Day Four: Treatment

Daniel woke up to someone pounding on the door.

Daniel gasped out loud, taking a deep breath as he was jarred awake "Damn it all!" He rolled out of bed, rubbing his eyes before shuffling to the doorway and pulling it open "....what in the blazes..."

Fenya stirred in bed as well. "What on gaea?" Mitya was standing at the door, looking as if he too had just been roused from sleep. "Doctor, I'm sorry to bother you," he said, "But the guard said it was urgent."

He paused. "And frankly I agree....."

"...." Daniel smoothed out his hair with a sharp hiss of breath "...what's happening Mitya?"

"Mr. Morozov-- Andrei Morozov-- he's dead, sir!"

Fenya, who had just been getting out of bed-- nearly fell down as she heard.

"....." Daniel was quiet a long, long moment before he simply said "fuck."

He hissed a sharp breath through his teeth "god *damn it*."

"Yes sir," Mitya nodded, his head bobbing. "The guard is downstairs.... the captain apparently asked for you to come look at the body."

"I...I'll be right down after I dress and grab my tools." He nodded slowly "...I'll be right over."

Mitya nodded. "Alright, I'll tell him then." The young man scurried back downstairs, leaving the two of them alone.

Daniel turned, and grabbed his clothes with a sharp hiss of breath "damn it....dammit. This is *very* bad."

"Unfortunately, I agree," Fenya said, already getting dressed.

He pulled on his shirt and trousers, before shrugging on his coat and grabbing his bag "....I have to hope it was sickness and not *damned murder* as that's the last thing we need right now."

"Bloody mosgrav, can't have one damned crisis at a time," Fenya grumbled.

"No, it seems to love *mixing and matching* fun little combinations of disaster, doesn't it? Bloody revolution, a plague, a vampire, now murder!"

"Wonderful," she sighed. "Maybe we *can* hope it's a disease. That would be.... a rapid progression though, wouldn't it?"

"...shockingly rapid, unless he was hiding it well."

"I suppose you could... with make up," she supposed.

"he was a vain enough man to do such a thing if he found it off putting." he mused "but I must see the body before I speculate."

She tied the bow on her blouse and put back her hair. "Well... let's go see it then."

Daniel nodded, slinging his bag over his shoulder "...of course it happens today." he murmured "damn it all."

"We should send a message to the Mayor," she nodded.

"we should. I'll drop one with Mitya on the way out."

"Thank goodness we're stationed at the post office," she said, making certain she had her own bag.

"Thank goodness." he said "...a delay of walking across town would be...bad."

"Very," she agreed. "Ready?"

"yes, as ready as I can be." he shook his head "...let's go."

They two of them clattered down the stairs to the body of the post office. The harried Mitya was standing there nervously-- as was a guard (not the one they'd spoken to last night) who also looked a bit perturbed.

Daniel looked at Mitya "...can you send a message to the Mayor that we're going to miss breakfast with him? " he said slowly "We have to deal with this post haste. I'm sure he'll understand."

Mitya nodded. "Of course... I'll take it to him myself, sir," he said. "It's no time for a big family breakfast right now," he murmured.

"thank you, Mitya." he said, patting the boy on the shoulder. "....be safe." he looked at the guard "I hear we have a body."

The guard nodded. "Yes sir. At the fishery."

"...at the fishery?" Daniel hissed "god damn.."

The guard nodded. "Please come with me. I suppose we're lucky it's closed this morning... though....."

Daniel nodded, following the guard "..though what?"

"There was talk between the workers yesterday of some kind of protest outside."

"..a protest." Daniel said slowly "....in protest of the bloody quarantine?" he hissed

He sighed as he led the two of them out into the street. "I know, sir. Gonna be a big damned fight when we have to clear them out."

Daniel growled softly to himself "Don't they understand that it's better to be off work for two damned weeks than to be coughing up blood that looks like *damned tar* in the street?"

"Guess not, sir." The morning was... wretched. Dreary, overcast, hardly a sight of the sun, and all that damned *fog*. It was probably going to pour any second.

Daniel looked up at the sky "....I hate this." "This whole situation is a bloody nightmare."

"It's getting worse and worse," Fenya muttered. "You're right about that" the guard said. "This is nasty weather."

"it is." He mused uncomfortably "...with the nasty situation it makes things seem...bleak."

"It does," the guard nodded. "Makes people even more restless than they would be anyway."

"Hence this bloody protest against good sense."

"You've got it, sir," he nodded. He led them up the north street, where the smell of fish was less today.

Daniel walked alongside him, looking ahead towards the fishery "how bad is the corpse, have you seen it?'

"I haven't, sir," the man said. "Captain just told me to run and get you."

"...damn." Daniel cursed "that...is less than ideal."

"Sorry sir..." They came in view of the river and the fishery. At least at the moment there wasn't a big crowd there... just a bunch of guards.

Daniel sighed softly "...I hope you all can handle the protest when it arrives."

"I hope so too," the man nodded. "Alright, I'll take you to the captain."

The other guards parted for them. It was strange to see the fishery quiet and still.

Daniel looked out over the quiet fishery as he walked, before turning his eyes forward, and walking with purpose beside the guard "thank you, officer."

Fenya looked around as they entered the fishery-- from the front this time. It opened into a wide room, almost cavernous, with counters and buckets and barrels everywhere. It *reeked* of fish guts.

Daniel grimaced "....great." he said, pulling his mask up "...simply wonderful. This won't' be nauseating at all."

Fenya tightened her scarf around her face as well. "Lovely."

The guard sneezed. "Sorry."

Daniel shook his head, and pressed onward, shaking his head 'it's only natural for a fishery.."

The guard gestured and led them to an area built into the corner that was its own small room. There was a window- no glass-- that was shuttered and closed.

Daniel caught a glimpse of a splatter of red leaking through the slats of the shutters.

Daniel frowned deeply "...... there's some blood coming out of that window."

Fenya looked over and grimaced. "That's a bad sign," she muttered.

The guard knocked on the door of the little office.

"...it means it's likely not the plague." he murmured

"No... it's not black," Fenya muttered.

They heard the captain bark an "enter", and the guard opened the door.

The office was..... a mess.

Daniel stepped into the room with his bag in hand "Captain." He said "...you called for me."

"Not much chance of saving the patient," the captain said dryly. "But I wanted your expert opinion on...... this." He waved his arm. The office was in shambles. Papers were everywhere. The desk was askew. A coat rack and its contents had been knocked over on the floor, and the clothes there had been partially burned. The papers also had burn marks, and the desk was singed. There were small traces of blood here and there-- most of it black. And then there was the corpse. Morozov's corpse was half burned-- the top half. His ears down to stubs, his fur burned away. Two small details jumped out at Daniel that weren't immediately apparent. The first was the slash across Morozov's neck, and the second was the glitter of small fragments of glass.

"......Son of a bitch." Daniel hissed through his teeth "I have a lot of thoughts, none of them good."

Fenya tightened her scarf again. "*Gracious*."

The captain snorted. "Wonderful. Well, collect them, doctor because I want to hear them. You're dismissed Ivanov."

The guard saluted. "Yes sir!" he trotted off closing the door behind him.

"....how in *hell* did he get burned?" Was the first thing out of his mouth as he bent over the corpse, mask secured over his muzzle "....damn."

How it got burned was a good question, but it certainly *did* get burned. Post-mortem, it seemed, when he examined the body. The difficult to spot throat wound was most likely the killing blow.

"...it's the same sort of wound caused by the bloody vampire that's been roaming about town." he mused. He investigated the shards of glass...

There were traces of black on the shards-- and they smelled funny. "Could it be our vampire?" Fenya considered.

Daniel gave them a slight sniff "...it could be, potentially." he murmured. "there's black blood all over the place...but..."

"But?" Fenya asked. It seemed the captain was just listening for now.

"Sniff this, if you would." He held up the glass shard "...carefully, through the mask if possible. "

Fenya sniffed it and her brow wrinkled. "That's....sulfuric acid?" she murmured.

"that's...what I was afraid of. Could sulfuric acid do this to a man?" He gestured to the horrible burns

"Not by itself," she murmured. "but if you paired it with say, sodium chlorate and sugar, it could start a fire."

"....someone would have to know the chemical reaction in order to set that up, however."

Fenya nodded. "They would. It's also possible that the glass smells that way for some other reason."

"...indeed." Daniel mused, and put it down again. He investigated the traces of black blood around instead "this is...gruesome."

Daniel....hadn't studied blood spatter at the university. But he'd been *around* people who studied blood spatter. The traces of thick black blood didn't look at all like they'd sprayed out of a vein. They looked like someone had dropped a cup full of blood.

The small traces of red that he could see however-- most of which were obscured by the black-- looked more natural.

"is it possible...that someone had a vial full of the black blood?" Daniel mused "that would explain why it looks like it was dropped instead of sprayed....and why the glass is covered in it."

Fenya raised her eyebrows. "It's certainly *possible*. If they bled someone who had the disease I imagine?"

"mmm" Daniel nodded, and tapped his gloved hand on his hip "that's...possible. This whole scene is strange."

"and why burn the body after?"

The captain finally spoke. "Why burn anything, doctor?"

"To destroy it." Daniel murmured

"That would be my guess," Volkov nodded. "Damn...."

Fenya frowned. "That means whoever did this wanted to hide something."

"that's right...but *what*" Daniel bent over the body again, investigating it more thoroughly "...it seems to have concentrated on the head and torso.."

"Could they have wanted to hide the wound?" Fenya asked.

"it's possible' he investigated the wound closer

The burn *did* hide the wound quite well. Someone who wasn't a doctor, or hadn't been looking quite closely could have missed it entirely.

"perhaps they were trying to hide that...it looked like the method of murder the f'vampire' uses?"

"Anybody can cut a throat, doctor," the captain points out. "but it certainly does."

"...perhaps it's hiding what was *used* to cut the throat?"

"Possibly," Fenya considered. "This scene is certainly...chaotic.."

"it's...incredibly chaotic." he murmured "...disorganized, yet thorough."

"I asked around and the man usually keeps the place neat as a pin," Volkov offered.

"...and yet this place is a bloody mess. Meaning there was likely a struggle, or the killer wrecked everything they could see."

The captain nodded. "It'd imagine a struggle, but it could also have been part of the killer's attempt to hide.... whatever they were trying to hide."

Daniel hissed through his teeth "....This is *the worst possible time* for this sort of thing"

Volkov sighed. "I have to agree. --why don't you give me any final thoughts and I'll... get to work."

"Someone dropped a bottle of infected blood in here, the murder was done with a slash across the throat that the killer attempted to hide with a fire...the body is burned, only on the upper half,confirming this. In addition, the shards of glass smell of sulfuric acid, and area all around the body, covered in more of that black blood."

"...I have to believe that this killing has something to do with the vampire situation...and if not, some old political squabble that...blew out of control."

Volkov made a note. "Got it. Damn.... the list of suspects in this murder is.. not short," he wrinkled his nose. "Thank you for coming, doctor. I'd have called on Osgrov as well, but I'm well aware he's been up all night converting that house and getting the sick situated."

"good...good. He told me he would be working on that." Daniel sighed softly "he's been hard at work, I imagine."

"Very, from reports. Things are bad, Delgrave. Now that word is out people are bringing in their sickness."

Daniel grimaced "...it's best for them to be put into care." he murmured "kept away from the healthy..."

"I'm certain," Volkov nodded. "But it's staggering to hear about the extent of it.":

"Which is exactly why I wanted drastic measures in place." Daniel said "...to slow what was already rapidly spinning out of control."

"Indeed. Alright, well, you've got the plague to look after and I've got this damned murder... we'd better be on about our business." He sounded far from happy about it.

Daniel nodded "...please keep me updated. I fear our investigations may be more entwined than I'd wish... the presence of the blood , you see.."

"wonderful," Volkov snorted. "I'll keep you up to date, delgrave. Godspeed to both of us."

"Godspeed, Volkov. We'll get to the bottom of things."

With a salute from the captain, Fenya and Daniel found themselves back in the main belly of the fishery.

Daniel took a deep breath "...damn it all."

"damn it all is right," Fenya sighed. "That definitely wasn't death by disease."

"no it ...sure wasn't. It was a murder." he frowned "A brutal one , at that."

"I can't say I'll miss the man, but...."

"no, neither will I...but I can't...approve of murder as a solution to such problems."

"It's... problematic at best."

"it makes a bloody mess of everything." he huffed "including our investigation."

"*very much* including it," she agreed. "And well...." she looked around at the couple of guards standing around, and went quiet.

Daniel gestured with his head to start walking. They'd continue when they were more alone

"To the graveyard?" she asked him, following.

"to the graveyard..." he nodded "we have the supplies, or do we need to stop by the post?"

"I put everything in my bag this morning before we left just in case."

"You're delightful, Fenya." he said as he passed the guards "simply delightful"

The guards saluted them as they headed out of the stinking fishery, and into the relatively fresh air.

Daniel nodded to them, and when they were clear asked "...and what were you going to say back there?"

Once they had gotten beyond the perimeter of guards around the fishery she cleared her throat. "I was going to say that, well.... the murder could be....." she coughed. "partially our fault."

Daniel winced "...I was..concerned about that, yes."

"If someone we told shared the information.... or......"

"....if someone decided it was time to take revenge." he frowned "during the chaos."

She nodded, pushing up her glasses. "INdeed."

"I...hope...that isn't the case. We have enough problems without *that* being the case."

"I hope so too," she nodded. "Its *certainly* equally likely that it could have been some disgruntled worker...."

"yes...upset by the quarantine and taking it out on the man."

Fenya nodded. "Exactly.....like the captain said-- not exactly a short list of suspects."

"no. about half the town hated that bastard." Daniel murmured "...he didn't ingratiate himself to people with his behavior OR his attitude."

"no he certainly didn't. He didn't seem to like the town much in return."

"no. Which couldn't have earned him any friends either." he frowned

"around here? Definitely not."

"no..' He began walking towards the outskirts of town "....I suppose the Captain will find some clues today."

"I certainly hope he will," Fenya agreed as they headed out down the foggy street by the river. "He seems competent."

Daniel nodded "and like someone who'll pursue this doggedly to the end"

"Indeed... though he';ll have to be split between it and the quarantine unfortunately."

"..." Daniel sighed "yes, it's...trouble all around , for sure"

"We'll all muddle through the best we can,"she sighed. "I'm keen to see what we'll find in this graveyard. "

"we will" Daniel agreed "...and as am I. It seems... central, to everything we've found so far."

"It does," Fenya agreed as they walked down the market street. Today, all the stalls had been folded up, or patently abandoned.

Daniel looked at the stalls with quiet satisfaction. At least the guards were taking this seriously. "This 'heart.'...i wonder if we'll find it."

"So do I. I almost wonder if we should have brought a shovel."

"...perhaps we should grab one." he murmured as he walked "it may be necessary."

"Maybe... though I suppose there might be one sitting around the graveyard...."

"...let's bank on that, and resolve to get one if it turns out it's needed and we can't bloody find one."

"Good idea," she nodded. They made their way out past the market to where the road started to trail off into nothing. "The graveyard should be up ahead."

He walked out, his legs brushed by the foliage surrounding the dwindling path "...out there?" He asked "...hm. It's really not a well traveled area, is it?"

"No, it certainly isn't," she agreed with a frown. "I suppose they didn't use it much."

"no I suppose they don't...I wonder where they bury their dead instead."

"The grove perhaps?"

"mmm...that makes sense." He agreed with a shake of his head "while this graveyard's been all but abandoned."

"It must be from the original time of you know who."

"The Town Bastards." he agreed with a nod.

"Exactly," she agreed. The further they got from the road, the taller the sparse grass became.

Daniel pulled his jacket close, looking around "...it's absolutely abandoned."

Now that they were closer, they could see rough stones standing in the abandoned field, and a building about the size of a shed,

Daniel raised his eyebrow as they approached "...an old graveyard, too. This seems ancient."

"So it does," she agrees. The first stone they pass is so weathered and cracked as to be illegible.

Daniel glanced down at the other stones as they passed "old enough that the names are lost to time.'

"200 years old or so, I'd wager," she nodded. "if not more."

"More is possible." he mused as he walked towards the small building

They passed a number of weathered gravestones-- many of them looked quite ancient. None looked less than 100 years old. The building was solidly built in stone, with no windows.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "....a mausoleum?"

"Likely," she said. "Unless it's some kind of small religious building..... or a shed I guess." They were approaching from the side so they couldn't see the door.

Daniel started to strafe the building, looking for a doorway inside "I suppose we'll see in a moment."

The doors were large, and made in the same stone as the rest of the building almost as though it had been carved out of a single block of stone. In fact, the only way that you could tell it was a door at all was the very finest of seams running down the center. There were no knobs or handles to pull, just smooth stone--- and four pear-shaped carved indentations, with a message carved above them in the same letters Daniel had deciphered the night before.

Daniel looked them over, translating them in his head

*We offer forth our hearts to enter.*

"....the hearts of the Masters?" he mused "....hm."

"Well... that could be a problem," Fenya considered.

"it could be a huge problem" he murmured 'given that they're burned to bloody ash."

Looking at the indents, they didn't look very... heart shaped.

"...though." he mused, as he brushed his fingers over the indents "...they're something else..."

"Something else?" she frowned. "But what?"

"gems, perhaps? or..." He holds out his hand "can i have that bowl of stones?"

She handed it to him. "Of course." However the stones only went up to about thumb sized. The depressions meanwhile, were closer to the size of two fists.

Daniel frowned "...i wonder if the stones fit together in any ...cohesive way."

"Like a puzzle?" she asked

"like a puzzle, yes." he murmured

Fenya looked thoughtful, but didn't seem to have any suggestions. "Well... we could certainly try it."

Daniel nodded, and tried to sort the stones . "...it has to have something to do with the supplies they brought with them.."

"Water and stones.... water and stones," she murmured.

Daniel leaned on the stone, looking thoughtful "...water and stones." "what in the blazes can you do with water and stones..."

