Day Three: Quarantine

The room was not so cold when Daniel started to awaken as it had been the night before, though he still found himself quite entangled with his bed partner, who seemed to be using him as a teddy bear while she slept.

Daniel's ears flicked as he felt her warmth against him "....Fenya." he said, petting her tail gently "are you awake?"

Fenya stirred gently and stretched next to him. "Mmm?"

He stirred against her "it's morning. How are you feeling?"

She yawned and seemed to be taking stock of herself. "Better than yesterday morning, that's certain..."

He chuckled "no strange side effects?"

"Not that I--" she paused, and frowned. "hold on...."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "....what is it? something wrong?"

She sat up slowly. "Not exactly," she said. She slowly ran her hand down her splinted leg. "It... doesn't hurt."

Daniel's eyebrows shot up "...then it ... *worked* ?"

"Help me with my shoe," she said, with a little excitement in her voice.

Daniel nodded, and helped remove the splint, and then her boot.

She rolled her ankle gently. "Nothing.... can you examine it for me?"

Daniel felt along her ankle, frowning deeper "...fascinating..." He examined it as he had the day before.

Daniel couldn't find the spot where the fracture had been the night before-- but he didn't feel like he trusted those results.

"..." Daniel sighed "...how about we make coffee and I try again? We'll see how it all looks when we're a little more awake"

"That may be for the best," she mused. "I'll wait til we've had our coffee and checked again to be sure. It might just be a lingering drug effect."

"indeed. An anesthetic. And I'm in no shape to judge proper medicine right now."

"Fair enough. No man should have to ply his trade before his coffee, hmm?" she chuckled, seeming to still be in some of the high spirit from the evening before.

"agreed." he chuckled softly , and patted the top of her head as he stood.

Her ears flicked slightly at his touch, and she stood as well, careful of her leg just in case. She moved over to the fire and started to poke it to life.

Daniel followed her, rolling up his sleeves...he'd slept in his clothes the previous night...

Fenya gave him a look over-- clearly noticing that he had, but not saying anything for the moment. "In a day or so's time we'll have to give some thought to bathing," she said, putting the kettle on.

Daniel nodded "we certainly will...I wonder how people go about it here."

"If there's a public bathhouse I have to say that sounds like the *last* place we should be with disease spreading."

"...agreed. Perhaps someone has a bathtub. If we're...lucky."

"well, we do have a friend or two in town," she said. "Lets not ask Morozov though," she said half jokingly-- half deadly serious.

"I wouldn't trust the man not to peep." Daniel snorted

"Nor would I," she agreed. "But Sasha and Lydia might have a bath they'd allow us to use."

"perhaps we should go there, then" he mused "...i wanted to check up on her anyway."

She nodded. "They're on the list already for today. We can get them first after the governor if you like."

"Perhaps, i could *really* use that bath."

"I have to say I could as well. Despite of course that a lady is always fresh," she sniffed.

Daniel chuckled, and leaned on the table. He grinned at her, a little teasingly "you were certainly a little fresh last night."

"*I* was fresh?" she gasped in indignation. "Why doctor one might say that *you* were downright handsy."

Daniel's ears flushed, and flicked back in embarrassment. "....handsy? me?"

"Bold, even," she sniffed, with a large grin.

Daniel rubbed the back of his neck "Only on account of how ...affectionate...you were being."

Her ears flushed and she chuckled. "Good sir, I was *drugged*," she protested, hand to her chest.

"you drugged yourself" he pointed out with a chuckle

"Well! I suppose anything that happens to me is my fault then?" By now it was clear that she was teasing. She fluffed her hair.

He smirked, and shrugged in his coat "in the case of testing strange , arcane concoctions? Yes"

"Typical man," she smirked. "Blaming it on a lady."

"I suppose you can't change a man's stripes" he drawled

"I should have listened to my mother," she nodded.

"such is life" he chuckled "but in all honesty, I'm glad you're upright today"

"So I am," she said, fixing each a cup of black coffee, and passing one to him.

He took the cup ,and had a long sip "it was a recipe found on some old immortal's journal page., After all."

"True enough, Did you expect it to put a spell on me?"

The coffee was quite good this morning.

He snickered "no, not in the least, but hell if I know how the damned thing could have backfired"

She chuckled. "Hell if you know indeed, You may be the doctor, but *I'm* the chemist."

"Indeed," he said, amused. "I'll trust your judgement. Even if it does make you as cuddly as a kitten"

"Well!" she sniffed. "You almost make it sound like it ought to be a nighttime habit."

His ears flushed "....well, I suppose next time the elixir isn't strictly necessary..but.."

She coughed. "I shall keep that in mind, doctor delgrave," she said, a little smile visible behind her hand.

He coughed as well, hiding his chuckle with a sip of coffee "indeed"

"Indeed," she said. "But... before that becomes a question, we have a long day ahead of us."

"we certainly do" he sighed "one of the longest days yet"

"Hopefully we can fit it all in," she said sipping her coffee.

"we have to" he said grimly "to finish this"

Fenya nodded in agreement, her hair bouncing around her face. "Agreed..."

Daniel rested his hand on the table "....I hope this report goes over well ."

"I have confidence in you. I've read your reports."

"I appreciate that," he nodded. "i was rather tired last night, however."

"It's been a tiring situation," she said. "I suppose we'll just have to hope for the best."

"We will." he nodded "we'll turn out just fine. I'm certain of it."

Fenya finished the last of her coffee. "We should probably not delay too much longer."

"No," He sighed "let's get this damned thing started."

"You wanted to check my leg one more time before we left?"

"ah yes." he nodded, cracking his fingers. "let's take a look.

She offered him her bare leg gingerly.

Well..... Daniel didn't *feel* anything wrong with the leg. But surely it couldn't be *healed*. That would be nonsense. A fracture like that would take weeks to heal, He started to doubt his previous diagnosis. Maybe there had been no fracture in the first place?

Daniel frowned "...perhaps I misjudged it yesterday....there's no fracture here."

"It doesn't *feel* fractured," she admitted. "It felt absolutely dreadful last night but-- it seems to be fine now."

"I suppose that's what's important." he chuckled

"Fresh for another day of *walking*," she chuckled bitterly with him.

"walking and talking and fighting for scraps of information." He smirked

"The last two are really more interesting than the second," she admitted, gathering up her clothing for the day.

Daniel chuckled "if only our whole day could be nothing but that."

"We ought to make everyone come to us!"

"now that's an idea." he purred, getting his boots on.

She dressed carefully-- turning around herself this morning rather than asking him to look away. "Isn't it?"

Daniel looked up at her, chuckling "perhaps we'll try to arrange it."

"Perhaps we will," she chuckled. He got a view of her nearly bare back, in nothing but a corset and bloomers.

His ears flushed, and flicked back as he watched "...hm. P..perhaps when we start the quarantine."

"That's actually a good idea," she nodded. "Almost sounds logical."

"I am a man of logic , after all."

"In a world of madness," she chuckled, cinching her dress and tying up the laces. "There."

"there we go" he chuckled with her "ready to go?'

"Ready as I'll be," she nodded, quickly tying her mass of dark curls back with a ribbon as she stepped toward hiom.

He nodded, fixing his hair with his fingers "once more into the breach"

Downstairs, Mitya had taken the chair from the door, now that it was light--- well, lightER anyway and was once again sorting the mail.

Daniel waved to him with a smile "good morning Mitya"

"Oh! Good morning, doctor," he smiled. "Did you ah... sleep better last night? no disturbances?"

"none that we remember." he chuckled "fenya was well and truly out however."

Fenya nodded. "I suppose I needed the rest." "well... I didn't hear anything," he smiled. "at least not after Tomya left. Oh! there's a letter for you by the way."

"did he say anything before he left." He asked, as he walked over to get his letter

Mitya handed Daniel the letter and then coughed softly. "Nothing really, no. Certainly.... nothing out of the ordinary."

Daniel raised his eyebrow, before he looked at the letter.

The handwriting was unfamiliar, but it was addressed to him. It was.... sloppy.

Daniel opened it up and gave it a read.

"Doctor, Managed to get a morning audience with the damned governor. Forget the station, come straight to Alekin manor by 10am. I'll meet you out front. Volkov"

"....damn." Daniel mused "....seems like we're on a time crunch."

"Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll offer us breakfast," Fenya said. "Unless... you want to split up?"

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...split up?" he leaned his head back "..perhaps. It may help us cover more ground."

Fenya nodded. "It may," she said. "Especially if you're stuck in a meeting. Just tell me where you want me to go of course."

Daniel thought for a long moment "try to see if you can get anything out of the old woman."

Fenya chuckled. "I wondered if that would be it. Alright Danochka."

"She doesn't seem to like me much." he chuckled

"Maybe I can get her to girl talk," she offered with a smirk. "Anything specific you'd like me to ask?"

"Anything about the Masters and Mistresses or the heart of the town....any 'old' knowledge that we're locked out of."

She nodded. "Got it. And where shall we meet?"

"i'll meet you there, as I'll likely need something to bloody well eat." he chuckled

"Got it," she nodded. "Well, we'll be walking at least part of the way together. We should get going."

"Indeed we should" he offered his arm to her.

She took it, despite her leg feeling fine now. "And we're off." "Good luck!" Mitya called after them as they departed.

Daniel waved to him, before he slipped out into the open air. He *prayed* it was a nice day out.

It was darker than yesterday.

The sky was a dark, sullen grey, the clouds low.

Daniel frowned as he looked up at the sky "it gets worse and worse."

Fenya sighed. "At this rate tomorrow the sun won't come up."

"....at this rate tomorrow, the sky's going to be swallowed by the bloody fucking void, from the way things have been going."'

"I wish I could say I wasn't nearly as pessimistic," she shook her head as they started down the road.

"Hard to stay optimistic when the entire town's turned into a plague riddled foggy mess."

"Unfortunately true. Astoria will seem positively tropical when we get back."

"I'm going to take a nice...long vacation somewhere sunny after this."

"Mmm, I might have to do the same."

"We could save on fare if we go together." he chuckled "down to Mordona, perhaps."

"I hear it's lovely this time of year."

"the surf, the grape vines..." he sighed "rolling fields and the quiet..."

"It sounds like paradise right about now," she said as they trudged through the fog over muddy gravel.

"doesn't it?" he sighed, keeping his eyes on the prize....he needed to get to the middle of town for his meeting.

They walked quickly and were soon approaching the town square and the gaudy alekhin Manor. "Well.... I suppose this is where we part ways," Fenya said.

Daniel nodded, and let go of her arm "be safe, Fenya. I'll see you shortly."

She nodded, hesitating for a moment.

Impulsively, she leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. "See you shortly, Danochka."

She was walking away almost before he could respond.

Daniel's ears flicked as he stood alone in the fog "...." he turned and hurried towards the manor, to try and shake off the flush in his ears.

Dark as the sky was, the fog seemed a little bit lighter for the moment, and he was able to see Volkov lingering by the gate, smoking as he waited for him.

Daniel nodded at him "Volkov, my friend."

He nodded, straightening up just a little. "Delgrave," he nodded, ot unpleasantly. "Terrible morning isn't it?"

"Dreadful." he agreed with a shake of his head "...but at least I have a few leads."

"Leads? Well that's not the worst news then."

"yeah.." Daniel frowned "sadly , they all sound like esoteric nonsense until properly examined."

"Wonderful. Sounds like the usual for Tadibya then."

"Classic Tadibya." Daniel snorted "I've been here for a week and I already feel like I know this place's nonsense like the back of my hand."

"It can be a bit....heavy handed, eh?" he snorted and pinched his cigarette out between his fingers. "Anything I need to know before we see the man upstairs?"

"incredibly." he sighed "....and perhaps. We had some discussion last night. It's possible that this is stemming from a poisoning of the earth....which means this could be transmissible through the crops and fish. Which means we're all at a higher chance of infection as long as that fishery stays open."

"Poisoning the earth?" Volkov hissed. "Why don't we all just get up and move the damned town while we're at it?" he sighed.

"Honestly it may be for the best." he drawled. "....though if my lines of inquiry manage to go anywhere today, we may be able to take a step towards **curing it** . "

"I suppose that would be ideal," he agreed.

"it would be." he sighed "as much as I hate it, it seems things tie back to your old Masters and Mistress."

"What doesn't around here?" he sighed with the weight of ages. "I had hoped after they were gone.... but no."

"hopefully this is their last bloody gasp before this town can move on for good." he muttered "the start of your troubles seems to coincide with their deaths...and we have papers indicating some sort of monthly 'ritual' they performed...which I doubt is anything magical, but it could be something that kept the poisoning of the land in check. It would make sense that it'd start going bad the moment they *stopped doing it.*"

"A monthly ritual?" He raised his eyebrow. "Hmm, I suppose, have to be a hell of a damned ritual." he snorted.

"I'll admit I don't know much about it. And part of our investigation will be to learn a little more so we can strip the magical thinking from it down to it's bare scientific roots." He waved his hand "....but if my theory is correct, then it would have been. We'd simply need to recreate it, or find a better solution in order to cure the damned town of this disease."

Volkov nodded. "Hopefully it isn't some damned mystical nonsense that can be held above everyone's head like a knife."

Daniel snorted "if i have anything to say about it, it *won't be*. The holding of mystic bullshitting over the heads of the masses like quiet threat is a *particular irritation* of mine. And I won't be having any of it."

"On that, you and I agree, delgrave," he nodded. "I grew up with all that and, let's say I'm not a fan."

Daniel nodded "...I'm glad I'm not the only one." he smiled "and I'm pleased to have an ally in this."

"I'll help as much as I can, at any rate."

"I appreciate it. just...help me sell this apocalyptic vision to the heads of state, so we can lock things down."

Volkov nodded sharply. "Not looking forward to trying to enforce that But if it'll help it'll help."

"it'll be difficult, but...it *will* buy us time while we investigate. And prevent too many cases going forward."

"As much as I complain about everyone here, I'd rather they not all die of the plague."

"I'd rather that didn't happen either. " Daniel said "if for nothing else than it'd be a complete failure of me as a doctor."

"I suspect it would be the end of both of our careers," he drawled.

"indeed.' he grimaced "let's...avoid that."

"Shall we?" he gestured to the gate.

Daniel nodded "I'm ready as I'll ever be. Let's go."

They headed through the sickly garden of foreign plants and up to the door, where Volkov knocked. A woman answered the door. She was... tall. Strikingly tall, and somewhat broad shouldered, though her dress was artfully cut to disguise that fact. A gorgeous pale furred mink, probably Mordonan, or from somewhere in that region, with a long cascade of dark curls and a pair of intense blue eyes. She had a cigarette between her lips. "*Iochka* my duck, how funny to see you here so early! Did Katya send you?" Volkov's ears flicked and he smiled. "Elizabeth. Good morning. Its...business, in fact." Elizabeth's gaze fell on Daniel with curiosity.

Daniel dipped his head in a bow. "Good morning, ma'am. My name is Daniel Delgrave of the Astorian University. I'm a thanatologist and a physician."

"So! the mysterious Astorian appears!" she cooed. "I'd been wondering when I was going to meet you! Come in, come in."

The towering woman gestured to lead both of them inside.

Daniel looked up at her, his ears flicking slightly as he strolled alongside her "I was planning a visit today, regardless, but it seems recent necessity made it earlier than expected. after this meeting, might I ask you for a moment to speak?"

"I'd love to chat," she promised, looking down at him with a smile. "You;re here for my husband, then I take it?"

The house was furnished in a surprisingly modern style-- much more tasteful than Morozov's however.

"for the moment, yes." Daniel looked around with a thin smile "you have a lovely home."

Elizabeth smiled a little. "Thank you. It's been a trying few years but I've done my best. Iochka, would you like me to let my husband know you're here?" Volkov shook his head. "He knows we're coming. You go ahead and have your coffee or whatever we've interrupted." "You're a sweetheart as usual."

Daniel chuckled softly "enjoy, ma'am. I look forward to speaking with you later."

She favored him with a smile and ducked away into the kitchen.

Volkov chuckled and his ears flicked. "Come on."

Daniel raised his eyebrow at him with an amused little smirk, "indeed. Lead the way."

"Elizabeth is a friend of my wife's," he explained, as he led Daniel up the stairs.

That letter he'd found. He hadn't been able to read it, but it had been from Katrina Volkov to Elizabeth Alekhin.

Daniel's ears flicked , and he cleared his throat. "A good friend? it's good to ah, have friends."

"So it is," he agreed. "Katya deserves friends, too." At the top of the stairs was a large oil painting of a triumphant battlefield. A handsome, if rather short and barrel bodied, brown wolf general stood at the center in honor, while beside him a quite tall young soldier with pale fur held a flag.

The tall soldier looked quite a lot like Elizabeth actually. Same pale fur, with dark hair, though short on the soldier of course. A closer glance even revealed that he was a mink. It seemed to be an illustration from the conflict with the clock king in the previous decade.

"she certainly does." Daniel agreed "she seems like an interesting woman from our brief meeting." He looked carefully at the painting as they approached. His head cocked to the side as he took it in "War with The Clock King." he mused "did one of Elizabeth's relatives fight in it?"

"I'm... not entirely sure," he said. He knocked on the door at the left of the upper hall.

"Perhaps I'll ask. I know a few people who served during that time." He looked at the scene with a raise of his eyebrow, before looking down at the door.

"Come in," a gruff, low voice barked. And Volkov opened the door. Inside was a handsome, rather small office, There was a wall of bookcases, and another wall dominated by maps with marks and pins in them. There was a Gaean globe too, and a number of sabers hung on the wall. Sitting behind the desk was a brown wolf. Broader now, and missing an eye and a corner of one ear, and greying at the temples.

Daniel opened his mouth. Then closed it. *ah.* He stepped forward, and dipped into a respectful bow "good morning, good sir."

"Is it a good one?" the old soldier grumped. "Weather's been bleak and miserable for days, boy. Don't try to sugar coat things." The glance Volkov gave Daniel-- somehow the man managed to sign with his eyes.

Daniel ....grimaced "If i'm being frank." He stood up and straightened his jacket "...today's the worst bloody day I've seen in ages. And I've been stuck in a bloody sandstorm in New Bloody Astoria. There's a plague spreading, the sun's blotted out by this damnable fog, and everywhere I look I see bloody mysticism." He spread his hands "I see a damned town being consumed by a sickness that half its people want to scoff at and call *a curse* , instead of doing something about it, while the fog chokes what little life it has left out from it's rotting bloody corpse." he hissed "I think *that's* a better summation of just how *bloody wonderful* this day's shaping up to be."

The governor gave him a long, appraising look, and then finally nodded. "Yes. That sounds about right. Have a seat, boy. You too, Iosef. I'll get us something to drink."

*"Sir.*" Volkov sighed.

Alekhin rolled his eyes. "Tea then. Fine. But you;ll not say a damned word about what;s in mine. Hah!"

Daniel took a seat, and smoothed out his hair "...I'll absolutely take something to drink, however. I have the feeling I'll need it to deal with *today*"

"That's this bastard of a town for you," the man said, pouring three cups of hot tea. he poured a *generous* tot of clear liquid from an unmarked bottle into two of them. "Get sent up the river, lad?"

Volkov took a seat next to Daniel and took the unadulterated tea.

Daniel suddenly recalled that the drunk woman who'd flirted so aggressively at Fenya was Volkov's wife.

Daniel raised his spiked tea with a thin smile. .....yep. that's right. That's...hm. Indeed. "you could say that, sir. I was sent to look into what was keeping Mr Bainbridge only to find a damned disaster waiting for me."

"ahhh, Bainbridge," he nodded. "That wastrel. Sent to fetch him. what did you do to deserve that, eh?" The man took a long drink of hot, spiked tea.

Daniel took a long sip from his glass "...he is a wastrel." he agreed "....it seems what I did was 'have my name known to him' and 'I'm fairly certain the Dean wants me dead'."

"Sounds about right," the governor snorted. "higher ups are always trying to get the real workers out of their hair so they can run things the way they like," he groused.

Volkov looked at the man with a mixture of annoyance and sheer exhaustion.

"That's the way of the Astorian University." Daniel said, running his hand through his hair "....and I'm sure a man of your background knows that sometimes things must be done. Difficult things, that in the moment, may be unpleasant or unpopular."

"True enough," he nodded. "assuming the men in charge know what the hell they're talking about at any rate."

"indeed." Daniel tented his fingers "then I'm going to cut to the chase."

"I need you to help me enforce a complete lockdown of this town. I need a *quarantine* while I work, or this is just going to get exponentially worse."

Alekhin nearly choked on his tea. "A *lockdown*? What in hell's name *for*?"

Daniel sipped his tea, looking at him through lidded eyes. "First, let me ask you what your basic understanding of disease is, sir."

"Disease?" he furrowed his brow. "Happens when you've got a weak constitution, or you eat bad food."

"I see." Daniel tented his fingers thoughtfully. "I'm an expert at this sort of thing, Alekhin. I've studied disease and it's spread for years by this point. As part of my attempts to cure the *ultimate* disease, I've become intimately familiar with pestilence and plague." He looked him in the eyes "it's not just those with weak constitutions. It's not just spread through bad food." "Disease can travel in the air. through touch. It lingers on items we touch, and is picked up by others. It spreads, and with each contact it spreads even *more*. Mothers to children, children to one another, to fathers, to friends....until this whole town is choking on it's own damned blood in the streets."

Alekhin stroked his mustache thoughtfully. "I've seen blood in the streets, lad. A disease is a nuisance."

Daniel frowned "...war kills fast. Even at its slowest, you're gone faster if you take a bullet or a saber than you'd go dying from disease. Disease is slow. It eats at even the strongest man and makes him feeble." he slammed the report on the table "Alekhin. This disease slowly curdles your blood into a thick paste, infecting it. It slows the heart, and hampers the breathing. It's like you are rotting from the inside, all the while trapped in a nightmare you can't wake up from. A *dreaming coma* you can't fight with all the military history in the world. And *nobody* is exempt from it. You're just as likely to catch it as any random dock worker or housewife."

Something about this seemed to get through to the stout governor. He frowned deeply, and grumbled in his throat. "That serious, is it?" he scowled. "And I take it from your tone that it's spreading here. In this damned town."

Daniel opened his report, and pointed to the page where he detailed it's spread. Bainbridge has it. Several patients in Sasha's clinic are being monitored as the infection eats them as well. And I've noticed signs *all over* town. In dockworkers handling the fish for your meals, in the market where you buy your linens and staples." He pressed his hand on the desk "it's *all over* your town, and it's only going to get worse the longer people are milling about like nothing's wrong!"

He harrumphed and picked up a pair of reading glasses. "They can catch it-- what? Just from talking to one another? Or what?"

"Indeed." Daniel nodded "some disease spreads via the air...or through contact. Coughing and breathing." He tapped the report "we don't know *exactly* how it spreads yet as we're still cataloging cases, but it's highly likely that it can spread that way. And taking steps *now* will prevent ruin *later*.."

He put both hands on his desk. "Well then, man. You're the expert here, *apparently*. Advise me."

"I need the fishery shut the hell down. Immediately. And I need a ban on large gatherings of people until my work is done. No markets, no church gatherings, nothing of the sort. And Frankly, I'd like it if everyone stayed *inside* for a while. We can arrange rations or something of the like, if need be."

Alekhin listened quietly while Daniel spoke. He didn't interrupt, and he didn't answer immediately. He stroked his mustache. "That's a hell of a lot to ask from people," he said after a moment.

"it is." Daniel nodded "I know it is. But it's what has to be done unless we want this problem to multiply into something unreasonable....especially with tensions in the cities making it so help is unlikely to come."

He drummed his fingers on the table. "The unlikelihood of help coming is partly what makes this so difficult," he said. "I shut down the fishery and the people will starve inside of two weeks. I close the markets and the women will riot."

"I don't intend to take two weeks." Daniel said "...but isn't there some sort of *stored food?* some supplyhouse that we can use to supplement the fishery until I'm finished?"

"There is *some*," Alekhin explained. "That we've already been drawing on with the supply chain from Mosgrav down. You can't grow grain in this swamp. It's fish or nothing. What bread Tadibya has, it purchases in trade."

"hm." Daniel leaned back in his chair 'and how much in the way of fish is stored? We could salt it...preserve as much as possible for survival rationing until I'm finished."

"And who is to do the work of that, should I shut down the fishery?"

"With no new influx of fish or bread, our storehouses will be depleted in, as I said, two weeks, give or take a couple of days. And don't think I'm underestimating, young man, I'm an army man and an army marches on its stomach."

Daniel ran his hands through his hair with a low hiss "...then give me two weeks, and I'll have this bloody thing sorted. Understood?"

"As for riots, governor, my men can see to that," Volkov said, lighting up his dog-eared cigarette.

The governor hesiated, and then he nodded. "if the both of you say it's necessary-- I won't be the man who charged ahead only to get everyone killed. I'll write up an announcement. The markets and the fishery will not reopen after tonight. Curfew will go into effect at sundown. Captain-- I *expect* your men to rise to this occasion."

Volkov nodded. "I expect the same damned thing."

Daniel nodded "...and may my associate and I have permission to go where we please? We have to continue our investigation while lockdown is in place."

Alekhin snorted. "Obviously, lad," he said. He waved a finger at him. "And don't think just because you're from Astoria that my expectations aren't riding on you as well. I want a full brief from both of you at close of day for as long as this goes on. And it had *better* be less than two weeks, or gods help us all. Because no one else will."

Daniel nodded firmly , and sighed "I'll have a nightly report for you each night. Just trust me. I'll solve this thing."

"You had better," he said, draining his tea and pouring more vodka into the empty cup. "This is a hardship post for all of us, and I'm not going down alone."

"Indeed." Daniel nodded "I don't intend on going down at all."

"Good," he jabbed his desk with his index finger. "That's the attitude I want! Well? don't just hang about men, there's work to be done!"

Volkov stood, and straightened his cap.

"Thank you for the tea, governor."

Daniel stood, nodding firmly "understood governor. We won't let you down."

"Good lad."

With that, Volkov beckoned Daniel to follow as he left the room.

Daniel followed him out, his hands folded behind his back.

Volkov closed the door behind them, and then he sagged for a moment, puffing on his cigarette.

Daniel leaned on the wall, shaking his head "...we got our lockdown."

"Good job," Volkov nodded. "We'd better make the best of it."

"we'd better." he grimaced "two bloody weeks to solve an entirely new illness. Damn it all."

"The clock is ticking," he sighed. He took a long puff of his cigarette and straightened up.

"That it is." he said, shaking his head. "...It's going to be a damn long day."

"It damned well is," he agreed. "I'd better go brief the station."

"And I'll speak with the governor's wife before meeting with Fenya and starting our day."

Volkov nodded and gave him a salute. "Good luck to you, Delgrave."

Daniel saluted him back "And to you, Volkov."

With that, the captain headed down the stairs, and a moment later, Daniel heard the door.

Daniel sighed, and headed towards the kitchen, where he knocked.

"Come in," Elizabeth's low, honeyed voice beckoned him. The kitchen was as nicely appointed as the rest of the house, and in that same more modern style. The tall lady was relaxing in one of a pair of handsome rocking chairs at the side of the room, sipping her coffee.

"Watch you tail," she chuckled.

Daniel flushed, his ears flicking "Ah, yes. Wonderful joke." He chuckled as he walked over "I was wondering if you had a moment to talk.."

"Of course," she nodded. "Would you like some coffee?"

"I'd be delighted." he said "thank you."

She stood, shrugging out of the chair and pouring him some coffee out of the carafe. A soft voice piped up from behind the central kitchen counter. "Can *I* have some coffee, mama?"

Daniel glanced around the counter with a soft chuckle "a young one?"

Elizabeth chuckled. "Borya, come out and say hello. And no coffee, dear."

A small boy came out where Daniel could see him. A little grey wolf that Daniel recognized from the group of children in the church the other day.

Daniel chuckled, and waved "ah, it's you again. Good morning young man."

"morning," Borya nodded shyly. "hey... I recognize you...." Little Borya was adorable-- and looked not a thing like either of his parents.

Daniel had thought that might be the case. He smiled at the boy "indeed. I saw you at the church the other day."

Borya nodded. Elizabeth tutted. "I hope you're being careful, young man." "Course, mama," he nodded.

"He didn't seem to be in any trouble as far as I could see." Daniel smiled charmingly "Just spending time with some of his friends, who gave me a little helpful information."

"Well, that's reassuring to hear," she smiled. "You can go play now, if that's what you want dear."

Borya nodded.

"enjoy yourself young man." Daniel nodded "but be safe. there's sickness afoot."

Borya nodded. "Yessir! bye!!"

Elizabeth gave the boy a kiss on the head, and then he was gone. She gave Daniel a mug of coffee.

Daniel took the mug with a chuckle "seems like a charming young man."

"He's a delight," Elizabeth chuckled, sitting back in her chair and gesturing for Daniel to join her. "When he's not a terror of course."

"isn't' that just how children are?" He chuckled, settling into a rocking chair...and being careful of his tail.

"So it is," she smiled. "Do you have any children?"

Daniel blinked "oh ,ah. Not as such. I do sponsor the child of a dear friend of mine from New Astoria... I sponsor her education at the University and keep an eye on her in a way."

"A sponsor?" she smiled. "That's certainly kind of you."

"I believed she was a smart girl, and deserved the chance to hone it. Even if she is an absolute troublemaker." He sighed "that's the closest I'm likely to ever get to parenthood, myself."

"Oh?" she smiled gently. "Not the parenting type hmm? In Mosgrav it seems practically compulsory. Not that I wouldn't have wanted to anyway."

"it seems so." Daniel mused "but...no. I'm afraid i'm quite busy with my studies...."

"Ahh," she nodded. "Not the marrying type, doctor?"

