Day Two: Diagnosis

When Daniel woke up the room was full with a grey light, and cold as a devil's taint. The rain was still pounding on the window. Fenya was curled around him.

Daniel held her close as he caught his breath. Memories of last night's horror resurfaced as he pushed his bag...and it's weapon...away from himself "Damn it.."

Had that really happened? The bag in his lap said yes, but it felt like a dream.

Fenya stirred against him.

"Good morning Fenya." his voice was hoarse as he spoke.

"nnnn? Danochka?" she takes a breath and coughs into her hand. "It's *freezing*."

They hadn't lit a fire last night.

Daniel nodded , leaning closer to her "....we forgot the fire."

"Ah." She pressed her palm to her forehead, leaning against him heavily. "Hmmm... I think I do need to make that hangover cure."

Daniel put his arm around her, nodding slowly "....that would probably be for the best." He glanced up at the window "....i think we should block off that window every night from now on, as an aside."

She looked up at it. "I don't disagree... but what makes you say?"

Daniel rubbed his eyes, grimacing at the slight headache last night had caused "....I think something tried to get in. Woke me from a dead sleep."

Fenya frowned. "Get in? Like, a cat burglar?"

Daniel pressed his hand to his face with a shake of his head. "you wouldn't believe me if I described it to you. It was likely a dream...or...the darkness playing tricks on me, but.."

"Better safe than sorry," she murmured. She slid into a sitting position next to him.

He sat up slowly "It looked like some horrible combination of man and beast. Grey, snarling like a hound."

"Well that sounds.... horrifying..."

"It wasn't the finest way to wakeup, that's for certain."

"Sorry to hear it," she nodded standing as well. She wobbled slightly and put a hand on her head. "Uuuhhhh."

Daniel reached out to steady her "Let's get that hangover cure started, shall we?"

"Yes that will.... certainly be for the best," she said, leaning on him for a moment before moving over to the table and her chemical supplies. "Could I perhaps ask you to start the fire?"

Daniel nodded, and walked over to the fire, where he gathered the materials to start it up . "Next time...we really shouldn't forget the fire."

"No that was definitely a mistake," she nodded, hand on her head briefly before she got to work.

"We were a bit too preoccupied to notice." he chuckled tiredly, as he worked to start the fire up

"So we were," she said, ears flicking. "Do you ah....."

"remember it?" Daniel asked as he added another log, lighting the fire on the kindling beneath it. "yes, I..ah, do" His ears flicked.

"...as do I," she nodded, ears flushed.

Daniel cleared his throat "well ah. I wouldn't exactly take most of what was said *back* "

"I ah, think I might be a bit annoyed if you did," she admitted.

"likewise." he said with a flick of his ears. "No, I meant it all. but it certainly all came out at once."

"I suppose that's the power of strong drinks...."

Daniel's ears flicked again , as the fire roared. "Especially when you have two too many."

"Yes ah, I think I'd better hold myself to two at the most if we do that again."

"likewise." he chuckled, "we can avoid the hangover....and the falling asleep before we even get dressed in our nightclothes."

She looked down at her clothes. "Er... yes. Not the most comfortable proposition, that."

"No, I can't imagine so" He warmed his hand by the fire. "I would have woken you but you were dead asleep."

"I don't even remember dreaming," she said shaking her head. "So I must have been."

"you were well and truly out of it weren't you?" He mused.

"I must have been if I slept in my clothes and you couldn't even wake me up for monsters at the window!"

"I wish I could have." Daniel mused "a second opinion would have been a good thing to have."

"I would have loved to give you my opinion," she agreed. "Even if it was to help you out of some kind of waking nightmare."

Daniel walked back to the bed, and sat upon it with his head in his hand "First burglars who don't take anything, then *that* monstrosity." He smirked "I'm not a man to believe in curses, but that was certainly a run of bad luck."

"It certainly was," she agreed, she sighed. "Oh... did you want to have a look at that doll by the way? or wait until *after* i've cured our headaches?"

"I'm clear headed enough to take a look now." He stretched, and looked Fenya over before grabbing his bag. He reached in and searched out the doll.

The doll was at the top of her bag, wooden and old.

Daniel pulled it out, and turned it over in his hands to inspect it. "I'll need my tools."

The doll is lighter than it looks like it ought to be. It *certainly* is hollow. It's also evident at a glance from the way the blood has darkened that it's human. "They're here," Fenya motioned as she worked at her own little set up.

"Coated in human blood." Daniel murmured, giving Fenya a nod as he walked to his equipment. "hollow. I'll have to break it open after I take some samples from the outer casing."

Fenya had set his equipment up on the other side of the large tea table. There was a comfortable chair, and all of the supplies he had brought with him that were too heavy, delicate, or valuable to walk around with on his person.

Daniel sat in his chair, and got to work. First he took some scrapings of the blood, putting it on a slide...then some of the wood itself for another slide. He investigated the blood, first, under his microscope.

There wasn't too much he could tell from the old, dried blood, but it was definitely human, and it seemed healthy. Young even.

"The blood of a child, perhaps? They did say that they were made when a child was born." He murmured to himself as he checked the wood scrapings next

The wood was pale, and a bit pulpy-- was there more he was trying to understand about it?

He was trying to see if there was anything visibly different than average wood. He'll do chemical tests after , but for now he's establishing a baseline.

It seems like pretty normal wood. It is VERY pale though.

"hm. I'll have to try to test for chemical reactions." He glances at the doll "but first..." He reaches for a small saw with miniscule teeth, and grabs the doll "let's break this open.....we'll put it back together once we're finished, of course."

The doll, which is about as long as his palm, and pearlike in shape, rests on the table, waiting to be sawed open.

Daniel put it on it's side, resting it on a metal tray. Slowly, he started to saw it about a third of the way down.

He didn't have long to saw-- about half an inch- before the saw seemed to hit the hollow space. As he kept sawing he started to smell something.

Daniel pulled his mask up, but not before he caught a whiff of the smell. What did it smell like? "Fenya, put some facial protection on."

Fenya already had her mask on and gave him a thumbs up. "Got it." It smelled.... dessicated.

Daniel grimaced "we may need to air the room out when i'm done." He took care to crack the doll in half. "this smells vile."

"Yes I have to agree with you there," she nodded.

The more the smell filled the room the more Daniel recognized it. Dried placenta.

"...ah." Daniel said, cutting it the rest of the way open 'It's a placenta."

"Seriously?" Indeed, as the doll came apart, the old, dessicated and mummified remains of the placenta spilled onto the table.

Daniel nodded. "the inside of the dolls contain a dried placenta, and are coated in the child's blood.

"Well, I guess that tracks with what we know so far. Disgusting practice."

"Mmm" Daniel nodded "not much of a fan of it myself." He turned it over and placed the placenta on a slide, looking at it closer.

It was probably about 20 or 30 years old from what he could tell.

"20-30 years old." Daniel mused. "I wonder whose this was."

"If we could figure out what was written on the label we might know."

Daniel looked the label over. "hm...it's likely that nobody quite remembers this language."

"Unfortunate for our purposes."

"very." Daniel said, tapping it "so...nothing 'extraordinary' about it. Simply a placenta, some light wood, and blood."

"dare I ask what you were expecting?"

"admittedly, i'm not sure." Daniel chuckled "from the secrecy it could have been anything." He scraped off some placenta and wood into a petri dish, and spritzed it with a chemical compound. "Perhaps a kind of mold is present?"

"Very likely," Fenya agreed, stirring some kind of concoction.

Mostly when he inspects it all he sees is typical tissue deterioration... there's *something* else there but he can't put his finger on it.

"Fenya , can you take a look at this for me? there's something about this that I feel I'm missing."

Fenya stood, steadying herself for a moment. "Let me see...."

Daniel stepped away from the dish

Fenya stepped up to it, and peered in.

She frowned, and looked closer, frowning more deeply. "There's something familiar about the way this looks. I can't make heads or tails of it though I'm afraid."

"Damn it." Daniel muttered "Maybe I'll try again after that hangover cure clears my head somewhat."

"Might be for the best," she agreed. "It's just about done."

"excellent" Daniel stretched, and put the saw down "....I doubt it, but I was sort of hoping there might be some link between the disease and these objects."

"You think there could be?" she poured the cure into a pair of mugs.

"It's possible...from what I've heard , the town's troubles all started with the death of their local leaders...who were the only ones who knew for certain how to make these things."

She passed him a mug. "Hmmm... that's certainly true. I wonder if they did anything else significant besides make these? and run the town, obviously."

"it sounds like they presided over the births....made these objects...ran the town." He thought for a long moment "Oversaw rituals...which were likely all nonsense or..at the very least...a show layered over an actual beneficial action."

"It sounds like we should put some time into finding out more about them perhaps."

"it seems so." Daniel agreed, taking the mug and drinking it down.

It tasted mostly like rather watery coffee, with an undertone of yeastyness.

it was...fine...enough that he drank it down in a few gulps. "hm. Would I regret asking what's in it?"

"Only if I gave you the answers at the macro level," she shrugged.

"please." Daniel said, and placed the empty mug down.

"Caffeine, potassium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, sucrose, carnitine, and ascorbic acid."

Daniel nodded "all part of a balanced breakfast."

"I think it might taste better cold," she nodded. "But we were in a hurry."

"let's give it a try some other time." he chuckled "for now it hits the spot."

Indeed, his headache was already starting to subside. "Excellent. Some breakfast probably wouldn't go amiss either."

"likely not." He stretched "but now that my headache is gone... i'd like to take one more look at that sample."

"Be my guest," she nodded, gesturing at it.

Now that his eyes were properly functioning, it seemed obvious. It was difficult to see but there was *movement*.

"....well. Will you look at that." he murmured "it's moving." He watched the moving particles closely.

Their movement was familiar. In fact.... wasn't it the same way that the particles in the blood sample the day before were moving?

"I was right, Fenya." Daniel said, watching them move "there's a link!" "the same living *moving* specimens in the infected blood sample are all over this sample as well! the dolls and the plague *are* connected!"

"You're joking! how old is that sample?" she peered over his shoulder-- not that she could see anything.

"over 20 years old and it's still got these animate particles." He backed away and offered the microscope to her.

She peered in it and her mouth opened gently. "Damn.... it *does* look awfully similar. But instead of it being in the blood, it's in all the tissue..."

Daniel nodded "infesting it. Like a parasite of sorts"

"If it's a parasite, ‘how can it survive so long in dead tissue’ is the question. Unless that's common and I'm merely ignorant on the subject?"

"no it's...odd." he frowned "whatever it is,it's...unique. and it's clearly dangerous."

"Clearly," she nodded. "The question is what is it and what do we do about it?"

"that's the question." He mused. "...This sample is invaluable, you know." He smiled "we can test various ways to kill this thing....and then once we find one that sticks...we simply test how effective it is in a living body."

"oh that's clever!" she nodded.

Daniel chuckled "isn't it?" he glanced at the sample with a smirk "We'll start with simple sterilizing agents."

"Always a good idea to start with the basics," she agreed with a similar look on her face.

"After that...we'll start looking at more complicated means...and perhaps asking around for more information on these 'witches' of theirs."

"Sounds like an excellent plan, doctor."

"I don't have a doubt in my mind that we'll crack this thing, Fenya."

He carefully began putting away the samples in small beakers and vials, sealing them with corks and setting them at the center of the table for later study.

"If you're confident then so am I, Danochka."

Daniel nodded to her, smiling thinly "We just have to be quick about it before the damn thing starts to spread."

"Indeed," she nodded. "So given that what would you say is our next move?"

Daniel thought for a moment "try to procure supplies for your chemistry , so we can start developing possible cures...get a sample of a living tree from the grove....check on our patients and...see if any of our contacts can be of any use to us."

"Into town we go then," she smiled. "I'd ah, better change clothes first."

Daniel chuckled "and I should get out of my pajamas."

"Unless you want to make a *very*casual impression."

"oh yes, that's the way to the town's heart." He drawled "I'm certain of it."

She giggled and her ears flicked. "Well if you're *sure*."

"Yes, everyone wants to see me in my silk pajamas, clearly. That won't make them laugh at all"

"Definitely not. Serious mosgravans never laugh. Not even when they're drunk."

Daniel chuckled "you were laughing an awful lot last night."

"That must be my ridiculous astorian side," she protested amusedly, ears twitching.

"oh you must be mistaken." Daniel grinned "astorians are notoriously serious."

"Oh is that so?" she purred.

"oh absolutely. You can tell just from our rich culture of stuffy superiority."

"Hmmm you may be right about that," she grinned slyly.

Daniel's ear twitched "so it's a mystery where those giggles of yours came from, if it wasn't your Mosgravian side, nor your Astorian side."

"A true mystery indeed," she nodded. "We may have to run further tests."

"I'm for it if you are, Professor" Daniel picked up his bag with a wink "shall we?"

She stood. "Lets." After a few minutes the two were dressed and ready for the day.

Daniel headed downstairs 'I wonder if Mitya will be cross with us for blocking the door."

".... I had forgotten about that," she said quietly as they headed down.

"As had I." Daniel mused "but given the situation last night, it was an important step to take for our safety." He walked to the door, and removed the chair.

Mitya-- from behind the counter jolted. "Oh! did you put that there?"

"I had to crawl in a window you know!"

Daniel jolted in surprise "....there...was a window left unblocked?"

"Unblocked in that it finally opened after I rattled it for half an hour! I nearly went to the guard."

Daniel grimaced "....we had a break in last night. And a second attempted one later in the evening."

"Oh dear..." he rubbed his face. "I take it it wasn't you who threw the letters everywhere then..."

"No, that would be our nocturnal interloper...who also went through my bloody things upstairs." He put his hand on his hip. "then some unholy maniac went banging on my window in the dead of night...on the second damned floor." He shook his head "so we took a few precautions."

"I.... see. Well I can hardly fault you for that," he sighed.

"Indeed. Sorry for getting in the way of your work, however."

"It's alright," he said sighing again. "I've spent most of the morning getting the letters back in order. I'm afraid the mail's going to be delayed."

"Did you lock up last night?" Daniel asked "...because if you did you may wish to invest in better locks."

"I mean I THINK I did," he said rubbing his face.

"you may want to be sure...and invest in those locks anyway."

"Yes, I'll see if I can get the money for it," he sighed.

"I'll see what I can do to help, hm? I've got a little money saved up for my venture here, after all."

"I couldn't possibly take your money, doctor..." he protested.

"please. It's for both *my* security and yours, Mitya."

He frowned. "if I can't get my father to pay for it I *might* allow you to make a donation."

"Good." Daniel pat his shoulder "Because I'd really like to know I can sleep soundly in my bed, eh? *without* inconveniencing my gracious host."

He smiled. "well that is a nice thought. I'm sorry about your sleep last night, doctor."

"oh, it's alright." Daniel said "no harm was done...at least as far as I could tell."

"Aide from the mess," he nodded. "Oh... if there are any letters for you I haven't spotted them yet."

"Ah, that's fair." Daniel nodded slowly "If you see any, please try to send word."

"I sure will," he nodded.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Yes. I have some very important samples upstairs....can you make sure nobody gets in to touch them? They're potentially ....dangerous."

"Absolutely. Nobody should be going up there anyway," he nodded.

"It's much appreciated Mitya...as I said, someone rifled through my things last night...and these samples are *very* important."

"I'll protect them with my life, sir."

Daniel bowed "you have my thanks, Mitya."

The postmaster gave him a salute in return.

Daniel nodded. "Keep up the good work, lad. I'll be going now."

"Take care you two," Mitya nods, waving them on their way as they go.

Daniel waved, and turned to head out the door and into the day.

It was stiflingly foggy, and the sky was almost as dark as it had been the day before.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "....nasty day out isn't it, Fenya?"

"It certainly is," she said, scooching closer to him. "Absolutely dreadful."

He nodded, keeping close as he opened his umbrella...just in case. "it's nearly as dark as night."

"So it is," she said, gazing up at the sky. There were places where the clouds seemed even blacker. "Danochka...."

Daniel frowned, following her gaze "yes, Fenya?"

"Doesn't it look like the clouds are coming from the rookery?"

Daniel frowned deeply, staring at the Rookery with a raise of his eyebrow. "....that's impossible..."

Indeed it did look like a large plume of black smoke was rising into the air and becoming the clouds. Wait.... hadn't there been smoke coming from the tower yesterday? They'd never found any source for that.

"......." "what's going on in there." Daniel frowned, "...i think we should find out."

She nodded. "I heartily agree..."

"Shall we make that our first stop after breakfast?"

"Absolutely, doctor."

He nodded , and headed towards the inn "I wonder if it's common around here...I'll ask while we eat."

"Are we going back to granny's then?"

Daniel nodded. "Seems like the best place to grab a bite around these parts. Dinner was promised to our friends at the farmhouse, however."

Fenya nodded. "Oh yes. well, we probably need to visit them again anyway."

"Especially to check on our patient." He headed towards Granny's pub.

"Which I suppose we *must*."

"I'll admit, I'm not much a fan of the man." Daniel said, pushing the door open.

"I didn't even know him and I don't like him," she said. The pub was much quieter this morning than it had been the night before. Just a few, rather grumpy customers sat around, the little assistant running around fetching plates. Probably few people wanted to brave the weather even if they were locals.

Daniel gave the assistant a little wave, before he sat by the counter with a thin smile "he's been nothing but a problem. That's enough to make him an irritation."

"However he went and got himself sick it was probably being a nuisance too."

"From all we heard? Absolutely. Sticking his nose into everyone's business and being a downright pill."

"I don't believe in hexes but if I were a witch I'd do it."

Daniel laughed out loud "you know what? So would i."

Fofka padded over with a pair of bowls. "Breakfast?"

"Yes, if you don't mind, Fofka."

He pushed the two bowls onto the table. "Drinks coming."

"Thank you," Fenya said, giving him a smile.

"Much appreciated." Daniel purred, flashing a grin "coffee if you don't mind."

The child bobs his head and hurries off.

Daniel looks into the bowl, stretching out the cricks in his back

"Feeling alright?" Fenya asks. "Oh... you slept sitting up part of the night didn't you?"

He nodded slowly "thanks to our visitor." he grimaced "....it wasn't comfortable, but it was necessary."

"If you want, I could help keep watch this evening."

"If you wouldn't mind." he sighed "we can alternate." He takes a bite of the morning meal.

"Doesn't bother me," she nodded. "It seems sadly necessary." The food was a heavy porridge, all carbs and fat-- very much a laborer's breakfast. It was extremely densely flavored, and Daniel felt like if he ate very much of it he wouldn't be hungry until well toward dinner time.

Lucky for him, he wasn't planning on stopping for lunch. He dug into it. "sadly I believe it is...and if we get another look at the thing, we can figure out just what it *is*"

"I certainly hope we can," she nodded. "You don't think it was the vampire do you?"

"It might have been." He mused "for a given value of 'vampire' "

"Obviously it can't be a *real* vampire," she agreed as the boy brought them their coffee.

"but it very well could be that horribly lanky gentleman we tried to gun down the other night for the assault of the shop clerk."

"That's exactly what I was thinking," she nodded

"Perhaps he came by for a spot of revenge." he mused

"Could be.... also I know we were considering that Rook fellow..."

"it's possible as well." Daniel agreed "there's a few options."

"We haven't *exactly* made a string of enemies, but...."

"we may have taken a step or two towards a few peoples bad sides." He drawled

"It's a possibility," she agreed dryly.

"especially given our liberal acquisition of research materials." He smirked.

"I *have* heard that some people disagree with such scientific methods."

"a shame. But unavoidable in a town like this." he sighed

"very," she agreed. "We'll just have to soldier on."

"In the name of Astoria, Science, and our own ambitions, we must do what we must"

"So we must," she agreed with a smile.

He grinned "cheers, Fenya. To science."

She raised her coffee and clinked it against his. "To science."

He grinned, and tipped the coffee back in a long sip.

It was good coffee.

Damn good coffee. and he was going to need it. He finished it and gestured for refill. He returned to his meal "....Hopefully we can find out what's going on with that smoke."

"If it is smoke," she said. "Could be steam."

"it could be." he mused "That could also be steam. It could also have some oil in it."

"Oil.... hmm that would certainly thicken it."

"It seems...curiously thick."

Fenya nodded. "So it seems. Perilously difficult to sample the air of course."

"Terribly, though we can try to get a dish out over it and see if we can catch any particles."

"I'm willing to try if you are."

"It's a plan then." he chuckled 'lets hope we can find the source."

"Well we know where we have to check at least."

"the Rookery itself" he finished off his porridge and placed the money on the counter.

She nodded, finishing hers too. "Exactly." Granny leaned over. "Heading off to the Rookery eh?"

Daniel nodded. "to see what's going on with that thick smoke."

"Smoke?" Granny raised a silver eyebrow.

"you don't see it? the thing's letting off more smoke than a factory."

"Can't see a damn thing with this fog," she said with a smile

"...the fog's practically coming from the damned thing."

"How strange," she said, shaking her head.

"You really can't tell?"

"Sky ain't the thing I spend most of my time looking at." She smiled.

Daniel got the impression that while she was telling the truth, she wasn't exactly being *honest*.

"no I suppose not." He folded his hands "Granny, You're a good woman, so don't take this as any disrespect...but I feel there's more to this than you're telling me. Would you mind parting with the whole truth?"

She snorted. "What's that, young man? You'll have to speak up, I'm a little deaf in my good ear."

"I feel that there's *more* to what you're saying than what you're *telling* me" he said a little loudly, and clearly.

She cupped her ear. "Ehhh? there's *war* at the *spelling bee*? What kind of nonsense is that?"

Daniel's smile grew a little rictus. "There's MORE to what you're SAYING than what you are TELLING ME" he says, even louder.

Fenya covered her mouth, looking somewhere between amused and irritated.

what patrons were left were staring now.

"Eh? More? Can't say there is, sonny!"

Daniel tented his hands "Granny." He slowly pointed his tented hands her way "why? why this?"

"Why what?" she grinned that old woman grin. "Why the pub? Somebody's gotta feed people."

"Oh absolutely. What a saint you are, Granny. I *appreciate your help immensely.* . Now if you excuse me I have to stop your people from bloody *dying* of a horrendously painful plague." He bowed "Good day."

"Aye, good luck with that, youngun," she nodded.

"I'll need it." He said, turning to walk out of the room *especially if everyone's as unhelpful as this.*

Fenya followed him shaking her head. "well that was......"

"Irritating." Daniel finished for her.

"Vastly."

"I have to wonder why she isn't willing to damn well *say* anything. "

"It might just be because she's an annoying old lady. But..."

"she's hiding something." Daniel said "that much is clear."

"She IS the oldest person I've seen around..."

"I can't help but feel she's firmly on the side of our superstitious lot, and likely finds our interference irritating."

"Very potentially," Fenya nodded. "Maybe we should find some way to corner her...."

"If we work together, I feel we can manage it."

"We should certainly try," she agreed.

"It's a plan." he chuckled 'Perhaps if we get a moment today or tomorrow." He headed towards the Rookery

She followed after him, back the way they had come from the post office.

"Let's hope...in vain I'm sure...that Rook will be open to talk to us today."

"Hopefully," she agreed, turning her collar up as the rain began. They couldn't see very far in all the mist.

Daniel kept close to her, his lips tight as they pushed through the thickening mist. "This weather is terrible"

"Feels like it keeps getting worse."

"Every moment." He agreed "I almost expect the sky to turn black as night at this rate."

"I wouldn't be surprised," she frowned. They got closer to the tower which loomed even in the fog.

Daniel glanced up at it...was it still billowing smoke?

There was still the plume of black coming from its tip and spiraling lazily into the rest of the dark sky.

"...there's something so odd about that dark smoke." he muttered

"we certainly didn't see any place for a fire in the tower."

"no, I didn't see anything like that." He frowned "...which is what worries me."

"I suppose it could be some chemical byproduct...."

"Of what, though, is the question.."

"It certainly is," she mused. "I know of a few compounds that could make that effect but it would be difficult to get the ingredients in quantity.

"Is that so?" He asked "..i doubt Rook's just got them lying about."

"I didn't see any, but I suppose we can't rule it out."

"are they dangerous?" he asked curiously "the chemicals."

"About half of them," she nodded. "the others are merely a nuisance."

"Great. Just what we need....a mad occultist pumping chemicals into the sky."

"Sounds like home," she joked

"doesn't it?" he smirked, “if you replace occultists with industrialist."

"Same idea, different word."

Daniel laughed "you know Fenya...if nothing else, meeting you makes this trip quite worth it."

She smiled and her ears flicked as she leaned a little closer. "Well, I'm pleased to hear that in any case."

Daniel offered his arm as they approached the looming structure. "As am I. You're certainly good company."

The structure loomed there, solid and menacing as it had before.

"I'd say that makes two of us then."

Daniel gave her a smile, before he walked for the trapdoor with her nearby.

It was a good thing he had a rough idea where it was or he'd never find it with the fog roiling around their ankles. As it was, he only barely managed.

Daniel pulled the trapdoor up, and gestured inside. "let's go solve a mystery."

At least-- he tried that. This time the door opened a sliver and then stopped short.

It was chained from inside.

Daniel frowned deeply "...he's locked us out."

"How dare he," Fenya says dryly.

"Do you have anything in that kit of yours that might weaken that chain?"

her smirk curls. "are you suggesting breaking and entering?"

"It's ...urban archeology."

"Ahh of course," she nodded. "In that case I might have something."

Daniel smirked thinly "please."

She swung her bag off her shoulder and started to rummage through it.

Daniel waited in the fog, his hands in his jacket pockets.

Fenya rummaged in her bag for a moment before bringing out a pair of thick gloves and two vials. She put the gloves on first, before pouring the contents of one vial into the other. As it started to hiss, she poured it on the part of the door with the chair. The hissing got louder, and Daniel could see the stuff eating away at the wood.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "impressive stuff, Fenya. Quite impressive."

"Many thanks," she purred. She stuffed the empty vial with a cloth and put it back in her pack. The mixture ate away a fist sized chunk of the door, and Daniel heard the chair fall loose.

Daniel reached in and pulled the door open with a smile, "shall we pay Rook a visit?"

"Lets," she nodded, shouldering her bag again.

Daniel stepped into the darkened area, and once more descended into the Rookery

He didn't seem to be about as they descended the short staircase into the lowest room above the cairne.

Daniel glanced around it, his hand resting at his side "what say we go to the top?"

"Seems logical to me," she nodded.

Daniel nodded, and began to ascend the tower once more

They headed up the stairs to the second floor where the strange books and the stone podiums were.

Daniel once more looked around this room, before he moved to head up the ladder. Was anything in here making that smoke?

There didn't seem to be anything in here. It was a pretty open room.

Daniel nodded, and continued up the ladder.

Rook's bedroom with its shelves full of small stones and old bones.

Daniel looked around the room carefully this time. Looking for a way further up, perhaps...or for the source of the smoke.

There was the trap door in the ceiling that would lead to the apparent highest level-- the unlit one where he had been caught the day before.

Looking up at the trap door he came to the realization that there was *definitely* no chimney in here. How did it stay warm? they certainly weren't freezing like the post office.

Daniel frowned deeper "....there's no chimney in here Fenya...yet it's warm. Not like the post. That means..."

"There's something else keeping it warm," she murmured. "And it's not fire.... At least not a fire in this room."

"We saw the cairne..." He frowned 'and we should investigate that top room, I suppose. But.." He looked at her with a raise of his eyebrow "do you think it's chemical, somehow?"

"I would think it would have to be." she said. "Unless he's feeding a fire somewhere in here and piping it out."

"possible." Daniel murmured "but why would it produce so MUCH smoke. It's like a factory."

"That's the question," she agreed. "and is it intentional or a side effect."

"I suppose the only thing we can do is locate the source." He gestured, and started to climb up "let's start by going up here."

She nodded and followed after him.

It was still black as pitch up there.

Daniel frowned, and looked at Fenya "Do you still have that light?"

"No, I left it with the equipment so I could run some tests...."

Daniel nodded slowly "ah. well." he rummaged in his pack to see if he'd perhaps brought his matches. "we can always steal another, or....hopefully I might have something of use here...

He does not in fact have his matches. And he hears a cough from below them.

"Damn it." Daniel muttered under his breath. "hello." He called down the ladder "we saw smoke coming from your Rookery and were afraid there might have been a bit of a situation"

"We have to stop meeting like this, Doctor," the Rook says dryly from below them.

Daniel shrugged his shoulders "it must be fate, my dear Rook." he purred

"I'm terribly sorry to hear that you're fated to hang around in my dusty attic so much."

"we can't all have lofty destinies , I suppose." Daniel said, "do you have a light?"

"I do," Rook said while Fenya was biting her hand- perhaps to stop from laughing. "Will you refrain from dissolving my front door a second time if I show you the attic?"

"Absolutely, absolutely my dear man." Daniel said, putting his hand on his chest. "but I assure you it was out of nothing but pure concern. Your Rookery is smoking like an Astorian politician."

"How terribly kind of you to rush in to help." Rook climbed the ladder and stood with them. For a moment he was nothing more than another silhouette in the darkness. Then he produced a small light in his hand. As he had seen the day before the ceiling was curved and quite low. The walls also curved; the whole room came to a half-globe with the walls bowing out like a fish bowl. The walls were not the smooth stone of the lower floors but still covered in that poorly applied paper.

"hm." Daniel walked around the room, investigating every nook and cranny as he went. "...how odd."

As he walks along he finds that small spots of the unevenly plastered white pulp are now darkening-- some have turned fully black. There are specks here and there and some spots as large as his thumbnail or larger.

Daniel frowns , and places his gloved hand on one of the darkened spots "...Rook. What's this?"

"You're not going to like the answer."

"I've gotten used to that sort of thing." Daniel drawled. "please."

"It's the evil contained here pushing its way out."

Fenya snorted.

"Very ominous." Daniel mused. "Can you explain just what you mean?"

"I believe I explained myself yesterday."

"The evil in man's souls stored in the walls of this massive structure,and so on and so forth?"

"Yes. And papering the walls to keep it inside?" he said.

"It seems your paper's doing little to stop it as of late." Daniel said, inspecting a dark spot. "i'm going to take a sample."

"Wonderful."

Fenya offers him an empty vial.

Daniel nodded, and took the vial....carefully he took some samples of the darkened paper. "Rook, when did this start happening? and is it connected to that smoke rising from the Rookery?"

"Almost certainly," he agreed. "And it's been getting worse and worse for the last five years."

"Connected to the whole fiasco with the church, you think?" Daniel mused

"Certainly certainly."

"I ask this genuinely." Daniel said. "....did they do anything with this room of the tower before they died? Is there something that *they* did that isn't being done now"

"I'm certain there was," he said. "They had many rituals and preparations."

"and you wouldn't happen to know any of them, would you?" Daniel drawled "...what if I told you that I'm fairly certain whatever's leaking through your walls here is connected to a plague currently spreading over town?"

"I still wouldn't be able to tell you."

"...hm." Daniel thought for a moment '...so what *is* the source of the heat in here? the smoke?"

"I've never tried to find out. The smoke however, is new, Doctor."