"Er... pour the water over the stones? I suppose?" she thought deeply. "Didn't Darya say the stones were for reading the future or some nonsense?"

Daniel nodded, and gestured "let me see the bowl and water...I'll see if perhaps anything happens when I pour water into them."

Fenya nodded, and handed him a tightly corked bottle of water in addition to the bowl of stones.

Daniel took the bowl, and started to pour the bottle of water on top of them "...alright..."

Now he had some wet rocks.

They looked... maybe slightly shinier? probably because they were wet.

"Tell me the bloody future, or whatever it is you're supposed to do you *bloody stones* "

The stones just sat there.

"I hate the occult, Fenya."

Fenya stared at the stones. "Me too, Danochka."

"...what in *hells name* were they doing with them?"

He stood, and picked up the bowl, and pressed it to the door "open you stupid , stupid, useless psuedoscientific door!"

The bowl didn't act as a magical key, unfortunately.

Fenya grimaced. "Damn....."

"....alright, square one, then." He puts the bowl down and looks over the indents one more time

The indents..... he'd seen that shape before.

Recently.

In town.

Didn't he have an object that was **[[that shape]]**?

Daniel frowned, and reached into his bag, looking through his items "hold on..."

He pulled out the **phylactery** "Fenya. it means...their 'hearts'. the containers that held there...so called darkness"

Fenya puts the heel of her palm to her forehead. "*damnit* I should have realized that."

"....so we need to find them. *theirs*...and put them in this door in order to get into the room."

"....well.... assuming they didn't have them on their person when they died, we might be in luck."

"We may." he said "...my guess is they're with Rook in the Rookery."

She grinned. "Good guess. We should check right away."

"we should. While we still have time to loop back around here before nightfall." He gestured towards the Rookery with his head "let's go" He poured the water out of the bowl, into the bottle, sealed it, and handed them both to her

Fenya wrapped the wet bowl and rocks in some cloth before putting them back in her purse. "Should we go across the open field? or back and loop through the town?"

"back through the field, it's a shortcut and it's not *too* far."

She nodded. "No it isn't... but... visibility will be low, so let's keep alert."

He nodded, and kept his hand by his belt as they walked into the fog"as careful as I can be' he agreed

they passed the boundaries of the cemetery quietly, their boots rustling the long grass, the fog hanging over them in drifting clouds, as heavy as smoke from a brushfire.

Daniel walked closer to her "it's...unsettling here...to say the least."

"To say the least," Fenya agreed, keeping near him, "I swear it's been getting denser every day."

"I think it has been....to the point where it's nearly always as dark as bloody night"

"I suppose at least it's probably helping encourage everyone to stay home...."

"and in bed" he chuckled "...this is weather to sleep by the fire to."

"Indeed.... imagine if it was *nice* out."

"everyone would be all but rioting" he muttered

"More than likely," she agreed. as they pushed on through the dense mist and muddy, rocky field.

Daniel trod through the field, silently bemoaning his boots as he went "but here we are in the rain and mud"

"Hopefully not for too much longer," she muttered. Indeed, the shadow of the rookery loomed just inside the edge of their vision now, the top of it obscured in darkness.

Daniel looked up at the rookery with a frown "I hope rook cooperates today"

Fenya sighed. "we can only hope...."

"it seems to come and go" he murmured "but I hope he sees how dire the situation is"

They reached the tower with little more inconvenience than some wet boots. It stood, windowless before them and they could see the black plume that seemed to be pouring out into the sky.

Daniel walked over, and knocked heavily on the trapdoor "...that smoke is getting worse."

"I hope it is smoke," Fenya said, sounding perturbed.

"...mmm." He shuddered, "I'm not sure what...it is, if it isn't."

"Some sort of particulate being forced out... a solution forced into the air... an airy-sol, if you will..." she murmured. "Sorry... chemistry thoughts."

".....that's...unnerving to think about." he admitted.

"Sorry," she chuckled.

The trapdoor rattled

Daniel stepped away from it, letting the door open.

The door pushed up and Rook appeared, looking tired.

"Good morning, doctor."

"Hello Rook. Sleep well?"

"What's sleep, doctor?" he murmured. "Will this be long? if so, you should come down. It's about to rain."

"it might be." Daniel admitted "we have a big favor to ask."

He beckoned for them to follow, and headed down the stairs.

"Close it behind you please."

Daniel walked in and nodded to Fenya to follow

He gestured to a couple of chairs in the main area and had a seat.

Daniel took a seat on one of the chairs, and folded his hands before him "s...so..."

Fenya arranged herself also and Rook nodded.

"You said you had a favor to ask."

"....do you know where the phylacteries of the Masters and Mistress are?"

He blinked. "Is... this a trick question?"

"no." Daniel shook his head "...We may have found a way to stop all this, but to get there we need to open a door locked by indents for their phylacteries."

"I....see..." he said dubiously. "A door locked by their phylacteries. It sounds ingenious...."

"...I guess fitting , wouldn't you say? So.. may I ask? are they here?"

"I can't tell you for sure," he shrugged. "But I *assume* they're below us in the cairne."

"indeed..." he murmured slowly "...may we go down into it and seek them out? "

He sighed. "Let me get this straight. You want to take the masters' phylacteries out of their resting place and use them as.... keys?"

"...yes. to open a door where they would perform one of their old rituals. I feel the key to all this is down there."

He closed his eyes. "I *shouldn't*."

"You should." Daniel said firmly "...this town is dying Rook. And soon, there won't be anyone left at *all* if we don't stop this right this bloody instant."

He clicked his beak. "Alright..... fine. To save the town. But I will accompany you."

Daniel nodded "i don't mind that. You can come with us."

Rook nodded. "Very well. Then we can fetch them from the cairne. Better to get this over with as quickly as possible."

"Indeed." Daniel nodded, and gestured "lead the way, Rook."

Rook stood, and went to the center of the room, unlocking the same trap door they'd been through once before in their first visit to the cairne.

Daniel glanced down it with a soft hum "....dark as ever..." He nodded "shall we?" He started down into it.

Rook hauled the door up, and headed down the stone stairs, holding a little light aloft.

Daniel nodded, heading down after him and holding the door up for Fenya

As before they entered a cavernous area lined with shelves dug into the earth. Each one was inhabited by numerous nearly identical dolls, each covered with a splash of blood, each one with a small cloth tag, in the same script he had deciphered the day before.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "so we just...look for their names."

Looking at them, it seemed they were grouped by family-- or rather, by family name.

"I would imagine so," Rook shrugs.

Daniel made his way first, towards the Morozov family...."have you ever looked for them?"

"No, doctor."

"I'm shocked." He said, looking through them "...under which family would the mistress be put?"

"as I told you the other day, I'm afraid I can't read the markings, so I can't really speculate."

"I can." Daniel said "I can read them just fine."

"The Osgrovs...the Tadibyov...Yahontovs, and Volkovs..." he murmured "right, Fenya?"

Fenya flipped open her notebook from her bag and nodded. "Correct, doctor." Rook, meanwhile, raised a feathery eyebrow. "what do you mean you can read them?"

"I've figured out the code." he chuckled "it's...really just Lingua , once you get down to it. A language I'm quite fluent in."

Rook's eyes widened further. "A...cipher? you must be joking."

"not in the least" he laughed "it's...honestly rather simple"

He sniffed. "I see. Well... if you can read it perhaps you have a chance of finding them."

"that's the hope" he mused to himself, as he sought out the Osgrov family first

With Daniel's keen eye and increasing memory of the cipher, it didn't take him long to pick out the shelf that had tags labeled Osgrov.

Daniel looked carefully through them...looking for Sasha's father among them " hm...."

Sasha he found.... his sister as well... someone named Miri.... Katrina......

But no Pyotr.

Daniel frowned slightly "hm...."

Fenya frowned as well. "Is it not there?"

"no, it's not....kept seperate, perhaps?" He paused "....or hidden"

"Perhaps," Fenya nodded. "Shall we keep looking?"

"let's.." Daniel began searching for any that *were not grouped by family* or seemed to hold a special place.

Both of them searched the cavern quite thoroughly, double checking with one another as they went. With teamwork, they made short work of the quest, though with frustrating result:

The phylacteries of *none* of the founders were there in the carine.

"damn it all!" Daniel cursed

"They're not here, are they?" Rook mused. "They certainly fucking aren't," Fenya grumbled.

"Not a single hint of them anywhere." He frowned "...it's ...frustrating."

"I was somewhat afraid of that," Rook nodded.

"Did they ever mention ...keeping them elsewhere?"

"No," he shook his head. "but if they're used as some kind of door key I imagine they would have kept them handy."

"handy indeed." he murmured "....but *where*..."

"I wish I had some idea of where to advise you," Rook shrugs.

"...." Daniel thought for a moment "this is a shot in the dark...but Didn't the children say something to you about a treasure, Fenya?"

Fenyra raised an eyebrow. "That IS a shot in the dark. But yes they did."

"The children?" Rook asked.

"The children have been playing games using one of your dead masters names." Daniel mused "...there may be a connection."

"I....see..." he frowned.

"...we should check that out, Fenya...and if it yields nothing, see what else we can find."

Fenya nodded. "It's a good first thought if nothing else."

He nodded back "and I wanted to see what the little bastards were hiding anyway."

"Same..." she nodded. "Well then," Rook said, putting his hands together--" anything else I can help you with?"

"no, i ...think that's all for the moment, Rook."

Rook nodded. "Let's go upstairs then, shall we? I don't like too much to go among the phylacteries."

"mmm." Daniel nodded "I suppose that's...understandable." he admitted, heading upstairs.

Fenya followed them both up into the main room. "I always feel like the darkness may be catching," Rook murmured.

"honestly, Rook." Daniel said "I don't think you're too far off from that assessment."

"Very reassuring, doctor," he said with a smile.

"I have a great bedside manner." He drawled

"Undoubtedly," he purred. He lifted the hatch to the surface for them/

Daniel chuckled, and climbed out of the hatch and into the fog once more "...be well, rook."

"And you, doctor. Miss Smythe."

And just like that they were back up on the surface, surrounded by fog, with the looming tower above them.

"well...that wasn't as easy as I was hoping." Daniel said slowly

"Unfortunately not," she sighed.

Daniel offers his arm "...we might as well follow our other lead, before we turn our attentions back...to the families of the deceased."

She takes his arm gently. "We might as well," she nods. "Families of the deceased do sound like a likely lead as well..."

"indeed...though admittedly...a troublesome one given...the murder"

"The Morozovs," she murmured.

"yes... and the investigation likely t...involving...other members of important families."

"Damn.... I didn't even think that far," she frowned.

"So I'm hoping our current lead...bears fruit...so we don't have to worry about that."

"Let's cross our fingers then," she murmured. "And hightail it to the church."

Daniel nodded, and hurried along with her, taking her arm as they went "hopefully we won't need the bloody shovel for this."

The streets were quiet as they hurried along, their bootfalls ringing out and then muffled by the fog. It was almost *eerily* quiet, with so much of the town hidden away in quarantine.

"surrounded by the utter silence." he murmured "at least we can avoid the clown."

"I'm surprised he's obeyed the quarantine," Fenya murmured.

"with our luck, he'll be the one idiot who hasn't." Daniel drawled

She sighed. "I suppose we'll find out." Luckily they passed the square and neared the old church ruin without incident.

Daniel sighed with relief, and turned to go into the church with a curious frown on his face "now let's see what this 'children's treasure' is all about."

Fog clung to the haphazard stones of the half built monument to the horned god. Fenya stepped under the partial roof just as rain began to hiss.

Daniel covered his head, and began to look around the area "...it'll be somewhere." he mused "it has to be."

As he searched the ruin, he found an area beside the far wall, in the center, perhaps where the pulpit would have been. There were chalk drawings on the stone here, starting to be washed away by little drops of rain-- and the edges of the stones were loose.

Daniel smirked, first looking at the drawings, before he attempted to remove the stones.

Someone had drawn childish heart symbols, and what seemed to be monsters with crocodile jaws.

Daniel nodded his head "interesting." he mused, as he pulled the stone away

The stone exposed a metal handle.

"What on gaea?" Fenya purred looking down.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and gave the handle a pull. "I'm not quite sure.."

There was a scraping noise, and the handle pulled up a trap door, set into the stones, leading to a narrow passage down, descending into abject darkness.

Daniel grinned widely "well, would you look at that....do you still have that little light of yours, Fenya?"

"I do indeed," she purred, pulling it out of her bag, and unwrapping it from the cloth. The bright little light glowed in its bottle.

"Then let's illuminate this little mystery." He purred , and started down

Fenya nodded, following after him down the roughly hewn stone stairs into the darkness. The walls of the tiny shaft were the same stone as the foundation of the church.

Daniel trekked deeper, looking around "..it's built into the very foundation from the look of it."

"Some sort of basement?" Fenya murmured as they went down into the earth.

"I wonder," Daniel mused. "....likely a storage area, but.."

They came to the bottom of the stairs and as they did, the stone foundation petered out, replaced by carved out natural rock. They were standing in a large cavern, perhaps the size of a nice drawing room, but the roof was low. It was difficult to see the sides of the area.

"...or maybe not." He mused, and started moving along the wall, to the left

As he reached the wall, he found that there were two long recesses carved into the rock, about six feet long, and two feet in height, with one atop another.

"..." Daniel looked into them curiously "now this is interesting...shelving? or...perhaps..." He mused "...is this a place for the dead?"

Fenya raised an eyebrow. "I do think I remember something about the horned church preserving people in catacombs."

"As do I. but these appear to be empty."

"Yes, I don't see any bodies," she agreed, shining the light around.

As she shined the light around, Daniel caught a glimpse of something shimmering at the back of one of the recesses.

Daniel held up his hand "Fenya... hold the light still." he reached in for the shimmering object

It was a small, metal box. There didn't appear to be any kind of lock on it.

Daniel opened it up , curiously "hm.."

The hinges creaked as he opened it. Inside was a knife, a wooden-doll phylactery, and a few other small objects.

"well now..." He looked over the phylactery first , did it have a name?

There wasn't a name on it, but the carving on the face of it was more intricate that Daniel had seen on others.

He peered at it closely...was it familiar?

It was wolfish, and rather youthful.

"...hm." Daniel put it in his bag, and examined the knife next.

It was quite plain, and also quite sharp, with a short blade.

He put it in his bag as well, and looked over the other items

Little carved feral animals, and wooden toy soldiers.....

"...hm. like children's toys."

Fenya looked over his shoulder. "It certainly looks like."

"I wonder if this was the carver's phylactery."

"It seems like a likely guess," Fenya nodded. "I *suppose* it could belong to one of the children but it doesn't seem like their handiwork."

"no. It doesn't seem like it's one of theirs." Daniel mused "I think we're on the right track." He closed the box and slipped it into his bag.

"Well, if we're lucky that's one down then."

"I hope our luck holds out." He murmured, as he looked around the space for anything else.

There were a few broken pieces of chalk, but nothing else. "As do I," Fenya murmured.

"But it seems we're not *that* lucky...and we still have some searching to do."

"I suppose it would be too much to ask to find all four at once," she frowned.

"No, with our luck they'll be scattered to the four bloody winds." he muttered "all over town in little hidey holes"

"Well," she considered, as the two of them stood in the dark tomb, only the small light between them. "It sounded like the children *put* this one here...."

"it did." he mused "...I wonder if they put the others elsewhere...or.."

"Or if someone else has them...."

"I wonder." Daniel mused "...if they may be in the hands of the other families...? or..."

"We'll have to ask," she nodded. There was a low, forlorn sound, like a moan.

Daniel frowned, and turned slowly to look behind him "hm. I don't believe I like that sound."

"Nor I," she murmured, turning with him. There was nothing... at least nothing they could see in the frail light.

Daniel held the light up "hello?"

Nothing.... in fact.... "Daniel.... do you see the spot where we came down?"

"...." Daniel frowned and peered into the darkness. "...hm.."

He peered into the darkness and saw nothing *but* darkness. There was no spot of light.

"....no. No I don't." He frowned "....Fenya..."

She leaned her shoulder against his. "I'm.... concerned, Danochka."

He leaned close to her, frowning deeper "...you aren't the only one, Fenya..."

"The trap door.... must have fallen closed," she murmured.

"didn't sound like it *fell* as much as...eased closed." he frowned "...hm"

"Perhaps someone closed it on us? Maybe it's still....."

He walked towards it, and attempted to climb to where he *thought* it might have been...

It was easy enough to find the lip of the stairs.....

He attempted to push at the door, bracing himself after he climbed the stairs

The door resisted his push.

He pushed a little harder "........come on, now.."

He couldn't get it to open. Fenya frowned. "Is there room for me to stand and help?"

He shuffled over to give her a little room "a bit, if you stay close."

She moved in close to him, the two of them shoulder to shoulder. "Alright, on my mark.... heave!"

The trap door refused to budge.

"Damn it!" Fenya hissed.

"....perhaps we should have spent some time in the physical education classes." he murmured "or in sporting on the quad."

"Perhaps," she considers. "Or perhaps the problem needs an application of mind rather than muscle?"

"perhaps." He said, holding the light up to it "....i wonder if we can wedge it open."

"I was thinking just the same," she nodded. "Didn't you find a knife in there?"

"I think I did." he fished around until he found the knife, and unfolded it.

"Lets see if it works then...."

Daniel wedged it into the crack and tried to pry it open

This proved to be exactly the advantage he needed. He managed to get the knife wedged between the stones and..... up it started to come.

He pried it further up, before he pushed at it with his hand.

It was heavy, and it took him a moment, but he managed to force it up.

Daniel pushed it up, and offered his hand down to Fenya as he propped himself up on the lip.

She took his hand and they both climbed back up to the ruined church. It had started to rain and the fog was darker than ever.

But nearby, shrouded in the fog, there was a small light.

Daniel frowned, and walked towards the light with her "...now what's this...?"

"Danochka," Fenya said quietly, with a chill in her voice. She was slow to follow him.

Daniel gripped his pistol at his hip, still walking towards the light "...it wonder if someone left something behind."