"well I ...ah." His ears flushed, flicking slightly "I wouldn't say *never* but.."

"You know," she smiled sipping her coffee. "You should spend some more time with Iochka. He could use a friend, and it sounds like you'd get on well."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "is...that so? He's an interesting man, I'll admit. We've gotten along well enough thus far."

"he wasn't trying to bite your head off, so that counts for him," Elizabeth chuckled.

"I got the sense that curmudgeonly respect is about the height of it." he chuckled softly

"I'm told he has a soft side," she smiled. "Privately."

"is that so? color me surprised."

She chuckled. "Mmhmm. but, I'm *relatively* sure that wasn't what you came to talk to me about."

"No ah. I didn't come here for that. Per say."

"Consider me at your disposal."

"First, I'd like to know about you." He smiled "You're not from Mosgrav, are you?"

"How astute of you," she teased. "No, doctor I'm from Mordona."

"lovely area. Fenya and I were just discussing going there once things are said and done here." he mused

"Certainly a little more tropical than things are here," she chuckled. "if you do, you must send me a card."

"Gladly." Daniel chuckled "I did notice that the Governor is a military man. Did you two find yourselves in this little town post war? Or were you off and about elsewhere before being sent out here to..." he waved his hand "here."

Elizabeth smiled nostalgically. "It was in the principalities, actually. During the Clockwork War."

Daniel nodded, leaning on his hand as he sipped his coffee "I've heard stories about the Clockwork War." he said "I imagine the stories don't do the magnitude of it all justice."

She shook her head. "No, likely not. It was a terrible business. Grand and important. But terrible. I met Boris when he was a Major in command of a mosgravan unit. You're Astorian-- you know those stories about ladies dressing as boys to join the war?"

"grand and important indeed." He said with a slow nod. "...and yes, I've heard stories, heard songs as well about that phenomenon." He raised his cup of coffee "and bravo to them for it. That war needed as many hands as it could get, old world sensibilities be damned."

Elizabeth chuckled. "well, it was a little bit like that for me. I had run off and joined the Mordonan army as a man, and the unit I was in ended up under fire along with Boris' against the Tickers."

It was impolite to speculate, but Daniel couldn't help but consider that dressing as a man and joining the army might have been the *cough\* *expectation* of Elizabeth in her youth, rather than the anomaly.

Daniel sipped his coffee. He wouldn't speculate , certainly. In his eyes, he saw nothing wrong with a person living life to their fullest, however they wished to do so. After all, living life as you wished was the core tenant of Thanatology. He nodded "Sounds like a harrowing moment." he said curiously

"Extremely harrowing," she nodded, "and a bit romantic-- *especially* once all the fighting was done. While you're fighting for your life it's a little hard to enjoy the romance."

Daniel laughed , nodding his head "I've noticed that, somewhat." He leaned on his hand with a grin "but there's plenty of time for it afterwards, no?"

"Plenty," she chuckled. "And plenty of time for exciting revelations about the people you've been fighting with. One thing led to another."

"and here you are, a lovely couple in the heart of Mosgrav." He chuckled "...or ah, a part of it, at least."

"We lived in the Capital for a while actually," she smiled. "But Boris was.... well they did try to make it *sound* like it was meant to be a reward for service."

"but in effect it didn't seem very much like that at all?" he said "...he gave that impression."

She sighed and nodded. "Exactly. My husband can be a bit bullheaded, and he and the men in charge of that sort of thing didn't get along."

Daniel shook his head "I've had my own clashes with the powers that be, it doesn't end well for the stubborn."

"No," she sighed. "I'd be hoping that they'll call us back after the unpleasantness this year, but we've put down roots I suppose."

"It seems so. It's not a *bad* little town once you look past all it's..." He paused "Glaring faults."

Elizabeth laughed and raised her coffee mug. "Cheers to that, doctor. Like Iochka, it's got a softer side, if you know where to look."

Daniel nodded "I've been looking." He said slowly "not...ah, specifically at the Captain for his soft side, but the town."

"And what have you found? If I can ask."

"Unfortunately, a lot of old and deeply settled corruption." he said , with a frown "as well as a number of good people who don't deserve it."

"That sounds about right," she said with a sigh. "There's old rot here. The kind that's hard to cut out."

"It's still rotting now." he frowned "....i uncovered something particularly nasty involving Andrei's activities, but i'm not sure I have much proof."

"Andrei.... Morozov?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.

Daniel nodded with a frown.

"I see," she said, scowling. "I'm not *entirely* surprised, but I don't have any proof of anything either."

"I did find a rather...lurid novel in his house." he mused with a sharp glare at his coffee cup "....and...have circumstantial evidence of his actions upon a certain young woman in town.."

"Who?" she asked, her voice getting flat, and hard.

"Lydia Osgrov." he said, fingers tightening on the cup "but again...I can't *prove* anything. not at the moment."

Her fingers tightened on her coffee cup. "*Lydia?*?" she hissed. "*That's...*"

Elizabeth looked absolutely *murderous*.

Daniel nodded , leaning forward "I feel about the same. I hardly met the woman and when I walked in on her all drugged up and waiting for the 'evil spirits' to come for her....i found myself furious. Whatever he's doing, it isn't right." he frowned "i made the connection soon enough , when I found the novels hidden in his home."

She shook her head. "It isn't right.... and poor Lydia... her nightmare should have been *over.*."

"It should have been." Daniel frowned "...I just don't know what I can do to help. "

She drummed her fingers on the arm of the chair. "Lydia is... stubborn, in her own way. If someone could convince her to stay with her Aunt, I'm certain Katya would have her...."

"...perhaps I'll see if i can talk to the both of them." he murmured "...it'd mean she could be protected from the bastard, yes?"

"Andrei wouldn't *dare* violate Iochka's house," she assured him. "It's women he doesn't respect."

It looked like perhaps she had more to say, but for now at least, she held her tongue.

Daniel nodded "I got that impression from our meeting with him." He tapped his fingers on the chair's arm "...I'll see what i can do."

"You have my thanks," she nodded. "Poor little Lydia...."

"Indeed," he shook his head, "I'm learning all sorts of sordid details on people's lives...that, perhaps, was the worst i've heard yet."

he paused "...well. there was also Tomya."

"Tomya?" she cocked her head.

"I gather he's Andrei's disowned son, who was groomed by the dead Mistress for...his current profession, I gather." he grimaced.

Her tongue clicked on the roof of her mouth. "I....see. More of those damned sorcerers ruining everyone's lives."

"Not to forgive Andrei's part in that."

"indeed. " Daniel frowned "on both counts. Everywhere I go , I see people's lives ruined by the old structure of this bloody town."

"Every time I think I've decided which one was worst, I find out something new," she hissed.

"might I ask what else you've heard?" he asked curiously

She hesitated.

She got up and she closed the kitchen door. "This must stay between us, doctor," she said. "The dead are beyond caring but there are those who still breath who can be hurt by what I will say."

Daniel nodded slowly "It'll stay between us to the grave, Elizabeth. I'm not looking to hurt anyone. I just...need to know what happened here in the past if I'm to save this place's future."

She sat down again and closed her eyes, her long fingered hands trembling just slighting where they rested on her legs. "Osgrov is the one whose crimes I know best. My dear Katya...."

"It still hurts her. She drinks to escape it."

Daniel leaned over, and gently patted her shoulder. "You don't have to tell me the details if it hurts to." he said "....I got the sense he was a horrid man." he frowned "....that...explains...a lot, I suppose."

"You have heard how long lived they were, yes?"

"Indeed...it's pertaining to my study, so...it was one of the first things mentioned to me upon my arrival."

"Well," she hissed. "Pyotr Osgrov used the blessing of his long life to *linebreed* his own damned family. Like *feral dogs*." She looked incensed at the mere thought of it, her fur bushed and her hackles raised. "Katya only escaped him with Iochka's help. her sister-- Lydia and Sasha's mother was not so fortunate. Lydia would certainly have been next if it weren't for the blessed fires of the church."

Daniel's own fur raised in increasing anger. It pricked up his spine and caused his ears to flatten as he hissed through his pointed teeth. ".......While I have little love for the church." he said slowly "I can more easily forgive a **bonfire of the truly damned** than a witch hunt. And it seems these **elders**deserved every log on that fire."

"I might have forgiven Nika-- the midwife-- but if what you say is true then she deserved it as well," she hissed. "I had heard of her tendency to step out with men, I had not heard that she shared the Carver's taste for youth."

"I don't know for certain." he grimaced "but Tomya's ....description of how he came to his trade...implied as such." "the carver was...hm." He frowned deeper "...oh I don't like that one bit."

She nodded. "Iochka-- I don't know about the crimes of *his* father, but I have only ever heard him speak of him once. And it was of a terrible temper."

"...." Daniel shook his head. "he didn't seem overly fond of the man. Describing their 'sorcery' as being held over everyone like a knife. And I can't bloody well blame him." he grit his teeth "Damn and blast."

Elizabeth nodded. "I cannot imagine that the world is worse for any of their passing."

"no. I would say not." he growled softly. "May they stay as cinders forevermore." He frowned "it's just a damned pity that we have to dredge up their memory in order to solve this damned thing. Because the more I look, the more I feel this is all rooted in *their* meddling."

"Solve this damned thing-- you mean the disease? Iochka told me a little yesterday."

Daniel nodded, running his hand through his hair "....you two are good friends, I can tell." he said slowly "...but yes. the disease. the one I have two bloody weeks to solve and cure."

"That's a heavy sword above your neck," she sighed. "But you say it seems to be related to the damned sorcerers?"

"It is." he murmured "I'll admit to you, Elizabeth, because I quite like you, that it's ....stressful." He grimaced "but yes. from my research I see...a commonality."

"I don't like the sound of that one bit," she said. "But I rather like the look of you myself, doctor. You can count on what help I'm able to give."

"I appreciate that, Elizabeth." he bowed his head "I'm glad. I'm glad for any help you can give." he grimaced "I need to find this 'heart' of town."

"The *heart*," she said thoughtfully. "Could it be their sacred grove?"

"That's what I was thinking. But it was some..." he grimaced "Ritual. that they did. Which they stopped doing when they died. Which coincides with the start of all this a little too well. I'm thinking whatever they did might have kept a pollution from the land...and now that it's not being tended to, the earth and river near here are being poisoned with this bloody parasitic sickness."

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. "I see... I'm afraid I can't be much help on what exactly that might have *been* if that was the case. But maybe it explains why all of my damned flowers keep dying."

"That...may be the case. Though it's also possible that they aren't suited to the area." he shook his head "regardless. Your knowledge of town and the people in it...is invaluable."

"I'm glad I could help," she nodded. "Sorry that my contribution was so grim."

"No. It's all things I needed to know." He sighed "...damnation."

She sighed along with him. "Damnation is right. More coffee?"

"more coffee would be lovely." he chuckled. "...so." his finger tapped the rocking chair's armrest "...what can you tell me about the Captain?"

"Iochka?" she asks, getting up to pour more coffee. "he's no intellectual but he's smart as a whip. I'm sure he could keep up with you."

"From the conversations we've had, I absolutely believe you." he smirked "he's a very clever man."

"He needs to relax more," she said. "he hasn't been the same since he and Konstantin--- ah.. well."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "may I ask?"

"I was only here for the last year of it of course."

Daniel listened curiously, his eyebrow half raised.

She handed him his coffee cup. "The way Katya tells it, they were joined at the hip since boyhood."

He took the cup, and had another sip. "...and what happened?"

She shook her head. "I haven't been able to get the story out of Iochka. But they had some kind of falling out."

"Were they..." he paused for a long moment "intertwined?"

She chuckled. "I thought I had said as much."

"I just wanted to clarify." Daniel held his hand up with a chuckle "it would be untoward to make assumptions." He nodded slowly "that makes sense, though.."

"Untoward, he says," she smirked slightly but then shook her head. "So yes, the captain is free real estate if you want to make your move, doctor."

Daniel's ears turned a bright pink, and flicked back on his head "....." He sipped his tea "*well* then. I mean. I... hm. " "*well then* "

Elizabeth chuckled again and sipped her own coffee as she leaned on the counter. "Typical shy astorian," she teased.

"He's a handsome enough man, Elizabeth." Daniel said, drumming his fingers on his coffee cup "but I'm here to solve a crisis, not find *romance* "

"Who says you can't have both, hmm?" She winked. "But I understand. Work comes first. Iochka would almost certainly say the same, so you have *that* in common. Have you met Katya yet, by the by?"

Daniel sipped his coffee, "we're both hard workers." he said "it's a good thing to have in common." He glanced at her out of his lidded eyes "I have. We met her the other day while investigating the market district. Gregarious woman, she was."

"She's my delight," Elizabeth chuckled. "she *does* need to ease up on the drink though."

"She's certainly delightful though I have to agree." He paused "are you and her..." "intertwined? I hope that's not too terribly rude to ask."

She smiled. "Don't worry, Boris darling understands our friendship."

Daniel nodded, his ears flicking "I'm very happy for all of you then." he raised his coffee "You all seem to have built quite the happy situation for yourself, and that's wonderful. I hope I can help cure this town's ills enough that you can continue to live it as best as it can be."

She raised her own and smiled. "It's unconventional, but who wants to stand on convention? and you can count on me for any help I can give on that mission. Even if what you end up needing is a saber. I'm rusty, but I'm not dead yet."

"Convention be damned." He agreed with a grin "...I won't say no to the offered saber. It may come at the time that we need it, and I'll remember that I can count on you."

"here here, doctor. And let me know if you need a good word with my husband. I know a thing or two about buttering the old man up."

"here here." he chuckled "...I'll keep that in mind." he winked "though I think I managed this time, well enough. Next time though, I'll need all the help I can get."

The conversation devolved for a few minutes into idle chatter as they finished their coffee. Unfortunately Daniel probably couldn't stay all day to converse, much as that might be appealing.

Elizabeth saw him to the door. "I hope you'll come visit again soon-- with news, if nothing else."

"I'm sure it's not the last you'll see of me" he chuckled "have a lovely day, Elizabeth...or at least as lovely a day as possible with all this going on"

"I shall gird my loins, doctor." she chuckled. "Until then." And just like that, after a *very* interesting morning, he was back out in the fog.

Daniel walked out into the foggy streets, heading towards the tavern with a resolute sigh. "...two bloody weeks..."

With any luck at all that would be enough. Either that or the town faced a lingering death....

He grimaced, not thinking about that right now. First he had to meet up with Fenya and get investigated.

The streets were quiet today, thought not silent. Still, as he fell into step heading toward the pub he thought he heard someone behind him.

Daniel glanced over his shoulder with a frown.

There was a child following him-- maybe a young teenage boy. A white wolf with pale eyes.

Daniel raised an eyebrow and turned "...hello there." he said hesitantly "are you following me?"

The wolf boy nodded quietly at him, looking at him from under a mass of hair.

Daniel put his hand on his hip "...and might I ask your name?"

He shook his head and offered him a closed hand instead.

Daniel held his hand out with a curious expression "...alright."

He pressed his hand to Daniel's and opened it without letting the man see what was in it. Something smooth and warm passed into Daniel's hand.

Daniel pulled his hand away, and looked into it "a gift for me, hm?"

The boy nodded-- and dashed off into the fog.

Sitting in Daniel's hand was a small gold coin.

Daniel turned it over in his fingers "....what in the world?"

The boy had disappeared into the fog. The coin, meanwhile, was strange. It didn't look like mosgravan money at all. It was covered in little symbols.

Daniel held it up closer to his face "...strange. this isn't Mosgravan..."

Racking his brains Daniel soon realized that the writing on the coin was a combination of Mospek- the early Mosgravan language, and some of those runes that he and Fenya had seen in the sorcerers' laboratory.

"...some sort of magician's coin then?" he flipped it, before slipping it into his pocket '...I wonder why the lad had something like that."

Its warm weight sat gently there, as he walked through the fog. He heard the warm sounds of the pub before he reached it.

Daniel stepped inside, and looked around for Fenya.

Fenya was seated at the counter, getting a fresh cup of coffee from little Fofka.

"mind pouring me one?' Daniel chuckled, sitting beside her.

"yes mister," Fofka said quietly. It was probably the first time he'd spoken at least in Daniel's presence. He poured Daniel a coffee. "Danochka," Fenya greeted with a smile.

Daniel raised his eyebrow at the kid "thank you." He smiled "Fenya. A pleasure to see you."

"The pleasure's mine, doctor," she smiled. "How did the meeting go?"

"It went...well. I think. We have two weeks of quarantine that will go into place once preparations are done.. I seem to have impressed the Governor...and I certainly seem to have impressed the governor's wife in my conversation with her afterwards."

"Well! that *is* good news."

"It is. It's only two weeks, but...we can manage it." he ran his hand through his hair "Elizabeth...his wife...did try to set me up with the Captain, however." "and offered me her and her sword should we ever need to *fight* something. Beyond that she...knows a lot about the town."

Her eyebrows shot up her forehead. "Set you up with the captain? *sword fighting*? what did I *miss*, doctor?"

Daniel laughed "..ah. quite the conversation with a very fascinating woman. I'm sure you'll get to meet her , I'm planning on speaking with her again sometime soon."

"I hope I will, if she's that interesting. Are you still wanting breakfast?"

"I think so." he chuckled "I didn't eat.." he leaned on his hands "I got some information. Not much of it good." He fished out the coin "and a strange child gave me this."

Fenya took the coin from him and turned it over curiously. "A child?"

"yes, a young wolf boy. it's archaic Mospek and those strange runes we found."

"So I see," she nodded, brow furrowing. "It's... hardly typical is it..."

"it isn't in the least. Though I don't know *why* he gave it to me."

"Well... people don't often just go around handing other people gold coins...."

"no they don't." he mused "...i wonder if it's some sort of key for that language or not."

Fenya perked up. "Doctor-- you are a genius."

Daniel's ears flicked "...hm. you think it might be?"

She held the coin in her palm and showed him. "Look here-- I only know a little bit of old Mospek, but here-- I believe this word is 'silver', you see?"

Daniel nodded, and traced it with his finger "meaning this symbol..."

She nodded. "This symbol here is the alchemical symbol for silver. Which means I *think* that these symbols are saying the same thing as what's written in Mospek."

"...fascinating." He mused. "it's a decryption key."

"A decryption key," she smiled. "What a gift to be randomly handed."

"Indeed. makes me think it wasn't exactly random..."

"Same," she said, her smile slipping a little into a slight frown. "But I suppose we shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth as they say."

"we shouldn't." He shook his head "it seems being handed keys to this mystery by strange people in the fog is a theme for me."

"So it would seem," she murmured. "But this is hardly a hallucination."

"it hardly is." He looked the coin over. "...but it is terribly strange."

"It certainly is...."

Breakfast arrived for Daniel. Fish and beans and toast. It smelled appealing.

Daniel looked down at it, and nodded "thank you for the meal." he took a bite "...regardless, did you get anything this morning?"

Fenya gave a furtive look to the woman at work behind the counter. She didn't *seem* to be listening but.

"Let's talk about it after breakfast."

Daniel nodded "sounds good to me." he ate his breakfast in relative silence, looking pensive about the day ahead.

The chatter around them in the pub was mostly about the nasty weather-- and a smattering of discussions here and there about someone a person knew being sick.

"....the sickness is spreading." he murmured

"yes I've heard people talking about it all morning," Fenya sighed.

"the quarantine should help. I just have to make sure we work fast before time runs out.."

"Yes... it's unfortunate that we only have so long...."

"Admittedly...two weeks is enough time for those that are sick to progress to a ...less than ideal stage."

Fenya nodded. "Certainly. Especially with things seeming to be...."

"progressing faster than is ideal?' he offered

"That," she agreed with a little snort.

"indeed....though we have solid leads." He paused "....and an unfortunate errand to run. I'll tell you more in private"

She nodded. "We can get going whenever you're ready."

He finished his breakfast "indeed." He paused "were paying another visit to the gregarious woman by the market...just as a heads up."

"The woman-- the one with the scarves?" she asked as she stood.

"no" he chuckled "Katya, Katrina Volkov"

"Oh *that* woman," she chuckled, her ears flicking with embarrassment. "Ah. Thank you for the warning."

"I thought you might appreciate it." He chuckled "I have something to ask her."

She walked out of the pub with him and into the misty street. "Oh?"

"...without going into too much detail, I'm going to ask her to take Lydia into her home for a while"

"Ahh. You've been thinking of her?" Fenya asked.

"a tad" he admitted "...and it turns out that Elizabeth worries for her as well. She and I devised a way to help...the matter."

"I'm pleased to hear it," she nodded. "It's been a bit in the back of my mind as well. "

Daniel nodded "I can imagine..it's..." He frowned "troubling."

"It is," she nodded. "Where are we headed next? Should we talk on the way or find somewhere quiet to share our findings?"

"that, I think, would be for the best" he agreed "then it's off on our grand adventure."

"The second one then?" she said. "Let's look for some place out of the rain..."

Daniel nodded, and offered his arm "perhaps there's a quiet nook somewhere about."

She took his arm gently and swept her gaze over the misty main street. "Hmmmm."

Unfortunately the street seemed to have a dearth of unused roofs or hiding spaces. If they wanted to get out of the chill, they'd have to look elsewhere.

"Damn it, we aren't far, I'm just going to the bloody post office again."

She nodded. "Understood, doctor." She leaned close into him as they hurried back to their base.

He put his arm around hers. Purely for warmth, of course, and hurried through the rain

The two of them trip-trapped as quickly as they could back to the post office. It really was only a few minutes, but it seemed like more in the rain. "I suppose the good news is really that my leg is feeling fine."

"It is?" he asked "...I suppose you must not have hurt it too severely yesterday."

"It hurt *monstrously* last night," she shook her head "But you're the doctor." She chuckled slightly as they reached the post office.

"Indeed..." He murmured "...that medicine also seems to have done the trick."

"I suppose it did," she nodded.

"even if it did smell terrible as sin."

"And taste worse," she nodded, as they headed into the post office.

He waved to Mitya as he headed up the stairs "good morning"

Mitya in fact didn't seem to be there. ...Out on his rounds perhaps?

"...hm." Daniel mused as he headed upstairs "Hope the boy is doing quite alright."

"As do I," she nodded. "Maybe he's at home?"

She climbed the stairs after him.

"He might be." Daniel chuckled "After all, he doesn't live here."

"No, he's... Mayor Tadibyov's son isn't he?"

"Yes, yes he is, if I remember correctly." Daniel nodded

"Oh! wasn't his father going to take care of locks today? That's probably got something to do with it."

She settled down in one of their chairs.

"ahhh, that's likely the ticket." He settled down opposite her, and leaned on his hand "..so.."

"So. We had a lot to discuss by the sound of it."

"we certainly do." Daniel said with a nod. "mind if i ask you to start?"

"not at all," she said. "You wanted me to ask about the masters and mistresses, the heart, and old knowledge. Well... I did ask. Of course, she was a pain about it."

"of course she was." he grumbled "it's her damned way, I suppose.'

"I did manage to get her to open up a little bit though," she said, drumming her nails on the table. "One thing she said was probably the most interesting."

Daniel leaned forward "I'm interested...what was it?"

"her mother," she explains. "Her mother was the Midwife. Nika."

"....." Daniel's eyes widened "...I'm *sorry?*"

Fenya nodded seriously. "I was shocked as well."

"As am I . I never would have guessed." he mused "....hm."

It occurs to him that Mistress Nika looked like she was in her 20s, along with the rest of the town masters. Granny Bobbin well.... she looked like a granny.

"........it just goes to show how shockingly long lived the Masters were."

"Something else too," Fenya pointed out.

"hm?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

"Whatever this ritual was, they **didn't even share it with their children.**."

"....." Daniel grimaced "....what the hell was it that they kept it so secret?"

She shook her head. 'I have no idea. But Granny-- Yana....she must have grown up and grown old watching her mother never change...."

"...." Daniel scoffed softly "...that seems like a dreadful way to grow up..."

"I can only imagine," she sighed, leaning on her hand. "And I don't like it."

"neither do I..." he frowned "the Captain isn't fond of his father either, and rightfully so."

"It certainly goes toward explaining some of the resentment that comes off Granny in waves," she nodded

"I'd resent this town and it's masters too if I were in her shoes."

"I have to agree," she nodded. "I can imagine having a child I would share the secret to eternal youth with. Just don't *have* a child at that point. They're certainly not going to be 'passing on your legacy'."

Daniel nodded "agreed. But they selfishly guarded it for themselves."

Fenya shook her head. "Regardless. That's what I learned. That and surprisingly she didn't seem to know anything more about the Heart of the town than we do."

"Another close held secret then." Daniel mused "Damn."

Fenya nodded. "Unfortunately."

"Did you get anything else out of the woman?"

She shook her head. "I'm afraid not."

"Damn." He sighed . "Well you got some interesting and useful information at the very least."

he smiled "thank you, Fenya."

She nodded. "Of course. I'm sorry I couldn't get any more out of her.:

"It's alright, I did get quite a bit out of Elizabeth....most of which can't leave this room."

fenya's eyebrows raised. "My lips are sealed then."

"good...I learned a lot about the Masters and Mistress, and none of what I heard makes me very happy."

"I;m not entirely surprised to hear that. Why don't you give me a quick rundown."

"Misha's tastes ran *quite young* Iosef had a terrible temper Osgrov...line bred with his own family and abused them in all kinds of ways... And we know all about Nika's habits at this point."

She frowned, deeper and deeper. "I... see," she said roughly.

"Yes." Daniel frowned "...their corruption and scars run deep in this town, it seems."

"So they do," she said, taking a breath.

He nodded "i got...more detail. but that's about the gist of it. He grimaced slightly "those sorcerers let their own 'evil' run rampant."

"Power corrupts as they say."

"And they had a long time to be corrupted by it."

"They certainly did," she nodded. "Longer than most."

Daniel ran his hand through his hair "indeed. But we'll do what we can to fix things."

"Looks like we have more than *just* a disease on our plate.." She sighed, leaning a bit toward him.

"Disease and the societal ills of a sorcerer-tainted town." he drawled

"It'll be a hell of a case study."

"it'll be the report to either earn me the respect of the deans or get me kicked out on my ass."

"No inbetween," she chuckled

"none at all." he chuckled "...so we need to do... a lot today, Fenya." "we have to try to get Lydia to move...we need to investigate leads on the Heart and the Masters and MIstress'...and I think we should use that coin we've found."

"We're going to have trouble fitting it all in," she sighed. "Lets try writing up a schedule."

"Now that's a good idea." he nodded slowly "...let's start at the top."

"Alright," she nodded, getting out a piece of paper and a pen. "Give it to me starting with the most important. I'll let you know if you leave out anything I remember you've mentioned."

"I think we should pay a visit to the children of the Masters...." he mused "the Captain, Sasha, ect...."

She nodded, and wrote them down. "Sasha, Captain Volkov-- are we talking to Morozov? Or the Mayor? either? They're both related to the Midwife somehow."

"Yes, I'd like to talk to the Mayor...and *reluctantly* I suppose Morozov or his wife."

She nodded and penciled them in. "You also mentioned talking to the priest? or someone related to the church."

"ah yes." he nodded "i'd like to talk to the priest if we can find the bastard."

She nodded and added that too. "Anyone else?"

"...I think for the coin we may want to investigate the rookery again." He said ".... and I'd like to get another look inside some of the master's old things. "

"Are we hoping Rook will or won't be there?" she asked as she penciled it in.

"I think it's best if we hope for him to be there, given the last few times."

"yes he probably wouldn't take kindly to us snooping as usual," she chuckled. "Although that reminds me-- we haven't taken a look at that sample he gave us last night yet."

"that's *true.* we should check that out now while we're already here. And the blood from the...ah, figure in the fog."

She nodded and added it at the top. "Good call. Ah-- anything else?"

He leaned his head back "....visit Katrina and Lydia. And try and work that out."

"We should visit Katrina before Sasha then-- we can see him and Lydia both."

"Good plan." he nodded "efficient use of time."

She tapped her pen thoughtfully. "If we want to be as efficient with our time as possible we should visit the Rookery either first or last since its closest here."

"Last. So we can visit it with the most context from the information we gather today."

She nodded. "Alright. Then-- do you want to check on Elias this morning, or assume things are fine unless we;re contacted?"

"...." Daniel frowned "a quick look shouldn't hurt, I suppose. Just to make sure he hasn't damned died."

She nodded. "Alright, then the best use of our time will be to start there-- since it's all the way across town, then visit Missus Volkov and work our way back toward the post office. We should ask Darya or Katrina if they know where we can find the priest."

Daniel nodded "Katrina may know, and be more amicable towards him than Darya."

"yes I was thinking perhaps," she agreed. She pushed the list gently toward him. "how's this look?"

Daniel looked it over "yes...that's a good itinerary for today, Fenya." he mused "It looks perfect."

She smiled a little and flicked her ears. "Good. Then we probably shouldn't waste too much time I'm afraid. It's going to be a tight schedule."

Daniel chuckled "indeed. but well managed, thanks to you." He stood and walked to the table "let's test those items, shall we?"

"yes, lets," she nodded, and fetched both the little pouch they'd been given, and the sample.

Daniel took the sample first, and slipped it into a slide to examine.

The first slide was the wood. Little splinters of white.

At the base magnification it didn't look like anything special.

He zoomed in a little further.

The closer he got, the less white the wood fibers appeared. In fact, what he found were.....

black specks.

Daniel frowned, and examined the black specks.

Well... they weren't moving. But they were eerily reminiscent of the stuff he was finding in the blood of the infected.

Fenya watched him curiously. "Did you see something?"

"....I do." he said slowly "...the wood contains immobile traces of the black specks we're finding in the blood of the infected. It's...interspersed throughout the grain."

Fenya actually half stood from her chair. "you're serious?"