"you never tried to..." Daniel shook his head "...it is, hm? Can you show me it's source?"

"The smoke?"

Rook looks confused.

"yes." Daniel frowned "...all smoke has a source, doesn't it?"

"Doctor I already told you where it was coming from."

"the evil behind the paper?" Daniel drawled

"The evil escaping *through* the paper," he clarified.

"mm." Daniel said "and what would happen if I cut a bit of the paper open to look behind it?"

"I would attempt to stop you, Doctor."

"because it would let the evil out?" Daniel asked

"Yes, Doctor," he said, somehow both condescending and tersely. "Come now you can't be serious," Fenya scoffed.

Daniel shook his head "i think this little tower of yours is linked to the disease I've spotted around town, Rook. Unless you're telling me that you're covering up a severely infectious or *parasitic* substance with paper and that's somehow keeping it in....then there's no harm in me checking behind the paper.'

"get out," He said, moving between daniel and the wall.

Daniel sighed "must we do this again?" He held his hands up "I'm looking to protect your people here, Rook. But nobody in town's willing to give me a straight answer."

"I'm looking to protect people as well, doctor. And I tend to do it without *Stealing things* and destroying property."

Daniel's smile grew a little tight "ah. Well I can see I've offended you." he dipped into a low bow. "...let's discuss this like civilized men."

"Let's get out of my attic first then," he suggested tersely.

"indeed." Daniel murmured. "...Indeed." he backed away from the wall, and went to go down the ladder

"you too," Rook says, glowering at Fenya. She sighed. "fine, fine." She came down the ladder after Daniel, and Rook came down after her. He pushed the ladder up and closed the door.

"I'd just like to say, again, that breaking down your door? that was out of concern."

"I'm sure it was," he said dryly.

"You said you're trying to help." Daniel said "can I ask how?"

"I've already told you," he said tersely. "It's hardly my fault when you damned astorians don't believe what I'm saying."

"the paper again?" Daniel asked.

He pinched the bridge of his nose "...do you have any of it that you haven't used? Perhaps I can see if it has some kind of ...protective composition."

"I do," he said. "I suppose I could give you a piece if it'll stop you tromping around in the Grove."

"I very much appreciate that." Daniel purred "we're not trying to disrespect you."

"I know, that's what makes it so amazing how good you are at it."

Fenya nearly choked.

Daniel snorted "Very good one, wonderfully played."

Rook chuckled slightly. "In any case. I'll bring you the 'sample' this evening."

"I appreciate it." he said with a nod "I feel that despite our differences, we're both working towards the same thing..." He paused 'From different angles."

"Indeed," he agreed. "I appreciate your good intentions."

"as I appreciate yours." He said with a nod "Even if I don't quite understand your methods."

"we find each other at a similar impasse."

Daniel nodded slowly "I've found evidence of the plague inside samples we've taken. A small, microscopic organism of some sort that writhes about in the blood, or in long dead tissue."

"Plague you say." he raised an eyebrow

"I would have said isolated illness...but we have two patients at an advanced stage and evidence it's already spreading amongst the lower classes"

"Delightful," he intones. "So it begins. Or continues I suppose."

"I don't intend to let it spread much further. " Daniel said "I'm going to solve this thing."

"I wish you all the luck in the world, doctor. Meanwhile I'll continue my efforts here."

"Best of luck, Rook." Daniel said with a smile "and if you can get me a sample of that smoke." He offered him a small dish "just see if you can get some particles on there, please?"

"I'll try, Doctor. No promises."

"I appreciate it. I'd like to test it's composition."

"If you can I'd certainly be curious what you find."

"I'll share my results, if you share your own." Daniel purred "perhaps we can find a middle ground."

"Fine with me. But perhaps we should have these meetings somewhere besides my attic."

"wherever you like, my friend" Daniel waved his hand. "wherever you like."

"How about at the church then."

"the church it is." Daniel nodded "Provided those children aren't traipsing about."

"Lets meet at night. They'll be gone by then.

"Understood." Daniel said "Bring light, we've had some...nocturnal encounters, as of late."

"I'll make certain to come equipped."

"Much appreciated." He paused "have you had any trouble at night?"

"Have I been attacked by a vampire or something you mean?"

"that's the question, isn't it?"

"Alas I haven't had the privilege."

"the privilege." Daniel snorted 'something assaulted our window last night, rook. It was somewhere between a man and beast, and struck the second story window."

"Heavens."

"Does that sound at all familiar to you, rook? Something of that nature?"

"Hmmm. Could be a husk."

"And a husk is?"

Fenya speaks up. "Oh! Darya mentioned them, remember, doctor?"

"...ah." Daniel nodded "the people who've been consumed by their internal darkness or something of the like, yes?"

"Those whose souls have been compromised."

Fenya frowned. "Darya said heart."

"Same thing."

"Depends who you ask, Rook." Daniel said "heart and souls are often seen as two separate concepts."

He smiled tightly. "Let me clarify-- same thing in this context."

"ah, well." He thought for a moment 'from a scientific perspective, they could be someone who's so far gone from their disease...the rotting of their mind, or what have you, that they've essentially *become* husks."

"You're the doctor not me," he shrugged. "Catch one and tell me if it's the case."

"Challenge accepted." Daniel purred. "I'll capture one of your Husks and see what makes it tick."

"I look forward to that, doctor. I'll meet you this evening at the church. After sundown."

"see you at church, Rook." Daniel said "and sorry about the door."

"Water under the bridge. Just please don't break into here again."

Daniel nodded "Unless it's a serious situation, I promise."

"I'd prefer a strong agreement but I suppose I'll take what I can get/"

"I make no promises if your door is locked and I hear you screaming for dear life." Daniel drawled "if you catch my drift."

"Very well you damned meddling astorian," he agrees amiably enough.

"It's our national pastime, meddling." Daniel said with a slight smirk. "Thank you for understanding."

"Of course." with a few more parting pleasantries he ushered them out.4

Daniel stood out in the fog outside the Rookery, smoothing out his jacket with a long sigh "...well. we have samples."

"which is better than we had before," she said. "But we definitely don't have answers."

"it certainly is....but I hope with our hard word we'll get at least a few of the answers we seek."

"We can hope. If anything it's something interesting to have a clandestine night meeting."

He laughed "it's delightfully shady, isn't it? Almost a thrill in concept alone."

"Indeed. Even if it means braving the weather and any husky vampires."

"Husky vampires." Daniel drawled "hm. That's a phrase, alright."

She chuckled. "I'd hoped you'd like it."

"It certainly brightened the mood." he smirked "...but hopefully the vampires are either easy to suppress, or nonexistent tonight."

"Hopefully," she agreed with a sigh. She stretched. The sky was far from clear despite it being around noon. It was hard to see the sun behind the clouds.

"where shall we go next?" he mused "perhaps to Sasha's?"

"we probably should check in on how things are going there."

"We do have a patient. And I'd like to see if him and his sister are holding up alright."

"yes that seems like a good idea," she nodded. "His sister?"

"I believe she was his sister? the girl I saw the first day I arrived. When we were patching up the wounded man."

"Oh her!" she nodded. "I;d nearly forgotten in the chaos."

"I'm curious if she seems a little more...lucid...now."

"We should check," she nodded.

"alright then. to the Osgrov household" Daniel purred.

"To the Osgrov household," she nodded. "You know, we're certainly getting our exercise."

"we certainly are. I'll be in fantastic shape by the time this mess is done." he walked through the fog beside her

"Certainly one thing to be thankful for," she agreed dryly. "Not that you seem to be in bad shape now."

"I often go for walks and jogs around campus when I find the time." He admitted. "it helps me think"

"Mmm they say fresh air will do that."

"A little exercise, some fresh air." he mused "and time away from the morons in my department"

"Isn't that the dream," she chuckled. A few people passed by them on the street going about their business. They were quite bundled up against the fog.

Daniel gave them a little wave as he passed "It's necessary in the University, given the sheer density of the idiocy." he shrugged "sometimes I visit Lulu at the girls boarding school on my walks, often I regretted it."

"Only often? She must really like you."

"I was stuck with her for months on the frontier." he drawled. "I think she got attached. Like a tapeworm."

Fenya chuckled. "Sounds permanent. My condolences."

"A true tragedy, I fear I may not survive." he intoned

"I'm sure Lulu will be happy to tell everyone your story. At length."

Daniel smirked 'until they're sick of hearing it. and each time it becomes even more and more fantastical."

"Oh yes. At some point i'm sure the two of you will have killed a god and you nobly sacrificed yourself only to become worshiped in his stead."

"Which will be, of course, incredibly awkward when I visit the next week." he snorted

"extraordinarily," she laughs.

He shook his head. "children. This is why I don't tend to deal with them."

"Definitely for the best."

"Agreed." Daniel nodded as they walked through town "children and jesters both." He kept a wary eye out for *the fox*

"watching out for the clown?" Fenya murmured.

"I am. I don't think my heart can take it today."

"Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll be off to lunch."

"is it possible he sustains himself on something other than the death of comedy?"

"It's possible, danny but not likely!" the clown shouted from behind him.

"kill me" Daniel drawled

"end my suffering , Fenya."

She put a hand on his back, and hurried her pace. "Let's just get out of here." "Awww... running away? Won't have much a chance to do that for long."

Daniel frowned and turned to face him "and why's that, clown?"

"A joke of course, danny-boy! I'm a man of laughs!"

"I'm afraid I don't get it" he frowned 'and it sounded oddly like a threat."

"A threat?" he gasped and put his hand on his chest. "Why I would *never.*."

"no, I think you very well might. Care to explain the joke?"

"Oh nooooo, doctor, I couldn't! Don't you know an explanation kills a joke?"

"I'm starting to wish *something* might wind up killed." Daniel muttered to himself. "Well. Long before I lose my chance to run away, I hope, at the very least... I can outpace you."

"Happy travels then, doctor! I expect we'll be seeing a lot of each other!"

"Oh I hope not." Daniel said, as he walked as fast as he could away from the man.

Fenya marched with him until they'd gotten well away from the square, turning onto the street where Osgov manner lied.

"I hate that clown." Daniel said, approaching the manor

"I never liked clowns in general but this one in particular is irritating," she agreed. "Are we going to the house first then?"

"Yes, we might as well." Daniel nodded "better chance of checking on the two of them there."

She nodded and followed him up to the impressive, weathered old manor house.

Daniel knocked on the door once they approached, nodding his head.

Though she wasn't wearing a nightgown this time, Lydia answered the door with the same dreamy smile and breathless voice as the night they'd met.

"Oh.... hello again.... is anyone hurt this time?"

Daniel bowed his head "luckily , no." he said "we simply came to see you and your brother."

"My brother's at the clinic right now."

"I'll have to visit him there, then." He paused "how are you feeling, Lydia?"

"I'm alright..... you would like to come in?"

"Absolutely, thank you."

Lydia wafted away from the door, letting the two of them inside the handsome old house.

Daniel walked inside, glancing around "I'm pleased we aren't barging in in the middle of the night again." he chuckled "I know it was a bit of a rude wake up call."

"That's okay.... I wasn't sleeping...." She led them into a room that seemed to be part garden-- there were plants everywhere, and a few chairs here and there.

"That's a surprise." he chuckled "you seemed rather sleepy."

She smiled and sat down, folding her hands in her lap. "Do I? .... Im sorry...."

"Are you alright?" He asked, standing by a chair

"What do you mean?" she asked, giving him a soft smile.

"Healthwise. there's a sickness going around town." Daniel said.

"Oh..... no... I'm not sick yet," she said shaking her head.

"yet? I do hope it stays that way, Lydia. Be careful around the clinic, hm?'

"I don't usually go to the clinic." she shook her head.

"That's good. We don't know how infectious this thing is as of yet."

She nodded with concern. "It sounds like you have a great trial before you..."

"Likely" Daniel sighed "but we're hoping to come out the other side all the better."

"That would be a wonderful victor," she said breathily. "... though.... a difficult one."

Daniel nodded "...how much do you know about the situation?"

She shook her head. "Just what I've seen with my own eyes...."

"has that been much?" he asked

"I don't find myself leaving the house much."

"May I ask why not?" Daniel asked

"I just feel safer here," she said with a smile.

"Safe from what?" He asked in curiosity

"Monsters, obviously," she said. She laughed suddenly, like the shattering of glass.

Fenya gave Daniel a look.

Daniel glanced back at Fenya "...monsters?" he cleared his throat "that's an ominous statement."

"Isn't it?" she said, catching her breath. "It's very ominous."

"I'll admit, I don't exactly see ghouls and goblins wandering the streets in broad daylight."

"No.... some of them wear the skins of men." she laughed again.

Daniel raised his eyebrow at her laughing fit "is that so..?"

"haven't you noticed?"

Daniel tapped his fingers gently on the table "...noticed what, exactly?"

"The monsters of course! I'm sure you've seen one at least....."

"What are the signs of these monsters?" He leaned on the table "how would I spot one?"

"Their soul is black."

Daniel tapped his finger on the table again "you mean they have the sickness. The one I've been finding traces of all over town."

"That's one kind of monster." she said with a smile.

"....and what else?"

"The ones you can't see until they've already got you," she said staring at a blank spot on the wall.

Daniel turned to stare at the wall with her "....hm. Then no point looking out for those, is there?"

"They'll find you anyway," she nodded. "Even when you feel safe."

"Local spooky woman can't stop saying ominous things," Fenya muttered.

Daniel stifled a chuckle, and covered it with a clear of his throat. "And how do you know about these invisible wraiths?"

"They visit me sometimes."

"...do they now. And they haven't struck you?"

"Just because a monster feeds on you doesn't mean it kills, doctor....."

Daniel stared at her for a long moment "excuse me."

She blinked back at him. After a moment she gives a quizzical tilt of her head.

"Are you saying that these monsters feed on you...regularly, and they keep you alive?"

She nodded. "...is that strange to you?"

"A bit." Daniel mused "may I see your wrist?"

"Of course." She nodded and offered him her delicate wrist.

Daniel brushed her fur out of the way and tried to get a good look at her veins.

Her veins weren't dark, but her wrist was covered in bruises.

"I notice you're quite bruised." He pointed out. "pretty much all over."

She smiled and cocked her head. "Am I?" she asked dreamily.

"you are. Where'd these bruises come from, might I ask?"

"Oh..... here and there....."

"are you...alright?" he asked seriously

She giggles and smiles. "Thank you for worrying about me."

"I'm a physician, I can't help myself."

"It's your duty? or your nature?"

"A little of both." he chuckled, letting go of her arm and shaking his head "is that the work of your monsters, though?"

She nodded quietly. "Directly or indirectly."

"indirectly?"

She smiled hauntingly. Mmmhmmm"

"Well...try to stay safe from them, hm?" He said with a thin smile "we should visit your brother and our patient."

"Must I?"

"must you....what?"

"Try to stay safe...."

Daniel tented his fingers "...why would you *not* want to stay safe, young lady?"

"...why would anyone do that?"

"....self preservation." Daniel said

"...no.... the other one...."

"....I'm not sure I get what you mean."

"I mean what you asked," she said blinking.

"I said try to stay safe." Daniel said with a tent of his fingers. "...and then you said why would anyone do that....and I said...self preservation. I'm not sure which other thing I said."

"No," she shook her head. "you didn't."

Fenya started massaging the bridge of her nose.

"i'm very lost in this conversation, young lady. Care to explain?"

"Not really," she sighed. "It seems like you wouldn;t understand even though you know the answer."

Daniel's jaw set. "...." He pressed his hand to his face "I'll give it some thought."

She smiled dreamily at him. "I know you will."

"Indeed." He bowed to her...before turning to leave "stay safe."

She didn't answer this time. Fenya followed him out of the room.

Daniel walked into the fog once more, and made for the clinic 'hm...Fenya..."

"Yes, doctor?" she asked dryly.

"I'm not so sure about that girl."

"You know Danochka, I think she's a cup or two short of a tea service."

"that would not surprise me." he mused "...did I miss something in that exchange?"

She shook her head. "If you did then I did as well I'm afraid. You mentioned she was bruised up though....."

"bruised all over her arms." he said "likely elsewhere as well."

"Is that something you've encountered before?"

"in a few cases..." he said, thinking for a long moment 'both ...situational and medical."

"It sounds like something we should give some thought to," she nodded as they came to the clinic.

He nodded in agreement. "that's right, we should." he knocked on the door

Sasha opened the door in a surgery gown. "Ah. Doctor."

"Sasha. How's our patient?"

"Things are grim," he sighed. "And I've seen two more patients this morning."

"...." Daniel shook his head "may we come inside? I fear we'll have plenty more before the week is done.'

Sasha nodded. "You may. you may want to wear that mask you have also."

Daniel nodded, pulling his mask up "wonderful."

Fenya pulled her scarf over her muzzle as well and Sasha waved them in. There were two fresh patients laying on cots in his main office. One of them was unconscious.

Daniel frowned deeply, "I see...two more patients..." He walked in, and looked them over "this is already spreading Sasha...there are afflicted in the slums as well"

"I suspected as much after this morning," he sighed.

Daniel sighed as well "now we simply find the remedy...and see if we can get a quarantine"

"Indeed," he nodded. "Both of these two have the darkened veins."

"I see" Daniel turned to the one that wasn't unconscious first "Let's get started"

The man-- a laborer most likely by the size of his muscles, was writhing on the cot.

Daniel cleared his throat "may I speak to you while you're awake?"

The patient moaned gently, his eyes blearily open. "Are you a physic?"

"I am" Daniel said with a nod "tell me how you're feeling. In detail"

"Cold.... got aches... all through my body," he mumbled. "Nightmares... can't tell if I'm asleep or awake half the time."

"it sounds like the same" Daniel murmured "tell me. When did you start feeling this way? And...have any of your co-workers been feeling the same?"

"Started feeling run down... bout a week ago," he murmured. He paused to gasp and cough.

Daniel listened "a week ago. I see. "

"He's also been having trouble breathing," Sasha adds.

"a telltale sign." Daniel murmured "...has anyone in your factory complained of the same?"

He murmured something looking into the distance beyond Daniel

Daniel frowned "do you mind speaking up?"

HIs gaze jerks back to daniel. "Huh?"

"you said something just now." He said with a slim smile "can you repeat it?"

"Oh.... sorry... what was the question?"

"Has anyone in your factory complained of similar symptoms." Daniel says again, crossing his arms.

"Oh... uh... a few of the guys," he rasped. "Thought it was the smoke getting to us at first..."

"It's not the smoke." Daniel frowned "we have to shut the factory down. Too many people in close proximity will *breed* this thing."

"Shut down the factory?"

Daniel nods firmly "you can always *start up again* . But this disease is going to be spread *rapidly* in these conditions."

Sashsa cleared his throat. "I doubt that is going to fly with the factory boss."

"Oh , I doubt it will." Daniel drew himself up "but I'm afraid that he'll simply have to *deal with it.*"

"He's not going to close it just on your say so," Sasha said shaking his head. "you'll have to convince the governor to order it closed."

"that's the plan for the day, then." Daniel purred.

"Good luck with it," Sasha sighed.

"Any advice, my friend?"

"He's a man who likes his comforts."

"ah." Daniel mused "perhaps a little liquor to ply him into a state of...cooperation?"

"I am absolutely not recommending you bribe a public official, doctor. "

"heavens no, that would be a crime." Daniel drawled "I'm a law abiding Astorian."

"Yes, Astorians are famed for that."

"aren't we?" Daniel smirked thinly "...i found something out about the disease, though."

Sasha raises an eyebrow. "You did?"

"in private, perhaps?"

He nodded, and waved. "Come to my office."

"Should I come too?" Fenya asks

"Not that I don't want you there, but ...i was wondering if you could do me a favor." he leaned over 'Get some blood samples, and...see if we have anything we can use like the pain relief cocktail we used on Elias for these people."

"Ahhh," Fenya nods. "I think I can manage that for you, doctor."

He nodded "i'll fill him in on the...placenta situation."

"Good idea." Sasha raised an eyebrow. "And with that, lets move to my office."

Daniel nodded, and headed into the office with Sasha. "I imagine you're curious."

"Deeply," Sasha admits, leading him into the small back office from before.

Daniel steps into the room, and closes the door "We had a hunch about the origin of this little bug of ours."

"I see..." Sasha sat down and waved his hand to a chair for Daniel.

Daniel took a seat, and tented his fingers "So we borrowed a phylactery."

"Excuse me?" he looks taken aback.

"...we borrowed a phylactery. I would appreciate it if you wouldn't tell anyone."

"Well I... yes I can see why you wouldn't want me to. Consider it our secret."

"I appreciate that. What I found on the inside was rather interesting, though....placenta. Dried, aged placenta of over 30 years." He smirked "....and when observed through a microscope...it played host to hundreds of little...flitting...creatures. Rather like the ones infesting the ill's blood."

"I see," he stroked his chin. "So the placenta had the disease?"

"it did. And it survived being held in a dead , sealed environment for 20...30 years or so." He shook his head "...fascinating, isn't it? There's a clear link between this illness and this Mistress' ritual."

"Do you think that's how it's showed up then?"

"Given Elias was one of the afflicted." Daniel mused "...he was poking all around that sort of thing."

"Cracked one open and got it in his face?" Sasha mused.

"Entirely likely. Or something far more foolish. The man was an idiot, Sasha."

"On that we agree," he said, setting his jaw.

"I take it you had a run in with him?"

"As I mentioned, he started an argument when I told him he was wasting his time researching folk medicine."

"Ah yes." Daniel nodded. "you're completely right, too. Look where it got him? Sick with an archaic disease kept safe behind bloody *paper*"

"Forgive me for gloating a little," he said with a smirk.

"No, I think you're completely in the right here." he said with a low chuckle "...you deserve the gloat. Only now whatever he has is spreading."

"yes.... that is far from ideal."

"it certainly is." Daniel tented his fingers "...and there's whatever that smog is coming out of the Rookery. I'm a little concerned it's...an airborne variant."

"Yes.... I've been concerned about that smoke too..."

"i'm glad I'm not the only one." Daniel grimaced "Granny acted as if it were all some big joke when I asked about it."

He sighed. "Typical of her."

"She seems like the type." Daniel drawled "things could be in flames and she'd still act like she was mishearing you when you told her to grab a bloody bucket of water."

"Sometimes I think she hates the town honestly," he said, shaking his head.

"is that so?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

He shrugged. "Sometimes she's a sweet old lady. Sometimes she;s very nasty."

"it all depends on the mood you catch her in. Lovely.'

"I suppose you could avoid her."

"I often try."

"It's hard when she's manning one of the few places to eat in town.

"That is a difficulty," he shrugged.

"Regardless...have you ever seen anything like this sickness?"

"No. Never," he shook his head.

"the ...energetic movement of the particulates suggests something alive" He murmured "And to stay alive in dead flesh for so long, it has to be hardy."

"It would have to be practically immortal," he mused.

"Which is...hm." Daniel frowned "concerning."

"To say the least," he nodded. "Something like that sounds... difficult to get rid of."

"We have a good sample...we're going to see how it reacts to different compounds." He shook his head. "my concern is it may survive on it's on easily...on surfaces...in the air..."

"And thus be easily transmissible..."

"Leading to a detrimental spread if we don't *take proper precautions*" He hisses "and with the Capital about to go up in flames.... we don't exactly have a flow of plentiful supplies."

"No." he furrowed his brow. "in fact we would be quite on our own I would wager."

"utterly. And with so few people versed in even basic medical safety..."

"Disaster. Ruin."

"The prediction of those old leaders of yours...made real by cold , hard science." He shook his head "there's a link somewhere....a chemical on that paper, or a...practice that removed the infected tissue.."

"Between the leaders and the disease?" he raised an eyebrow

"It's logical if we remember inside their 'magical phylacteries' we find a near identical strain of the bloody thing."

"Hmmm...." he stroked his chin. "begs the question how it got in there. You're right."

"If only everyone who knows anything worth a damn about them weren't all superstitious to a fault." he muttered "and unwilling to help the course of science."

"Yes that is a problem...." he sighed.

Daniel looked pensive. "i'll be thinking on how to bypass that little problem...though...I had a few questions on another subject as well.."

"Ask away."

"It's ....about more of this 'folklore as a means of explaining disease' angle..." He paused "I talked to your sister."

"Ah." His mouth becomes a hard line.

"She spoke about monsters in human form." he said "...and while I didn't believe much of it, she mentioned the symptoms of this disease. The blackening veins."

"Did she?" he frowned.

"she did." He mused 'said it was a way to tell who was one of those monsters in disguise.'

"I see....." he frowned again. " perhaps she saw one of the patient's ears....."

"that's possible. I just thought it was worth noting that she might have seen one of the infected about. She claims that 'monsters feed on her' as well. and when I was checking her for signs of infection, she had some bruises on her wrist. " He gauged his reaction as he spoke

He shook his head. "She's always been a bit... hysterical. I'm sorry to say the bruises are likely self inflicted."

From his expression at least, Daniel felt that Sasha believed what he was saying.... but there might be more to it.

Daniel raised his eyebrow slightly, imploring him to go on. "likely...but..?"

He frowned. "If I tell you, it must be in confidence."

Daniel nodded slowly "Not a word will leave this room. Save for Fenya, if you allow it."

"I'm sure Fenya is a lovely person, but I'd rather it stay between us unless you deem it absolutely necessary."

Daniel thought a long moment before he nodded.

He took a deep breath. "My sister was terribly abused by our father," he admitted. "It traumatized her deeply. She hallucinates and has been known to harm herself. She self-medicates despite my protests, and sometimes that only exacerbates the problem."

Daniel's lips grew tight "...I was afraid it was something of that nature." He bowed his head "i'm sorry to hear that. I hope for her sake, and your own, that he's no longer a part of your lives."

His ears flicked. "yes. He's five years dead as a matter of fact."

"indeed.." Daniel nodded. "...that explains the entirety of the situation. It was a doctor's concern."

"Of course," he nodded. "You understand why I don't speak of it. And why I'd rather it remained between us."

"Indeed. I'll keep this to myself, Sasha."

"I truly appreciate it."

"with that out of the way." he mused "My current thought is this 'vampire' and these 'husks' everyone speaks of..."

"mmm," he nodded, "carrying the disease?"

"Late stage infected carrying the disease...perhaps the ability to tell nightmare from reality breaks down and they become violent."

"My unconscious patient has been exceptionally fitful...."

"and Elias has been...fitful as well. Yelling about nightmares he's having in his sleep."

"It seems like there's a component of the disease affecting the brain..."

"It's entirely possible that at an advanced stage, it practically renders a man feral."

"Ah.... like the the water dread*** ..." he nodded. "Lets hope it does not have a similar mortality rate."

"We can hope not." Daniel frowned thoughtfully "...I had one of them try to break into my room last night, you know. "

"They did?"

"They did." Daniel frowned "Looked like a man but..not...banging on my window."

"Hmmm... some kind of deformation?"

"that's my thought...perhaps brought on in the late stages of this illness." He frowned "like...the Barnacle Pox of Astoria."

"Ah yes, I've read a bit on that one from that researcher Andromeda. From what he writes it sounds nasty."

"Andromeda?" He raised his eyebrow "ah, Stella, yes." He nodded "....yes, she's written in graphic detail about that particular ailment...though I'm not entirely sure she's got the source quite figured out."

"A lady researcher? I wasn't aware. But regardless-- if this disease leads to disfigurement....'

"Indeed." Daniel said, "but as for the disease...yes. That could be...unpleasant...as it progresses."

he snorted "and fuel the fairy stories of monsters and demons in the streets."

"Yes that's likely. This lot is... extremely superstitious in quarters."

"i

"I've had the misfortune of noticing that for myself' Daniel drawled

"That didn't take long."

"No, but let's just say I've had a few run ins that drove it home rather clearly "

"Unfortunate," he sighed. "but not surprising."

"Everyone either seems to believe in monsters bumping around in the night..." He scoffed "or in the magic of your local leaders.'

"yes," he nodded. "Somehow even the children. I suppose they get it from their parents...."

"I did run into them playing Cult in the church." He drawled "making phylacteries and following that one boy around like he's some wise sage.'

"Making phylacteries?" he raised an eyebrow.

"yes." Daniel nodded "He's got all the children in town making little carved dolls."

"Which child?" he asked.

"Iochka" He said with a nod.

"Iochka.... Volkov?"

"that's the one." Daniel said.

"My great-nephew. The son of our stalwart captain of the guard," he murmured.

"...ah." Daniel said slowly "...Well. He's...a unique child." That's about the best compliment he could manage.

"Indeed. But I'm more curious where he's come up with this game. Iosef is not a superstitious man. Nor my aunt Katya."

"He mentioned a Misha. Misha the Carver, but otherwise..." He shook his head "i'm not sure. He's not...very...respectful towards his elders."

His ears flick, "I'm sorry... he mentioned *whom?"

"He says he's the leader of 'Misha's Circle' . Which, now that I think about it...is the name of one of your now deceased 'immortals' isn't it?"

"Yes indeed," he agreed grimly. "The, as you mentioned, carver. He carved the shapes of the phylacteries from grove wood."

"hm. Then it's doubtful they learned from him." Daniel looked up at the ceiling "rook, perhaps?"

"Possibly but he almost never leaves the Rookery."

"they could have sought him out." Daniel said thoughtfully "....Perhaps another of the town's elderly?"

"Perhaps. But I wonder why...."

"Perhaps to start the practices with some new blood." Daniel mused, shaking his head. "or just to give the children something to do."

"Perhaps," Sasha nodded. "I wonder if we can find out..."

"I'll look into it, if you do." Daniel agreed "maybe we can figure something out. "

"Good. Please let me know if you find out. I'm.... frustrated, that these old superstitions are still finding root even after...."

"After they should have been left in the past? I'm afraid I agree."

he nodded. "Indeed...."

"I'll see if I can ask the lad himself. I have some dirt on him."

"Some... dirt?"

"He doesn't want me to rat him out to his father."

"Ah."

"So, perhaps I can drag the information out of him." He smirked "and get to the bottom of this nonsense."

"If you have trouble, send him to me. He might open up more to someone familiar."

"I may very well do just that." Daniel drawled "he was kind of a little bastard."

He laughed. "Stubborn like his father."

Daniel chuckled "what's the man like?"

"Passionate. Stubborn, as I mentioned. Believes it's his duty to protect the innocent."

"Sounds like a good enough man, then."

"Without a doubt. If there's one good man in town, it's Iosof Volkov."

"If I went to him...would he help us try and enact a real quarantine?"

"If he believed the disease was a threat I think he would certainly be on your side."

"then we simply need to compile the evidence that it *is* a threat and present it to him. Would you help?"

"of course," he nodded.

"then we may have a valuable ally." Daniel smiled

"Perhaps. He's not as widely respected as he should be-- at least not by those in power."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "no?"

"Unfortunately not. The governor considers him a peon to be ordered about, and the mayor seems to have some kind of grudge against him."

Daniel shook his head 'the curse of being the one competent man in a bureaucracy of idiots I suppose."

"He would certainly agree."

"he sounds like my kind of man." Daniel chuckled "I'm sure I'll like him very much."

