctor," he sighed.

"No, there's much to complain about these days."

"True enough," he sighed. "I'd better draft a statement. And get my assistant down in the basement."

"You're a good man, Vadim. Thank you." he purred

Vadim offered him a handshake. "I do my best, doctor. I pray it's enough."

"As do I." Daniel shook his hand "As do I."

"Should we get going, Doctor?" Fenya asked.

Daniel nodded "let's." He offered his arm "until later, Vadim."

"See you tomorrow morning, doctor," he nodded, and got busy with his papers, as Fenya took Daniel's arm and headed out of the office.

Daniel walked with her, down the halland towards the front door. "well..that went well."

"It did," she agreed. "Surprisingly well…."

"Save for the run in with his wife."

"yes," Fenya mused. "I'd prefer to not have to run into her again…."

"I have to say it wasn't a flattering first impression. I was about to give her the benefit of the doubt, too."

"Apparently it wasn't earned unfortunately. Did we want to try to talk to that man of Morozov's or hurry away?""

"I'm not *certain* " he frowned "What do you make of the man?"

"I'm not sure honestly," she admits. "He didn't say much."

"then let's give him a chance' he chuckled "… then move on to the… ah, Rookery."

Fenya nodded. "I think he said he'd be downstairs… if he's still here."

"Indeed." He mused as he started down the stairs

Unfortunately, when they arrived downstairs, Morozov's assistant was nowhere to be seen.

But Marta was there. And she didn't look happy.

Daniel fussed with his tie "ah, Marta." He said pleasantly "It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

She crossed her arms. "I wish that I could say the same."

"hm." Daniel sighed "I can tell you're not much a fan of me, are you?"

She sniffed derisively. "I'm not a fan of anyone trying to push my husband around."

"I'm not trying to push your husband around." Daniel said with a note of annoyance. "… when I asked who to speak to about closing the town in this convoluted nightmare of a political situation your town has, I was told the Governor. I followed the channels that *I was pointed to* to get what needed to be done, done. You can't blame me for following the procedure as it was *explained to me*"

"And who told you to speak to the governor, hmmm?"

Daniel shrugged "… the captain. I was told the governor had the authorization to enact a lockdown. Regardless your husband seems far more concerned about the lives of his people than some trifling thing like who I spoke to to get it done"

She sneered. "That witless idiot. Trying to sabotage my husband's power…."

"You know, Marta." Daniel crossed his arms "you seem far more concerned with your husband's power than you do about much else." He raised his eyebrow "your *husband* doesn't take this as a slight. He's only concerned about stopping this illness and helping his people… yet here you are, lamenting only the presumed loss of his power in town, rather than the bodies already filling your streets."

The color drained out of Marta's ears. "That's not…. I didn't mean…. don't paint me as some heartless monster! H-how dare you!" She turned around and started for the door in a hurry.

"I'm not painting you as a monster." Daniel said, stepping towards her "I'm simply asking you to *stop blaming me* for perceived slights that don't exist and look at the larger picture!"

She kept her back to him, still walking toward the door. "Fine…. of course… you're right."

"So will you drop the animosity and bloody speak to me?" he said.

She paused and turned to face him, her ears drooping. "I don't know what there is to talk about but if you insist."

"you spoke of curses earlier."

"Yes…." she nods, looking at him with hesitation.

"I'd like to hear what you know on the subject."

"On the subject of the curse ravaging the town? You won't believe me so I doubt there's a point."

"Behind each myth or legend, there's a grain of truth." Daniel drawled "… I believe we're all looking at the same bloody thing through different lenses. Your perception will help me narrow down my own to find a solution."

She crossed her arms. "Alright, fine." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "It manifests in the blood, does it not?"

"it does. It turns it black and sludge like."

She nodded. "And the source of the blood is the heart," Marta said. "and the heart's purifier is *the phylactery*."

"Those little dolls I've seen about." He raised his eyebrow "….and how do they work?"

"They trap the evil that's attracted to a person's heart and keep it away from it. If the phylactery is intact. Of course if you had someone's phylactery you could do as you please with it."

"in..what way?" Daniel asked curiously

"Just as I said," she sniffed. "It's a direct connection to someone's heart. You could poison it, or anything you wanted. It might be how the curse started."

"poison it." he mused "..hm." He looked perturbed for a moment "it's a little… far fetched, but.."

She shook her head. "If *I* were you, I'd look into the phylacteries. Unless the curse really is from the town masters. In which case, as the dock workers say-- we're fucked."

"No, I don't think it's from the masters." Daniel mused "the wording of it is more like a **warning** if anything. Warning that if they aren't there, the heart will start to rot and die… I think it has something to do with their monthly ritual."

"Monthly ritual?" she frowned.

"Something I stumbled upon in my research." he mused. "….can't say much about it at this moment. May I ask, instead, what your relationship with Mistress Nika was?"

"I can't say that I had any to speak of," Marta said with a frown. "She gave her blessing to my wedding, and that was basically it."

"no?" He mused "Interesting…." He shook his head "… can I ask, instead, how you met Vadim?"

She flushed and her ears flicked. "Ah… well…. he came up to me in the market," she murmured.

Daniel nodded, leaning on the wall as he listened

"D-did you want more than that?" she asked nervously.

Fenya snorted.

"yes." Daniel laughed, a bit under his breath "if you don't mind."

"He… came up to me and said I was beautiful. And he told me he wanted to woo me."

"how romantic." Daniel said "wasn't he all set to be engaged at that point?"

"I… well.. he was betrothed since childhood, yes."

Daniel nodded "I got the sense that Mistress NIka was very involved in matchmaking."

"That seems likely," she nodded. "I mean, the town masters felt they could meddle in anyone's lives they wanted!"

"I've noticed that." he agreed 'they… seemed to dip their fingers in everyone's life… and cause all manner of trouble while they did. I don't have much respect for them."

"I can't say that I do either," she sniffed. "But Vadim loved her very much, so…." She shrugged.

"It makes sense, I suppose. I had heard he was her favorite."

"Probably," she sniffed. "But the old woman couldn't keep him all to herself."

"no, it seems she couldn't." He chuckled "she spoke in some diary entries as if you bewitched the man. Ridiculous as that seems."

"As if she wasn't a witch!" the woman snapped.

"Indeed." Daniel said, not flinching at her raised voice

"So I don't see where she gets off spreading rumors about me."

"I don't know if it was *spreading rumors* per say, as much as a private musing but…"

"And you were reading her private diary then?" the woman blinked.

Daniel rubbed his hand on his neck, laughing as his ears flicked "I… happened onto pieces of it, here and there."

"I… see…" she frowned. "Can I see it?"

Daniel glanced at Fenya

Fenya looked dubious about the idea.

"i'm afraid I didn't bring them with me." He said with an easy smile "perhaps another time?"

"Another time," she frowned. "Though I suppose you;ll be quite busy."

"Given that I'm attempting to stop this curse, or illness?" He chuckled weakly "yes."

She nodded. "Yes…. Did you have anything else you wanted from me?"

"no. that should be all for now." he said "be safe. "

She nodded. "….you as well, doctor. Good evening."

And then she hurried away.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "hm."

"Hmmm is right," Fenya agreed.

"… interesting conversation, I suppose."

"It certainly was," she nodded. "I think we got more out of her than we would have without you cowing her."

Daniel chuckled "I was… sort of sick and tired of that attitude." He admitted "that utter damned selfishness."

"I can't blame you. She was getting under my nerves as well."

"Treating the spread of this outbreak like a personal insult to her husband's power is…" he frowned "… yes, not ideal."

"Far from it," Fenya said. "Selfish and petty more like."

"Precisely." Daniel grimaced "so I put a stop to it."

"Magnificently," she smirked. "What do you think of what she said afterward?"

He smirked slightly "I think the whole business about the phylacteries was… interesting. A 'filter' for the soul. hah." He paused "i also feel the whole… romantic situation… may be more complex than initially believed. "

"I agree about the phylacteries. More complex how, doctor?" she asked.

"I feel as if there was more going on there." He shook his head "… several people in town all entangled in what can only be described as a 'fucking romantic mess'. I did note how concerned she felt with her husband's power, rather than… say, how he felt about the whole thing."

Fenya nodded. "Fucking romantic mess sounds about right. As for her concern about power--- in a place like this women don't have much of their own. Marrying for power can… be a motivating factor."

"Indeed, and I can hardly blame her for it." He frowned "especially with the Masters hoarding anything they could get for themselves." He shook his head "… It's just not the time to be worried about such things."

"not when lives are on the line."

"True enough," she sighed. "Do you think we got anything worthwhile from her?"

"a little bit." He mused "… I think we got a little bit."

"Then it wasn't time wasted."

"no. It wasn't.." He gestured "shall we move to the Rookery?"

Fenya pulled her watch out of her pocket.. "It's 6 oclock."

"… damn." he hissed under his breath "… maybe push it to tomorrow."

"After breakfast with the mayor or get up and do it before that?"

"before." Daniel mused "before that."

"Alright," she nodded, making a note of it. "Do we go to the chernoff's then? or retire to the post office and try to make sense of the blanket?"

"… nothing says we won't have time to study the blanket after dinner." he murmured

Fenya nodded. "Let's go then. I'd say we deserve something to eat after today. Lugging around people and suchlike."

"Damn right we do." He sighed "It's been a hell of a day, and we deserve a good meal."

"Whatever else her qualities may be," Fenya says holding the door for Daniel. "Darya is at least a good cook."

Daniel laughed as he stepped outside 'you're certainly right about that, Fenya."

The fog was dense. The sky was black. They were shrouded in night and it was only about dinner time.

Daniel looked up at the dark sky "…..this place is getting to me, Fenya." he murmured "this sky is..unsettling."

She leaned in close to him. "I can't say I disagree. It's barely sunset and yet…."

"and it's as dark as midnight." he put his arm around her, walking through the dark

"Darker than some midnights," she agreed.

"… it makes me wonder just what's going on here. it's not *natural*"

"It certainly isn't. It makes it feel like it's… all connected."

"indeed. But the question is finding the right pieces to make the full damn picture."

"Maybe we'll have more pieces tonight."

"perhaps we will." He chuckled "… with that blanket and this knife."

"And the coin."

"and the coin. the piece that may crack this whole thing wide open." he murmured

"I hope so," Fenya said. "It's certainly a promising lead."

"it is… and given to us from such a… strange source."

"Another of your mysterious figures."

"… I keep running into those, don't I?"

"It seems like it," Fenya chuckled. "More than me at any rate."