The light seemed to be lantern light. It was at about shoulder height, about the distance away of a full room.

Fenya's hand went to her purse.

Daniel already had the gun out as he approached "hello? is someone there?"

There was no answer, but the light bobbed faintly.

Daniel remembered suddenly the story the priest had told, about the other priests, and the lights in the fog.

Daniel stopped walking suddenly "...Fenya...remember the priest's story?"

"y...yes," she nodded, her voice very quiet. "I was wondering if you did."

"I...remembered it." He frowned, and stopped walking, his hand on his pistol "...I don't like the feeling of this."

"Nor i," she breathed, watching the light as it bobbed there. It seemed to be watching them back.

Daniel slowly lowered his pistol "it's trying to lure us to it."

Daniel felt a breeze against his skin, chilling him to the bone. It brought with it an eerie sense of judgement.

Daniel held himself high, staring the light down. He didn't flinch, but he judged that light *right back*.

Slowly, the feeling retreated, and the light began to diminish.

Daniel shivered, and took a deep breath ...and sighed "well. that was...harrowing."

Fenya put her hand over her head, her ears back flat on her head. "It certainly was..."

He ran his hand through his hair, frowning at the mist "...something wanted to judge us...and perhaps kill us, it seems."

"What... could it have been?" she whispered.

"...possibly our 'vampire'. " He frowned "or...something else.."

"If it's the vampire, should we go after him?"

"yes." Daniel said, waving for her to follow as he started off after the light.

"yes we should. We need those samples....and that information."

Fenya nodded, and started moving again, tugging at his arm. "Come on then let's not waste any time!"

Daniel nodded, running with her as they followed the light

They ran into the dense fog of the increasingly familiar street, but by the time they caught sight of the light again, it was on the ground.

Daniel approached it slowly, the gun in his hand trained on it as he came closer and closer

All he found were the glowing vestiges of a pale white light trailing off into the fog, where it sat in the street.

Daniel knelt near it, and tried to get a better look "what in hell's name?"

Fenya knelt near it too. "That's not fire...." Indeed it wasn't, and there was nothing apparently to enclose it, no broken glass, or kindling or anything the like. Just filmy pale light growing dimmer by the second.

"...Daniel held out a hand "can I have a jar?"

As Fenya handed Daniel the jar with a quick nod, he realized that he recognized the strange flame-- quite like the one that Fenya had in her own jar.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and placed the jar over the light "...it's like the ones from the Rookery."

"So it is," she frowned. As he placed the jar over it, the little light stabilized.

Daniel slid a lid under it and fastened it tightly "there we go.."

The little light glowed in the jar without any apparent source.

"Well... that's certainly fascinating," Fenya murmured.

"it is.." He held it up '...so this is the light that lured those priests to their deaths."

"And a familiar one."

"Indeed." he mused "...it seems everything is connected to the town masters, the Rookery, and their practices."

"It does," she nodded. "The question is how...."

"I feel the answer." he turned the light in his hand "is under that graveyard."

The little light was completely cool, it didn't seem to produce any heat at all. "Then we're a quarter of the way there."

Daniel tied a loop of cord around it, and tied it to his belt.

"Almost there indeed. We just need a lead on the others.."

"Maybe the mayor will have some idea about his grandmothers?"

"yes.." He nodded "we did have to visit him today, too. If we get hers from him, then we'd be two down on our way to all four.."

"And that's halfway there," Fenya nodded. "if we got *really* lucky we could potentially find all of them today."

"Honestly given our limited timetable that's my hope." He admitted

"One day quarantine and immediate solution sounds ideal," she agreed.

"Doesn't it?" he chuckled "we could only be so lucky." He starts towards the mayor's house, offering her his arm.

She links arms with him, hurrying through the fog. "At least it shouldn't be too far..."

"at least, that's handy for our timetable, wouldn't you say?"

"Hopefully," she nodded. "I feel like the denser this fog gets the less certain I am of every footfall."

"....yes." Daniel frowned "and the damned light hardly helps at all.."

"Just makes you visible through the fog," she murmured. Distantly they heard a scream-- probably from pretty far across town.

Daniel hissed "dammit! Do you hear that?!"

"Unfortunately," she grimaced. "I can't tell where it came from though. Damn... can't even tell if it's a man, or woman. Or... not."

"no...and it sounded far off..." He frowned "....I don't like this."

"Me neither," she frowned. "But there's damned little we can do about it."

"...sadly not." he sighed, and pressed on, "as much as I would like to."

She leans her shoulder against his as they walk. "Astoria is going to seem positively sunny and cheerful after all this."

"I'm actually *looking forward* to the Astorian weather." He drawled "I never thought I'd see the day."

"No one should," she said shaking her head. "It's just *wrong*."

"It is." he chuckled weakly, as he stuck close to the buildings for landmarks "Maybe we should go to Mordona instead."

"People will ask why we just went on holiday from our holiday," she said as they passed the empty public square.

"And I'll tell them of the *bloody vampire* in the street and the *death fog*." He snorted

"Will they believe us is the question," Fenya murmured. "Oh I *highly* doubt it," a familiar annoying voice said, from behind a dead tree. "You astorians are so stuffy."

"......" Daniel turned towards the voice "you know, you're supposed to be obeying quarantine."

"No I'm not," he chuckled. "whatever gave you that idea?"

"The fact that *I spoke to the governor* and the captain of the bloody guard and got them to *enforce one* you plague on humanity."

"Oh well yes of course," Lukyan nodded. "But that doesn't apply to *me.*"

"and why the bloody hell not?" Daniel snapped

He put a hand over his heart. "Doctor I answer to a *higher* authority."

"and what authority would that be, clown? The law of *comedy*? Because I'm afraid you're committing high treason in that case."

"Comedy?" he chuckled. "No, no, I asssuuuuure you. I'm hardly put on this ball of dirt to be funny."

"and what are you put here for, hm?"

"Why, to yank your chain of course, Danny-boy!" he snickered and slapped his knee. "It just wouldn't be right for you to get to go about *completely* unharassed."

"so." Daniel tented his fingers "are you proposing that your whole purpose on Gaea...." He pointed his fingers to the prancing clown "is to make my life miserable. You're my own personal *tormentor*"

The clownish man giggled and clapped his hands. "Now you've got the idea! He *can* be taught!"

Fenya pinched the bridge of her nose just below her spectacles. "This is ridiculous."

"What a sad, sad little life you lead." Daniel sneered condescendingly "I'm afraid you won't have much to do soon enough. Once I'm gone from this town, you'll find your life terribly empty in that case."

He laid a hand over his forehead. "Shall I pine for you?" he cooed. "Or maybe I'll dissolve into air! Or be reborn as a flock of birds!"

He grinned nastily. "Or maybe you'll find me waiting for you wherever you go."

"I hope you're hit by the train on my way out." Daniel said , just as nastily

Lukyan blew him a kiss. "we shall see if you get your wish. Attend to your karma meter, doctor!"

" *Karma meter*?" Daniel asked dryly

"Yes, you can push the option button to check it along with your remaining health," he purred, "But it's a little late in the game for a tutorial don;'t you think?"

Daniel stared at him, his eyes narrowing "... *what*"

"You heard me!" he grinned. But he waved his hand. "Come now doctor, don't you think you're wasting time? The ladies grow impatient! There are funnier jokes than I, in store."

"Just..." Daniel said slowly "go inside so you don't get sick. You *moron*." He turned, and started walking away "and kindly never bother me again with your rambling."

No answer came from the fog. Fenya walked along with Daniel.

"...." Daniel sighed "*...option button*?"

"Madness," Fenya said, shaking her head. "Absolute madness."

"utter madness. I haven't' a clue where he gets it from."

"I should hope not, or we'd be mad as well...."

"mm, I'd like to avoid that particular strain of madness. It seems ....nonsensical."

"At least he's happy I suppose," she muttered, shaking her head. Tadibyov manor loomed ahead of them.

"good for him." He snorted softly , looking up at the manor. "The sooner we find those phylacteries...the sooner I can be rid of him."

"a fact for which I am *very* grateful."

" *me* too." He drawled. "I don't know how much more of him I can take."

"Hopefully you won't need to take much more," she said as they approached. "Not if we can get out of here soon."

"That's the hope." he agreed "...let's just...do our best."

There were lights in the Tadibyov windows that morning-- it was still morning wasn't it? Or had it slipped into the afternoon....

Daniel knocked at the door. He'd find out the next time he got to look at a clock...this weather was no good for telling time.

The door clicked open, and Mitya answered it! "Doctor!" he greeted with some, not unwelcome, surprise. "I didn't think we'd see you here today."

"Mitya." Daniel bowed his head "given everything that happened I'm unsurprised...but..."

Mitya nodded, and opened the door more fully. "Please come in. I'm afraid my father isn't here at the moment."

"Ah, he's out today?" Daniel pressed inside "that's a shame, I was hoping to speak with him."

"He might be at his office," he said. "Though I know he wanted to visit Sasha's hospital. And of course he has to deal with the guards and their investigation..."

Fenya followed the two of them inside.

"mmm....yes, it's likely to be a very busy day for the man." He looked around the house as he entered, curiously

Tadibyov manor was handsome, old, and classically decorated. To the left of the hall hung an old tapestry of a hunt. "Probably a busy day for everyone," Mitya sighed. "He said if you did come by though, that I should show you grandmother's room..."

"yes." Daniel nodded "we were very much hoping to take a look around.."

Mitya nodded. "For your investigation, right?"

"that's right." he chuckled "there's a particular item we're looking for...as well as some more information."

He cocked his head. "Oh? May I ask?" He led them up the stairs.

"We need to track down information about their practices." he says with a shake of his head "...so we can find the basis behind them."

Mitya nodded, leading them down the hall. "The basis behind the practice? I see... so you're looking for her notes or something?"

"notes...trinkets, anything she may have left behind."

He nodded, and took a silver key out of his pocket, unlocking a door that was elaborately carved with a stylistic design. "Of course."

Daniel cocked his head "is her room often kept locked?"

Mitya nodded. "Always," he said. "I haven't been inside in years and years."

"Does anyone ever go inside?"

He was quiet for a moment before he opened the door. "My father, sometimes. I think."

"I understand they were...quite close."

He nodded. "They were...." The room was a handsomely furnished and highly regimented chaos. A bed with a handsome quilt, knitted throw, and several handmade plush dolls. The room was filled with shelves, which were filled with soft dolls and painted carved figures, and more shelves full of books. There was a wardrobe with a full length mirror, and a writing desk with carefully laid out stationary.

"...well..." Daniel mused "it seems we have a lot to sort through.."

Mitya smiled a little looking at it. "I guess so...."

"It looks like a little girl's room," Fenya observed.

"it does." Daniel said, stepping inside "...hm." He had a few thoughts on that...

"Would you like me to leave or stay?" Mitya asked.

"It's up to you, Mitya." He said, as he first looked over the bed and the dolls upon it.

"I'll stay then.... in case you have any questions," he nodded. The dolls were in old fashioned dresses and suits, all carefully sewn from small pieces of fabric. One of the dolls even had a clever little pair of glasses made out of wire.

Daniel picked it up "that sounds good, Mitya." He turned the doll with glasses over in his hand "look at this one, Fenya. It's got glasses."

She peered over his shoulder. "Oh, how cute," she murmured. "It almost looks a bit like me, don't you think?"

Daniel looked at it a little closer "a little bit indeed" He chuckled

The doll was a grey furred mammal, of difficult to distinguish species, in a black dress. It did indeed look a little bit like Fenya.

"well." He said slowly "it looks an awful lot like you, actually." He picked up another to inspect it.

A black feline with a red scarf.

"hm." He turned it over in his hand "how cute."

"Definitely cute," she chuckled. Hmmm... she looked at him, and the doll,l over.

Daniel glanced at her out of the corner of his eye.

She glanced back at him.

"You don't see many cats in this area." He said slowly.

"No," she agreed softly. "One doesn't."

He held the doll up to her "what do you think of it. Rather...well made. Like the others."

"It looks a bit like you, Danochka."

"yes, i was beating around the bush on that one." he said

She chuckled embarrassedly. "As was I, but someone needed to cut to the chase."

"it's.." He looked the doll in the eyes "a little odd, don't you think?"

"It does seem quite the coincidence," she agreed. The little doll looked back at him with glass eyes.

"perhaps we can ask to hold onto them." He mused '...for curiosity's sake."

"Well, Mitya?" Fenya cocked her head. "Oh! well, I suppose it's alright?"

"we appreciate it, Mitya." He smiled, and slipped the dolls that looked uncannily like them into his bag. Did the others catch his eye as familiar?

One of them certainly looked like the mistress herself.

"This one is her." He chuckled softly, and looked at the sheets next. Did any have writing like the one they'd gotten?

There was writing on it... as soon as Daniel started translating it he recognized it. An old lullabye.

He read it over "...this seems familiar. have i heard this before?"

Fenya cocked her head. "Oh..... that's the lullabye my mother used to sing," she smiled nostalgically. "It's mosgravan. At least this version."

"oh!" Daniel said "...I think I've heard a version of it myself." He read it over again "I'm not surprised she would have something like this on her bed."

"No I suppose not," she shook her head. "I think grandmother made a few versions of that one," Mitya said. "I have one too."

"you do?" Daniel asked "that's...rather cute, in a way."

"She liked to make those kinds of things for family," he nodded.

"She seems like she was very fond of her family." He pointed out, before looking at the shelves next.

"Always," Mitya nodded. "She was very nice when I was little, though I didn't get to know her long."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Mitya." He said, inspecting the dolls and figures upon the shelves.

There was a shelf full of identical little leather bound books, and many shelves with little wooden dolls and toys. Mostly different kinds of feral animals.

"they loved their toys, it seems." He mused, and pulled one of the books from the shelf. He opened it and flipped through.

In the same handwriting that had been in the notes before, it was her journal. One of... oh probably about 50 or so volumes to look at the shelves.

"......." "she was very fond of journaling." he said slowly "...this is...a lot to sift through."

"I'm pretty certain she wrote something for every day of her life," Mitya admitted. "And it was a long one."

"Daunting," Fenya admitted.

"yes...We...may need to take a night and.." He sighed "...." "it's going to be a lot, Fenya."

Fenya grimaced. "It certainly is going to be...."

Mitya blinked. "You're going to read it all?"

"We...probably should. If we don't find any other leads it may at least prove enlightening."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Mitya asked.

"Have you seen her phylactery around?" he asked "or know where she might have kept it?" He investigated the wardrobe

"Oh! is that what you're looking for?" Mitya asked with a smile. "You should have said!"

"...what?" Daniel asked

"I have it," Mitya said as Daniel and Fenya stared at him. "It's in my room."

"....." Daniel opened his mouth, before closing it "can ...we have it?"

"I--you need it for your work, right?"

"mm hmm. We need the phylacteries of each of the four Masters."

"Then of course," he nodded.

"Thank you Mitya...you're delightful, has anyone ever told you that?"

His ears flushed. "Not really, but thank you. Ah... I'll go get it for you then?"

"Please. We'll keep looking around for anything else we could use, but it's much appreciated."

Mitya nodded. "I'll be right back then," he said, ducking out of the room.

"Well that was unexpectedly easy," Fenya murmured.

"it was." Daniel said "so I'm going to...be careful keeping my hopes up." He opened the wardrobe.

"Fair enough," she agreed. The wardrobe was full of handsome mosgravan dresses--including one that Daniel recognized as the one the spectre had been wearing.

Daniel pulled that dress out from the closet in particular "this is the dress I saw that woman in...the one in the mist."

"You recognized it right away?" she smirked a little and looked it over. "She certainly had good taste."

"I have a good eye." Daniel purred "and it was a memorable moment." He looked it over with a nod "she did, certainly."

"Going to rifle through the pockets?" she asked with a smirk.

He paused a moment before he did just that "actually yes, yes i am."

There was a folded letter inside, and a small bottle.

He pulled it out, and looked the bottle over first . "Here we are.."

It was small, about the size of a thumb, with a dropper stopper, tightly fastened. It was impossible to see what was within.

"hm..." he put it in his bag for now, and read the letter

*Betrayed by our own flesh and blood! The church is coming, the noose tightens. Make certain your heart is well guarded, Nika, we may yet survive this, but if we do not....*

There was no signature.

"....." "I see." He handed the note to Fenya "take a look at this."

Fenya looked at it curiously. "I don't recognize the writing. It must be one of the other masters?"

"it must be." he mused "...but which one is the question. I suppose we'll find out in due time. But whoever it is implies the church was called in by 'their own flesh and blood'."

"Danochka I hate to say this but as far as we've been able to discern that encompasses a good half the town."

"yes." He drawled "they're all very ...." "close."

"....close," she agreed with a nod.

There was a little knock on the doorframe. "Ah, I'm back."

"welcome back, Mitya." Daniel said, as he closed the wardrobe and moved to the writing desk "did you find it?"

He nodded, and held out his hand where there was an intricately carved pear shaped doll. "Of course."

Daniel gently took it from him and looked it over "...yes, this looks like exactly what we needed."

Like the phylactery they'd found in the underground crypt, this one too seemed heavier than the one they'd taken apart.

"I'm glad I could help," he nodded. "What have you got there?" he asked, looking at the little bottle.

Daniel shrugged "I'm not sure myself." He said "I was hoping to examine it a little more closely"

"Oh, well of course," he nodded. "I'm sure you'll be careful with it?"

"of course." Daniel purred "I'm incredibly careful with everything I touch."

"i can attest to that," Fenya agreed.

Mitya smiled. "well, I appreciate it... I know my father's very careful with all her things."

"I understand...and I wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize any of her things."

"We appreciate it. Ah... did you want to look through her diaries still?"

Daniel looked at Fenya "do we? I'm trying to think of if we'll find anything important enough to justify the time spent."

Fenya shook her head. "Unless she knows where the others kept their phylacteries, and I doubt it."

"Then no, we don't, Though I would like to look over the rest of the room."

Mitya nodded. "Of course!"

Daniel nodded, and turned to look over the writing desk "best to be thorough, after all."