"I suppose you'll go see him after this?"

"yes...before we try to even bother with the powers that be and that fool factory."

"If nothing else it'll make a good warm up for you."

Daniel laughed "I imagine I'll need it."

"Good luck to you," he nodded.

"Let me know if you need something for a headache afterward."

"I very well might." Daniel chuckled "Between the old wives tales and the *aspirations* of local politics."

"A heady combination indeed."

"I dare say it's going to take all my strength to simply survive and avoid flinging myself from the highest building." he drawled

"I wish you luck."

"I appreciate that, and You, Sasha. Having a science minded medic in town..." he chuckled "it's a relief beyond compare."

"I can imagine. It's honestly a bit of a relief for me too."

"is that so?" Daniel chuckled "well I'm glad."

"It's nice to have someone else here who doesn't believe everything's down to spirits."

Daniel chuckled "I'm glad you agree. Now...let's see how Fenya's been doing in our absence."

He nodded. "After you, doctor."

The two of them headed back into the other room where it seemed that Fenya was just finishing up taking blood samples.

Daniel gave her a little wave "Hello Professor."

She waved back. "Hello, doctor. Things are well enough out here."

"How are the patients?" He asks as he tightens his gloves.

"The unconscious one started babbling while you were gone. He's stopped now though."

"anything interesting?" Daniel mused

"Only a few words."

"Dare I ask?"

"You're not going to like it."

"Have I liked anything thus far?" Daniel drawled

She opens up a small notebook and adjusts her reading glasses. "The words I could make out were: blood. hunger. kill. steal."

"great." Daniel said "maybe my theory is right after all. Fantastic. Just the best."

"I told you you wouldn't like it." Sasha sighed. "I confess I don't like it much either."

"like they were muttering out their dark desires." Daniel murmured.

"It certainly won't assuage those who think it's supernatural," Sasha commented bitterly.

"no, it certainly won't." Daniel muttered. "but it's a breakdown of the brain, not ghosts and goblins."

Fenya nodded. "The problem is getting other people to believe that I guess."

Daniel sighed "...if only we had some solid evidence...and a dozen years to send these people to proper academia."

"A luxury we don't have unfortunately," Sasha said.

"So we'll have to make do with our own wits and not let ignorance win the day."

"So it goes with men such as us."

Daniel chuckled "men and women, like our dear Professor Trifena here." he gestures to her.

Sasha smiled. "Yes, my apologies. men and women."

"I do appreciate being included. But perhaps we should get moving if we've done all we can here for now?"

Daniel chuckled "indeed. We'll see you later Sasha. We can't waste anymore daylight , however...be well."

Sasha nodded. "Of course. Feel free to check in whenever you have a moment."

"I'll be happy to." Daniel said, with a bow of his head before leaving.

They headed back out into the soggy air of the town. It had stopped actively raining but the mist was oppressive.

"...this mist doesn't want to dissipate." Daniel murmured "keep your mask up, we don't know if it can go airborne."

"Good idea," she murmured. "How went your meeting?"

"it went alright. I found out some interesting tidbits of information...and found a good person for us to speak to. The captain of the guard...he's a logical man, and one who can very well help us shut the town down if we show him enough evidence."

"Captain of the guard hmmm? Sounds like he could be a useful man."

"very useful." Daniel smirked "He's the type to do whatever he must to protect the people in his charge."

"Ahh. Nature's babysitter."

Daniel snorted out loud "Precisely. Which is quite useful for us."

"Let's head for the station then," Fenya nodded. "Assuming we can find it in all this fog."

Daniel nodded, shielding his eyes as he walked through the foggy streets "I wish the sun would come and clear this all away.'

"It'd have to break through the mess up there first I suppose," Fenya complained waving vaguely up in the direction of the sky.

Daniel frowned at the sky "indeed. Mosgrav really has the worst weather."

"Honestly this is particularly bad even for mosgrav. I might prefer the snow."

"Perhaps when this is all said and done, we can take a nice vacation to the capital and watch the bonfires of revolution to relax. " He drawled "for fun."

"For fun," she agreed with an amused snort. "That sounds lovely."

"doesn't it? We can ingratiate ourselves with the new ruling order before the *next* revolution turns us into villains."

"Oh I *do* love the nasty posters they come up with about a month before they come for the old regime's blood."

"they're a work of art in and of themselves." Daniel said "I've always admired it from afar."

"From afar is probably the best angle to admire them from. So lets make sure we're not ins mosgrav for more than 5 years."

"Good point." He smirked ,craning his neck to see if he could locate the station "We'll stay for precisely 4 and a half."

The stubborn fog wouldn't part but as they rounded the town square, they managed to avoid the clown at least. A sudden gust of wind blew something into Daniel's face.

Daniel sputtered, reaching up to grab at *whatever* just smacked into his face.

It was a partial sheet of crinkled paper-- torn on two edges, with writing all over it.

Daniel frowned slightly. He read it over. "...detritus?"

Immediately, he recognized the hand writing. *The name of the town 'Tadibya' means 'boundary' in the ancient tongue of the people here. Specifically it refers to the boundary between life and death, or between sleeping and waking, both of which are treated as equivalent in the superstition here. Tradition treats Tadibya as the town as existing on the border between the mortal world and the world of....*

"....." Daniel snorted "or serendipity, it seems." He turned the paper over in his hands "Elias' lost notes."

Fenya cocked her head. "Seriously?"

Daniel nodded, and handed it to her "see for yourself."

She took it and read it over with a frown. "Goodness. It certainly is. What ridiculous luck."

"incredibly ridiculous." he mused "...it seems the locals believe this place to be a boundary between worlds, or some nonsense like that."

"like the pit into hell or something?" she murmured.

"Precisely. Or 'into dreams' i suppose, as this implies are the same thing."

"What a refreshingly healthy outlook on sleep," she lied.

"isn't it? No wonder they're all so well adjusted."

"Yes it really makes it obvious," she agreed dryly. Through the fog they came to the station, with its one guard standing out by the iron fence.

Daniel cleared his throat "excuse me, sir, we're here to see the captain of the guard."

The shabby looking wolf man looked up from his half-smoked cigarette. "Got an appointment?"

"yes" Daniel lied.

"Name?"

"Daniel Delgrave, of the Astorian University." He drawled.

"Never heard of you."

"That sounds like a personal issue,then" Daniel smirked thinly "This is a matter of life and death, however, so I insist you allow me in."

"Lemme go to the boss' office," he grinned.

"Much appreciated." Daniel said firmly.

The man nodded, and, cigarette still in his mouth, slowly made his way inside.

"How rude," Fenya snorted once he was out of earshot.

"Incredibly rude. Not the tightest ship this man is running, is it?"

"No it doesn't seem to be," Fenya frowned. "I hope it isn't a bad sign..."

"I..hope not either" Daniel said with a sigh. "...it bodes poorly."

Fenya sighed. "I suppose all we can do is wait..."

"Indeed. I hope the man has the sense to allow us in.'

"Hopefully," Fenya agreed. "he seemed a bit lax."

"Especially for a door guard."

Minutes passed.

Daniel grabbed the door handle "Forget this nonsense. I'm going in."

--just as the door opened and the wolf guard stood there.

"Get antsy?"

"People are dying, you know." Daniel said dryly.

"Right. Better hurry up and get to the office then instead of standing around here."

The cigarette was gone. Or rather, had been replaced by a fresh one.

Daniel's smile was a little tight as he nodded, ears flattened in quiet irritation. "of course. Much appreciated, good sir." He pushed past him and into the office.

The wolf turned and swaggered through the front office. There was a large desk with a fat bear behind it, small spectacles parched on his nose. A great strapping bear with shiny epaulettes was lecturing a handcuffed drunk who didn't seem to comprehend the stern talking to.

"....hm." Daniel said slowly "...and where's your Captain of the Guard?"

This was the cue for a weaselish wolf to pop his head out of a nearby door. "Eh! cap'n I got that evidence you were lookin for all locked up!" "Good job then," Daniel's guide grunted. "I'll be in my office."

He turned and gave Daniel a grin.

Daniel's ears flicked, and he drew his hand up to pinch the bridge of his muzzle to stop the stress headache from coming on. "....Oh how wonderful to meet you, Captain. I can already tell we'll get along swimmingly"

"Funny how you can get a sense of that right away, eh?" The shabby wolf grinned and waved him into a nearby office door. "Shall I wait out here, Doctor?" Fenya asked.

"If you wish, Fenya." He bowed his head. "See if you can get a sense of things for me?" He walked into the room with the wolf, running his hand through his hair to smooth it out.

Fenya nodded. "I'll do my best. Good luck." Captain Volkov led Daniel into a cramped office. There was a mess of papers on the desk in stacks-- broadly speaking it seemed to be an attempt at an 'inbox and outbox' but the inbox seemed to be sorted into several smaller, messier piles. There was a large, mounted and stuffed head of a feral wolf above and behind the desk.

Daniel looked around the office, blinking slowly at it, before looking at the feral wolf's head stuffed above the desk with a quirk of his eyebrow "Cozy."

"My home away from home," he agreed.

"It has the look of a place well lived in."

"I like to give the wife some space now and then," he said. "But enough about me. You said people are dying, Mr.....?"

"Doctor Delgrave." Daniel said "...of the Astorian University." He sighs "And yes. I fear what I've found will prove quite deadly...or at the very least dangerous, if something isn't done about it soon."

"Ah. A doctor," he puffed on his cigarette. "have a disease you want me to lock in the drunk tank? I'm sorry to tell you that doesn't usually work out."

Daniel opened his mouth, before pressing his hand to his face "No I don't want you to jam it in the bloody drunk tank. I want your help in enacting a *quarantine*" He sat up, and placed both palms on the man's desk. "we have a *plague* here, Captain. One that spreads quickly...infects, and sends it's victims into fits of violent pain and waking nightmares."

"Wonderful. That's exactly what I was hoping you'd say before lunch." The man sighed and pulled a bottle out of the top drawer.

"I know, it really sparks the appetite, doesn't it? Shall I tell you how it curdles the blood into a thick black sludge then? Or perhaps how it might wind up disfiguring victims and leaving them with frenzied minds? that this may be the thing behind your little so called *vampire* problem."

"You really know how to ease a man's mind doctor. Congrats on the bedside manner." He poured some yellow liquid into a large glass. It was quite a lot.

Daniel nodded "I get that a lot." He purred. "I frequently score quite high on patient surveys."

"No doubt." He wiggled the bottle at him. "want some?"

"...honestly, yes, I think I very well might."

Volkov poured him quite a large glass. "Cheers."

"Cheers, my friend." Daniel gave it a brief sniff, before taking a sip. "to apocalyptic plagues."

"To apocalyptic plagues," Volkov agreed. The drink.... smelled sweet, and tasted sweeter.

It was lemonade.

A very nice lemonade.

Completely sober.

Daniel was almost thankful. Perhaps the Captain wasn't as ...hm...troublesome, as his first impression implied. Daniel took a long sip. "I was referred to you by Sasha."

"Gonna have to be more specific than that, doctor," he said, sipping his lemonade. "I know about four Sashas."

"Osgrov." Daniel drawled.

"Ah," he nodded. "That Sasha."

"I was under the impression you two were quite close."

"We grew up together, broadly speaking. Sasha's a few years younger."

"Interesting...regardless, he said you might be able to help. Said you were a man who cared about the people."

"That's certainly true," he agreed, puffing on his cigarette. "They're a bunch of idiots but they're our idiots."

"Isn't that always the way?" Daniel drawled. "...well I can tell you that your poor idiots are getting sick out there, and it's likely to become a pandemic if not handled correctly."

"wonderful. How the hell do we stop it?"

"quarantine. I need that factory shut down, and I need people to damn well stay inside unless absolutely necessary. I need this town *shut down* until we can figure out how to kill this thing."

"You realize that's gonna be hell to enforce."

"Absolute hell" Daniel agreed "A nightmare. But you know what else is a nightmare?" He tents his fingers "A town full of disfigured corpses."

"Obviously," he agreed. He scratched his muzzle. "The real problem is gonna be the men at the top."

"That's why I came to you...you might know a few ways to ...work with them."

He sighed. "Wonderful. So you're hoping I can cut the red tape."

"help, at least. Or back me up when I march in there and cut it for them."

"I guess it can;t be helped." he shotgunned the last of his lemonade. "So what evidence do you have?"

"i can show you my patients." Daniel said, "if you wear protective gear, I feel they'll give you more than enough proof." he sipped his lemonade. "...they're not doing well. Any of them."

He snorted. "I don't need to be marched down to the ward. I need a report I can give to a couple of idiots who will."

"How about I write that up for you post haste,hm? And bring you a sample of the infected blood?"

"Will an idiot be able to see there's something wrong with the blood, doctor? In your professional opinion."

Daniel snorted "Oh, i think they'll get the picture. Blood isn't exactly supposed to look like bloody motor oil, after all."

"Alright sure. Bring the sample then. Also give me your best doomsday report for if we don't quarantine and double the pessimism."

Daniel laughed out loud. "Can I use the word 'apocalyptic' , or is that too big for them?"

"Hmmm, it's a big word but it *does* sound dire."

"then I'll be sure to pepper it heavily throughout." He purred.

"Excellent. I'll schedule a meeting with the governor if you can get it for me by tomorrow morning."

"I can." Daniel said "I'll get that for you and more. In the meantime." He bowed his head "I appreciate your help, and if we can try and keep people...distanced, somewhat, that would be ideal."

"Distanced?" he furrowed his brow.

"Let's avoid big crowds, gatherings...you know what I mean?"

"Ah," he nodded. "Well we can try anyway."

"If there's any community events, I'd say shut them down."

"You;re not going to make either of us popular men, doctor."

"I'm not aiming to be popular." Daniel purred "I'm aiming to save lives."

"Lets see if we can manage it then," he nodded. "I'll rally the troops-- assuming I'm allowed to do anything."

"I'll make sure you are, Captain. I thank you for your help.."

"if we can avoid a massive plague outbreak I'll be the one thanking you."

Daniel chuckled "when we stop it, how about you and I have a drink together. Lemonade or alcohol, your choice."

"I'll stick with lemonade, doctor," he nodded. "But sure."

"No matter what. an outing, my treat."

"I'll hold you to that."

Daniel nodded. "...just have to stop the plague first."

"as easy as going to visit the shops."

"i'll pick up some eggs, some bacon....and a complete shutdown of the town for a proper quarantine, please."

"Actually-- that includes the markets I assume?"

"it does. Very much so. Infection can travel on goods rather easily."

"Alright. we'll need to come up with a way to keep people from starving then. Try to add that to your report."

"Rationing, I would imagine. I'll be sure to add it to my report."

"Please do," he said with a tired sigh.

"We're going to be in for a hard road, Captain, but I'm pleased to be on it with a man as dedicated as you." he bowed his head "thank you in advance."

Volkov shrugged. "Lets not go around giving ourselves medals til the jobs done."

"No, we'll save that." Daniel drawled "For when we return victorious."

"And if they don't give us medals we can go for their kneecaps."

"I'll be right there with you, hammer in hand." Daniel drawled. "Mosgravians typically use the hammer for that sort of thing, yes?"

"Oh yes. And occasionally the sickle as well. we're farmers you see."

"oh of course. Good for taking out the *back* of the knees, those."

"I see you're a man who understands the logic of the peasants."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "First time anyone's ever said that about me, but I suppose I'm glad?"

He chuckled slightly. "Well doctor. I'd say the two of us have much to do today."

"it seems we do." Daniel stretched "Let's craft an apocalyptic vision to terrify even the stodgiest politician"

Volkov stood and offered him his hand. "Sounds like a plan, doctor."

Daniel shook his hand firmly "we'll meet tomorrow morning?"

Volkov had a firm handshake as well. "Tomorrow morning."

Daniel nodded "it was a pleasure meeting you Captain. I'll see you then."

The captain nodded, and ushered him out of the office.

Daniel stepped back out into the main room, and looked for Fenya.

Fenya was sitting on top of the front desk, engaged in some kind of rather intense sounding discussion with the fat bear behind it.

Daniel listened for a curious moment.

"In Astoria we've mostly put the roving child gangs *to work*," Fenya explained. "It cut violent crime by 3% according to Cromwell."

"3%. Huh...." The bear stroked his chin.

"She's right." Daniel said, walking up to the desk "We've had a drastic decrease in youth crime since workhouses became common."

"Sounds wonderful," the sergeant said. "Got kicked in the knee by one of the little darlings last summer and I'm still feeling it..."

Fenya turned to see Daniel. "How'd it go?"

Daniel snorted 'kids are the true monsters." He glanced at Fenya 'well...we have a mission for today."

"We'd better get moving then, it sounds like"

"I'd say so...we have to craft an apocalypse in only a day." He drawled

"Not quite what I was expecting," she nodded dryly. "Sergeant, it's been a pleasure."

"Ah... good luck, miss!"

Daniel gave the man a salute, before heading outside with his hands in his jacket pockets.

The fog had lightened just a touch- it must have been early afternoon- but it was still basically impossible to see.

"So.... dare I ask?"

"He agreed to help us, but we have to make a case to the authorities. The powers that be won't agree to shut down the town unless they're properly scared into cutting the red tape. So we need evidence that this thing is as bad as we say, and a proper report that makes it look even *worse* to convince them, with the Captain's backing, to shut the town down."

"Ahhhh, mosgravan bureaucracy." Says the astorian.

"Indeed." Daniel said "so we're gathering samples, evidence, and our worst speculations to make sure this thing is taken seriously."

"That's a pretty tall order," fenya said with consideration.

"it is....but I think we can manage it."

"You'll certainly have my assistance, Danochka. So what first?"

"We go see our worst patient and document just how bad he's gotten."

She nodded. "Elias then."

"Precisely." He headed towards the farmhouse. "then we take some samples, some statements from Sasha....see if we can find more infected...."

"We can talk to that woman from the market I suppose..."

Daniel nodded "...and see if we can check the factory itself."

"Wonderful," she murmured. "I expect it'll be educational."

"oh I'm sure it'll be both educational and an absolute joy."

"I suppose we should get moving," she sighed. "Not that I was expecting a lazy day."

"Neither was I." He agreed with a shake of his head. "It's going to be...busy."

"So it is," she nodded. "More walking in this dreadful weather. If this was Astoria I'd hire a cab."

"If only." Daniel mused 'but it's good exercise, I suppose."

"we'll have calves to be reckoned with soon."

"The buffest scientists in the University." he drawled.

"If only that were a more impressive boast."

"I suppose we could throw the deans out their own windows." He joked, looking at the farmhouse looming ahead.

The farmhouse looked foreboding, huddled low in the shimmering fog, like a beast waiting to pounce on its prey.

"....hm." Daniel frowned, "I'm glad I'm not a man of superstition."

"What makes you say, danochka?"

"the farmhouse looks particularly...hm...in the fog today."

"Particularly.... ah. yes. I think I see what you mean."

As they got closer they heard thickly accented voices--mens-- raised in argument.

Daniel frowned, and listened as he approached.

"I vill naht vork vith that creature on the property any more!" the man shouted. "He will bring us all ruin! the fields are in disarray!" "Jashenko, listen to me. He is a sick man. There is no curse. It was some kind of animal..." "You are wrong! I have seen him vander the field at night!"

"....." Daniel put his hand to his chin "...it seems we have a problem...and perhaps confirmation of my theory." he murmured in thought.

"Should we listen a little more?"

Daniel nodded slowly.

"That isn't possible! He's tied up! Perhaps you're seeing things?" "Just vhat are you accusing me of, master Konstantin??"

"tied up, hm?"

"I don't recall that being the case yesterday," Fenya murmured.

"neither do I...meaning perhaps he's started....wandering about in his waking dreams."

"Perhaps...." They didn't hear what Konstantin replied, but Jashenko yelled. "No! I vill not have it! I vill not stay here like this!"

They saw a figure stamp off in the fog.

Daniel watched for a moment more, before he approached "good day."

Konstantin sighed. "Welcome back doctor."

"I hear there's been a bit of trouble about."

"More than is healthy I am afraid," he said, heaving a great sigh. "my workers are rebelling."

"Given that Elias seems to be walking about now? I can hardly blame them."

"Ah. You overheard that."

"Voices were raised, it was hard not to overhear."

"So it is," he sighed. "Yes. He has begun sleep walking."

"has he done much while wandering about in his sleep?" Daniel asked curiously.

"No, I... I caught him basically walking into the wall of his room."

"....eerie." Daniel murmured. "Just wonderful. I suppose this supports a theory of mine."

"Oh?"

"I'm afraid this disease is far worse than I thought. And may be connected to your little 'vampire' folk tale."

"Connected? how so?"

"I fear that in the advanced stages it affects the mind, and sets people wandering , beholden to their dreams."

"I see.... that's troubling my friend."

"it is. "Daniel said "which is why him walking about like a wraith is less than ideal."

"Yes... you're certainly right about that," he sighed.

"I'll have to examine him as soon as possible. Has anything odd happened around here in the last few days?"

"Aside from my men claiming they see revenants in the night?"

"mmm. yes." Daniel nodded "though I'm interested in those reports."

Konstantin shook his head. "My friend, they are nothing but superstition. As for anything else odd, no I am afraid not."

Daniel rubbed his chin "hm. Well. I suppose I'll see for myself when I check on the patient"

"Of course," he nodded.

He paused a moment "how's your youngest doing? Better since we helped with the sleeping issue?"

"Sleeping issue?" he asked with a frown.

"remember?" Daniel mused "the child was being fussy? I gave some medication to help?"

"Ah yes of course," he smiled. "Sorry, Darya usually takes care of the children. I'm sure you understand."

"I don't have children, nor a spouse" Daniel chuckled "but I'll take your word for it"

"A lucky man perhaps," he chuckled with him. "But I am certain if our baby were not well she would let me know. Loudly. Thank you for your help."

"always happy to help" Daniel said, shaking his head "though we have a busy day today, so it's probably best I see Elias now."

Konstantin nodded. "of course. I must tend the field-- especially considering my lack of help. But if you need me I will be here."

"I'll seek you out then." Daniel nodded his head

Konstantin nodded, and turned back to his fields.

Fenya motioned toward the out-building Elias was in.

Daniel nodded to her, and started off towards the building "hm..."

"Thoughts, doctor?" she murmured

"I'm concerned that the fool's mobile now." He muttered. "...I think perhaps the farmhands may have seen more than Konstantin thinks they did, too"

"I'm concerned about that too," Fenya nodded. "Do you think we should... relocate him?"

"Perhaps to a damned cell if he's that mobile" Daniel said with a frown. "We can have him walking about like a plague rat"

"No I'd say that certainly wouldn't be ideal."

Daniel nodded, and walked to the building. He listened closely to the door as he approached "far less than ideal."

He heard what sounded like muttering from within. It was impossible to make out any words however.

Daniel pushed the door open a crack, slowly.

It opened easily, and he saw the same room he'd been in several times before, Elias laying on his cot writhing-- his wrists tied to the bed.

Daniel cleared his throat. "Elias, can you hear me?"

Elias grunted and whimpered, twisting on the bed.

Daniel walked towards the bed , his mask still firmly on his face.

Elias' eyes were closed.

Daniel leaned over him, and looked at how he, visually, was doing.

His ears were quite dark, and his fur was drenched in sweat. There was a grimace on his face.

Daniel parted his lips to look at his gums and teeth, with gloved hands.

The researcher snaps his teeth at Daniel's fingers but doesn't manage to connect. Daniel could see that the tongue and gums were starting to turn black in patches.

"disgusting." Daniel frowned, pulling his fingers away "He's in bad shape." he bent down to listen to his heartbeat and breathing.

His heartbeat is good... but his breathing is shallow.

"Hm. Still having trouble breathing." Daniel sat up, and drew out a small needle "time for another blood sample."

"Of course," Fenya nodded, furnishing him with another vial.

Daniel took it, and began drawing blood from Elias' arm.

It was difficult, given how much he kept moving.

Daniel grabbed his shoulders, and shoved him down "Stay STILL!"

"Want a hand, Danochka?"

"I could use one, Fenya." He said with a nod "please."

She nodded, and came up, holding Elias' arm still-- with some effort. "He's really started thrashing hasn't he."

"He certainly decided to get very lively." Daniel drawled, and stuck the needle in his arm.

Elias' whimper turned into a howl and he started to gnash his teeth.

Daniel drew blood from his arm, not really caring to be gentle as he deposited it into the vial "the man's acting like a feral dog."

"A little bit much like one!" she agreed, gritting her teeth as she held his arm still with force.

Daniel drew the blood, and retreated from his body with a frown "let him go."

Fenya let him go, and he immediately started straining in his bonds again.

Daniel leaned over and opened his eyelid with his fingers.

Black veins were crawling through his eyes.

Daniel examined them closer. "hm... what sort of state of dreaming are you in, Elias."

The blacks of his eyes were wide and dilated, and they darted rapidly in many directions.

"It's really like he's dreaming." Daniel murmured. "A dreaming coma...in which he gets up and walks about."

"That's a bit of a nasty trick isn't it...."

"it's bizarre, is what it is." Daniel mused. "...I wish we knew where he GOT the damn thing from."

"I didn't see a cracked open phylactery in his stuff at the very least."

"So he didn't eat an infected placenta like some kind of horrible goblin man."

"not unless he disposed of the evidence."

"....please, I was trying to hope that he didn't do something so stupid."

"we can only hope," she sighed.

"Remarkably, he's looking...vastly worse than last time."

"I have to agree...."

Daniel frowned, "I'm going to test something, but I want you to get someone strong to help me if it turns out to be a mistake."

"Danochka...."

"I want to see how capable of movement he is..."

She raised an eyebrow. "well.... that's direct."

"I can't very well gauge it while he's strapped into bed ." he said "...but I don't want to risk him getting loose."

"I'll go get Konstanin then... but don't let him loose til I'm back."

"I won't." Daniel said, nodding firmly. "Safety first."

"Good," she nodded and headed out, leaving him alone with elias.

Daniel knelt by the side of the bed, and checked his pulse with his fingers '....you're an idiot, but you don't deserve this. Nobody does." he muttered

His pulse was slow, and steady, but quite faint.

Suddenly, jarring the silence he heaved against his ropes. "Help!"

Daniel stifled a shout, falling backwards "...DAMN."

"Doctor!" Fenya shouted as she threw the door open.

"Elias is alarming as ever." he muttered, dusting himself off.

She gripped her heart. "You gave me a scare." "And me," Konstantin agreed behind her.

"I was just taking his pulse." Daniel sighed. "and he screeched help in my ear like a banshee."

"Of course," Fenya sighed. "he's dreadfully difficult:

"The worst patient I've ever had, and I'm counting the frog who exploded."

Fenya shook her head. "Oh dear..." Konstantin sighed. "Miss Fenya said that you needed my help for something?"

"I want to see his level of mobility, but the last thing I want is for him to escape."

"Ah. You want me to untie him?"

"yes. Briefly. So I can get a sense of if his motor skills are still functioning properly."

Konstantin nodded. "Alright."

"I appreciate your help, Konstantin."

Konstantin nodded again and leaned over to undo the bonds. He stepped back, and for a moment they were all watching Elias writhe on the bed.

Daniel waited, looking at Elias intently as he writhed about "Elias."

He didn't answer or seem to hear.

Daniel grabbed a broom, and reached out to poke him roughly in the face with the handle. "Elias, you absolute buffoon."

"Ahhhhh!" he cried and lashed out, swatting at the broom.

"enough motor control to have a response to stimulus." Daniel observed, before whistling "here boy, Elias, Come over here."

Fenya smothered her laugh in her hands.

Konstantin coughed. "He doesn't seem to be able to hear anything. At least that I say..."

"Interesting." Daniel walked over to him, and waved his hand over his face. "No response to aural stimulus."

Elias swatted at his hands. "Ah! Please!! Help!"

"help with what, Elias." Daniel asked, checking how his legs were moving.

Elias... sat up all at once and lurched toward the door.

Daniel backed up, watching him move with a frown "...hm."

he didn't try the handle- he just thumped against the door.

Daniel watched him go "...he's too out of it to use the handle. Meaning if he was getting out, someone would need to open the bloody door for him."

Konstantin grunted. "exactly what I was trying to tell my man."

"Indeed." Daniel mused "which means if we reinforce the door well enough, it'll be an effective barrier against him spreading this thing all over town in his sleep."

"You don't think it's kinder just to tie him down?" Konstantin asked. "I worry he may hurt himself...." Konstantin gently put himself between the man and the door.

"oh, he'll be tied down. But with the way he's jerking about, he might very well break free."

"Ah," Konstantin nodded. "That I can get behind."

"then we'll reinforce the door, so he doesn't go wandering into your home."

"As long as we can still get in."

"Maybe locks on the outside would do it."

"That I can do something about," he nodded.

"good." Daniel mused, and looked at Elias "...let's get him tied back down."

The big bear of a man nodded and scooped Elias, kicking and screaming, into his arms. "Back to bed, Elka," he murmured.

Daniel cocked his head to the side.

Fenya too, watches, her expression invisible behind her scarf, as Konstantin ties the man back to the bed.

Daniel waits, pulling off his gloves slowly "hm. Any other tests you can think of that need doing, Fenya?"

"Potentially..." she considered. "A nail scraping perhaps? or a bit of skin?"

He nodded, and retrieved his scalpel "good point. Once he's secure, I'll get the samples."

"you;re not going to hurt him?" Konstantin asked as he finished tying him up.

"Just taking a few samples. Routine tests." Daniel said

"Alright..." Konstanin nodded and backed off, while Fenya handed over another sample jar.

He took the jar, and first took a nail scraping with the edge of his knife.

He managed to get a good nail scraping.

Next, he took the scalpel and prepared to cut a small bit of skin from the more infected patches of Elias's body

Elias, surprisingly, was lying fairly still.

The sample was easy to get. Just as Daniel was moving back, Elias started to writhe again.

"*No! The heart! you can't!"*

Daniel raised his eyebrow, listening closely "what's this now?"

"*the heart! you fool! You'll*"

And then he screamed.

Daniel grimaced "if only there was a sterile location to do a proper open heart surgery. I could get a sense of things "

"Heart surgery?" Konstantin asked with concern and surprise. "what for?"

"he's babbling about the heart, isn't he?"

"I suppose," he said, furrowing his brow. "guess you're right. Maybe it hurts or something...."

Fenya frowned. "we could probably do it at Sasha's...."

"true...we'll have to transport the man safely, however"

"That would be difficult," Fenya sighed. Konstantin was looking nervous.

"but it could be useful" Daniel mused "if for nothing other than as an example of what a later stage infection can do to to the heart and lungs"

"It won't.... you don't think it'll... bring him to harm, do you?" Konstantin asked. "Cutting people open...."

"it's surgery" Daniel said, waving his hand "people survive it at least a solid 70% of the time. Common procedure."

"70%...." he looked grim. "Then.... should you not avoid it until necessary?"

"perhaps." Daniel looked down at Elias "but it could be what saves his life in the end" He paused "You're worried about him. Yes?"

Konstantin nodded. "I must humbly admit that I am."