He nodded, and backed up "go on, take a look"

She stood and came over to his side of the table and peered in. Her expression turned to one of baffled curiosity. "Goodness..... it's there. The black specks."

"..." He frowned "...they're everywhere. But what does it *mean?*"

"I couldn't begin to guess, medically speaking," she said. "Chemically.... maybe something in the soil the plants are absorbing?"

Daniel looked thoughtful. "That would insinuate that it's in the earth, confirming our poisoned land theory."

"It would," she nodded. "It could also be the water of course..."

"let's grab a sample today. And some fish if we can manage it"

"Good idea," she nodded. "Maybe one of our interview subjects wouldn't mind parting with some...."

"indeed" he said thoughtfully "and we'll write it all down in my daily report"

"Daily report?"

"the old military Governor wants daily report from me" he drawled "of our progress"

"Ah. Homework," she chuckled a little ruefully. "Let me know if you want my help with that."

"I'd be delighted, Fenya" he chuckled

"My pleasure," she nodded, stepping away from the sample.

Daniel shook his head, and switched it for the sample of blood. The attackers blood

The sample was black and sludgy- tar like even. Like his original sample of Elias' blood, but somehow even thicker.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "like an even older case" He put it under the microscope

He couldn't even see through it, Not even a little.

"Do we need to dilute this one too?" Fenya asked.

"seems we do, quite a bit."

"Allow me," she said, fetching a dropper from her purse and filling it with several drops of water from the jug before offering it to him.

Daniel took it with a nod , before dripping a bit into the slide

The water seemed to slide off of it-- almost like it *was* tar.

Daniel frowned "look at this, Fenya.."

Fenya leaned over his shoulder. "Hmmmm...."

"it's so damned thick"

"It is," she frowned. "It's unnatural. How could blood that thick even...."

"it wouldn't flow. It *couldn't* flow." He frowned deeper

"Then how in gaea are they... up and moving around?" she murmured.

"that's...the unsettling question we have to answer." He tried adding a little more water.

He managed to get it to mix.... a little.

He took the opportunity to try and get a better look at the sludge.

It was like large particles of blackness were suspended in the water.....

Looking closely he could see that the particles were moving around on their own like in the other samples. However, he couldn't find *any* evidence of actual blood cells.

(pinned)

"......" *disgusting* "This man should be dead and buried."

Fenya raised her eyebrows. "Do tell.. especially curious given the quick escape he made."

"take a look, Fenya. there's *not a single blood cell in there.* Just..large...squirming particles of this nightmare tar."

She leaned in and peered at it. "Nightmare tar indeed. .....Danochka, not to question your medical expertise, but the question has to be asked. Are we *sure* this was a sample of his blood?"

"....it should have been. it's what splattered out of his bloody wound when I shot the bastard."

"Could it be some kind of.... I don't know? Pus?" she asked grimacing.

"...." Daniel shuddered "...possibly. But it's so damned similar to Elias' blood. just worse..."

Fenya looked up from the sample, grimacing. "You're the doctor between us, so I trust your assessment. It's just.... baffling."

"It could be pus." he said, looking a little distracted "...I shouldn't jump to conclusions, but.." He frowned. "hm."

"Danochka?"

"yes Fenya?"

"You just looked like you had a thought," she said, shaking her head.

"It's....just a wish, I suppose. I wish I could have gotten a good *look* at the man."

"That would certainly have been convenient," she sighed.

"I would have been able to see if perhaps he were covered in infected sores.."

"I hate to say this, but perhaps we'll run into him again?"

"maybe I'll be a little more sure with my shot this time." he mused "we could use the subject."

"we could," she agreed.

"Let's keep an eye out for our 'vampire' then."

"Consider me on the hunt, doctor," she smirked and patted her purse with the gun in it.

Daniel laughed "between the two of us, it doesn't stand a chance."

"Not a chance," she agreed with a smirk.

"I think that's the last of the samples..."

Fenya nodded. "Unless you've been going and collecting them when I wasn't looking," she teased.

Daniel laughed " I haven't' been *that* productive."

"You could have fooled me. But let's get going before we start to feel unproductive."

He shifted to his feet, and offered his arm "to the farmhouse, then?"

She took his arm. "To the farmhouse," she agreed. And they headed downstairs. At the door they nearly ran into a big, solid young bear man with a big box of tools.

"....: Daniel raised his eyebrow "hello."

The man smiled cheerfully at them. "Good morning," he said in a big, basso voice. "Mr. Tadibyov sent me to fix Mitya's locks."

Daniel tilted his head "ahh. The locksmith." he grinned "thank you."

He gave a cheery salute, bumping his own head a bit harshly and forcing him to rub it. "Of course! Name's Ivan. Nice to meet you mr. Doctor. You are Mr. Doctor right?"

"no, please. Mr. Doctor was my father." he said dryly "My name is Daniel Delgrave. Doctor Daniel Delgrave"

Ivan offered him a big hand for a shake. "Nice to meet you Doctor Daniel Delgrave. And miss?"

Fenya nodded. "Professor Trifena Evgenii-Smythe."

"Ivan Yahontov at your services!"

Daniel shook his hand "Pleasure to meet you Ivan." he said with a note of amusement "you're a gregarious young man."

"It always pays to be friendly," he said with a big smile. "or at least, it never hurts, right?"

The man had a surprisingly gentle handshake.

Daniel shook his hand before letting go. "it never hurts indeed."

Actually... hadn't he heard the name **Yahontov** recently?

Daniel paused "...Your last name is familiar , young man."

He cocked his head. "Oh? Maybe you know my wife?"

"More from my...research on the town's history."

He scratched his head. "Town's history?" he seemed to think about it. and then slapped his palm. "Oh! maybe you mean my great uncle Misha then?"

"Ah, the carver, yes?" Daniel asked

Ivan nodded. "yeah! that sounds right."

"How interesting, we were just thinking we had to find some of the family he must have left behind."

Ivan cocked his head. "Oh? Gosh is there something I can help with?"

"Does your family have anything that your great uncle may have...*left behind?*

He scratched his head. "Uuuuh... huh. That's a good question."

"Isn't it?" He drawled "....if so, might we be allowed to look through it?"

"Well, sure," he nodded. "if you want to come over I'll let my wife know. I don't know if we have much though!"

"Sounds wonderful." Daniel said "and where about is your house?"

"Right by the post office actually!" he grinned. "if you follow the road north a minute you can't miss it!"

"..convenient." Daniel said with a chuckle "wouldn't you say, Fenya?"

"Almost supernaturally so," Fenya agreed.

Ivan smiled guillelessly. "Come to think of it, why don't you come over for dinner?"

"..." Daniel looked at Fenya "think we can fit that into our day?"

"Ah... I think so," she nodded. "Assuming it's a later dinner."

"Does that sound good for you, Ivan?"

Ivan smiled. "Sounds great! it'll be easier for my wife to make it."

"Delightful,'' he chuckled,'' I'd love to make things easier on your missus." "Now, I suppose I'll see you then. We've got to head out if we're going to keep on schedule."

Ivan nodded. "See you then, Doctor Delgrave. Professor. "

"See you later." Daniel nodded his head, and headed out into the day.

Fenya headed off into the fog with him. After a moment she said. "Well... that was...."

"Fortuitous." he smirked "Very much so."

"I quite agree," she nodded. "To think he was basically next door."

"And the Great Nephew of the carver, right outside our bloody doorstep." he started for the farm.

"Indeed. I wonder if he's his closest relation?" she asked, walking quickly with him through the fog.

"I don't think the man had any children, knowing what I know of him."

"No it does seem unlikely," she agreed.

"Still, we'll learn more over dinner, I'm certain."

"I'm certain too. Did you catch who his wife was? I didn't."

"no I don't think he mentioned a name." he shook his head "more's the pity. we'll learn it in time."

"I suppose that's true," she nodded.

Daniel heard the sound of footsteps behind them.

Daniel turned to glance over his shoulder

He didn't see anything immediately, but the footsteps didn't stop either. The sound was slightly staggered.

Daniel stopped, and held his ground. "we're being followed" he murmured

Fenya slowed to a halt and stood beside him, putting a hand on her purse. "Wonderful," she murmured.

The steps were getting closer.

Daniel put his hand on his hip, near his gun "hmm.."

Swaying, a man staggered out of the fog into view, his shoulders slumped and coat open, mouth agape.

Daniel stared at him for a moment "......are you *quite alright*?"

Fenya started to slowly reach into her purse.

The man groaned-- and then he screamed, staggering forward faster toward them.

Daniel pulled out his gun, and aimed it at the man, taking a step back "halt!" he ordered "*Damn* man!"

The man staggered-- and stumbled, falling to the ground heavily, Fenya and Daniel both heard a 'crack'.

Daniel winced...He walked slowly over to the man, and inspected him for signs of injury.

The man had a freshly cracked skull, bleeding a mix of red and black, and his ears also betrayed an advanced stage of the disease.

"Goodness," Fenya breathed, fixing her skirts.

"......... this man is going to die if we don't get him to Sasha and the clinic soon." Daniel said. "if he's even going to make it that far."

"Can you do anything for him here?" Fenya asked. "or should we try to carry him?"

This was *definitely* going to impact their schedule.

Daniel cursed under his breath, and bent down to see what he could do here and now. "I'll see what I can do. Best we don't move him unless we have to."

The crack wasn't as bad as Daniel had first thought. The man's breathing was shallow, but consistent. No discharge from the nose or mouth. He was unconscious but consciousness was a problem in general with the disease. As long as he could get the bleeding stopped and bandaged- the man would likely survive. At least, a healthy patient would survive.

Daniel frowned, and reached into his bag, grateful that he carried around at least a few supplies "he'll be alright if I can staunch this wound."

Fenya knelt down to help, pulling bandages from her purse and offering them. " Let's do what we can then. I can hold him."

Daniel nodded, working to try and staunch the bleeding with some cloth that he'd dosed with antiseptic.

Fenya held the man, who was mostly still, though he stirred once or twice-- that was encouraging.

Daniel's efforts slowed and staunched the bleeding, the wound bandaged tightly and efficiently.

Daniel nodded, and looked him over now in regards to the **plague**. "hm....he's in advanced stages from the looks of it."

"It seems like it," she nodded. His veins were blackened, and Daniel lifted his eyelids to see darkness spreading through his sclera.

".....quite far along. And he was walking about as if in a waking dream."

"That would be like Banbridge. wouldn;t it?"

"Indeed. Only this man attempted to attack us."

"Yes he was quite aggressive. We were lucky the terrain was his downfall. Or at least- he was lucky. We didn't have to shoot him."

"indeed," Daniel sighed "....I suppose we better take him to the clinic...and damn our current plans."

She sighed. "It's not too far," she said. "we should probably drop him off, talk to Sasha, and then try to get back on track."

"indeed." He nodded "..get back on track."

Fenya nodded. "I'll stabilize his head if you can pick him up?"

Daniel nodded, and looped his arms under the man "you got it. Thank you , Fenya."

Fenya carefully stabilized his head and neck. "On count of three, doctor. One.... two.... three."

On three he lifted the man, and tried carrying the bulk of his weight.

Fenya stabilized his head, and tried to walk in time with Daniel. "I guess we could only have wished it happened on Sasha's doorstep and not down the street."

"If only we were so lucky." He sighed, hefting the man down the street.

The walk was as slow as it was awkward and despite their best efforts they couldn't avoid jostling the man about at least a little.

Still, the main thing they lost was time.

Eventually they wound up in front of Sasha's office, their man still breathing, and his bleeding hadn't returned.

Daniel knocked, awkwardly, upon the door.

A moment later, Sasha, in his coat and now a mask, opened the door.

He stared at them, and sighed.

"Another?"

"this one was wandering the streets in a dream, and screaming whilst charging about at people" He paused "may want to keep him restrained."

"Ah. Bring him in," Sasha nodded. "Things are getting... crowded."

Indeed, several more cots had been set up, and most of them were filled.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...good thing I started the quarantine this morning."

"You managed it?" Sasha asked. "Here, put him here." He gestured to one of the few empty cots.

Daniel laid him on the cot "careful. He tripped and fractured his skull." He shook his head "we did manage to secure a 2 week quarantine..."

Fenya eased his head down gently.

"That should help... one would hope," Sasha nodded. "what happened to this man? I see he has the sickness."

"It seems he must have been infected for some time, as he's around Bainbridge's stage of infection...when it gets that far, the victims get up, and wander about in their comas...trapped in a nightmare as they shuffle the streets."

"I've observed the same wonderful fact," he said dryly, nodding to some of the patients who were restrained. "Their dreams must be restless."

"They must be....and it's a severe problem. A mobile patient is a mobile vector for the disease."

"yes, and those who aren't aware of what they're doing can't self-quarantine, either," he frowned.

"Indeed they can't" Daniel said "....meaning they're dangers to themselves and others."

He stroked his chin. "I'm not certain what to do about that. if anything can be done."

"Restrain the ones we can find." he said "...and close doors behind them. They can't open doors as far as I can see."

"That's a blessing a least," he nodded.

"Indeed, so once we get them inside, they should...more or less be safe."

"Unfortunately they won't be able to care for themselves."

"not in the least." He frowned "which makes much of this...problematic."

"Highly," Sasha nodded.

"I'm hoping to solve it before it becomes too much of a problem."

"That... would certainly be ideal," he agreed. "Can I ask your progress?"

"...." he sighed "I think the ground itself is poisoned. Perhaps something to do with this 'heart' of the town."

"The Heart?" Sasha asked with interest.

"I've heard repeated mention of the 'heart of the town'. and supposed rituals taking place at it by the thankfully departed town masters." He crossed his arms in thought "while I don't believe the mysticism....it's my thought that perhaps whatever they did there has something to do with the taint currently spreading in the town's soil and lifeblood. When they stopped, the disease began to fester and spread, for example."

Sasha nodded with a small smile on his face. "yes that *does* sound promising. So you're going to what... try to track down this Heart?"

"that's the intention." He sighed "it's just a shame. Not even the children of the Masters seem to know where it lay. Nor anything about the so-called 'ritual' itself."

"A ritual...." he raised his eyebrows. "I think I may have heard my father speak of one, once or twice. How did you find out one existed?"

"I happened upon some of Nika's notes...from a strange figure in the fog."

"A strange figure-- one of her old cohorts perhaps?" he cocked his head. "But why would they give you her notes..."

actually, what he said was maybe more like "why would they give **you** her notes..."

"I'm afraid I don't know in the slightest." He drawled "...perhaps it's because of how well known my ambition to cure this disease is...and they recognized I was on the right track."

Sasha nodded. "Perhaps..." he nodded. "And they were about some ritual?"

"One of them was. The other was some alchemical recipe. and another was a complaint about some botched matchmaking"

He raised his eyebrows. "It sounds like they may have been legitimate then. from what little I know."

"Indeed. It was rather lucky of me to happen into them."

"So it was," he agreed. "Well, luck or not if it helps your investigation I commend it."

"Indeed." Daniel agreed "....do you remember anything about what your father told you about the ritual?"

He tapped his chin. "He told me very little," he said. "but I do remember that he would vanish completely for one day and night every month, and when he returned he was....perhaps *renewed in vigor* is the best way to put it."

A dark and angry look cast on Sasha's face as he finished his sentence.

"Renewed in vigor..." Fenya repeated.

Daniel's lips grew tight "..ah..I..." "I see. I can't say I'm fond of that notion." His voice carried a trace of anger "....regardless...it's ...likely that this ritual of theirs also factored into their long lives."

"yes that seems almost certain," he agreed. "If only I'd had the daring to follow him some night, but," he shook his head. "I hated the man. I couldn't get away soon enough."

"I cannot blame you from all I've heard." Daniel frowned "Damn the man"

"Damn him," he nodded with a breath. "But at any rate..."

"At any rate, it seems I must delve deeper into them to uncover anything I can." He grimaced, "I'm loath to ask, but did he leave anything behind?"

"A lot of things," he sighed. "Many of which I'm sorry to tell you I've already been rid of ."

"As I expected might have been the case." Daniel mused "...i just need to find *something*. Some damned clue to this ritual and its location."

"You're welcome to look about in the house," he offered. "Assuming that Lydia doesn't mind. However, I ask that you not try to get into my room- I promise you, I didn't keep any of his things-- and also I'm afraid I think he kept the majority of items related to his practice...elsewhere."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "....I'll look around the home if Lydia doesn't mind. You don't want me to look through your room, however?" He hesitated "do you have any idea where he might have kept those items?"

He rubbed his jaw. "I'd prefer my private things be kept private, Doctor," he said with a sigh. "That said if you feel you've really got to look around I'd be happy to let you in. As for where he kept them, if they're not in the Rookery then I don't have any idea."

"we'll...discuss it." He offered "if it becomes necessary." He tapped his finger on his thigh in thought "...I'll check around the rookery then...." He paused "actually , I did find one item, perhaps you can tell me if it was his?"

He cocked his head. "I can do my best."

Daniel pulled out the ritual knife, and showed it to him.

He raised his eyebrow. "That knife---"

"I found it." Daniel said slowly "somewhere. It's fine."

he took a breath. "That is *without a doubt* a knife that belonged to my father."

"...ah." Daniel looked it over "I thought that might be the case."

`The knife was made of black stone and it had more of the unfamiliar language carved into it.`

"I'd seen him with it before, or at the very least one identical to it.":

"interesting." Daniel mused "...can you read this language?"

Sasha peered at it. "I'm afraid not. Though it looks familiar."

"hm. We have a coin that may help translate it, but it uses Mospek letters."

"Mospek? The old language?"

He frowned. "I'm afraid I only learned archaic lingua at school as far as dead languages go."

"Indeed... It's not something I'm well versed in myself."

"Mmm," he stroked his chin. "I'm sure someone around her knows how to read it at least. Mospek, I mean."

"Any idea who? We're ... a bit tight on time."

"Some of the older folk maybe," he offered. "Granny perhaps? Or maybe Morozov...."

"...hm." Daniel grimaced "i *suppose* we do have to speak to the man."

"Something wrong?" Sasha asked.

"...." Daniel tugged his collar a bit "...what's your opinion on Morozov?"

"I don't really have one," he admitted. "He never trusted me as a doctor and the only real positive interaction I had with him was when he was trying to get me to connect him with tailors from the capital."

"He tried the same with me." Daniel said "and...recently I found out some rather unpleasant news about him."

Sasha raised an eyebrow. "Do go on."

Daniel glanced at his office "....it's not...really news that one might want public."

He looked around at the patients. "Why don't we step into my office then?"

Daniel nodded, and stepped inside

Sasha shut the door firmly and took a breath.

Daniel took a deep breath as well "....well. There's a few things I've learned about the man...and I'm...trying to do what I can to help with the situation."

"You certainly have my attention."

"....one of which is he's likely one of the causes of your sister's bruises." Daniel said slowly. "or at the very least, he's been...visiting...her. And I found evidence that he's into some rather...violent...activities."

The color drained out of Sasha's ears. "*Excuse me?*" he rasped.

Daniel nodded, an uncomfortable expression on his face "....I stumbled onto the information the other day. She was waiting for him. She had drugged herself to near oblivion and was waiting for 'an evil spirit' to visit her or some such. I spoke with her, and she let slip that it was Morozov who would be coming to the door."

His pupils narrowed to pinpricks. "That man.... *That* man is the *MONSTER* who's been hurting my sister?" he demanded. "I... I believed she was hallucinating....our mother.. she had "visions... I thought...."

Sasha put his hand over his muzzle, looking like he was about to throw up.

Daniel offered his hand in comfort, putting his hand on his shoulder "....I don't have full evidence. But.. Yes, I believe so. I don't trust the man as far as I can throw him, and....this only further cemented that feeling in my mind." he looked away "...Perhaps if she stayed with Katrina for a while, we could prevent any more of his...visitations?"

Sasha took long, deep breaths. "katrina.... Aunt Katrina? I... maybe.. but... I worry that their.... habits.. would mix poorly.:"

He pulled his hands down his face, distraught, visibly.

Daniel kept a comforting hand on his shoulder "... we'll sort it out. In the capital, we don't let such crimes stay unpunished." He paused a moment "perhaps the presence of someone to protect would help curb your aunt's ...drinking... habit some?"

Sasha leaned into Daniel quite heavily, his usual regard for personal space seemingly broken. "Perhaps... but, I worry they might cross contaminate. What if Lidya starts drinking in addition to her opium? If she died, I would never forgive myself."

Daniel put his arm around him "...that's...certainly true. Perhaps someone can keep an eye on them in turn?"

"I... yes but.... the clinic, I can't.... my attention...."

"Is there anyone you trust? Perhaps I can see if Elizabeth would be willing to?"

"Elizabeth... yes. she's.. trustworthy enough I suppose," he nodded, his brow furrowed. "I can't believe I didn't see it. That it was happening under my nose."

"It was all done while you were busy. Absorbed in your work, you couldn't have known if nobody told you." Daniel offered, rubbing his shoulder "...it'll be alright."

Sasha gave Daniel a surprisingly strong hug with his somewhat noodly arms. "Doctor-- Daniel.... if I were a man to believe in angels I might believe that you had been sent to help me. But since I am a man of science, I can only offer you my sincere and complete gratitude."

Daniel hugged him back, his ears flicking slightly "ah, I...hm." he said "i'm not exactly an *angel* but...you're quite welcome. It's the least I can do...it's what any decent man would do."

"It seems that despite the best efforts of the church this town is still desperately lacking in *decent* men," he hissed.

Daniel nodded with a frown "...unfortunately so."

He took a breath and squeezed him again, before standing and pushing his hair back, straightening his coat. "So I will have to rely on you, I'm afraid."

"I'll do my best not to let you down, Sasha." He pat his shoulder with a smile

"I have great belief in you my friend," he said with a little smile. "And I will help you too, in any way I can."

Daniel nodded "Indeed, my friend. I'll take all the help you can give, and strive to help in return."

Sasha nodded. "Thank you, my friend. Was there anything else that you needed to tell me? I'm sorry that I.... was distraught."

"It's...quite alright. I could mention the...illicit novels I found in Morozov's house. Or the....fact that..." He frowned "he disowned his own son to be a prostitute on the streets."

He closed his eyes. "I feel a great hatred welling in my chest, Daniel."

"That's about the way I've been feeling the last day or so, Sasha." he nodded slowly

he closed his eyes. "I'll take Lydia to our Aunt's house. I'll sedate her if necessary."

"understood. I'll warn her ahead of time. Your aunt..."

"You're going to see her today?"

"She's on our list.." Daniel sighed "which, due to our assailant is sort of...thrown off."

"Ah. A busy schedule," he nodded. "I can hardly blame you. Please. I'll take care of things here. it's imperative that you continue your work."

"Indeed." Daniel said with a weak smile "I appreciate the understanding. We only have two weeks...less if we count the danger of the infection's spread."

"If we're moving Lydia from the house, I can use it to temporarily expand my clinic space as needed. In fact-- that makes an excellent excuse."

"it certainly does." Daniel said "...your manor can become a temporary hospital."

"So that's one way I can help," he nodded. "Let me know if you think of anything else. And I'll do the same. Don't be afraid to send a messenger. I'll pay for it."

Daniel smiled "you're a good man, Sasha. I'll be sure to do so."

He smiled back. "I do try. Alright. I won't keep you."

He opened the door gently.

Daniel stepped out into the clinic. "If you hear of anything, let me know."

"The moment I do," he nodded gravely, stepping out with him.

They caught Fenya bustling around the patients-- it looked like she was both making them more comfortable, and taking samples.

Daniel waved with a smile "hello, Fenya!"

"Welcome back, doctors. I hope I didn't overstep my bounds."

"Not at all," Sasha shook his head. "I appreciate the assistance. I should get a nurse in here some day."

"you should, especially if you're turning this place into a proper hospital for a time." Daniel winked.

"I'll see what I can do," he said with a smile. "Good luck with the rest of your day."

Fenya gathered her things up. "You too."

Daniel nodded "you as well, Sasha. I'll see you about."

Sasha bid them another farewell, and a moment later Fenya and Daniel were out in the streets again.

"I told him about his sister...he's going to help us get her to Katrina."

"That's good-- right?" she asked. "That... also explains what I heard through the door."

"hmm?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

"I could just tell that Sasha was distressed."

"he was. He ...had no idea."He sighed "and was in quite the state. But I comforted him."

"Well, I’m honestly glad he didn't know," she said. "Losing the town's only other doctor as our ally would have been..... bad."

"it would have been...less than ideal." he agreed "and I like Sasha."

"Agreed," she nodded. "So as much as it may hurt him, I'm glad he didn;t know and not care. That would have been heartless."

"indeed...it would have been horribly heartless." He walked towards the farmhouse. "

Fenya followed him at a quick clip-- she actually seemed to be moving faster than before the leg incident.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...how are you feeling, Fenya?"

"Honestly? I'm feeling rather energized. Maybe it's all the chaos."

"As am I." he mused "you're moving faster than I've seen you move since... you know. the incident."

"Oh... ah... I hadn't noticed," her ears flicked embarrassedly. "Should I...pace myself?"

"no... I'm just wondering if it's perhaps an effect of that medication."

"I hadn't even considered it!" she said thoughtfully.

"perhaps I'll give it a try, myself."

"I can make up some more this evening if you like."

"Perhaps" he chuckled "that sounds like a good plan to me."

"Need a little pick me up?" she asked with a smirk.

"After today?" he smirked back "you're damned right I do."

"and you deserve it," she said as they turned down the path to the farm. "remember that it ah... made me a bit loopy when I took it."

"Then I hope you forgive me if i start purring." he said in amusement

Her ears flicked and she chuckled. "Of course."

He chuckled with her. "Regardless, it seemed like a pleasant experience."

"I can't complain about it honestly," she agreed as they made their way up the farm path.

There was no one waiting for them outside today. Neither Darchick nor farmhand.

"it's quiet today." He said as he approached the door.

"So it is," Fenya nodded. "I hope everything's alright."

Daniel knocked at the door "I suppose we'll see in a moment.."

Darya answered the door, the baby in the sling around her chest as usual. "You're a bit late for breakfast."

"I'm afraid we had a run in with a ...rather diseased man who split his head open"

"How... unfortunate," she sniffed. "well, don't stand around on the porch all day, come in."

She waved them into the house.

Daniel stepped inside, and looked around "things are...quiet today." He noted

She sighed. "you'll want to talk to Konstantin about that. The hands are leaving left and right. And one of em's cursed."

"...one of them got sick, then?"

She nodded. "Didn't get out of bed this morning," she explained as she led them to the kitchen.

"and is trapped in a dreaming coma, no doubt." He sighed "damn it all."

"I expect you'll want to examine him?" she sniffed, making them plates of cold bacon and toast.

Daniel nodded "indeed. We have...2 weeks to solve this little puzzle."

"Why two weeks?" she asked.

"Thank you," Fenya murmured as they were offered their plates.

"That's as long as the quarantine I wrangled out of the Governor will last...and likely about how long the ever worsening sick will survive without intervention...given that I don't have enough hands to take care of them all."

Darya shook her head. "Then it truly is the end of the town...."

"Not if I can bloody help it." Daniel snorted "...this town's not *doomed*. It just needs saving."

"Well as I said yesterday, doctor Delgrave if anyone's going to save it, it seems like you've been nominated."

"it certainly seems so, given how the town's every problem has been dropped on my lap the last few days."

"Every problem, doctor?" she asked, sitting down and rocking the body.

"It seems so." He chuckled darkly "Interpersonal drama...heinous actions...the town's sordid past and troubled future. And this disease."

"You're a busy man," she said.

"Too busy." he shook his head "I hardly know how I'll fit it all into a day."

"maybe a time limit will do you good then," she smirked.

"mmm." Daniel drawled "what can be better than being on a deadline?"

Fenya shook her head with a wry smirk. "I don;t know about you, doctor, but back at the university I tend to furry to finish my work the night before its due."

Daniel chuckled, "I suppose i've been guilty of the same in the past."

"Mmm," Darya shook her head. "Well, I'm not your teacher."

"Thank hell for that." Daniel chuckled, and took a bite of his bacon "....still, the deadline will keep us on track."

It was cold, but still crispy and good. Darya nodded. "Good then. I assume you're just as busy today."

"A tad." Daniel said "we have a whole itinerary that we've been thrown off of."

"By the man with the head injury you mentioned?"

"indeed. We had to take him to Sasha's clinic." He shook his head "...if only he hadn't tripped."

"I suppose you can't expect much grace out of a husk," Darya snorted.

"No, I suppose you can't. He was walking in his bloody sleep."

"Of course. His black heart taking the place of his true heart."

"mm..." Daniel frowned "...we do have evidence of the heart and blood turning black."

"See?" she shrugged. "I told you didn't I?"

"you did. I think we're talking about the same thing from different contexts."

She seemed to think about that for a moment, and then nodded. "I suppose we are. I wonder if you'll have any success treating a curse as a disease."

"I'm going to find the bloody heart of the town and see what I can do to cure it." he said with a thin smile "so yes. I think I will."

"if you find it, doctor, I want to see it."

"the heart?" Daniel nodded 'Indeed. At the moment we're trying to find anything the Masters left behind for a clue."

"The heart," she nodded. "As for anything the masters left-- I imagine most of Mistress Nika's things would be with the Tadibyovs. She married Morozov, but she doted on her birth family. When Vadim and I were small she would cart him around in her arms..."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "is that so?"

Darya nodded, a bit of a distant look in her eyes as she recalled it. "Mmhmm."

"Tell me about that."

"About her and Vadim? or her and the Tadibyovs in general?"

"FIrst her and Vadim, then the Tadibyovs, if you don't mind."

"Well... she treated Vadim like a son. She spent more time with him even than his mother as far as I know."

"They must have been quite close." He said "do you know why?"

