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, 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. " 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..."

" 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' 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 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. " 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 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 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'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. "'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 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" 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. "" "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 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. " 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' 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 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 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 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 "'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 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 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.

"" 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 " .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 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, 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 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 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. " 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 " 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 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 1: Examination == >