"hm" Daniel mused "well ...we'll be doing what we can to ensure his survival."

"I beg of you to do so, doctor," he nodded.

"don't worry" Daniel looked at his samples idly "this sickness won't survive Daniel Delgrave"

Konstantin nodded. "Then please tell me if there is anything more I can do."

"If you can think of any metaphorical heart he may be speaking of, perhaps that's where he picked this thing up" Daniel said, a bit distracted .

Konstantin furrowed his brow. "I suppose.... no...."

"hm?" Daniel glanced up at him

"There is an old legend. Almost no one speaks of it."

"why don't you tell me, hm?"

"I don't know much," he said, shaking his head. "But I know my grandmother spoke of 'the heart of Tadibya'."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "do you have anything more on that?"

he wrinkled his brow deep in thought. "she said it was what gave the town its life."

"an interesting myth. Did she mention where it was?"

Konstantin shook his head. "Not that I can recall."

"perhaps I'll ask around" Daniel mused "could be a lead"

"I hope it helps," he offered with a sigh.

Daniel nodded "if nothing else there's always surgery I guess" he said with a smirk.

Konstantin nodded, missing the joke. "I should return to the fields..."

"Enjoy yourself" Daniel drawled "we'll be around."

Konstantin nodded, and left the room.

".....well." Daniel said to Fenya "this has been...illuminating."

"It certainly has," she agrees dryly. "Any thoughts?"

"Either we're going to need to open the man up, or perhaps his feverdreams of this 'heart' mean something." He smirked "like where he might have gone and caught this damn thing from."

"Either one is certainly an intriguing possibility."

"it is...we'll have to ask around, I think."

"Another question we have for people."

"One of the many...many we have on our plate." he drawled

"At least we got some more samples. What do you think of his movement?"

"Distressingly mobile, luckily almost as stupid as he is awake." Daniel drawled "the fact he can't operate a door is reassuring."

She snorted slightly with amusement. "Indeed. But it begs the question who the farmhands saw, if anyone."

"Perhaps our mysterious **vampire**" He mused.

"Ah that's a good guess," she nodded. "And troubling."

"very." Daniel looked thoughtful as he tugged off his gloves "....this whole thing is troubling."

"Deeply. it's the sort of thing I'd be fascinated to read about-- if it was happening a thousand miles away."

Daniel snorted "Likewise, but here we are in the thick of it."

"So we are," she said, tossing her head gently. "We'll have to make the best of it."

"Become the heroes of science you read about in only the most riveting papers." He smirked.

"The most riveting and unlikely," she admits. "Like when Doctor Breckenridge ate that mummy hand."

Daniel snorted "Is that the one where he claimed it was still wriggling about?"

"No, that was Doctor Albertson. Breckenridge insisted that the mummies were transmuted into marmite."

"ah, yes, how could I have forgotten." Daniel drawled "you have to forgive me, I mixed up my mummy hand eating experiments."

"There are so many I can hardly blame you for the confusion."

"I have to wonder what the bloody fascination is. They're dead. it's not like archeological cannibalism is going to do *much* "

"I had a friend in the department who wanted to use one to make *paint* if you believe it," Fenya said, shaking her head.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "*why*?""

"He insisted it was the richest brown one could achieve."

"....great." Daniel said "wonderful use of dried up old corpses."

"Isn;'t it just?" she shook her head.

"...regardless we should probably be off." He chuckled

She nodded. "Yes, we'd better. Ah... off to where exactly?"

Daniel thought for a moment "hm. Perhaps to the market and factory."

She nodded. "Wonderful. The scarf stays on."

"I'm not taking this mask off all day." Daniel drawled "this place is likely going to become a hotbed of disease in no time at all."

"My least favorite kind of hotbed," she sniffed, and opened the door.

Daniel stepped outside with her "funnily enough, mine too."

The fog was growing again... but at least it was dryish now.

Daniel pulled his mask up "...what do you make of this heart business?'

"It makes about as much sense as anything else I suppose...."

"mmm." Daniel nodded "we can try asking Granny, but she's...hm."

"Kind of a bitch?"

"A massive bitch." He agreed, heading towards the slums.

She followed with him, back to the road and heading north. They hadn't actually taken this particular road yet. There were a handful of houses and another old manor.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...hm. I wonder who's manor that is."

"I suppose we could knock."

"...you know what? why not?" He turned and walked towards the manor

She followed him up. The manor was handsome... but it looked less well taken care of than some of the others.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and knocked heavily on the door "it's not as upkept."

"No it isn't... hmm..." Daniel could see candlelight beyond the curtains of the windows, but no one answered immediately.

He waited a moment before knocking again.

The door practically flew open. "Hoooooold on... I'm coooomin'." A rather beautiful and pale, if disheveled wolf woman answered the door.

Daniel dipped into a light bow "good afternoon. My name is Daniel Delgrave, Doctor of the Astorian University."

"And Professor Trifena Evgenii-Smythe," Fenya bowed slightly as well. "From same." The woman blinked dizzily at them. "Izzat right? What.... can I do fer you two?"

"we were on our way to the factory district, when we noticed your home." He paused "...we're in town for some medical business, so I was hoping to introduce myself."

"I sheeee," she smiled at them both widely. "Would you like to come in fer a drink?"

Daniel glanced at Fenya "we might have a spare moment or two, I suppose."

Fenya's ears flick and she nods. "I suppose..." The woman smiles wider and waves them inside. "come on then letsh not stand around."

Daniel steps inside. This woman seemed...drunk as a sailor.

Not only that, he noticed as he followed her. Though it looked at first like she was in a skirt as she walked he could see that it was in fact a pair of loose and voluminous pants.

The house meanwhile, was much more nicely kept than the outside. However in contrast to the other manors he had been in so far, everything looked relatively new inside.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "So...may I ask your name?"

"Oh!" she nodded as she led them into a nicely stocked bar and study area. "Katrina, dear! Katrina Volkov!"

"the Captain's wife?" Daniel followed her into the bar

"Oh, you know Iosef?"

She sat in a large armchair, and waved for them to do the same.

Daniel took a seat "I met him just today. He seems like a good man, he's helping me with my little..medical project."

This seemed to strike her as funny and she started chuckling. "Oh how fun! and what about you, dear?" she asked of Fenya with a purr. Fenya's ears flicked. "I'm on sabbatical, and the good doctor is assisting me with my return journey."

Daniel runs his hand through his hair , leaning forward in the chair. "We've found ourselves stuck in town for a while while we deal with our wayward folklorist."

"Oooh, you mean that Elias fellow?" she asked, She began pouring drinks.

"Yes, the dolt who went and got himself dreadfully ill."

She offered them each a drink. Unlike what they were used to in town, it was a cocktail of some kind. "Oh dear. The poooor boy didn't seem to have any sense! I'm not surpriiiiised!"

Daniel took the drink and took a sip "The man hardly had a functioning brain cell in his head...and that was *before* the sickness started driving him mad."

The drink was quite sweet, and a bit fruity. Definitely had some vodka in it though. "Driving him mad?" she gasped.

Daniel sipped it again "the man's been stuck in a coma that he's somehow dreaming in. All nightmares."

"That doesn't sound good at allllll," she shook her head.

"Oh it's definitely not," Fenya agreed.

Daniel nodded slowly. "no, and it'll likely kill him if we don't do something about it, from the way his breathing's been starting to degrade."

"Goodness! the poor fellow."

"Dreadful , isn't it?" Daniel chuckled "and Fenya and I have wound up right in the middle of it all."

"Well is it exciting at least? Solving a medical mystery abroad?" she asked with a grin. "*I'd* be excited. Can I help?"

"It's certainly exciting." He smirked "and I won't say no to your help, Katrina. If you're offering."

"Oh I absolutely am," she said, beaming

Daniel chuckled "might I ask how you'd like to help?"

"Ahhhh...." this seemed to throw her unfortunately. "Well.... huh."

Daniel chuckled "I'm sure there's a way you can help."

"wellll, if you tell me what you need maybe I can think of it? Oh! have you shpoken with my nephew?"

"Sasha?" Daniel chuckled "oh yes. he's letting me use his clinic and helping us watch over the ah..ill...as this thing spreads."

"Ahhhh, good! good... but thatssh one more introduction I can't make..."

"Well." Daniel chuckled "...we're trying to shut the town down. Is there any way you can help with that?"

"Shhhhut the town down?" she blinked.

"Quarantine." Daniel said "...to prevent the rapid spread of infection."

"ooohhhh.... issh it that bad?"

"Given that if we can't find a cure everyone in town could die while we're cut off from proper supplies and care in the capital? yes."

"That's terrible.... Oh!!" she beamed again. "You should talk to Elsha-- Elshabeth!"

"Elizabeth?" He raised his eyebrow

"Elizabeth Alekhin," she nodded. "She'ssss the governor's wife."

"the governor's wife." Daniel mused "now that could be useful."

"Sheee's a good friend of mine," Katrina grinned.

"Maybe you can put in a good word for us, hm?"

She nodded. "I'd be haaaappy to."

Daniel raised his glass "you're a delight, Katrina."

She raised her glass to him. "Awww, you're sweet. And *you're* shy." she winked at Fenya.

Fenya's ears flicked. "Just quiet."

Daniel chuckled slightly. "I certainly wouldn't call Fenya shy." He tipped his drink back.

"Oh nooo?" Katrina smiled

"Not since I've met her." He winked at Fenya,

"Hmph," Fenya chuckles. "How long have you two known each other?"

"Less than a week." Daniel said "but it's been one hell of a bonding experience."

"You can say that again," Fenya nodded.

"Sounds like quite the whirlwind," Katrina grinned

"Certainly has been." Daniel laughed "and that's not counting the whirlwind that blew our window open the first night."

"Blew your window open?" Katrina sits forward.

"Blasted it open in the dead of night, soaked half our bed." Daniel laughed "Remember , Fenya?"

"Oh I'll never forget," Fenya snorted. "Damned weather."

"It IS pretty bad this year!"

"This fog alone is a damned nightmare." Daniel agreed. "But I woke up with Fenya half curled against me for warmth!" He laughed. Perhaps he was a little tipsy.

"It was freezing!" Fenya half-yelped defensively, her ears reddening.

Katrina chuckled. "Ah I see. That's how it is."

Daniel's ears flicked "it's true, it did get rather cold."

"Well if you get cold again miss Fenya, it's always warm at my house." she grinned.

"Ah, yes... I expect it is," she chuckled nervously, ears flicking.

Daniel's ears turned red, flicking slightly "ah." He sipped his drink "regardless, thank you for the good word."

"Of course!" she smiled. "I'll talk to her tomorrow. If you see her before then just tell her who sent you!"

"Wonderful." Daniel purred "I'll be sure to do that."

"Have another drink?" she offered.

Daniel glanced at Fenya out of the corner of his eye.

"we do have some things to do today....given our deadline of tomorrow, but perhaps later?"

"Do come over any time," she said fondly. "Both of you."

Fenya was already getting to her feet. "Thank you *so* kindly for the drinks."

Daniel nodded his head "Absolutely, Katrina. We'll see you another time. " He stood with a slight bow of his head, and a wave goodbye. "Ta ta for now."

"Ta!" the drunken woman called back with a wave.

It seemed Fenya could not get out of there fast *enough*.

Daniel walked out into the foggy air, and pulled his mask back up "well. that was interesting." He said as he stepped outside.

Fenya took a deep breath as they got out of the house and then sagged. "It... certainly was. Goodness."

Daniel gently patted her on the back "that was probably the most forward woman I've ever met."

"yes ah... yes..." her ears flushed and flicked. "She certainly was forward..."

"Unabashed." Daniel added, his own ear flicking.

"She um... was it just my perception or...?"

"No, she was turning her, ah, attentions towards you." Daniel tugged his collar.

"That's ah... that's what I thought," she murmured.

Daniel nodded "I mean, you are a fetching young lady." He murmured "but Hell was she forward."

"She certainly was," she nodded. "And.... isn't she the captain's *wife*?"

"Yes, I do believe she is." He cleared his throat "perhaps they...subscribe to the Mordonan...philosophy of love."

"Ah... perhaps," she agreed bashfully. "Did the captain seem, ah... did he...?"

"..." Daniel thought for a long moment "I'm not sure...but...perhaps..."

"Hmmmm..." her ears flicked embarrassedly.

"hmm..." Daniel's own ears flicked "a...anyhow..."

She coughed into her fist. "Indeed, ah....moving swiftly along..."

"as far from here as possible" he murmured, walking along the path towards the factory

She fell into step with him, as they both hurried through the fog. "Actually, Danochka.... wouldn't she also have been that little boy's mother?"

".....the little cult leader?" Daniel thought for a moment "....yes, yes she would."

"Huh."

"mmm" he agreed "and his father wouldn't be fond to find out what he's been up to

"I expect you're right about that. Are you planning to tell him?"

"I might, once it dries up as a tool to get the kid to cooperate"

"Good point," she nodded as they passed Sasha's clinic from the opposite side. A pair of children ran down the street chasing a cat through the fog and laughing.

Daniel watched them go for a moment before he continued on

"but we'll see."

"I suppose we will," she nodded. The further down the street they got the more the smell of the river intruded.

"I hate that river" Daniel bemoaned

"It's certainly become my least favorite thing here. Well. aside from the disease. And I guess the thugs."

"they all go hand in hand for an unpleasant experience" he drawled

"They certainly do," she sighed. "Not one of mosgrav's most scenic areas. Even when you CAN see in front of your face."

Daniel chuckled "and what *are* Mosgrav's most scenic areas?"

"well..." she tutted thoughtfully. "It has some very nice bridges. And palaces, if you like that sort of thing."

"I suppose I wouldn't mind seeing them once" he mused

"Perhaps after the fires have settled. There's a reason they build in stone around here."

Daniel snorted "now that makes sense. Perhaps then"

They heard the sound of the crowds at the dog as they approached. Distant barking dogs. Laborers grunting and yelling, the clinks and clanks of chains and gears.

Daniel frowned as he pressed deeper "like a slice of Astoria."

"Yes, and not the part I'm keen to visit."

"no." He said, heading towards the factory "but if we're looking for disease...we start with the laborers."

Fenya nodded. "What's the plan, Danochka?"

"I'm going to see if I can get some data." He said "...perhaps , if I must, with an organized inspection."

"The fish plant then?" she asked

"the fish plant." he sighed

"Lovely. One of the few buildings we can actually *see* I suppose." Indeed the monstrous structure loomed on the side of the river, jutting out of the fog with its high windows like mournful eyes.

Daniel looked at it with a firm frown "keep your scarf up while we go in. It's...likely to prove to be a hotbed of disease."

"Even if it's surprisingly sterile I doubt that it'll smell like daisies."

"It'll smell like fish and unwashed men." Daniel grumbled "and guts."

"Delightful," she sighed as they approached it. The press of bodies was thinner than it had been last time. There was nothing in the harbor now-- likely they were mostly inside.

"...packed like sardines in their own factory." Daniel murmured "As a sickness rages." He made his way for the main doors.

The main doors were a pair of beaten iron portals, looming tall above them, with no windows.

Daniel frowned, and grabbed the door, trying to push it open.

Unfortunately, it didn't budge.

"Maybe there's someone we need to talk to?" Fenya supposed.

Daniel kicked the door in lieu of a knock "hm. Perhaps." He listened for any movement.

The kick echoed through the fog. But... There was a grunt behind them.

"Need somethin?"

"We're looking to get in." Daniel spun to face the voice.

A slightly less burly dock worker with a grey muzzle faced them. He had a soft hat perched over one ear and his arms folded over his chest. "Yes?"

"We need to perform an inspection. It's a medical business, you see."

He jerked his thumb. "You'll vant to go around back then."

"This isn't the front door?"

"Yhes. It *iz* the front door. You vill vant to go around back."

"...fine." Daniel sighed 'thank you mister...?"

"Doborovsky," he said, waving a hand.

"Delgrave." Daniel said, "thank you for the tip."

He tugged on the soft edge of his hat. "Yep." He sat down in a chair by the front doors.

Daniel nodded, and waved for Fenya to follow him as he tried to make his way around the building

Fenya followed after him along the narrow ledge by the river. "Was he some kind of guard?"

"I think so. Or a greeter." Daniel snorted "someone to point people in the right direction, I suppose."

"Hmm...." The water lapped gently at the edge of the pier a few feet away, eerie in the fog. From inside they could hear the clank and rumble of work.

"The sound of industry churning along." he said as he made his way carefully around.

"How lovely," she said flatly. "I'm glad I didn't wear heels."

"They'd certainly make this slog a lot worse, wouldn't they?"

"I might hit a rut and fall right in. That would be a disaster...." Finally they reached the end of the pier, which spread out a bit and gave them space to get around to the back of the building. There were some boats tethered there with nets in them.

Daniel snorted "in this disgusting slop they call water? it'd be more than a disaster, it'd be a health hazard." He glanced at the boats "nearly there."

The back of the packing plant had a much smaller door than the front, and there didn't seem to be anyone there. It was partially open.

Daniel pulled it open and stepped inside.

Even through his mask he was immediately assaulted by the smells of fish and offal and sweat. There was a rude sort of antechamber here before the main plant, with boxes of fish for processing stacked high, almost maze like.

"guh...." Daniel swooned at the smell "...I hate this." He muttered as he pressed forward through the maze of fish.

Fenya held her arm over her face in addition to the scarf. "Has this sort of thing ever killed anyone?" she asked.

Daniel shook his head "no...." he paused "at least I *hope* not."

"These boxes don't look the most stable," she complained as they wove through them.

"No they don't. This entire place is...ill designed." Daniel glanced at them "Dreadfully unsafe."

"Yes... maybe you should talk to your friend the owner about that..." she frowned. "There's got to be a way into the place proper around here doesn't there?"

"there must be." Daniel mused "...but the question is where." he chuckled softly "and friend is...stretching it somewhat."

"He seemed to like you quite a bit...."

She snorted. "Seemed being the operating word I suppose."

"Precisely." Daniel mused. “As you said, we should be careful trusting the man."

"Indeed," she nodded-- just as they came to a dead end among the maze of crates.

"Damn it." Daniel cursed softly

"we could double back around and try another path. I'd suggest we climb over but I'm not entirely certain that would be safe..."

Daniel looked at the crates with a frown "....likely not."

Indeed they seemed to creak more the longer he looked at them.

"let's go back and find another way around."

Fenya nodded. As they turned around, Daniel noticed the hem of a diaphanous white dress disappearing around the corner into the box-corridors.

Daniel frowned, and hurried in the direction of the dress "hello?"

There was no answer. The corridor was short, and branched two directions at the end.

Daniel cursed and tried his luck. He went left, hoping to catch sight of the dress again.

He has just enough time to see the back of a pale haired woman in a while dress disappear out of the maze-- and through the door they had originally entered.

"Ugh... a circle," Fenya snorted.

Daniel frowned "...did you see that woman, Fenya?"

"Woman?" she blinked. "I'm afraid not."

"...hm." Daniel frowned, and looked outside, poking his head from the back door "I swear I saw her..."

As he poked his head out, he got another glimpse of white vanishing into the fog not too far away.

"....." He waved for Fenya to follow , as he hurried towards the glimpse of white, running into the fog "I'm going to find out just who this is."

Fenya blinked, but started after him into the fog. "right!"

Daniel ran out onto the narrow strip of dock alongside the plant. Despite the fog and the rough boards, kinesthesia didn't fail him and he managed to avoid falling straight into the disgusting river.

Fenya's footfalls behind him fade in the fog as he catches sight of the white hem in the mist ahead.

Daniel frowned, pushing onwards as he called "You there! Stop! I just want to talk!"

There was a sound like a breath all around him as he ran into what seemed to be a clearing or pocket in the fog. It surrounded him like a bubble, and he could hear a susurrus like wind through the trees. Standing just at the far edge, half vanished into the fog was the figure of a beautiful woman with dark fur in a pale dress. She had a hungry, canny expression.

Daniel frowned slightly, glancing around the area with a curious yet wary expression. his mind told him *this wasn't normal* , but his curiosity drove him onward. He stepped towards the beautiful woman, and spoke "who are you?"

Ahh Daniel could see was the circular slice of the dock planks, the fog, and the woman. She smiled at him, and held up a finger to her lips. As she did, Daniel realized that he recognized her face from somewhere.

Daniel blinked slowly . where had he seen her face before? "...why were you following us?"

Where *had* he seen her before. That was an important question. It had to be someone in town, right?" she smiled and held her hand out to him. There was a piece of paper in it.

Daniel stepped forward, coming quite close to the woman as he took the paper in his hand. It...likely was. Unless this was all some strange dream and he'd pulled the face from elsewhere in his travels and experience. "Why do you look so damned familiar?" he asked, as he glanced down to the paper itself.

The woman smiled at him again as he took the paper, that hungry, canny look still in her eyes. As Daniel took it, he realized it was folded around something heavy.

Daniel opened it and glanced at the item it contained. He felt like he was being watched by a predator under the woman's stare.

Inside the paper-- which had some hastily scribbled writing on it, was a small, leaden-silvery key, quite tarnished.

He read the writing, as he held the key in his hand. "interesting.."

The handwriting was unfamiliar, quite neat and rather archaic in script. '--go awry. It is obvious that Marta has done something to bewitch my dear little Vadim away from my so carefully selected match. Frustrating, but I must admire her cunning and determination. Darya, in contrast has proven herself quite loyal, perhaps to a--"

"Daniel!" a voice called through the fog from behind him.

Daniel startled, and looked up suddenly from the note. Gripping it tightly in his hand, he looked behind him.

The woman was nowhere to be seen, and the neat clearing in the fog had melted away. Behind him, Fenya jogged in to view, panting.

"There you are!"

Daniel frowned....his hand gripped the key as he stared at the place the woman once stood. "....Fenya..." he said "...I think this place may very well be getting to me." he looked at his hand. Did he still have the note and the key?

The note and key were indeed in his hand. She took a deep breath. "getting to you?" she asked. "Danochka you vanished for almost five minutes. I thought you might have fallen in the river!"

Daniel certainly didn't feel like it had been more than a minute.

Daniel frowned deeper "....five minutes? I ... " he looked at the note again "...hardly feel as if I've been gone more than one. Odd...I'm sorry to have worried you Fenya. I'm not sure entirely what happened." He looked at the key with a furrow of his brow "....but..."

"What have you got there?" she asked, cocking her head.

He turned, and showed it to her. "I think this...note...was written by Mistress Nika...ah Morozov... the contents make mention to something Konstantin and his wife told me about some troubles in their shared past." He looked the key over more closely now "...it was wrapped around this key."

"Well that's.... certainly an interesting thing to find lying on the ground," she murmured as she looked at it closely. As Daniel showed it to her he started to realize that while they were still on the dock-- they were actually quite far from the fish plant, back closer toward where they had been the other day getting harassed.

".....indeed." He said , holding the key up to the light. ".....I seem to have wandered quite far in my distraction." He hesitated, almost telling her that he hadn't found it on the ground. It was a visible hesitation.

Fenya nodded. "I suppose so. You must have been very distracted..."

"Fenya." He said after a moment "...are you *sure* you didn't see anyone? No woman in a dress?"

She shook her head, her ears flattening slightly. "I'm sorry, Danochka, I really didn't see anyone. I suppose I could have missed her in all this fog but...."

"...a woman gave me this note and key, Fenya." He frowned "....it was either that or a trick of the fog, but I saw her clearly."

Fenya blinked. "She gave it to you? You didn't say... bend down to pick it up?"

"....That's what I mean about my concerns of this place getting to me." he muttered. "I could simply be overtired."

She frowned. "Wonderful. Danochka,,, would you let me take a look at your ear for a moment?"

Daniel nodded , frowning slightly "...yes, you may."

Fenya leaned in quite close and gently pinched his ear between her thumb and forefinger, giving it a careful look.

Daniel took a deep breath. Internally, a concern was welling up within him. Concern that his safety precautions hadn't been enough, that his careful attention to detail and sterility had been impacted by his desire to solve this thing.

She let his ear go gently and shook her head. "No black. So, you *probably* weren't hallucinating."

"Thank hell." he murmured. ".... I don't think I was hallucinating, but the fog was terribly thick."

"Fog doesn't usually make me see strange women," Fenya chuckled slightly. "Let's assume you actually saw someone until we're proven otherwise."

Daniel nodded "the worst thing is how familiar she looked." He shook his head. "...regardless, we'll figure this all out."

She nodded. "We will. But... I feel like we're not going to get into the processing plant right now unfortunately."

"It seems not. Not unless mysterious women from the fog decide to open the door for us." he snorted

"You wanted to visit the market. Shall we do that or do you want to try to follow up on this key business?"

"I'll admit I'm a bit curious about the key." he mused. "...but the market is likely on the way back to town anyway."

"Yes it's about equidistant either way we go from here. Though the market is closer to the post office-- if we go there and then back to the chernoff's or sasha's we'll be doubling back around."

"it's true." he mused "...I do need to see if any letters came for me, however."

"Good point," she nodded.

"so let's cut through the market, check for signs of infection...get our letters....and perhaps pay a visit to Mistress Nika's old homestead, if we can find it."

"If nothing else we could ask someone. Though there should be a public record of it somewhere."

"If nobody's willing to part with the information, we might go searching for it in the mayor's office."

Fenya nodded. "Just what I was thinking, Alright, break's over I suppose."

"Break's over." He agreed, and gestured forward "shall we?"

The two of them headed through the fog of the afternoon toward the market. Despite the weather it was busier than the last time they had been there, some men, and children, and quite a few women wandering between the stalls making purchases.

Daniel kept a close eye out for anyone moving sluggishly, or any sign of darkened veins in the ears as he passed here and there, looking through the stalls "Busy day at the market."

Fortunately or unfortunately he's almost immediately successful. He spots a couple of men passing a bottle back and forth that both look worse for wear- and even at a distance he can see the beginning of black veins in one of their ears.

Daniel frowned "....Fenya. it looks as if it's already spreading. Rapidly. I see evidence already and I've not even pulled anyone aside for an inspection."

fenya grimaced. "I was worried that might be the case."

He looked around "anyone who looks worn down...likely is already infected, spreading it to everyone at the market."

"What should we do?" Despite the crowd there was noticeably little 'bustle' in the market. It seemed a fair few people were tired today.

He hissed "i'm not sure. We don't have the *pull* to just order the place closed yet. We don't have any backing from the powers that be."

"Not the governor or even the mayor," she murmured in agreement. "Damn..."

"We have the captain on our side but we need **proof**"

"Surely just seeing how many people at the market are infected counts for something?" she said uncertainty.

"I hope so." Daniel was making notes. "...if I must, I'll simply drag the man here and show him the nightmare his town is descending into."

"It might be necessary," she sighed.

"I'm just..concerned that we're a little late."

Fenya nodded gravely. "Medicine isn't my specialty obviously but... I understand your concern, Danochka..."

he nodded to her "...it's already spreading, and it'll spread even more today with how busy this market is... every day we don't have precautions, this gets worse."

She bit her lip. "I.... do have an idea, doctor. But it isn't a very nice one. And it may....cause difficulties."

Daniel stretched "...I'm listening."

She lowered her voice. "We may not have any authority, but that....isn't the only way to clear the market."

"....ahh." Daniel's eyebrows raised "...I think ...i might understand where you're going with this."

"We could do something that would....make everyone leave the market for the day. I have some chemicals that could start a ah.... controlled fire.... if you don't have any other ideas that would do the job."

Daniel thought for a moment "....how likely would it be that it'd be traced to us?"

She pushed her reading glasses up. "I wouldn't be able to guess honestly, there's too many factors involved. It's...not improbable that it might be."

Daniel thought for a long moment. "...can we minimize actual damage?"

"With the fire idea? There's likely to be *some* damage but the actual buildings around here are stone, and everything's damned soggy to begin with..."

He took a deep breath. It was inadvisable...but.... "No." he shook his head "no we can't' risk making a bad impression on the governor. We need their support in order to get a proper quarantine in place."

Fenya nodded. "I thought you might feel that way. But it was prudent to lay our options on the table."

"it was. And it's a tempting idea, but if it's traced back to us we can kiss any official support goodbye."

"Yes and being outlaws could become tiresome rather quickly."

"I'd rather avoid being hunted through the streets like a trapped animal, eking out an investigation while the powers that be call for our heads." he drawled "that sounds exhausting."

"Not conducive to a good night's sleep at all," she agreed. "well then.... do we have any more business here in the market?"

"no, my fears are confirmed." he sighed . "unless you want to buy a scarf, I'd say let's move on."

"I think I'll pass on a second one today." She nodded and turned to start moving again.

Daniel walked with her, heading towards the post office "...what a strange town, wouldn't you say?"

"Incredibly," she agreed as they headed south, away from the fish smell. "And somewhere between exhausting and exhilarating."

"Oh I have to agree. In all my years of college, I've never been through such a strange...." He paused "no. there was the time with the Viper Gang....and my trip to Khan..."

He waved his hand "regardless, it's absolutely exhilarating."

She chuckled slightly. "Are you thinking you'll come out of this one with another student?"

"if they're half as troublesome as the last? Hell I hope not."

"For both of our sakes I'll hope the same," she said with amusement. The street down toward the post office.... trailed off into an empty field.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...hm. I suppose we haven't ....been down here before."

"Damn... well," she supposed. "If we keep on walking we should get to the post office anyway, road or no. But our shoes are likely to be a bit wet."

Daniel shook his head "I wear boots for this very reason." He started tromping across the field.

"Agreed," Fenya nodded, striding after him into the fog. It was even more dense here where there grass kept the moisture trapped better than road.

Daniel grimaced as his boots sunk into the mud. "....bloody hell. " He glanced around him as they walked "...wonder if anything is out here."

"Anything like ah... a vampire?" she murmured.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...nervous about the vampire, Fenya?"

"It's hard not to consider it when we're out here by ourselves," she admitted.

He nodded slowly "...I won't lie, I am a little concerned.." he sighed "but...the man seems to be nocturnal."

"Yes, and the sun's not quite ready to go down yet. Even if it is bloody dim already."

"It is." He nodded "...and it's dreadfully foggy. Hard not to imagine something slinking in the mists."

"Like whatever was at our window last night...."

"...." Daniel shuddered "that thing chilled me to the core."

"I'm sorry I wasn't awake to see it...."

As they were talking, Daniel heard a hoarse noise muffled in the fog.

Daniel was about to answer when his voice died in his throat. "...what?" He listened closer.

Fenya paused as Daniel did. "Hmm?" The noise came again. It sounded like a kind of raspy croak. or perhaps a croaky rasp.

Daniel's hand went for his gun, gripping the handle as he peered into the fog "...hello?"

The noise answered-- it almost sounded like a cough. Daniel could see a shadow in the fog.

Fenya stepped closer to him.

Daniel raised his pistol, putting the weapon between them and the figure in the fog "...who are you?"

There was the frog-like coughing noise and *something* leapt out of the fog toward them. Man shaped in tattered rags and looking *wrong*. Fenya screamed.