It was a handsome old writing desk. There was a clean leather bound volume on it like the ones on the shelf.

Daniel picked it up, and started flipping through it

It was completely blank.

He thought for a moment..."hm." He pulled out the bottle, and he opened it to give it a sniff.

It smelled like perfume.

He took a dab of it, and put it on the page, just in case.

The pages smelled nice now. 🙂

"Ah...." Mitya hesitated.

"....." Daniel put it back in his bag "invisible ink it's not."

"I ah, think my father may have put that there," Mitya murmured. "To make it seem as though... well...."

"Like she might come home any minute?" Fenya said with sympathy. Or perhaps just pity.

Daniel looked down at it "...ah. I see." he closed it, and took a deep breath before he continued to look "that's..." sad. "understandable."

Mitya nodded sadly. "Sorry, doctor."

"it's alright." He looked through the papers covering the surface of the desk.

Mostly they just seemed to be decorations again, though there were a few old letters.

He read through the old letters, ignoring the clutter

They were... mundane. Letters from the old woman to her grandson Vadim. It was clear that the mayor had put them on the desk.

"...." Daniel sighed softly

Fenya patted him softly on the shoulder in an encouraging way.

He looked around, was there anything else he'd missed.

There didn't seem to be anything particularly important in the room, just sentimental.

"I think we've gotten all we need." Daniel said "thank you Mitya for all your help."

"of course, doctor," he nodded. "I'm just glad I could help...."

"you helped tremendously." He said "this phylactery will help us put a stop to all this."

"I'm not sure I understand how, but I believe in you, doctor," he smiled.

"I'm not sure I understand just yet either...but I'm following this lead to the end."

He nodded. "My father has a lot of faith in you too, even if things look dark right now."

"they do." Daniel admitted "but his faith is very much appreciated."

Mitya nodded. "I'm glad. Ah... may I close the room up then?"

"You may." Daniel said, patting his shoulder as he left the room

Fenya followed him out into the hall, and Mitya smiled at Daniel before locking up the room. They were leaving with the two dolls, the bottle, the note, and the phylactery.

"Well. i think that went well..that's two phylacteries down..."

Fenya nodded, as they headed back down the stairs. "That's half. Which is.... promising."

"it is..the hope is we can find the other two and get down there tonight. The sooner we find a key to ending this plague the better." He followed her down the stairs

"So, you're looking for all of the phylacteries?" Mitya asked as they returned downstairs.

"we are. They're needed to open some trick door." he said "that is blocking the way to an area we've found hinted at a few times."

"Trick door... well, that's very strange," Mitya considered. "But which ones do you still need?"

"Osgrov and Volkov's." Daniel said "we believe."

"Oh..." he bit his lip. "I know Mr. Volkov got rid of most of the senior volkov's things..."

"that's...very true." Daniel sighed "...which is going to prove to be a problem i'm *certain*."

"Ahh.... old master Volkov used to spend much of his time in the town hall and the guard station, perhaps someone familiar with either place might have it or know where to look?"

"hm...the man I know who's most familiar with the guard station is Volkov himself, and...he likely won't...want to talk about this."

Mitya shook his head. "No, probably not," he said, biting his lip.

"Anyone you'd recommend who might be willing to chit chat about old Volkov?"

He chewed his nail. "I'm not.... sure....."

"Come now...you must know *someone* out there who'd be willing to talk to us."

Mitya chewed his thumb. "Well.... I don;t know if he would be so willing to talk, but you *might* be able to get something out of the fiend Maxi...."

"....Maxi, hm?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "...he would know?"

"He's older than he looks," Mitya murmured. "Once upon a time he was in the guard, supposedly. And following that, he has been in and out of the cells there."

"...hm." Daniel shook his head "...now isn't that fascinating. I wouldn't have had him pegged for a member of the guard."

Mitya shook his head. "I don't know the full story, I'm afraid."

"That *is* interesting though," Fenya murmured.

"It certainly is." Daniel mused "we may just have to track him down. Where might he be hiding during quarantine?"

Mitya bit his lip. "Well.... I don't like to gossip...."

"no, no, but this is hardly gossip! it's helping with an investigation."

"True," he murmured. "Ah, well then... I don't know where he would be, but... Mila might..."

"..." Daniel raised his eyebrow "Mila, hm? We'll pay her a visit then."

fenya cocked her head. "Mila... doctor, apologies, I'm struggling to remember that name."

"Likely because of our excessive drinking that night." Daniel mused "but she's the bartender, isn't she?"

"That's right," Mitya nodded. "Mila Yahontov. Though, she was born Chernoff...."

"Ahhhh," Fenya nodded as well. "Yes, I remember her now, ah... dimly."

""she's certainly...memorable." He chuckled softly "I'm sure we'll find her at her bar, I'd imagine."

"Ah, no," Mitya shook his head. "She's greedy but she's not stupid. The bar's been shut down since last night."

"Thank hell." He said with a shake of his head

"That does pose the question of where to find her," Fenya supposed. "Well...theoretically she should be home with her husband," Mitya said with an obvious trace of embarrassment.

"Theoretically." Daniel drawled

"If not, she might be with Maxi," he admitted. "But if that's the case I wouldn't know where to look."

"...well. we'd best hope she's with her husband then." He shook his head "...we'll figure it out."

Mitya nodded. "Good luck, doctor."

"Thank you, Mitya. And thank you for your help." He saluted the boy, before heading out into the fog once more

Fenya headed out with him. It was practically as dark as night out. All the lamps were lit but it was difficult to see them as more than hazy balls of distant light.

"Back into this misty abyss." Daniel bemoaned as he started heading towards where he *believed* the Yahontov house to be.

"Yahontov," Fenya murmured as they walked. "That's the carver's name again."

"yes, yes it is..." Daniel mused "If we hadn't found the phylactery already... that would have been a good lead. But it wouldn't be bad to learn a little more about the man while we're there."

"True enough," she agreed as they headed through the fog. "What do you think of this whole... mess?"

"it's a mess." He said. "...I can't help but notice how two of the town masters clung to childish things."

"The ones we've had the most contact with certainly seemed to," she agreed with a nod.

"I find it interesting." He mused "...but I suppose it tracks for people who didn't want to grow old."

"It certainly does," she agreed. "Sort of, halted in life I suppose."

He sighed , nodding his head "...that certainly doesn't do wonders for my research."

Fenya couldn't help but chuckle. "Hmmm, I suppose it doesn't, I'm afraid."

"Wonderful." He said, smirking "I'll just have to see where it all leads, however."

"Perhaps there will yet be some sort of breakthrough," she chuckled.

"maybe, if we're lucky." He chuckled "Or maybe I'm paving the way for every immature idiot to find a way to be immature *forever*."

"That sounds like a potential ethical dilemma," she teased.

"mmm, what's our work without a few ethical dilemmas?"

"Boring?" she offered with a smirk.

"exactly." he winked "we need to cause a few ethical dilemmas to spice things up a little."

They were about to pass the post office on their way to Yahontov Manor. "Precisely," she agreed. "as a chemist, I endorse spices."

He laughed out loud "yes, that sounds about right for a chemist."

She smirked. "Doesn't it just?" she paused. "Any reason to stop at the post office, or straight on to our destination?"

Daniel thought "i don't know...Mitya would have told us if we had any letters, yes? and we don't have any samples we wanted to analyze... "

Fenya nodded. "yes, I can't think of anything either," she agreed. "But since we were going past I thought it would be best to ask."

"It's best to keep ideas in mind on how to save time." he agreed, "but I think we can safely skip it for the moment."

Fenya nodded, leaning closer to Daniel as they passed the post office. They could see a small manor house looming ahead. "Good," she nodded.

"Very good," He leaned against her. The fog felt oppressively thick, and the presence of another by his side did much to ease the clawing nerves. "I believe that must be it, don't you?"

"It's the only house of any particular age or fashion around here," she nodded. She walked closely beside him, seeming to feel the same about the oppressive fog.

He took her arm "it's true." he mused "Fitting, I suppose, given the family."

"Indeed," she agreed, her fingers brushing his arm as he took it. "Though I notice it's a bit smaller than the others."

"I have to wonder why. Perhaps the carver wasn't quite so interested in big and ostentatious housing." HIs ears flicked slightly at the touch of her fingers.

Her own flushed slightly and she nodded. "Perhaps....we also haven't heard his name nearly as often as the others...."

"We haven't, have we." he mused "I wonder why.."

"Perhaps.... he had...ahh... a smaller family?" she suggested.

"that's my guess too.." he said with a shake of his head "he didn't seem the type, from what we've heard."

"No, ah, I have to say the same," she agreed as they arrived at the garden of the little manor. It was the most nicely kept garden they'd seen here, though it still wasn't quite green.

"not a bad little garden." Daniel mused, as they walked to the front door. "I wonder who keeps it.. " He knocked firmly on the door.

The door clicked open slightly. "Hello? Oh!" and then it opened wider to reveal Ivan. "Doctor, I didn't expect you until later," he said, smiling broadly. "Or... maybe not at all."

"hello Ivan." Daniel said pleasantly "Things got a bit...chaotic, it's true."

The handsome bear man nodded. "I bet.... I heard about the quarantine from Mila." he paused. "Is it okay to ask you to come inside? or is that against regulation?"

"The professor and I are special cases. We're given free roam for investigation purposes." he chuckled "yes, you can ask us inside."

"Oh! Good then," Ivan smiled and opened the door. "Please come in."

Daniel stepped in with a nod "is your wife in?"

"She's still in bed," he smiled. "But she should be up soon." He hummed gently as he led them inside. It was... nice. Decorated by someone with an eye for comfort, if not design. Almost everything in the house was new--- well, newish anyway.

"You have a very cozy house, Ivan." Daniel mused

"Thank you, sir," Ivan smiled. "Oh! should I make some coffee? Or... is this all business? ITs okay if it's all business."

"Coffee sounds delightful after the day we've had." Daniel chuckled softly "don't you think Fenya?"

"I have to agree," she nodded. "I feel asleep on my feet."

Ivan smiled. "Well some coffee should help," he said, leading them into the cozy and well used kitchen. "you two must be awfully busy."

"we are." Daniel chuckled "hunting down ghosts of the past while trying to find a cure for the future."

"Ghosts huh?" he nodded, starting coffee on the big fire stove. "I didn't realize that was a thing doctors had to deal with."

"not...literal ghosts." Daniel said "that.." He paused, and shook his head "more like chasing what they left behind."

Ivan seemed to think about it, and then nodded. "Ooooh, like poetry ghosts."

"yes. Like poetry ghosts." Daniel agreed "...some of our answers lie in things the Masters left behind. so we're looking into all that in the hopes we can fix it."

"Oh right," he nodded. "You asked if I had anything that belonged to uncle Misha."

"that's right." he nodded "did you turn anything up?"

"There wasn't too much," he admitted. "But I did find some stuff. Old carving equipment. Some of the things he made. Some old clothes."

"perhaps in some of those we may find something useful." Daniel admitted

"I pulled them out for you so I can bring them down," he nodded. He brought them over quite large steaming mugs of coffee.

"Clothes have been useful before," Fenya agreed.

Daniel nodded "i'd very much appreciate that, Ivan." he accepted the cup of coffee gratefully

The large mugs looked cheerfully handmade in a rather amateurish way. There was half a thumb-print baked into Daniel's.

"did you make these yourself, Ivan?" Daniel asked, sipping his coffee

"Yes sir," Ivan said happily. "I love all kinds of crafts, though, I have to admit that clay is probably isn't what I'm best at."

The coffee, in contrast to the cheerfully bad mugs, was *excellent* and quite strong.

Fenya made a small noise of surprise as she tried her coffee. "Oh my," she murmured.

Daniel blinked in surprise as well "I suppose not, but they're rather charming in their own way." He paused "....this coffee, however..."

"Is it okay?" he asked blithely. "Its *amazing*," Fenya admitted with a trace of embarrassment at her own candor.

Daniel nodded, looking impressed 'it's perhaps the best coffee I've ever had in my life." he said with a trace of awe.

Ivan grinned embarrassedly. "It's kind of you to say that. My grandma taught me how to make it for her when I was just a little one."

"is that so?" Daniel asked "she's got one hell of a recipe."

Ivan chuckled. "She's a hell of a lady."

"..." Daniel sipped the coffee for a moment "your grandmother... who is she?"

"Alena Maximova," he smiled. "Do you know her?"

"no, no we haven't" Daniel shook his head. "I don't believe we have."

Fenya shook her head. "I'm afraid the name doesn't ring a bell."

Ivan chuckled. "Aw that's okay, my grandmama isn't exactly famous even if she makes good coffee."

"I'd be delighted to meet her some day." Daniel sipped his coffee "and thank you again for the coffee."

"Of course," he nodded. "I'm happy to get lunch started too, if you can stay for a meal."

"hm..." Daniel glanced at Fenya "Do you think we have the time for lunch?"

Fenya was about to answer when her stomach rumbled. "Ah..."

"...I think we can stay for lunch." Daniel chuckled

Fenya's ears flicked embarrassedly, but she smiled. "I'm glad," Ivan said with a smile. "maybe the smell will wake Mila dear too."

"maybe indeed." Daniel chuckled "I've met her once, she's an..interesting woman."

"Oh? At the bar I imagine?"

"At the bar." he chuckled "we did stop there one night."

Ivan nodded. "It's not really my thing," he chuckled.

"I didn't get the sense that you were one to frequent the pub." he said with a smirk "though I suppose that's a bit surprising for the husband of a bar's owner."

He smiled a little. "I used to carry around all the barrels for her," he said. "but... I think she likes working there better without me. Besides, I like to be more awake during the day."

"ahh." Daniel nodded slowly "not a night owl?"

Ivan shook his head. "Not really.... I haven't been much of a fan of the weather lately either."

"no it's been ...bad. I take it, it's not the usual around here?"

"It's never Mordona," he said with a little smile. "But it's never been like *this* either...."

"Must be something in the air." Daniel mused, sipping his coffee.

Ivan nodded. "It must be...." he sighed. "Oh... do you two want to look through Uncle Misha's things while lunch is cooking?"

"I think that would be a very good use of our time, thank you Ivan"

Ivan nodded, "Great," he waved to them. "I have the stuff out here."

Daniel put down his now empty cup of coffee, and nodded as he stood and offered Fenya his hand

Fenya did the same and stood, taking Daniel's hand. Ivan led them to a small, comfortable living room. There was a single large box sitting next to the sofa.

"Sorry again I couldn't find more."

"it's alright." Daniel said, looking in the box "This is more than enough."

Ivan smiled. "Alright then. I'll be in the kitchen if you need me."

He left them with the box. It looked like the clothes were on top.

Daniel nodded "thank you, Ivan." He first inspected the clothing

The clothing was surprisingly brightly colored for this part of mosgrav. Certainly expensive.

"someone really liked color and finery." He mused, looking through the pockets.

"So it seems," she agreed, watching over his shoulder. Daniel fished out a small piece of paper.

Daniel unfolded it and took a look over it's contents

It was a childish doodle of a man in a judge's robe. There was a big mustache drawn on and wavy lines coming off of the figure. There was a message written on the paper in the alchemical runes.

Daniel translated it slowly "what in hell's name.."

it read "IM VOLKOV AND I STINK"

Fenya smothered a snort, seeing it.

Daniel made a nose not unlike a *wheeze* "...." "....."

"remember what i said about immortality and maturity?"

"Yes, doctor, yes I do," she agreed dryly.

"I found definitive evidence that proves my point. Right here."

"Compelling evidence," she nodded. "What the hell, danochka."

"I don't know." He drawled "I mean, objectively it's just more proof that the Town Masters were having a spat...and lacked the maturity to rule in a lot of ways. But hm." He looked at the picture again "...I have to concur with 'what the hell'."

She sighed. "One has to wonder why they all worked together in the first place. Or maybe too long a life breeds bad blood in any relationship?"

"I fear that may have been the case... Nika spoke of it in a journal entry, didn't she? She spoke of how they started out far closer than they became."

"That's right, she did," Fenya sighed. "A bit depressing."

"Incredibly so." Daniel frowned "...they all prolonged their lives when they were young, and never grew. And they let their immortality corrupt and drive them apart."

"It's a shame," she said. "I feel like I wouldn't let that happen to me if I were immortal-- but I suppose everyone probably thinks that."

"it is a shame... I'd like to think the same, honestly, but I suppose in the end you never know." He shook his head "...madness."

"madness," she agreed with a sigh, leaning slightly on him.

He leaned back with a shake of his head "...it's a bit disparaging." he admitted. "For my research." He looked into the box with a frown

"I can imagine," she sighed. "It's not great..." below the clothes were some old carvings-- delicate, intricately carved feral animals and little statues of people.

Daniel looked over the carvings of people and animals with a shake of his head "it's terrible." he said "frustrating even."

"I mean.... I suppose it's a small sample size," she admitted. One of the little carvings looked just like the young wolf boy who had given him the coin.

Daniel nodded "it is...but the only bloody sampling I managed to find thus far..." He looked it over '..hm. this...is the wolf boy who gave me the coin. "

She raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Can that be?"

"I think so." he mused, turning it over "the likeness is uncanny."

"That's....interesting," she mused with him.

"If I were a superstitious man, I would say I've been seeing ghosts.."

"If I were a superstitious woman, I'd agree with you," she frowned..

"..." He shook his head, and put that figure aside. He looked deeper...was there anything else?

Some carving tools- including a knife identical to the one they had found with the phylactery in the crypt.

"looks like that must have been his knife." he mused "which means we have the right phylactery."

"That means we need Volkov and Osgrov's...."

"Yes indeed....the judge and the so called healer."

"So called," she agreed with a frown.

"From what it sounds like the man was more concerned with his own perverse desires than any real healing."

She nodded. "Leaving a legacy of family grief."

"....an absolute bastard." He said, looking for anything else of note in the box

Unfortunately, that seemed to be everything.

"well." he said "at least we're getting good company and some lunch." he said "even if we couldn't find much from these items."