"I'm afraid not. But she highly favored him over Andrei, her actual-- child? grandchild? I'm not actually sure."

"hmm." He nodded slowly "I suppose that makes some matters make a bit of sense."

"Oh?"

"Andrei's ....obsession...with foreign culture, for example."

Darya raised her eyebrow. "I'm not sure I follow,, doctor."

"As a way to lash out against not being favored by his mother, or grandmother or whatnot." Daniel shrugged "...rejecting your Nika's ways in favor of something new and grand on the outside."

"...I suppose that could make sense," Darya considered.

"Regardless...why don't you tell me about the family."

"the mistress was basically in charge, which, yes, made her the one in charge of two of the most powerful families in town."

"...." Daniel raised his eyebrow "a lot of power for one woman."

"She and the others ran the town completely," she said. "The mayoral office was a formality. A figurehead. as were any town officials aside from Iosef of course."

"And this was a good way for the town to be?"

"Why wouldn't it be?"

"...one thing I've noticed , all across Gaea, is when power sits in the hands of the few for too long, it's only natural that corruption will start to spread."

"So you think it's more beneficial to burn the whole system to the ground and start over constantly? Like at the capitol?"

Daniel snorted "no. Not in the least. But there's such a thing as a system that changes without growing stagnant OR being utterly decimated and rebuilt every few years."

"I'll believe it when I see it," she snorted.

"I thought you might say that." Daniel shook his head "still. I'll be investigating the system more while I suss out this bloody heart."

"That's your prerogative I suppose, doctor."

"Indeed." Daniel said, standing after finishing his plate. "...would you happen to have anything of Nika's? I know you were quite close."

"A few trinkets," she admitted. "I have... a necklace with some of the ashes..."

"...the ashes? might I see these 'trinkets'?"

"I suppose," she frowned. "Assuming you're not going to steal them or take them apart."

"When have I ever done such a thing?" He said with a smile "never."

"Hmmm. I'm watching you, doctor." she said, standing. "wait here and I'll bring what I have."

"thank you, Darya." he purred

She headed out of the room, leaving Daniel and Fenya alone for the moment.

"Well. things are spreading, just as we feared."

"That's very clear," she sighed. "But Darya's being... somewhat helpful at least?"

"she is. Even if it's clear we still disagree on things."

"I suppose you can disagree and still get along after a fashion..."

Daniel chuckled "indeed. You can. Once you get to know one another a little better, you can work past your differences in opinion."

"Especially when you have important things to ask about," she nodded with a smirk.

"Like the fate of a town?" he said with a trace of amusement

"A little bird told me that might be a factor."

"A little bird, hm?"

"Alright maybe it was all the damned fog," she chuckled. "Still."

"Still." he said with a shake of his head "your foggy bird is certainly right."

Darya came back into the room with a small box in her arms.

"Darya, welcome back." Daniel nodded his head

She nodded. "Not getting up to any trouble while I was gone I trust," she said, setting her box down on the table and clearing away their empty plates.

"Just talking about our investigation. that's all." he chuckled softly

"I imagine it's preoccupying."

The box didn't have a lid, and there were several items inside. A necklace, a small dish of stones, some letters, and a stuffed wolf.

".....a stuffed wolf?"

"It was hers," she explained. "Given to me many years ago. But I did not know if you would want to see it or not. So I brought it."

"...no, i did want to see it." he said, and picked it up to look it over "it's cute."

It was about a foot tall, and quite carefully made, obviously by hand. A pretty girl wolf in an elegant dress.

"is it meant to represent anyone?"

Darya shook her head gently. "She often made dolls."

"She was a dollmaker? how interesting." Daniel mused, and looked it over for anything interesting.

The clothing was in the quality of real clothing, simply smaller cut. It felt surprisingly heavy when he held it.

Daniel turned it over, and lifted it's dress "but why's it so heavy?"

"I've always just assumed it was filled with something--either to keep it seated or as part of a spell," Darya shrugged. "Mistress Nika said it would watch over me."

"....may I take the dress off it, and see if I can ascertain?"

Darya raised her eyebrow. "Take her dress off?"

"So I can get a better look at the doll itself and see if perhaps I can figure out what it's bloody filled with."

She sniffed. "if you must, I suppose."

Daniel took the dress off the doll, and looked at it critically.

below the dress the doll was furless, the body being instead made of a simple silken fabric.

There was a dark stain over where the heart would have been.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and pressed at the spot where the heart would have been "...a stain?"

It was blood. Definitely old, dried blood.

".....there's blood on this doll, Darya."

Darya peered over him. "You're right." She didn't sound concerned.

"do you know why that could be?"

"Part of the spell, I assume."

He hefts the doll slightly, judging the way it's filling moves.

Around 2 handfuls of what are almost certainly dried beans shifted around as he moved it, probably as Darya said-- to stabilize the sitting doll. However---

Daniel can feel a weight in the center of the doll that doesn't shift.

"...there's something inside this doll, Darya."

"And?" Darya said, looking at him with what could only be described as 'the stink eye'.

"I'm curious what it is." he shrugged

"you're not going to go tearing open my doll!" she said, pointing a finger at him.

"i'm...no." He felt around the area, trying to get a sense of its shape. "just...feeling around, that's all."

Its shaped like a *heart*. Or rather, a stylized version of one.

"...ah. It's a heart." He handed the doll and it's dress back to Darya.

Darya took the doll from him and held it protectively in her arms. "Thank you," she said, rather shortly.

"...I didn't mean to offend." He said slowly "I'm just investigating. It's a lovely doll and It's nice that you treasure it so."

Her ears flicked embarrassedly. "I *suppose* you are forgiven."

"Thank you. " he bowed his head, before looking at the other items.

He picked up the dish of stones next.

They were small, each more or less between the side of Daniel's thumb, and a marble. They were polished smooth, shiny and semiprecious- stones like quartz and lapis and onyx.

Daniel turned them over in his hands "...interesting, I suppose. Was she a collector?"

"She used them for divination," Darya said. "She had left them at my house when...."

"the church came?"

She nodded quietly into her stuffed wolf.

Holding it, especially since she seemed to have put the baby down for a nap while she got the things-- made her look much younger and more frail.

Daniel looked at her with some sympathy for a brief moment, before he offered a hand to pat her shoulder.

She didn't flinch away, she just sighed. "Anyway... yes, she used those stones for divination."

Daniel pat her shoulder. "Divining. How interesting." He mused. "...I knew a man who did similar once." "Regardless.. " He offered them to her "...is there anything of note you can tell us about them?"

"Aside from what they were used for?" she frowned thinking. "I'm afraid not."

"That makes sense I suppose." He picked up the necklace next, and looked it over.

It was a small glass vial in a clever and attractive mesh of silver wire fashioned into a pendant charm. In the bottle was a small amount of ashes.

"this would be Nika's ashes?" He said as delicately as he could.

She nodded.

"It's a lovely charm necklace." he said slowly.

"Thank you. Ivan made it for me."

"Ivan made it?"

"He's very clever with his hands," she nodded.

"I've noticed, He's putting locks on Mitya's door today."

"Oh? Did you have a break in?"

"unfortunately we did." He said with a frown "I'm not fond of it."

"No I can imagine not."

"what can you tell me about...the event."

"Nothing," she hisses, looking away.

"I know it's painful, Darya...but we're trying to help.

"No, I mean," her breath shuddered. "I wasn't there. Konstantin dragged me away."

"...ah.." Daniel sighed, running his hand through his hair. "....ah."

She closed her eyes, holding the wolf tightly.

fenya's ears were flat on the top of her head. "What about... when the church came? can you tell any of that?"

Daniel nodded, smoothing his own slightly mussed fur with a concerned frown "....you don't have to tell us, Darya. But anything you know could help..."

Darya took a deep breath. "They rode into town from the capital like an army. There must have been a hundred of them. More perhaps. The head priest immediately started trying to take charge. Making orders. Somehow they had found out about our town's practices...."

Daniel nodded slowly "....they have task forces for precisely that sort of thing."

"I had never seen a man from the church before, doctor," she said. "Not in all my life. The man who told them-- must have been some spy. I still wonder if it was Sofya..."

"Sofya?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

"Andrei's wife," she said quietly. "She's from the capitol. She was a... dance hall girl. And she follows the Horned God."

"Ah, so that explains the decor in her home." Daniel mused

She nodded, quietly. "I'm afraid that's about all I can tell you about that."

"..perhaps we'll look into it a little further." He put the necklace, carefully, down.

She nodded. "I apologize if I'm not much help, doctor," she murmured.

"You were plenty help, Darya." He said with a nod "you've told us plenty.Thank you"

"I'm glad then," she nodded. "Is there anything else you need from me today?"

Daniel picked up the letters "i just need to look through these, if you don't mind."

Darya nodded. "Of course. I don't think they'll be much help but suit yourself."

Daniel chuckled "you never know..." He read the first of them.

It was a letter from the Mistress to Darya, from perhaps ten years before. It was the same handwriting he'd seen from her before. It was long, and sympathetic, like from a relative, or a favorite teacher, talking about overcoming life's hardships. *I could change his heart, young, Darchick, but I will not.*

Daniel looked up at her "is this from after the marriage?"

"No. It's from just before."

"...ah." Daniel said, nodding his head "...that makes sense."

The letter continued to promise Darya that she was her best student, and she would keep teaching her despite Vadim's marriage, etc etc.

"It must have been a hard time for you." Daniel said "did you love him?"

"I don't know," she sighed, her shoulders slumping. "I was a young girl. I was in love with being married to him. He was like a prince. Seeing him now--- all I have is regret."

Daniel nodded '...I suppose I can understand that."

"Thank you," she sighed.

Daniel read the next, thoughtfully.

This one was from a little later, urging Darya herself to marry, or to take a lover. It was... a little bit lewd toward the middle where it talked about the health benefits.

"......." Daniel stared at it for a moment "health benefits."

It vigorously endorsed marrying a so-called 'pliable' man whom you could 'mold to your will'.

It talked about the uses such a man could have as well.

Chief among them a lack of hesitance to make up for his many inadequacies by serving her with his tongue.

"......." "......................" Daniel put the note, face down, on the table.

"Doctor?" Fenya asked curiously.

"It's not relevant to our investigation." was all he said.

"Ah," her ears flicked a little in comprehension. There was one more letter.

Daniel picked up the last letter, and read it.

*Darchick, I will be busy as usual this evening. Unfortunately due to our lesson running long the other day I will need you to be a dear and bring a jug of clear water, and my divining stones to the old cemetery sometime before sunset this evening. With thanks always, Nika*

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...what's this one about?"

Darya closed her eyes again. "It's the last message I ever received from her. The morning before--"

"...before she died." Daniel finished "...where is the old cemetery?"

"North of the post office, outside of town," she said. "No one's been buried there... since I don't know when."

"...and may I borrow the stones for a little while?"

Darya frowns. "What do you want them for?"

"I'm going to pay a visit to the old cemetery."

"You'll bring them back, right?" she asks. "Unless... **[she]** takes them?"

"of course I will." Daniel promised.

Darya hesitated, and nodded. "Alright. I.... suppose I've come to trust you enough for that doctor," she said. "But if I found out you've broken that trust it will be the last help you ever get from me."

"I won't break your trust, Darya. I promise you."

Darya nodded. "Thank you, doctor. I want to believe that what you are doing is good, and for our town's good."

Daniel nodded "...that's my intention. I'm just trying to save this town from whatever 'curse' or plague befalls it."

"I appreciate it," she said. "I hope you understand how it is... emotional for me."

"I understand completely." he said sympathetically "We're dragging up some painful memories for you I'm sure."

"Yes," she nodded. "But maybe you can help... resolve some of them."

"That's my hope, Darya. Every pain starts to ease once it's been buried."

She nodded. "Maybe you can bury this one."

"I've already got my shovel, Darya." He said dryly , with the trace of a smile "...I'll fix things."

"Thank you, doctor," she nodded. "I should go check on the baby...."

"Indeed. Tell the children that I say hello"

She nodded. "Of course. Darchick is inside today. If you have time to come tell her a story later she mentioned she'd like that." She nodded at fenya

"I'm not sure we do, but we'll certainly try."

Daniel nodded "well...our schedule's been shot, so perhaps we can push something off to tomorrow for a story." He tipped his head "we'll see , however."

Fenya smiled. "We'll reshuffle on our way out then."

Darya nodded to them and picked up the box-- leaving the bowl of stones. "I won't be surprised whether you drop by on not then."

Daniel took the bowl of stones "i'll see you later, Darya. Be safe."

Darya nodded. "And the two of you, also," she said. And then she headed out of the room.

Daniel nodded, and looked at Fenya "let's take a trip to this cemetery...tomorrow. with some supplies."

Fenya nodded back to him. "I'll put it on our itinerary. "

"thank you, Fenya" he chuckled "...busy day"

"Very.... ah, speaking of our itinerary... "

"yes, Fenya?'

"We should probably revise it a bit."

"that we should" he agreed "let's do that now"

"Alright-- do we still want to talk to Lydia today?"

"we should, perhaps...before her brother tries to move her.'

He paused "no... actually... Let's wait. We may be able to see her when we visit Katrina"

"Unfortunately, she's next on our list," Fenya sighs.

"Katrina, I mean. She's the closest."

"damn. Well....well visit and rethink how to deal with seeing Lydia later . Maybe save it for tomorrow.

She nods. "It might be advisable to give her time to adjust at any rate," she agrees. "After her WAS going to be the Osgrovs. Morozov after that."

"indeed. And I already talked to Sasha, so I suppose we visit Morozov...and his wife..next

"It's possible Mr. Morozov himself won't be there-- he may be at the fishery."

"it would give us a chance to talk to his wife without him hovering about" he mused

"we'll consider that a bonus if so then," she said. "if he's not there though we might want to track him down tomorrow."

"I wholeheartedly agree" he nodded "he can be pushed off."

"The mayor and the Rookery are on the list after that," she said, looking it over. "And we wanted to ask about the priest..."

"yes.. Perhaps the mayor will know something about them?"

"Likely," she nodded. "Though-- isn't Morozov's wife in the church?"

"....indeed, she is. She'd know for sure then"

"Why don't we ask her?"

"indeed, let's make it a point to ask"

Fenya nods and makes a note of it. "Got it."

Daniel shook his head "and what was after all that?"

"That isn't enough?"

He laughed "it's more than enough, I just wanted to make sure that was *it*."

"Thankfully," she agreed. "if we're lucky we might actually be able to get through all of it."

"And see about that story for the kid." He chuckled ".....what a day."

"That one might be tricky to fit in," she chuckled. "we should get moving. I imagine we still need to check on Elias?"

Daniel nodded, "that we do. . Hopefully quickly, given." He opened the door for her "let's go see how our patient is doing."

Fenya gathered her papers back into her bag and headed along with him out the door and into the farm field.

Daniel offered her the bowl of stones for the bag as well, as they walked towards the guest house in the back.

"My purse is getting heavy," she said with amusement as she put the stones in it. The guest house loomed distantly, shrouded in fog.

He laughed "it's reminding me that I should grab my bag....so it can become laden with this and that as well."

"The world is full of so many things," she chuckled with him.

"And a shocking number of them are important for investigation." He drawled, and pushed the door to the guest house open.

"Shockingly," he agreed. The door rattled as Daniel pushed on it.

It had been locked.

".....hm." Daniel looked for a way to unlatch it from the outside "...well this is a problem."

"So it is," Fenya frowned. "Did we ask Konstantin to lock him in yesterday? I think we might have."

"I believe we did, but we forgot to ask him for a bloody key."

Fenya made a face. "Damn.... that... was perhaps an oversight."

"...let's leave him be for now, and investigate later, when we can get the key from Konstantin."

Fenya nodded. "Alright. On to Katrina then?"

"on to Katrina." He agreed with a nod.

"I think we'll get there faster if we cut across the field. Would you like to try it?"

"Why not." he chuckled "maybe we'll entice our vampiric friend to jump us that way." he joked as he offered his arm.

"That would be convenient for our schedule,' she chuckled.

"Let's hope he has respect for our timetable then." he smirked, and walked out into the field.

They headed across the field, through the muddle field, Fenya holding her skirts around her calves.

Daniel walked, his coat swishing along his calves as they two of them trekked across the now empty fields in the hope for a shortcut

They could see the road in the foggy distance as they walked, Fenya looking this way and that in case of vampires.

Daniel couldn't help but glance about himself, looking for any movement in the fog as they headed towards the road.

They heard the sound of rustling coming distantly from the fog.

Daniel's hand went to his pistol belt, and he leaned a little closer to Fenya "Do you hear that?"

Fenya stopped moving and listened. She nodded, her ears flicking before they perked up, rotating to find the sound.

Daniel's own ears oriented towards it as he gripped the handle of his gun.

The rustling came again-- and a flock of feral crows burst out of the underbrush, soaring into the air with a great susurrus of wings and a din of squawking and calling.

Daniel winced, and stumbled a step back as they burst from the brush "Damn it!"

Fenya yelped and stumbled backwards as well. "damned birds!"

Daniel hissed, his ears flat on his head "I'm tempted to take a shot at one out of principal." he spat.

"I wouldn't blame you if you did," she said, her ears similarly flat, and her posture tense.

Daniel nodded, his tail bushed out behind him ".....birds. bah."

Fenya smoothed her own tail with her hands, watching the crows briefly blot out what little there was of the sky. "So much for convenience. I wonder why there were so many...."

Daniel walked towards the area they had all been bunched in "why don't we find out."

Daniel barely managed not to trip over it. There, huddled in the tall grass, was a lump of black cloth.

A very large lump.

Daniel frowned, and attempted to pull the cloth away "...what in hell's name?"

Body.

It was a body.

Bloody and crow pecked.

Fenya came up behind him and her voice died in her throat as she was about to speak, into a strangled noise.

Daniel's ears tipped back "......" He managed a strangled noise "...Damnation."

Fenya covered her mouth. "Oh..... oh dear...." It looked like one of the farm laborers, at least, that's how the man was dressed, from the remains of his clothes. Male. Early thirties. It was hard to tell much more with the extent of the damage-- not without examination.

Daniel bent down, and prepared a full examination "what in hell happened?"

Despite the numerous post mortem wounds inflicted by wildlife, Daniel was able to pick out the one that killed him.

A slashed throat.

A wound nearly identical to the one from the man he'd saved the first night in town.

"....a victim of our vampire." Daniel murmured "...one we couldn't reach in time."

"how long do you think he's been out here?" Fenya asked. From what Daniel could tell-- at least a day. Almost certainly less than 3.

"Not long. It would explain a few things about the state of the body. and why nobody's found the thing yet."

"They haven't exactly been working out here," she murmured.

"no, not since things started going bad." He shook his head "...if we can find a guard back on the street, we should send them to tend to the body. the poor bastard deserves a burial."

fenya nodded. "Certainly. We should send a message if we can't find a guard."

"Good plan." He stood, patting her gently on the back "...for now we shouldn't linger by the dead."

"not during a plague."

"No, certainly not," she agreed. "I... I think we're quite near the road now actually."

He nodded , and headed towards the road with a grim frown on his face "Indeed..."

Fenya walked along with him, forgetting to hold her skirt up, the hem of it getting a little muddy just before they reached the road. Fenya's shortcut had been right-- Volkov's manor was just down the street ahead of them.

Daniel looked from side to side for a guard as they crossed down the street.

Unfortunately there didn't seem to be one around-- likely most of them had been recalled in order for Volkov to brief them on the quarantine that was starting at sundown.

"....." Daniel frowned "a message it will be. Once we get to the Volkov's , I'll compose it."

Fenya nodded. "She'll almost certainly be able to get it to them quickly too."

"Given her connection to the Captain." he agreed

"Exactly," she agreed as they hurried toward Volkov manor.

"hopefully we'll have gotten there before Sasha, she could use the warning."

Fenya nodded. "I agree-- we probably have anyway. He seemed like he had a lot to sort out today."

"indeed" Daniel shook his head "a rough day for everyone"

Volkov manor loomed in the fog as they approached-- and Daniel heard the gate creak.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and walked a little closer

"Well, if it ain't the old man," a familiar little voice said as he came closer.

There, leaning on the garden gate, was Iochka.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "if it isn't the world's shortest gang leader." He smirked "How are you today, Iochka?"

He had his arms crossed and a pout on his face. "Rotten. It's your fault we can't go out, isn't that right?"

"I'm afraid so. Big Bad Daniel enforced Quarantine to stop your friends from dying of plague." Daniel drawled

Iochka snorted. "No worry for us then. Only losers get the plague."

"is that so?" Daniel said with an amused smirk.

"Tch. Obviously.:

"then you'd best take care not to catch it" Daniel said.

He snorted. "Aw get bent old man," he stuck out his tongue. "Surprised you don't have it yet."

"I'm afraid I'm not a 'loser' Iochka." He said with a smile "so I'm not at risk."

"Tch. Whatever you say old man," he grinned.

"That's right, I am the doctor here." he purred. "actually. I had a question for you , young man."

"What kind of question?" he asked suspiciously.

"about your gang and your phylacteries."

"That stuff's top secret!"

"Even if it could save your family's life?"

"........ my family's not in trouble.... are they?"

"no...not any more than anyone else." Daniel said "...but everyone in this town is in danger if we don't get to the bottom of things. It's **rotting from the inside**"

Iochka gritted his teeth. "But.... we're supposed to be safe from that stuff... because of the **phylacteries**."

"....Tell me about that, Iochka."

"First, who told you, then how they're supposed to protect you."

The little boy gritted his teeth. "He won't like me telling you...."

"who?"

he leaned in "nobody has to know you told me, Iochka."

Iochka bit his lip. "He'll know...."

"will he? and how?"

"Because he's a magician...."

"a magician. And who is this magician?"

"Well.... his name is Misha."

"....the Carver?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "...the one who died."

"He's not really dead," Iochka said.

Fenya looked.... dubious.

"he's not?" Daniel raised his eyebrow 'have you seen him?"

Iochka nodded gravely. "He showed me how to make the phylacteries."

"that ...explains how you were able to make them." He said warily "...where is he?"

Iochka shrugged. "I dunno. I only see him when he wants me to. Oh he doesn't look like he did before anymore either."

"....what does he look like? Is there any way you can convince him to speak to me?"

"He looks like **a kid**... and I donno. I could ask him next time I see him."

Daniel frowned "....a little white wolf? with pale eyes?"

"Oh! yeah that's him!" Iochka nodded. "Sounds like anyway."

"....Doesn't say much?"

"He says enough, old man."

"hm." Daniel snorted "i met him then. He gave me a coin."

The little boy cocked his head. "A coin?"

Daniel pulled it out and showed it to him "A coin."

He leaned in to look at it. "Huh.... neat."

"isn't it?" he said "....tell me more about Misha."

"He says he's going to teach me his tricks," he nodded. "He's very clever."

"....what sort of tricks?" Daniel asked.

"Well... like the phylacteries," he explained. "And he says he's going to teach me to disappear and come back like he can."

Daniel looked at Fenya with a slight frown "...and you're sure that's a good idea?"

Fenya was looking *increasingly* dubious as well.

"Why wouldn't it be?" Iochka asked.

"Things didn't go well for the Masters." He said slowly "because they let their power corrupt them."

He crossed his arms again. "I wouldn't let power corrupt me. I'd be like my dad."

"Your father is a good man, Iochka." Daniel nodded "He's a good role model. I just ...heard things...about the old Masters."

Iochka frowned. "Things like what? is this about that church stuff that they were evil? I don't believe in church stuff."

"not church stuff." Daniel shook his head. "I haven't spoken to the church at all yet. Just...stories from about town. Just don't take everything you learn at face value, hm?"

"well yeah obviously I'm not *dumb*."

"don't think you are. I just think you should be careful."

"Sure old man," he nodded. honestly seeming pretty serious.

"good." Daniel shook his head "....now how will I go about speaking to this 'new Misha'." he murmured.

Fenya shook her head. "I guess we'll have to try to figure that out."

"indeed." Daniel sat up "...Iochka. Thank you for the conversation, even if you're still an irritating little sprout." he smirked

"Yeah, no problem. Even if you're still a weird old man."

"mmm. Someday you'll be a weird old man too, kid. "

"Maybe I won't grow up. You don't know."

"you're too young to be thinking of death, young man." Daniel drawled

"who said anything about that?" he pouted.

"You'll grow up, even if you don't grow physically. It's the nature of experiences." he said with a smirk.

"Yeah whatever you say old man," he shook his head. "Don't you have something to do? or are you just gonna bother me all day?"

"I'm here to see Katrina." He said, "So if you don't mind."

"My mom? Huh."

"yes, your mother." Daniel said "if you don't mind, we'll be going in." He pointed "stay inside, however. It's quarantine. "

"I guess," he grumped, and waved to them as they passed up to the front door.

"Well, that was interesting," Fenya murmured.

Daniel nodded slowly "...very." he murmured back "...and mildly concerning, knowing what i know of this Misha."

"I'd say more than mildly...."

"indeed." he frowned "....we'll have to ...investigate."

Fenya nodded. "maybe mention it to his mother? I'm not sure.."

"i'll mention it to her, though it sounds like it involves more of this 'sorcery'."

"No kidding," Fenya agreed dryly. "You don't think it could really be the actual...."

"likely not...but whoever it is needs to be ...spoken with, regardless"

"We'll put it on the ever growing to-do list."

She knocked on the door.

He sighed "with everything we check off, we add four more"

Fenya sighed in agreement as Katrina answered the door. She was a little more put-together this time but she still smiled all too broadly.

"ooooh, it's you two again!"

"hello, Katrina, it's lovely to see you again."

"The pleasure's all mine," she cooed.

"I imagine so" he chuckled softly. "May we come in?'

"Of course of course!" she nodded, stepping aside. "It really is nice to see you both."

"Ah, you too." Fenya's ears flicked.

Daniel nodded, stepping inside with Fenya. He rubbed his neck "indeed. It's nice to see you too. You seem as gregarious as ever."

"I try to keep my spirits up," she said. "Do you prefer the parlor or the kitchen at this time of day?"

"The kitchen sounds lovely," Daniel said, brushing his hair over his flicking ear. "If you don't mind."

"Not at all," she agreed, leading them down the hall. The kitchen was spacious, and tall ceilinged. There was a small table with a few chairs around it that she gestured to.

Daniel took a seat at the table, and leaned back with a soft sigh "what a day, hm?"

"It certainly seems to be," she agreed. "My husband told me there's to be a quarantine."

"Yes." Daniel nodded once, "for the safety of the town, we're entering quarantine....until we can solve this puzzle."

"Puzzle hmm?" she chuckled. "Oh! where are my manners, can I get you two anything?"

"All disease is a puzzle, in a way." he chuckled "...you simply have to find the solution, and you save lives." He paused "coffee, perhaps?" He looked at Fenya.

Fenya nodded. "It's never the wrong time for coffee."

Katrina smiled. "My husband would agree. I could use some too."

She bustled about getting some for them all.

"you simply can't go wrong with coffee." Daniel chuckled, waiting patiently "is there anything I can help with?"

She seemed a lot steadier on her feet today-- well-- it wasn't even quite time for lunch yet so maybe that explained it. "No no, but you're a sweetheart for offering." she smiled and handed around cups of coffee. "Sugar? we're a bit low on milk i;m afraid."

Daniel took the coffee with a shake of his head "Black is just fine for me, thank you. it'll keep me awake.""

"Still falling asleep at this time of morning?" Katrina asked, putting the metal coffee carafe down on the table as she sat with them. "I know the feeling."

"It's been a long...long day already." Daniel frowned "...that...reminds me. We found a corpse in Konstantin's field."

"A....corpse?" she blinked.

"I'm afraid so," Fenya nodded.

"..yes. One of the farmhands, I believe. Killed by our 'vampire'."

"Oh dear," she frowned, her jaw tightening. "Does my husband know?"

"not as of yet. We only found out a mere moment ago.."

"Well then" Katrina sighed. "we'd better let him know...."

"Indeed. I was going to ah, send a message."

"Good idea," she nodded. "I'll put out the flag."

Daniel nodded "good plan...after that we do have more to talk about..."

"I'll be right back," she nodded and headed out of the kitchen. "Feel free to have some more coffee."

"Thank you." Daniel stood and topped off his mug. "Fenya?"

She held her mug up for him. "Please."

Daniel topped off her glass with a warm smile 'there you are." He put it down, and sat back in his chair "what a day already.."

"What a day is right," she nodded. "Peril left and right."

"Peril, corpses, revelations."

"Our schedule is already packed."

"And yet, life keeps throwing bodies and clumsy infected townspeople at us."

"It certainly does," she sighed. "We're overbooked." She sipped her coffee.

Katrina came back into the room. "There. Next guard who passes will give us a knock."

"Thank you Katrina. Your help is *much* appreciated."

"Oh I'm happy to do what I can. For both of you." She gave fenya a little wink.

Daniel chuckled, his ears flicking slightly "ah, on that note.... there is something you should expect."

"Oh? Something I should expect?" she asked curiously.

"it's about Lydia..." He said "would it be okay if she stayed with you for a while?"

"Lydia?" she raised an eyebrow. "Of course I would not mind.... is she... alright?"

"...for a given value." He said "i found some..unsettling evidence that she was being visited by someone who wasn't treating her very kindly."

Katrina, who they had real;ly only seen smiling up to now- frowned deeply. "I see. I'll get the guest bedroom ready at once. And the fucking shotgun."

Daniel nodded "...Sasha should bring her over later today. " He frowned "...it's...Andrei, if you're wondering who, so you can keep an eye out. "

Her eyes glinted. "Andrei..... Andrei *Morozov*?"

"That's the one." he frowned sharply "...I'm looking into a way to handle it, but... yes. He's been visiting her and...is likely the reason behind her bruises."