Daniel took a step backwards with Fenya. His fingers tightened on the pistol's grip "Don't move! I'll shoot you!" He hissed "I won't hesitate to kill you if you intend harm."

The person, or creature-- had mangy fur and it was hard to tell what race it might be. It staggered, weaving back and forth like a boxer or a drunk.

Daniel's gun lowered slightly.....to aim at the creature's leg "you have *three seconds to say who you are.* After that, I *will* shoot! this is a gentlemanly warning!"

It cough-growled, and made a leap toward the two of them, claws out.

Daniel lifted the gun rapidly towards the beast's head, and fired off a shot, his brow furrowed.

The gun banged off a sharp report just as whatever it was got within inches of the pair of them. It staggered back, a hole blown into the side of its face, black ichor weeping down the wound.

Daniel frowned, and stepped forward "....what in the hell are you?" He aimed at it's knee, and tried to bring it **down**

The shot went wild as the thing stumbled backwards, clearly alarmed by either the wound or at least the noise. It hissed and gurgled and looked like it was going to come at them again-- but then it stopped as a light shown through the fog.

Daniel used the moment it was distracted to rush forward and try to pistol whip it between it's eyes.

Pow!! he clubbed it between the eyes-- which were hauntingly dark and soulless like black pits. It barked a cough and collapsed to the ground. "Hey!" someone called from behind them.

Daniel stood, shaking, as he glared at the figure under him, too hopped up on adrenaline to pay the call much heed "...Fenya....I need some rope. *we've found ourselves a brand new patient.*"

She started digging through her purse. "I have uh.... hemp? thread? Damn it I didn't think to bring *rope*." "Hey! Hey doctor!" ...was that.... Mitya's voice calling through the fog.

"that's...fair..." Daniel glanced up towards Mitya. "Mitya, I hope you brought some sturdy rope."

Mitya held a lantern up as he passed through the fog into view wearing a heavy, dark raincoat. "Rope? What for?"

"We found ourselves an unruly patient." He bent down, and pulled the creature's rags away

Unfortunately, as he went to do that, he realized that the damned thing had vanished the second he looked away.

Daniel frowned..."Fuck." he said, in a very unastorian kind of way "fuck. Fuck. Fuck."

Fenya looked back and nearly choked. "What?! where is it?!" her voice went several octaves higher than usual.

Mitya blinked. "Doctor? Miss Fenya? Are you two... okay? I heard a gunshot."

Daniel nervously loaded another bullet into his gun "....we were attacked, but our assailant appears to have...shaken off his wound...and....unconsciousness....and slipped away."

"Attacked?" he gasped. "Muggers?"

"...strangest mugger I've ever met." Daniel murmured "but from the **ichor** that leaked from the wound...I'd say perhaps it's more likely he's one of our projected **late stage infected**"

The ichor... now THAT was still there. A splash of black tar on the mist covered grass. "Infected.... you mean like Mr. Banbridge?"

Daniel frowned....and scraped it up with his tools, putting the sample in a fresh vial. "...just like that, only far, far worse. Mind gone ....behaving like an animal."

Mitya looked stunned. "That's terrifying. It sounds like a tale my grandmother would tell."

"ah...is that so?" He asked, looking the ichor over in quiet curiosity.

It looked almost exactly like one of his recent blood samples-- at least from this point of view. Mitya nodded. "Ah... yes? She often threatened me with shambling revenants and monsters...."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "and it seems there was a nugget of truth in it all." He paused “who was your grandmother, by the by?"

"well, I suppose the woman in question wasn't *technically* my grandmother," he mused. "My twice great aunt or something like that?"

Daniel glanced at him, "oh? who was it?"

"I always called her Granny Nini," he chuckled nervously. "But I believe her name was Nika? She was my grandfather Tadibyov's sister or something like that."

Daniel paused "...so you were related to Mistress Nika?" He looked thoughtful for a long moment "...interesting."

He nodded. "I mean, it's not all that unusual to be related to them. I don't think there are many related to master Misha, but the others all have large families still living."

"how interesting." Daniel mused "...where's her house?"

"Her... house?" he blinked. "I guess that would be either Tadibyov manor or Morozov manor depending on if you mean before she married...."

Daniel pulled out the key "where would this likely go to, something in the pre marriage or post marriage manors?"

Mitya blinked again. "A key? I'm not sure I understand."

Daniel showed it to him "....a woman gave me this key, with a note left behind by the late Mistress Nika."

"Oh....goodness... Maybe Morozov manor then? I know Nini--mistress Nika was said to keep scrupulous diaries."

"That could be useful," Fenya murmured.

"it could be incredibly useful." He mused '...we'll have to find our way inside."

"You'll have to get Mr. Morozov's permission," Mitya nodded. "Or his wife's I guess....."

"I'll probably ask his wife." Daniel mused "if it's all the same.

"I believe her name is Sofya," he said, helpfully.

"Thank you Mitya." he smiled "by the by...did any letters come for me today?"

He nodded. "actually yes. I ah finally got done sorting the mail."

"Sorry about that, my friend. Safety...especially given this most recent attack...is key."

"I guess it must be...." he nodded. "Ah... hold on a second..." He started rummaging through his bag.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, watching him.

He pulled out a couple of envelopes and handed them to Daniel. "Ah, I believe one of these came a little later in the day than the other. I'm afraid I don't remember which though."

Daniel nodded slowly "thank you, my friend. You've been a delightful help."

Mitya raised his lantern in salute. "I'm glad... I ah, managed to talk my father into installing better locks as well..."

Daniel saluted him back "thank you, Mitya. That way I won't have to lock you out every morning." He chuckled. "...with...problems stalking about at night, I don't feel comfortable without a few locks in the way."

"I can hardly blame you," he nodded. "Though.... they won't be able to have them installed until tomorrow."

Daniel sighed softly "...we'll make due."

Mitya nodded. "I'll sleep in the office tonight, if you think that will help."

"it would, yes. And we'll...block the door."

"Alright. I'll head back and start getting things ready then."

"You're a treasure, Mitya," Fenya said

"you truly are." Daniel said with a smile "An absolute treasure."

His ears flicked embarrassedly. "Just trying to help out. See you two later!"

"see you later, Mitya." Daniel chuckled "now let's get out of this fog, Fenya."

"Lets," she nodded as Mitya vanished into the fog. "oh! but.... where are we going now? we were going to stop by the post office."

Daniel thought for a moment "why don't we pay a few *house calls* " He looked at the key "we have some snooping to get up to."

She nodded. "Let's get back to the road, and maybe take a look at those letters too."

Daniel nodded "once we're out of the darkness of this damnable mist." he agreed, walking towards town.

It turned out they had been surprisingly close to the road when attacked, and only a few dozen paces later they found themselves standing by the old manor near the post office.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...unsettling how close we were to home." He murmured, and pulled out the letters to read them.

One of them was addressed in a familiar hand, the other an unfamiliar loopy script.

Daniel looked at the familiar one first.

It turned out to be from the plant boss, Andrei Morozov. *Daniel, I am terribly sorry to pull the rug out from under you like this, but I am unfortunately the one who will not be available for dinner this evening, to my regret. Business has suddenly come up, and I am unable to avoid it. However, I was able to procure an amount of medical supplies for you, and have had my man deliver them to warehouse 7 for pickup at your convenience. If anyone gives you any trouble fetching them simply show them this letter. Best regards, Andrei*

Daniel raised his eyebrow "urgent business he says...well. At least his man was able to get us some medicine. We'll have to stop by and retrieve that, post haste."

Fenya nodded. "Yes we will. A shame we didn't get the message earlier when we were nearby."

"It would have saved us a little time." he chuckled, "but it was my doing, I suppose, for locking mItya out." He paused and looked at the second letter

*Doctor, My apologies for being so incoherent when you'll see me this morning. Things will not be going well in the fight between monsters and men. The both of us will have our battles with them today but I fear that only you will come out the victor. My monsters are stalking me even now. Don't worry. Even with what you said it isn't your fault. You are a fine man, though you won't understand me when I explain. I will not be safe, doctor, I cannot be. Not for others to do so. That will be the crux of our misunderstanding I think. But I know that your well wishes will be well meant. You though, must be careful. You and your companion must be safe if there is even a chance for the rest of us, monsters and all. -L*

Daniel read the letter a few times, his brow starting to furrow as he got to the end...and started from the beginning again. ".... *damn it* "

Fenya blinked as she watched him. "Is... something the matter?"

Daniel just wordlessly handed her the note.

Fenya took it curiously... read. it. Held it up to the light with an expression of consternation, read it again, and handed it back to him.

"I hate that."

"Yeah." Daniel said "I also hate that."

"Why on gaea is it written if *future tense*?"

"Because presumably she wrote it before we arrived. Or would like us to think that." Daniel murmured.

"Does she want us to think that she's *psychic*? That's absurd," Fenya snorted.

"It would go hand in hand with the ghosts and goblins she claims to see." he said "....I hope she doesn't do anything rash."

"I'm not sure what she would do to be honest," Fenya muttered. "Though I agree...."

"I don't know." Daniel murmured. "but the whole thing gives me a bad feeling"

"I certainly can't say it doesn't give me one. Do you think we should go back and check on her? Or... something?"

"...perhaps we should, before the day's end. Just to be sure she's alright."

She pulled her pocket watch out of her cloak. "It's about 3 o'clock now...."

"...we'll make the loop. Check the manors, get our medicine, and....then check her." He looked at his map "that...would be optimal, wouldn't it?"

"Yes that sounds like a well thought out route," she agreed.

Daniel nodded slowly "...alright, then let's get to it before we run out of daylight."

She nodded, and started walking with him. "When we get back to Astoria I shall hire someone to carry me everywhere on a palanquin."

Daniel snorted softly "I know the feeling." He said with amusement. "Perhaps I'll buy one of those fancy *motorcars* the New Astorians are obsessed with."

"That would certainly make you a sight to behold on the streets of Astoria," she considered with a smirk.

"I could run over the dean and become a national hero." he drawled as he walked towards the manor houses

Fenya chuckled as they passed the apartments and shops with actual buildings on their way, headed once again toward the public offices and the town square.

"My hero as well."

He flashed a smile "well now, is that so?"

"For running over the dean with a shiny piece of antiwalking technology? without a doubt."

Daniel bowed "it's a pleasure to do so for my new favorite chemist." he winked

"I'll be sure to invent a new fuel source for your toy," she teased.

"My hero." he purred, as they approached the manor houses.

It turned out that they would actually pass the Osgrov manor on their way to Morozov manor.

"Change of plans, we visit the young lady *first* " daniel mused

"I should have realized we'd pass it. All these families are neighbors."

"it's true." he chuckled "Damn my memory"

"We should really see if there's a map in the mayor's office...."

"that...might be something we should do." He chuckled "perhaps if we have time today."

"I suppose we'll see." Fenya nodded, and held her skirts up as she headed up the couple of steps to the manor's door.

Daniel approached the door, and knocked firmly upon it.

There was no answer.

Daniel knocked again, frowning. "....come on..."

There was a long moment.

Fenya peered at the drapes. "The curtains are closed...."

Daniel grabbed the door handle, and tried to push the door open.

It clicked open easily. It wasn't locked.

Daniel pushed the door open, and walked inside with a frown. "hello? Lydia...?"

There was no one in the entrance hall. If he wanted to look around, he could reach the kitchen, the parlor he'd been in earlier, or the stairs from where he was standing.

Daniel first checked the kitchen...his hand near his belt as he went "...i have a very bad feeling about this." he murmured "but hopefully she's simply asleep."

No one was in the kitchen. It was quiet, and dark. The only remotely interesting thing was some spilled grain on the counter.

"Hopefully," Fenya agreed, creeping in after him.

Daniel frowned , and checked the parlor next

Ah.... there she was. Asleep in the long divan at the edge of the room. She was wearing a different dress than the one he'd seen her in before, this one lower cut, framing her soft throat and small breasts. Her lips were rouged and the inside of her ears pinked, her hair curled.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "....hm." He cleared his throat "Lydia?"

Fenya lingered in the doorway behind him. As Daniel spoke, Lydia stirred gently. "Already?" she murmured quietly in a confused voice. "It's still light out....?"

Daniel knelt by the divan, "it seems so. It's me, Daniel Delgrave. I...received your letter, and I wanted to ensure you were well."

She blinked at him with her large eyes. "Daniel.....?"

Daniel noticed that her eyes were *extremely* dilated. She was certainly on drugs. Sleepily she asked. "Is Andrei with you?"

Daniel's lips tightened slightly. "No, I think he's been..distracted by some work at his plant." *drugged and waiting for the fish boss?* "You're waiting for him?"

She rubbed her eyes gently. "Waiting?" she made a soft noise and sat up slightly quickly. "You should go, doctor."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...might..I ask why?"

"You're busy aren't you?" she asks. "If you linger, we'll both get in trouble. It will make it difficult for you."

"in trouble with whom?" Daniel asked "Andrei?" "This is already difficult as it is... I think I can handle a little more ." He shook his head "...your letter this morning was ...alarming, to say the least."

She looked at him with big eyes. "Please doctor.... not tonight."

There was an edge of desperation to her voice.

Daniel frowned "...." He glanced at Fenya over his shoulder "....Lydia. I don't have a good feeling about any of this."

Fenya spread her hands as Daniel glanced at her-- she didn't have any idea what to do. "Doctor, you're so nice. Has anyone ever told you you're a nice man?" Lydia reached up and touched his face. "I promise I won't fall to your enemy tonight."

"...I don't get that often, but I thank you for saying so.." He said, brow knitting slightly in thought. "I...should hope you won't. " He set his jaw "Tell me straight out, is Andrei harming you? Is he one of the 'monsters' you spoke of?"

She smiled dreamily at him and 'booped' him on the nose. "I'm going to finish my nap, doctor."

Daniel's ears flattened back at the boop. "..." He stood with a soft sigh "rest well, Lydia. " he dipped into a bow "...I'll see what I can do from out there."

She patted his face and laid back down, closing her eyes. "You're a nice man," she murmured. her chest started to rise and fall steadily.

Daniel stood, and walked with a heavy expression back to Fenya. "a nice man, she says...." He pinched the bridge of his muzzle "...Fenya, i need to speak with you outside."

Fenya nodded silently, her own face rather grim. She turned and started outside.

He followed her, jaw set, until the two of them were once more out in the fog "....my bad feeling has turned into an absolute sinkhole" He said "....it's far , far worse than I thought."

"I have a bad feeling that I agree with yours," Fenya said.

Daniel rubbed the space between his eyes , brow tensed "....It seems your assessment of Andrei was..quite justified."

"Y-es... I'm starting to have an idea why I didn't like the smell of him..." she admitted.

"...as am I ." he frowned deeply "...she was *incredibly* drugged, Fenya....drugged , made up and waiting for the man. " He tensed "I wouldn't be surprised if that's where her bruises came from, as well."

Fenya's ears flattened. "It seems.... likely."

"when she talks of monsters wearing human skin...I think I finally understand just what she meant."

"Unfortunately. Do you think she *just* means...him?"

"No." Daniel frowned, "I don't. Not from the way she phrased that letter and our conversation earlier."

"That's what I was afraid of," she murmured. She glanced down and across the street a few hundred yards where Morozov manor loomed, engulfed by fog.

Daniel frowned slightly "...we'll get to the bottom of it and...make sure we put an end to it one way or another."

He glanced at the manor with a soft sigh "..shall we?"

"Yes... Although...."

Daniel cocked his head 'hm?"

She opened her mouth, and then closed it. "No...never mind."

Daniel shook his head. "no, I'd like to hear if it's all the same."

She pursed her lips. "I was going to suggest the possibility of sneaking in."

Daniel looked thoughtful "that...might actually be a good idea."

"I suppose the problem is we don't know how many people live there, or when they'll be gone. Though, I suppose we know Andrei won't be there tonight."

"indeed." Daniel mused "...perhaps we can stake it out, hm?"

"That might be a good idea," she nodded. "Let's see.... Mitya said he has a wife..."

Daniel nodded slowly "he did say that. and he mentioned he had a daughter."

"Hmmm...." she glanced down at the house again. "How old I wonder? Not old enough for a business..."

"Possibly one of the children running about with the jr. Cult Leader."

"I suppose we could see if the wife is home...."

"perhaps we'll get lucky and gain the ability to..poke around unsupervised."

"If not, we could potentially ask some... leading questions, about her future availability."

Daniel nodded, a slight smirk crossing his face "....brilliant."

"I have a sneaky idea or two, doctor," she said, adjusting her reading glasses.

"One of many reasons why you're so delightful, Fenya." he purred

She curtsied. "Happy to be of service, doctor. Shall we?"

Daniel chuckled, and nodded. "we shall." he walked through the fog towards the manor, a grim determination in his eyes.

The two of them cut a striking figure walking through the billowing mist, passing under the few street lights in town as they reached the tall, imposing manor. Rather surprisingly, there was a pair of styled iron horns above the gates.

Daniel raised his eyebrow as he looked up at them "hm. i wonder why."

Unfortunately Daniel couldn't think of any particular reason as they passed through the gate. Fenya looked up at the house. "I don't see any lights..."'

"we may be in luck then." he mused. He walked to the door...and gently knocked on it.

The knock seemed muffled by the dense fog. No one came to the door.

Daniel tried the door with a slim smirk.

Unlike the Osgrov house, this one was decidedly locked.

Daniel huffed...and tried a window.

It was either stuck or latched as well.

Fenya frowned. "Hmmm....."

Daniel looked thoughtful for a long moment "back door, perhaps?"

"Worth a try," she nodded. She stepped carefully down the stairs, and started around the hedges.

Daniel followed her , frowning slightly as he went. "...i hope we can get in."

"So do I," she said, keeping her eyes on the windows.. In the back there was a small, rather neglected garden with some childrens toys in it. There was also a back door.

Daniel attempted the back door , hoping someone had forgotten basic safety this morning.

It rattled gently in his hand. Fenya frowned. "Damn...."

Daniel looked at the lock with narrowed eyes.

"I do have some chemicals," Fenya offered. "Or hairpins."

"hairpins." Daniel said "we'll...melt their lock as a last resort."

She nodded and fished in her purse, handing him a large black hairpin.

Daniel took the hairpin, and fished in his bags for a long, thin medical tool, which he inserted into the lock with the hairpin.

He rattled the tools around for what felt like *much* too long, as Fenya started to look more and more nervous.

But finally, there was a satisfying click.

Daniel sighed with relief, giving her the hairpin back as he put his tool back in his bag. And he pushed the door open with a smirk ".....and we've done it."

Fenya breathed quietly as she put the hairpin away. "well done, Danochka."

Daniel nodded "thank my early years in university." he purred 'and my rivals in the medical department."

"Ah, Astoria U, what practical knowledge you teach." She gripped the knob with gloved hand, and pushed the door gently open.

Daniel chuckled, slipping inside the house to look around.

The back door opened into the kitchen it seemed, dark, and smelling of old burned wood.

Daniel looked around for a moment, before pressing on through the room. they had to be *quick* about this...and efficient.

There wasn't much of interest in the kitchen, though Daniel understood what the horns on the gate must mean as he saw a pendant of the Napthan goddess hung on the wall.

"...ah." Daniel murmured. "...followers of the Horned God." He looked, and pressed on to the next room, keeping an eye out for any doors or junctures.

The hall led to a parlor, and a staircase, as well as a few closed doors that might be rooms. or closets.

Daniel investigated the parlor first

The parlor was quite handsome and tasteful, with a large bar area-- though upon inspection there were more mixers than alcohols. There were several shelves full of books, and a large portrait adorning one wall. Daniel recognized the figure in the painting immediately. It was the woman who had given him the key, posed next to a stocky man who resembled an even older Andrei, perhaps in his 60s or 70s. The woman didn't look a day over 25.

Daniel *froze* His eyes widened slightly as he stared at the painting "Fenya, you won't believe me when I say this..."

She paused behind his shoulder and followed his gaze. "Yes?"

"that's the woman who gave me the bloody key."

She blinked. "you're sure?"

"I'd recognize that face anywhere." he murmured "right down to that look in her eyes."

Fenya strode forward quickly and looked closer at the painting. There was a small plaque which she read aloud. "Melchor Morozov and his wife, Nika."

She paused. "Danochka this painting is dated 70 years ago."

Daniel nodded slowly "...that doesn't surprise me." He said "she was one of the immortal leaders, the ones I wished to study."

"Perhaps she has a living relative with a strong resemblance?" Fenya offered.

"We'll have to ask." he said "still feels like seeing a damned ghost." He briefly looked over the types of books they had

"I can imagine..."

There's nothing that stands out on the book shelf. Daniel got the suspicion that the books might be mainly for show.

"hm. " Daniel mused, and checked the first of the closed doors

Closet, closet, closet.....

Daniel grimaced "...Fenya, no luck." he headed up the stairs "who needs so many damned closets?"

"The man DID seem to be obsessed with clothes," she said, following him up.

"...so true." he murmured , looking around as they ascended.

The stairs had recently been re-carpeted it seemed.... Upstairs there was a long hallway with several doors.

Daniel tried the first, hoping for not another damned *closet*

It wasn't a closet. It was a rather large room done up in some of the brightest colors he had seen since entering the town. There was an enormous vanity with a mirror ringed with candles like that of a stage star.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "now this is...interesting." He walked into the room, looking around.

It's almost certainly a woman's room. There's an old poster on the wall, framed, that announces the 'Beautiful Diva Sofya'.

"Someone used to be an actress from the look of it. Can you see anything , Fenya?"

Fenya frowned and looked around. "Let me see...."

Daniel waited , looking around himself with a sigh.

"I don't see anything all that interesting, I'm afraid."

Daniel looked over the vanity...just in case.

Among the items scattered on the vanity, mostly makeup, and small trinkets, there's a small silver box, about the size of two fists.

Daniel slowly opened the box, as carefully as he could

The box was locked.

Daniel tested to see if the key he was given would work

The little keyhole turned out to be the perfect size. It clicked open.

Daniel raised his eyebrows higher...and looked inside.

Fenya held her breath. Inside.... inside there were a few things. A couple of small folded pieces of paper. Several rings and a bracelet with charms.

Daniel first unfolded the papers, reading them over one by one.

One was a torn, stained fragment of an old journal in the same script as the one he had been given earlier.

*--dream sometimes about that night beneath the stone. Trusting Pyotr with the knife █████████hests. I wonder if that was the last time we all trusted one another? Perhaps. Since then we have all grown older. Wiser. More twisted. Like the r██████████████████heart of the world which we share. It seems such a small thing to need its blood. Are we monsters for that? Or simply closer to Gaea herself, whose blood runs in our veins. Returning moon after moon to share that same---*

Daniel's eyes widened "..." He slipped it into his notebook with his other letters "....a sliver of their secret." he murmured, reading the next.

Another journal fragment *-me instead of Pyotr. Isn't burying people his business? Perhaps Iosef doesn't want to make a fool of himself in front of another man. As if I wouldn't judge him just as harshly. There was no need to go and break her like--* There was one more piece of paper.

Daniel slipped the fragment in his notebook, before reading the last. "..damn."

Fenya raised her eyebrow. "I...see."

"It seems there was some sort of drama among them." He murmured, reading the last slip of paper.

The last slip of paper was... a list of ingredients, some of them quite common, ending with 'three drops of human blood'. The top of the paper read 'temporary'.

"temporary." he mused "....how interesting." He looked into the box, picking up the bracelet to look it over.

carved symbols shaped like eyes hung from it. "Oh... that's a folk charm," Fenya said.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "is it? Of what sort?"

"It's supposed to ward off evil, I believe. They usually give them to children, or people who think that witches are after them."

Daniel raised his eyebrow. "witches. I see.. . I wonder if it works for madmen plagued by horrifying illness." he drawled.

"Perhaps we should take it just in case."

Daniel chuckled, slipping it on his wrist before he looked over the rings

one of them was a wedding ring, there was no doubt about that. The other two merely looked expensive.

"Just rings." he mused "nice ones...and it seems that *someone* doesn't like to wear their wedding ring."

"I wonder if it's Sofya's or...."

Daniel nodded. "It could be....ah, Nika's, potentially. regardless, we probably shouldn't *take it* "

"Probably not," she agreed. "Shall we lock the box again?"

Daniel nodded, closing the box and locking it behind him. With that...he walked into the hall to check the next room.

The door opened on a rather lavish bedroom with a number of homey astorian touches. There was a fancy teapot on the table in one corner.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "ah, i know who's room *this* must be."

"Our dear friend Andrei," she said distastefully. The sheets on the bed were fine silk. There was a copy of a large holy book on the bedside table, which also had some kind of funny contraption on it that looked almost like a lamp. The nightstand had a single drawer, firmly closed.

Daniel investigated the... pseudo lamp?

There was a strange bulb inside the shade, and a little chain hanging down from it.

Daniel pulled the chain with a raise of his eyebrow.

The room lit up all of a sudden, the bulb inside glowing brightly and nearly blinding them.

Daniel had heard of this.

Electric light.

Some fellow in Astoria was trying to get them put all over the place.

Daniel snorted under his breath "....this nonsense will never catch on. Too unwieldy , too rare." he pulled the chain again, and attempted to open the drawer.

The light turned off, and then the drawer slid open. There was a pistol inside, and some papers.

Daniel picked up the papers first, frowning.

They seemed to mostly be business letters, as he looked through them. Routine orders for fish, replacement parts, and ...nope....nope nope.... that's an erotic letter theere.

Daniel froze, and as much as he was loath to read it, he decided to check who it was to.

It was half finished, and it appeared to be from Andrei to... Mila.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "Mila?"

He shook his head "it seems he's ....certainly not limiting himself to one woman, that's for certain." He put it away, and picked up the pistol instead.

"Is that a gun, Danochka?"

Daniel nodded, checking if it was loaded "it seems to be."

It absolutely was loaded.

"....do you want a gun?" Daniel asked Fenya.

"At this point I think it couldn't hurt," she nodded.

She held her purse out.

Daniel dumped the gun, safety on, into her purse. "now we're both armed." He shut the drawer, and gestured "let's see what else this house has to offer."

"This is certainly a bit thrilling, isn't it?" she declared with a smirk.

As Daniel gestures he notices the book sitting on the table again. There's something a bit off about it.

"incredibly so." he agreed, smirking slightly. But...the book caught his attention. He gave it a closer look.

He wasn't sure quite what caught his attention as he looked at it. was it's spine slightly misaligned?

Daniel picked it up...and attempted to gently pull the spine from it "...what's all this now?"

The spine pulled out of the cover--- it wasn't a book at all, it was a hidden box. Inside were a small stack of extremely rude novels.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and looked over the covers "...what a lustful man."

They were... extremely smutty. One of them had a woman all bound up. Another had a man fastened into some contraption.

"....." He held them up to Fenya "....I have few words."

Fenya flushed deeply. "Oh....oh my. Ah.... these might be a bit... illegal." She fanned herself.

"...I wouldn't be surprised."

He looked one over, skimming a few pages. "hm."

"fondling her pale, heaving breasts," "her soft throat bruised under his fingers" "fleshknife stabbing her again and again sending her closer to her little death"

"......" Daniel closed the book. "...hm."

Fenya, who had been peering over his shoulder, cleared her throat. "yes... hm."

"he's into some...." He looked at it; "risque stuff."

"yes. Ah." she coughed. "Well. It must certainly.... stimulate the blood."

"I suppose he very well needs it for whatever that little blood ritual was." Daniel said dryly

"Or maybe it's the reverse?" she mused. "Maybe he needs the ritual to ah... preform."

"ah, yes, human blood in order to get *horny* . The trials and tribulations of age."

Fenya nodded. "Devastating. I'm glad I'll never get old."

As they talked, they heard a sound from downstairs-- or perhaps outside.

"likewise." Daniel chuckled....before he cursed under his breath "...well. Now we try and slip out undetected. This...will be the hard part."

"Oh...dear," she breathed. "I'll... follow your lead."

Daniel went through the floor plan as best as he could tell from the outside. Could they get out the window?...it likely would require climbing...

if they went out the window they'd be in the back yard-- but they'd definitely have to climb down. If there WAS any way to climb down. On the other hand taking the stairs would put them right in the line of sight of the front door for at least a moment.

Daniel peeked out the window quickly. Did it look like a challenging climb?

There was a drain pipe going down. It was...potentially navigable?

Daniel grimaced "are you ready to do a bit of climbing, Fenya?"

"No, but I'm not ready to do a bit of getting pinned with burglary charges either," she said, moving toward the window.

Daniel opened it, and gestured "you go first, and I'll make sure the window is closed behind us." he murmured

Fenya nodded. "Got it. Let's see if I can still do this." She shimmied her body out the window and reached for the drain.

Her fingers slipped against it and she scrabbled with the slick, wet metal of the drain. She made a soft squeaking yelp as she started to slide down-- not *completely* out of control but much, *much* to fast.

Daniel winced, and hopped out the window after her. It wasn't like he'd be able to stop her, but he damn well was going to **try**. He shut the window behind him, and tried to climb down. "damn it , damn it , damn it." He whispered.

He threw his arm out to grab her just too late, and watched as she hit the mud, toppling into a heap.

*shit*

He started to climb down after her, hoping to all of science that she wasn't injured.

Daniel managed to control his descent better than she did, and landed on his feet next to her.

He dipped down, and whispered "Fenya, are you alright?"

He checked her over quickly for any obvious injuries.

She groaned and looked up at him, covered in mud. "Gaea damn it...."

He didn't see any blood, and from her eyes she didn't seem to be concussed. There'd *certainly* be some bruising.

Daniel winced, and offered her a hand up "Gaea damn it is right." he murmured "...let's get somewhere safe so we can rub something on those bruises."

She took his hand shakily. "Yes... I think this dress might be done for, too..." She looked as though she'd fallen into a mud puddle from two stories up.

Which she had.

He helped her up "...as it's my fault, I'll make sure to get you a new one once we return victorious from this little nightmare."

She leaned on him, wincing slightly as she put weight on one leg. "Normally I'd hold you to that, but I *was* the one who suggested sneaking about like a freshman."

Daniel wrapped his arm around her "...you might have a sprain. i'll look at it once we get off this man's property." He helped her towards the back edge of the property, trying to get back to the street. "I suppose we've both gotten older from our carefree days of breaking and entering."

"We need to get on that youth serum, ASAP it sounds like," she nodded. "Before we both wither up into dust." She limped with him back to the gravel road. Thankfully, whoever had made the noise was already inside. A light was now glowing from a room that was probably the parlor.

"Please." Daniel drawled "before we get any older." He chuckled, looking over his shoulder "...at least we escaped the burglary charge...at the expense of your leg."

"A fair trade off given that I've got my own personal medical staff, I'd say."

"Agreed." he said "...though it does make the rest of today's little adventure...complicated."

"Given all the walking you mean?" she asked dryly, limping along down the road with him.

Daniel nodded "...we can call it a day, if you feel we must."

She grimaced. "You're the doctor.... will it get worse if I tough it out? We wanted to pick up those medical supplies..."

"it depends." Daniel said "....it honestly might...putting strain on something like this , depending on the exact nature of the injury, could cause permanent damage."