He laughed "you haven't met any mysterious mute children or shadowy women from the fog?"

"When you say it like that I almost feel unwelcome," she joked.

He chuckled, walking with her "Maybe it's just my magnetic personality"

"Maybe it is," she smirked. They didn't see anyone on the street as they walked. It seemed at least in this area, people had gotten the message of the quarantine.

Daniel looked around "Good, we managed to make at least *some* people listen to our quarantine."

"Thank goodness," she sighed. "Not everyone around here is *completely* unreasonable."

"just the majority of people' he drawled, heading towards the farmhouse

"I suppose they wouldn't be people, otherwise," she sighed as they reached the steps of the now quiet farmhouse. They could see the lit lamps glowing inside.

Daniel knocked firmly on the door as he approached "to be troublesome is to be a person, I suppose."

"I've always found it very troublesome," she agreed.

Darchick answered the door with big, serious eyes. Her face lit up with a little smile when she saw them.

"hi."

Daniel grinned at her "Good evening, young lady." He chuckled " I hope we're not too late for dinner."

Darchick shook her head. "Not yet."

Fenya chuckled. "Sounds like we're just in time then."

"And after dinner… how would you like a story, Darchick?"

"Yes!" Darchick nodded. "It's why you came?"

"It's why we came," Fenya agreed with a chuckle.

"It is." Daniel nodded, "dinner is a pleasant side benefit."

Darhick nodded, and let them inside quietly.

Daniel stepped inside, fixing his tie as he looked around the increasingly familiar little home.

It was quiet this evening. Daniel could hear the sound of the fire crackling from the kitchen and parlor. As dark as it was outside, it was warm and cozy in the farmhouse.

Daniel leaned to peek into the kitchen "Good evening, everyone."

'Everyone' in this case was just Darya, as Darchick followed him into the room.

"Doctor."

Daniel chuckled "Hope you don't mind us dropping by."

"Not at all," Darya said. "I half expected you."

"I did say we'd try to stop by. and I wanted to make sure we got that chance for a story."

"I'm pleased you did," she nodded. "Darchick's been after it all day."

Daniel laughed "Is that so, Darchick?" he looked at the girl with an amused smirk

"I wanna hear about New Astoria and the gangs."

The little girl looked up at him intensely.

Daniel grinned "you're still curious about Viv's Vipers and the New Astorian frontier? Well alright, I've got the story for you."

"Dinner's going to be a little longer," Darya said. "Why don't you get it out of the way first."

Daniel chuckled, "well, alright. I can't say no to that."

"Take her into the parlor then, if you will," Darya said. "I'll call you when supper's ready."

Daniel nodded, and walked towards the parlor "come along, Darchick," he said "let's see where we left off."

Darchick padded after him and Fenya as they came into the parlor. There was a nice fire crackling waiting for them.

"You said the other gang was really bad."

Daniel nodded, settling down in one of the chairs "ah yes, the gang lead by a man said to be an unkillable demon"

Darchick settled down on the floor cross legged in front of him looking up at him, while Fenya took a nearby chair, grinning cattishly.

Daniel brushed his hair over his ear, and chuckled "they called him a **hellhound** and no matter how many times they shot him, hung him, or drowned him… he always came back alive and whole."

"Was it a bunch of twin brothers?" Darchick asked with consternation.

"haha. No, No, he was the only one of his family. No brothers, no siblings at all. He was just **unnaturally hardy** and he used that hardiness to kill and maim whoever he wished… to commit crime after crime with no repercussions."

Darchick listened enraptured to the tale. "Gross."

Fenya raised her eyebrows. "So that's what drew you out there," she smirked.

Daniel laughed "indeed it was. And when I arrived, well….they didn't take kindly to some scientist poking about. So I found myself captured by bandits."

'You got captured?" Darchick asked. "How come you're not dead?"

"well, that would be on account of Vivian and her Vipers." he chuckled. "See….. Vivian hated the Hellhound with a passion. And she rode in intending on trying to take him out one more time. Only they noticed me there, tied up and awaiting an untimely death." He tilted his head "next thing you know, I'm bound to a horse as some man who looks like a demon straight out of a fairy tale rides me off into the bloody sunset."

"This demon-- was he related to the hellhound?" Fenya asked.

"no, it turns out he didn't know why he was so different from everyone else. They told all kinds of fanciful stories about how he was some… child from the 'other side', who was taken in and raised by farmers before he ran off to join the gang."

"Like a goblin?" Darchick asked, sucking on her fingers.

"like a goblin." he nodded "I never got a better answer than that…." He chuckled "that's about when they dragged me to their camp, however. And I met the band of outlaws for the first time. Interesting lot… from all over the world of Gaea. Some of them men, some of them women, and all of them as feisty and ferocious as a bobcat."

"They sound great," Darchick said around her fingers.

"They were… rather charming." he chuckled, "their leaders were a bandit from Dorado named Vivian, and her husband, a holy man of New Astoria. Not astorian, mind you, but one of those who were there before we arrived."

"Bandit from dorito," Darchick nodded. "Dorado," Fenya chuckled.

Daniel chuckled "Close though." He leaned on his hand "they were tough as nails, having been raiding Astorian army routes for years… and fighting off the gangs in the area, to keep their area of the western frontier safe and free from the ever growing Law and Order of the east."

"I can imagine a band of outlaws wouldn't be all that pleased with encroaching civilization," Fenya chuckled.

"no, they certainly weren't." he laughed "…" He paused "especially since that encroaching civilization seemed rather keen on snuffing out parts of their lives that they held fairly dear. Traditions, and the like."

"Traditions?" Darchick asked. "Like stealing stuff?"

Daniel chuckled "no, not stealing stuff." he smirked "more like… their practices. Local faiths and beliefs….and celebrations. Their way of life before people from outside came about."

"Ooooh. Like the church here," she nodded.

Fenya raised an eyebrow. "Not untrue."

"exactly like that." Daniel nodded "but with more roads and officials, and less burnings." He paused "less, but not none.'

Darchick nodded, apparently satisfied with the answer. "So they rescued you?"

"they did, they saved me from the Hellhound and offered to help me get the information they needed provided I do something for them in return."

"Kill somebody?" the girl asked.

He laughed "… no. Nothing so drastic. They wanted me to act as the camp medic for a while and tutor their daughter, little Lulu."

"Oh!" she nodded. "you said about Lulu."

"yes, the little spitfire daughter of a bandit camp. The world's….fiercest little troublemaker. You'd like her. She's… energetic."

"She sounds fun."

"She's a handful," Fenya said, eying the liquor cabinet.

"She's a nightmare made flesh." Daniel drawled. "But she was certainly an adventure. She dragged me about with one Morton Arbor, a rather charming young man who acted as one of Vivian's lieutenants. Even dragged me on a heist, if you believe it or not."

He paused "it wasn't supposed to be a heist. but Little Lulu certainly tried her damndest to make it end up that way."

"So you participated in a heist then, Danochka?" Fenya chuckled.

"… participated is a strong word. Advised against it as we slowly found ourselves increasingly drawn into an altercation on a train….and a hail of bullets….during which we managed to slip away with a fair sum of Astorian Gold…." He paused "that's how I would put it 'advised strongly against it as all hell broke loose'"

Fenya chuckled. "Well done, at any rate."

"Did you sock any guards?" Darchick asked.

"It was an adventure, Fenya." He chuckled "and… well. I may have… managed to sock a guard or two." He cleared his throat "I wound up taking their captain hostage with my scalpel….so… I could buy them time to slip away."

"Was it scary?" Darchick asked, rapt.

"Terrifying. I'd never been shot at by an entire guard platoon before, much less atop a speeding train hurtling towards God knows where." He paused "we were meant to go out to get *Bloody Groceries*, not a Union Bank Shipment"

Fenya couldn't help but chuckle. "Looks like that's what happens when you hang around with bandits."

"you get dragged into bandit nonsense." he laughed "but I toughed it out… even got to be good friends with the gang." He cleared his throat "they liked my lockpicking skills."

"Lockpicking?" Darchick asked.

"Dinner!!" Darya called from the other room.

"ah, tales of thievery will have to wait, young lady. It's dinner time."

Darchick pouted. "Awwww…."

"after dinner, perhaps." He stood with a chuckle "now off you go to the table."

Darchick nodded, and scurried off, leaving the two of them in the room.

"I can't blame her for wanting to know more," Fenya teased.

"no, I can't either." He chuckled "it's a rather exciting story, I suppose."

"Was it as exciting to live through I wonder?"

"Nerve wracking." he chuckled "but yes, exciting."

She offered him her arm. "Well-- shall we go to dinner?"

"We shall." he took her arm, and stood fluidly "after you, Fenya."

They headed into the kitchen where Darya had prepared dinner. It was fish sausages and potatoes in a kind of loose pie, and plates had been laid out for them.

There was a plate presumably for Konstantin, but he hadn't arrived yet.

Daniel took a seat at the table with a smile "Hello again, Darya."

"Hello again, Doctor," she said, bustling busily around the kitchen before she sat down with them. "How went the story."

"It's not finished," Darchick complained.

"We reached the part about the train heist, and had to break for dinner." Daniel chuckled

"well, if you like you can be the one to put her to bed then," Darya said with a nod.

"Please?" Darchick looked at them with big eyes.

"Gladly." Daniel chuckled "You don't' mind, do you Fenya?"

Fenya shook her head. "Certainly not. It would be a shame to leave the story unfinished."

"It would be." He ran his hand through his hair, before adjusting his tie before dinner. "it'll be a plan, then."

Darchick had already started eating, despite her mother's clucks.

"Should we wait for your husband?" Daniel asked

"I'm surprised he isn't here yet," Darya said with a frown. "He must be busy…"

"… I wonder if it has to do with the… ah… thing. we had seen earlier."

Darya raised an eyebrow. "I suppose it might."

"… then he may be rather occupied for a bit." Daniel mused

"Well then I suppose I'll warm it up for him later," Darya grumped.

"Might be for the best." Daniel sighed "sorry.It may be partially our fault"

She waved her hand. "It won't be the first time he hasn't been around for dinner. It won't be the last."

"So I imagine." Daniel grimaced, before he started in on his pie "it's his loss, as this looks lovely."

"Flatterer," she said with sour, but present, humor, as she tucked in as well.

Daniel took a bite of fish sausage, tasting it. "I do try."

Dinner was good, and since Darchick was with them Darya kept the small talk as light as possible.

Daniel ate the hearty meal, enjoying every second of it after the long and arduous day.

Fenya was in good spirits as they ate and chatted-- a lot better now after a rest it seemed.