"Yes," she nodded. "And maybe--" She paused mid sentence when someone called from upstairs. "Ivan? Are you cooking?" "Yes, Milaya!" Ivan called back from the kitchen. "We have guests for lunch!"

"ah, the lady of the house." Daniel said

"Guess she is here," Fenya murmured. "Any idea how you're going to ask about Maxi?"

"...Perhaps if we get a moment with her alone.."

Fenya nodded. "Good plan."

He nodded "let's not stir the pot if we don't have to." He whispered

It was obvious when Mila came down the stairs that she was the woman from the bar, though she was slightly less scantily dressed than when they had seen her before.

"Guests hmm?"

She looked over the doctor and Fenya, just as Ivan poked his head back into the room.

"Good morning, Miss Mila." Daniel said with a nod.

"Doctor," she purred. "Ivan isn't sick is he?" "No, dear," Ivan shook his head.

"no, we simply came to have a conversation and for some lunch."

Mila raised an eyebrow, and asked, slightly teasing. "Don't you have a plague to cure, doctor? My bar's losing money closed."

Daniel chuckled softly "You'd be surprised how far conversation can get you when you're actively researching. To cure a plague, I must know the town."

"I suppose that's why I'm not a doctor. I never would have guessed that."

"when it's a unique and unknown disease that's only shown up in one area, the question becomes 'what makes this place unique enough to foster such a sickness. And if you find the root of that, you often find the root of the illness."

Mila smiled. "Interesting. You could solve a sickness as a bartender that way. What's for lunch, Ivan?"

"I made some pierogi, dear," Ivan said softly. He gave Fenya and Daniel an apologetic look.

Daniel shrugged "it's more than just that. Once you find the origin you have to deduce, scientifically , the best way to *kill* the damned thing. In this case, the origin of this illness seems to be something involving the town masters. So we came to talk to your husband about the carver."

"Ah, the town masters," she made a face. "I should have known. Miserable old coots."

"My feelings exactly." Daniel said

"I knew you had a good head on your shoulders," she smiled.

Ivan waved. "Come on, lets um,all have lunch."

Daniel chuckled softly, and nodded "Lunch would be much appreciated, thank you"

Ivan smiled more happily once they were back in the kitchen, and he served up everyone plates of pan fried potato filled pierogies and a little bit of fish sausage. "Another one of my grandmama's recipes," Ivan explained happily, pouring more coffee for everyone as well.

Daniel chuckled "seems she taught you a lot, Ivan." He tried one of the perogies first

"Everything worth knowing that doesn't use tools, and some that does," Ivan said pleasantly. Mila merely sighed, and drank her coffee. "You must be here to ask about Ivan's uncle then?"

Daniel sipped his coffee, nodding his head "mm hmm. We had a few questions about him, yes."

"Well, he was a pedophile," Mila said with a shrug, taking a drink of her coffee. "That could be relevant." "Milaya!" Ivan moaned. "Its true, Ivan." "You shouldn't speak so ill of the dead..."

Fenya's ears flicked and she buried her embarrassment in a long drink of water.

Daniel nearly choked on his coffee , sputtering "yeah I.." He took a deep, dragged out breath "i'd heard that already and was none too pleased to have found it out."

Ivan looked embarrassed. "I know it sounds bad, doctor, but uncle Misha was not someone who wanted to hurt children."

"mm?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

Mila rolled her eyes, poking at her food while her husband spoke. "Uncle Misha grew up in a work camp in the capital," Ivan explained. "He did not get to have what you would call a childhood."

"That's the story anyway," Mila snorted. "Who knows what's true with someone so old?"

Daniel sipped his coffee. "A work camp in the capitol?"

"Yes," Ivan nodded. "he and his brother, my great great grandfather. Or was it three greats?"

"And I take it conditions were..rough?"

"Very, doctor," Ivan agreed. "And the men who ran it were evil men."

"as men who run work camps tend to be" Daniel sipped his coffee "and not to be...harsh, Ivan. That's very sad and all, but it doesn't exactly excuse the whole...*favoring the youth* aspect of things."

Ivan looked down at his plate. "He liked to spend time with children," he said a bit lamely. "He didn't like to spend time with adults. I am not saying he was a good man, but...."

He glanced at Mila. "we all make bad choices sometimes."

Daniel sighed softly "it's a heavy topic, that's for certain."

"Not really the best supper conversation," Mila shrugged. "but neither are current events right now."

"No. no they aren't. Things are...difficult. But we have a lead to get a start on fixing it."

"Color me curious," Mila purred.

"I need to find the Phylacteries of each of the town masters." Daniel said dryly

"Their phylacteries?" She raised an eyebrow. "Did they hide a time bomb plague in there?"

"*Milaya*."

"In a manner of speaking, yes." Daniel said "actually."

Mila smirked satisfied at her husband. "Ha." she paused. "wait really?"

"Yes." Daniel said "...see, I've found countless references to some monthly ritual of theirs down by the graveyard. They claim it's important and that there was some urgency to it being performed without fail. That if it wasn't 'ruin would befall the town'. Like they said in their final 'curse.' I believe that whatever they did down there was keeping something toxic from seeping into the soil and water of this town, and when they stopped keeping it in check it wormed its way in and caused the plague."

Mila raised her eyebrows. "Huh. That makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Though, I wonder if they were smart enough for something like that."

"Not smart enough for it to be deliberate." Daniel said "but..I feel as if what happened was more a matter of...a series of situations leading up to an unpleasant end."

Ivan nodded. "I could see that...." "I suppose," Mila shrugged. "Unpleasant end sounds right anyway."

"But, I plan to avert it and set it right. All I need is to get a sample of just what's *down there* so I can work on a way to undo it."

"Down there.... are you going to be doing a lot of digging?" Ivan asked.

"not digging. but I'm going under the earth." Daniel chuckled softly

Ivan nodded. "I see... if it had been digging I could help."

"I'm sure you're quite good at digging a hole, Ivan." Daniel chuckled "but this one's pre dug."

Mila snorted, and Ivan looked embarrassed. "Heh.... got it, doctor."

"Not that the help isn't appreciated. If we need some handiwork done, I know who to call."

Ivan smiled and gave a little salute. "I do a lot of the odd jobs in town."

"is that so?" Daniel asked

Ivan nodded. "Yeah, like those locks I installed for the post office?"

"I do remember seeing you there, I'd thought you were perhaps the town locksmith.

He shook his head. "I do all kinds of things like that."

"Just the town's handyman in general, aren't you?"

"There are others but I guess I'm the best known," he nodded.

"And for good reason if the locks on that door are any indication.'

He smiled. "Aw, thank you. I just do my best."

"that's all any of us can do." Daniel ate another pierogi

The food at least, was *very* good. As good as the coffee.

"You're a good cook, as well."

"He's got that to recommend him,"Mila agreed.

Ivan smiled. "Thank you!/"

"oh, Ivan." Daniel said pleasantly "I was wondering if you might be able to go with Fenya to take a look at something with her. She had some damage to her boot and wanted someone to take a look at it."

Ivan blinked. "Oh! Well, of course I could take a look at it." Fenya looked surprised for a moment but turned it around. "Danochka--ah, thank you for thinking of it!"

"you're welcome." He winked at her "I was worried for you after you took that spill the other day."

She smiles. "You're a sweetheart, doctor." Ivan tucked his napkin under his empty plate. "Should we go look now? I know you're probably in a hurry."

"Please, we have a lot of walking ahead of us."

Ivan nodded, and stood, politely pushing in his chair. "We'll be back in a few minutes, doctor. Sorry if it takes a bit." Fenya said.

"Please, take your time." Daniel purred

Ivan and Fenya headed out of the room, fenya exaggerating a little limp.

Daniel waited until they were out of the room to turn to Mila "so..."

"I had something I wanted to ask you."

Mila leaned her chin on her hand. "What is it, handsome?"

"I had caught wind that you may know where I can find Maxi. I have a few questions for the man."

She raised her eyebrows. "Oh I see. A lot of people have questions for my Maxi you know."

"That so?" Daniel chuckled "popular man. I take it that you and he are...close?"

She smiled widely. "Oh yes."

"congratulations." He said "he seems like an intense sort of man."

"Very intense," she smiled. "Soon, both of us will get out of this rat hole."

"is that so?" Daniel raised his eyebrow "you're looking to run off?"

"There's little to keep me here," she said with a shrug in a quiet voice. "Once things in the capital cool down...."

"..." Daniel nodded. "I understand. Hopefully, for you, they do so soon." He sighed, running his hand through his hair "I suppose you could leave Mosgrav."

Mila smiles. "I would *love* to.. but just getting to the capitol will be an amazing first step." She paused. "Unless you're saying that we could.... "

"could...?" Daniel raised his eyebrow

"That you'd help us get to Astoria when you leave?"

"....I..suppose I could..." he said hesitantly "Though I'll admit, I'm often wary of getting involved in other people's...relationship troubles." He glanced out the door where Ivan went. "but I can be convinced.."

She shook her head. "Ivan's an idiot. A sweet idiot. But an idiot," she shook her head. "I wouldn't say we have relationship troubles because I wouldn't say we have a relationship."

"I got that impression." Daniel said slowly

"Things in rural Mosgrav are different than they are in Astoria, doctor," she said sharply. "For ladies especially."

"i've also gotten that impression." He said again "...I've spent a fair bit of time talking to people of town, men and women alike." "If you want..." He paused a moment "I can help you, yes. But...I need to know where I can speak to Maxi. I have to follow a lead that he may be able to assist me with."

She bit her lip. "You have to give me your word you're not going to do anything that might get him in trouble."

"I'm not looking to cause trouble.. I just...need to know where I might find something."

"Maxi's your man for that, then," she frowned. "Alright.... I can tell you."

"thank you. We won't get him in trouble. I promise. And...I'll do what I can to help you get to Astoria."

She smiled, still leaning on her hand. "I appreciate it, doctor."

"Indeed." he nodded slowly "...so where might I find the man?"

"By the river," she said. "They call the area the flophouses. Look for the old brick building with the black window."

"the flophouses...building with the black window." he mused

Mila nodded. "You shouldn't have a problem finding it."

"What can you tell me about him, might I ask?'

"About Maxi?"

"yes, about Maxi." Daniel nodded

"What do you want to know?" she asked warily.

"I've only met the man once." Daniel said

"I want to know what to expect."

"He;s intense," she said with a fond smile. "Tricky. He might want payment for whatever you want from him. or to gamble."

"I've already lost a hand to him gambling." Daniel murmured "which ..is troublesome, given that I'd really need his help."

"Good luck then," she frowned. "But maybe he'll cooperate if it's really serious? especially if you tell him what you told me."

"Good to know that may sway him to put aside the tricks and games." Daniel mused "...thank you."

Mila nodded. "Of course. I hope it'll work out"

"I hope so too." Daniel ran his hand through his hair "people are dying in the streets, and it's getting worse and worse every moment."

"Yes, this plague isn't doing anyone any favors," she agreed.

"not with the way the afflicted shamble about." he frowned "attacking people blindly."

"terrifying," she said, shaking her head. "worse than drunks."

"far worse than drunks." he murmured "...I'd take a drunk any day of the week. This...sleeping sickness...is a nightmare to deal with."

"No pun intended?" she asked.

"no pun intended." Daniel shook his head "but...it fits i suppose."

"It certainly does."

"Honestly, thank you very much for your help. I'm sure it'll go a long way to helping us find the rest of the phylacteries."

She nodded. "Hopefully. And you can defuse the bomb."

"that's the hope." He chuckled weakly "...If only I had the chance to tell the town masters just how little I think of how they ran this bloody place."

"You'd need a spirit board for that now I'm afraid," she said. "But I'll settle for giving this place the evil eye on my way out."

"Allow me to join you in it when Fenya and I take our leave as well" He snorted

"With pleasure," she agreed.

"Hopefully Ivan's about done looking at the" He made air quotes "boot emergency"

She snorted. "You could have gotten away with an even less clever ruse," she drawled, rolling her eyes.

"I'm sure, but I'm very used to fooling the best and brightest"

"Oh course," she nodded blithely. "Maybe you should check on them, Ivan is known for talking people's ears off."

"...." Daniel stood "what have I done to poor Fenya?"

"Sacrifices must be made, I'm sure."

"but even this..." He shook his head. "Be well, ma'am. I'm afraid we should probably get going" He nodded to her, once, before hurrying into the other room.

He found Fenya in the parlor, listening to Ivan chattering away about shoes and cobbling.

"Fenya, i hope your boot's all fixed!" he said cheerfully

Fenya looked up and met his gaze with a non-verbal 'thank goodness'. "ah! yes! Ivan here fixed it right up for me."

Ivan smiled. "It wasn't any trouble. That heel was pretty worn through though."

Daniel smiled back at him "oh, that's good to hear. But I'm afraid we've got to be going...we're running out of daylight, you see."

Ivan nodded. "I understand, it must be very busy for you right now. I hope you can come back and visit when things are less.... dire...."

"indeed. Once everything blows over we'll have time for pleasantries." he nodded

Ivan nodded. "Good luck then, doctor. Miss."

Fenya stood, tying her boot back on. "Thank you, Ivan."

"Thank you Ivan." Daniel nodded "have a good day, will you?"

Ivan nodded. "I'll sure try, doctor," he smiled. "You too."

And with that Fenya and Daniel were out of the house again.

Daniel walked out into the fog "well...I got Maxi's location at a minor price"

"A price, hmm?" she asked, linting arms with him in the dark fog.

He took her arm "Mila wants a train trip out and assistance getting to Astoria with Maxi." He said.

She raised her eyebrows. "I *should* be surprised."

"but you're not? Neither am I."

"It's a shame," she sighed. "Ivan seems to adore her."

"indeed" he grimaced "he certainly does, but the feeling...it seems...is far from mutual."

"So I gathered," she nodded, with a frown. "I'm not sure what he sees in her honestly."

"not sure either." He said "some basic communication would ..help the situation, but... " He shook his head "people's personal dramas are not my specialty."

"Nor mine I'm afraid," she sighed. "They'll just have to be satisfied with getting their lives saved I suppose."

"there's time to mend the heart when you aren't in danger of falling into a bloody coma."

"Indeed," she nodded. "First thing first. So-- where are we headed?"

"off to the slums. To the brick building with the black window."

"Wonderful," she frowned. "If we're lucky things will be as quiet there as they are here."

"that's the hope...but knowing the man...it's possible he may try being...tricky...about it."

"Tricky?" she raised an eyebrow.

"he's the man who gambled me in the bar. " Daniel drawled

"Ah," she clucked, remembering the incident. "Tricky indeed."

"mm hmm. I was warned he may to to make bargaining a little game."

She pinched the bridge of her nose. "I'm as much a fan of gambling as anyone but that seems.... annoying."

"highly. May just try to scare him with the plague if it comes to that."

"I certainly wouldn't blame you," she nodded. They rounded the corner, up the quiet street where the bar and inn were usually if not bustling, then populated. Today, they only saw one miserable drunk sitting outside the bar with a bottle.

"even the plague can't dissuade everyone it seems." He murmured to Fenya

She shook her head. "Seems not," she murmured with a sigh.

"we are doing our damnedest."

"At least he's not passing the bottle with a pack of friends," she supposed.

Daniel shuddered "..ugh. yes, that would be an unmitigated disaster, wouldn't it?'

"It would require mitigation," she agreed, with a sour edge to her voice.

"indeed.' He shook his head "...which we hardly have time for."

"We hardly have time for anything," she sighed as she passed the pub. Unfortunately, they could hear the sound of voices distantly as they approached the river.

"Indeed." he murmured "...it's...troublesome...and exhausting." He paused, listening to the voices "...speak of the devil, here's likely more trouble."

"wonderful," she murmured. As they got closer the sound became more distinct-- men grousing about something Keeping their voices down but not for lack of irritation.

Daniel stomped towards the sound, full of piss and vinegar "damn it." he muttered to himself as he approached

Fenya hesitated for a moment, but hurried after him. As they approached the dock area, they caught sight of a rowdy group of about 5 men in a tight knot. They couldn;t quite make out what they were saying but Daniel caught "Morozov", "Fishery", "guard bastards" and "do something about it."

Daniel stood a fair distance away...but cleared his throat rather loudly "I think you'd best think twice about what you're doing gentlemen."

All the discussion immediately stopped, and the largest man looked over, and Daniel could tell he was narrowing his eyes at him.

"And vhat do you vant?"

"For you lot to obey proper quarantine restrictions and not go gallivanting about on some misguided vigilantism." he said sternly

The man snorted, and the others groused quietly. "And vhat vould you know about that, little man?"

"Plenty. Trust me, I've met far more frightening men than you, good sir. Whatever you lot are up to, it's bound to only cause more trouble than it's worth, so let's save us all the grief and have you simply pack up and go home, hm?"

The man grinned at his compatriots. "Did you hear that? scarier men."/

They all laughed nastily.

Daniel straightened up, his eyes narrowing "Laugh all you want, but I watched the supposedly unkillable Hellhound of New Astoria's west die before my very eyes." He put his hand on his belt "I'm asking you to stop whatever it is you're doing, and bloody go *home* before you get *sick* you *morons*"

"New Astoria?" One of them sneers. "So, you are that doctor? The one who shut down the fishery."

"That's right. For your own bloody good, you know."

One of them snorted. "For our own good? Vhat's that supposed to mean!"

"You're pressed together in that fishery, do you have any idea how easy it would be for disease to spread? It'd spread to each of you! and then to your families, and your families would bring it to the market *where it'd spread even more*. A gathering like the fishery is a *death sentence* on this town."

"So you say! How do ve know you are not the one who brought it to town, eh?!"

"Maybe you killed old Morozov to shut the fishery down!"

"Maybe Astoria is messing with Mosgrav's affrairs!"

Daniel waved his hand "okay, if we're going to have this conversation I'll need one thing from you." He pointed to the men behind the one who directly spoke to him first "Tell the peanut gallery that not to make this a crowd, hm? One person at a time, thank you *very* much."