"Oh I have a way to handle it," she hissed.

Daniel nodded slowly "....indeed. But we shouldn't do anything rash just yet. There's ways to handle this legally...once I get a little more evidence, your husband can help us lock him away."

Her gaze darkened. "Normally I would question if you think the law would lock him away-- but my husband is not one to miss his man."

"That's exactly what i figured, Katrina...he's the type who wouldn't let him slip away." He frowned "I don't want to compromise either your, or anyone you know's safety with anything rash. " he paused "the man had a gun in his home, after all."

She snorted. "I'd wager I'm a better shot than he is-- but if you think you can get him without violence--- you're a better man than I."

"I think I can, as much as I wouldn't mind the other option." Daniel said "I'm a doctor. I shouldn't take life where there's another option."

"I suppose that is true," she agreed. "In any case I'm MORE than happy to look after my dear niece."

"I very much appreciate you Katrina. you've...taken a burden off my mind today."

"Thank you for looking out for Lydia."

Daniel nodded "...she's a good person. I could tell that much just from getting to know her."

"She is," she said with a sad smile. "She doesn't deserve....."

"no...she doesn't. And that's why we'll put a stop to it...it's no 'grim duty' to bear, as she implied. It's something that *will* be stopped."

"*grim duty*," her fingers clenched. "Did she say that?"

"more or less implied it" Daniel said with a frown "...From things she'd told me earlier, the letter she gave me, and the things she said when I found her...intoxicated with drugs and waiting for him"

Katrina closed her eyes, her nails digging into her palms. "A-are you alright, miss?" Fenya asked cautiously. The woman drew a breath. "Sorry."

Daniel looked sympathetic for a moment, "I'm sorry, Katrina. But we're going to stop it. that's why I talked to Sasha about convincing her to spend some time with you while I gather evidence to ...prevent it from happening."

"I thought once *the old bastard* was dead, that it would stop. That I wouldn't have to worry for her any more," she said looking away. "And now you tell me someone else has just carried it on."

"I wish I could say otherwise, Katrina." He sighed softly "but I hope perhaps I can do my part in helping bring it to a permanent end."

She nodded quietly, and took another breath. "Yes. Thank you. I'm sorry I.... I need a drink." She turned toward the cabinets, fumbling slightly. "Who wants a round?"

Daniel ran his hand through his hair "...I ah." He looked at her with a note of concern "are you sure we should be drinking this early, Katrina...Sasha and Lydia will be here later, after all."

She grimaced and paused. "It's.... just one drink," she said.

"I understand." Daniel said , "it can be tempting to have just one drink...but one drink can lead to two, to three...and so on."

Her hands were shaking gently as she grabbed the cabinet. "I'm an adult, doctor. I know my limits."

"I know you are." Daniel said "and I'm not trying to imply otherwise...but..." He sighed softly "...Katrina. Drinking heavily is not the best way to face your fears and troubles."

She didn't look at him. "And what would you suggest? As a doctor."

"As a doctor." He said slowly "I would tell you that too much drink will drive you to an early grave. It ..dulls the senses. It's not a good escape from that which troubles you, in the long run." He folded his fingers "...I don't know what exactly you're drinking to cope with" he lied "but you'll never truly heal from it as long as you cope with a bottle."

"......you sound like my husband," she said dully.

She closed the cabinet.

Daniel smiled thinly "your husband is a smart man." He sipped his coffee "...I'm simply trying to help, Katrina. this town and so many people in it have been hurt by it's past. I want to do what I can to help. And that includes you."

"I.... appreciate that," she said quietly. "Even if right now all I feel is angry and sad."

Daniel nodded, and stood to gingerly pat her on the shoulder "I understand. There's a lot to be angry and sad about... but we'll make it right. "

She nodded. "I hope.... you can do a better job of it than I did."

She sagged slightly under his hand.

"I need your help, Katrina." He said seriously "...you did a fine job, and you'll do a fine job going forward. I'm an outsider here... I can't do much on my own."

She shook her head. "What do you need?" she asked. "There's not much help that I can give...."

"information...help in keeping Lydia safe and comfortable , your backup should I ever need to confront someone. Anything you can give."

"That... I can do," she agreed with a sigh. She finally turned back toward him. She looked tired, and more than a little haunted.

Daniel nodded, and sat with her "...can I get you some more coffee?"

She slid into the chair next to him and nodded. "Yes. I think I'm going to need some more."

Daniel stood , and poured her another cup. "I imagine so." he agreed. "...here." He passed her the mug.

She took it gratefully. "Thank you. And... I apologize for my outburst." "Nothing to apologize for, right, Doctor?" Fenya said.

"It's okay." Daniel nodded 'there's nothing at all to apologize for."

"Let's just forget it happened, then," she nodded.

"Indeed." Daniel nodded. "..." He leaned on his hands for a moment "...so. Katrina...might I ask what you think of the illness going about?"

"What I think of it?" she asked. "what do you mean?"

"Just...in general, have you noticed anything about it, perhaps around the market?"

"I've definitely noticed people getting sick," she sighed.

"As have I...it's been spreading like wildfire."

"I hope the quarantine will help slow it some. My husband said that it should..."

"As a doctor, I have to agree that it should. that's...sort of why I pushed for it."

She nodded. "He said that it was your idea."

"It was...I've seen similar measures stop the spread of...less severe...diseases in small areas before. It's a good tactic."

"My husband's right too though-- it'll be hard to get people to go along with it."

"it will be." Daniel nodded slowly "...the guards will be working overtime, I'm certain."

"Yes, I probably won't see Iosya for a few days," she sighed slightly over her cup of coffee. "I hope he'll be safe."

"I hope so as well. I'll try and check on him as much as I can." Daniel nodded "he's been a big help."

"That's my Iosya," she chuckled. "Always working, always helping."

"he's a very good man, Katrina. I'm quite impressed by him in the few moments I've gotten to know him."

"He was my knight in shining armor," she said with a shy little smile.

Daniel cocked his head "yes?"

She bit her lip. "We were friends as children," she said. "He knew I didn't... want to be there. So he offered to marry me. We were quite young and...."

"It was a kind thing of him to do, it must mean a lot to you, Katrina." he said warmly, urging her to go on...but only if she wanted.

She nodded quietly. "It does. We don't have the most... typical... marriage. But I care for Iosya a great deal, and he's always looked after me."

"I ah." he nodded "got the sense that you don't have the most typical marriage from my conversation with Elizabeth." He sipped his coffee "but typical doesn't always mean 'good'. It seems you two are quite happy, and that's what matters."

"We are," she said with a smile. "Though I worry about Iosya sometimes."

"you do?" Daniel asked

"He does overwork himself."

"Something I can sympathize with." Daniel admitted

She chuckled. "You too hmm?"

"Overworking oneself is an astorian virtue," Fenya explained wryly.

Daniel chuckled "it's the national creed, I'm afraid to say." he agreed with her.

"My husband would agree with it then," she shook her head with a smile.

"indeed...but he should take care not to risk his health and safety too bad. it's...dangerous times."

"He should. If you see him-- please remind him of that for me?"

"I'll be sure to." Daniel nodded "...with all the gravitas I can manage."

She chuckled. "You seem to be good at talking to people. So I have some faith in your ability."

"He's getting better," Fenya murmured dyrly with amusement.

Daniel flushed, his ears flicking "...I've had practice, thank you Fenya." he said dryly in return. "but thank you Katrina. I do my best."

She smiled. "I can tell," she said. "but unless there's more you need-- I should get things ready for Lydia..."

"no, not at the moment.." he shook his head "unless you have any ...old documentation or items left over in the house from the..ah, bad old days., so to speak. we're following a lead."

"I can look. But I think Iosya got rid of most of them. Hmm... you could check town hall?"

"Understandably. I'll take a look around town hall, as disorganized as it is however."

"If it's disorganized, that means they won't notice if you're snooping, don't you think?" Katrina said with a small smile.

Daniel laughed out loud "...now that's a good point, Katrina."

"I have a few occasionally," she says with a smile.

"More than a few, I'd imagine." he winked "which is precisely why you'll be such a good help."

She nodded. "Good luck then. I'll let you know if I can think of anything else that will help."

"Please." He nodded "...right now we're trying to track down this fool ritual the elders performed.

"I wish I knew anything of it," Katrina shook her head. "But I'm sure if anyone can find it you can."

Fenya stood.

Daniel docked his head at Fenya. "Indeed, I'm sure that we can....Fenya?"

"We were on our way out weren't we?" she murmured. Indeed, Katrina had said she was about to go start getting things ready for Lydia.

Daniel nodded, and stood "i'll see you around, Katrina." he said as he smiled. "Good luck."

"Thank you. I hope we see each other again soon." And with the pleasantries done, they headed back out into the fog. "Danochka, I hope you don't feel like I was rushing you," she said.

Daniel shook his head "no, I don't feel you were...we are on a strict timetable, after all."

"Unfortunately," she nodded. "And the Morozov house is next. Which is likely to be a less pleasant encounter."

"...lovely." Daniel snorted "I simply *cannot wait* to talk to them."

"Oh same," she agreed dryly.

He looked at the looming manors "I'm tempted to give him a piece of my mind."

"Just one piece?" she asked as they walked past Sasha's clinic toward the Morozov's manor.

"Several, and they may end with him in a few pieces as well." he muttered.

She chuckled. "I'll help you clean up of course."

"I'm sure you have some....clever little chemicals you could use to help." he chuckled

"One or two," she admitted with a smile. The house that the night before they'd leapt out the window of was looming ahead.

"I wonder if he had any idea we ...ah...entered...the other day."

"Well i suppose it'll only be a problem if they have any idea it was *us.*."

He snorted softly "which they have no way of knowing."

"Exactly. Thanks to you, Danochka," she smiled.

Daniel smiled back "and to our ah, athleticism."

"Which certainly couldn't use any work," she smirked as they walked through the gate with the Horns on it.

Daniel looked up at them "the bloody horned god..."

"Bloody is right," Fenya muttered in agreement.

"I wonder...if his wife truly did call the church." he mused as he approached the door.

"I wonder if there's any way to know," she offered as she followed him up to the doorstep.

"we could always ask...or find some documentation, perhaps." he mused, knocking on the door.

Fenya made a soft noise of agreement, standing beside him as they waited for the door. A moment later a woman answered. She had certainly been beautiful once. She clearly took great pains to remain so. Pale fur and a long cascade of hair, in a stiffly structured dress. "May I help you?"

Daniel dipped into a gentle bow "Good day, Ma'am. My name is Daniel Delgrave. Astorian Doctor. May I come in?"

She blinked. "Oh! Goodness I was not expecting a doctor... Oh wait... the Astorian?"

"The Astorian." He said with a little smirk "yes, that's me."

"My husband mentioned you might drop by.... oh.... but he's at work now...."

"that's quite alright." Daniel smiled "can we speak with you?"

"Oh well... I suppose," she said. She looked him over with a curious smile.

Daniel bowed his head "I very much appreciate it, ma'am."

"Well come on in. Your lady too."

"Ah... I'm professor Evgenii-Smythe, his associate," Fenya mumbled.

Daniel cleared his throat "ah yes. She's a professor at the University. and my associate."

"Your associate then," the woman smiled, gesturing for them to follow her into the hall. "I'm Sofya. if you didn't know yet."

Daniel stepped inside "Sofya, I believe I may have heard of you in passing once or twice." he said, telling a half truth.

"My husband probably mentioned me," she said, giggling a little vapidly.

She led them into the kitchen they'd been in the night before.

"oh, Likely." He said with a chuckle, as he looked around as if it were the first time "what a lovely home you have."

"Why thank you!" she cooed. "Would you like some tea?"

She gestured to the table and chairs. "Have a seat, both of you."

"I'd love some tea." Daniel said, taking a seat at the table.

Fenya settled in with him. "Yes, thank you very much." The pretty woman bustled around the kitchen pleasantly. "Won't be too long. So-- to what do I owe the house call?"

Daniel leaned in his chair "well. a few things. We wanted to introduce ourselves...and perhaps ask for permission to look around."

"To look around?" she asked curiously.

"This is the home of the late Mistress, is it not?" he mused "or...one of them, at least."

"oooh, you mean Miss Nika?" she asked. "Yes.... that's true...."

"We were hoping to examine any of her things that still remained. We're...following a trail to find the scientific root to the old legends, in the hopes that we can cure this plague."

She put sugar and milk on the table. "Oh, that's interesting. Like that folklore professor?"

"...not in the same way. He was only interested in the stories." He put his hand to his chest "I simply want to find the source of this infection...which I believe stems from the earth itself."

"The infection?" she cocked her head blinking wide blue eyes. "Oh.... is it really that serious?"

"Dreadfully so. The town's already succumbing to it...countless people are sick."

She covered her mouth gently. "That's *terrible*."

Fenya fought not to roll her eyes.

"it's less than ideal." Daniel agreed.

"But how would looking at Andrei's grandma's things help?"

"...." Daniel paused a long moment "...because the taint in the land seems connected to whatever those 'masters' were doing out there every month."

She was quiet for a moment and then giggled. "But that's ridiculous! it was all just superstitious nonsense, you know?"

"All superstition comes from a root of truth. A scientific fact under all the bluster and boasting. What those people did involved the poisoning of the earth, so it's only natural to visit the site where it was done."

"Poisoned the earth?" she asked, sounding surprised. "What do you mean?"

Daniel chuckled "Didn't I mention? This infection is in the trees. In the soil. Likely in the water and the fish as well."

She covered her mouth again. "But that's *terrible!*"

"Already said that," Fenya muttered, almost inaudibly.

"yes, it's less than ideal." Daniel said again

"And you wanted to see Nika's things so you can get rid of it?"

"that's right." Daniel said slowly

"well I'm not sure there's much... after we got married she lived with her maiden family again."

"hm." He thought for a moment "still...there is the big portrait of her."

Fenya elbowed him in the ribs, just before Sofya spoke. "oh! you saw it coming in huh?" she smiled.

"Yes." Daniel said "and I heard about it secondhand as well while asking around about her."

"Oh! well I guess it is a pretty fancy painting. It's in the parlor if you'd like to see it. We could take tea there?"

"I'd *love* to." Daniel said with a smile.

"Marvelous!" she cooed. She poured the hot water into the china tea kettle and put it on a cart. "Lets then!"

Daniel nodded, and went to go follow her. "thank you very much, ma'am."

Fenya stood and followed them both. As they moved between rooms she whispered to Daniel, "Not the sharpest needle in the drawer is she?"

Daniel chuckled, and nodded at her. "mmmhm."

`The parlor was quite handsome and tasteful, with a large bar area-- though upon inspection there were more mixers than alcohols. There were several shelves full of books, and a large portrait adorning one wall.`

Sofya parked the tea cart, and sat down in one of the stiff, rather astorian styled armchairs.

Daniel looked up at the portrait "oh it's a *lovely* portrait , Sofya."

"My husband's grandfather," she nodded. "and his wife of course."

"oh of course. the MIstress, Nika, yes?"

"yes that's her alright. I wish I had her good breeding. Effortlessly beautiful until the very end...."

"I think it was more than simply good breeding." he mused "....but.."

"Yes?" she asked with a smile. She poured tea for each of them.

"I think it was more a matter of them finding a process of ...extending one's life span."

"You think they really did?" She asked, handing him a cup of tea.

"It's possible. I briefly knew a man who wouldn't die no matter how many times he was put down."

"Goodness! seems like the men trying to kill him weren;t too efficient!"

"They were plenty efficient." he chuckled "but he just had a way of coming back."

"Goodness," she repeated. "And you think MIss Nika was like that?"

"Likely, in some way, shape or form at least." He mused "I need to examine the evidence. it's a shame the church burned her body...I would have liked to examine it."

"Hmmm.... I think my husband might have an urn somewhere...."

"i may be able to get something from her ashes." he mused "but still...a cadaver would have been nice."

She giggled. "That's the first time i've heard someone hope for a dead body, sir."

"I'm a doctor." he chuckled "We're ...odd."

"I wouldn't say odd," she said, batting her eyelashes. "Just differently charming."

Fenya once again. looked like she was trying desperately not to roll her eyes.

Daniel chuckled softly "well...thank you for the compliment, Sofya." He smiled "Do you know of anything in the house that she may have left behind? besides her ashes."

"Maybe some quilts?"

"quilts? Was she fond of...sewing?"

"Oh yes she seemed very crafty," she nodded. "She made quilts and dolls and things...."

"I've seen one of her dolls" He mused "It was well made."

"yes they were very charming," she nodded. "She made one for-- well.... I've seen them." She smiled tightly.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "who did she make one for?"

She shook her head. "Please, don't worry about it. Just... someone I knew."

Daniel looked sympathetic "someone you lost?"

"Yes," she nodded, looking away, downcast. "It's still painful to discuss I'm afraid."

"I'm terribly sorry, I hadn't heard anything of the sort around town"

She shook her head, not looking at him. "It isn't something we speak of."

"I'm ...very sorry to hear that" he said again "I heard you were from the capital" he changed the subject

She nodded. "Yes, I was born there. My husband and I met while he was there for business."

"tell me about that" he urged

She smiled again looking up and sipped her tea. "Well, I was a dancer you know."

"a dancer? How exciting" he chuckled

"Oh yes, it was," she agreed happily. "I was rather famous in the capital. 'The Beautiful Diva Sofya'."

"the beautiful Diva Sofya" he chuckled "I imagine your shows must have been...ah, quite the attraction in the capital" He shook his head "and your husband attended one?"

"He did," she nodded, reminiscing. "he was at the last show of the week and he sent me flowers after...."

"I imagine you got plenty of flowers" he chuckled "did these catch your eye?"

"I did get *very* many flowers," she chuckled. "But they did. Most men send roses, which you'd expect. But he sent lilies."

"ahhh" Daniel nodded with a slight smile "I see."

"I decided that I wanted to meet him. and so...."

Daniel nodded "and here you are. Out in the country in a lovely manor home"

She chuckled. "It wasn't instant of course, but he really won me over. My Andrei was too adoring and passionate to resist."

Fenya hid her grimace behind a drink of tea.

Daniel did the exact same, taking a long drink of tea "indeed"

"And it may not be as exciting here as it is in the capital but he's certainly taken good care of me."

"Ah, loyal man?" He asked

She smiled, and tossed our hair. "He's a man of his word."

Fenya caught Daniel's eye.

Daniel glanced at Fenya at that comment. "Mm".

"He's a sweetheart to me, really," she chuckled.

"I imagine so" Daniel mused , briefly lost in thought "he seems like a...busy man, however"

'Yes... especially lately," she sighed.

"oh? How so?"

"Well today he sent me a message that the workers were threatening a revolt...."

"hm" Daniel raised his eyebrow "now why is that?"

"Something about the governor trying to shut the fishery down...."

Daniel tugged his collar "haha..ah. uh. " He nodded "quite"

"Are you too warm, doctor?" she cooed. "I could open the window."

"oh no, certainly not." He said "...so the workers are rioting, hmm?"

"Threatening to," she sighed. "I heard half the guard was called in."

Daniel grimaced "oh. Wonderful. I can only imagine how pleased the Captain is going to be."

"Have you met the captain, doctor?" she asked with a smile

"yes, he and I already are getting along famously" Daniel said

"Oh really?" she smiled. "I'm so pleased to hear it! He's always struck me as rather glum and foul tempered...."

"it's just his way" Daniel chuckled "as one workaholic to another , we reached an accord."

"Not a man of idle comforts, doctor?"

"I find my comfort in a hard days work and progress " he murmured into his tea

And the occasional chemical cocktail , he didn't mention.

"What a shame," she cooed.

Fenya straightened up a bit in her chair. "In astoria, progress is more respected than it is here."

Daniel nodded "progress is the backbone of our society. Development , Science, progress, and the ever hopeful future of our people."

She smiled. "Well that sounds nice and all, but I'd rather do work that's fun and easy."

Fenya rolled her eyes.

"to each their own. But the future isn't born from the easy path" He shook his head "still. I understand the Captain"

"That's good to hear. I fear he won't be making any new friends today."

Daniel smiled thinly "He's doing something...important, however."

"Yes, it certainly seems so," she nodded. "My husband doesn't even disagree with the closing-- it's the workers who are revolting."

"I imagine they're upset at the loss of two week's pay." Daniel mused

"I imagine so," Sofya sighed. "Some of them likely have spent all their money on alcohol and none in savings."

"I'll see what I can do about rationing. I...did start the quarantine, after all." he murmured "I did discuss some with the Governor before we enacted it."

"Oh, goodness, you did?" she asked, blinking.

Fenya muttered, "shouldn't that have been obvious?"

"yes." though it was unclear who he was responding to for a moment. "Yes, I was the one who ordered the quarantine. It's to stop the spread of infection, after all."

"That certainly makes sense," she nodded. "BUt it's so troublesome...."

"Better to be troubled than dead, Sofya." Daniel said.

"I'm sure that's what my husband is telling his workers," she sighed.

"And he's right." Daniel said with a nod.

"Well... I hope it all works out in the end."

"It will, if I have anything to say about it." he said "which is why I need as many of Nika's things as I can find."

"I wish I could help you more with that... I could get some of the quilts if you like."

"please, if you don't mind."

She nodded and put her tea down. "I'll be just a moment."

Daniel sipped his tea, and nodded with a smile.

She hopped up and headed out of the room, humming, leaving Daniel and Fenya alone for the moment.

Daniel looked at Fenya with a longsuffering glance.

Fenya answers it with her own. "What a day."

"What a day indeed." he said "...I wonder how much we'll find here."

"I'm not certain the woman was hiding clues in her quilts.... we've learned a lot about Sofya though."

"we certainly have. Quite a few interesting tidbits."

"I'll be interested in your thoughts, Danochka."

"i'll have a few to share, perhaps on this walk of ours."

"A good idea," she nodded. "Oh! don't forget to ask her about the priest...."

"ah, yes, we can't forget that." he chuckled "thank you Fenya."

"I expect secretarial back pay from your department when we return," she smirked.

"I'll be sure to put in a good word for you." he said with a warm chuckle. "and make sure you're properly paid for having to spend your time with me."

"I'm a little nervous to see the rates on that," she teased.

"oh i'm sure they're simply sky high." Daniel joked.

"Only perhaps if you're going to be *charging* me."

"And your rates, Fenya?" he teased

"What do *you* think, Danochka?" She grinned-- just as they heard the footsteps return.

Daniel winked at her, before he turned towards the door with a smile.

Sofya returned with an armful of quilts. "here we are. I believe all of these were Nika's work...."

Daniel looked the first of them over with a raise of his eyebrow.

She put them down on a nearby free chair. "There you are. You can look through them."

There were 4-- neatly folded.

Daniel picked up the first, and opened it up "thank you Sofya. You're a saint.'

The first one was a complex pattern bearing a white tree in bloom, with flowers around it and a complicated border.

"I wonder if that's the tree in the grove." he mused.

"It certainly looks like one of the grove trees," Fenya agreed. "Oh yes," Sofya nodded. "The townsfolk are basically obsessed with them."

"they're said to have some interesting properties, or so I've heard." he looked over the border.

It looked a bit like a pattern of vines-- but there didn't seem to be any meaning in it. "Yes, they believe they're the bodies of their ancestors or something."

Daniel folded it, and checked the next one "...the bodies of their ancestors?"

"Yes, that's where all their remains are buried-- or part of them, I think? it's unclear to me. Heathen ways and all."

The next blanket was a simple (well quite complex) pattern of shapes and colors. It was very attractive, but probably not very useful.

"lovely blanket." he murmured as he set it aside "...heathen ways. Hm...that actually brings something up for me... ah." He paused "you worship the horned god, don't you?'

"I do," she nodded. "It's how I was raised, though most folk out here take some issue with it."

"I imagine, given the ...response the Church had to their local customs."

"yes, it's a shame things had to happen so violently," she sighed. "It really ruined the church's chance here."

"I have to wonder how they found this little town." he mused "it's quite far from their other outposts in Mosgrav."

"It's true," she nodded. "I was awfully surprised that they showed up at all."

"Do you have any idea what drew them?" he asked

"Perhaps they sent out missionaries?" she said. "I suppose it never occured to me to ask."

"speaking of....is there a priest in town?"

"Just one," she sighed. "He's a novice. Or at least he was 5 years ago. I'm not sure if he's ever been promoted."

"A novice priest stuck in the middle of a town slowly succumbing to illness. Not an ideal position to hold."

"No, I should imagine he's having as hard a time as the rest of us," Sofya nodded.

"where might we find the man?"

"Oh, his house is at the cross street across from the village green and the road leading to the church ruin."

"Perhaps we'll give him a visit." Daniel nodded, and checked the next blanket.

The next blanket was--- it was a large **heart** with four crests picked into it. Around the border were a series of little lines.

Hold on.... no those weren;t just lines-- those were more of the *mosgravan alchemical script*.

"......Fenya, look at this..."

"Hmm?" She came nearer and pushed up her glasses. "Oh... is that....?"

"it's more of that alchemical script." he murmured. "...we should try and translate it."

"yes we ought to...." she frowned. "Oh! did you find something?" Sofya asked.

"we may have. May we take this blanket with us?"

"Oh! well I suppose so," she nodded. "Andrei spoke very highly of you, so as long as you bring it back I don't see that there's any harm."

"I'm so glad." he purred "it's much appreciated, Sofya."

"Is my pleasure. I'm glad they could be of some use!"

"as am I!" he chuckled "you've been a great help>"

"Please let me know if there's anything else I can do!"

Daniel looked at Fenya, inquisitively

Fenya tapped her lip, and then shook her head.

"If you see your husband, tell him it's best to stay inside for a while." he smiled

"Of course," she nodded. "And I'll do the same."

"good, good." he nodded back "it's much appreciated on both your counts."

"Of course," she cooed. "you should visit again. It's been rather nice."

"it has" he chuckled "I'm sure I'll visit again soon" He shook his head "but we have quite the day ahead of us"

"A pity, but I suppose it can't be helped," she nodded. "Shall I see you out then?"

"thank you" he nodded his head "I'd like that"

Sofya smiled and offered him her hand. "Right this way, both of you."

Daniel tucked the blanket under his arm, and took her hand to stand "I hope you have a lovely day."

She stood, beaming at him. "Thank you, doctor. You too!"

She led them to the door.

Daniel bowed his head respectfully before he turned to head out "until next time"

"Toodles!" she cooed.

And then Fenya and Daniel were back out in the foggy town.

Daniel walked alongside Fenya for a moment before he said "...toodles."

Fenya covered her mouth as she snorted. "*Toodles*."

"...she was certainly...." He paused, not quite able to find the word to describe the 'Diva Sofya'.

"She certainly was," Fenya agreed, her voice dripping with obvious disdain.

"she didn't seem to take ...much...seriously."

"No she certainly did not. She seemed very..... vapid."

"nice enough but...yes. I have to agree she certainly seems to...take it easy on the intellectual side of things"

"I suppose you can't expect too much from a dancer."

"I suppose not" he chuckled "I'm surprised she moved out here"

"Must have been the smell of money."

Daniel chuckled "...the smell of money, indeed." He shook his head "..i wonder if she knows what her husband's been up to."

"I'm not entirely sure," she frowned. "I know which option I like less."

"Neither is...ideal." He murmured "what did you think of her?"

"Besides that she's an idiot? I wonder how much is an act...."

"That's exactly what I was wondering." He mused "she might be sharper than she lets on."

"If that's the case...."

"Then we'll have to take care with what we say around her," he murmured.

"We will," she nodded. "Ah, I assume we're off to the priest next?"

Daniel nodded "yes, we might as well visit this 'novice priest."

She nodded. "It fits nicely in our schedule here at least..."

"It does." He chuckled "For having our timetable shot to hell, we're not doing bad."

"No we're not," she said, pulling her watch out of her cloak briefly. "It's only about 2 in the afternoon."

"and how far down the list are we?"

"We only have the priest, the mayor and the rookery. We might actually get back to the Chernoff's for dinner."

"I suppose the young one will get her story then." he chuckled

"If we continue to have good luck this afternoon."

"...we can only hope" he sighed. "we're doing well so far."

"Let's not dwell on it, lest anything happen," she chuckled. "Did you have any more thoughts about our latest encounter?"

"I wonder who it is she was going to mention." he mused "her boy?"

"Tomya," she nodded. "That's my guess anyway."

"yes." he mused "...it's my guess as well. It would make sense, given how he was...favored...by Nika."

"Yes, it makes an unfortunate amount of sense."

"it does." he frowned "...she talked like he was dead."

"It's either how she feels, or what she wanted us to think..."

"hm. Perhaps we'll have to ask around some.

"The priest might know something. If she talks to him at all."

"given that she's one of the few faithful around, I imagine they're on good terms."

"One would imagine so," she agreed.

"If that's the case we may be able to learn a bit more.."

"We'll try, certainly. Speaking of which...."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "yes?"

"I didn't expect to find a clue in the form of a quilt-- did you?"

"no I certainly didn't...but it's *absolutely* a clue" he smirked

"....i just wonder what the text translates to."

"Same. We have a lot of translating to do."

"we certainly do. Between the dagger and this bloody blanket, we'll be up all night transcribing ancient sorcerer nonsense."

"And we won't even get to sleep in tomorrow."

"It'll be just like university again," he drawled.

"How delightful," she said as they came to the crossroads. The priest's house was across the street. In hindsight it was surprising they'd missed it-- there was a large pair of iron horns.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...there it is. The horned god's priest. A wonder we didn't see it the day before."

"I think we've often been in a bit of a hurry around here."

"..." he looked around "this is where the bastard clown often is, isn't it?" he murmured

Fenya nodded. "It is. Though he seems to have gone for now at least."

"thank hell." Daniel murmured "I couldn't deal with him today."

"No, he'd certainly ruin our schedule."