Daniel also started feeling much better after eating. The day had taken a lot out of them.

Konstantin never came to join them.

"..hm." Daniel mused as he finished up "is he usually out this late?"

"Not usually," Darya admitted. "And it's very dark. Perhaps I should go check on him."

"I'll go with you." Daniel said "best you don't go alone in conditions like this.'

Darya nodded. "Alright…. "

"And I'll take Darchick to bed," Fenya offered. "You can join me when you're ready, Danochka."

"i'll have the story ready." Daniel purred "promise."

Darchick nodded as Fenya helped her up. "You'd better!"

Daniel laughed "I will, I promise, I won't leave you hanging on a cliffhanger forever."

"Good!" she nodded. "Good luck, doctor," Fenya said with a smile. "We'll be waiting."

Daniel tipped his head in a nod "thank you, Fenya. We'll be back shortly." He grabbed his coat, and headed for the door

Darya walked swiftly alongside him. "So… what is this thing you think my husband may have been doing?"

She pushed open the door and a swirl of dark fog came inside.

"we found a corpse of one of your workers in the field" Daniel explained "… we reported it to the guard. He was killed in the same way as victims of that vampire of yours"

Darya's ears flattened and her nose blanched. "A *corpse*?" she demanded, her voice strangled.

He nodded with a frown, his ears tipping back "it… was a bit of a startling find, Darya."

"I would say so!!" she hissed. "Did you tell my husband?"

"admittedly no, but I told the guard who likely alerted him…"

"I see," she murmured as they headed outside. "He didn't tell me anything."

"he may not have wanted to worry you" Daniel mused charitably as he walked through the darkness and the fog

"I suppose," she said. "Should we call out to him? The field is large."

Daniel nodded slowly " yes… but be careful" His fingers rested on his gun "… I've been attacked a few times. Enough to know not to tempt fate in the dark"

She nodded. "… understood," she murmured. She cupped her hands around her mouth. "Konstantin!!" she called out.

The sound echoed through the fog around them.

Daniel winced at the echo, listening closely for any reply

Darya too listened and waited-- but no answer came.

She called out again.

"this is… concerning" he murmured

"Perhaps we should check in the house…" she grimaced.

"maybe the guest house" he frowned "… do you think?'

"That's… possible," she agreed.

"He might have gone to check on my patient." he murmured, heading towards it

Darya followed right behind him, quick and anxious.

Daniel pulled his gun from his holster "… the night here seems… uncomfortably dangerous,at times."

"I did warn you," she said.

"you did." he frowned "I didn't think it'd be so literal."

They made it through the fog to the little guest house which sat sulking in the darkness.

Daniel approached slowly, before calling out "KONSTANTIN?"

No one answered.

Daniel attempted to open the door, cautiously

The door creaked open ominously under his hand, sucking in fog from the outside.

Daniel frowned, and peered slowly inside "… Konstantin?"

And there was Konstantin-- lying on the floor.

Darya didn't scream but Daniel heard an intake of air.

Daniel hissed through his teeth "son of a bitch." He raised his pistol, and peered around the room "….he didn't let the damned man *loose* did he?"

No…. Elias was lying there as usual, buckled down. That was one blessing.

Daniel frowned, and bent down near Konstantin, to look him over "… damnation."

Konstantin was asleep. There was black in his ears, and he was clutching something in his fist.

"….Damn it all to hell." Daniel hissed, and attempted to pry it from is fist "damn it!"

Konstantin groaned in his sleep, and his fingers came away. It was a scrap of paper.

Daniel looked it over in the dim light "he's sick, Darya… don't get too close."

"Sick?" Dayra breathed. "Damnation I should have known…."

As for the note…. it was Elias' handwriting.

"…." Daniel read it over "a note from Elias….?"

Most of it was illegible, rubbed out by something moist. But the rest… *pire appears to be a living person, as far as I've been able to tell. It seems to me that it may be someone who has discovered the ritual of the Heart but is unable to complete it, necessitating the transfer of blood from hu*

Daniel frowned deeper "…..it's about the vampire." he muttered, and pocketed the note "… what in hell's name was he doing in here?"

"What do you mean by that?" Darya hissed.

Daniel read it out loud to her "….the ritual of the heart, but if it's incomplete, they become someone dependent on the blood of another."

She frowned. "Ritual of the heart?… is that…."

"… that's what I'm trying to find." Daniel admitted "… that's the **[key]** to all this, I'm sure of it."

She nodded. "Alright. My husband is he…. dead?"

"no.." Daniel shook his head. "he's asleep. In the same dreaming coma as Elias."

She frowned. "Of course," she sighed. "It was too much to hope for he wouldn't catch it."

"Indeed… he was close to people who had it, and I imagine he kept visiting Elias despite my warnings."

"Very likely," She sighed. "well I suppose no work was being done on the field with or without him at this rate."

"indeed." Daniel murmured "… we'll have to take him to the hospital."

"To Sasha?"

"yes." Daniel said "we can't risk him spreading it to you or your children, so it's best to put him in isolation with the rest."

Darya nodded. "I'll send a message. Should we leave him here until then?"

"… perhaps." Daniel sighed "I'm sorry this happened."

She shook her head. "I should have predicted it. Its not *your* fault I suppose."

"No, it's bloody well not." Daniel snorted "it's… the way of disease to spread.'

Darya sighs. "well. for his sake and the sake of everyone else I pray you find a way to stop this thing."

"..I'm working very hard at it." Daniel murmured "… very hard."

She nodded. "I trust you," she said. "If you manage it-- then I'll have faith in you."

"…." Daniel smiled at her "that means quite a bit coming from you, Darya. Thank you."

She nodded silently to him. "we should get back to the house," she said after a moment. "Should someone put him in the bed with Elias?"

"… it can't hurt at this point." Daniel mused.

"Me or you, doctor?"

"Me. " he made sure his mask was in place, as he picked the man up.

Konstantin was… a fairly heavy man, but Daniel managed to navigate arranging him on the bed next to Elias alright.

Daniel grimaced, as he moved to cover him up "there we go."

Darya nodded, still outside. "Thank you, doctor."

Daniel nodded, and backed out of the room "you're quite welcome." he sighed "….this is less than ideal, I'll admit."

"That;;s one way to put it," Darya said dryly.

"Don't be too worried for him… I intend to find the cure in short order."

Darya nodded. "I'll keep it in mind doctor….. thank you again."

"you're welcome Darya. It's the least I can do."

She nodded. "We should get back to the house. Unless there's more you need to do."

"not at the moment" he sighed "there's not much I can do right now"

"I thought as much," she nodded, sighing sourly.

"in the morning I may have something to help" he purred

"I won't pry and use your time unwisely."

"I appreciate" he chuckled "I..have some medicine"

"I see," she nodded. She motioned for him to follow her back through the fog to the house.

Daniel followed, still tense and very aware of the darkness and fog

Darya was silent as they reached the safety of the house.

Daniel leaned on the doorframe for a moment "… what a mess." he murmured

Darya shook her head. "So it goes," she said, pushing the door open. "If you can keep the curse from destroying us all I will consider it a miracle."

"i'll be doing my best… just… keep your children inside and safe, hm? And don't take any unnecessary risks."

She nodded. "I certainly don't plan to do so."

"good… and I'll take care of your husband and the rest."

"I appreciate it," she said, letting him inside, back into the warmth and light.

Daniel breathed out a sigh of relief as he stepped inside "… well, that… put a damper on things"

"It certainly did," she frowned.

"….are you going to be alright?"

Darya gave him a measured look. "Your concern is… appreciated doctor."

"I'm glad.." he raised his eyebrow at her "..hm"

She cocked her head at him. "Yes, doctor?"

"I was just thinking about something, that's all ..a few things, really. " He paused "I met Marta earlier."

She raised her eyebrows. "You did?"

"I ran into her when I stopped by to see Vadim" he paused "she's…." He paused "well she was dreadfully unpleasant"

"I could have told you that," she muttered. "But I'm glad to hear your opinion mirrors my own."

"I gave her a piece of my mind and I do think I've shamed her into not being so callous, however." he smirked

"well!" Darya looked impressed. "We;ll see if that sticks."

"I hope so." he chuckled "… she was acting more worried about her husband's reputation and power than the bloody corpses in the street and that… irritated me."

She snorted. "Yes, that sounds like Marta alright. Always concerned about her own status."

"Is she always like that?" he raised his eyebrow

"Constantly," she said. "Ever since I met her."

"Did you know her well before the ah..incident?"

"We'd met on occasion."

"What..did she do before becoming the mayor's wife?"

"I believe she was the daughter of a fishmonger."

"But not the *big* fishmonger in town." Daniel chuckled "… so she went from the bottom to the top, it seems… or so she was supposed to."

Darya nodded. "I would wager that was the idea, yes."

"It sounds like a complicated situation." he paused "though I suppose I accidentally gave Vadim a minor panic by mistake."

"Gave him a panic?" she asked.

"… I was asking if the handwriting on a note matched Nika's." he paused "and I gave him… well. The note about him and Marta."

"… doctor….miracle worker or not, you're a moron."

She smirked as she said it-- and didn't look displeased.

Daniel rubbed the back of his neck, his ears flicking "I've been told." he said dryly

"Good," she nodded. She paused for a moment before asking. "How did he react?"

"he seemed to have a minor existential crisis where he wondered if perhaps she'd cast a spell on him."

"I see…." She looked pleased… and then a little sad….

Daniel leaned on the doorframe, looking at her with a note of sympathy "sorry, Darya."

She shook her head. "It's nothing…."

"may I ask?'

"I'm afraid there's nothing interesting to say," she shook her head.

"Interesting or no, why don't you tell me Darya. You never know."

She sighed. "I just… i wonder if knowing it will change anything."

"I suppose that's the question, isn't it?" He sighed with her. "… it's a tricky situation"

"Very," she agreed with another long suffering sigh.

"… Honestly." Daniel said "… i'm not sure. Things have changed since those old days."

"For worse in most cases."

"and better in others." Daniel pointed out

"I…. suppose," she conceded. "Well, thanks to you the truth is out."

"It is." Daniel nodded slowly "… who knows what'll affect."

"And there's plenty of other things happening right now that may sway things one way or another…."

"up to and including horrific plague."Daniel said dryly "… which I need to solve as soon as possible.'

She nodded, starting to put the dinner things away. "I'm afraid I can't contradict that."

Daniel thought for a long moment, leaning on the wall "….regardless, I hope you find happiness, Darya."

"I suppose we'll have to see," she sighed. "as ever, I'll settle for survival."