"One at a time, he says," the one snorted. The others laughed. "This is not Astoria, *friend*. In Mosgrav we are brothers." There was a general rugged agreement with this statement. Fenya frowned, holding close to Daniel, her ears flat on her head.

Daniel's ears flicked "good for you." he muttered. "well. I can tell you with absolutely certainty that with the capital in flames Mosgrav doesn't have many affairs for Astoria to mess with." He purred "And I can say , from my research, that this illness is *very much* born from your soil, boys. This isn't an Astorian illness , by a long shot." He sneered "and If you think I'd need to *kill a man* to shut your town down , you're sorely mistaken. I act with authority given to me by your own *town leaders*. So I *implore you* to stop carousing about like a group of hooligans and *get to your families* before you have to watch them sputter and scream in their own beds from the illness *your stupidity* brought home."

The man grimaced and he looked at the others. There was some muttering between them and finally one said. "Brothers, let us leave Mr. Astoria to his devilry. We all have more important things to do than argue with a dandy," he sneered. But Daniel could see that he'd shaken him.

The group started to disperse.

Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose as they dispersed "a *dandy*. "

Fenya patted him on the back. "They're just a bunch of unwashed dock workers."

"but a *dandy* though!" He grumbled "I'm hardly a dandy."

"Compared to them, anyone who bathes weekly is a dandy," she pointed out dryly.

"good bloody point." he said "...at least we convinced them."

"Thank goodness," Fenya said, her ears flicking. "You were able to make them see reason."

"All it took was a threat to their families." he drawled "....shall we?"

"Lets," she murmured, taking his arm again with more confidence.

He took her arm, his ear flicking with relief, before he started off towards the ...less upscale...area.

They made their way past the closed fishery, where a number of guards were stationed. Several of them saluted as they went by.

Daniel saluted them back "you should keep an eye out. A number of fishery workers were preparing to cause trouble. We dispersed them, but it seems some folks aren't obeying quarantine.'

"Wonderful," the guard sighed. "Another batch of em. Thank you sir. We've been putting out little fires like that all day."

"I can only imagine." Daniel sighed with him "...this one seems smothered for now, however."

"Thank goodness," he nodded, wearily. "Anything we can do for you doctor?"

"Not at the moment." he shook his head. '...we're just following a lead right now. Simply keep up the good work.

The man saluted again, and soon disappeared behind them in the fog. "At least the guards are doing their job," Fenya said. "I've seen worse."

"So haveIi." Daniel mused "the guards here...I respect them. They work hard."

"Likely thanks to Volkov," she nodded.

"A good man." Daniel said "and a hardworking one." He paused "did you know the governor's wife tried to set me up with him?"

Fenya chokes. "She *what*?"

His ears flicked "she tried to set us up." He said "said he was *recently available* if you catch my drift."

Her ears turned bright red and flicked on top of her head. "I...see? Goodness...."

"yes." His ears flicked again "Goodness is right. I...politely declined."

"Ah. Hmm... Good? Yes. Good."

"mm hmm. Nice man. Not a bad looking one, either, but ah." he tightened his tie "no. I'm. hm. no."

"Not.... your type?" She murmured embarrassedly, fussing with her glasses.

"yes. Not my type." he nodded, running his hand through his hair

"Good....to know..."

She glanced at him briefly and then away again.

HIs ears flushed a bright red as he caught her glancing, and flicked, he kept his eyes straight ahead after that "indeed. Just an amusing anecdote."

"The ah, people in this town certainly have.... complicated romantic entanglements," she murmured.

"don't they?" Daniel said "it's... " He paused "a lot to deal with."

"yes ah... it's... certainly messier than back in Astoria, don't you think?" she was still avoiding his gaze.

"Far messier." he said, looking into the fog "..in Astoria things are simple."

"Seems a little infections," she murmured.

"It...certainly seems to be." He admitted

"It's comforting to know that it's not just me," she murmured. Slowly, and awkwardly, they made their way to the flophouse district, that area along the river just after the market had petered out, into rows of shabby and unpleasant looking, weathered and beaten down buildings. Theoretically they were houses.

Daniel looked them over "...these look ..." He shook his head "less than ideal"

"I'm not sure if these, or Astorian tenements are worse looking" she agreed.

"hmm" He looked for the one with the black window "These, I think. Due to the fog."

"Touche," she nodded. "So which one are we looking for, Danochka?"

"it's got a black window according to Mila..." He mused

"A black window," she murmured, looking at the buildings. Many of the windows were smashed, or blocked up with old newspapers.

Daniel grimaced as they walked past "it'll be hard to tell."

"Did she mention anything else about it?"

"not..much" he mused "it was an old brick building with a black window..."

"Brick... that might help," she said, motioning to the buildings. "Most of these are stone, or wood."

He nodded slowly , looking them over "so we need to find the brick one..." He murmured as they walked "hm"

It only took a moment or two to spot the one brick building nearby. He didn't see a black window immediately but it certainly warranted closer inspection.

Daniel gestured towards it "let's take a look at that one, Fenya." He said, glad to steer the conversation away from *towns and romance*.

Fenya nodded, following along after him to inspect it. As they approached from the side, Daniel did indeed see a black-painted window on the second floor.

There was a rickety looking metal ladder leading to it.

"...and there we have it." He grimaced at the ladder "great."

"We could try the front door," she supposed.

"something tells me that the most...expedient way to him is the bloody ladder." he drawled

She nodded. "Well, fair enough...."

"...watch my back, okay?" he said , cautiously

Fenya nodded, putting a hand on her purse. "I have your back, doctor."

"Thank you." He said, and attempted to start his way up the ladder

Daniel managed to scramble all the way to the top of the ladder, and onto the broad ledge of the window-- before there was a grinding noise of old metal. Fenya watched in horror as the rusty screws disintegrated and the ladder started to fall down. Luckily Daniel was fine, but it certainly was *noisy*.

Daniel stared down at the fallen ladder with a look of utter dismay "are you *kidding me*?"

The ladder thunked its final clang onto the stones below, as a last insult.

Fenya was speechless.

"This is just our luck isn't it, Fenya?" he griped, before knocking at the window

"It certainly is," she groused from the ground. A couple of heads were peeking out of their doors to see what the fuss was about, but no one spoke.

No one answered the window, either.

He knocked harder "damn it, if we came all this way and he isn't even *here*"

Suddenly, Daniel noticed two things: Firstly-- the black painted window was nailed shut, and obviously didn't open. Secondly-- someone was hurrying out the back of the building below, in a dark cloak.

"son of a *bitch*" Daniel cursed "Fenya, the man's making a *run for it* " he pointed to them.

"Damn!!" Fenya bolted off running after the figure-- and was gaining on them as they both left the scope of Daniel's view.

Daniel was left on the window sill.

Daniel took a deep breath "I hate this." He attempted to jump down

Daniel hit the ground *hard* but he managed to tuck and roll, and the wet ground absorbed most of his impact. He also, thankfully, avoided the wreckage of the metal ladder. He was shaken, and disoriented as he landed, but no more.

Daniel shook his head, before he took off in the direction of Fenya and the cloaked figure

A few yards of dash later, he was behind the row of houses that had their backs up against the narrow strip of land between them and the edge of the river. Fenya was on the ground, wrestling with the figure in the black cloak, both of them perilously close to the river.

Daniel ran towards them, "stop! stop!" He shouted "Nobody's going to *hurt you* dammit! we just want to talk! now stop before you *both* fall into the bloody river!"

The figure went still under Fenya, and barked. "What the devil is this about?" Fenya slooooowly eased off of him.

Daniel walked forward, and stared down at him with a frown "That's what I'd like to ask *you*"

"*I* heard someone breaking into my house," he spat, drawing himself up as Fenya got off of him. "Hardly the manner of a friendly chat, doctor."

Daniel frowned "...the ladder was there and I simply knocked. it wasn't my fault that the bloody thing collapsed under me."

"Why the devil were you coming up the ladder, man? That thing's dangerous!"

"....I...thought it was there for a reason." Daniel said slowly "Because it was so conspicuous. "

Maxi pulled down the hood of his cloak and rubbed his face. "It *was* there for a reason, doctor. I nailed the window shut and painted it black to deter people from coming in that way, or spying on me."

"....." Daniel stared at him "..........."

"hm."

Fenya coughed, and murmured. "Ah." The gambler dusted himself off, looking bemused. "Your girl has a hell of a right hook, doctor."

Daniel's ears flicked, flushing pink "...the professor's an impressive woman, so I'm not exactly surprised."

Fenya's ears flicked and she murmured something that might have been a thanks.

Maxi shook his head. "At any rate, we shouldn't stand around out here. People will come to snoop."

"...yes. Do you have anywhere private that you *haven't* nailed shut?"

Maxi chuckled. "Yes, I think I can manage something. Come along then." He waved them and headed back toward the brick house.

Daniel walked with him, offering his arm to Fenya "I take it you're a man who values his privacy, hm?"

"All good men value their privacy, doctor," Maxi said with a smirk. "It is only the man who is hiding something who claims he has nothing to hide."

"something I have to agree with. But most people don't...go to such lengths to obscure themselves."

"Most people aren't as trustworthy as I am," he grinned. He pushed the back door open for them.

"mmm hmmm" Daniel said, easing into the door "...so why did you try to run? Are you in a spot of trouble, Maxi?"

"I have a few gentlemanly disagreements with some of the people in town," Maxi said blithely.

The place was unlit, and shabby.

"You? I can't possibly imagine how." Daniel drawled

"Strangely enough, there are some people who don't like my gentle and charming nature." He led them up a rickety set of stairs.

Daniel climbed behind him "oh, their loss I suppose." He said "might I ask who you've earned the ire of?"

"Oh, the local gamblers," he shrugged. "Volkov." The upstairs was lit-- invisible from the street thanks to the blacked out window. This place was still shabby, but cozier, with a number of cushions thrown around, a makeshift bed, and an old table turned into a boarding house kitchen.

"And here I thought you and Volkov would have gotten along famously." Daniel drawled

He looked around. "Comfortable place you have here..."

"Thank you," Maxi grinned, flopping into a pile of cushions. "Please, make yourselves comfortable too."

Daniel took a seat on one of the cushions, straightening himself out on it "hm..thank you."

Fenya carefully sat down, smoothing her skirts. She sat quite close to Daniel

Maxi nodded. "Of course. So.... what brings you to my nailed shut window this dark afternoon?"

"I was told you may be able to help me find something that's been likely lost."

He raised an eyebrow, still smiling. "I can do things like that, sometimes."

"So I've heard....what I'm looking for are...the phylacteries of Masters Osgrov and Volkov."

"Huh. Now that's certainly an interesting thing to be searching out."

"isn't it? but i have my reasons. Important ones."

"I'm certain you do," he nodded.

"I'm following a lead, Maxi." Daniel said "one that'll hopefully stop this plague once and for all. There's people dying in the streets, as we speak, with every wasted moment."

"Stop the plague eh? That's a powerful lead then," he nodded.

"it is. It's lying under the ground in an area hidden away by the dead masters."

"Wouldn't have guessed you'd need that kind of thing for doctoring."

"typically you don't." Daniel said with mild distaste "but it's increasingly clear that whatever's plaguing this town has connections to those old despots, and they speak *quite often* of the town's doom coming for them if they aren't able to deal with whatever's down there. My guess...they were doing some process down there that...when left unattended, let the sickness...the rot...seep into the earth itself. Perhaps I can fix it if I see it for myself."

Maxi scratched his stubbly chin. "I see. You need these phylacteries quite badly then...."

"quite. We're missing the two, and I was told...that you'd be able to give us a lead on at least one, given that you were once a guard."

He stroked his chin. "I *might* know where one of them is. Perhaps."

"if you're going to ask me to gamble for it I implore you to reconsider." Daniel drawled "fun and games are ...fine. but I have an offer for you if you cooperate."

He raised an eyebrow. "An offer?"

"I'm willing to help you and your Mila escape to Astoria." Daniel said slowly "after this all blows over."

Maxi seemed to think about that for a moment, flipping a silver coin between his fingers. "As I recall, you already owe me a favor, doctor," he said, not unpleasantly.

"I do." Daniel said with a frown "and I'm pleased to let you collect...but this information isn't something I wish to bargain or gamble over. It's *life or death* Maxi. There really are people out there dying in the streets at the hands of their comatose, shambling friends and neighbors."

Maxi thought about it, frowning as he passed the coin between his fingers. "Alright. But I want to call in my favor as well."

"Why don't we call the favor your passage to Astoria, and this...a good turn, hm?" He smiled at the man "a good deed here and there keeps the heart light."

He held up his hand, looking positively grim. "...no... that.... will not be necessary."

"is that so?" Daniel drawled

He shut his eyes. "I will not be going to Astoria. The favor I ask of you, is to not reveal this to Mila until the last moment."

Fenya nearly choked.

Daniel ran his hand through his hair "....I...see. Might I ask?"

He rubbed his temples, and sighed. "The poor darling's fallen in love with me. She's concocted this fantasy where we'll run away together," he muttered. "She hates Tadibya, doctor. But this is my *element*. I would not leave, even if I were in love."

"ah. She spoke as if you and her were.." He cleared his throat "...hm." Daniel closed his eyes "i should have expected something like this, in all honesty"

Maxi coughed. "My good doctor, I'm proud to say that there are any number of ladies around town who have the same claim. Mila is however, the most well bred."

Fenya's ears flushed and flicked, She seemed to be looking for something else to occupy her attention.

Daniel's ears flicked as well "I'm starting to see why you have so many enemies, Maxi."

The gambler chuckled and even his ears flicked slightly. "Hmm, yes, perhaps."

He leaned on his hand, shaking his head "....this is a bloody mess. But fine. I'll help her ship out of town and she can find someone *else* to latch on to. I won't breathe a word to her, though, that you're staying here in lovely old Tadibya."

Maxi sighed. "You have my sincere thanks, doctor," he said. "Please know that I put my trust in you. Should Mila find out before it is time to go there would be... trouble."

"yes, I imagine so." Daniel ran his hand through his hair with a frown "....This town is nothing if not a complex, interweaving web of trouble and torrid affairs."

he chuckled. "You see why on the whole I like it so much? I would wax poetic to you, but I'm certain you have a need for that which I can give you instead."

"yes, I think our time would be better spent on that." Daniel said , with a smile.

Maxi nodded. "Then I will tell you-- though you may not like it."

"That's sort of the ongoing theme of this little adventure." Daniel said dryly

"The phylactery you're looking for-- Old Volkov's-- is most certainly in the old dungeon."

Fenya raised an eyebrow.

"...the old dungeon." Daniel said slowly

He nodded. "Below the town hall. They used to use it as a prison, but it's been bricked up since the young pup took over. I can't say I disagree with THAT particular decision."

"...hm." Daniel said "that's...less than ideal, indeed." He ran his hand through his hair with a hiss "so there's some nightmare of an old dungeon we need to break into to get the phylactery." He paused "...any idea where Osgrov's may be?

"Haven't seen it myself," he said, scratching his chin. "Wouldn't be surprised if our boy Sasha burned it-- assuming he could find it."

"...hm." Daniel grimaced "I hope not, given it's...sort of important."

'Well, I can't think of anyone who'd know aside Sasha or his little sister, and hell only knows if she'll be lucid enough to talk to, eh?"

Daniel grimaced "....indeed...." He sighed "i'm not looking forward to those conversations. Not after...."

Maxi cocked his head.

"..." Daniel hesitated a moment, before he shook his head "there's a lot that's happened lately."

Maxi smirked. "Ah, such is life."

"such is life." He said "...thank you for the information. We know where we must go now...at least...in regards to Volkov."

"One's better than none, eh? Sorry I don't know where the healer stashed his."

"It's alright." Daniel shook his head "It would be too easy if you did."

"Couldn't have that," he chuckled.

"This is Tadibya after all, land of *frustration*" He shook his head "...still, thank you."

He nodded. "Can I do anything further for you? I'm sorry I can't offer you any refreshment."

"no, no." Daniel shook his head "no it's not any problem at all."

"Shall I see you out then? Or can you manage without jumping out the window?"

"...." Daniel snorted "I think I'd prefer to walk this time, we should be fine."

Maxi chuckled. "Good luck then. If you get a chance let me know how it goes."

"oh, I certainly will." Daniel chuckled, and gave him a little salute before standing

Fenya stood as well, careful of her skirts and took Daniel's arm. "Shall we?"

Daniel nodded, looping their arms before he headed out of the room "indeed. Goodbye, Maxi."

"Until we meet again, doctor," he purred. Fenya and Daniel headed down the stairs, and back toward the door.

"so we need to go delving into a boarded up dungeon. Ominous wouldn't you say?"

"Extremely," she agreed with a sigh. "I suppose it could be *boring*. That would be a novelty."

"I can't imagine it will be very boring." Daniel said "not with how...*exciting* this town tends to be.'

"No," she sighed as they headed back onto the street. "Neither can I."

"I imagine we're going to find some new and exciting reasons to hate the man by the time we're done.'

"Oh I imagine you're right," she sighed. "So, are we headed there next? or?"

"I think so...I want to give the Osgrovs time to settle before we really poke that wound."

Fenya nodded. "Probably for the best...."

"So let's get into that dungeon and really...dig in there. If we have time after, we can visit the osgrovs. If not...well. there's always tomorrow."

"We haven't run out our two weeks yet," she half joked, heading with him down the street, through the fog.

"not yet." he smirked "We're...ruthlessly efficient, I would say."

"Ruthlessly indeed," she agreed. "What do you think of this whole... Mila and Maxi thing?"

"a mess." he murmured "It's nothing but hurt feelings and drama all around once it comes to light."

Fenya sighed. "That's exactly what I was thinking."

"She just wants to leave town and her husband, Ivan is just...nice and a bit naive, and Maxi wants nothing to do with leaving at all." he murmured "it's a powderkeg."

"It is...." she nodded, frowning. She looked like she had something on her mind.

Daniel glanced at her "penny for your thoughts?"

She bit her lip. "Do you think she's asked Ivan? Or... I don't know if she even would want to leave with him?" She sighed.