"The man's nothing but a walking distraction." he snorted, stepping up to the doorway.

The house was smaller than the manor's they'd been visiting, but it was tidy and well kept. There was another sign of horns on the door.

Daniel knocked at it with a raise of his eyebrow "and here we are."

A moment later a rather young and slender looking bear man answered the door. He was wearing simple garments and looked tired. As tired as a senior with a thesis deadline. "Ah.... good afternoon?" he hazarded.

Daniel looked him over with a raise of his eyebrow "...good afternoon. My name is Daniel Delgrave of the Astorian University."

"And I'm Professor Evgeni-Smythe of the same," Fenya introduced.

"It's a pleasure to meet you both," the man murmured. "I'm father Viktor. How can I help you?"

"May we speak to you for a moment?" Daniel asked 'We won't take too much of your time."

"Ah... certainly," he said. He looked over his shoulder into the house, and then stepped out onto the porch area, clicking the door shut behind him.

Daniel raised his eyebrow at him.

"Is it alright if we talk out here?"

"it *is* plaguetime." Daniel said "...the streets may not be entirely safe."

"I... suppose," he agreed. "Alright but, please do forgive me the mess."

"I'd never judge another man's home." Daniel purred. in front of him.

"Me either," Fenya said... possibly insincerely.

The father nodded. "Ah, thank you." He clicked the door open and led them into the hall.

Daniel stepped inside, and the first thing he did was take a bit of a look around.

The walls were covered with **paintings**. Many of them seemed to be of the town, and quite a few of them featured **fire**.

Daniel raised his eyebrow . That was... one hell of a theme.

Fenya had a similar expression on her face. "I... like to paint," he confessed. He led them to a parlor room where many of the chairs were covered in paint tubes and blank canvas. There were more paintings on the wall, and one on an easel, apparently in progress.

"As I said, pardon the mess."

"Nothing wrong with a creative streak." Daniel said with a note of caution. He looked at the one 'in progress' "interesting recurring theme."

The one in progress was similar to a number of the paintings in the room, rather than the hall. While there were still many with fire and a few with **suffering figures** the ones in here, and the one in profess in particular showed a hunched and twisted figure in handsome clothes, blood on their mouth and hands.

"Is..." Daniel said in a puzzled voice "that the vampire?"

Father Viktor nodded. "Yes... there's.... been talk of such a creature, among the public."

"I've heard." Daniel said "...and I've met it, twice now."

"You have?" he asked, perking. He chuckled slightly. "Any details for my painting?"

"A particular point of interest for you?" Daniel purred "I wouldn't have expected that from a holy man."

"Even a man of the god and goddess is allowed to have a few...interests," he chuckled. "The vampire is an adversary of good people. And that makes him fascinating."

"...I suppose that's true." Daniel chuckled softly "...well, I'll tell you that he's likely just a madman. One who's possibly infected with the plague, and acting out on whatever fell dream's come into his head."

The priest grimaces. "I wouldn't be sure of that, doctor... I've... seen things."

Daniel raised his eyebrow "...do tell."

"Let's... sit down first at least," he said, clearing off some chairs of their art supplies.

"and... you said you wanted to talk to me about something?"

Daniel took a seat on one of the chairs "it can wait until we wrap up the current topic." He said "the vampire is of...interest...to me as well."

"Alright," he nodded, sitting in his high backed chair. "Its... well... do you know about the incident?"

"The burning of the town's old leadership?" Daniel purred.

Viktor nodded gravely. "yes, exactly."

"I know a little...but most aren't very forthcoming with details."

He sighed leaning back in his chair. "Well, I was there."

"...hm." Daniel nodded "I imagine so, given..."

"That I'm with the church? Yes... no one has come since...."

"I don't imagine they'll send anyone else after what's happened." He said with a nod "...why don't you tell me about it."

He made a soft noise. Was it a laugh or a sigh? "What you say that-- tell me what even you mean."

"I mean I want to hear about the burnings, Viktor."

He shook his head. "That's what I thought. So you don't know why there is no one else from the church here. And why they won't send any more."

"no, not in the least." Daniel shook his head...though he did have some idea.

"It has to do with what you were asking me before... about what I'd **seen**..." he glanced at the paintings.

"that's right..." he said, raising his eyebrow "....why don't you get it off your chest."

The man looked distant, and sighed. "It's probably best just to tell it in order. To start with the burning."

Daniel nodded "that would be for the best, I imagine."

"I was a novice in my first year after graduation," he explained slowly, as if he were reciting a story that had happened to someone else. "My mentor recommended me for the expedition, he said because it would do me good to see life and worship outside of the capital. To really bring the horned church into people's hearts. I didn't understand at the time the full nature of our mission in this place."

"was it a crusade from the start?" Daniel asked with a raise of his eyebrow

"I was told by my superiors that word had come that the town of Tadibya was under the sway of heathen practice and sorcerous leaders..."

"were you told where the word came from?" Daniel asked curiously "this is a rather far out town."

Father Viktor shook his head. "No. No one ever told me. Usually when we receive a tip like that the person does not want to be known."

"hm." Daniel thought for a long moment "I see. We'll come back to that...please, continue."

He nodded. "There were 14 of us. Two senior clerics, 5 of us low rankers including myself, and seven deacons. We came in two caravans to the town."

Daniel folded his hands on his lap "..14? More than I expected."

"I'm not surprised. But the church took this place very seriously. In retrospect, I should have been more concerned about that."

"indeed." Daniel agreed "...it's rather concerning to me too."

Father Viktor's hands were on his knees, and Daniel could see that they were trembling. "yes.... When we got here, our seniors... declared what was here to be unnatural."

Daniel watched him carefully, he leaned over, and pat the man's knee before he let him continue. "I'd gotten the sense that it was rather sudden. some talk of the church as 'Storming into town' "

"Yes, the situation.... escalated rapidly," he sighed. "I was never privy to exactly what the seniors saw. But it must have been horrifying."

"...what they saw?" Daniel asked

He nodded. "They came into town before us. They did some... I suppose the military would call it 'reconnaissance'."

Daniel nodded , frowning slightly "by which I imagine they investigated the Masters and Mistress."

"That's what I suspect," he said leadenly. "And by their order we dragged them to the end of town."

"Which was where the burning was to be conducted."

"Yes," he said quietly, looking at his lap. "Where it was conducted. God and Goddess help us."

Daniel nodded "...thank you for this. This information is vital to my investigation. Please..continue."

He nodded, hands still shaking. "A crowd gathered. Some tried to stop us but... others didn't."

"the Masters and Mistresses were...controversial figures, who had done some unforgivable things to some in this town." He said "...it doesn't make what happened any better or worse, but it makes the difference in reactions understandable."

He nodded. "yes... well... we stood in circle and prayed as they... as they burned. But they laid a terrible curse on the town, on all of us."

"Can you tell me the curse, word for word?"

He closed his eyes. "You come to save this town, but you damn it. We are the stewards of the heart of this town, and our death will mark its ruin. The heart will die and its people will fall to evil and become mad and wandering beasts. Murdering pigs of the church faithful will have your hearts town out and devoured by them. This we promise."

Daniel paused a moment "....that's...exactly it." He looked to Fenya "...We're absolutely on the right track. That wording makes it clear that it wasn't a **curse**, but a **warning**." He looked to the other man with a nod "....and what happened then?"

Fenya nodded to Daniel. "You're right," she murmured quietly. "A warning?" Viktor asked. "You might not think it when I tell you what happened in the weeks afterward."

"I suppose we'll see." Daniel said "please go on."

"We started to build the church," he said. "With the help of local labor of course. But... after a few days-- they found the mangled body of one of my brother's in faith."

"Mangled how?" Daniel asked

"There were chunks torn from his flesh," he said, his ears pale and low. "His chest was ripped open, and the heart torn out."

"hm. that matches the description the children gave us.."

"That's not surprising," he sighed. "I'm sure parents use it as a way to frighten them. And if it was just one I would say that someone who had respected the town elders had done it. But....."

"It happened repeatedly?"

He nodded slowly. "More and more of my brothers were picked off in the same way. After five of them had died.... that's when *it* happened."

"...it?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

"Those of us remaining returned to the bones of the church where the seniors were going to hold ritual. It was early in the morning. When we got there it was swallowed up by a dark fog."

Daniel frowned slightly "...a dark fog?"

He nodded. "Like the town itself is now plunged in," he admitted, the trembling in his hands getting worse. "From within we could see swinging lights-- and then screaming. Horrible screaming...."

"....swinging lights?" Daniel's frown deepened "..what in the world?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. But I know that one of the senior priests ran out of the fog, covered in wounds, and he kept running. When the fog cleared, my remaining brothers and I found the body of the other senior."

Daniel brushed his hand over his ear "...and how did it look?"

"Like the others," he said. "Torn apart, with the heart removed."

Fenya grimaced, her ears flicking uncomfortably.

Daniel's own ears flicked "....damn." "I...can see how you would liken that to a curse."

"All of my brothers fled the town after that," he said, his nails digging into his knees. "I cannot blame them. But... I remain."

"Why do you remain, Viktor?" Daniel asked

He closed his eyes. "It is my penance to stay. Someone must bear out the curse that the church has brought here."

"A sense of duty then." Daniel sighed, and leaned on his arm "Viktor. We aren't dealing with a curse...per say. Which means it can be **healed**."

"what do you mean?" he asked.

"it's my belief that when the Masters and Mistress' died, they weren't laying an active curse upon you all...but rather a warning of what might happen should they die." He paused a moment "I've found evidence that they conducted a monthly ritual at some location called the 'heart', which gave them their long life...and I believe, perhaps, purified whatever it was they worked with. I believe that once they died with all their secrets, there was nobody left to perform this monthly ritual, and a **rot** set into the earth itself. A sickness." He frowned "the very sickness that caused me to quarantine this town. It's effects seem...similar...to this curse of yours. It drives people into a dreaming coma, and rots their blood...and sends them shambling about, attacking people in their sleep."

"I see..." he nodded. "It's possible that this sickness and the curse are the same. But... " he shook his head. "Well. I told you what I saw."

"yes." Daniel frowned "...that...perplexes me as well."

"I hope you understand why it seems... supernatural... malevolent... to me."

"I...can." Daniel adjusted his coat "there's no doubt a logical explanation to it all, but..."

"But it certainly is enough to... make an impression," Fenya murmured looking around at the morbid paintings.

"Indeed...." Viktor sighed.

"I can see it..absolutely lingers on your mind. " Daniel said "...but we're going to solve this."

"If you did... perhaps it would give me some measure of peace," he sighed. "But if you cannot-- I beg you to leave while you can. These are not your sins to bear."

"What kind of doctor would I be If I left a patient suffering." He scoffed "...like it or not, this entire damned town's become my patient, now."

"That's admirable, doctor," he said. "I hope the Goddess will guide your steps in mercy-- if she can reach us here."

"I'm not a religious man." Daniel said with a low chuckle "...but thank you, regardless."

"Perhaps not. But you are a man of **mercy** and that is the goddess' domain."

Daniel adjusted his coat again "...indeed. So...again, I suppose I send my thanks"

Viktor nodded. "I'm sure she hears them. Thank you for...listening... I suppose."

"You're welcome." Daniel mused "thank you for telling us. "

He nodded. "Of course. It's difficult to speak of but the truth is important."

"It is. especially if i'm to put an end to all this. Most people...aren't comfortable talking about it with me."

"No... I can imagine that they're not...."

"Either they didn't see, or they simply didn't want to tell an outsider...or dwell on it themselves."

"I can't blame them entirely."

"neither can I." he murmured "...onto lighter topics, I suppose..."

"Yes?" he asked with a smile.

"I noticed there's at least one of the Faithful still practicing in town." he mused "...are you close with her?"

"You must mean Miss Morozov, yes?"

"yes, that would be the one."

"No, we're not particularly close," he said shaking his head. "She attends service...."

"you still hold service?" he asked

"Yes," he nodded. "Upstairs."

"who attends? I wasn't aware there were a lot of Faithful in town."

"There aren't too many," he said, shaking his head. "The Morozovs. A few of the families of laborers. The governor, irregularly."

"that makes sense." Daniel mused "considering what I know of each of them."

He nodded. "May I ask why you asked?"

He chuckled "...two reasons. One, I wanted to see if it was specifically the Faithful being targeted, and it seems that isn't the case. Two... I'm curious what you can tell me about Miss Morozov."

"Well..." he frowned. "what sort of things do you want to know?"

"What's she like?" He smiled "what is your impression of her."

The priest hesitated. "She's always given very generously."

Daniel looked him in the eyes "there sounds like there's more."

"I'm not one to gossip, my friend."

"Don't consider it gossip." Daniel purred "consider it helping a doctor understand his patients."

He breathed out through his nose, "Well....."

There was a bloodcurdling scream from outside.

Daniel leapt up, his eyes darting to the side "....dammit." He grabbed his gun, and went running for the door.

Fenya was on her feet after him, and the priest followed with a stumble. As Daniel threw open the door, he saw a woman on the ground, struggling to fight off someone atop her.

Daniel ran forward, and **bodychecked** the figure to get them off the woman.

He dived into the figure and knocked them clean off of the woman, the two of them then going rolling several feet in the mud. The figure made a startled noise.

Daniel raised his gun, and pressed it to the figure with a low whisper "Don't move!" He looked over his shoulder "Fenya, Viktor, make sure the girl doesn't slip away, we have to check her for injuries!"

Fenya nodded. "Yes doctor!" she said, kneeling beside the woman.

The man groaned on the ground and blinked, his eyes thick with black veins. "Where am I?" he murmured.

"On the ground." Daniel said unhelpfully, before pressing the gun against the man "You were assaulting a woman in the street by the priest's house."

"W-what?" the man's eyes opened wider. "No.... this is a dream......"

Daniel frowned "this is no dream. You're sick, and acting out whatever dark dreams you're having while 'asleep'. Come with me, you need medical help. I'm going to take you to the hospital." He looked over his shoulder "Fenya, is she alright?"

The man nodded slowly. "Could you... maybe not point that gun at me?" the man murmured dazedly. "She'll live, I think. She's fainted, but aside from that it's just some deep scratches...."

"....we'll try and disinfect them at Sasha's. We don't know how this thing spreads." He frowned "...I'm afraid that isn't an option until we have you properly restrained." He hefted the man up, and nodded to Fenya "can you or the priest carry her?"

Fenya frowned and looked at the priest. "I think between the two of us," she said. "But It will be a walk to Sasha's...."

"Ah, I may be helpful there," The priest said. "I have a small cart that I use for groceries...."

"please bring it out." Daniel murmured "...damnation, this is..." He pinched the bridge of his nose "so much for a *damned* timetable."

Fenya grimaced. "So much for it indeed. This is getting bad."

Without a word, the priest hurried to get the cart.

"...it's getting *very* bad. These people shouldn't be out in the damned streets in the first place."

"They'll know by tonight, I suppose...."

The man had fallen into another fitful slumber as they spoke.

Daniel nodded, frowning down at the man "...this " he pointed to him "is just what I was afraid of."

Fenya nodded. "yes it's exactly the sort of thing we talked about," she said, her ears flat on her head. "Damn...."

"the man thought he was still dreaming." he snorted softly "...yet he was clearly mobile."

"Walking around town, enacting violent dreams...."

The wheels of a small cart scraped the ground--Father Victor brought it around-- just barely big enough to hold both of the people.

Daniel lifted the man , and dumped him into the cart "...it's not an ideal situation." he said "in the least."

Fenya and the priest lifted the woman and settled her in as well.

"No... this is terrible." the priest frowned. He looked pale and nervous.

"I knew things were getting worse, but this has...progressed."

"Is there anything more I can do to help?" the priest asked.

"ah.." Daniel sighed "...dredge up anything you may have from the time of the burnings. Any...mementos or things left behind, and send them to me by courier."

He nodded. "I'll do so, doctor."

Fenya grabbed the handles of the cart. "we'd better get moving."

Daniel nodded, and waved to the priest "thank you. Be safe until then."

He nodded. "Good luck and godspeed."

"Indeed. Same to you." Daniel nodded, before he helped Fenya push the cart off and down the street.

Fenya pulled it with him, moving quickly. The cart was heavy, and the road was rough, but it was better than trying to carry two people.

Daniel sighed softly "...I wonder how many more of these...infected...are wandering about."

"That's.... a terrible question to consider," she muttered. "Damn...."

"it is. But I'm ...concerned it's more than we could hope to want."

"I'm having the same fear," she said. "But I don't know what more we could possibly do about it."

"We just have to solve the underlying problem and worry about making a proper cure when we do."

"That's probably the only avenue..."

"it likely is." he frowned '....what do you make of that 'fog' story?"

"it's the obvious supernatural element, if there were to be one," she considered. "after all, the priest says nothing of seeing an attacker...."

"just a fog filled with lights, and the sound of...bloody screaming."

"Those lights, that's certainly a strange element."

"yes...like lanterns, perhaps? or..something else."

"Lanterns... that seems reasonable. But if there were a bunch of people doing the attack, where did they go?"

"I suppose they could have scattered in the fog and confusion." he mused

"Perhaps," she nodded. "The priests would have been distraught in any case. Unlikely to notice."

"that's true." Daniel nodded "it's my current theory, anyway."

"It's a good theory," she agreed. "Damn, this is *really* going to cut into the rest of our day..."

"...it certainly is." he murmured "and we've hardly gotten half the things we needed to do."

"That's not true," she said. "Not counting getting our time cut short with the priest we only had two tasks left-- and then potentially storytime."

He nodded slowly "ah. well, storytime may not happen given the way things are going, but I suppose we'll see."

"So we will," she nodded as they came within sight of Sasha's office.

Daniel went double time, gently pushing the cart towards it with a sigh "hopefully the woman won't become infected by this nonsense.'

"Hopefully not... " she sighed. "Maybe the scratches weren't deep enough."

"they looked rather nasty at first glance, but...we can hope."

They came to the door of Sasha's practice and Fenya knocked.

No one answered.

Daniel knocked again. "...."

Still no answer..... had he gone with Lydia or something?

Daniel attempted to open the door

Unlike the day before when this had happened-- the door rattled. Locked.

Daniel frowned deeper "this...is a problem"

Fenya cursed under her breath. "Of course this happens *today*. What can we do?"

"breaking in probably isn't the best option " he muttered "but it's tempting"

"It certainly is," she murmured. "Damn....."

Daniel looked at the people collapsed in the cart "we can't *just leave them* "

"No... who know's when he'll be back. But.... he has patients doesn't he? he can't be gone long...."

"yes but these two will only be out so bloody long" he muttered "...this is a setback."

Fenya grimaced. "Damn damn damn....."

In the cart, the unconscious man groaned and shifted but didn't wake.

Daniel glanced down at him "...and a messenger won't do us a lick of good. "

"No, he'd probably be back by the time one found him," she sighed. "Danochka.... should we break in?"

Daniel nodded "we'll leave a note and explain the..dire situation"

"I'm sure he'll understand given the circumstances."

"Indeed" He gestured "let's pick the lock then, shall we?"

Fenya nodded and got the pins out of her purse, offering them to Daniel. "This is becoming a habit."

Daniel took it with a nod "indeed. It's a return to old bad habits" he chuckled

"So it seems," she agreed. "If you can't manage to get it open I can give it a try...."

Daniel shook his head. "i can manage it." he got started on the lock

And manage it he did, quite quickly. The lock clicked open for him.

Daniel smirked, and pushed the door open. "Help me wheel them inside."

"I don't think the cart will fit," she said-- but she was already scooping the woman up.

Daniel nodded, and grabbed the man...hefting him up in his arms.

The two of them were just barely able to carry both victims inside.

It was going to be hard to find a place to put them. There was another patient since they'd been there that morning. The beds were filling up.

Daniel grimaced "...that hospital needs to open soon."

"The sooner the better," she agreed, getting the woman into one of the few spare cots.

Daniel nodded, hefting the man into one of the last ones around.

"There... should we... clean her wounds? Or leave it in the note."

Daniel nodded "we should clean her wounds as fast as possible . It could make all the difference in the world.'

She nodded. "Then I'll undress her. You gather what we need."

Daniel set about gathering disinfectants and bandages with a sigh 'indeed."

He was already becoming familiar with Sasha's office. He found the bandages and disinfectants right away. When he returned, Fenya had the woman stripped to her underwear.

Daniel looked her over with a critical eye. How bad were the wounds...and was there any sign of infection yet?

Fenya had been right the wounds *were* fairly superficial. Still, blood had been drawn....

and.... yes... at the edges Daniel saw a speck of blackness.

Daniel hissed, and started cleaning the wounds...starting with alcohol. "...there's some of the infection already setting in."

"Already?" Fenya asked, a note of alarm strangling her voice.

"...yes." he frowned "come look." He was trying to clean the area, hoping the alcohol was doing *something*.

Fenya came near, her scarf around her face and peered carefully. "Damn.... you're right of course."

"...." He sighed, his own mask up around his mouth "....it's ...concerning, isn't it?"

"More than a little, yes," she agreed, her voice tight.

Daniel rubbed some antiseptic into the wounds "...a simple scratch and it spreads so damned fast."

"I wonder if it has to do with how advanced the infection is in the spreader...."

She paused. "er.. vector? Is that the word I'm looking for? Oh you know what I mean."

Daniel nodded , working on bandaging the woman up "...I think that might be the case, yes. The more advanced stage the infection, the easier it spreads to a new victim."

The work of cleaning and bandaging her wasn't difficult at least. He finished quickly. "So it becomes more powerful the more advanced it is..."

Daniel grimaced "...indeed it seems to. Which means our timetable is a little stricter than previously envisioned."

"Wonderful," she sighed. SHe looked at the man they'd brought in. "We should tie him down."

Daniel nodded, and looked around for any sort of restraint they could use.

It seemed that Sasha was prepared-- there were some leather straps nearby-- it seemed to be what some of the other patients were restrained with.

Daniel grabbed the leather straps, and began binding the man down with them.

"I'll write that note," Fenya said, grabbing some paper off the desk.

Daniel nodded towards her "you're a saint, Fenya. thank you."

"Me? A saint? It had better come with a pay raise," she said dryly. She put the note where Sasha could easily see it. "There."

Daniel nodded, and gestured with his head "shall we try to salvage the timetable?"

"Let's do our best," she sighed. She offered him her arm.

Daniel took her arm, and strolled out into the fog with her, closing the door behind them "where to next?"

The sky was already starting to darken. It was about 4 oclock now. "The mayor, or the rookery."

"the mayor, perhaps...the rookery is going to take quite a bit of time."

Fenya nodded. "Let's hurry back that way then. I'd say we lost about an hour to that debacle..."

"A whole damned hour." Daniel muttered "let's hope another bloody fool doesn't come stumbling out of the shadows as soon as we get there."

"I'd be tempted to bloody leave him where he lay,' she griped as they hurried.

"We're in accord on that." he chuckled dryly, walking double time towards the Mayor's office

The fog had gotten darker. If the sun was still up, it was impossible to tell.

Daniel grimaced, "...Fenya, I don't like this weather."

"Nor do I," she murmured.

"Not enjoying our fair climate?" the damned clown asked as he came out of the fog-- they had reached the town square.

Daniel hissed under his breath "Do you *live* here??""

"Live here, Dannyboy?" Lukyan grinned. "Why I'm hardly any more than a figment of your imagination. But I wouldn';t worry about *me*. Aren't you already running late today?"

"...." Daniel sneered "yes, yes we are. What do you *want* Lukyan?"

"Want? Oh, just to tell you you're *really* running out of time."

"....Go take a dip in the fountain, clown."

He laughed. "You're not taking me seriously are you? But it's not just the curse you know. Tick tock tock tick. Time marches on. The seasons change. The time for horrors is fast approaching!"

Daniel frowned "....Lukyan." He walked up to the clown and grabbed his collar '....explain yourself, *now*. What in hell are you going on about?"

The clown laughed in his face. "You will never understand my friend. never never. To ponder it would only infuriate you. Only the soul that is deeper than your soul understands. But hurry! hurry! before everything falls apart."

Daniel's eyes narrowed "time won't run out while i'm here, you little pest. Trust me on that." He dropped him, and turned "Fenya, let's leave this circus."

"Maybe, maybe! We'll see what kind of sway you hold!" He laughed as he hit the ground.

Fenya took Daniel's arm again. "And not a moment too soon, Danochka," she snorted at the muddy clown.

Daniel had a glower on his face as he walked through the fog "what a fatalist clown." he muttered "time of horrors my ass."

Fenya shook his head. "The ranting of a madman."

"It's a wonder they haven't thrown him out of town by now. "

"Probably someone's nephew or something," she sighed.

"....that's an interesting question." he mused "who's child *is* he?"

"I've no idea... perhaps we should ask around?"

"Perhaps the mayor will know, I suppose." he agreed

"Perhaps," she agreed as they reached the town hall.

Daniel nodded, looking up at the structure. "we're looking for anything the Masters and Mistress left behind and a conversation with the mayor, no?"

"Yes," she nodded.. "The mayor is the midwife Nika's grandson. Apparently a favorite of hers."

"mmm." Daniel nodded "so I have a few things I wanted to ask him."

Fenya pushed the door of the hall open-- it was just as empty as it had been last time. But now Daniel heard shouting from upstairs.

Daniel frowned, and walked towards the sound of shouting, hoping to catch a bit of it as he approached

"You can't just let him walk all over you! Close down the town? we'll all starve!" "And?" another voice answered. "If we DON'T shut it down everyone will die of the plague!" "I have yet to see ANY evidence of this supposed plague!" Neither voice belonged to the mayor.

Daniel listened for a moment, his lips tight. And just who was it that was speaking?

One voice-- the one against the quarantine-- was a woman's. The other was a man. Neither were ones he recognized.

Daniel pushed his way into the room "no evidence, hm?"

There was a bear man in functional but high quality clothes on one side of the desk, slim and broad shouldered. On the other side was a woman in quite a fancy and severe gown. In the center, at his desk the mayor looked so nervous he might have a stroke.

As Daniel entered, all eyes fell on him.

Daniel tightened his tie, and smiled "my name is Daniel Delgrave...of the Astorian University." he paused "*Doctor* Delgrave,if you don't mind."

The woman put her hands on her hips. "*Well* doctor, I hope you have an explanation for my husband on the subject of this madness, and this insult!" "Dear...." the mayor frowned, fussing with his lapels.

"if you mean the insult of me going to the governor instead of the mayor to gain permission for my quarantine..." He waved his hand "I was simply told that a quarantine would have to be okayed by him. No insult meant, simply expedience"

"Quite right," the male stranger nodded, stroking his mustache. "And you didn't even think to *tell* my husband?" the woman demanded haughtily.

"Im here, aren't I?" Daniel fixed her with a hard stare "I simply didn't have the bloody time to stop by yesterday. Not when every hour out of quarantine is another madman in the streets"

"Here now!" the woman snorted. "When nothing can be done!" "What's being done is what should be done you unreasonable woman!"

Daniel snorted , crossing his arms. "You want the quarantine lifted, do you?"

"You bet I do!" she snapped. "You didn't consult with my husband! whatever this supposed disease is it can't be bad enough to justify closing the fishery and the markets!"

A rather thin, and dangerous smile crossed Daniel's face "you don't think so, hm? Well. There's ample proof that this disease is worse than you can possibly imagine." He gestured with one hand at the door behind him "This town is going to die, my lady. And from what I've seen in my patients...it isn't going to be a comfortable death. That is, unless drastic steps are taken urgently to allow me to do the work I *have* to do."

She stomped her foot. "If there's proof I *demand* that you show it to me!"

"Dear...." the mayor murmured.

"It's right down the way." Daniel said "in Sasha's clinic...or wandering the streets."

"Wandering the streets?" she demanded. "I've been trying to tell you, you foul tempered woman!"

Daniel nodded, "those far enough along....and trust me...it sets in quick...wander in a dreaming coma. They *walk the bloody streets* and attack people they see out of blind fear! And in DOING so, spread the bloody infection to THEM if they don't tear their bloody throats out first!"

"Tear their *throats* out?" she hissed. "You can't be serious. You're not describing a disease doctor! you're describing a curse!"

"Marta...." the mayor sighed.

"There's no such thing as a curse." Daniel said "but there is such a thing as *madness* borne from illness affecting one's mind. If they think they're in a dream, they'll attack without fear of consequence."

She snorted. "You ignorant city boy," she snapped. "You have no idea how little you know!" She turned around and shoved her way past Fenya, who gasped out an 'excuse me!' as the woman slammed the door behind her.

Daniel turned on his heels "...ignorant city boy...." He snorted under his breath "charming."

Vadim sighed and lowered his head to the desk. A muffled "I'm sorry about her" came.

"hm. Thank you for the apology, Vadim." Daniel said, and leaned on the desk "you understand the importance of this quarantine, don't you?"

"Yes," came the muffled reply.

The other man in the room sighed. "A necessary evil. Women don't understand these things I'm afraid."

Fenya coughed. "*Some* women, sir."

"some women certainly do understand. Gender has little to do with the ability to understand severity...and it seems that Miss Marta hasn't seen enough proof to understand just how much trouble you're all in."

"My apologies, dear," the man said to Fenya. "But yes I suppose I agree." The mayor just sighed between his arms. "Was there something you needed, doctor?"

"a few things." Daniel said. "First," he glanced at the other man, "I don't think we've met."

"Ah yes I don't think we have," the man smiled and offered his hand. "Ruvik Petrovich-- my boss has spoken highly of you, doctor."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Ruvik." He nodded "might I ask who your boss is?"

"Andrei Morozov," he said. "I am his assistant."

"ah." Daniel nodded slowly "his assistant, hm?"

"Indeed. I take care of business when he's otherwise engaged."

"otherwise engaged." He nodded slowly "in..deed. you must be a capable man, then."