"Sometimes that's the best thing you *can* do. " he admitted

She nodded slowly in agreement.

"Need help cleaning?" he offered

She shook her head and waved him off. "My daughter will be waiting for you."

He chuckled "alright" He nodded his head to her in thanks, and gestured "her room's that way, yes?"

She nodded. "Second from the left, up the stairs."

Daniel nodded once, before heading up the stairs with a deep breath

The door that Darya had indicated was propped open slightly.

Daniel pushed the door open, and poked his head in. "hello."

The light in here was soft, and he found Darchick already asleep in her bed, with Fenya sitting beside her, apparently asleep with her head against the wall gently.

Daniel chuckled "ah, It looks like I missed storytime."

Fenya snorted slightly and said up, yawning. "Well, she's invited us back for next time."

Daniel nodded "i'll be pleased to do so . I have a story to finish, after all." He smirked, "… you alright?'

"Looks like I dozed off myself," she nodded, straightening her dress as she stood up. It seemed like she wasn't going to ask about the girl's father while they were in the room.

Daniel tipped his head to the side "shall we?"

Fenya offered him her hand. "Lets."

Daniel took her hand, and walked out of the room with a heavy sigh "… so..>"

"Give me the bad news," she said.

"… he's caught the plague." Daniel said slowly "… he's already in a state where he's in a coma."

Fenya sighed. "I worried that might be the case."

"yes… we found him crumpled with a curious note in his hand, right by Elias."

"With a note?" she raised an eyebrow.

Daniel nodded, and showed it to her "this note."

She looked it over. "Well… that's relevant," she murmured.

"it is, isn't it? And… I suppose it makes sense when you think about it.."

"It does," she nodded. "It also means that the vampire is someone who knows the lore of the town."

"indeed." Daniel purred "meaning if we catch them…"

"They'd likely have at least some insight into the ritual."

Daniel smirked, "I think we have a new goal to add to the rest, Fenya."

"I'll make a note," she nodded. "oh…. I might have something as well. Probably nothing but…."

"Might I ask?"

She nodded. "Just before she went to sleep, Darchick mentioned that the children apparently have some kind of treasure hidden in the ruins of the church. or beneath them. rather."

"… a treasure, is it? Perhaps we should poke around while they're occupied with quarantine.'

"Might be a good idea," she nodded.

"I'm curious just what it is."

"I couldn't get much out of her but she implied it might be something related to their 'leader'."

"… the Captain's boy? or…"

"Given how tight lipped she became after the slip…."

"….it may also have something to do with the carver, now that I think of it.

She nodded. "That was my thought."

"Then we'll add it to the itinerary."

She marked it too, off on her book. "We should get back to the post office I suppose."

"I suppose we should." Daniel nodded "we have a night of translation ahead, if nothing else."

"And I recall you promised a report to the governor each morning."

"… ugh." Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose "Damn it."

She patted him on the back. "Sorry, Danochka."

"It's… not ideal." he admitted "but I won't complain too much."

She smiled. "if you give me a summary of what to put in, I can help."

Daniel nodded, "I can give you a general idea." he held her hand "you're a grand help, Fenya."

"I know," she smirked. "You can thank me later." She squeezed his hand and they headed down the stairs.

"oh, I will. I'll find a way to repay you in no time." daniel purred

her ears flicked gently and she smiled a bit slyly. "You're a resourceful man I've noticed."

His ears flicked as well with the compliment, and he chuckled "You have to be, to survive in the University."

"True enough," she chuckled as they headed back out into the darkness.

He walked with her down the darkened streets, one hand by his pistol belt as he went "I'm happy to turn those resources towards helping you for all you've done."

The night was dark and and foggy, and a few drops of rain fell from the heavy sky as they walked. "Oh that is *very* appreciated, doctor, I assure you." Fenya too, looked wary, even as they chatted.

Daniel chuckled softly, his eyes on the alert as he scanned the darkness ahead "it's the least I can do, Fenya."

It seemed at least for tonight as they walked, that everyone was obeying the new quarantine. They came upon a guard, who was standing, smoking at the crossroad. As they approached he put it out. "Return to your home. There's a quarantine one," the guard said firmly.

Daniel chuckled softly "… I'm Doctor Daniel Delgrave. I've been given special permission to investigate.'

"o-oh! Doctor!" the man immediately snapped into a salute. "the captain told us you had permission to be about."

Daniel smirked, saluting him back "we do, but thank you for being diligent, my friend."

The man squared his shoulders and nodded, "Thank you, sir. The captain told us this was an important assignment. Have to say, glad I didn't wind up posted at the fishery though…."

"is it rough down there at the moment?" He raised his eyebrow

"All's quiet now, s'far as I know," he nodded. "But it was a mess this evening tellin' the workers they couldn't come back in the morning. I heard some of em thought we were taking their jobs."

Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose "… that's what I was afraid of. No, nobody's taking their bloody jobs… this is for the health and safety of everyone here. There's been at least another 3 victims today."

The guard grimaced. "Personally, sir I'm damned terrified," he grumbled. "But some men think they're immortal, y'see? or like keeping some damned shop open is more important than anything else without thinking about how they're gonna work if they're dead."

Daniel nodded slowly "yes, that sounds like people alright." He sighed "They don't realize that in two bloody weeks, if I'm given the time to work… they'll likely be back to work, healthy and whole, like nothing ever happened."

"Well doctor, let's hope we can keep em in check that long eh?" He nodded. "Good luck."

"Good luck to you and yours, as well. We couldn't do it without you."

"Thank you sir!"

Daniel saluted the man "now, I must be off, long night ahead of us."

"Well, one dutiful guard at least," Fenya chuckled once they were a bit away.

Daniel nodded with a smile "indeed, It's good to know some people take this seriously. I'm proud."

"Sounds like the captain really impressed on everyone how important this is…"

"Indeed." He looked pleased as they headed towards the Post Office "as well he should have."

Fenya nodded. "Indeed. The trouble at the fishery…. that's not great though."

"no, no it isn't." he frowned "… I was afraid it would happen. Men like that don't understand the greater good in the least."

"Problematic," she sighed. "I hope no one does anything too terribly rash…"

The post office glowed with light from inside as they approached.

"No we can hope not." Daniel murmured "… though we have to be prepared, just in case."

"At this point I worry we need to be prepared for anything," she said, opening the door. The little postmaster Mitya was asleep in his chair.

Daniel chuckled, closing the door behind them and locking it tightly "it seems MItya's already fallen asleep."

"I suspect he's been pulling long nights," Fenya said quietly. "At least we've got the new locks."

She paused. "Danochka, I just realized…."

Daniel glanced at her "… yes, Fenya?"

She leaned in and quietly murmured. "Marta's his mother."

"….." Daniel tugged his collar "… ah."

She nodded, looking a little pained. "Lets… not wake him. I'll put on some tea upstairs and we can get to work."

Daniel grimaced slightly, and headed up the stairs "that's… a good plan, Fenya"

Fenya followed him quietly upstairs. Mitya had started the fire for them again, so at least it was nice and warm-- though they'd probably have to poke it a bit to get it above a mere warm glow.

Daniel began to gently poke the fire, adding to it to rouse it to a proper blaze.

"Thank you, Danochka," Fenya smiled, shrugging out of her heavy topcoat. "But yes… I feel rather sorry for Mitya…."

Daniel shrugged out of his jacket "as do I." He shook his head "He's a good lad."

"He is… he's done a lot to help us," she said, starting the water for tea.

She paused. "I suppose he takes a bit after his father."

"Very much." Daniel chuckled softly "knowing them both now… I can see how he takes after Vadim. Soft spoken, a tad nervous, but ultimately very kind and helpful."

Fenya nodded. "Yes that's exactly how I'd put it. He does seem a *tad* bit more ambitious than his father though."

"I suppose it can't be helped, Fenya." He shook his head "his father was pretty much raised to be unambitious."

"True enough," she agreed, with a shake of her head. "what madness."

"utter madness. this entire town has been twisted entirely by the madness of four ancient, dead bastards."

"Whose influence utterly refuses to go away," she nodded.

"By design. they twisted this entire town to their power structure… influenced everyone and everything, right down to who could marry who, and wormed their way into every facet of the people's lives."

"Speaking personally Danochka, I *really* hate that."

Daniel nodded slowly "I absolutely and utterly despise it, Fenya."

"Maybe getting to the bottom of this plague will help set things right."

"that's the hope. Hopefully this shakeup is enough to… shake off the last of their influence."

Fenya nodded. She spread the blanket out on the bed, so that the whole pattern was visible. "we can certainly hope," she agreed.

Daniel stood over it, pulling out the coin and looking down on it "we just need to wade through all this nonsense to get there."

"So we do," she nodded. "Do you have an approach in mind?"

"yes… I want to match up as many of these symbols as we can…" he mused

"Would you like my help with it or would you like me to get started on the report?"

"hm." he mused "… if you could get started on the report, that may be a big help. If I have trouble I can always ask for assistance…"

Fenya nodded. "Of course, Danochka. Good luck to us both." She smiled, and moved to the desk to let him work.

"Good luck" Daniel said with a nod, before he leaned in to get to work translating

Daniel, however, did not need help, it seemed. Armed with a notebook and pen he made quick work of the cipher, correlating the strange symbols to their equivalent modern letters. And even before he was finished putting together the entirety of the cipher, one thing became clear as he glanced at the blanket. It wasn't written in old mosgravan. It was written in *plain Lingua*.

Daniel grinned widely as he looked it over "… well, We're in luck, Fenya. Good luck."

"*Good luck*? are you serious?"

"I know, shocking isn't it?" He grinned "but this is in *bloody Lingua*. Not old mosgravan."

Her head snapped up. "It's in *lingua*?" she demanded. "Its just in bloody *coded lingua*?"

"that's right." he laughed "that's what it's in."

"I am absolutely *on the floor* right now," she snorted. "we probably could have translated the damned thing without the coin!"

"Not that the coin won't prove to be a good help." He laughed

"No I certainly agree," she chuckled. "well… that's very good news indeed."

"it is." Daniel grinned "I'm fairly good with Lingua, myself."

"So I've noticed," she teased.

He smirked "is that so?"

"You have a way with words-- you certainly get your point across," she chuckled. "whether it's a good or bad thing seems to depend on the situation."

He smirked, looking over the blanket in the attempt to parse it out "Sometimes i get lucky, other times not so much."

It was… a poem.