"...." Daniel looked up at the sky for a moment in thought as they stepped out into the fog "...I don't think she has. She seems...wrapped up in this fantasy affair of hers...but...perhaps a change of scenery would be enough to ...help things? between her and him? It seems her big issue is with Mosgrav's society...especially in this little town. Feeling trapped."

"I can't say I entirely blame her," she admitted. "If this were where *I* were born, I'd be desperate to get out."

"As would I." He admitted "it's...stifling, I imagine, living under the shadow of people who've done nothing but control everything they could touch."

Fenya nodded. "Astoria certainly has its own share of difficulties but..."

"but not like this..." he frowned 'not as concentrated."

"Yes," she nodded. "It's... inescapable."

"Like a vice." he frowned. "i don't like it."

"Nor do I," she murmured. "I wish we'd never had to come here."

"likewise, but" he chuckled "not all of it has been bad."

"That's true," she smiled. "The ahh.... night at the bar was nice":

"the night at the bar *was* pretty delightful." he grinned at her "and meeting you has certainly been a treat."

"I have to say the same," she said with a somewhat shy smile.

His ears flicked "i'm flattered, Professor." he said with a low chuckle.

She smiled a bit wide, and teased. "Flattered, hmm? Then I suppose I am as well."

"The feeling is mutual then." he chuckled "delightful." HIs ear flicked again, and he cleared his throat "and we're doing great work here."

"Yes we a--hold on a minute," she murmured. "Danochka- how did you get down from the window so quickly?"

Daniel glanced at her. "I jumped."

She stared openly at him. "You *jumped?*?"

He nodded "I didn't have time to climb down, so I took a gamble and leapt down. Did a little roll when I hit the ground and absorbed most of the impact. "

"And *you* didn't break your ankle?" she laughed with a hint of indignance.

"shockingly no, though I fully expected myself to" He admitted "I got lucky with the mud."

"You got *lucky* not to fall on the twisted metal of the ladder!" she laughed and shoved him gently. "bastard."

He chuckled, taking a step to avoid stumbling "the fates smiled on me today." He joked "and I didn't end up a morbid lawn ornament for the people of town."

"What would have become of us all if you had died, hmm?" she leaned against him.

He leaned back "I can only imagine. I imagine you could have finished what we started, albeit with more alchemy." He nudged her "...but I was concerned, so I took a risk."

"Well.... I shan't criticize you *too* much for coming to my rescue," she sniffed.

He rested his shoulder on hers as they walked "Good, because it all turned out alright in the end, didn't it?" He chuckled quietly "and if I had rolled my ankle you could have ribbed me over it all you'd liked."

"I would have had to carry you," she teased.

"mmm hmm" he chuckled "given the things I've seen you do..and the right hook you reportedly have, I believe you could have done it.'

She smirked. "I wasn't about to let our man get away."

"I wish I could have seen it." He purred

"Oh it was nothing impressive," she lied smoothly. "Just a flying leap into a tackle and a punch to the face."

"Nothing impressive she says." Daniel said with a grin "as if it wouldn't have been an absolute delight to see."

She chuckled. "Hmmm, you have interesting taste in entertainment, Doctor Daniel Delgrave."

"what, wanting to see a dashing woman tackle the local ruffian and engage in a little old fashioned fisticuffs?" he drawled "what could be weird about that."

"Most upstanding astorian men would pop their monocles at something like that," she teased.

"I suppose I must not be a very upstanding astorian man, then." He joked

She tutted and shook her head as they passed close to the village green, nearing the town hall.

"I know, you must be so disappointed." he drawled

"Scandalized," she purred dryly.

"shame on me, scandalizing an upstanding astorian woman like yourself." he purred

"They should put men like you behind bars." She nodded.

Luckily it didn't seem like the clown was about.

He grinned at her "then it's a good thing we're going to the dungeon, hm?"

"So it is," she agreed, as they arrived at the front of the town hall.

He looked up at it "we may have to distract someone, you know. If they won't let us just break in."

"I'm happy to be a distraction," she nodded. "I could show some ankle."

"oh I'm sure you'd drive them all into a tizzy with that." he grinned , cracking his knuckles "...we'll have to find the way down, first.'

Fenya nodded. "Maybe we'll get lucky."

"indeed." He pushed open the door and stepped inside "we can only hope."

The heavy door opened and allowed the sound of raucous murmuring to escape. They didn't immediately see anyone- but there must have been quite a few people in loud discussion upstairs.

"....son of a *bitch* not again."

Fenya bit her lip. "What should we do?"

"...we have two choices. We either intervene, and see what this is all about...or we use the sound to cover us breaking into the bloody old dungeon and let the poor man sort it out."

She nodded. "Indeed..... two very different paths."

"very. One of which means we can maybe get his blessing without incurring ill will.. the other.."

"The other, we could earn his annoyance-- *if* we're caught."

"yes." he said "...which depending on the method of entry, could very well be the case."

"Yes," she agreed. "Though we don't know quite where to start looking.

"...that's also an issue." He murmured "...let's break up the little party upstairs...he likes us. I'm certain we can convince him , especially if we save him from his current predicament."

Fenya nodded. "Got it. Lead the way, doctor."

Daniel took a deep breath...and started up the stairs

Upstairs there were several burly men, and a couple of guards lingering outside the mayor's office grumbling and eying one another suspiciously, but the majority of the noise was coming from behind the closed door.

Daniel took a deep breath "good evening gentlemen. May I have a word with the mayor?"

One of the burly men laughed nastily. "Yeah good luck with that, buddy."

"mmm. might I ask what's going on here?"

The guards and the men looked at one another, again with suspicion. One of the guards said, "It's about the fate of the fishery, doctor."

"ah, yes...with the death of Morozov." Daniel ran his hand through his hair "...perhaps I can do something."

The guard grimaced. "I can let you in if you want, sir, but it's not going to be pretty. They've already been at it for hours."

"Then perhaps the mayor would appreciate me bringing the conversation to an end." Daniel smiled.

"You had better not lose us our jobs, mr. astoria," one of the burly workers grumbled.

The guard rolled his eyes, and opened the door. The argument inside immediately got **louder**.

Daniel smiled tightly at the worker, before stepping into the cacophony. As had become his life in the last few days.

The guard saluted, and Fenya stepped in after him into the chaos. It was a lot like the previous argument he had stepped into, but more populous and rowdy. A bunch of guards, Volkov, and Ruvik Petrovich, the late Morozov's assistant, were on one side, while a bunch of workers were on the other. The Mayor was cringing behind his desk in the middle.

He looked up to see Daniel with obvious relief.

"Doctor! Ah-- this is an awkward time...."

The argument subsided, and all eyes were on Daniel.

"we must stop meeting like this, Vadim." Daniel said dryly

"Truely," he murmured. "Ah... I was just discussing with these gentlemen what is to be the process with... proceeding... with the fishery." "You must reopen it!" one of the workers snapped. "This is an outrage! a plot!"

Volkov pinched the bridge of his nose.

"it will be reopened once quarantine has subsided. Quarantine should give enough time for a new plant boss to be chosen and instated. I see no reason to rush things along and endanger hundreds during plague time." He looked at the mayor and Volkov "Isn't that correct?"

"Ahhh.... yes...." the Mayor said timidly. "It.... should be.... time for that anyway..." Volkov sighed, "Doctor, these *gentlemen* believe that there is some plot to use the quarentine and murder to sell off the fishery, lay them off and replace them with migrant workers from Whampyr and Ifrit."

"...." Daniel looked at the dock workers with a rather unimpressed expression "I think they've been reading far too many mystery serials." He tented his fingers. "Gentlemen. The quarantine is put in place for the safety of the people. The murder...while unfortunate, wasn't part of some dark plot to steal your jobs away from you. You will all be back to work in less than two weeks. There is enough food until then, and you'll go back to earning money under whichever management is best suited to take control of your fishery. Understood?"

"Damn well not understood!" the burliest man shouted. He pointed at Petrovich. "That bastard is going to sell the fishery to foreign bankers!"

"Gentlemen, we don't even know to whom Morozov entrusted the fishery yet," Petrovich said soothingly-- though he was the only man in the room with anything resembling a trace of a smile.

"..." Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose "are you , Petrovich? I don't think that would be wise in this current situation." He glanced at the Mayor "is there any trace of documentation saying who the fishery goes to?"

"Not that we've damned well found yet," Volkov grumbled. "if we could do our job without being harassed things might be different." "Stuff your lies, pup," the oldest of the workers barked. "We know you're in Petrovich's pocket!" Volkov's eyes *burned.*

Daniel stepped between them "I think it would be in everyone's best interest if you stopped jumping to conclusions, gentlemen." His eyes fell on the oldest worker first "Volkov is a dedicated man, and a damned good captain of the guard. Just because you and yours are *dissatisfied* with the necessary steps that have been taken, doesn't mean he's corrupt and out to get you."

"No?" the old man spat-- literally spitting on the floor. "Then why did he bring the church here to murder his father and the other town masters!"

Daniel frowned sharply, pinching the bridge of his nose. "If he did, I assure you, he must have had good reason." "No offense to Vadim here, he's a good man as well...but the town masters *hardly* did anyone here any favors. I've learned much about them since I've arrived from testimony of those close to them...affected by them, and their own *personal writings* to see that they have manipulated this town, abused power and people, and countless other sins of cruelty or incompetence...done in the name of good intentions or no." He frowned "they've admitted as much in their own writings. Or at least Mistress Nika had, writing of how they all changed since she'd become immortal."

This seemed to shock everyone in the room into a silence which hung heavy in the room for a long beat. Finally Volkov fixed his collar, and addressed the assembled. "Thank you, doctor. *Gentlemen*, there is nothing to be done here. Go home and spend this precious time with your *families*-- a luxury my men and I *don't have* while we are working to ensure the *honest* and legal intentions of your former employer. *Please*." The men looked at Daniel.... and they looked at Volkov.... and they looked at the Mayor..... and they looked at one another. The oldest worker was silent, and the burliest said, "You know where to find me, Iosef. I will make sure the other workers are informed when you have something to report." He nodded to Daniel, turned, and walked out the door. The other workers followed him.

Daniel rubbed the bridge of his nose with a long, low sigh "I'm sorry about that." he said after the workers left the room "but something had to be said."

Vadim looked as though he'd suffered a blow to the head, and Petrovich's smile was nowhere to be seen. Volkov nodded. "It certainly did," he sighed, and turned to his guards. "See Mr. Petrovich to his home, please?" There was a salute.

Daniel took a moment to take a few deep breaths. "I'm sorry if this is a bad time."

The guards and Petrovich headed out of the room. Vadim shook his head. "No ah... I suppose... thank you for diffusing the situation..."

"you're welcome, Vadim." Daniel nodded slowly. "It seemed...tense."

Vadim nodded. "Yes it was.... it's been hours," he sighed.

"Well you can rest now." Daniel said slowly "...but.." He crossed his arms "I need a favor."

Vadim took a breath. "A...favor? Is this about the documents you wanted? My secretary is still looking, I'm afraid."

"no, we...need access to the bricked up old dungeon. For research purposes."

"The old dungeon?" Vadim frowned.

"yes. the old dungeon. I've got intel that suggests something we need to piece the rest of this puzzle together may be down there."

Vadim looked hesitant. "well...." "I can let him in," Volkov said.

"thank you, Volkov. I appreciate that."

"I didn't know anyone had the keys to it," Vadim said. "Yes," Volkov sighed. "I do."

He nodded at Daniel.

Daniel nodded back "thank you both for your help. Hopefully this will bring us one step closer to setting things right, hm?"

Vadim nodded. "Yes.... hopefully," he sighed. "I won't ask what it is you need in there. I'm sure you know your business."

"I do." He said with a half smile "and I promise, it's for the best."

Volkov waved a gloved hand. "Come on. Let's get it over with."

"let's indeed." He fell into step behind him "I'm not looking forward to it, personally."

"Me either," Volkov muttered, leading him and Fenya out of the room. The guards and workers out here had cleared out too, and they were alone.

"Sorry about that display in the mayor's office, as an aside. I couldn't abide by the man insulting you when you've done nothing but hard work."

Volkov shook his head. "You hurt Vadim's feelings, not mine," he muttered. "He'll live. I appreciate you giving me an opening."

"I imagine I did, but he'll recover. I understand he respects his grandmother...but she wasn't as kind to others as she was to him. It needed to be said." He nodded, "and it gave you the opening to end the whole silly conversation."

he nodded. "True and true. And I'm sure he's as glad as I am that the conversation *was* ended." "I know *I* was glad," Fenya murmured.

"likewise. It was utter and complete nonsense."

"I wouldn't be surprised if Petrovich *would* sell the damned Fishery. But to do that he'd have to own it AND he'd have to find a buyer while the capital's on fire." Volkov snorted.

"which would take more time than the workers expect." Daniel said with a nod "...and I'm certain there's someone else who could take control of the fishery before then."

"Possibly," Volkov sighed. "we'll see if there's some kind of document, but there'll be a fight anyway I'm sure." He led them downstairs, and into one of the aside rooms.

"when isn't there a fight." Daniel drawled "...why not give it to his son? If the boy wants it, I mean."

Iosef raised an eyebrow. "HIs son, hm? Now there's an idea."

"Isn't it?" Daniel mused "I admit I don't know much about the situation, but it seems the boy's gotten a raw deal."

"I didn't realize he was still in town," Volkov said. "Assuming you've met him?"

"...yes." Daniel cleared his throat "he was playing music outside my window one night and we had a conversation." He hesitated "...we invited him in for tea, and he thought it was a...business transaction. "

Volkov raised an eyebrow in confusion, and then it clearly dawned on him, as he coughed. "Ah. AH." he paused, and his frown grew. "Wait a moment. You're telling me that Morozov's son is still in town and he's been working as an *entertainer*?"

Daniel nodded, his ears flicking "yes it seems so. Things...have not gone so well for him, from what I gathered." He shook his head "...he seems to be very much working as an entertainer. But I gave him some tea and food and told him to find somewhere safe to spend the night as it was dangerous lately.'

"damn..." Volkov's ears flattened. "He must have been avoiding me."

"I got the feeling he was avoiding most people save for paying customers." Daniel admitted "everyone seems to think he's gone."

Volkov grimaced. "I certainly did... hoped, for his sake. ....have you got any idea where I can find him?"

"unfortunately." Daniel said "not at the moment. But he was wandering the streets making music at night...perhaps we can find him that way.'

"Damn...." he murmured. "I wish I had more manpower... still, we'll all be on the street tonight.," he muttered.

"indeed...I'll keep an eye and ear out as well and let you know, Captain." He gestured with his head "but for now , we have a mission."

He nodded and frowned. "Of course. Sorry to have gotten so preoccupied..." he straightened up.

"no." He paused "actually...two questions. One...you seem concerned about the boy especially. Might I ask...?"

Volkov frowned and glanced down. "Reminds me of myself when I was a little younger."

"ah..." Daniel reached out and squeezed his shoulder "he does, hm?"

"My father and I didn't get along," Volkov said. He pushed a stack of old boxes away from a wall, revealing a barred door.

"no, I...have heard as much." he frowned '"which brings me to my second question...the man in there accused you of calling the church on him...is it true?"

Volkov was quiet for a moment, and then he heaved a deep sigh, and looked at Daniel with a steady gaze.

Daniel looked at him with a serious expression "...."

"Doctor," he said finally, "I don't give a damn what anyone in town thinks, but if I had killed my father it would have been with my own two hands."

"and he would have deserved it." Daniel said "...it hardly matters, but I just wanted to know. there's a lot of...mystery...in town. Mystery I hope to unpack for the good of my investigation."

Volkov nodded. "I...understand," he nodded. "It suits me well enough to let people believe I had done it, but...sometimes I regret it never occured to me."

"indeed." Daniel nodded his head "...I understand completely."

"Same," Fenya murmured. He nodded again. "Thank you....well... here we are." He gestured to the dark, bar covered hole. "I hope you know what you're getting into."

"I don't. But when do I ever until I'm in the bloody thick of it." he said, and walked forward "wish me luck."

"Hold on," he said as he unlocked it. "Tell me you at least have a light."

"...a small one." Daniel admitted "One of the ghost lights we found out in the street."

He gestured to the little 'lamp' he'd made from the light outside strapped to his hip.

He frowned. "You're going to need something brighter than that," he sighed. "Don't go anywhere, I'll be back with a lamp."

"Alright." Daniel leaned on the wall "you're really...making it seem as if this place is a nightmare."

"Let me put it this way," the man said over his shoulder as he headed out of the room. "If you're not back in two hours I'm coming in after you."

"...wonderful." Daniel said dryly "this will be...fun."

Volkov left the two of them in the dim little disused room for the moment.

Fenya sagged against the wall. "Very fun," she murmured.

"What's it full of? shambling corpses of tortured prisoners?" Daniel pressed his hand to his face "Nothing would surprise me anymore."

"Nor me," she sighed, putting a hand on him. "Damn..."

He leaned against her "but at least we're getting in. WE can handle it."

She stood firmly, letting her arm go around his shoulders. "We can. Nice job with the ordeal in the mayor's office by the way."

"thank you." he chuckled 'i'm shocked it worked as well as it did...but I think I said something that had to be said."

Fenya nodded. "It seems like the sort of thing that people don't say out loud around here."

"which is why people keep making excuses and refusing to face the very real harm that's been done." he huffed

"Agreed," she murmured, frowning. "Can't heal what isn't spoken of."

"exactly. So while it probably hurt the mayor to hear...hopefully it'll help him see that while Nika was kind to him...she wasn't nearly so kind to others."

Fenya nodded. "Indeed.... and some of that 'kindness' might not have been so good for him in any case."

"indeed." he frowned "it...seems to have only done damage."

"Certainly didn't gird the man's backbone," she agreed.

"it set him up for a puppet position that he then had to hold up on his own merit...despite receiving no training in how to deal with people."

She shook her head. "Unfair to everyone, really."

"it is." Daniel agreed "...the whole system is unfair."

"Dreadfully," she nodded. They saw a swaying orange light from out in the hall, and heard footsteps, as Volkov returned with a lit lantern.