Fenya hesitated. "I have to admit I don't like the sound of that...."

"Neither do I." he said "....how about we take a look at that leg, and we'll decide from there. We're right by Sasha's clinic."

She nodded. "On your advice, doctor."

Daniel nodded, and helped her limp her way towards the clinic 'if we get you a splint we should be fine, either way."

The clinic wasn't far at all. Practically across the street; and Fenya limped against him toward its warm light, reaching the eaves just as it started once again to rain.

Daniel knocked on the door, before easing it open "Sasha. We need a bed for a moment."

Oddly enough, no one answered.

Daniel pushed the door open, frowning.

The lamps were lit low, and the two patients from earlier were asleep in their cots, one murmuring to himself the other still. Sasha was nowhere to be seen.

"He must be out," Fenya murmured.

Daniel frowned, and helped her to one of the empty beds "I suppose so.."

"Maybe he needed something from the shops," she supposed. Achingly, she sat down on the cot.

He nodded, and pulled her dress up enough that he could get a good look at her leg.

She flushed a little, looking off away as he examined her leg. Her soft, dark fur was covered in mud. As he gently felt for damage, she winced and he could feel the telltale sign of what was probably a hairline fracture.

Daniel cursed softly. "That's a hairline fracture. We're going to have to splint that. It'll..very much impact your mobility for a while."

Fenya grimaced. "That's..... less than ideal."

"Far less than ideal." he walked over, and searched for some supplies to splint her leg "it is what it is."

He found them easily. If nothing else, Sasha was quite organized.

Daniel went back to Fenya, and worked to get her leg patched up. Hopefully he could find some painkillers for her.

Her ankle was starting to swell, it seemed. "Thank you for your help, Danochka..."

Daniel grimaced. "we need something for that inflammation." He murmured "...but you're quite welcome. sorry I wasn't able to catch you in time."

She waved a hand. "We got down didn't we? Probably the best result we could hope for..."

"It's true. We weren't *caught* " he murmured "so I will call that a win." He fashioned the splint onto her leg, and looked for some anti-inflammatories.

Her ears flicked gently as he tied up her leg. "A win's a win," she agreed.

Unlike the splinting supplies, the anti inflammatories weren't immediately obvious-- probably because Sasha had quite a lot of things in herbal and pure forms instead of compounds. He *did* find what he was looking for, but some mixing would be necessary.

Daniel sighed, and gathered the items, and a mortar and pestle "I'll mix you up something for the swelling." He smiled at her "A win is a win, though you're quite right about that."

"Usually I'm the one starting up a witch's brew, between us," she chuckled. "Funny to see you do that."

Daniel smirked , mixing the ingredients with an amused smile "Desperate times call for desperate measures." He purred "I can only hope that I manage half as well as you."

"I'm sure your talents will carry you through."

Daniel crushed and mixed the materials with a soft grunt of effort "I took a few classes in chemical compositions...a doctor has to know his medicine after all."

"Can't leave it *all* to the chemists," she teased.

"no, or how else could I tell when one was trying to poison me to help one of their friends in my department get ahead?"

"That would be a very brief problem to have indeed."

"Or a frustrating one, if they only wanted to poison me *a little*. " he made quotes " 'as a joke' "

Fenya chuckled. "Touche. That *would* be a pretty funny joke."

"Just what I expected a chemist to say." He tutted his tongue, and dumped the powder into a little pouch, which he handed to Fenya.

"Of course," she chuckled. "How do I take this?"

"Maybe dissolved in alcohol I hope?" she half-teased.

Daniel chuckled, and glanced around...did Sasha keep any alcohol around? drinkable alcohol, of course.

Well... there was alcohol but... no... that definitely was methyl alcohol.

"hm." Daniel chuckled softly "no luck, Fenya."

"damn," she shook her head with a smirk. "Water then? Or do I put it under my tongue?"

"i'll see if I can get you some sterile water." he mused, looking around

That he found easily enough. Sasha had a few jugs of the stuff.

Daniel poured some in a glass, and dumped the mixture into it before giving it a good stir and handing it to Fenya. "there you have it. The worst cup of water you'll have all week. I hope."

She chuckled and raised it. "Here's damned well hoping." She tipped it back and drank the bitter, sour liquid. "Ugh."

Daniel sat at the edge of the bed "that should help some."

"At the very least the lingering taste should distract me from the pain."

"It's a natural painkiller in that way." Daniel drawled

"How clever," she said dryly back. "Should I expect any other side effects?"

"An aversion to falling out of windows." he added

She laughed and shook her head. "Well doctor, I can definitely say I'm having that one."

"I'm afraid that one takes quite a while to fade." he smirked

"I shall just have to live with it, I suppose."

"I'm sure it'll prove healthy in the long run."

"I shall take your word for it."

"how's it feeling?" he asked "the splint?"

"Stiff," she admitted. "But definitely better than without it. You miracle worker."

Daniel chuckled, spreading his hands with a little bow "I do what I can, Fenya."

She smiled at him. "Better than most. Shall I put some weight on it, or not yet?"

"try it and tell me how it feels." He chuckled softly "and I'm pleased you think so."

She hopped down off the cot gently and tested her weight on it. "Hmmm."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "how's it feel?"

"Like a leg, which is certainly better than before." her tail swept gently behind her.

Daniel chuckled "let's try walking a bit on it"

She nodded and started gingerly across the room.

Daniel watched, keeping an eye on how well she was able to walk.

She was definitely limping, but much less badly than before.

"well...if it doesn't hurt, we could likely continue across town like this."

"I'll probably feel it later, but let's go."

Daniel nodded "...alright. Then the medicine?"

"Lets go get it. before it's pitch black."

Daniel nodded and offered his arm to help her take more of the weight off her bad leg.

Her ears flicked embarrassedly, but she took him up on it, leaning on him gently. "Thank you, doctor."

Daniel gave her a thin smile, nodding "Pleased to help. I'll see if I can find you any crutches or some such while we go."

"Lead on," she nodded as they headed out.

Daniel led her back outside and into the fog.

It was even darker now, and still raining. Everything was soggy, and the few streetlights were struggling to illuminate anything.

"Seems like I spoke too soon."

"...more time has passed than I thought." He frowned, thinking to himself "...should we turn back, or try our luck ?"

She pulled out her watch. "No, it's only 4:30.... it's just.... dark."

Daniel frowned , and made his way towards the warehouse. "...why?"

"The rain?" she supposed. "Though it's quite dark even for that."

"...it's far too dark for it to just be rain and fog." Daniel said warily as he walked along the street.

"It's like it's night already," she murmured, hurrying along with him as best she could.

He nodded as they went as quick as they could "...which is dangerous in this current time.."

"Quite... who knows who's lurking about...." she tugged her collar up as they headed northward toward the river.

He agreed with a nod, stalking forward with his free hand by his pistol belt. "...we'll...be fine. I'm certain of it."

"Yes... after all we *must* have used up our bad luck for the day."

"We absolutely have to have." he drawled "anything more would be bloody unfair."

It's seemed they truly had for the moment at least. There was a lot of commotion from inside the bar as they passed, but nothing jumped out of the fog to eat them.

Daniel sighed happily, pressing onwards towards the warehouse "no drinks tonight, I think"

"yes I'm not sure my head could take it."

"no, I don't think mine could either." he sighed softly "what a day."

"What a day is right." The smell of fish hung heavy in the air as they reached the dock. The laborers were muscling back and forth with crates.

Daniel pulled out the letter, holding tight to it as he muscled past laborers, and towards the warehouse itself with Fenya.

"feels like we've been here an awful lot," she murmured.

"yes...it's been one of the longest damned weeks of my life."

"Up there with New Astoria?"

"I don't know." He said "at least in New Astoria , I had the decent company of Lulu's parents, and the bloody gang. ..." he paused "and no diseased revenants leaping out of the fog to try and bite my throat out."

"Hmmm, so what you're saying is this tops it."

"oh absolutely. New Astoria was child's play compared to this nonsense."

"Almost sounds like a vacation then," she said. They came to the warehouses, which lined the far side of the dock.

"I might very well go back." He said with a soft snort "once this is all over." He walked right for them, holding out his note like a badge to do whatever the hell he wanted

If it worked at the university, it'd work here, right?

The problem was.... which warehouse was he supposed to be going to?

Daniel frowned. He read the note again for any clue.

The note said *warehouse 7* but if they were marked he couldn't see it through the damned fog.

".....i'm going to punch this man in his bloody snout."

"I must admit I'm a bit annoyed as well," she said, sounding *very* annoyed.

"....we have to find warehouse 7. In the fog."

"...... how the bloody hell are we supposed to do that?"

"Ask someone." Daniel sighed, and walked for the first of them.

Nearby a wet, brutish shirtless man was carrying a crate of fish through the rain.

"You!" Daniel called to the shirtless man "yes, you, come here!"

The man stopped short, and jogged over to Daniel. "Hyes?"

"Where's warehouse 7? This damnable fog is obscuring the signs." he held up the note "i'm here for my bloody medical supplies."

"Oh! Sebben?" The man rested the whole crate on one shoulder to scratch his head. "Furthest one. Can't miss."

"take me to it."

He nodded. "Da." he waved his hand and led them down the row of warehouses. Fenya had trouble keeping up.

Daniel lingered to help her, hoping that with the two of them working in tandem, they could keep up.

She struggled, but between the two of them they managed to keep up with the long strides of the dockworker as he led them to the last warehouse before the market.

Daniel glanced up at it "Thank you. You can return to work now." he said, before helping Fenya towards the warehouse.

The man nodded, and hefted the crate again, as Fenya and Daniel made their way to the warehouse. The large, cracked windows barely showed any light.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...dank and despressing little building, isn't it?" he murmured, as he walked for the door

"More than a little," she agreed. The large, wooden double door was ajar as he approached.

Daniel pushed it open and pressed inside.

The inside was large, and rather dank, smelling of fish and smoke, with water dripping from places in the ceiling and boxes stacked everywhere.

Daniel coughed softly, covering his mouth as he looked around for anyone who might be able to just get him his supplies so he could leave this reeking place.

Another worker came out from behind a stack of crates, this one with slighter build and a small pair of glasses. "This is a restricted area," he snapped.

Daniel raised the note "We have *authorization* , young man."

"Authoriz--" he looked at the note with narrowed eyes. "Ah. My apologies."

Daniel flashed a thin smile "thank you for your patience."

"Of course," he said, still sounding troubled. "Please wait right here."

"Indeed." Daniel folded his hands behind his back.

Fenya leaned on a stack of crates, watching as the man headed off behind more boxes.

"I wonder what's on his mind." Daniel mused.

"Probably wondering when he can go home and have dinner, if he's anything like most public workers."

She eased some of the weight off of her bad leg.

"I can hardly blame him." he sighed "we have to figure out dinner."

"yes given that we won't be having it with Morozov.... and I believe we told Darya we were busy tonight? or was that yesterday?"

"yesterday." Daniel mused "...so i suppose we can have dinner with them again."

She nodded. "We could. Or I suppose we could go to granny's?"

"....no, i'd rather avoid the woman for now." Daniel drawled.

"I thought that might be the case." The man came back, carrying a small crate about the size of two shoeboxes.

Daniel smiled thinly "thank you, good sir."

He offered Daniel the crate. "Of course."

Daniel took the crate, and looked it over "Thank you. These will come in handy, I'm certain."

The crate was *heavy*.

"Good. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"I'd say come help us bring it home but you seem like a busy man"

He smiled tightly. "Very busy, I'm afraid," he said to the mostly empty warehouse.

"well it was a pleasure to meet you"

He nodded. "Of course. I'd offer to shake your hand but I can see they're both occupied."

"I'm Daniel Delgrave." he purred

"Simeon Bedovich," he nodded. He paused then. "You're the man from Astoria aren;t you?"

Daniel nodded "that's correct. I am."

"You certainly picked a bad time to visit."

"is that so?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "why?"

"Terrible veather," he said shaking his head. "I've never seen it this dark."

"Not usual for this part of Mosgrav?" he asked "...i've noticed it's been...less than ideal as of late."

"We usually get rain," he shook his head. "Some mist. But not like this."

Daniel frowned "...not like this." he mused "...I wonder what's the cause of it all."

He shook his head. "Who knows. Maybe there really is a curse."

"I doubt that." Daniel drawled "it might have something to do with how the capital is on fire."

"You think the smoke finds its way even here?"

"perhaps it's a large enough fire to cause sufficient damage to the weather." he mused "particulates and all that."

"Yes, ah, particulates," he nodded, clearly not understanding at all.

"mmm. Regardless, you're right about me choosing a bad time. Things seem to be becoming rather unsafe as of late."

"So they do," he nodded. "well... good luck I suppose."

"I appreciate it. Same to you, as well."

The man nodded, and picked up a nearby clipboard, letting Daniel and Fenya know they should be on their way.

Daniel turned and helped Fenya get back on her feet to leave the warehouse.

Fenya tried not to lean too much on him, given that he was also carrying the box.

Daniel held the box tight, but still attempted to help her hobble her way out of the workyard.

"Well, that at least went... somewhat smoothly," Fenya said.

"somewhat. We have the medicine, at least...and your leg is holding up."

"It certainly is," she said. "Though I must say I;m absolutely *dying* for a hot drink."

"as am I." He mused "...coffee?"

"or tea, if *anyone* has any."

"Right now I'd accept old boot water if it was hot," she muttered.

Daniel snorted softly "let's get you something better than *boot water*"

She put her arm on him and nodded. "Lead the way, Danochka."

Daniel chuckled as he led her down the street "How about hot drinks and dinner with our hosts?"

"I'll take it," she nodded with a slightly pained smile.

He nodded, and helped her along towards the farmhouse, taking it as slow as she had to.

They made their way slowly down from the dark docks, the rain hammering on their oiled cloaks, the box heavy in Daniel's arms.

"I hate the rain." he said "every day we're here I hate it more."

"you know before now i *liked* the rain," she admitted. "But I think I have to agree with you."

"Nothing like too much of a good thing to make it *dreadful*"

"Truer words were never spoken," she agreed. They limped down past Sasha's office, and were passing the bones of the old church when a tall and gaunt shadow loomed out of the darkness.

Daniel froze, and stopped Fenya with his arm, stepping before her with his hand on his hip near his gun.

"There you are," Rook snapped. "I was beginning to think you'd asked me out here only to forget our meeting altogether."

Daniel sighed with relief, and lowered his hand away from his gun "...we had an accident." Daniel said

He raised an eyebrow. "That's.... unfortunate." "It certainly is," Fenya agreed She took her hand away from her purse where she too had been reaching for a gun.

Daniel flashed a thin smile "....so. How about we have our meeting. You wouldn't happen to have anything hot to drink, would you?"

"Unfortunately not, but we can at least get out of the rain." He gestured to them to come sit on some beams under the half-finished ceiling.

Daniel stepped into the church, and looked around "sorry Fenya." he murmured "we'll grab that drink once this is done."

Fenya nodded and sat down on the stone, raising her foot. "I certainly hope so." Rook looked between the two of them with something approaching curiosity.

Daniel raised his eyebrow at Rook "yes?" he asked "Fenya was saying she wanted a hot drink to stave off the cold.."

"Of course," he nodded. "I was just wondering about what misadventure had befallen the two of you."

"Well." Daniel drawled "I was given a mysterious key by a woman that looked distressingly like the late Mistress Nika."

Rook raised an eyebrow. "A key? By mistress Nika?"

"Indeed. A key to a silver box containing some old writings of hers."

"May I see them?"

Daniel opened his notebook, and nodded "if you wish, perhaps you can tell me some about their contents."

He took the offered notes and read them in the glow of a small lantern that was sitting beside them. "Interesting.... these are definitely Mistress Nika's...."

"interesting...They seem to talk of some kind of practice...and a recipe?"

Rook nodded. "One of their healing draughts, I believe."

"...healing draughts?" Daniel mused "if it's functional it could come in handy."

"I have no idea if it would work for anyone but the masters, but I suppose you're welcome to try."

"I'm willing to give it a go." he purred, and put the notes back in his bag. "....Regardless, did you manage to find anything?"

Rook... hadn't actually offered the notes back yet.

Daniel held out his hand "mind if I take those back, Rook."

He frowned. "Ah yes, of course." He handed them over.

Daniel took them, and put them back in his pack ".... thank you." he raised his eyebrow "now about my question."'

"The grove wood you asked about? Yes. I have some."

"much appreciated" Daniel purred "...and you'll be interested to know that we nearly had your vampire for study"

"Is that so?" he asked, drawing a small bag from his cloak.

"shot it down and knocked it out, but it slipped away after a brief distraction. "

"Probably simply evaporated into the fog," Rook offered, along with handing Daniel the bag.

"I think it's more likely he ran off but..." He shook his head and took the bag "thank you"

"Of course. I hope it will help you."

"I hope so as well." he purred "it may hold the key we need."

"well... I suppose given the weather we shouldn't keep one another."

"Likely no. Best of luck in your efforts, my friend."

Rook nodded, standing with his lantern which swung and glowed in his claw.

"Be safe." He waved idly.

Fenya stayed seated for the moment, watching as the bird man and his lantern reseeded into the darkness and fog and rain.

"...."Daniel shook his head "...at least we got our paper."

Fenya nodded. "He didn't want to give them back did he?"

"no he sure didn't." He snorted "I think he wanted to hold onto them."

"I wonder why...."

"Likely because he believes they made him, I suppose." Daniel mused "It's like me holding onto his mother's private diary."

"Hmm." She made a face. "I suppose it would be kind to give them to him once we're done with them in that case. "

"i'll be happy to give them to him once we're done with it all" he agreed "But for now, we need it."

Fenya nodded. "I quite agree."

"It's settled then." He said, and threw his bag over his shoulder, with the other bag inside it, and reached down to pick up the crate again .

With difficulty, Fenya stood as well, and pushed back a few loose strands of hair. "Let's get back to our evening constitutional then."

Daniel nodded "Constitutional." he chuckled "indeed. Dinner, warm drinks..then home."

"Home which should have nice shiny new locks on it.... tomorrow."

"tomorrow. And a chair under the door again tonight."

"It's a plan," she nodded, liming with him down the road toward the farm through the rain.

Daniel headed down the rainy road, slogging along with the crate in his hands "good plan." he mused "if only we had a good hand truck."

"Think it would even roll in this muck?"

"...point," he drawled, "I miss astorian roads."

"Who would have thought," she agreed dryly.

"It only took trudging through the swampy streets of the middle of nowhere to remind you how delightful a little proper city architecture is."

"And buildings with more than two floors."

"and proper lighting."

"That's the dream."

If it hadn't been for the fog, the farm would have been in sight by now.

Daniel peered through the fog with a disgruntled look "nearly there I think"

"I should hope it hasn't decided to grow legs and walk away," she said, an edge of exhaustion and pain in her voice.

"Does that commonly happen to homes in Mosgrav?" he offered her his shoulder

"There *is* a legend about it," she said, leaning on him a bit.

"of course there is." he said, helping support her best he could. "let's hope it doesn't magically come true."

"If it does, it had better come and pick us up."

"and carry us all the way to the bloody post office."

The farm finally came into view, half swallowed by the fog.

Daniel sighed with relief "no feet to be found."

"Almost a pity," she chuckled.

"Agreed." he mused, helping her to the front door, which he kicked gently in lieu of knocking.

Darchik answered the door, looking up at the two of them with her moonish eyes.

Daniel looked down at her "Hello Darchik."

"H'lo." she nodded seriously at him.

"and how are you today?" He said, balancing the crate enough to rustle her hair "better than yesterday?"

She nodded quietly. "Uhuh."

From the other room Konstantin called. "Darchick? Who is at the door?"

"can...we come in?" he smiled thinly "this is heavy."

"Oh...." she looked up at it. She turned back towards the hall. "Can the doctor and his lady come in?"

Fenya's ears flicked embarrassedly.

"His l.." Daniel's ears flushed bright red and tilted back "ah."

Fenya stares at the door frame, her ears flushing as well.

There was a shout from inside the house and Darchik nodded. "you can come in."

Daniel's ears were still tilted back as he stepped into the house "much appreciated."

"yes... very much," Fenya agreed, pushing her wet hair back.

Konstantin's shadow fell on the hallway, and a moment later he appeared.

"I did not expect the two of you this evening," he said, not unhappily.

Daniel chuckled softly "we were invited for dinner tonight...at least we were yesterday."

Konstantin chuckled. "Of course. It was only that you seemed so busy earlier. Come, you are just in time."

"we were." Daniel chuckled "but we have quite a lot of evidence already."

"I'm pleased to hear it for your sake," he nodded, leading them into the bright, warm kitchen. It was a huge contrast to the outside.

Daniel pulled off his cloak "is there somewhere I can put this crate down?"

Konstantin nodded. "Please. Anywhere we will not trip on it, yes?"

Darya turned from where she was putting plates together. "Turned up for dinner, have you?"

Daniel set it at the edge of the room, and nodded to Darya "are you surprised?" he chuckled "nice to see you, Darya."

"Hmmm. I feel like I should never be surprised with you. Sit." She waved to him with a smirk. "Both of you."

Fenya gratefully arranged herself at the table, her wet cloak already hanging in the entry hall.

Daniel took a seat, after hanging up his own cloak. "much appreciated." he purred "we've had a rather long day. "

"I can tell," Darya nodded, heaping onto shallow bowls large portions of steaming goulash with large chunks of soft vegetables and thick gravy. "you look like a pair of drowned rats."

"That's the pleasant Mosgravian showers we've been slogging through all day." Daniel drawled. He looked at the goulash with a slim smile "...that looks lovely, however."

"There's plenty," she nodded with satisfaction. "I expect you both to eat at least one bowl." Konstantin smiles. "The weather... it has been terrible these past few days."

Daniel chuckled "At least." he agreed "i'll be sure to do just that Darya." He winked at her, before nodding to Konstantin "it's been dreadful. And..ah." he frowned "the fog was thick enough that we nearly found ourselves jumped by an assailant."

"You must be a trouble magnet," he rumbled, not unkindly. "Is that what happened to your leg?" he asks Fenya.

Fenya looks at Daniel.

"Vampire attack." Daniel said "She fell and fractured her leg while we fought a heavily infected individual off. "

"Heavily infected?" Darya raises an eyebrow but just shakes her head. "well. Thank goodness you're both as safe as you are."

"From the blood that we retrieved from him." Daniel mused "it matches the same sort of ....samples...we attained from Bainbridge and otherwise infected individuals.. but yes. thank goodness we're both safe."

"Blood..." Konstantin sighed. "So there are more of these--- cases?"

"Oh yes," Fenya frowned. "there certainly are."

"Several around town. I'd advise staying indoors."

At this, Darya narrowed her eyes at Darchik. "What?" the little girl asked innocently.

Daniel glanced at her with a curious look "hm?"

"You heard him," Darya said. "There's husks out there. You want to get eaten?" "Iochka can deal with husks!" Darchik declared. She took a butter knife off the table and mimed fighting.

Daniel stared at the scene, suddenly having flashbacks to Lulu and the Viper Gang. *this didn't bode well*

Konstanti put a large hand on his daughter's head. "Darchik. Please put that down."

"Awww....."

"She's spirited." Daniel said, chuckling "I'm certain she could defend herself from one of the creatures if need be." He winked at the little girl "you remind me of someone I met in New Astoria once, young lady."

"I do see the resemblance," Fenya murmured with slight horror. Darchik cocks her head. "New Astoria?"

Daniel nodded "Far off across the sea" He explained "is the continent of New Astoria. It's a large land, filled with snowy mountains, and rolling fields. Dense forests and harsh deserts." He chuckled "....Astoria set up colonies there, only to find the land a bit resistant to Astorian Law....which is how gangs , such as Viv's Vipers and the Hell's Gate Gang formed in the lawless west. One of the two I traveled with for a time."

Darchik looked rapt. "Which ones are the good guys?"

Daniel chuckled "it depended who you asked. If you asked the Desert Rangers, they're all the bad guys." He leaned on the table "But in the grand scheme of things, that would be Viv's Vipers. A rowdy group out of New Astoria's southern edge, and Dorado." "the Hell's gate gang were murderers. Cruel, Sadistic, greedy, and led by a man they claimed could not die." He took a bite of his goulash, before he continued "while Vivian and her Vipers... they protected a number of smaller outpost towns from the hand of Astoria, and the influence of folks like Hell's Gate. They were still *criminals* of course. but they had a sense of honor." He chuckled "I acted as their doctor for a period of time while I studied their enemy's supposed immortality. Where I met a young woman just as spirited as yourself."

Darchik listened with fingers in her mouth, fascinated. She pulled them out to ask. "Did you get shot at all?"

Darya stood. "Alright, Darchik my sprout, it is *bedtime*."

Daniel laughed softly "Not me. But if your mother says it's bedtime, it's bedtime."

Darchik pouted. "I want the rest of the story when it's *not* bedtime."

Daniel bowed his head "I'll make some time to tell you the whole tale, sometime soon."

"I'll hold him to it, Darchik," Fenya said with a smirk. "I want to hear the end of this one too."

The moon eyed girl nodded, and her mother shooed her, walking behind her as they toddled off to the bedroom.

Daniel chuckled "it's ...an interesting little tale" He admitted.

Konstantin smiled. "Sounds like my daughter is not the first precocious girl you have taken a fondness to."

Daniel chuckled "no. I suppose I have a soft spot for troublemakers." He shook his head "I wound up helping sponsor Vivian's daughter, young Lulu on her education in Astoria. A bright and inquisitive mind should be fostered with proper education after all." He looked into his glass "but young Lulu certainly is...."

"Trouble and a half?" Fenya suggests with a smirk.

"I was trying to think of the polite way to say 'nightmare' "

Fenya snickers. "Hmmm... whoops."

Konstantin chuckled. "I see. And she will be in your country... until she is grown?"

Daniel nodded "That she will. Until she completes her education and decides where to go from there."

Konstantin chuckled. "Not that it's any of my business, but I wonder if you'll be asking her to stay?"

fenya's eyebrows raised slightly.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "I suppose that depends on how taken she becomes with Academia. If she enjoys it enough, I'll offer to sponsor her into the university proper. If not...well. She'll return home a wiser woman than she left."

The bear man nodded, still seeming amused. "I can tell education is important to you, doctor."

"Education is incredibly important" He said, waving his glass as he spoke. "Education is the way we enlighten ourselves for a better future."

Konstantin nodded. "Out here in Mosgrav almost nobody has an 'education'. Especially not the girls, you see?" Fenya sniffed. "Unfortunately true."

"which is a dreadful shame." Daniel says. "I wish it wasn't the case, given how many avenues an education opens up for you."

"I suppose," he nodded. "Though I suppose there wouldn't be much here for someone educated to do,, when they're not chasing around folktales."

"that's not entirely true." Daniel purred "Education could bring new architecture. New cures for disease. New systems and technology to revitalize your home."

Konstantin takes a long drink. "Hmmm. Morozov has said the same thing."

"hm." Daniel shook his head "....well, regardless, it's the truth."

"Truth it may be," he sighed. "But people don't like change. Darya could have gone to the city, and gone to school. But...." he shook his head.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "oh?"

"It was not what she believed in," he sighed.

"A terrible shame." Daniel said "but it's all a matter of choice, I suppose." he leaned on his hand "but , the University is always open for those looking for an education."

Konstantin nodded. "I suppose it is..."

"With a sponsor, of course." He smiled.

"yes," he nodded, rubbing his chin. "Is that really something you'd be interested in with Darchik?"

"If you wanted to send her to the city for an education, I'd certainly be willing to sponsor her." He waved his hand "assuming I survive this little nightmare, of course."

"Assuming of course," he nodded. "I shall keep it in mind. You're... very generous, doctor."

"I do try to offer opportunities when I see them. She's an inquisitive young lady."

"Yes," he chuckled. "She certainly never stops asking questions."

"I've noticed. I have the feeling she's quite the brilliant young lady."

"She's a delight-- when she's not trying her mother's patience," he smiled.

Daniel chuckled "oh I can only imagine. She seems as precocious as she does bright."

Darya finally wandered back into the room. "Talking about Darchik?"

Daniel nodded "indeed. she's a bright young lady."

"Mmmm," Darya shrugged. "So.... you say it isn't safe outside?"

"it's...not the safest." He said with a nod "the disease is spreading, and we've been attacked at least once."

"you've encountered the dybbuk then."

"Tall, monstrous gentleman spewing black blood all over the place?" Daniel purred

Darya nodded. "That would be one. Yes."

"mm. Well we were attacked by a man matching that description, yes."

"Tch. I shouldn't be surprised. As I said, the town is plagued by them. It's only getting worse."

"They seem like late stage infected." Daniel mused "the blood they carry and ...general ..... appearance, matches some of what I've seen with this illness."

"Infected. Tch. Infected with evil."

"Infected with evil." Daniel leaned thoughtfully on his hands "actually, Darya. After dinner, might I speak with you privately for a moment?"

She raised an eyebrow, but nodded. "I suppose."

"much appreciated." he folded his fingers "....infected with evil." He chuckled softly "...it's possible that there's a link there."

"Shall I let you talk then?" Konstantin asked with a small smile. "I'm finished."

Daniel nodded "if you don't mind."

Fenya cocked her head, ears perked. "Shall I, or?"

Daniel chuckled "you can, Fenya, mostly I have some questions about some of the local stories and about the former Mistress of this town."

Fenya nodded. "I'll stay if it's all the same to you then. I think I'd like some more stew."

Konstanin smiled and excused himself from the room.

Daniel nodded, and took another bite of his goulash "so...Darya."

Darya brought Fenya another bowlful of the goulash and sat down. "So. Doctor."

Daniel tented his fingers "first question is this..." "Is there anyone in town who looks nigh identical to Mistress Nika?"

Darya snorted. "Near identical? to Mistress Nika? What a foolish idea."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "no daughters? No siblings?"

"Any siblings she had are long dead," she said, shaking her head. "The mayor is her great grandson, I suppose."

"not him then" he mused "....I met a woman in the fog, who gave me a key and a note. She was a strange woman, not saying a word save for with her eyes. And looking at portraits of your Mistress Nika, there's little doubt that it was at least someone who looked like her"

Darya's reaction was immediate, and if she made an attempt at subtlety she certainly failed. her mouth fell open and her eyes went wide as she froze. "You *saw* Mistress Nika?" she breathed. She leaned forward, her hands on the table. "She *gave* you something? where is it?? give it to me!"

Fenya jerked back at the other woman's sudden outburst as it brought her a little *too* close for comfort. "Goodness!"

Daniel jerked back as well, his eyebrows shooting up at Darya's rather...animated reaction. "Darya...the goulash" he chided "you nearly ended up wearing it"

Darya grimaced and eased backward with a frown, touching the front of her dress just to make sure. Still, the intensity hadn't left her eyes. "Yes. Thank you doctor. So."

Daniel took a deep breath "unless I'm seeing ghosts I doubt I saw your Nika, but...she gave me a key"

He paused "and a note."

She gave him a stern look. "What makes you doubt it was a ghost?" she asked and then sighed. "Never mind, doctor. I think I know the answer to that easily enough. Well-- what did the note say?"