*Beneath our graves the heart that beats Gives lifeblood to our flesh And in our breast we sewed its meats To keep our lives afresh. And thus renewed we stand in stead In circle every moon Console the wound through which its bled Lest it become our ruin.*

"….." Daniel read it with a sharp frown "….Dear God."

Fenya jolted at the sudden pronouncement. "Danochka?" she breathed, half-standing. "Is…. everything alright?"

"… I think we're on to something. They did some sort of *macabre* surgery on themselves."

She stood fully now and came near, her eyes quizzical. "Surgery… of.. what kind?"

He read the poem out loud to her.

Fenya's ears stood straight up at attention. "…..*I see*."

"..they took something from the earth, and sewed it into themselves….which then needed to be tended to annually or it would poison the world. and whatever it was….kept them alive." he mused "….and… it's under the graveyard."

"That's….." she sat down heavily on the bed. "Good god."

"horrifying, isn't it?" he mused

She took off her glasses and cleaned them nervously. "Incredibly so."

"….we should make visiting the graveyard a priority."

"We certainly should," she agreed. "After Tadibyov manor?"

"After Tadibyov manor." he said, pulling out the knife. He attempted to read those as well.

*With this blade I pluck out my heart. With this blood I cleanse the heart of the world.*

"….." Daniel read it out loud to Fenya.

"… charming," she said. "It and the blanket are very on theme."

"they certainly are. " He frowned "it sounds like they're talking about *blood sacrifice* "

"It very much does," she frowned.

"….we'll have to investigate for ourselves ."

"So we will," she nodded. "I suppose we'll want to bring the knife…."

"yes… and the divination tools we were given."

"Ah yes the stones," she nodded. "And what was it… water?"

"yes, water." he mused "stones and water, and a ritual knife." He paused "… I hate that this investigation is making us resort to such….occult tactics."

"I'm not altogether fond of it myself," she grumbled. "As a doctor what on gaea do you think that poem *really* means?"

"I think perhaps…" He mused "that there's some unusual property to the ground there. Perhaps they're harvesting some kind of ground fungus, or rot that has unknown medicinal properties."

Fenya nodded, adjusting her glasses again. "That's a good possibility," she agreed. "Some sort of chemical property to a fungus or the ground…."

"that's what I think..perhaps one that derives nutrients from blood."

"It would explain growing in a graveyard potentially…."

"it would" he mused "and why they offer blood to it in their ritual."

"Interesting…." she drummed her nails on her leg.

"that's at least one theory… it's plausible."

"More plausible than an actual heart," she murmured.

"far more plausible." Daniel snorted "….i can't imagine an actual heart lodged in the bloody soil."

"What would it *do* if it was," Fenya snorted.

"….." Daniel grimaced "hell if I know."

She shook her head. "It sounds like a grim fairytale."

"doesn't it?" He chuckled "what… is it pumping blood to some great giant?"

She snorted. "I think I've read that story."

"really?" He snorted "….it's something that should stay in storybooks if you ask me."

"I quite agree!"

He sighed, and put the knife down "… I'm glad I could crack the code, but bloody hell."

"Every fresh revelation is a sordid one," she agreed.

"And deeper and deeper down this ridiculous little rabbit hole" he murmured

"Certainly not what I expected when we began this little journey."

"no, it's not what I expected either." He drawled "it was supposed to be *easy*."

"So much for that," she sighed.

"indeed. Nothing in Mosgrav ever is, is it?"

"Despite what I may complain about my mother's homeland this is *not* the typical mosgrav experience."

He smirked "no? You're not used to beating hearts in the land itself and strange village cults?"

She chuckled. "I'm afraid I'm more of a rookie at outlandish magical gimcrackery than you are."

"damn." Daniel smirked "If only we had an expert around who wasn't in a bloody coma."

"If only…." she frowned.

He shook his head "….admittedly, he'd probably just ignore any and all evidence that wasn't….folkloric."

"You think so?" she asked. "I haven't dealt with him much, does he actually believe all that or just collect the stories?"

"Oh I think the man genuinely believes them. At least… from the little I know of him."

She sniffed. "I'm surprised someone that superstitious has *any* career in the university. They like to call *my* field witchcraft."

"they like to call mine the very damned same." he snorted "… yet he's allowed to run off on expeditions like this."

"I suppose he *was* trying to salvage his reputation in some kind of final gamble."

"I suppose he was." Daniel murmured "and he dragged us into it"

"Last time you do a favor for a colleague?" she asked with a teasing edge.

"Depends on the colleague." he said with a low chuckle

She smiled. "I'll keep that in mind."

"You'd best. I think we earned a few favors between us."

"I'd certainly say so, Danochka," she agreed. "Well… the report's done. Is there anything else we need to take care of before bed?"

He shook his head 'translation took a lot less time than expected." he admitted "I think we're finished."

"Well then… What do you say to one more cup of tea and then bed? I'd imagine we'll need our wits about us tomorrow."

Daniel nodded "we will need our wits about us." he agreed "… so let's take that last tea break before we turn in for the night and face tomorrow with everything we've got."

Fenya poured them each a steaming cup of tea, and handed him his. When she sat down and reclined, she looked thoughtful, and tired."

Daniel took his cup, leaning back and taking a sip "….what's on your mind, Fenya?"

"It feels like it would be easier to list what *isn't* right now," she half chuckled. "Mostly I was thinking about…. how socially warped the people in this town have been."

Daniel nodded slowly "it's true. It's… like a cross section of what happens when you utterly destroy and rewrite a social structure.'

"Terrible marriages, disowned sons, bitter rivals…."

"false power structure supported by four all powerful people behind it all." He mused "Not to mention the pervasive stories of abuse."

She grimaced. "It turns my stomach, Danochka."

"Mine as well." he frowned "it absolutely disgusts me to my core."

She sighed and sipped her tea. "I just don't know what we should do about it."

"i'm… not sure, myself. I feel we should do *something* for sure."

She nodded. "Maybe it's my Astorian meddling instincts but it feels wrong not to."

"Those instincts are hard to ignore." he chuckled softly, and sipped his tea. "… but yes, it feels very wrong not to."

"So we'll have to give it some serious thought."

"we will… there's got to be *something* we can do."

Fenya nodded. "There must be….."

"Perhaps after we find the root of this plague… we'll find something to cure the roots of all the rest of their corruption as well."

"Well, I suppose we are going to the root of the problem metaphorically speaking," she smirked

"I suppose we are." he sipped his tea with a note of amusement "metaphorically speaking."

"Maybe we'll have to do some digging in the graveyard."

"Nothing wrong with a little grave robbing." He sipped his tea again "it's an Astorian tradition."

"Cheers," she chuckled.

"cheers" he raised his glass with a laugh.

She raised her own and clinked their glasses with a smirk.

He took a long drink of it with a low chuckle "… tomorrow should prove fruitful."

"We'll get that fruit any way we have to," she chuckled.

"even if we have to dig up every bloody grave site in this town." he murmured into his teas

"That's the kind of fruit they gather in your profession, right doctor?" she teased over her own glass.

"Oh yes." he smirked slightly, "Given that i study the dead.'

"You'll be right at home then," she smirked. She put down her teacup and started getting ready for bed.

Daniel placed his cup down, going to change as well for the night.

It seemed Fenya was getting accustomed enough to him being around that she changed into her night dress quite casually. "I'm thrilled not to have to sleep in my boots tonight."

Daniel, as well, had become used to her presence enough to simply strip down to change into his bed things "you know, I imagine so." he said "that couldn't have been comfortable.'

"I'm frankly surprised you didn't wake up with a bunch of bruises on your shin."

He snickered "you kick in your sleep? I hadn't noticed."

"I'm pleased to hear it!"

"have you gotten a lot of complaints about shin kicking in the past?" he teased

She flushed, her ears flicking. "How rude to ask!" she chuckled.

"My apologies, i didn't mean to malign your honor." he purred

"Apology *not* accepted-- you'll have to owe me," she sniffed, smirking.

"well. I'll add it to the list of things I owe you for, Fenya." his ears flicked "and pay you back in full, quite soon."

She smirked. "I shall be looking forward to that," she said, climbing into bed.

Daniel climbed into bed beside her, and stretched "oh I'm sure you are."

She rolled to face him, grinning slyly. "Obviously."

He leaned on his arm, meeting her eyes with a smirk "I'm curious what you expect.'

"Wouldn't you like to know, doctor boy," she smirked like a predator.

His ears flicked "should I be worried?"

"That depends entirely on what *you* expect, I'd say."

"hmmm." he smirked, his ear flicking despite the expression, reddened."on what I expect?"

"Mmmhmmm."

"Now that's… a loaded question."

"So was yours." she smirked.

"Well I suppose we're at a stalemate then." he purred "A standoff."

"For now," she purred back.

"for now." he leaned on his hand 'it'll have to budge one way or the other eventually."

"So it will," she agreed, her ears flicking. "We'll see how it shakes out."

"I suppose we will." he leaned against the pillows by her., before chuckling.

She fluffed her pillows and yawned. "Soon, perhaps. After we've solved this damned plague."

"That may be nice." he chuckled "somewhere nicer."

"Indeed," she chuckled with him. "even if it's just here, minus plague."

"with the plague gone, i wouldn't' mind in the least" he chuckled

"I shall keep that in mind," she smiled. "Sleep well, Danochka."

"Sleep well, Fenya." he returned the smile before settling in

The gentle sound of the fire as it burned away to embers, and the whisper of the light rain on the window lulled them both soon to sleep.

Daniel let sleep take him, already hoping that tomorrow would bring with it the answers he sought.

Daniel dreamed of fire, and the scent of smoke. He dreamed that he looked up from a crowd, and four figures bathed and hidden by flame. They looked right at him, and in their gazes, variously malice, anger, arrogance, and desperation.

He didn't like the unsettling image as it burned into his memory. Logically… he could only imagine that these were the town masters, but in the dream, he simply held his ground.

Yes, the town masters, he was certain of it. And as he watched he felt a great rhythmic thumping beneath his feet, like the beat of a heart.

He looked down at the ground under his feet, frowning deeper.

The thumping got heavier and heavier and heavier--


Day Four: Treatment

Chapter 5: Day Four: Treatment

Day Four: Treatment


Daniel woke up to someone pounding on the door.

Daniel gasped out loud, taking a deep breath as he was jarred awake "Damn it all!" He rolled out of bed, rubbing his eyes before shuffling to the doorway and pulling it open "….what in the blazes…"

Fenya stirred in bed as well. "What on gaea?" Mitya was standing at the door, looking as if he too had just been roused from sleep. "Doctor, I'm sorry to bother you," he said, "But the guard said it was urgent."