"I like to think so, doctor."

Daniel gave him a smile "thank you for supporting our quarantine." He turned back to Vadim with a nod "I have a few questions for you...as well as a request."

The man nodded. "If you-- either of you-- gentlemen need me further I'll be downstairs."

With that, Petrovich left the room.

Vadim gave Daniel a halfhearted smile. "Well... I'm happy to listen I suppose."

Daniel nodded, and turned to Vadim with a nod "I need to talk to you about your grandmother."

"My grandmother?" he sat up, lifting his head off the desk finally.

"Nika." He nodded "...we're following a lead that may save the town, but it involves her and her cohorts."

He smiled. "Well... that sounds like a nicer conversation than I've had all day."

"I imagine so." he smiled back "I heard she rather liked you."

"We got on well," he said with a smile. "She always wanted to have me at her side when I was young."

"is that so? Did she teach you anything?"

"Oh yes," he nodded. "She passed along many of her recipes."

"you must be one hell of a cook then." he chuckled

The mayor chuckled. "I'd like to think so. But of course I still can't match her."

"you don't have hundreds of years of experience , I suppose" he chuckled

"A pity," he smiled. "I'll probably never get there."

"you can always try" he smiled "what was she like?"

"Oh always busy busy busy," he chuckled. "And a bit cranky sometimes but very doting."

"oh I imagine." He mused "...did she ever tell you what she got up to every month?"

He raised his eyebrows. "You mean with the other town masters?"

He nodded "yes indeed"

"I'm afraid not. They were very secretive."

Vadim stroked his chin. "All she would tell me was that they were very important, and she dared not miss one."

"Given the state of things now that they're being missed." he mused "she might have been right."

The mayor touched his chin. "You think the-- goodness you might be onto something...."

"My thought is that whatever they were doing was keeping this sickness of the earth in check. Now that they're gone....it's spreading out of control."

The mayor chewed his thumb nervously. "Oh dear...."

"which is why I'm looking for anything I can about them and their practices..." He paused "and any falling out they may have had."

He cocked his head. "Falling out?" Fenya nodded. "If you remember any disagreements between them...."

Daniel gestured to Fenya "just as my associate says."

Vadim stroked his chin. "Well, my grandmother always got on best with Misha. I don't think she liked Master Osgrov much at all-- ah, he was our Healer."

"mmm...did she ever say why?"

"No, never," he shook his head. "They just avoided each other. Which was unfortunate given their dovetailing professions..."

"indeed." He frowned "...I wonder what exactly was the incident that turned them against one another."

"It's probably in her diaries somewhere...."

"Would you happen to have them?"

"I do believe they're at home," he said. "But.... we don't go into her bedroom...."

"May I have permission to enter?"

He closed his eyes. "It's hard for me to say yes," he said. "But I cannot imagine that in such a time of troubles my dear grandmother would be offended by it."

"Finally someone reasonable," Fenya murmured almost inaudibly.

"thank you, Vadim. You're a ...delight." he said "I'm glad you see where we're coming from." He paused "...I saw someone who looked just like her in the fog, you know."

He twitched upwards. "Did you?"

Daniel nodded "she'd given me a key and a piece of Nika's diary."

He covered his mouth. "Oh my.... you're sure it was hers?"

"I could show you. I'm sure you could verify."

"I'd be more than happy to!"

Daniel fished out the journal scrap and showed it to him.

As Vadim read it, his brow furrowed. "Ah.... this... is certainly my grandmother's handwriting..."

"....." Daniel paused a moment "which uh, one did I give to you?"

Fenya caught Daniel's eye with a growing look of potential horror.

"It's... about my wife, Doctor," he said, tugging at his collar.

"...." Daniel's ears flicked "I'm sure it's just taken out of context.."

"She writes that Marta bewitched me... does she mean it as an exaggeration or...." He wasn't really speaking to the doctor but he WAS speaking out loud.

"...." Daniel raised his eyebrow slightly

He rubbed the back of his neck. "Doctor, do you believe in... well... love potions and that sort of thing?'

"....not really, though I suppose you could manipulate the mind with a potent enough cocktail of drugs."

"I suppose," he said, his thumb against his jaw. "No.... it's ridiculous-- sorry to waste your time with such ideas."

"no, please." Daniel purred "go on."

"I'm not sure there's much to say," he said. "I suppose my feelings for Marta were... sudden. But isn;t that the way of things?"

"it can be." Daniel nodded "...I suppose she could have...made an effort to woo you." he shrugged

"She... *could* have," he admitted. "But it isn't exactly what happened."

"...and what happened?"

"I came upon her in the market one day, and was struck by her beauty...."

"had you known her before then?"

"No, I don't believe we had ever met...."

"but she certainly wished to get to know you, from the sound of it."

"I... suppose that she must have," he murmured. "I have always thought our meeting was by chance..."

"by clever design all things can seem like chance" Daniel chuckled

"Certainly true," he nodded. "My apologies I shouldn't be troubled by this..."

"no, that's quite alright. This town seems..full of its little dramas"

"I suppose that's life in a small town for you," he said with a strained smile.

"indeed" he mused "still...I'm curious if you would have wished for things to turn out different."

"I.... really don't know," he sighed. "A-at any rate, why don't you come to my house tomorrow morning, and you can take a look at my grandmother's things."

Daniel nodded "that would be appreciated...and.." He paused "if you can have someone fish out *anything* of theirs or about them from the records downstairs....we can go over it all tomorrow."

He frowned. "I can try, but I don't know how much anyone would be able to find before tomorrow morning I'm afraid.":

"if it can be an ongoing search...perhaps? We'll look too of course...but we're quite busy"

"I imagine what with this terrible disease," he nodded. "I'll have my assistant look into it."

"much appreciated. We'll help as we can...and anything will help"

Vadim nodded seriously. "Thank you, doctor. We must do what we can to help one another."

"Exactly, a sensible man can see that." he chuckled "...we need to help one another through all this."

"Certainly," he nodded. "It's not the time to be quibbling about politics... I wish my wife could see that."

"Perhaps we can convince her in time."Daniel sighed "...it's no time for politics. Just action."

Vadim sighed. "I wasn't born to be a man of action. But I;ll be trying my best."

"no?" he chuckled softly

"No," he chuckled painedly. "Mayor wasn't ah.... well it wasn't exactly supposed to be a difficult position when it passed to my hands."

"given that the Masters and Mistress took care of most things." He mused

"You grasp it aptly, doctor," he sighed.

"And now here you are, thrust into the rigors of politics."

"I'm a pitiable man, truly," he admitted with that same pained smile.

"But you're surviving admirably , despite it all."

"Well.... thank you, doctor."

"you're welcome, Vadim. Is there anything else you might be able to tell me about...all this..?"

He rubbed his chin. "You've heard about dybbuks by now I assume?"

"yes, but I'd certainly like to hear what you have to say about them."

"well, my grandmother used to frighten me with stories of them..."

"and what did she say?" he asked curiously

"That they were monsters with poisoned hearts, seeking to slake their lust for violence on their fellow man."

"That certainly sounds like the diseased we've run into..." He paused "...as well as some *other* people."

"Yes," he nodded, "It's what I've heard some people saying...."

"I think the stories and the disease are connected. A fanciful name over a devastating illness."

"Do you think... it only takes bad people then?" he asked with an almost fragile sound to his voice.

Daniel brushed his hair "...I think 'bad people' are more prone to taking risks and failing to be properly safe...so they're more susceptible to the disease, yes."

He rubbed his jaw. "That's a good point-- oh-- oh dear," he frowned and his brow furrowed.

"...yes?"

"The bar's going to have to be shut down too, certainly....."

"Absolutely." Daniel nodded "it...has to."

He grimaced. "That's... going to make some people very unhappy."

"...it will." Daniel agreed "but it's unhappy or dead."

"Yes," he sighs. "It won't be pleasant to explain that. Oh I hope we can reason with them-- maybe I can blame it on Alekin...."

"perhaps you can." Daniel laughed "but I'm certain they'll listen to reason."

"I'm not," Vadim grumbled. "Bunch of drunks."

"Tell them that they can bloody well drink at home." He shook his head "hell.'

"Sorry to complain, doctor," he sighed.

"No, there's much to complain about these days."

"True enough," he sighed. "I'd better draft a statement. And get my assistant down in the basement."

"You're a good man, Vadim. Thank you." he purred

Vadim offered him a handshake. "I do my best, doctor. I pray it's enough."

"As do I." Daniel shook his hand "As do I."

"Should we get going, Doctor?" Fenya asked.

Daniel nodded "let's." He offered his arm "until later, Vadim."

"See you tomorrow morning, doctor," he nodded, and got busy with his papers, as Fenya took Daniel's arm and headed out of the office.

Daniel walked with her, down the halland towards the front door. "well..that went well."

"It did," she agreed. "Surprisingly well...."

"Save for the run in with his wife."

"yes," Fenya mused. "I'd prefer to not have to run into her again...."

"I have to say it wasn't a flattering first impression. I was about to give her the benefit of the doubt, too."

"Apparently it wasn't earned unfortunately. Did we want to try to talk to that man of Morozov's or hurry away?""

"I'm not *certain* " he frowned "What do you make of the man?"

"I'm not sure honestly," she admits. "He didn't say much."

"then let's give him a chance' he chuckled "...then move on to the...ah, Rookery."

Fenya nodded. "I think he said he'd be downstairs... if he's still here."

"Indeed." He mused as he started down the stairs

Unfortunately, when they arrived downstairs, Morozov's assistant was nowhere to be seen.

But Marta was there. And she didn't look happy.

Daniel fussed with his tie "ah, Marta." He said pleasantly "It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

She crossed her arms. "I wish that I could say the same."

"hm." Daniel sighed "I can tell you're not much a fan of me, are you?"

She sniffed derisively. "I'm not a fan of anyone trying to push my husband around."

"I'm not trying to push your husband around." Daniel said with a note of annoyance. "...when I asked who to speak to about closing the town in this convoluted nightmare of a political situation your town has, I was told the Governor. I followed the channels that *I was pointed to* to get what needed to be done, done. You can't blame me for following the procedure as it was *explained to me*"

"And who told you to speak to the governor, hmmm?"

Daniel shrugged "...the captain. I was told the governor had the authorization to enact a lockdown. Regardless your husband seems far more concerned about the lives of his people than some trifling thing like who I spoke to to get it done"

She sneered. "That witless idiot. Trying to sabotage my husband's power...."

"You know, Marta." Daniel crossed his arms "you seem far more concerned with your husband's power than you do about much else." He raised his eyebrow "your *husband* doesn't take this as a slight. He's only concerned about stopping this illness and helping his people...yet here you are, lamenting only the presumed loss of his power in town, rather than the bodies already filling your streets."

The color drained out of Marta's ears. "That's not.... I didn't mean.... don't paint me as some heartless monster! H-how dare you!" She turned around and started for the door in a hurry.

"I'm not painting you as a monster." Daniel said , stepping towards her "I'm simply asking you to *stop blaming me* for perceived slights that don't exist and look at the larger picture!"

She kept her back to him, still walking toward the door. "Fine.... of course... you're right."

"So will you drop the animosity and bloody speak to me?" he said.

She paused and turned to face him, her ears drooping. "I don't know what there is to talk about but if you insist."

"you spoke of curses earlier."

"Yes...." she nods, looking at him with hesitation.

"I'd like to hear what you know on the subject."

"On the subject of the curse ravaging the town? You won't believe me so I doubt there's a point."

"Behind each myth or legend, there's a grain of truth." Daniel drawled "...I believe we're all looking at the same bloody thing through different lenses. Your perception will help me narrow down my own to find a solution."

She crossed her arms. "Alright, fine." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "It manifests in the blood, does it not?"

"it does. It turns it black and sludge like."

She nodded. "And the source of the blood is the heart," Marta said. "and the heart's purifier is *the phylactery*."

"Those little dolls I've seen about." He raised his eyebrow "....and how do they work?"

"They trap the evil that's attracted to a person's heart and keep it away from it. If the phylactery is intact. Of course if you had someone's phylactery you could do as you please with it."

"in..what way?" Daniel asked curiously

"Just as I said," she sniffed. "It's a direct connection to someone's heart. You could poison it, or anything you wanted. It might be how the curse started."

"poison it." he mused "..hm." He looked perturbed for a moment "it's a little...far fetched, but.."

She shook her head. "If *I* were you, I'd look into the phylacteries. Unless the curse really is from the town masters. In which case, as the dock workers say-- we're fucked."

"No, I don't think it's from the masters." Daniel mused "the wording of it is more like a **warning** if anything. Warning that if they aren't there, the heart will start to rot and die...I think it has something to do with their monthly ritual."

"Monthly ritual?" she frowned.

"Something I stumbled upon in my research." he mused. "....can't say much about it at this moment. May I ask, instead, what your relationship with Mistress Nika was?"

"I can't say that I had any to speak of," Marta said with a frown. "She gave her blessing to my wedding, and that was basically it."

"no?" He mused "Interesting...." He shook his head "...can I ask, instead, how you met Vadim?"

She flushed and her ears flicked. "Ah... well.... he came up to me in the market," she murmured.

Daniel nodded, leaning on the wall as he listened

"D-did you want more than that?" she asked nervously.

Fenya snorted.

"yes." Daniel laughed, a bit under his breath "if you don't mind."

"He... came up to me and said I was beautiful. And he told me he wanted to woo me."

"how romantic." Daniel said "wasn't he all set to be engaged at that point?"

"I... well.. he was betrothed since childhood, yes."

Daniel nodded "I got the sense that Mistress NIka was very involved in matchmaking."

"That seems likely," she nodded. "I mean, the town masters felt they could meddle in anyone's lives they wanted!"

"I've noticed that." he agreed 'they...seemed to dip their fingers in everyone's life...and cause all manner of trouble while they did. I don't have much respect for them."

"I can't say that I do either," she sniffed. "But Vadim loved her very much, so...." She shrugged.

"It makes sense, I suppose. I had heard he was her favorite."

"Probably," she sniffed. "But the old woman couldn't keep him all to herself."

"no, it seems she couldn't." He chuckled "she spoke in some diary entries as if you bewitched the man. Ridiculous as that seems."

"As if she wasn't a witch!" the woman snapped.

"Indeed." Daniel said, not flinching at her raised voice

"So I don't see where she gets off spreading rumors about me."

"I don't know if it was *spreading rumors* per say, as much as a private musing but..."

"And you were reading her private diary then?" the woman blinked.

Daniel rubbed his hand on his neck, laughing as his ears flicked "I...happened onto pieces of it, here and there."

"I...see..." she frowned. "Can I see it?"

Daniel glanced at Fenya

Fenya looked dubious about the idea.

"i'm afraid I didn't bring them with me." He said with an easy smile "perhaps another time?"

"Another time," she frowned. "Though I suppose you;ll be quite busy."

"Given that I'm attempting to stop this curse, or illness?" He chuckled weakly "yes."

She nodded. "Yes.... Did you have anything else you wanted from me?"

"no. that should be all for now." he said "be safe. "

She nodded. "....you as well, doctor. Good evening."

And then she hurried away.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "hm."

"Hmmm is right," Fenya agreed.

"...interesting conversation , I suppose."

"It certainly was," she nodded. "I think we got more out of her than we would have without you cowing her."

Daniel chuckled "I was...sort of sick and tired of that attitude." He admitted "that utter damned selfishness."

"I can't blame you. She was getting under my nerves as well."

"Treating the spread of this outbreak like a personal insult to her husband's power is..." he frowned "...yes, not ideal."

"Far from it," Fenya said. "Selfish and petty more like."

"Precisely." Daniel grimaced "so I put a stop to it."

"Magnificently," she smirked. "What do you think of what she said afterward?"

He smirked slightly "I think the whole business about the phylacteries was...interesting. A 'filter' for the soul. hah." He paused "i also feel the whole...romantic situation...may be more complex than initially believed. "

"I agree about the phylacteries. More complex how, doctor?" she asked.

"I feel as if there was more going on there." He shook his head "...several people in town all entangled in what can only be described as a 'fucking romantic mess'. I did note how concerned she felt with her husband's power, rather than...say, how he felt about the whole thing."

Fenya nodded. "Fucking romantic mess sounds about right. As for her concern about power--- in a place like this women don't have much of their own. Marrying for power can... be a motivating factor."

"Indeed, and I can hardly blame her for it." He frowned "especially with the Masters hoarding anything they could get for themselves." He shook his head "...It's just not the time to be worried about such things."

"not when lives are on the line."

"True enough," she sighed. "Do you think we got anything worthwhile from her?"

"a little bit." He mused "...I think we got a little bit."

"Then it wasn't time wasted."

"no. It wasn't.." He gestured "shall we move to the Rookery?"

Fenya pulled her watch out of her pocket.. "It's 6 oclock."

"...damn." he hissed under his breath "...maybe push it to tomorrow."

"After breakfast with the mayor or get up and do it before that?"

"before." Daniel mused "before that."

"Alright," she nodded, making a note of it. "Do we go to the chernoff's then? or retire to the post office and try to make sense of the blanket?"

"...nothing says we won't have time to study the blanket after dinner." he murmured

Fenya nodded. "Let's go then. I'd say we deserve something to eat after today. Lugging around people and suchlike."

"Damn right we do." He sighed "It's been a hell of a day, and we deserve a good meal."

"Whatever else her qualities may be," Fenya says holding the door for Daniel. "Darya is at least a good cook."

Daniel laughed as he stepped outside 'you're certainly right about that, Fenya."

The fog was dense. The sky was black. They were shrouded in night and it was only about dinner time.

Daniel looked up at the dark sky ".....this place is getting to me, Fenya." he murmured "this sky is..unsettling."

She leaned in close to him. "I can't say I disagree. It's barely sunset and yet...."

"and it's as dark as midnight." he put his arm around her, walking through the dark

"Darker than some midnights," she agreed.

"...it makes me wonder just what's going on here. it's not *natural*"

"It certainly isn't. It makes it feel like it's... all connected."

"indeed. But the question is finding the right pieces to make the full damn picture."

"Maybe we'll have more pieces tonight."

"perhaps we will." He chuckled "...with that blanket and this knife."

"And the coin."

"and the coin. the piece that may crack this whole thing wide open." he murmured

"I hope so," Fenya said. "It's certainly a promising lead."

"it is...and given to us from such a...strange source."

"Another of your mysterious figures."

"...I keep running into those, don't I?"

"It seems like it," Fenya chuckled. "More than me at any rate."

He laughed "you haven't met any mysterious mute children or shadowy women from the fog?"

"When you say it like that I almost feel unwelcome," she joked.

He chuckled, walking with her "Maybe it's just my magnetic personality"

"Maybe it is," she smirked. They didn't see anyone on the street as they walked. It seemed at least in this area, people had gotten the message of the quarantine.

Daniel looked around "Good, we managed to make at least *some* people listen to our quarantine."

"Thank goodness," she sighed. "Not everyone around here is *completely* unreasonable."

"just the majority of people' he drawled , heading towards the farmhouse

"I suppose they wouldn't be people, otherwise," she sighed as they reached the steps of the now quiet farmhouse. They could see the lit lamps glowing inside.

Daniel knocked firmly on the door as he approached "to be troublesome is to be a person, I suppose."

"I've always found it very troublesome," she agreed.

Darchick answered the door with big, serious eyes. Her face lit up with a little smile when she saw them.

"hi."

Daniel grinned at her "Good evening, young lady." He chuckled " I hope we're not too late for dinner."

Darchick shook her head. "Not yet."

Fenya chuckled. "Sounds like we're just in time then."

"And after dinner...how would you like a story, Darchick?"

"Yes!" Darchick nodded. "It's why you came?"

"It's why we came," Fenya agreed with a chuckle.

"It is." Daniel nodded, "dinner is a pleasant side benefit."

Darhick nodded, and let them inside quietly.

Daniel stepped inside, fixing his tie as he looked around the increasingly familiar little home.

It was quiet this evening. Daniel could hear the sound of the fire crackling from the kitchen and parlor. As dark as it was outside, it was warm and cozy in the farmhouse.

Daniel leaned to peek into the kitchen "Good evening, everyone."

'Everyone' in this case was just Darya, as Darchick followed him into the room.

"Doctor."

Daniel chuckled "Hope you don't mind us dropping by."

"Not at all," Darya said. "I half expected you."

"I did say we'd try to stop by. and I wanted to make sure we got that chance for a story."

"I'm pleased you did," she nodded. "Darchick's been after it all day."

Daniel laughed "Is that so, Darchick?" he looked at the girl with an amused smirk

"I wanna hear about New Astoria and the gangs."

The little girl looked up at him intensely.

Daniel grinned "you're still curious about Viv's Vipers and the New Astorian frontier? Well alright, I've got the story for you."

"Dinner's going to be a little longer," Darya said. "Why don't you get it out of the way first."

Daniel chuckled, "well, alright. I can't say no to that."

"Take her into the parlor then, if you will," Darya said. "I'll call you when supper's ready."

Daniel nodded, and walked towards the parlor "come along, Darchick," he said "let's see where we left off."

Darchick padded after him and Fenya as they came into the parlor. There was a nice fire crackling waiting for them.

"You said the other gang was really bad."

Daniel nodded, settling down in one of the chairs "ah yes, the gang lead by a man said to be an unkillable demon"

Darchick settled down on the floor cross legged in front of him looking up at him, while Fenya took a nearby chair, grinning cattishly.

Daniel brushed his hair over his ear, and chuckled "they called him a **hellhound** and no matter how many times they shot him, hung him, or drowned him...he always came back alive and whole."

"Was it a bunch of twin brothers?" Darchick asked with consternation.

"haha. No, No , he was the only one of his family. No brothers, no siblings at all. He was just **unnaturally hardy** and he used that hardiness to kill and maim whoever he wished...to commit crime after crime with no repercussions."

Darchick listened enraptured to the tale. "Gross."

Fenya raised her eyebrows. "So that's what drew you out there," she smirked.

Daniel laughed "indeed it was. And when I arrived, well....they didn't take kindly to some scientist poking about. So I found myself captured by bandits."

'You got captured?" Darchick asked. "How come you're not dead?"

"well, that would be on account of Vivian and her Vipers." he chuckled. "See..... Vivian hated the Hellhound with a passion. And she rode in intending on trying to take him out one more time. Only they noticed me there, tied up and awaiting an untimely death." He tilted his head "next thing you know, I'm bound to a horse as some man who looks like a demon straight out of a fairy tale rides me off into the bloody sunset."

"This demon-- was he related to the hellhound?" Fenya asked.

"no, it turns out he didn't know why he was so different from everyone else. They told all kinds of fanciful stories about how he was some ... child from the 'other side', who was taken in and raised by farmers before he ran off to join the gang."

"Like a goblin?" Darchick asked, sucking on her fingers.

"like a goblin." he nodded "I never got a better answer than that...." He chuckled "that's about when they dragged me to their camp, however. And I met the band of outlaws for the first time. Interesting lot...from all over the world of Gaea. Some of them men, some of them women, and all of them as feisty and ferocious as a bobcat."

"They sound great," Darchick said around her fingers.

"They were ...rather charming." he chuckled, "their leaders were a bandit from Dorado named Vivian, and her husband, a holy man of New Astoria. Not astorian, mind you, but one of those who were there before we arrived."

"Bandit from dorito," Darchick nodded. "Dorado," Fenya chuckled.

Daniel chuckled "Close though." He leaned on his hand "they were tough as nails, having been raiding Astorian army routes for years...and fighting off the gangs in the area, to keep their area of the western frontier safe and free from the ever growing Law and Order of the east."

"I can imagine a band of outlaws wouldn't be all that pleased with encroaching civilization," Fenya chuckled.

"no, they certainly weren't." he laughed "..." He paused "especially since that encroaching civilization seemed rather keen on snuffing out parts of their lives that they held fairly dear. Traditions, and the like."

"Traditions?" Darchick asked. "Like stealing stuff?"

Daniel chuckled "no, not stealing stuff." he smirked "more like...their practices. Local faiths and beliefs....and celebrations. Their way of life before people from outside came about."

"Ooooh. Like the church here," she nodded.

Fenya raised an eyebrow. "Not untrue."

"exactly like that." Daniel nodded "but with more roads and officials, and less burnings." He paused "less, but not none.'

Darchick nodded, apparently satisfied with the answer. "So they rescued you?"

"they did, they saved me from the Hellhound and offered to help me get the information they needed provided I do something for them in return."

"Kill somebody?" the girl asked.

He laughed "...no. Nothing so drastic. They wanted me to act as the camp medic for a while and tutor their daughter, little Lulu."

"Oh!" she nodded. "you said about Lulu."

"yes, the little spitfire daughter of a bandit camp. The world's....fiercest little troublemaker. You'd like her. She's...energetic."

"She sounds fun."

"She's a handful," Fenya said, eying the liquor cabinet.

"She's a nightmare made flesh." Daniel drawled. "But she was certainly an adventure. She dragged me about with one Morton Arbor, a rather charming young man who acted as one of Vivian's lieutenants. Even dragged me on a heist, if you believe it or not."

He paused "it wasn't supposed to be a heist. but Little Lulu certainly tried her damndest to make it end up that way."

"So you participated in a heist then, Danochka?" Fenya chuckled.

"...participated is a strong word. Advised against it as we slowly found ourselves increasingly drawn into an altercation on a train....and a hail of bullets....during which we managed to slip away with a fair sum of Astorian Gold...." He paused "that's how I would put it 'advised strongly against it as all hell broke loose'"

Fenya chuckled. "Well done, at any rate."

"Did you sock any guards?" Darchick asked.

"It was an adventure, Fenya." He chuckled "and...well. I may have...managed to sock a guard or two." He cleared his throat "I wound up taking their captain hostage with my scalpel....so...I could buy them time to slip away."

"Was it scary?" Darchick asked, rapt.

"Terrifying. I'd never been shot at by an entire guard platoon before, much less atop a speeding train hurtling towards God knows where." He paused "we were meant to go out to get *Bloody Groceries*, not a Union Bank Shipment"

Fenya couldn't help but chuckle. "Looks like that's what happens when you hang around with bandits."

"you get dragged into bandit nonsense." he laughed "but I toughed it out...even got to be good friends with the gang." He cleared his throat "they liked my lockpicking skills."

"Lockpicking?" Darchick asked.

"Dinner!!" Darya called from the other room.

"ah, tales of thievery will have to wait, young lady. It's dinner time."

Darchick pouted. "Awwww...."

"after dinner, perhaps." He stood with a chuckle "now off you go to the table."

Darchick nodded, and scurried off, leaving the two of them in the room.

"I can't blame her for wanting to know more," Fenya teased.

"no, I can't either." He chuckled "it's a rather exciting story, I suppose."

"Was it as exciting to live through I wonder?"

"Nerve wracking." he chuckled "but yes, exciting."

She offered him her arm. "Well-- shall we go to dinner?"

"We shall." he took her arm, and stood fluidly "after you, Fenya."

They headed into the kitchen where Darya had prepared dinner. It was fish sausages and potatoes in a kind of loose pie, and plates had been laid out for them.

There was a plate presumably for Konstantin, but he hadn't arrived yet.

Daniel took a seat at the table with a smile "Hello again, Darya."

"Hello again, Doctor," she said, bustling busily around the kitchen before she sat down with them. "How went the story."

"It's not finished," Darchick complained.

"We reached the part about the train heist, and had to break for dinner." Daniel chuckled

"well, if you like you can be the one to put her to bed then," Darya said with a nod.

"Please?" Darchick looked at them with big eyes.

"Gladly." Daniel chuckled "You don't' mind, do you Fenya?"

Fenya shook her head. "Certainly not. It would be a shame to leave the story unfinished."

"It would be." He ran his hand through his hair, before adjusting his tie before dinner. "it'll be a plan, then."

Darchick had already started eating, despite her mother's clucks.

"Should we wait for your husband?" Daniel asked

"I'm surprised he isn't here yet," Darya said with a frown. "He must be busy..."

"...I wonder if it has to do with the...ah...thing. we had seen earlier."

Darya raised an eyebrow. "I suppose it might."

"...then he may be rather occupied for a bit." Daniel mused

"Well then I suppose I'll warm it up for him later," Darya grumped.

"Might be for the best." Daniel sighed "sorry.It may be partially our fault"

She waved her hand. "It won't be the first time he hasn't been around for dinner. It won't be the last."

"So I imagine." Daniel grimaced, before he started in on his pie "it's his loss, as this looks lovely."

"Flatterer," she said with sour, but present, humor, as she tucked in as well.

Daniel took a bite of fish sausage, tasting it. "I do try."

Dinner was good, and since Darchick was with them Darya kept the small talk as light as possible.

Daniel ate the hearty meal, enjoying every second of it after the long and arduous day.

Fenya was in good spirits as they ate and chatted-- a lot better now after a rest it seemed.

Daniel also started feeling much better after eating. The day had taken a lot out of them.

Konstantin never came to join them.

"..hm." Daniel mused as he finished up "is he usually out this late?"

"Not usually," Darya admitted. "And it's very dark. Perhaps I should go check on him."

"I'll go with you." Daniel said "best you don't go alone in conditions like this.'

Darya nodded. "Alright.... "

"And I'll take Darchick to bed," Fenya offered. "You can join me when you're ready, Danochka."

"i'll have the story ready." Daniel purred "promise."

Darchick nodded as Fenya helped her up. "You'd better!"

Daniel laughed "I will, I promise , I won't leave you hanging on a cliffhanger forever."

"Good!" she nodded. "Good luck, doctor," Fenya said with a smile. "We'll be waiting."

Daniel tipped his head in a nod "thank you , Fenya. We'll be back shortly." He grabbed his coat, and headed for the door

Darya walked swiftly alongside him. "So... what is this thing you think my husband may have been doing?"