Daniel nodded slowly "perhaps I did see her, or perhaps there's something in the fog...but" He pulled out the note and read: '--go awry. It is obvious that Marta has done something to bewitch my dear little Vadim away from my so carefully selected match. Frustrating, but I must admire her cunning and determination. Darya, in contrast has proven herself quite loyal, perhaps to a--""

Darya's expression went *rictus*, her pupils shrinking to pinpricks as she stared, suddenly like a block of ice.

*"Marta*," she hissed. "I knew. I *KNEW*."

Daniel put the note away "....I'm sorry to give you confirmation."

Her nails caught in the wood of the table. "It was *deliberate.* She took *EVERYTHING* from me." Her voice was a dead, hoarse whisper. "I will kill her."

Fenya looked at Daniel with increasing worry.

Daniel raised his hands "now don't do *that*" he said ,frowning deeply. "Darya. Calm yourself and listen to me, please "

"No." she breathed. Her ears were almost flat on her skull, her lips curled. "The time to be calm has *long* passed."

Daniel suddenly slammed his hands on the table "That's ENOUGH, Darya!!" He nearly shouted "The last thing this *damned* town needs is more corpses! I came to you for *answers*, not a bloody *vendetta*"

Daniel's response at least shook her out of the blood fervor for the moment, her expression of fury retreating slightly under startlement as she winced. "Damn it...." she hissed.

Daniel's fur was bushed on his slender tail, and his ears were tilted dangerously. "The last thing you need is to spill bad blood during a *bloody epidemic*" he hissed "do you understand?"

Fenya's ears flicked as she watched, and she nodded. "It's a terrible idea, frankly, Darya." Darya looked away, and slumped back down into her chair.

Daniel took a deep breath "I'm sorry for what happened" he said "I am. It seems you were robbed of quite a lot via the machinations of another." He shook his head "but killing her and in turn *killing any ounce of freedom you have* won't change the past"

She took a breath in the mirror of his, and closed her eyes. "You are... correct. I let my passion control me for a moment."

"good." Daniel said "don't...do something evil when you yourself says that leads down Elias' road, hm?"

She nodded. "You're too sensible, doctor," she says, sounding quite annoyed at the idea.

"I'm a sensible man." he said, running his hand through his hair "....but don't do anything foolish, please."

"I can't say I won't think about it," she said. "But you're right. Damn."

"Good." Daniel sighed "....it seems like it was a bad situation, however."

"She stole my husband," she growled. "My whole life."

"...can you tell me about her?"

"Marta?" she snorted. "She's petty. Foolish. The local gossip."

"And how was she back in the day?"

"Much the same," she snorted. "I should have known she was a schemer but I thought she was too much of an idiot."

"So disarming, hm?" He frowned slightly , looking thoughtful "...What was her relationship with you and Nika?"

She shook her head. "She was just another girl in town. She was jealous of my betrothal, that was obvious."

"hm." Daniel nodded slowly "I see."

"Do you think there's anyone else she's done this sort of thing to?" Fenya asked.

Darya sniffed derisively. "Probably. She's been very *fortunate.*"

"ah. Can you explain? Perhaps we can ask around if we know where to look."

"She is a peasant girl. The daughter of some fishermen," she waved a hand. "She married the mayor. She has two sons. No one ever says a word about her."

"Almost sounds like she's living a blessed life." Daniel mused.

"Charmed, I would say," Darya drawled.

"So it would seem..." He mused "...what can you tell me about Nika's matchmaking process?"

She shook her head. "Not much. She seemed to do it on a whim. Except for her family. She matched them meticulously."

"interesting..." He mused

"So.... what?" Fenya asked. "She just randomly decided that two people should get married and everyone went along with it?"

Darya nodded. "Yes."

"might I ask what happened when someone's heart yearned elsewhere?"

"People know how to manage their private lives in this town I assure you."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "so you just had a widespread culture of ...." he paused "Mutually agreed upon infidelity?"

"I wouldn't say widespread necessarily," she shrugs. "But yes."

"ah." he nodded slowly "I see."

Fenya's ears flicked gently. "Interesting," she said, coughing.

"very." Daniel ran his hand through his hair. "...can you tell us about ....the fish boss' wife?"

"Sofya?" Darya asked. "Let me guess, she tried to proposition you?"

"not as of yet." Daniel drawled

"Is she likely to?" Fenya asked, her ears flicking again. "Huh. Well. I'm not one to gossip."

"That would make two notorious flirts in town then." Daniel murmured "we'll prepare ourselves."

"Who was the other?" she raised her eyebrow. "No wait. I suspect I know." She looked at Fenya, who flushed.

Daniel nodded slowly "...indeed." his ears flicked "...regardless, do you know of any reason she might have had the box that the key I was given went to?"

Darya's brow furrowed. "She-- Ah. Of course. Her husband is Morozov. Mistress Nika's wed family."

"that makes sense." Daniel mused "her wed family, hm?"

Darya nodded. "She's the reason the Morozovs got rich in the first place, I'd wager. She was born a Tadibyov."

"Is that so?" He asked

Darya nodded. "The matriarch of both houses."

"Then she was a powerful woman indeed."

"You have no idea."

Daniel nodded "though I suppose if I did meet her, I might get *some* idea." he paused "i found other notes, as well."

"Of Mistress Nikas?"

"yes, of Nika's." He nodded "something about the rituals she performed."

She pressed her hand to her mouth. "Rituals?"

"yes." He looked thoughtful. "if i show you, will you be able to tell me anything about them?"

"Possibly," she said slowly. "I did learn at least some of what she had to teach."

Daniel took out the two notes from the box, and passed them to her "tell me what you think of these."

She read them with furrowed brow, and read them again. "Pyotr. That must be Pyrotr Osgrov. The healer."

"is that so? Sasha's father?"

Darya nodded. "Without a doubt."

"Though I'm not sure about the other person she's referring to. The one who didn't want to face Pyotr. It must have been one of the other two."

Daniel nodded slowly "Interesting...and the recipe?"

"I can't be certain," she said. "But I think it may be one of the salves that pyotr would use on patients."

"interesting." Daniel mused, and looked the papers over again "it seems there was some strife between the Masters and Mistress."

"It may seem surprising, but I suppose there is always strife in any group," Darya mused slowly.

"Not that surprising. We go to the university."

She raised an eyebrow. Fenya smirked. "Higher ups always have their infighting."

"Anyone who goes to school learns to recognize things like.... mild poison. Or clearly false assignments meant to get you out of the way during a particularly important testing phase..."

"Not exactly how I pictured a school life," Darya admitted dryly. "Regardless."

"Indeed...we're no strangers to strife in a group."

She nodded. "Well... whoever she was referring to. It was either Misha or Iosef."

"Interesting...is there anything else you can tell us about that situation? or why....this Nika lookalike would wish to point us to it?"

She shook her head. "She must have her reasons... maybe so you could bring them to me?"

"Perhaps...." he mused "How strange, wouldn't you say?"

"I'd say it's the best news I've heard in years," she muttered.

"is that so?" Daniel asked.

"yes. If Mistress Nika is returning then I am sure things will be set back to the way they are meant to be."

"...." Daniel tilted his head back in thought "...hm."

Fenya caught his eye with a skeptical look.

Daniel returned it , nodding slightly "I just wonder if any of this has anything to do with the illness....after all. Elias did hollar something about the heart."

"Probably because he is being consumed by darkness," Darya said.

"No, I think it's got something to do with a physical location." he murmured "or at least, one he must believe is related to his current plight."

"A location?" Darya raised her eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"The note that Nika left... did mention a 'heart of the world which we share' " He said "leading me to think that , while metaphorical, it means something specific."

She drummed her fingers on the table. "Yes..... hmmm... it could be... no..."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "no, please."

"Well...." she mused. "Once or twice I heard her speak of a 'heart of the town' or 'heart of the world'."

"...indeed." Daniel mused "....i've heard mention of that as well."

"From who, if I can ask?"

"your husband mentioned it, and I believe I've heard it elsewhere." he mused "I think Rook?"

"Both of whom also have ties to the masters..." Fenya mumered.

"indeed." Daniel nodded "...which means there's a lead there."

Fenya nodded.

"May I ask what you're thinking?" Darya asked.

"I think whatever this heart is relates to the illness currently spreading about. It might very well be the origin point, and if that's the case, i can take samples and work out a way to reverse engineer a cure."

"An interesting theory," darya shrugged. "But I don't see how they could be related."

"you can't?" He raised his eyebrow "we know Elias was...notorious for his slinking about in areas of folkloric significance. And he *knows* about it despite it being a more obscure myth, from the sound of it. Perhaps he found it, and picked up the disease there trying to foolishly recreate some half heard fairy tale of his."

"Hmmm... meddling in forces he didn't understand... perhaps that IS what happened."

Daniel nodded "that sounds like Bainbridge."

"It certainly does," she admitted darkly. "It sounds like we'll have to follow up on this heart thing then," Fenya murmured.

Daniel nodded , looking thoughtful "the problem is hardly anyone knows the story.."

"Yes, it seems as though they kept the information tightly to their chests," Fenya agreed. "I wonder why...."

"Because we're outsiders." Daniel said, glancing at Darya. "...perhaps an insider can loosen their tongues for us?"

"I would have to know who's tongue to loosen first," Darya said.

"....the innkeeper." Daniel said "I think."

"Grandmother Bobbin?" she raised an eyebrow. "Hmmm."

"Yes indeed." Daniel frowned "...she was keeping secrets this morning, and playing games."

"That sounds like her; unfortunately."

"If you can help us get something out of her about the heart, I would be much appreciated."

"She's.... extremely difficult..."

"I understand, but if we're going to get to the heart of the illness and stop this town from rotting from the inside, I need to know whatever she's keeping so tight to the vest."

She rubbed her jaw, and after a moment, nodded. "Very well. I shall speak to her. But you owe me, doctor."

Daniel nodded "...I owe you, Darya."

"Good," she nodded and picked up the empty plates.

Daniel leaned back in his chair, looking thoughtful.

Fenya looked thoughtful as well. She cocked her head questioningly.

"This whole thing. " he mused "I feel we have a lead...we just have to follow it. But the problem is..." he chuckled "...it hardly feels properly scientific, chasing after old folk tales."

"I have to agree," she chuckled slightly. "we do have those samples to check over though. Oh-- and you still have to write that report for tomorrow."

"Report?" Darya asked.

"indeed." Daniel murmured. " I need to compile a report to convince the governor to allow me to enact a proper quarantine."

"Ah." she sniffed. "You'll be lucky if you manage it. The governor doesn't listen to anyone around here. But maybe since you're not from the country."

"and I write an apocalyptic enough missive, perhaps I can scare him into listening to reason."

"Hmmm. he's ex-military you know. I'm not sure he's the type to be intimidated."

"I've barked at military before. I'm certain I can manage."

She snorted. "I won't be the one to argue with you then."

"mmm...it's worth a try, anyway. And we do have substantial evidence that this town could perish without intervention."

"I too worry that the end is coming," Darya admitted.

"you do, hm?" He sighed "I'm pleased it's not just me. But I can *stop it* if i get enough cooperation."

"Perhaps. But what you will be stopping is the curse of the town masters."

"..." Daniel sighed "...curse or not, the town doesn't deserve to die because of something they likely couldn't control, yes?"

"Perhaps. If the mistress has appeared to you, maybe she's decided that we do not."

"Wouldn't you say?" Daniel nodded "...I think your people don't deserve to die for something the Church did...so I intend to stop this illness as soon as I can."

Darya nodded. "You move your hand to do more than most."

"hm? You think?" Daniel chuckled "I suppose I must be a very diligent man."

"The people here keep to their own business," she said. "Even men like Morozov and Alekin who want to bring changes here."

"hm...that can lead to stagnation, instead of progress. And something that stagnates long enough breeds all manner of sickness."

"Maybe," she said. "But none of this would have happened had the church not come to drag us all kicking and screaming into modern Mosgrav."

"I...disagree with nearly everything the church does." he frowned "this especially was barbaric. Modernity isn't something to run from...but there, they were just bringing zealotry."

Fenya nodded. "The church is hardly 'modern' in any case. In my view it's just another archaic institution."

Darya shook her head. "regardless. Your interference here--- I only hope that it will be beneficial. The Mistress's appearance gives me some small confidence."

"I'm pleased to hear it brings you confidence." he stood "...we should prepare for tomorrow."

Darya nodded. "Of course."

Daniel smiled "thank you for the hospitality and the meal"

"Of course. You are... better guests than our other one at least."

Daniel chuckled, ``I'll take that as a great compliment."

Fenya gently got to her feet and nodded with a chuckle. Darya just waved her hand. "Bah. Get out of my kitchen, both of you," she said not unpleasantly.

Daniel bowed, winking at her before he walked out to grab his cloak and crate. "Until another time, Darya."

Fenya hobbled a little slowly after him, putting on her own cape.

Daniel offered her his shoulder, as he nudged the door open.

She leaned on him, and they headed out into the darkness. At least it seemed to have stopped raining.

"I say we take the lack of rain as a good omen." he joked, as they hobbled out towards the post office.

Fenya nodded. "As good of one as we can get, I think."

"So...what did you think of all that?" He asked as they walked

"It was... certainly interesting," she murmured. "Darya seems convinced you saw a ghost."

"She does. And i admit, while I don't believe in ghosts, the whole situation gives me a strange feeling."

"Same.. I can't really wrap my head around what might be going on. It can't have been a hallucination. You certainly met *someone*."

"I certainly did. But the question is who and why did they look like Nika?"

"I *suppose* that could have been some kind of... disguise? Induced hallucination?"

"induced hallucination." he chuckled "perhaps, but I don't know the *way* it was induced on me."

"A gas could be responsible...."

"in the fog?" He mused "Perhaps, but It likely would have *smelt* of something."

"Likely, but not necessarily. Weren't we by the river when it happened?"

"...we were." He agreed "With the smell of fish everywhere."

"So that might have overpowered the scent of some kind of chemical..."

"likely. but who in this town could get their hands on something like *that?*"

"Not just anyone certainly...." she mused as they neared the post office.

"It's not like this town's famous for it's chemists." He drawled.

"No. But it is famous for its 'witches'."

"You have a valid point." he said thoughtfully.

"Also I suppose if there's anywhere in town chemicals *are* going to be used it would be at the processing plant."

"...very good point." he agreed "...and I do have my suspicions about that man."

"Agreed," she nodded. "We have a lot to think about."

"and a lot to study." He sighed "and a lot to write."

"I get the feeling it's going to be a long night, Danochka."

"A very long night, with too little sleep." He sighed, and pushed the door to the post office open.

It opened gently and Mitya sat up with a snort from where he'd been dozing in his chair.

"Doctor!"

Daniel bowed his head to Mitya, before helping Fenya inside and closing the door. He moved to block it tight with another chair, before flashing a smile at the young man "Sleeping well?"

His ears flicked embarrassedly. "Ah... honestly not very well no."

"Fair." he sighed "I'm sorry to hear it."

He shook his head. "I'm just worried about more break ins..."

"As am I...I blocked the door so we should prove safe for the night."

Mitya nodded. "THank you for doing that. I won't unblock it until morning."

"good. No matter what you hear, keep that door closed." He said.

He nodded. "If... something strange awakens me, I'll come and get you."

"please. We'll need to know as soon as possible."

"I'll make certain then," he nodded. "Oh, since I was here I started the fire for you upstairs."

Fenya smiled. "You're a treasure, Mitya."

"An absolute treasure, Mitya. What would we do without you?"

Mitya smiled embarrassedly. "You exaggerate, doctor. But I;'ll take the praise. Hopefully we'll have a quiet night."

"It'll be a long one, but I can hope for a quiet one as well." He agreed

"I'll start some tea," Fenya said. "As....soon as I get up the stairs. Oh dear."

Daniel grimaced slightly "...this will prove troublesome." he admitted, "Shall I try carrying you up?'

Her ears flushed. "I shouldn't trouble you. I'm sure I can make it."

"no, no." he shook his head "it'll be simpler if I carry you."

"If you say so, doctor," she nodded, looking quite embarrassed.

Daniel nodded, his ears tipped back. "..i'm happy to help" he murmured as he moved to lift her, placing the crate down.

She obligingly put her arms around his neck.

It was... precarious going for a moment, but he managed to heroically carry her up the stairs.

He might have thrown his back out though. Maybe he should work out more.

He grimaced slightly, but helped her up...and placed her gently on the bed "..i need to work on that, but.."

Her ears flicked and she looked away a little shyly. "Well you ah, managed to get me up here. So... I'm in your debt."

Daniel's ears flicked, his eyes averting off to the side "ah, well then." he cleared his throat "...I'm just glad you didn't have to walk the way up those steep stairs."

She smiled at him gratefully, pushing her hair back. "Hopefully we won't have to jump out another window-- fun as that started out."

"It was a good time for a while, wasn't it?" he chuckled, sitting beside her. "until that final slip.'

"It certainly was," she said, smiling as she eased her leg up gently. "Exhilarating."

"Reminds me of my youth." he chuckled "and all the trouble I got into."

"That makes two of us then," she smirked. "Though I must insist that I'm still *in my youth* as a lady."

"of course." He stood, bowing his head "I'd never say otherwise. I'll be right back...I'm going to grab this evening's spoils from downstairs."

"Alright," she nodded. "I can manage to put the tea on...."

"You're a saint, Fenya." He purred, before heading downstairs.

Downstairs, Mitya was quietly sorting through some mail. At least the place was warm at the moment.

Daniel bowed his head to him, as he hefted the crate "best of luck to you tonight, Mitya."

He smiled nervously. "To you too... Uh... can I ask what's in the box?"

"Medical supplies" He chuckled "from a benefactor."

"Oh! That's good-- right?"

"hopefully. I haven't had the chance to take a good look...but if we're lucky, these will come in handy."

Mitya nods. "if it uh, turns out to be something you need help getting rid of, just ask me."

"is that so?" He chuckled

"well I mean, within reason?" he chuckled.

"I'm mostly curious what you might think it *is* " he chuckled

"Goodness, I have no idea," he rubbed the back of his neck. "I was only trying to be helpful. I've helped S-Doctor Osgrov get rid of medical waste sometimes."

Daniel raises his eyebrow "oh." he chuckled "That would be very useful, actually."

Mitya gives him a smile under his hat. "Oh! good then!"

Daniel nodded "you're a great help as always, my friend."

Mitya nodded, "Thank you, doctor!"

"you're welcome," he said, as he hefted the box up the stairs.

It was much easier to manage now that he wasn't trying to half-carry Fenya as well.

Daniel walked up , and placed it on the floor by the bed "ready to see our spoils?"

Fenya was sitting by the fire when he came back, the kettle hung above it. She smiles. "I have to admit I'm very curious."

Daniel nodded, and attempted to open it "as am I."

It comes open easily enough, despite the top having been wedged in pretty tightly. Inside are quite a few objects packed in gauze.

Daniel looks through them one by one.

Well, there's copious gauze. And.... yes definitely at least 10 doses of opium. 5 of cocaine. And 3 of strong antibiotics.

Oh and there was a bottle of leeches.

"oh, we have leeches, Delightful." Daniel said, "feeling any serious swelling, Fenya?"

"No I think I'm set in that regard," she nods.

"Then we'll save it ..." he paused. "i wonder how they react to the infected..."

"Good question," she nods. "They can't get any blacker."

"it'll be interesting to see if they can leech some of the disease out of them or if they'll succumb themselves."

"I wonder what would happen if they did succumb," Fenya mused.

"I suppose that's what science is all about...finding the answers to these little questions."

"I would have to agree," she said. "So we;lll have to try it. For science."

"for science." He grinned, and put the materials over by their work desk "speaking of which...we have samples to look through."

"We certainly do," she nodded, taking the corked and cloth wrapped vials out of her purse.

Daniel took them gently, and set them beside his tools.

There was the blood, the tissue and the nail samples.

He starts with the blood from the patients.

Now that he knew how to look at the blood, it was easier to understand what he was looking at. Surprisingly the sample from Elias today looked the same as the last had. The other two samples however... were different.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, looking at the others "that's...concerning."

"What is it?" Fenya asked curiously. The other two samples-- one of them appeared to only have a few traces of the inky blackness in his blood so far. The other-- the one who seemed almost just as far along as Elias, had his own sample about half taken over.

"....one, it's good to see that they aren't *too* badly infected yet...but the other is already nearly half consumed."

"That's.... unfortunate," Fenya nodded.

"it is. Yet they seemed nearly as far along as Elias...perhaps that stage hits even before the blood is fully infected."

"And then has a sort of lingering effect?"

He nodded "indeed..." He frowned, as he checked the nail samples next.

The nail samples of the least infected patient appeared unchanged, as did Elias's sample. The sample of the most heavily infected of the two other patients however.... had small traces of black in the otherwise dully colored nail keratin.

"hm. It's in the nails. Unsurprising, I suppose."

Actually.... if the heavily infected patient has black in his sample *why didn't Elias'?*

Fenya nodded. "I wonder if it's progressing through all the tissue?"

Daniel frowned deeply "...." He looked again at the samples "...perhaps but...Elias doesn't have any in his sample in the least. No black in the nail sample at all.'

"None?" Fenya raised an eyebrow. "That's surprising."

"None." he said quietly "so *why* if he's less far along."

"I suppose the patient may be more susceptible?" Fenya suggested. "though I can't imagine a reason."

He makes a note on a pad "...something to keep in mind, I suppose. We'll investigate further to see if we can answer that question."

"It's a small sample size so far," she nodded. "Could be anything really, right?"

"Indeed." he agreed. "it could be anything at all." He moves to put slides containing the skin under the microscope.

Elias's skin sample seemed relatively ordinary for an unhealthy astorian.

"...I'm...shocked." Daniel murmured, and tried one of the other infected.

The heavily progressed patient had traces of black matter in his skin.

"....but *why not Elias! the man's *heavily* progressed! and yet..."

"And yet nothing," Fenya said, peering at the sample herself. "That IS strange."

Outside, they heard a strange sound. A ticking, reedy and metallic sound, that resolved into a solemn melody.

Daniel raised his eyebrow. He listened closely for a moment "what...is that?"

"Music?" Fenya murmured. It was coming from the street below the window.

Daniel stood, and opened the window enough to look out at the street below.

Outside, a rather shabby figure was standing in a bare patch of streetlight, mostly obscured by the fog. The instrument in his hands was some kind of breathing box, and he leaned against the lamp post.

"Hold on... didn't we hear that music in the bar? It's a bit hard to remember..."

"...we did." Daniel said. "...shall I go investigate?"

"I *am* a bit curious what he's doing playing in the middle of the night to no audience."

*The middle of the night. It was barely 8pm.*

It felt like the middle of the night in a town like this. He stood "I'm going to go see what the man's on about." He blocked the window again, and put on his pistol belt, before looking over his shoulder "...shall I?"

"I'd come with you, but given my leg...."

He nodded "I understand, Fenya....I'll let you know what I find." He headed down the stairs

Mitya was asleep in his chair, the door still blocked with the other chair.

Daniel moved the chair, before he slipped out into the night.

The wind had picked up-- but it didn't seem to blow the mist away at all. It did however carry the strains of the melody quite nicely.

Daniel followed the song towards where he'd seen the figure, stepping through the wind and the fog.

The disheveled, long haired figure looked up as he approached. Some sort of wolf phenotype, patchy black and white, with a crooked cap on.

Daniel bowed his head in greeting "...good evening."

The man grins at him and gives him a wink-- and makes him wait a moment as he finishes the song.

Daniel nods, leaning against the post office with a thin smile as he listens.

The box ticks along as he plays the strange, mournful melody. The last notes of it disappear slowly into the fog.

"Got a cigarette?" the man asks.

Daniel reaches into his pocket, pulling out a pack of Astorian cigarettes. He offers one to the man. "Lovely instrument you have there, stranger."

"Thank you kindly, stranger," he said with a heavy accent.

"You're welcome." He said slowly, and looked the man over. "Do you usually wander about in the middle of the night with a song in your heart?'

He chuckled. "I've been known to. When I'm not singing for my supper."

He takes the cigarette and lights up with a match from somewhere in his coat.

"have you had any?" Daniel asked "Supper, I mean."

"Not for a couple of nights," he chuckled. "Such is life."

"Let me treat you." Daniel said "I don't have much, I warn you, but." He shrugged

"You're too kind," the man grins. "What do I call you, master....?"

Daniel chuckled "I wouldn't call myself *too* kind. But..." He waved his hand "Doctor Daniel Delgrave...of the Astorian University."

"Tomya," he nodded, holding his instrument under the crook of one arm and offering his gloved hand for a shake.

Daniel took his hand, and shook it firmly "it's a pleasure, Tomya. Do you have anywhere to stay?"

"Ehh, I stay here and there," he grinned, waving his hand after the handshake nonchalantly.

"You'd best be careful." Daniel said, with a mild concern in his voice "the streets aren't safe here as of late, or so I've heard. We have an outbreak on our hands and man attacking man."

He raised his eyebrows. "Well that is certainly not good news."

"no, I'd say it's not." Daniel said "Is there anywhere for a gent like you to stay safe around these parts?"

Tomya smiled. "Why, are you offering me a room?"

"We don't have much space, but I could put in a word with our host." Daniel said

"You two share a room then?" he grinned.

"....Mitya and I? Heavens, no." He said with a chuckle "...unless you're referring to Fenya, then..yes, my colleague and I share a room."

"Well I normally charge extra for couples but since you are being so nice." he slid closer to him.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...charge extra?"

he sputters slightly "....and we aren't a ...ah...we're ...colleagues."

"Ahhh," he nodded sagely. "Can we kick her out of the room for an hour?"

"..." Daniel cleared his throat "...I think we might, ....need to take a few steps back in this conversation."

"Of course, master, we'll take it at your pace," he purred.

"I ah." Daniel glanced down the street, just for somewhere to look "...are you propositioning me?"

"....you gonna turn me into the guard if I am?"

Daniel shook his head "no." He said folding his arms "but it's dangerous work to be doing in times like these."

He scratched his ear. "Sounds like that's a 'no' then."

"I'm just a little surprised, is all." Daniel drawled "Do you often play music to attract customers?'

"Of various types, yeah."

Daniel chuckled "interesting tactic."

"You came out, dincha?"

Daniel laughed "I suppose you have me there, Tomya."

"Think I saw you at the bar the other night, actually," he said looking him over. "was that you?"

Daniel nodded slightly "You probably saw me and Fenya there, yes. I recall I heard your song there too."

"Oh you heard then! always gets a little noisey in there."

"What with all the fighting? I can imagine." He chuckled "but no, I thought it sounded familiar."

"And now fate has brought us together."

"that's a...romantic way of putting it." Daniel said "trying to break out the pitch again?"

He chuckled and pushed his fingers through his long hair. "Offer stays open-- but I'm not the pushy sales type."

Daniel looked the man over a little closer. "hm.."

He looked a little familiar, actually, minus the white patches of fur.

Daniel raised his eyebrow...and leaned a little closer, trying to place it "hold on.."

Tomya looked despite his shabby clothing *quite a lot* like Mistress Nika.

Daniel's eyebrows raised , a look of familiarity in his eyes as he stared at the man "...you..."

"I can take off the shirt if you want, master," he grinned.

"Ah." Daniel's ears flushed, flicking back slightly "...In the middle of the street? hardly proper." He paused "...you look very familiar, Tomya."

"Familiar, hmm?" he batted his eyelashes at him. "Look like an old flame?"

"Something like that, I'm sure." He drawled.

The wolf grinned like a fox. "You're pretty eye catching yourself."

"is that so?" Daniel said, folding his arms "Like an old flame?"

"Like a mysterious lover in a dream," he declared, still grinning.

"you're going to make me blush, Tomya." He said with a slight smirk of his own.

"I wouldn't want to bully your dignity, master," he purred.

"has anyone ever told you that you look an awful lot like Mistress Nika?"

"You know, she used to say so herself, bless her heart," he said with a smile. "were you a caller of hers?"

"I'm afraid I'm a little too new in town to have been." he said with a wry smirk

"Now that's a shame," he chuckled. "I think our lady would have eaten you right up. I'm a little jealous."

"Oh I'm sure she would have. It's a shame I never had the chance to meet her in person." He crossed his arms in thought "....are you a relative of hers?"

His ears flicked shyly. "we from the same tree, da," he grinned.

"The same tree." He chuckled...and paused "...hm." He looked at him a little closer "Darya said her siblings were all dead. and the mayor was her great great grandson or whatnot." His fingers tapped his arm "...and when I mentioned seeing someone who looked like Nika, she said it was impossible, as nobody did."

"Darya?" he cocked his head. "Darya who?"

"Darya Chernoff." he gestured vaguely towards the unseen farmhouse.

"Tch. Chernoff. That explains it then. Never liked me when we were kids."

Daniel cocked his head 'is that so?"

"Jealous,"" Tomya nodded. "Sad. She's always been a possessive type."

"Why was she so jealous of you?" Daniel asked "...and I've noticed that somewhat, yes."

"Cos of Mistress Nika''s attention of course," he chuckled, his ears flushing.

Daniel put a cigarette between his lips "...do tell."

"Not much to tell, is there?" he smiled. "Bit cold out here, idinnit? wanna come with me somewhere to warm up? have a nip?"

Daniel glanced up at the window "...tell you what. You seem like an interesting man. We have a fire upstairs. Why don't we have a chat up there with my associate?"

"Well! you don't have to ask me twice, master," he grinned. "Lead the way."

Daniel ran his hand through his hair, and pushed the door open "It's not what you're likely going to think, Mitya." he called, as he walked towards the stairs.

Mitya-- who had been asleep-- woke up just long enough to see Tomya blow him a kiss. "Sweet dreams. cousin."

"Mmmnn?? huh?"

Daniel dragged his hand down his face, before continuing up the stairs.

Tomya followed him up the stairs obediently, humming a little tune under his breath.

Upstairs, Fenya was bent over a notebook by the fire.

Daniel walked into the room, dryly he announced "Fenya, I've gone and gotten us a male prostitute. Surprise."

Fenya looked up from her notebook with a jerk. "*B-begging your pardon*?" she demanded as her ears went cherry red.

"Evening, mistress!" Tomya greeted cheerfully.

"Our mystery songman happened to be for hire." Daniel drawled "And also full of *facinating* family history. So I invited him in for a bite to eat and a bit of warmth while I pry it out of him."

Her ears flicked, only losing a trace of their color as she smoothed her bushed fur. "Ah.... of course," she chuckled. "Well the tea's ready I suppose." "And it's terribly kind of you, master," Tomya said in his rough accent.

"i'm a kind man. Let's all have a round of tea then, hm? And you can tell me all about your relationship to the late Mistress Nika."

Fenya stood gently, and started pouring tea. She produced some small seed cakes from somewhere as well. "You're real interested in our lady, eh, master?"

Daniel nodded slowly "...It seems she had her hands in quite a bit before she passed. And I'm hoping perhaps some of what she knew might help me stop this little epidemic we have going on."