He paused. "And frankly I agree….."

"…." Daniel smoothed out his hair with a sharp hiss of breath "… what's happening Mitya?"

"Mr. Morozov-- Andrei Morozov-- he's dead, sir!"

Fenya, who had just been getting out of bed-- nearly fell down as she heard.

"….." Daniel was quiet a long, long moment before he simply said "fuck."

He hissed a sharp breath through his teeth "god *damn it*."

"Yes sir," Mitya nodded, his head bobbing. "The guard is downstairs…. the captain apparently asked for you to come look at the body."

"I… I'll be right down after I dress and grab my tools." He nodded slowly "… I'll be right over."

Mitya nodded. "Alright, I'll tell him then." The young man scurried back downstairs, leaving the two of them alone.

Daniel turned, and grabbed his clothes with a sharp hiss of breath "damn it….dammit. This is *very* bad."

"Unfortunately, I agree," Fenya said, already getting dressed.

He pulled on his shirt and trousers, before shrugging on his coat and grabbing his bag "….I have to hope it was sickness and not *damned murder* as that's the last thing we need right now."

"Bloody mosgrav, can't have one damned crisis at a time," Fenya grumbled.

"No, it seems to love *mixing and matching* fun little combinations of disaster, doesn't it? Bloody revolution, a plague, a vampire, now murder!"

"Wonderful," she sighed. "Maybe we *can* hope it's a disease. That would be…. a rapid progression though, wouldn't it?"

"… shockingly rapid, unless he was hiding it well."

"I suppose you could… with make up," she supposed.

"he was a vain enough man to do such a thing if he found it off putting." he mused "but I must see the body before I speculate."

She tied the bow on her blouse and put back her hair. "Well… let's go see it then."

Daniel nodded, slinging his bag over his shoulder "… of course it happens today." he murmured "damn it all."

"We should send a message to the Mayor," she nodded.

"we should. I'll drop one with Mitya on the way out."

"Thank goodness we're stationed at the post office," she said, making certain she had her own bag.

"Thank goodness." he said "… a delay of walking across town would be… bad."

"Very," she agreed. "Ready?"

"yes, as ready as I can be." he shook his head "… let's go."

They two of them clattered down the stairs to the body of the post office. The harried Mitya was standing there nervously-- as was a guard (not the one they'd spoken to last night) who also looked a bit perturbed.

Daniel looked at Mitya "… can you send a message to the Mayor that we're going to miss breakfast with him? " he said slowly "We have to deal with this post haste. I'm sure he'll understand."

Mitya nodded. "Of course… I'll take it to him myself, sir," he said. "It's no time for a big family breakfast right now," he murmured.

"thank you, Mitya." he said, patting the boy on the shoulder. "….be safe." he looked at the guard "I hear we have a body."

The guard nodded. "Yes sir. At the fishery."

"… at the fishery?" Daniel hissed "god damn.."

The guard nodded. "Please come with me. I suppose we're lucky it's closed this morning… though….."

Daniel nodded, following the guard "..though what?"

"There was talk between the workers yesterday of some kind of protest outside."

"..a protest." Daniel said slowly "….in protest of the bloody quarantine?" he hissed

He sighed as he led the two of them out into the street. "I know, sir. Gonna be a big damned fight when we have to clear them out."

Daniel growled softly to himself "Don't they understand that it's better to be off work for two damned weeks than to be coughing up blood that looks like *damned tar* in the street?"

"Guess not, sir." The morning was… wretched. Dreary, overcast, hardly a sight of the sun, and all that damned *fog*. It was probably going to pour any second.

Daniel looked up at the sky "….I hate this." "This whole situation is a bloody nightmare."

"It's getting worse and worse," Fenya muttered. "You're right about that" the guard said. "This is nasty weather."

"it is." He mused uncomfortably "… with the nasty situation it makes things seem… bleak."

"It does," the guard nodded. "Makes people even more restless than they would be anyway."

"Hence this bloody protest against good sense."

"You've got it, sir," he nodded. He led them up the north street, where the smell of fish was less today.

Daniel walked alongside him, looking ahead towards the fishery "how bad is the corpse, have you seen it?'

"I haven't, sir," the man said. "Captain just told me to run and get you."

"… damn." Daniel cursed "that… is less than ideal."

"Sorry sir…" They came in view of the river and the fishery. At least at the moment there wasn't a big crowd there… just a bunch of guards.

Daniel sighed softly "… I hope you all can handle the protest when it arrives."

"I hope so too," the man nodded. "Alright, I'll take you to the captain."

The other guards parted for them. It was strange to see the fishery quiet and still.

Daniel looked out over the quiet fishery as he walked, before turning his eyes forward, and walking with purpose beside the guard "thank you, officer."

Fenya looked around as they entered the fishery-- from the front this time. It opened into a wide room, almost cavernous, with counters and buckets and barrels everywhere. It *reeked* of fish guts.

Daniel grimaced "….great." he said, pulling his mask up "… simply wonderful. This won't' be nauseating at all."

Fenya tightened her scarf around her face as well. "Lovely."

The guard sneezed. "Sorry."

Daniel shook his head, and pressed onward, shaking his head 'it's only natural for a fishery.."

The guard gestured and led them to an area built into the corner that was its own small room. There was a window- no glass-- that was shuttered and closed.

Daniel caught a glimpse of a splatter of red leaking through the slats of the shutters.

Daniel frowned deeply "… there's some blood coming out of that window."

Fenya looked over and grimaced. "That's a bad sign," she muttered.

The guard knocked on the door of the little office.

"… it means it's likely not the plague." he murmured

"No… it's not black," Fenya muttered.

They heard the captain bark an "enter", and the guard opened the door.

The office was….. a mess.

Daniel stepped into the room with his bag in hand "Captain." He said "… you called for me."

"Not much chance of saving the patient," the captain said dryly. "But I wanted your expert opinion on… this." He waved his arm. The office was in shambles. Papers were everywhere. The desk was askew. A coat rack and its contents had been knocked over on the floor, and the clothes there had been partially burned. The papers also had burn marks, and the desk was singed. There were small traces of blood here and there-- most of it black. And then there was the corpse. Morozov's corpse was half burned-- the top half. His ears down to stubs, his fur burned away. Two small details jumped out at Daniel that weren't immediately apparent. The first was the slash across Morozov's neck, and the second was the glitter of small fragments of glass.

"… Son of a bitch." Daniel hissed through his teeth "I have a lot of thoughts, none of them good."

Fenya tightened her scarf again. "*Gracious*."

The captain snorted. "Wonderful. Well, collect them, doctor because I want to hear them. You're dismissed Ivanov."

The guard saluted. "Yes sir!" he trotted off closing the door behind him.

"….how in *hell* did he get burned?" Was the first thing out of his mouth as he bent over the corpse, mask secured over his muzzle "….damn."

How it got burned was a good question, but it certainly *did* get burned. Post-mortem, it seemed, when he examined the body. The difficult to spot throat wound was most likely the killing blow.

"… it's the same sort of wound caused by the bloody vampire that's been roaming about town." he mused. He investigated the shards of glass…

There were traces of black on the shards-- and they smelled funny. "Could it be our vampire?" Fenya considered.

Daniel gave them a slight sniff "… it could be, potentially." he murmured. "there's black blood all over the place… but…"

"But?" Fenya asked. It seemed the captain was just listening for now.

"Sniff this, if you would." He held up the glass shard "… carefully, through the mask if possible. "

Fenya sniffed it and her brow wrinkled. "That's….sulfuric acid?" she murmured.

"that's… what I was afraid of. Could sulfuric acid do this to a man?" He gestured to the horrible burns

"Not by itself," she murmured. "but if you paired it with say, sodium chlorate and sugar, it could start a fire."

"….someone would have to know the chemical reaction in order to set that up, however."

Fenya nodded. "They would. It's also possible that the glass smells that way for some other reason."

"… indeed." Daniel mused, and put it down again. He investigated the traces of black blood around instead "this is… gruesome."

Daniel….hadn't studied blood spatter at the university. But he'd been *around* people who studied blood spatter. The traces of thick black blood didn't look at all like they'd sprayed out of a vein. They looked like someone had dropped a cup full of blood.

The small traces of red that he could see however-- most of which were obscured by the black-- looked more natural.

"is it possible… that someone had a vial full of the black blood?" Daniel mused "that would explain why it looks like it was dropped instead of sprayed….and why the glass is covered in it."

Fenya raised her eyebrows. "It's certainly *possible*. If they bled someone who had the disease I imagine?"

"mmm" Daniel nodded, and tapped his gloved hand on his hip "that's… possible. This whole scene is strange."

"and why burn the body after?"

The captain finally spoke. "Why burn anything, doctor?"

"To destroy it." Daniel murmured

"That would be my guess," Volkov nodded. "Damn…."

Fenya frowned. "That means whoever did this wanted to hide something."

"that's right… but *what*" Daniel bent over the body again, investigating it more thoroughly "… it seems to have concentrated on the head and torso.."

"Could they have wanted to hide the wound?" Fenya asked.

"it's possible' he investigated the wound closer

The burn *did* hide the wound quite well. Someone who wasn't a doctor, or hadn't been looking quite closely could have missed it entirely.

"perhaps they were trying to hide that… it looked like the method of murder the f'vampire' uses?"

"Anybody can cut a throat, doctor," the captain points out. "but it certainly does."

"… perhaps it's hiding what was *used* to cut the throat?"

"Possibly," Fenya considered. "This scene is certainly… chaotic.."

"it's… incredibly chaotic." he murmured "… disorganized, yet thorough."

"I asked around and the man usually keeps the place neat as a pin," Volkov offered.

"… and yet this place is a bloody mess. Meaning there was likely a struggle, or the killer wrecked everything they could see."

The captain nodded. "It'd imagine a struggle, but it could also have been part of the killer's attempt to hide…. whatever they were trying to hide."

Daniel hissed through his teeth "….This is *the worst possible time* for this sort of thing"

Volkov sighed. "I have to agree. --why don't you give me any final thoughts and I'll… get to work."

"Someone dropped a bottle of infected blood in here, the murder was done with a slash across the throat that the killer attempted to hide with a fire… the body is burned, only on the upper half,confirming this. In addition, the shards of glass smell of sulfuric acid, and area all around the body, covered in more of that black blood."

"… I have to believe that this killing has something to do with the vampire situation… and if not, some old political squabble that… blew out of control."