She pushed open the door and a swirl of dark fog came inside.

"we found a corpse of one of your workers in the field" Daniel explained "...we reported it to the guard. He was killed in the same way as victims of that vampire of yours"

Darya's ears flattened and her nose blanched. "A *corpse*?" she demanded, her voice strangled.

He nodded with a frown, his ears tipping back "it...was a bit of a startling find, Darya."

"I would say so!!" she hissed. "Did you tell my husband?"

"admittedly no, but I told the guard who likely alerted him..."

"I see," she murmured as they headed outside. "He didn't tell me anything."

"he may not have wanted to worry you" Daniel mused charitably as he walked through the darkness and the fog

"I suppose," she said. "Should we call out to him? The field is large."

Daniel nodded slowly " yes...but be careful" His fingers rested on his gun "...I've been attacked a few times. Enough to know not to tempt fate in the dark"

She nodded. "...understood," she murmured. She cupped her hands around her mouth. "Konstantin!!" she called out.

The sound echoed through the fog around them.

Daniel winced at the echo, listening closely for any reply

Darya too listened and waited-- but no answer came.

She called out again.

"this is...concerning" he murmured

"Perhaps we should check in the house..." she grimaced.

"maybe the guest house" he frowned "...do you think?'

"That's... possible," she agreed.

"He might have gone to check on my patient." he murmured, heading towards it

Darya followed right behind him, quick and anxious.

Daniel pulled his gun from his holster "...the night here seems...uncomfortably dangerous ,at times."

"I did warn you," she said.

"you did." he frowned "I didn't think it'd be so literal."

They made it through the fog to the little guest house which sat sulking in the darkness.

Daniel approached slowly, before calling out "KONSTANTIN?"

No one answered.

Daniel attempted to open the door, cautiously

The door creaked open ominously under his hand, sucking in fog from the outside.

Daniel frowned, and peered slowly inside "...Konstantin?"

And there was Konstantin-- lying on the floor.

Darya didn't scream but Daniel heard an intake of air.

Daniel hissed through his teeth "son of a bitch." He raised his pistol, and peered around the room "....he didn't let the damned man *loose* did he?"

No.... Elias was lying there as usual, buckled down. That was one blessing.

Daniel frowned, and bent down near Konstantin, to look him over "...damnation."

Konstantin was asleep. There was black in his ears, and he was clutching something in his fist.

"....Damn it all to hell." Daniel hissed, and attempted to pry it from is fist "damn it!"

Konstantin groaned in his sleep, and his fingers came away. It was a scrap of paper.

Daniel looked it over in the dim light "he's sick, Darya...don't get too close."

"Sick?" Dayra breathed. "Damnation I should have known...."

As for the note.... it was Elias' handwriting.

"...." Daniel read it over "a note from Elias....?"

Most of it was illegible, rubbed out by something moist. But the rest... *pire appears to be a living person, as far as I've been able to tell. It seems to me that it may be someone who has discovered the ritual of the Heart but is unable to complete it, necessitating the transfer of blood from hu*

Daniel frowned deeper ".....it's about the vampire." he muttered, and pocketed the note "...what in hell's name was he doing in here?"

"What do you mean by that?" Darya hissed.

Daniel read it out loud to her "....the ritual of the heart, but if it's incomplete, they become someone dependent on the blood of another."

She frowned. "Ritual of the heart?... is that...."

"...that's what I'm trying to find." Daniel admitted "...that's the **[key]** to all this, I'm sure of it."

She nodded. "Alright. My husband is he.... dead?"

"no.." Daniel shook his head. "he's asleep. In the same dreaming coma as Elias."

She frowned. "Of course," she sighed. "It was too much to hope for he wouldn't catch it."

"Indeed...he was close to people who had it, and I imagine he kept visiting Elias despite my warnings."

"Very likely," She sighed. "well I suppose no work was being done on the field with or without him at this rate."

"indeed." Daniel murmured "...we'll have to take him to the hospital."

"To Sasha?"

"yes." Daniel said "we can't risk him spreading it to you or your children, so it's best to put him in isolation with the rest."

Darya nodded. "I'll send a message. Should we leave him here until then?"

"...perhaps." Daniel sighed "I'm sorry this happened."

She shook her head. "I should have predicted it. Its not *your* fault I suppose."

"No, it's bloody well not." Daniel snorted "it's...the way of disease to spread.'

Darya sighs. "well. for his sake and the sake of everyone else I pray you find a way to stop this thing."

"..I'm working very hard at it." Daniel murmured "...very hard."

She nodded. "I trust you," she said. "If you manage it-- then I'll have faith in you."

"...." Daniel smiled at her "that means quite a bit coming from you, Darya. Thank you."

She nodded silently to him. "we should get back to the house," she said after a moment. "Should someone put him in the bed with Elias?"

"...it can't hurt at this point." Daniel mused.

"Me or you, doctor?"

"Me. " he made sure his mask was in place, as he picked the man up.

Konstantin was... a fairly heavy man, but Daniel managed to navigate arranging him on the bed next to Elias alright.

Daniel grimaced, as he moved to cover him up "there we go."

Darya nodded, still outside. "Thank you, doctor."

Daniel nodded, and backed out of the room "you're quite welcome." he sighed "....this is less than ideal, I'll admit."

"That;;s one way to put it," Darya said dryly.

"Don't be too worried for him...I intend to find the cure in short order."

Darya nodded. "I'll keep it in mind doctor..... thank you again."

"you're welcome Darya. It's the least I can do."

She nodded. "We should get back to the house. Unless there's more you need to do."

"not at the moment" he sighed "there's not much I can do right now"

"I thought as much," she nodded, sighing sourly.

"in the morning I may have something to help" he purred

"I won't pry and use your time unwisely."

"I appreciate" he chuckled "I..have some medicine"

"I see," she nodded. She motioned for him to follow her back through the fog to the house.

Daniel followed, still tense and very aware of the darkness and fog

Darya was silent as they reached the safety of the house.

Daniel leaned on the doorframe for a moment "...what a mess." he murmured

Darya shook her head. "So it goes," she said, pushing the door open. "If you can keep the curse from destroying us all I will consider it a miracle."

"i'll be doing my best...just...keep your children inside and safe, hm? And don't take any unnecessary risks."

She nodded. "I certainly don't plan to do so."

"good...and I'll take care of your husband and the rest."

"I appreciate it," she said, letting him inside, back into the warmth and light.

Daniel breathed out a sigh of relief as he stepped inside "...well, that...put a damper on things"

"It certainly did," she frowned.

"....are you going to be alright?"

Darya gave him a measured look. "Your concern is... appreciated doctor."

"I'm glad.." he raised his eyebrow at her "..hm"

She cocked her head at him. "Yes, doctor?"

"I was just thinking about something, that's all ..a few things, really. " He paused "I met Marta earlier."

She raised her eyebrows. "You did?"

"I ran into her when I stopped by to see Vadim" he paused "she's...." He paused "well she was dreadfully unpleasant"

"I could have told you that," she muttered. "But I'm glad to hear your opinion mirrors my own."

"I gave her a piece of my mind and I do think I've shamed her into not being so callous, however." he smirked

"well!" Darya looked impressed. "We;ll see if that sticks."

"I hope so." he chuckled "...she was acting more worried about her husband's reputation and power than the bloody corpses in the street and that...irritated me."

She snorted. "Yes, that sounds like Marta alright. Always concerned about her own status."

"Is she always like that?" he raised his eyebrow

"Constantly," she said. "Ever since I met her."

"Did you know her well before the ah..incident?"

"We'd met on occasion."

"What..did she do before becoming the mayor's wife?"

"I believe she was the daughter of a fishmonger."

"But not the *big* fishmonger in town." Daniel chuckled "...so she went from the bottom to the top, it seems...or so she was supposed to."

Darya nodded. "I would wager that was the idea, yes."

"It sounds like a complicated situation." he paused "though I suppose I accidentally gave Vadim a minor panic by mistake."

"Gave him a panic?" she asked.

"...I was asking if the handwriting on a note matched Nika's." he paused "and I gave him...well. The note about him and Marta."

"...... doctor....miracle worker or not, you're a moron."

She smirked as she said it-- and didn't look displeased.

Daniel rubbed the back of his neck, his ears flicking "I've been told." he said dryly

"Good," she nodded. She paused for a moment before asking. "How did he react?"

"he seemed to have a minor existential crisis where he wondered if perhaps she'd cast a spell on him."

"I see...." She looked pleased... and then a little sad....

Daniel leaned on the doorframe, looking at her with a note of sympathy "sorry, Darya."

She shook her head. "It's nothing...."

"may I ask?'

"I'm afraid there's nothing interesting to say," she shook her head.

"Interesting or no, why don't you tell me Darya. You never know."

She sighed. "I just... i wonder if knowing it will change anything."

"I suppose that's the question, isn't it?" He sighed with her. "...it's a tricky situation"

"Very," she agreed with another long suffering sigh.

"...Honestly." Daniel said "...i'm not sure. Things have changed since those old days."

"For worse in most cases."

"and better in others." Daniel pointed out

"I.... suppose," she conceded. "Well, thanks to you the truth is out."

"It is." Daniel nodded slowly "...who knows what'll affect."

"And there's plenty of other things happening right now that may sway things one way or another...."

"up to and including horrific plague."Daniel said dryly "...which I need to solve as soon as possible.'

She nodded, starting to put the dinner things away. "I'm afraid I can't contradict that."

Daniel thought for a long moment, leaning on the wall "....regardless, I hope you find happiness, Darya."

"I suppose we'll have to see," she sighed. "as ever, I'll settle for survival."

"Sometimes that's the best thing you *can* do. " he admitted

She nodded slowly in agreement.

"Need help cleaning?" he offered

She shook her head and waved him off. "My daughter will be waiting for you."

He chuckled "alright" He nodded his head to her in thanks, and gestured "her room's that way, yes?"

She nodded. "Second from the left, up the stairs."

Daniel nodded once, before heading up the stairs with a deep breath

The door that Darya had indicated was propped open slightly.

Daniel pushed the door open, and poked his head in. "hello."

The light in here was soft, and he found Darchick already asleep in her bed, with Fenya sitting beside her, apparently asleep with her head against the wall gently.

Daniel chuckled "ah, It looks like I missed storytime."

Fenya snorted slightly and said up, yawning. "Well, she's invited us back for next time."

Daniel nodded "i'll be pleased to do so . I have a story to finish, after all." He smirked, "...you alright?'

"Looks like I dozed off myself," she nodded, straightening her dress as she stood up. It seemed like she wasn't going to ask about the girl's father while they were in the room.

Daniel tipped his head to the side "shall we?"

Fenya offered him her hand. "Lets."

Daniel took her hand, and walked out of the room with a heavy sigh "...so..>"

"Give me the bad news," she said.

"...he's caught the plague." Daniel said slowly "...he's already in a state where he's in a coma."

Fenya sighed. "I worried that might be the case."

"yes...we found him crumpled with a curious note in his hand, right by Elias."

"With a note?" she raised an eyebrow.

Daniel nodded, and showed it to her "this note."

She looked it over. "Well... that's relevant," she murmured.

"it is, isn't it? And...I suppose it makes sense when you think about it.."

"It does," she nodded. "It also means that the vampire is someone who knows the lore of the town."

"indeed." Daniel purred "meaning if we catch them..."

"They'd likely have at least some insight into the ritual."

Daniel smirked, "I think we have a new goal to add to the rest, Fenya."

"I'll make a note," she nodded. "oh.... I might have something as well. Probably nothing but...."

"Might I ask?"

She nodded. "Just before she went to sleep, Darchick mentioned that the children apparently have some kind of treasure hidden in the ruins of the church. or beneath them. rather."

"...a treasure, is it? Perhaps we should poke around while they're occupied with quarantine.'

"Might be a good idea," she nodded.

"I'm curious just what it is."

"I couldn't get much out of her but she implied it might be something related to their 'leader'."

"...the Captain's boy? or..."

"Given how tight lipped she became after the slip...."

"....it may also have something to do with the carver, now that I think of it.

She nodded. "That was my thought."

"Then we'll add it to the itinerary."

She marked it too, off on her book. "We should get back to the post office I suppose."

"I suppose we should." Daniel nodded "we have a night of translation ahead, if nothing else."

"And I recall you promised a report to the governor each morning."

"...ugh." Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose "Damn it."

She patted him on the back. "Sorry, Danochka."

"It's...not ideal." he admitted "but I won't complain too much."

She smiled. "if you give me a summary of what to put in, I can help."

Daniel nodded , "I can give you a general idea." he held her hand "you're a grand help, Fenya."

"I know," she smirked. "You can thank me later." She squeezed his hand and they headed down the stairs.

"oh , I will. I'll find a way to repay you in no time." daniel purred

her ears flicked gently and she smiled a bit slyly. "You're a resourceful man I've noticed."

His ears flicked as well with the compliment, and he chuckled "You have to be, to survive in the University."

"True enough," she chuckled as they headed back out into the darkness.

He walked with her down the darkened streets, one hand by his pistol belt as he went "I'm happy to turn those resources towards helping you for all you've done."

The night was dark and and foggy, and a few drops of rain fell from the heavy sky as they walked. "Oh that is *very* appreciated, doctor, I assure you." Fenya too, looked wary, even as they chatted.

Daniel chuckled softly, his eyes on the alert as he scanned the darkness ahead "it's the least I can do, Fenya."

It seemed at least for tonight as they walked, that everyone was obeying the new quarantine. They came upon a guard, who was standing, smoking at the crossroad. As they approached he put it out. "Return to your home. There's a quarantine one," the guard said firmly.

Daniel chuckled softly "...I'm Doctor Daniel Delgrave. I've been given special permission to investigate.'

"o-oh! Doctor!" the man immediately snapped into a salute. "the captain told us you had permission to be about."

Daniel smirked, saluting him back "we do, but thank you for being diligent, my friend."

The man squared his shoulders and nodded, "Thank you, sir. The captain told us this was an important assignment. Have to say, glad I didn't wind up posted at the fishery though...."

"is it rough down there at the moment?" He raised his eyebrow

"All's quiet now, s'far as I know," he nodded. "But it was a mess this evening tellin' the workers they couldn't come back in the morning. I heard some of em thought we were taking their jobs."

Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose "...that's what I was afraid of. No, nobody's taking their bloody jobs... this is for the health and safety of everyone here. There's been at least another 3 victims today."

The guard grimaced. "Personally, sir I'm damned terrified," he grumbled. "But some men think they're immortal, y'see? or like keeping some damned shop open is more important than anything else without thinking about how they're gonna work if they're dead."

Daniel nodded slowly "yes, that sounds like people alright." He sighed "They don't realize that in two bloody weeks, if I'm given the time to work...they'll likely be back to work , healthy and whole, like nothing ever happened."

"Well doctor, let's hope we can keep em in check that long eh?" He nodded. "Good luck."

"Good luck to you and yours, as well. We couldn't do it without you."

"Thank you sir!"

Daniel saluted the man "now, I must be off, long night ahead of us."

"Well, one dutiful guard at least," Fenya chuckled once they were a bit away.

Daniel nodded with a smile "indeed, It's good to know some people take this seriously. I'm proud."

"Sounds like the captain really impressed on everyone how important this is..."

"Indeed." He looked pleased as they headed towards the Post Office "as well he should have."

Fenya nodded. "Indeed. The trouble at the fishery.... that's not great though."

"no, no it isn't." he frowned "...I was afraid it would happen. Men like that don't understand the greater good in the least."

"Problematic," she sighed. "I hope no one does anything too terribly rash..."

The post office glowed with light from inside as they approached.

"No we can hope not." Daniel murmured "...though we have to be prepared, just in case."

"At this point I worry we need to be prepared for anything," she said, opening the door. The little postmaster Mitya was asleep in his chair.

Daniel chuckled, closing the door behind them and locking it tightly "it seems MItya's already fallen asleep."

"I suspect he's been pulling long nights," Fenya said quietly. "At least we've got the new locks."

She paused. "Danochka, I just realized...."

Daniel glanced at her "...yes, Fenya?"

She leaned in and quietly murmured. "Marta's his mother."

"....." Daniel tugged his collar "...ah."

She nodded, looking a little pained. "Lets... not wake him. I'll put on some tea upstairs and we can get to work."

Daniel grimaced slightly , and headed up the stairs "that's...a good plan, Fenya"

Fenya followed him quietly upstairs. Mitya had started the fire for them again, so at least it was nice and warm-- though they'd probably have to poke it a bit to get it above a mere warm glow.

Daniel began to gently poke the fire, adding to it to rouse it to a proper blaze.

"Thank you, Danochka," Fenya smiled, shrugging out of her heavy topcoat. "But yes... I feel rather sorry for Mitya...."

Daniel shrugged out of his jacket "as do I." He shook his head "He's a good lad."

"He is... he's done a lot to help us," she said, starting the water for tea.

She paused. "I suppose he takes a bit after his father."

"Very much." Daniel chuckled softly "knowing them both now...I can see how he takes after Vadim. Soft spoken, a tad nervous, but ultimately very kind and helpful."

Fenya nodded. "Yes that's exactly how I'd put it. He does seem a *tad* bit more ambitious than his father though."

"I suppose it can't be helped, Fenya." He shook his head "his father was pretty much raised to be unambitious."

"True enough," she agreed, with a shake of her head. "what madness."

"utter madness. this entire town has been twisted entirely by the madness of four ancient, dead bastards."

"Whose influence utterly refuses to go away," she nodded.

"By design. they twisted this entire town to their power structure...influenced everyone and everything, right down to who could marry who, and wormed their way into every facet of the people's lives."

"Speaking personally Danochka, I *really* hate that."

Daniel nodded slowly "I absolutely and utterly despise it, Fenya."

"Maybe getting to the bottom of this plague will help set things right."

"that's the hope. Hopefully this shakeup is enough to...shake off the last of their influence."

Fenya nodded. She spread the blanket out on the bed, so that the whole pattern was visible. "we can certainly hope," she agreed.

Daniel stood over it, pulling out the coin and looking down on it "we just need to wade through all this nonsense to get there."

"So we do," she nodded. "Do you have an approach in mind?"

"yes...I want to match up as many of these symbols as we can..." he mused

"Would you like my help with it or would you like me to get started on the report?"

"hm." he mused "...if you could get started on the report, that may be a big help. If I have trouble I can always ask for assistance..."

Fenya nodded. "Of course, Danochka. Good luck to us both." She smiled, and moved to the desk to let him work.

"Good luck" Daniel said with a nod, before he leaned in to get to work translating

Daniel, however, did not need help, it seemed. Armed with a notebook and pen he made quick work of the cipher, correlating the strange symbols to their equivalent modern letters. And even before he was finished putting together the entirety of the cipher, one thing became clear as he glanced at the blanket. It wasn't written in old mosgravan. It was written in *plain Lingua*.

Daniel grinned widely as he looked it over "...well, We're in luck, Fenya. Good luck."

"*Good luck*? are you serious?"

"I know, shocking isn't it?" He grinned "but this is in *bloody Lingua*. Not old mosgravan."

Her head snapped up. "It's in *lingua*?" she demanded. "Its just in bloody *coded lingua*?"

"that's right." he laughed "that's what it's in."

"I am absolutely *on the floor* right now," she snorted. "we probably could have translated the damned thing without the coin!"

"Not that the coin won't prove to be a good help." He laughed

"No I certainly agree," she chuckled. "well... that's very good news indeed."

"it is." Daniel grinned "I'm fairly good with Lingua, myself."

"So I've noticed," she teased.

He smirked "is that so?"

"You have a way with words-- you certainly get your point across," she chuckled. "whether it's a good or bad thing seems to depend on the situation."

He smirked, looking over the blanket in the attempt to parse it out "Sometimes i get lucky, other times not so much."

It was... a poem.

*Beneath our graves the heart that beats Gives lifeblood to our flesh And in our breast we sewed its meats To keep our lives afresh. And thus renewed we stand in stead In circle every moon Console the wound through which its bled Lest it become our ruin.*

"....." Daniel read it with a sharp frown "....Dear God."

Fenya jolted at the sudden pronouncement. "Danochka?" she breathed, half-standing. "Is.... everything alright?"

"...I think we're on to something. They did some sort of *macabre* surgery on themselves."

She stood fully now and came near, her eyes quizzical. "Surgery... of.. what kind?"

He read the poem out loud to her.

Fenya's ears stood straight up at attention. ".....*I see*."

"..they took something from the earth, and sewed it into themselves....which then needed to be tended to annually or it would poison the world. and whatever it was....kept them alive." he mused "....and...it's under the graveyard."

"That's....." she sat down heavily on the bed. "Good god."

"horrifying, isn't it?" he mused

She took off her glasses and cleaned them nervously. "Incredibly so."

"....we should make visiting the graveyard a priority."

"We certainly should," she agreed. "After Tadibyov manor?"

"After Tadibyov manor." he said, pulling out the knife. He attempted to read those as well.

*With this blade I pluck out my heart. With this blood I cleanse the heart of the world.*

"....." Daniel read it out loud to Fenya.

"...charming," she said. "It and the blanket are very on theme."

"they certainly are. " He frowned "it sounds like they're talking about *blood sacrifice* "

"It very much does," she frowned.

"....we'll have to investigate for ourselves ."

"So we will," she nodded. "I suppose we'll want to bring the knife...."

"yes...and the divination tools we were given."

"Ah yes the stones," she nodded. "And what was it... water?"

"yes, water." he mused "stones and water, and a ritual knife." He paused "...I hate that this investigation is making us resort to such....occult tactics."

"I'm not altogether fond of it myself," she grumbled. "As a doctor what on gaea do you think that poem *really* means?"

"I think perhaps..." He mused "that there's some unusual property to the ground there. Perhaps they're harvesting some kind of ground fungus , or rot that has unknown medicinal properties."

Fenya nodded, adjusting her glasses again. "That's a good possibility," she agreed. "Some sort of chemical property to a fungus or the ground...."

"that's what I think..perhaps one that derives nutrients from blood."

"It would explain growing in a graveyard potentially...."

"it would" he mused "and why they offer blood to it in their ritual."

"Interesting...." she drummed her nails on her leg.

"that's at least one theory...it's plausible."

"More plausible than an actual heart," she murmured.

"far more plausible." Daniel snorted "....i can't imagine an actual heart lodged in the bloody soil."

"What would it *do* if it was," Fenya snorted.

"....." Daniel grimaced "hell if I know."

She shook her head. "It sounds like a grim fairytale."

"doesn't it?" He chuckled "what...is it pumping blood to some great giant?"

She snorted. "I think I've read that story."

"really?" He snorted "....it's something that should stay in storybooks if you ask me."

"I quite agree!"

He sighed, and put the knife down "...I'm glad I could crack the code, but bloody hell."

"Every fresh revelation is a sordid one," she agreed.

"And deeper and deeper down this ridiculous little rabbit hole" he murmured

"Certainly not what I expected when we began this little journey."

"no, it's not what I expected either." He drawled "it was supposed to be *easy*."

"So much for that," she sighed.

"indeed. Nothing in Mosgrav ever is, is it?"

"Despite what I may complain about my mother's homeland this is *not* the typical mosgrav experience."

He smirked "no? You're not used to beating hearts in the land itself and strange village cults?"

She chuckled. "I'm afraid I'm more of a rookie at outlandish magical gimcrackery than you are."

"damn." Daniel smirked "If only we had an expert around who wasn't in a bloody coma."

"If only...." she frowned.

He shook his head "....admittedly, he'd probably just ignore any and all evidence that wasn't....folkloric."

"You think so?" she asked. "I haven't dealt with him much, does he actually believe all that or just collect the stories?"

"Oh I think the man genuinely believes them. At least...from the little I know of him."

She sniffed. "I'm surprised someone that superstitious has *any* career in the university. They like to call *my* field witchcraft."

"they like to call mine the very damned same." he snorted "...yet he's allowed to run off on expeditions like this."

"I suppose he *was* trying to salvage his reputation in some kind of final gamble."

"I suppose he was." Daniel murmured "and he dragged us into it"

"Last time you do a favor for a colleague?" she asked with a teasing edge.

"Depends on the colleague." he said with a low chuckle

She smiled. "I'll keep that in mind."

"You'd best. I think we earned a few favors between us."

"I'd certainly say so, Danochka," she agreed. "Well... the report's done. Is there anything else we need to take care of before bed?"

He shook his head 'translation took a lot less time than expected." he admitted "I think we're finished."

"Well then... What do you say to one more cup of tea and then bed? I'd imagine we'll need our wits about us tomorrow."

Daniel nodded "we will need our wits about us." he agreed "...so let's take that last tea break before we turn in for the night and face tomorrow with everything we've got."

Fenya poured them each a steaming cup of tea, and handed him his. When she sat down and reclined, she looked thoughtful, and tired."

Daniel took his cup, leaning back and taking a sip "....what's on your mind, Fenya?"

"It feels like it would be easier to list what *isn't* right now," she half chuckled. "Mostly I was thinking about.... how socially warped the people in this town have been."

Daniel nodded slowly "it's true. It's...like a cross section of what happens when you utterly destroy and rewrite a social structure.'

"Terrible marriages, disowned sons, bitter rivals...."

"false power structure supported by four all powerful people behind it all." He mused "Not to mention the pervasive stories of abuse."

She grimaced. "It turns my stomach, Danochka."

"Mine as well." he frowned "it absolutely disgusts me to my core."

She sighed and sipped her tea. "I just don't know what we should do about it."

"i'm...not sure, myself. I feel we should do *something* for sure."

She nodded. "Maybe it's my Astorian meddling instincts but it feels wrong not to."

"Those instincts are hard to ignore." he chuckled softly , and sipped his tea. "...but yes, it feels very wrong not to."

"So we'll have to give it some serious thought."

"we will...there's got to be *something* we can do."

Fenya nodded. "There must be....."

"Perhaps after we find the root of this plague...we'll find something to cure the roots of all the rest of their corruption as well."

"Well, I suppose we are going to the root of the problem metaphorically speaking," she smirked

"I suppose we are." he sipped his tea with a note of amusement "metaphorically speaking."

"Maybe we'll have to do some digging in the graveyard."

"Nothing wrong with a little grave robbing." He sipped his tea again "it's an Astorian tradition."

"Cheers," she chuckled.

"cheers" he raised his glass with a laugh.

She raised her own and clinked their glasses with a smirk.

He took a long drink of it with a low chuckle "...tomorrow should prove fruitful."

"We'll get that fruit any way we have to," she chuckled.

"even if we have to dig up every bloody grave site in this town." he murmured into his teas

"That's the kind of fruit they gather in your profession, right doctor?" she teased over her own glass.

"Oh yes." he smirked slightly, "Given that i study the dead.'

"You'll be right at home then," she smirked. She put down her teacup and started getting ready for bed.

Daniel placed his cup down, going to change as well for the night.

It seemed Fenya was getting accustomed enough to him being around that she changed into her night dress quite casually. "I'm thrilled not to have to sleep in my boots tonight."

Daniel, as well, had become used to her presence enough to simply strip down to change into his bed things "you know, I imagine so." he said "that couldn't have been comfortable.'

"I'm frankly surprised you didn't wake up with a bunch of bruises on your shin."

He snickered "you kick in your sleep? I hadn't noticed."

"I'm pleased to hear it!"

"have you gotten a lot of complaints about shin kicking in the past?" he teased

She flushed, her ears flicking. "How rude to ask!" she chuckled.

"My apologies, i didn't mean to malign your honor." he purred

"Apology *not* accepted-- you'll have to owe me," she sniffed, smirking.

"well. I'll add it to the list of things I owe you for, Fenya." his ears flicked "and pay you back in full, quite soon."

She smirked. "I shall be looking forward to that," she said, climbing into bed.

Daniel climbed into bed beside her, and stretched "oh I'm sure you are."

She rolled to face him, grinning slyly. "Obviously."

He leaned on his arm, meeting her eyes with a smirk "I'm curious what you expect.'

"Wouldn't you like to know, doctor boy," she smirked like a predator.

His ears flicked "should I be worried?"

"That depends entirely on what *you* expect, I'd say."

"hmmm." he smirked, his ear flicking despite the expression, reddened."on what I expect?"

"Mmmhmmm."

"Now that's...a loaded question."

"So was yours." she smirked.

"Well I suppose we're at a stalemate then." he purred "A standoff."

"For now," she purred back.

"for now." he leaned on his hand 'it'll have to budge one way or the other eventually."

"So it will," she agreed, her ears flicking. "We'll see how it shakes out."

"I suppose we will." he leaned against the pillows by her. , before chuckling.

She fluffed her pillows and yawned. "Soon, perhaps. After we've solved this damned plague."

"That may be nice." he chuckled "somewhere nicer."

"Indeed," she chuckled with him. "even if it's just here, minus plague."

"with the plague gone, i wouldn't' mind in the least" he chuckled

"I shall keep that in mind," she smiled. "Sleep well, Danochka."

"Sleep well, Fenya." he returned the smile before settling in

The gentle sound of the fire as it burned away to embers, and the whisper of the light rain on the window lulled them both soon to sleep.

Daniel let sleep take him, already hoping that tomorrow would bring with it the answers he sought.

Daniel dreamed of fire, and the scent of smoke. He dreamed that he looked up from a crowd, and four figures bathed and hidden by flame. They looked right at him, and in their gazes, variously malice, anger, arrogance, and desperation.

He didn't like the unsettling image as it burned into his memory. Logically...he could only imagine that these were the town masters, but in the dream, he simply held his ground.

Yes, the town masters, he was certain of it. And as he watched he felt a great rhythmic thumping beneath his feet, like the beat of a heart.

He looked down at the ground under his feet, frowning deeper.

The thumping got heavier and heavier and heavier--

Day 4: Treatment == >