He chuckled, accepting some tea and a cake from Fenya, "Oh you could say that, master. You surely could."

Fenya gently offered Daniel a cup of tea and a seed cake as well.

Daniel took a cup of tea and the cake as well, smiling at Fenya . "I could," he said, blowing on his tea "...and as a slightly stranger aside...I met someone who looked quite a bit like her. Someone who gave me a key and one of her journal pages."

"Blow me down-- did you really?"

Fenya smiled back, giving the stranger a slightly dubious look-- and eased back into her chair.

Daniel nodded "I did. Strange, isn't it?"

"very strange, very strange yes," he nodded, blowing on his tea. "suits her, of course."

"I get the feeling she was the type who *would* rise from the grave to give strangers cryptic clues in the fog."

"Oh you're not wrong there, master, no indeed," he said shaking his head with a smile. "our lady was that type alright. Wonder if she'll pay me a visit, eh?"

"perhaps." Daniel purred "why would she? You still haven't answered my question."

"What question was it again?" he asked, munching at the cake. "Sorry master, I got a bit nostalgic."

"I was asking about you and Nika."

"Me and the mistress. heh, well," he rubbed the back of his neck.

"mm hm. *Do* go on." Daniel said, looking him dead in the eyes.

Tomya looked away, his ears flicking and he chuckled. "well, no need to be shy of it I guess. I was Mistress Nika's favorite of the boys, ya see."

Fenya stopped mid sip through her tea.

Daniel lowered his tea "...the favorite of the boys, hm?"

"That's right," he nodded. "She had quite the uh, stable," he chuckled. "But it was me she was... training up if you will."

Daniel's ears flushed "training you up, hm... in...her...practices?" "or.." "otherwise."

Tomya coughed. "Depends on the practice you mean, master."

"...hm. Like if I asked you about her...'rituals' what might you say?"

"I'd say I usually charge for that sort of talk, master," he said, ears flicking. "With all respect you understand."

"....." Daniel glanced at Fenya, his ears tilting back.

Fenya coughed gently into her hand. "More tea, anyone?"

"yes." Daniel held his mug out "I suppose that explains why you're out and about...playing mournful memories outside people's bloody windows at 8pm."

"Thank you kindly mistress," he said, holding out his teacup with a smile. She refilled both their mugs. "Ah... incidentally.... how old are you?" "Nineteen this past summer, mistress."

"...." Daniel sipped his tea.

Fenya sipped hers too. "....quite."

"I can tell you the juicey tales if that's what catches your fancy, master," Tomya said helpfully.

"......" Daniel's eyes went a little wide. "ah. How..juicy?"

He leaned forward. "Really juicey master," he grinned. "I can tell you all kinds of secrets of flush and passion."

Daniel's ears flicked "please sir, we're Astorian."

Tomya chuckled. "Well, that's alright, I wouldn't tell another soul-- for the right price of course." he winked cheerfully.

Daniel finally noticed.... Tomya's rough accent seemed to be slipping every now and again into something a little lighter and more refined-- for Mosgravan, anyway.

Daniel's eyebrow raised ".....Tomya. Might I ask if you're local?"

"Of course I'm a local," he said. "My family has been here for generations-- on my father's side at least."

"mm....you have traces of a familiar accent." he mused "I've heard it before, but."

"Caught me, eh?" he said in the same rough accent. And then..."When I talk like I grew up by the docks I get a little more coin. The fantasy of it I guess."

He had the same sort of accent that each of the Manored families Daniel had spoken to so far used.

"I suppose." Daniel raised his eyebrow "...that makes sense, if you're related to the Mistress' household."

"Red handed," he smiled at him. "I'm disowned anyway."

"Disowned?" he raised his eyebrow

"Mmmhmm," he chuckled. "Papa's little disappointment. Owning a big building is not the way I want to end up smelling like fish."

*ahhhh*

"Ah, I see. You're ...the fishmonger's boy."

Tomya chuckled. "He'd be terribly angry to hear you call him that. So I love it."

Daniel smirked "that's part of the reason I enjoy it too."

"Not a fan of the Master of Morozov, hmm? I knew I liked you."

"the more I got to know him, the less I liked." he agreed.

"You know I can imagine, being a laced up Astorian and all," he smiled.

"I wouldn't call myself 'laced up' " he murmured

"Can I unlace you then, mister?" he grinned.

Fenya sipped her tea.

Daniel's ears flushed "....ah."

"We have a rather, long night ahead of us, I'm afraid, Tomya," Fenya said slowly.

Daniel nodded "I have to write a rather ...extensive report."

"Too bad. I could help you two relax."

Fenya coughed and looked at Daniel. "Perhaps some other time?" she said politely in a rather higher than usual register.

Daniel nodded firmly "another time. Do find somewhere safe to spend the night, Tomya...and be careful with any partners you find. There *is* an illness going about."

Tomya rubbed his jaw. "I'll do just that, mister. Thanks for the tea and all."

"good. And you're welcome. Feel free to stop by anytime you feel you need a bit of warmth and a meal."

he grinned. "Might do, might do. and if you're looking for me-- try the bar first." He stood up and adjusted his cap. "Good luck with your long night, mistress." he winked, and headed down, whistling.

Daniel watched him go, shaking his head "...what an..interesting lad."

Fenya waited until she heard the door closed downstairs. "Interesting is one word for it."

"... A lot." Daniel said "he was a lot."

"Yes. Yes he certainly was A Lot," she agreed, her ears flicking. "Poor dear...."

"indeed..." Daniel frowned "disowned. and..." he grimaced "...well."

"yes..... I don't think I like the impression I'm getting of this Mistress Nika woman."

"To be frank, I don't have much of a good impression of *any* of the town's power structure. Not Andrei, not the Masters and MIstress..."

"No, nor do I," she sighed.

"I would say it's good most of them are gone, but it's clear the scars still remain." he sipped his tea

"Its true, and it feels like a lot of these people don't know how to.... well.... cope, for lack of a better word."

"no, they don't." Daniel shook his head "it's a problem."

"You know, Danochka.... I think this town has more problems than just a potential pandemic."

"I think this town is practically built on problems." he said with a low sigh.

"Not an excellent foundation if you ask me," she said, her sigh in answer to his as she leaned back in her chair.

"I'm just not sure what I'm to *do* about it."

"Nor I...." she sighed. "The least stubborn part of me is telling me to write it off as a lost cause. But.... I suppose I'm very stubborn."

"I'm incredibly stubborn myself." he chuckled "...I've gotten my mind set on fixing this mess, and I'm going to do it."

"Well then I guess we have our answer-- at least that we'll *try* to do something."

"Try our damndest." he agreed.

"So.... what new information do we have?" she asked. "That seems important to sort out."

"....we have an illness, which contains active little microscopic indicators...like some sort of parasite. it infects, and spreads through the veins , turning the blood to a kind of sludge while slowing the heart and hampering the breathing. It will eventually drop you into a dreaming coma."

'Which as I understand it is not the regular kind of coma."

"no. usually it's a dreamless sleep..."

"So that's certainly odd," she tapped her lip. "And we;ve been speculating that since Elias is infected, it may relate somehow to the local **folklore** and **town masters**."

Daniel nodded "...it certainly seems to be corroborated by the mention of the **town's heart** in his sleep, and the presence of the disease in the **phylacteries**"

"Yes," Fenya nodded. "and everyone keeps talking about hearts like they're something special-- that's connected to the phylacteries too isn't it?"

"It is... given the phylacteries store the darkness in people's hearts...which they equate to a soul."

Come to think of it, if the town had a heart, it must stand to reason that it had a connected phylactery. And vice versa.

".....I wonder what the town's **phylactery** is."

"I wonder....."

Daniel leaned back in his chair "....would it be the Rookery itself?"

"I believe someone said it was also called the Phylactery now that you mention it."

"...then perhaps that would be it...as it's storing the town's 'evil' "

"which according to Rook is leaking."

"....what a mess." he murmured. "what a mess the 'elders' of this town left behind."

"when your exit plan is apparently 'curse everyone' what more can one expect?"

"hmmmm." Daniel snorted "we'll just have to do better."

"I'd like to think we can manage without cursing anyone. --not, you understand *cursing AT*."

"plenty of cursing at, very little cursing *of* "

"Indeed," she agreed. "So... did we learn anything from our.... unfortunate young friend?"

"....that the Mistress was training a young man for ...improper work, for her own desires." He snorted.

Fenya sniffed. "yes, we certainly couldn't avoid that conclusion."

"no. We also learned that his father leaving his fish factory to his daughter isn't...exactly by choice."

"No, certainly not as magnanimous and forward thinking as he seemed to want to portray."

"no." Daniel snorted "he simply disowned his son."

"And lets him live on the street."

"as a male prostitute."

Fenya flushed, her ears flicking. "Yes."

"with no aid, or food." he huffed "no way to treat a kid."

"Certainly not."

"I also learned that Darya very much doesn't like him."

"So he said," she nodded. "Darya doesn't seem to like a lot of people. Though I suppose she might simply not remember him if it's been quite a while since they'd spoken."

"indeed..." he mused "and it seems Nika had a habit of....pitting people against one another while she played favorites."

"Sounds unfortunately familiar to some professor's i've known."

"doesn't it?" Daniel scoffed "...I'm not much of a fan of the practice."

"Nor I," she agrees. "We can put ourselves against one another well enough without help."

Daniel's ears flick, slightly "that we can. As students of Astoria."

Fenya noticed the ear flick with a quizzical look and then realized what she had said and coughed. "Er...pit ourselves. Of course."

Daniel's ears had turned a little pink, and they flicked as he nodded "In...deed.. yes."

She waved a hand to change the subject. "Aaaat any rate, we know that there was more going on behind the scenes with Mistress Nika. And we have reason to suspect, who was it again? From the note...."

"Pyotr and Iosef" Daniel murmured "who **broke** someone, leading to a burial."

"Indeed," Fenya agreed, making a face reminiscent of if someone had put something foul in her tea. "A woman, by the sound of it. Or, I suppose, someone female."

"Indeed." He murmured "but the question is *who* ."

"Depending on how old that particular scrap of writing is it might be *entirely* impossible to find out."'

"Tch, a damned shame." He agreed "...but I suppose we're no detectives. Just scientists looking to solve a damned plague."

She nodded. "It's probably better to focus on **what this information can tell us about the situation** than trying to solve possibly decades old..... mysteries."

"Indeed." he murmured softly "let's read the notes again."

One was a torn, stained fragment of an old journal in the same script as the one he had been given earlier. `--dream sometimes about that night beneath the stone. Trusting Pyotr with the knife █████████hests. I wonder if that was the last time we all trusted one another? Perhaps. Since then we have all grown older. Wiser. More twisted. Like the r██████████████████heart of the world which we share. It seems such a small thing to need its blood. Are we monsters for that? Or simply closer to Gaea herself, whose blood runs in our veins. Returning moon after moon to share that same---`

Another journal fragment `-me instead of Pyotr. Isn't burying people his business? Perhaps Iosef doesn't want to make a fool of himself in front of another man. As if I wouldn't judge him just as harshly. There was no need to go and break her like--`

And the note he had gotten directly from the figure that appeared like Nika: ` '--go awry. It is obvious that Marta has done something to bewitch my dear little Vadim away from my so carefully selected match. Frustrating, but I must admire her cunning and determination. Darya, in contrast has proven herself quite loyal, perhaps to a--"`

"hm." Daniel mused as he reread them "we have Nika orchestrating her matchmaking, only it had gone awry because of Marta and Vadim. Darya is loyal to a fault and this Marta woman is determined enough to defy the fate Nika tried to set." "In addition.... Nika speaks of a 'night beneath the stone' in which she and the other masters of town performed some kind of 'ritual' or process back when they were closer and more trusting. It seems there was a pretty heavy falling out, as their power corrupted them." He paused "....I believe she was saying the 'heart of the world' that they share was rotten, at least from context...and they mention needing 'it's blood' perhaps meaning 'the heart' itself? Gaea's blood runs in their veins...meaning perhaps they drew something from the earth and mingled it with their own blood for that immortality they were granted with?" He shook his head "...in addition, there was an incident where a female presence was 'broken' by Iosef, and buried by Nika, who disapproved. It seems in this case Pyotr was cut out of the proceedings. Possibly didn't even know."

Fenya nodded, jotting a couple of notes down. "That all sounds about right given the context...It also sounds like whatever this ritual was it wasn't, ah, 'one and done', but rather something that needed to be repeated?"

"indeed, it was something that had to be done *once every month*." He frowned "meaning it would...stop...once they died."

Fenya nodded. "Indeed. Perhaps having stopped... caused some kind of a problem?"

"...." Daniel looked thoughtful for a moment ."...it's possible that whatever they were performing was managing whatever infection was 'rotting' this supposed 'heart' , metaphorically speaking of course. Perhaps their constant 'taking' every month ...was managing it? And when they died and ceased performing it, this metaphorical or literal infection in the earth spread out of control. Perhaps it even began poisoning the soil, the river...."

"That's.... a really interesting possibility actually," Fenya agreed, looking intrigued.

"isn't it?" Daniel mused "...a poisoning of the land could explain the rapid spread of this thing, after all."

"It certainly could," she agreed. "Perhaps the 'curse' was less of a curse, and more of a warning?"

Daniel blinked thoughtfully for a moment, and rested his head in his chin "....you're right." he said "...you're *completely* right."

"What was it Rook said about the curse?" Fenya murmured. "I think it was something about their death being the ruin of the town and-- oh! didn't he say something about its **heart** dying?"

Daniel frowned slightly "...he did say that, didn't he? Both about the heart and the town's ruin." His lips split into a smile "....which certainly fits with all we've encountered thus far, doesn't it?"

Fenya nodded, and tapped her lip, smiling as well. "It certainly does. Well...."

"It seems this **heart** is the key, wouldn't you say?"

"Everything that we've learned up to this point is pointing us toward it."

"indeed, it is." He tapped his hand against his teacup. "....so where can we find it."

"That's the question of the hour," she agreed. "So far no one we've asked seems to know."

"or if they do, they're keeping it close to the vest." He pauses "...we should start with the descendents of the mistress and masters, of course."

Fenya nodded. "Alright," she said opening a notebook. "Let's make certain we know who those are then."

"Andrei and his kin." He said "are related to Nika."

"Through the Morozov family," she made a note, nodding. "So, Andrei, and Tomya... and I'm afraid I don't remember Andrei's daughter's name if he mentioned it."

"He didn't. Just 'his daughter'. " He murmured. "next, we have..." He thought for a moment "hm. Sasha and poor Lydia. Children of Pyotr, the old healer, yes?"

Fenya nodded. "From what it sounds, direct children, too." She made a note of it.

"indeed...and it seems he was a man with demons of his own." he frowned "dark ones."

"Indeed," Fenya said, making a face. "I haven't liked a thing I've heard about any of these supposed sorcerers. Who's next?"

"Neither have I." Daniel muttered. "next is this Iosef fellow...did we ever get a last name for him?"

"Hold on, let me check my notes...."

"I wrote them down as Morozov, Osgrov, Yahontov and Volkov...."

"...Volkov. Then the Captain's family." Daniel mused

"Isn't the captain named Iosef as well?"

"indeed." he agreed thoughtfully "...perhaps he's a II?"

"Perhaps... Oh, his boy-- the one you told off... he's Iochka too. Sounds like a family tradition, wouldn't you say?" She made a note.

"It seems like it is." He chuckled softly "....it seems like it must be. How interesting."

"Very interesting," she agreed. "Maybe you can ask the captain about it when you see him tomorrow?"

"perhaps we can." He agreed with a firm now. "now for the last of them..."

"Yahontov," she said. "Have we.... actually *met* anyone with that name?"

"I don't believe we have." he mused

Fenya shook her head. "Hmmmm... I can't think of anyone. Does that make this one a mystery?"

"It seems so. Perhaps we can ask about." He sighed softly "...so that's them. "

"So those are the people most related to the masters as far as we know-- by blood. Do you think we should note down the ones we know who were *involved* with the masters?"

"absolutely." Daniel nodded 'they will prove useful as well."

"Alright. Shall we start at the top then?"

"Rook. I would say, it is quite important here."

"Absolutely," she nodded, writing him down. "he knew them all, probably as closely as anyone did."

"he was their child in a few ways, at least as far as he tells it." He agreed.

"Yeees... I wonder if there's anyone who'd have an outside perspective on that..."

"Perhaps the old woman, who knows more than she tells." Daniel snorted

"If we can get her to talk," she nodded. She wrote down Granny Bobbin.

"There's Darya. For certain. And Marta."

"Yes," she nodded, noting them down. "We haven't spoken to Marta yet, have we?"

"no we haven't. I was planning to, tomorrow, should things go according to plan."

She nodded and made a note. "She would be Marta Tadibyov unless I miss my guess- correct?"

"..that would be the case, yes." he nodded slowly "I think we may have been referred to her at some point."

"No, it was the governor's wife we were referred to, actually," she said checking her notes. "and Tadibyov's the mayor."

"ah, yes." He nodded '...two bloody local heads of state. I'd have hoped only Astoria pulled that sort of thing."

"Seems it's gaining popularity," she sighed.

"Wonderful." Daniel drawled. "...so I suppose we should visit Marta regardless."

"I suppose we should," she nodded. "What about the Mayor himself? It seems he may have known the mistress."

"Indeed." he nodded "So we'll talk to the mayor as well." he leaned back "...we should also probably see if anyone related to the church is still about."

"Isn't there supposed to be a priest around?"

That's what I heard." He mused "...perhaps we should try to find him."

"It's unlikely to be *too* difficult," she nodded. "I'll pencil it in for tomorrow?"

"tomorrow indeed." He nodded. "Tomorrow it is." "who else.."

"Do we know anyone who might have associated with Osgrov or Volkov?"

Daniel thought for a long moment "hm...that's...a good question. Osgrov was the town healer, so..."

"Probably a lot of people knew him? At least passingly...."

"indeed. " Daniel nodded "they would have gone to him for medical advice and treatment.."

"So we can probably ask anyone already on the list."

"Indeed. And the other two." he mused "hm.."

Fenya also looked thoughtful.

"what was it that they did for the town, if NIka was a midwife and matchmaker and Pyotr was a bloody healer.."

"I feel like I remember someone saying at least one of them..."

Daniel leaned his head back "hm..." He worked to recall.

"Iosef read fortunes for the young born in town, perhaps that's something to do with it?"

Fenya nodded, and jotted it down. "A fortune teller.... interesting."

"very interesting." he mused softly .

Something else nagged at his memory.

Didn't he hear something about a *Misha the Carver*?

"....and Misha was the carver, who formed the phylacteries, wasn't he?"

Fenya slapped her hand on the table. "MISHA! He must be the Yahontov!"

"that's right!" Daniel grinned "he MUST be."

Fenya noted it down in a hurry. "So, we have a healer, a midwife and matchmaker, a carver, and a probable fortune teller."

Daniel nodded "that we do...and they all worked together to perform this...monthly ritual that somehow extended their lives."

"A monthly ritual that involved something they referred to as a 'heart'."

"or rather *the* heart."

"The heart indeed. Which resides somewhere in town, as we've discussed."

"Alright," she nodded. "So our main objectives tomorrow will be for you to make your report with the captain, and then we'll interview people on the subjects of the town masters, and the heart. Does that sound right?"

Daniel nodded firmly "yes, all while the quarantine takes care of the rabble and ensures we buy ourselves enough time to finish our investigation. I hope."

Fenya nodded. "Precisely. Then I suppose all there's left to do tonight is to write the report..... unless I'm missing anything?"

((you can roll perception if you want. vs 3))

(rolled)

There was one thing they hadn't addressed yet. The little recipe that had been with the other notes.

Daniel pulled it out "there's one more thing...it's this little recipe."

"Oh! we've had so much going on I quite forgot," she said. "While you're writing your report I suppose I could see what I can make of it."

Daniel nodded, smiling slightly "I'd very much appreciate that, Fenya. Thank you."

She smiled back and brushed a lock of hair out of her face. "Of course, Danochka. I'll pour us a fresh cup of tea and then I suppose we should get to work."

Daniel nodded. "Tea would be lovely." he chuckled "...we're going to need it for the long night ahead."

And a long night it was. Tea steamed gently in their cups, framed by stacks of papers, and medical and chemical equipment. The room was quiet, save for the crackle of the fire, the scratch of a pen, and the sound of fenya occasionally putting small amounts of liquids and powders into vials as the two of them worked. eventually. These were joined by the gentle hiss of rain on the roof of the post office.

Daniel worked hard, compiling all the evidence he had gathered. He even looked at the sample of their attacker's dark blood as he worked to compile correlations, effects, and all the dire predictions he could fit into a single report. He described the effects of the disease in detail, described the traces he'd found in various townspeople, and even went into detail about the wriggling disease itself. He worked to make it factual...but *frightening* to a layman.

It certainly seemed frightening, at least to Daniel's eye. They;d have to see how the governor would take it. Fenya, meanwhile, frowned over her own work. "Well... I had all of the ingredients except the last one," she admitted. "It's... the blood."

"the blood?" Daniel mused "hm. what sort of blood did it need again?"

"The kind that walks upright," she said. "three drops."

Daniel chuckled "so human blood." he held out his hand "here, take some of mine."

She raised her eyebrows. "Are you certain?"

"Why not." he chuckled "what harm can a few drops of blood do?"

"I suppose," she chuckled. "Alright hold on." She grabbed a little needle.

Daniel held out his hand "the things we do for science."

"So it goes," she agreed with a smile. She pricked his finger quickly and efficiently, blood welling up on the soft, furrless pad.

"and there we have it. Three drops?" he asked

"May I?" she took his finger gently holding it over one of her vials.

He nodded, allowing her to direct his bleeding finger towards it.

She squeezed it gently, and let three drops of his blood fall into the vial.

"Thank you, Doctor Delgrave, for your generous contribution to science," she teased.

Daniel smirked "it's the least I could do for the field of chemistry."

She added the rest of the mixture to the blood vial and put it gently onto a low burner. "Hopefully we'll get a good result-- though I'm not certain what one will look like."

"neither am I. I'm not even certain what it does. aside from perhaps being a 'healing' elixir."

"I suppose I'll test it, once it's ready."

"do be careful.." he said, as he finished up his report.

"There's nothing in the mixture that should be more poisonous than our little adventure last night."

Daniel laughed "...point well taken."

"If it seemed dangerous, I'd be all about finding someone else to test it I assure you," she chuckled.

"I'd recommend a few of the unsavory folks in town, even."

"You know....." she said. "I know you're a doctor and all but...."

Daniel raised his eyebrow

She coughed gently. "I just wanted you to know that I trust your judgement *vis a vis* unsavory people, should it come to that."

*Was Fenya offering to poison someone for him?*

Daniel cleared his throat. "it's something I'll certainly keep in mind. It'll be *last case scenario* but...it's on the table"

"Of course," she nodded. "At any rate, this concoction should be ready now...." she gently took the vial from the burner with a small pair of tongs.

Daniel leaned over to get a good look at it.

The entire mixture had turned a bright, unnatural pink. Fenya gave it an appraising sniff. "Sulphurous. Hints of ether. I'm going to drink it on the bed in case it makes me pass out."

"...indeed. I'll make sure you're comfortable if you do."

"You're too kind. Danochka," she said. "Would you mind holding it while I arrange myself?" She offered him the vial.

Daniel nodded, and held it for himself. He gave it a sniff.

It definitely smelled like rotten eggs. With a heady after-scent.

Fenya, meanwhile, hobbled from the chair to the bed, and started to take off her boots. "I'm lucky I can unlace these myself this evening.

Daniel grimaced slightly. "I'm pleased you can. though I would help if you needed me to."

"It's appreciated," she said, discarding her first boot. "I... oh dear. I think I do need help with the one in the splint. Should I sleep with the boot on?"

Daniel looked it over "...it might be for the best, unfortunately."

She nodded. "Alright, I thought it might be the case. I promise to try not to kick you in my sleep-- for both our sakes."

"...I appreciate that." Daniel chuckled, and helped retighten her splint.

She draws a breath as it tightens. "Hmm, never thought I'd be corseting my leg," she chuckles.

"you know how it goes...fashion changes over the years. I'm sure you'll be the talk of the town."

"Oh I'm sure," she chuckled. "I'll change into my night dress and then we'll try this new medicine."

"Shall I look the other way for you?"

"That would be the proper thing to do I suppose," she chuckled, gathering her night clothes in her lap.

Daniel nodded, leaning back on the bed, and looking at the ceiling.

A moment later Fenya said. "All clear. Can you hand me the vial?"

Daniel handed her the vial , looking her over .

The flowing nightdress was a contrast to her usual heavy and shaped attire, diaphanously flowing over her rather sharp and slender form. She took the vial from him. "Bottoms up, I suppose."

Daniel nodded, his ears flicking somewhat "be careful, Fenya."

Fenya gave him a smile. "Of course, Danochka." She lifted the vial, and drank down the entire concoction.

Daniel watched her carefully as she drank it.

Her nose wrinkled heavily. "Disgusting," she said, licking it off her teeth. "Definitely as bad as the hangover cure."

"Worse, it seems like." Daniel drawled "that one looks like it sticks to your teeth."

"Yes," she said, grimacing. "There's also a noticeably coppery taste. Something in it seems to have magnified **the taste of blood**."

"..magnified the taste of blood?" His eyebrow raised.

"...how...curious. I'm tempted to try it myself."

"I can make another batch in the morning, if you like," she said. "Oooh... I'm actually starting to feel a bit dizzy."

"perhaps , I might enjoy that." Daniel chuckled, though he watched her very carefully. His hand went to her back to steady her. "..dizzy?"

She put a hand to her head. "Er, yes. It seems so. My speech isn't slurring at all is it?"

"not that...I can tell." he said cautiously .

"Good... I think it's *just* vertigo then," she said. "Would you... ah, perhaps help me to lie down?"

Daniel nodded, and helped ease her down onto the pillows "...hm. alright."

She let him help her ease down and smiled. "Thank you doctor."

He smiled back at her "you're quite welcome, Fenya." he said "Comfortable?"

"Plenty," she chuckled. "I feel sort of tingly in fact. if you're taking notes."

"tingly?" Daniel asked, jotting something down on a piece of paper

"Hmm yes. Like... that feeling when your foot falls asleep. But a bit everywhere."

"sounds like an odd feeling." Daniel said, gently poking her arm.

"Quite," she nodded "ooh... did you touch me?"

Daniel nodded slowly "...I did. Did you feel it?"

"A little," she said, turning over dizzily to face him. "I seem to be a little bit numb."

he leaned on the bed, looking into her eyes. "A little numb all over?" he asked, placing a hand on her arm again. he gave it a little pinch "did you feel that?"

"ooh!" she nodded. "yes! but i'm not sure how hard it was meant to be."

"I didn't pinch *too* hard." he chuckled "but...interesting."

"It doesn't feel *bad*," Fenya explained. "Ah, I've sampled chemicals before that are rather meant to have an effect like this. Rather than a healing draught it may be some sort of pain reliving agent?"

"that might be the case." he mused thoughtfully "numbs the body to relieve pain.."

"I can't say I'm unhappy with the result, given my leg."

"no I can imagine it's quite nice, given."

"Mmhmmm," she said, purring a bit in her chest. "its probably not very good to have too much of though. It calls for quicksilver."

Daniel gently pats her ears "not..something one wants to habitually ingest.'

She nuzzled a bit against his hand. "No. Terrible stuff if you take too much of it. A little doesn't hurt though."

He idly pet her ears, looking at her with a soft chuckle "no, it certainly doesn't. And it didn't call for a lot, did it?"

"No, barely any," she said. "It was mostly herbs and agitated water. and the blood of course.";

"I wonder why the taste of the blood was amplified." he mused softly

"Probably bound with one of the herbs," she said, shimmying a little closer to him as she purred.

He didn't move away this time, letting her shimmy close as he pat between her ears distractedly ".. likely so." he chuckled "you're purring, Fenya."

her ears flicked as he pet them and she giggled, purring a little louder. "Oh dear. How embaressing. I don't think I can help it."

He laughed "...it's rather adorable." he teased slightly,

her inner ears flushed deeply. "I thought you were supposed to be a gentleman," she sniffed, though there was a smirk on her face.

He smirked back "should I stop?"

She gave him a shifty look. "Perhaps not."

He raised his eyebrow, scratching behind her ear.

"Now you're teasing me," she didn't complain, purring the whole time as her ear flicked.

He scratched a little lower down her ear, chuckling "perhaps a little."

She rubbed her cheek against his finges reflexively. "What a cad."

Daniel idly scratched the fur there, chuckling "I know, what would people say about me?"

"Mmmmm... there would be.... scandalous rumors I'm sure," she purred, as her body curled against him. Her large tail flumphed its way over his body.

His ears flicked, as he scratched the fur of her neck, the warmth of her tail draped over his midsection as he lay back on the pillows. "Terribly scandalous. Of the two scientists rooming together over the post."

Fenya kept purring as she nuzzled against him. "The whispers would certainly be unbearable."

"Indeed." he purred. "what would we do about them?" He leaned in, and rested against her, continuing to scratch behind her ears.

"Mmmmm, I suppose ignoring them is the high grrrround."

"I'm for ignoring them, if you are."

"The alternative is poison orrrr blackmail."

She giggled at that and nuzzled him more.

"both could work." he laughed, "I'm sure you're quite adept at the first option."

"In theorrrry only of course," she purred, her gold eyes luminous.

"of course." he purred back, leaning just a little closer. He gently pet her ears again.

She leaned in close to him as well.

His ears flicked "how are you feeling? with the medicine?"

"A little bit... mmmm... have you ever had ether, Danochka?"

"once or twice." he chuckled

"A bit like an ether haze," she admitted. "I feel rather.... untethered to my body. And yet in it at the same time." She had a dreamy tone to her voice.

"...interesting." Daniel mused "like a dissociation of mind and body?"

"Yes..... you could put it that way." She certainly had a smile on her face.

"It seems like it's a nice feeling, though." he chuckled, "you look delighted."

"Mmm, it's my reward for sacrificing my body to science, don't you think?"

"I'd say it's a reward well earned." he purred, petting her tail.

She purred again, her tail twitching. "I'm tempted to make morrrre, but there's probably safer chemicals to enjoy."

"on account of the quicksilver." he chuckled "perhaps we can experiment with something less...deadly...in high doses sometime as a ...celebration." He stroked her tail absentmindedly.

"That sounds *lovely*, Danochka. we shall both deserve a break I think." She was sounding more and more dreamy and sleepy.

"I think we do, Fenya." he said, still petting her gently. He tried to urge her into sleep.

She didn't seem to need much urging. In fact, only a few moments later, her breathing had evened out.

Daniel lay back in bed, and watched the ceiling with her sleeping against him "...at least it seems to be working."

The room was quiet, save for the crackling embers of the low fire, the hiss of the rain outside, and the sound of Fenya's gentle breath, with her warmth against his body.

He lay back, and let himself relax. They had a long day tomorrow....he let himself slowly ease into sleep.

Day 3: Quarantine == >