Volkov made a note. "Got it. Damn…. the list of suspects in this murder is.. not short," he wrinkled his nose. "Thank you for coming, doctor. I'd have called on Osgrov as well, but I'm well aware he's been up all night converting that house and getting the sick situated."

"good… good. He told me he would be working on that." Daniel sighed softly "he's been hard at work, I imagine."

"Very, from reports. Things are bad, Delgrave. Now that word is out people are bringing in their sickness."

Daniel grimaced "… it's best for them to be put into care." he murmured "kept away from the healthy…"

"I'm certain," Volkov nodded. "But it's staggering to hear about the extent of it.":

"Which is exactly why I wanted drastic measures in place." Daniel said "… to slow what was already rapidly spinning out of control."

"Indeed. Alright, well, you've got the plague to look after and I've got this damned murder… we'd better be on about our business." He sounded far from happy about it.

Daniel nodded "… please keep me updated. I fear our investigations may be more entwined than I'd wish… the presence of the blood, you see.."

"wonderful," Volkov snorted. "I'll keep you up to date, delgrave. Godspeed to both of us."

"Godspeed, Volkov. We'll get to the bottom of things."

With a salute from the captain, Fenya and Daniel found themselves back in the main belly of the fishery.

Daniel took a deep breath "… damn it all."

"damn it all is right," Fenya sighed. "That definitely wasn't death by disease."

"no it… sure wasn't. It was a murder." he frowned "A brutal one, at that."

"I can't say I'll miss the man, but…."

"no, neither will I… but I can't… approve of murder as a solution to such problems."

"It's… problematic at best."

"it makes a bloody mess of everything." he huffed "including our investigation."

"*very much* including it," she agreed. "And well…." she looked around at the couple of guards standing around, and went quiet.

Daniel gestured with his head to start walking. They'd continue when they were more alone

"To the graveyard?" she asked him, following.

"to the graveyard…" he nodded "we have the supplies, or do we need to stop by the post?"

"I put everything in my bag this morning before we left just in case."

"You're delightful, Fenya." he said as he passed the guards "simply delightful"

The guards saluted them as they headed out of the stinking fishery, and into the relatively fresh air.

Daniel nodded to them, and when they were clear asked "… and what were you going to say back there?"

Once they had gotten beyond the perimeter of guards around the fishery she cleared her throat. "I was going to say that, well…. the murder could be….." she coughed. "partially our fault."

Daniel winced "… I was..concerned about that, yes."

"If someone we told shared the information…. or…"

"….if someone decided it was time to take revenge." he frowned "during the chaos."

She nodded, pushing up her glasses. "INdeed."

"I… hope… that isn't the case. We have enough problems without *that* being the case."

"I hope so too," she nodded. "Its *certainly* equally likely that it could have been some disgruntled worker…."

"yes… upset by the quarantine and taking it out on the man."

Fenya nodded. "Exactly…..like the captain said-- not exactly a short list of suspects."

"no. about half the town hated that bastard." Daniel murmured "… he didn't ingratiate himself to people with his behavior OR his attitude."

"no he certainly didn't. He didn't seem to like the town much in return."

"no. Which couldn't have earned him any friends either." he frowned

"around here? Definitely not."

"no..' He began walking towards the outskirts of town "….I suppose the Captain will find some clues today."

"I certainly hope he will," Fenya agreed as they headed out down the foggy street by the river. "He seems competent."

Daniel nodded "and like someone who'll pursue this doggedly to the end"

"Indeed… though he';ll have to be split between it and the quarantine unfortunately."

"…" Daniel sighed "yes, it's… trouble all around, for sure"

"We'll all muddle through the best we can,"she sighed. "I'm keen to see what we'll find in this graveyard. "

"we will" Daniel agreed "… and as am I. It seems… central, to everything we've found so far."

"It does," Fenya agreed as they walked down the market street. Today, all the stalls had been folded up, or patently abandoned.

Daniel looked at the stalls with quiet satisfaction. At least the guards were taking this seriously. "This 'heart.'… i wonder if we'll find it."

"So do I. I almost wonder if we should have brought a shovel."

"… perhaps we should grab one." he murmured as he walked "it may be necessary."

"Maybe… though I suppose there might be one sitting around the graveyard…."

"… let's bank on that, and resolve to get one if it turns out it's needed and we can't bloody find one."

"Good idea," she nodded. They made their way out past the market to where the road started to trail off into nothing. "The graveyard should be up ahead."

He walked out, his legs brushed by the foliage surrounding the dwindling path "… out there?" He asked "… hm. It's really not a well traveled area, is it?"

"No, it certainly isn't," she agreed with a frown. "I suppose they didn't use it much."

"no I suppose they don't… I wonder where they bury their dead instead."

"The grove perhaps?"

"mmm… that makes sense." He agreed with a shake of his head "while this graveyard's been all but abandoned."

"It must be from the original time of you know who."

"The Town Bastards." he agreed with a nod.

"Exactly," she agreed. The further they got from the road, the taller the sparse grass became.

Daniel pulled his jacket close, looking around "… it's absolutely abandoned."

Now that they were closer, they could see rough stones standing in the abandoned field, and a building about the size of a shed,

Daniel raised his eyebrow as they approached "… an old graveyard, too. This seems ancient."

"So it does," she agrees. The first stone they pass is so weathered and cracked as to be illegible.

Daniel glanced down at the other stones as they passed "old enough that the names are lost to time.'

"200 years old or so, I'd wager," she nodded. "if not more."

"More is possible." he mused as he walked towards the small building

They passed a number of weathered gravestones-- many of them looked quite ancient. None looked less than 100 years old. The building was solidly built in stone, with no windows.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "….a mausoleum?"

"Likely," she said. "Unless it's some kind of small religious building….. or a shed I guess." They were approaching from the side so they couldn't see the door.

Daniel started to strafe the building, looking for a doorway inside "I suppose we'll see in a moment."

The doors were large, and made in the same stone as the rest of the building almost as though it had been carved out of a single block of stone. In fact, the only way that you could tell it was a door at all was the very finest of seams running down the center. There were no knobs or handles to pull, just smooth stone--- and four pear-shaped carved indentations, with a message carved above them in the same letters Daniel had deciphered the night before.

Daniel looked them over, translating them in his head

*We offer forth our hearts to enter.*

"….the hearts of the Masters?" he mused "….hm."

"Well… that could be a problem," Fenya considered.

"it could be a huge problem" he murmured 'given that they're burned to bloody ash."

Looking at the indents, they didn't look very… heart shaped.

"… though." he mused, as he brushed his fingers over the indents "… they're something else…"

"Something else?" she frowned. "But what?"

"gems, perhaps? or…" He holds out his hand "can i have that bowl of stones?"

She handed it to him. "Of course." However the stones only went up to about thumb sized. The depressions meanwhile, were closer to the size of two fists.

Daniel frowned "… i wonder if the stones fit together in any… cohesive way."

"Like a puzzle?" she asked

"like a puzzle, yes." he murmured

Fenya looked thoughtful, but didn't seem to have any suggestions. "Well… we could certainly try it."

Daniel nodded, and tried to sort the stones . "… it has to have something to do with the supplies they brought with them.."

"Water and stones…. water and stones," she murmured.

Daniel leaned on the stone, looking thoughtful "… water and stones." "what in the blazes can you do with water and stones…"

"Er… pour the water over the stones? I suppose?" she thought deeply. "Didn't Darya say the stones were for reading the future or some nonsense?"

Daniel nodded, and gestured "let me see the bowl and water… I'll see if perhaps anything happens when I pour water into them."

Fenya nodded, and handed him a tightly corked bottle of water in addition to the bowl of stones.

Daniel took the bowl, and started to pour the bottle of water on top of them "… alright…"

Now he had some wet rocks.

They looked… maybe slightly shinier? probably because they were wet.

"Tell me the bloody future, or whatever it is you're supposed to do you *bloody stones* "

The stones just sat there.

"I hate the occult, Fenya."

Fenya stared at the stones. "Me too, Danochka."

"… what in *hells name* were they doing with them?"

He stood, and picked up the bowl, and pressed it to the door "open you stupid, stupid, useless psuedoscientific door!"

The bowl didn't act as a magical key, unfortunately.

Fenya grimaced. "Damn….."

"….alright, square one, then." He puts the bowl down and looks over the indents one more time

The indents….. he'd seen that shape before.

Recently.

In town.

Didn't he have an object that was **[[that shape]]**?

Daniel frowned, and reached into his bag, looking through his items "hold on…"

He pulled out the **phylactery** "Fenya. it means… their 'hearts'. the containers that held there… so called darkness"

Fenya puts the heel of her palm to her forehead. "*damnit* I should have realized that."

"….so we need to find them. *theirs*… and put them in this door in order to get into the room."

"….well…. assuming they didn't have them on their person when they died, we might be in luck."

"We may." he said "… my guess is they're with Rook in the Rookery."

She grinned. "Good guess. We should check right away."

"we should. While we still have time to loop back around here before nightfall." He gestured towards the Rookery with his head "let's go" He poured the water out of the bowl, into the bottle, sealed it, and handed them both to her

Fenya wrapped the wet bowl and rocks in some cloth before putting them back in her purse. "Should we go across the open field? or back and loop through the town?"

"back through the field, it's a shortcut and it's not *too* far."

She nodded. "No it isn't… but… visibility will be low, so let's keep alert."

He nodded, and kept his hand by his belt as they walked into the fog"as careful as I can be' he agreed

they passed the boundaries of the cemetery quietly, their boots rustling the long grass, the fog hanging over them in drifting clouds, as heavy as smoke from a brushfire.

Daniel walked closer to her "it's… unsettling here… to say the least."

"To say the least," Fenya agreed, keeping near him, "I swear it's been getting denser every day."

"I think it has been….to the point where it's nearly always as dark as bloody night"

"I suppose at least it's probably helping encourage everyone to stay home…."

"and in bed" he chuckled "… this is weather to sleep by the fire to."

"Indeed…. imagine if it was *nice* out."

"everyone would be all but rioting" he muttered

"More than likely," she agreed. as they pushed on through the dense mist and muddy, rocky field.

Daniel trod through the field, silently bemoaning his boots as he went "but here we are in the rain and mud"

"Hopefully not for too much longer," she muttered. Indeed, the shadow of the rookery loomed just inside the edge of their vision now, the top of it obscured in darkness.

Daniel looked up at the rookery with a frown "I hope rook cooperates today"

Fenya sighed. "we can only hope…."

"it seems to come and go" he murmured "but I hope he sees how dire the situation is"

They reached the tower with little more inconvenience than some wet boots. It stood, windowless before them and they could see the black plume that seemed to be pouring out into the sky.

Daniel walked over, and knocked heavily on the trapdoor "… that smoke is getting worse."

"I hope it is smoke," Fenya said, sounding perturbed.

"… mmm." He shuddered, "I'm not sure what… it is, if it isn't."

"Some sort of particulate being forced out… a solution forced into the air… an airy-sol, if you will…" she murmured. "Sorry… chemistry thoughts."

"…..that's… unnerving to think about." he admitted.

"Sorry," she chuckled.

The trapdoor rattled

Daniel stepped away from it, letting the door open.

The door pushed up and Rook appeared, looking tired.

"Good morning, doctor."

"Hello Rook. Sleep well?"

"What's sleep, doctor?" he murmured. "Will this be long? if so, you should come down. It's about to rain."

"it might be." Daniel admitted "we have a big favor to ask."

He beckoned for them to follow, and headed down the stairs.

"Close it behind you please."

Daniel walked in and nodded to Fenya to follow

He gestured to a couple of chairs in the main area and had a seat.

Daniel took a seat on one of the chairs, and folded his hands before him "s… so…"

Fenya arranged herself also and Rook nodded.

"You said you had a favor to ask."

"….do you know where the phylacteries of the Masters and Mistress are?"

He blinked. "Is… this a trick question?"

"no." Daniel shook his head "… We may have found a way to stop all this, but to get there we need to open a door locked by indents for their phylacteries."

"I….see…" he said dubiously. "A door locked by their phylacteries. It sounds ingenious…."

"… I guess fitting, wouldn't you say? So.. may I ask? are they here?"

"I can't tell you for sure," he shrugged. "But I *assume* they're below us in the cairne."

"indeed…" he murmured slowly "… may we go down into it and seek them out? "

He sighed. "Let me get this straight. You want to take the masters' phylacteries out of their resting place and use them as…. keys?"

"… yes. to open a door where they would perform one of their old rituals. I feel the key to all this is down there."

He closed his eyes. "I *shouldn't*."

"You should." Daniel said firmly "… this town is dying Rook. And soon, there won't be anyone left at *all* if we don't stop this right this bloody instant."

He clicked his beak. "Alright….. fine. To save the town. But I will accompany you."

Daniel nodded "i don't mind that. You can come with us."

Rook nodded. "Very well. Then we can fetch them from the cairne. Better to get this over with as quickly as possible."

"Indeed." Daniel nodded, and gestured "lead the way, Rook."

Rook stood, and went to the center of the room, unlocking the same trap door they'd been through once before in their first visit to the cairne.

Daniel glanced down it with a soft hum "….dark as ever…" He nodded "shall we?" He started down into it.

Rook hauled the door up, and headed down the stone stairs, holding a little light aloft.

Daniel nodded, heading down after him and holding the door up for Fenya

As before they entered a cavernous area lined with shelves dug into the earth. Each one was inhabited by numerous nearly identical dolls, each covered with a splash of blood, each one with a small cloth tag, in the same script he had deciphered the day before.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "so we just… look for their names."

Looking at them, it seemed they were grouped by family-- or rather, by family name.

"I would imagine so," Rook shrugs.

Daniel made his way first, towards the Morozov family…."have you ever looked for them?"

"No, doctor."

"I'm shocked." He said, looking through them "… under which family would the mistress be put?"

"as I told you the other day, I'm afraid I can't read the markings, so I can't really speculate."

"I can." Daniel said "I can read them just fine."

"The Osgrovs… the Tadibyov… Yahontovs, and Volkovs…" he murmured "right, Fenya?"

Fenya flipped open her notebook from her bag and nodded. "Correct, doctor." Rook, meanwhile, raised a feathery eyebrow. "what do you mean you can read them?"

"I've figured out the code." he chuckled "it's… really just Lingua, once you get down to it. A language I'm quite fluent in."

Rook's eyes widened further. "A… cipher? you must be joking."

"not in the least" he laughed "it's… honestly rather simple"

He sniffed. "I see. Well… if you can read it perhaps you have a chance of finding them."

"that's the hope" he mused to himself, as he sought out the Osgrov family first

With Daniel's keen eye and increasing memory of the cipher, it didn't take him long to pick out the shelf that had tags labeled Osgrov.

Daniel looked carefully through them… looking for Sasha's father among them " hm…."

Sasha he found…. his sister as well… someone named Miri…. Katrina…

But no Pyotr.

Daniel frowned slightly "hm…."

Fenya frowned as well. "Is it not there?"

"no, it's not….kept seperate, perhaps?" He paused "….or hidden"

"Perhaps," Fenya nodded. "Shall we keep looking?"

"let's.." Daniel began searching for any that *were not grouped by family* or seemed to hold a special place.

Both of them searched the cavern quite thoroughly, double checking with one another as they went. With teamwork, they made short work of the quest, though with frustrating result:

The phylacteries of *none* of the founders were there in the carine.

"damn it all!" Daniel cursed

"They're not here, are they?" Rook mused. "They certainly fucking aren't," Fenya grumbled.

"Not a single hint of them anywhere." He frowned "… it's… frustrating."

"I was somewhat afraid of that," Rook nodded.

"Did they ever mention… keeping them elsewhere?"

"No," he shook his head. "but if they're used as some kind of door key I imagine they would have kept them handy."

"handy indeed." he murmured "….but *where*…"

"I wish I had some idea of where to advise you," Rook shrugs.

"…." Daniel thought for a moment "this is a shot in the dark… but Didn't the children say something to you about a treasure, Fenya?"

Fenyra raised an eyebrow. "That IS a shot in the dark. But yes they did."

"The children?" Rook asked.

"The children have been playing games using one of your dead masters names." Daniel mused "… there may be a connection."

"I….see…" he frowned.

"… we should check that out, Fenya… and if it yields nothing, see what else we can find."

Fenya nodded. "It's a good first thought if nothing else."

He nodded back "and I wanted to see what the little bastards were hiding anyway."

"Same…" she nodded. "Well then," Rook said, putting his hands together--" anything else I can help you with?"

"no, i… think that's all for the moment, Rook."

Rook nodded. "Let's go upstairs then, shall we? I don't like too much to go among the phylacteries."

"mmm." Daniel nodded "I suppose that's… understandable." he admitted, heading upstairs.

Fenya followed them both up into the main room. "I always feel like the darkness may be catching," Rook murmured.

"honestly, Rook." Daniel said "I don't think you're too far off from that assessment."

"Very reassuring, doctor," he said with a smile.

"I have a great bedside manner." He drawled

"Undoubtedly," he purred. He lifted the hatch to the surface for them/

Daniel chuckled, and climbed out of the hatch and into the fog once more "… be well, rook."

"And you, doctor. Miss Smythe."

And just like that they were back up on the surface, surrounded by fog, with the looming tower above them.

"well… that wasn't as easy as I was hoping." Daniel said slowly

"Unfortunately not," she sighed.

Daniel offers his arm "… we might as well follow our other lead, before we turn our attentions back… to the families of the deceased."

She takes his arm gently. "We might as well," she nods. "Families of the deceased do sound like a likely lead as well…"

"indeed… though admittedly… a troublesome one given… the murder"

"The Morozovs," she murmured.

"yes… and the investigation likely t… involving… other members of important families."

"Damn…. I didn't even think that far," she frowned.

"So I'm hoping our current lead… bears fruit… so we don't have to worry about that."

"Let's cross our fingers then," she murmured. "And hightail it to the church."

Daniel nodded, and hurried along with her, taking her arm as they went "hopefully we won't need the bloody shovel for this."

The streets were quiet as they hurried along, their bootfalls ringing out and then muffled by the fog. It was almost *eerily* quiet, with so much of the town hidden away in quarantine.

"surrounded by the utter silence." he murmured "at least we can avoid the clown."

"I'm surprised he's obeyed the quarantine," Fenya murmured.

"with our luck, he'll be the one idiot who hasn't." Daniel drawled

She sighed. "I suppose we'll find out." Luckily they passed the square and neared the old church ruin without incident.

Daniel sighed with relief, and turned to go into the church with a curious frown on his face "now let's see what this 'children's treasure' is all about."

Fog clung to the haphazard stones of the half built monument to the horned god. Fenya stepped under the partial roof just as rain began to hiss.

Daniel covered his head, and began to look around the area "… it'll be somewhere." he mused "it has to be."

As he searched the ruin, he found an area beside the far wall, in the center, perhaps where the pulpit would have been. There were chalk drawings on the stone here, starting to be washed away by little drops of rain-- and the edges of the stones were loose.

Daniel smirked, first looking at the drawings, before he attempted to remove the stones.

Someone had drawn childish heart symbols, and what seemed to be monsters with crocodile jaws.

Daniel nodded his head "interesting." he mused, as he pulled the stone away

The stone exposed a metal handle.

"What on gaea?" Fenya purred looking down.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and gave the handle a pull. "I'm not quite sure.."

There was a scraping noise, and the handle pulled up a trap door, set into the stones, leading to a narrow passage down, descending into abject darkness.

Daniel grinned widely "well, would you look at that….do you still have that little light of yours, Fenya?"

"I do indeed," she purred, pulling it out of her bag, and unwrapping it from the cloth. The bright little light glowed in its bottle.

"Then let's illuminate this little mystery." He purred, and started down

Fenya nodded, following after him down the roughly hewn stone stairs into the darkness. The walls of the tiny shaft were the same stone as the foundation of the church.

Daniel trekked deeper, looking around "..it's built into the very foundation from the look of it."

"Some sort of basement?" Fenya murmured as they went down into the earth.

"I wonder," Daniel mused. "….likely a storage area, but.."

They came to the bottom of the stairs and as they did, the stone foundation petered out, replaced by carved out natural rock. They were standing in a large cavern, perhaps the size of a nice drawing room, but the roof was low. It was difficult to see the sides of the area.

"… or maybe not." He mused, and started moving along the wall, to the left

As he reached the wall, he found that there were two long recesses carved into the rock, about six feet long, and two feet in height, with one atop another.

"…" Daniel looked into them curiously "now this is interesting… shelving? or… perhaps…" He mused "… is this a place for the dead?"

Fenya raised an eyebrow. "I do think I remember something about the horned church preserving people in catacombs."

"As do I. but these appear to be empty."

"Yes, I don't see any bodies," she agreed, shining the light around.

As she shined the light around, Daniel caught a glimpse of something shimmering at the back of one of the recesses.

Daniel held up his hand "Fenya… hold the light still." he reached in for the shimmering object

It was a small, metal box. There didn't appear to be any