Daniel waved to him as he approached "hello. It's much appreciated."

Volkov nodded and handed it to him, along with a piece of chalk. "It's a rat warren down there, Delgrave. Keep your wits about you."

"...great. Just what we need during plague time. a bloody labyrinth." He took the chalk "....I'll mark our way then."

Fenya nodded. "Thank you, Captain." Volkov gave them a salute. "Good luck in there. I hope you find what you're looking for, though I wouldn't count on it."

"oh...we'll find it , I'm certain." Daniel nodded, before saluting him. And then he headed into the abyss

Fenya followed with him, as they headed down the long, narrow stone stairway.

Daniel walked down into the basement, holding the lantern high in front of him with a raise of his eyebrow.

The stones were dark as they descended, they looked almost smoke blackened. "We keep having to go down, I notice," Fenya murmured. "Down in the rookery. Down in the damned church."

"...down under the town hall." He chuckled darkly "almost like this town likes to keep it's dark secrets buried."

"A lot like that," she muttered. They hit the bottom of the stairs, but the passage barely widened at all. It was a long, dark strip of hallway, though Daniel thought he could see bars ahead on either side.

Daniel shined his light into each of the barred areas as they passed, working his way through the narrow hallway. "....i don't like it."

"Nor do I," Fenya agreed, sticking close to him. Daniel's light illuminated tiny cells- no more than holes dug out of the stone, and covered with bars, and with a shallow pit in them.

"....disgusting conditions to keep men in." He hissed through his teeth as they passed.

"Unconscionable," Fenya hissed, her ears flat on her head. Up ahead the passage ended in a wall-- and continued both to the left and right.

Daniel marked a large X on the corners in chalk, before he headed **left**. "any man who thinks this is any way to treat *anyone* even criminals, should be locked in their own cell and left to rot."

"Agreed," she said. "Burning may have been too humane." The left path had more cells on either side, these had old, rotting wooden benches chained to the stone.

Daniel frowned at them "...and now these. How many men died down here do you wonder?"

"Too many, even with a town this small," she murmured.

"Indeed." he said slowly "...the Town Masters were hardly men at the point this came to be. I can only imagine." He pressed on through the hall

He came to another crossroads-- this one both left and right, and the option to continue forward. "How big a damned prison did they need?" Fenya hissed.

Daniel's eyes turned hard "one big enough to contain anyone who could ever tell them 'no'." He marked the wall, and drew a forward arrow....before pushing on.

She followed along after him-- there didn't seem to be cells here, but the hall continued. "Good point," she murmured.

Daniel pushed on. this was a good sigh...maybe. "it's classic despotism. Funding more and more cells without funding anything remotely helpful."

"Expand the prisons to improve the economy," she muttered bitterly.

"Indeed." he muttered darkly

As they walked, Daniel's lamp caught the edge of a seam in the inky darkness of the stone wall.

Daniel held his hand up, and turned towards it. Carefully, he tried to push the wall inwards

There was a scraping noise, and the stone pushed inward, revealing another passage.

Daniel held his lantern up into it "this is promising."

He marked the wall.

"It certainly does," Fenya agreed. "lead the way, doctor."

The dark hall extended forward.

Daniel stepped down the hallway, marking it another time before he ventured deeper

"Hidden passageways," Fenya murmured, following him.

troublingly, there were cells here too.

".... cells hidden from common sight....tucked away where someone can be forgotten about." He shined his light into them "what a disgusting man."

As he spoke, the light caught the edge of one cell, and Daniel saw a scrap of fabric.

Daniel stopped, and bent down to try picking it up "hm?"

He pulled at it-- sticking out from between the bars, and realized it was connected to a sleeve.

There was a tattered and nearly mummified *body* in the cell.

Daniel jolted back, cursing loudly "DAMN AND BLAST!"

"Whoa!" Fenya caught him gently. "Are you alr--is that a body?!"

"yes." he hissed "it's a body." He took a deep breath "the bastard *did* leave people down here to die!"

"That's....." her breath caught in her throat. "No one knew this alcove was here after the bastards died, did they....."

"nobody knew at all." Daniel said darkly "so all his victims trapped behind his false wall..."

Fenya swallowed. "evil. Absolutely monstrous."

"....horrific." Daniel agreed, shaking his head "i hate this...but we should push on." he pressed forward

Ahead there was what looked like a blank wall at first, but then Daniel realized it was a door with a relief carving/.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and held the light up to look over the carving "hm?"

It was a carving of scales of justice, a heart in one side of the cups.

"Tacky, considering," Fenya murmured.

"*hideously tacky* . But the sign of a man who saw himself as the embodiment of justice whilst being the king of corruption."

"Very much so," she frowned. "Is it... a door? or just an ugly carving?"

"it's a door." Daniel said, trying to push it open "I think."

Daniel's hand found the small depression around where a knob should have been, and the door pressed inward.

Daniel pushed it in, and shined his light inside

Inside was.... an office. There was a large wooden desk with papers sitting on it, a number of unlit lamps hung from the ceiling, a single chair, a coat rack, a handbag, and a few other odds and ends, as well as a painting on one wall.

Daniel used his lantern to try illuminating the lamps first and foremost.

With his lamp, Daniel ignited the four hanging lamps, bathing the small office in a warm glow. It smelled in here, like oil, cinnamon, and gunpowder, not strongly, just just faintly enough to detect.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, before he investigated the coat rack first.

Fenya lingered by the door, looking around. "So he had his private office here," she murmured. There was a fine and heavy coat in the mosgravan style still hanging on the rack.

"It seems he did, right by the prisoners he hid away." He frowned, and went through the pockets.

In the pocket, he found a short length of rope, and a lock of hair.

Daniel looked over the lock of hair with a frown , and the rope. "...the hell was he up to?"

"What is that?" Fenya asked with a frown, coming near. It was a small braid of blond hair, tied at both ends to keep it together.

Daniel held it up "...a braid of blond hair. Someone's hair."

"So it does. HIs?" she frowned and glanced up at the portrait. "No, he had dark hair."

"not his in the least." he mused "...But who's..."

"A good question," she agreed, looking around.

She paused. "And what's with the rope."

"maybe we'll find an answer if we do." He held up the rope "...I'm not certain, myself. Perhaps...for binding something?"

"Hmmm," Fenya frowned. "Perhaps. Well... the phylactery wasn't in the coat, was it?"

"no, it wasn't." he said, stowing the 'evidence', before he moved to the hand bag next.

He found a leather folder full of papers, and in a hidden seam in the bag, a silver key.

Daniel pulled out the key, and held it up "excellent." For good measure, he looked over the papers too.

It looked like the papers were judgements-- names and crimes of people who had been locked up by the so called Judge.

"tch." Daniel mused "Judgements for crimes." He handed them to Fenya, and looked over the painting next.

Fenya put them under her arm, and looked with him. The painting could have been of young Captain Volkov, 20 years in the future-- except for the eyes. Where the captain's eyes were stern, but gentle, the man in the painting's eyes held nothing but the fire of judgement. His brows were knit, and there was a single lock of white in his close clipped hair.

"tch." Daniel said, and tried to pull the painting away "he looks like a real joy to be around."

"Mmm... yes you're right," she hissed a breath through her nose at the thought. The painting was heavy but came away in Daniel's hand, moving aside to reveal a keyhole.

"and there we are." He saved that for a moment, instead going to investigate the desk "we'll open that up shortly."

Fenya nodded. "Good idea." She followed a step after him. The desk was neat, and many of the papers on top of it were similar to the ones in the bag.

Daniel flipped idly through them, for anything that stood out before he tried the drawers.

Common criminals. A loaf of bread here, a beating there.... In the drawer however he found a sheaf of papers with a red stamp.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and looked through those "now these look different."

There was a stack of 30 or so papers, more judgements, some very old, some much newer. Each for the same crime. The murder of a young woman by strangulation.

Daniel pulled out the rope, and the lock of hair. He looked them over as he read each of the 'special' reports. "......Fenya."

"Danochka?" she asked, looking over his shoulder.

The crime was the same, on each of the pieces of paper. Only the date, and the name of the executed 'criminal' was different.

"I think I found what the rope in his coat was for."

Fenya frowned. "What the rope was...." she trailed off as she looked over his shoulder, her ears flattening. "Ah."

"....yes." Daniel said "I do believe the man was indulging his own worst habits and letting others face the gallows for it." He spat "...likely where the hair came from as well."

Daniel could hear a low growl in the back of Fenya's throat-- it sounded involuntary. "I see. Well. Now I suppose we have a crime for each of the so-called-masters."

"yes, yes we do." Daniel said, his eyes narrowing at the pages "absolutely disgusting."

"Monstrous," she hissed. "He's lucky he's dead."

"He is, or I would say we'd have to finish the bloody job." Was there anything else of note on the desk or in it's drawers?

There didn't seem to be. The man was evil-- but also organized.

Daniel slammed the drawer shut with a hiss, before he went back to the wall and inserted the key "I hate them more and more with everything I learn."

"That makes two of us," she agreed with an angry breath. Her fur was standing on end. The key clicked in the lock and a stone jutted out from the wall- easy now to pull away with the key.

Daniel pulled the stone away, his ears flat on his head "Burning was far, far too kind for any of them."

The stone pulled away to reveal a drawer. There were two things inside of it-- the first, was a phylactery, and the second, a small wooden case, like one might keep pinned butterflies inside.

Daniel grabbed the phylactery, which he jammed in his bag with a growl " there's the man's rotten heart." He grabbed the case next, and held it up "and what's *this?*"

"Do we even want to know?" Fenya grumbled. There was no lock on the case, just a smooth seam and hinges, so it would open like a book.

Daniel shook his head "likely not, but...curiosity drives me forward." He opened it up.

Braids of hair. More than two dozen little braids of hair, each the length of a long finger, pinned in place next to one another on the satin interior. Blonde, white, black, brown, ginger....

Fenya looked like she was going to throw up.

Daniel's ears went pale, and flattened atop his head all the more "......" He gripped the box tightly, his hands shaking "I'm afraid I'm going to be ill, Fenya."

Fenya's voice rasped. "I...I may be as well," she choked out.

Daniel had a thought, but it slipped away in the nauseated moment. It probably wasn't anything important.

Daniel put his hand to his chest "....I..." He put his hand to her shoulder, taking a shuddering breath "I'm sorry."

She leaned into him and swallowed heavily. "No. But that monster o-ought to be. No wonder the captain--"

She swooned slightly and fell against him.

Daniel caught her, blinking as he dropped the box "...Fenya...Fenya are you quite alright?"

She pressed a hand to her chest and took a breath. "I.... yes... s-sorry I.... lost my balance for a moment there."

Daniel held her tightly "understandable...It...is a lot to take in."

She frowned, and leaned into him. "I couldn't help... thinking about all those women," she murmured.

Daniel nodded, hugging her tighter. He was shaking slightly, himself. "yes. it...certainly is hard not to.."

She took a deep breath, and leaned her head on him, "I... I should be alright. I just... needed a moment."

He nodded, squeezing her shoulder "yes I...I expect so. A moment...we can certainly take a moment."

She shook her head. "I'm--ready to get out of this place, as soon as you are, Danochka..."

Daniel nodded slowly ".ah y..yes. yes...we can.."

Fenya nodded against him, and stood up straighter, though still staying against him.

Daniel kept his arm around her "This place is horrid, Fenya." he said slowly "...I have the urge to put it to the torch."

"I've the same urge," she murmured. "But... it's below the town hall..."

"yes.." he sighed "...we can't burn down town hall. that would be rude." He led her back into the hallway, frowning "...a shame."

"Very much so," she agreed, following him out back into the row of forgotten cells.

Daniel kept his eyes straight ahead. He tried not to show the *seething rage* that the whole situation brought out in him. with every cell they passed, it just stung worse and worse.

Fenya was quiet for a moment, until they made their way back to the main cell chamber, and she said quietly, "I hope you don't think I'm...weak. for.... that."

Daniel shook his head "no, Fenya. I don't." He ran his hand through his hair "....I'll admit, i was close to doing the same. "

She squeezed his hand as they turned down the hallway that led to the stairs. "....it's all just... terrible."

Daniel nodded "it is. It's...understandable to be overwhelmed." He squeezed her hand back, following his markings "I...feel someone needs to know. I need to tell someone what that bastard did."

"Who will you tell?" she asked quietly as they started up the stairs.

"I don't know..." he frowned "Volkov? the mayor? *someone* should know. this can't stay in the darkness."

She nodded. "I agree... I'm just not sure who...."

"..yes." He sighed softly, and stepped up and out of the basement dungeon.

There was a guard waiting there for them, who nodded. "Oh good," the guard said. "Bossman was worried you wouldn't come out."

"Some people never did. "Daniel said dryly "...there's corpses behind a secret wall."

The guard's eyes widened. "Sorry, what, doctor?"

"....the town master had a secret passage down there. We have it marked with chalk. People were locked away and never found." He frowned deeper "there's worse down there as well."

He saluted. "I'll let the captain know right away, sir! He uh... oh he won't like that."

"Nor did we," Fenya murmured.

"yes indeed." Daniel said "...be sure someone is with him. What he finds will...not...be easy to see. "

The guard grimaced. "Yeah.... you think I should take some of the boys down there before we tell him, sir?"

"I think you should." Daniel said slowly "..you boys may know best how to break some of it to him." He frowned "...it seems the town master liked executing others for his own perverse crimes."

The guard grimaced. "Son of a bitch. I don't like that." He saluted again. "Alright I'll get some boys on it immediately. Anything else you need, sir?"

"no..." Daniel said with a shake of his head "no. You boys are doing good work. Just investigate the scene and report to your Captain. He'll know what to do." He frowned, and offered the rope and loop of hair to the man "this was found in his coat. " "we found the object we were looking for, but this should go with the rest of the evidence."

He took them with a grim frown. "I understand."

Daniel nodded "Thank you." He gave the man a salute "...we should be going. Good luck."

The man saluted them, as Fenya and Daniel hurried out of the room, into the once again quiet ground floor of the town hall.

Daniel took a deep breath "should we check in on the mayor quickly?"

Fenya frowned. "Perhaps? He's not likely to be very happy right now."

"no, though I suppose that would be *why*. It seems a tad rude to ruin the man's day then run off." He ran his hand through his hair "...but we don't have much time."

"No we don't...." She frowned and pulled out her pocket watch. "It's just after 4 o’clock. If we hurry..... and if we're lucky...."

"...we may be able to get the final phylactery before sundown." He offered his arm "we'll talk to the man after we save the bloody town. Let's be off."

Fenya nodded. "Alright, then we'd better get going. I imagine you have a plan?"

"....yes, but it's not a *good* one." he admitted. "we need to talk to the Osgrov's...perhaps Lydia."

She took his arm as they headed out onto the street. It was indistinguishable from night, and the fog was dense. Lamp light barely permeated it. "We should head to the Volkov's then."

Daniel nodded, heading in that direction "that's right...hopefully she'll have an idea of where it might be hiding."

Fenya held up the lamp that they'd borrowed from Volkov-- it was a good thing they had it at this point. "Hopefully," she nodded. "Maxi seemed to feel she might at least, so we have a chance."

"we do have a chance." Daniel said "he was right about Volkov's at least..." Daniel walked along the street, holding up the strange ghost light they'd captured as well. "Once we have it...we'll be able to get into that secret room"

"And see whatever the hell is down there," she agreed. Their lights played flickering shadows as they walked through the darkness, coming up toward the town square.

Daniel walked closer to her, frowning "...something horrible, I can only imagine."

"Given everything we;'ve found so far, it's all but inevitable."

"it certainly is...but perhaps when all is said and done, we'll be able to help this town start to heal. hm?"

"I certainly hope so." As they passed the village green, it was surprisingly quiet. There was a lump on the ground near one of the gnarled and leafless trees.

Daniel frowned, and waved for Fenya to follow as he approached it, holding his light out "...we may have another body."

"Wonderful," she murmured, following Daniel to the dark shape. In the flickering, shadow-filled light, Daniel saw a slumped body in familiar bright clothes. Lukyan's clothes.

Daniel blinked. "...." He bent down to put a hand on the man's shoulder , checking for a sign of life "...dammit, I told him to get to safety."

For a moment, Daniel thought he might have felt the flicker of a pulse, but it must have been his own, nervous heartbeat. This man was not alive. This man was a life-sized ragdoll.

"......." Daniel picked it up with a slight twitch of his eyelid "what...." "the....*ever living hell*"

The doll dressed in Lukyan's clothes felt like it was stuffed with old rags and socks. It had a grinning fox-face, and a piece of paper pinned to its chest. "I-is that a *doll*?" Fenya demanded.

Daniel pulled the paper off his chest and looked it over '...." "yes, yes it is. A doll dressed like a *damned annoying clown*."

The note read. "It was time to shoo out the clowns. Good luck, doctor. You'll need it!"

Fenya stared at it over his shoulder. "What in Gaea's name?"

"if I ever see that man again, I'm going to shove his own full sized doll down his throat." He glared down at the doll "shoo out the clowns indeed. Imbecile."

"well..." she sighed. "At least he's gone inside. We can hope."

"we can hope." Daniel shoved the note in his bag and threw the doll into the trees. "goodbye, Lukyan. You moron." With that, he pushed on towards the Volkov residence.

"Good riddance," she murmured. In the far distant darkness, feral dogs barked, and there were sounds of shouting, but Daniel couldn't tell what direction it came from, much less how far away it might be. Fenya pressed closer to him.

Daniel looped his arm around her, frowning into the distance "...we need to fix this as soon as possible."

"Without a doubt," she agreed. They came to the cross street where the church stood, and Sasha's house and office were further down it. They could hear murmuring voices from that street, and see some shapes in the darkness.

Daniel frowned, and eased towards them "...Fenya, keep low...this could be trouble."

Fenya nodded, slumping her shoulders, her hands on her purse. "Got it," she murmured.

The lamp rattled and their shoes crunched on the gravel despite their attempts to be quiet "Who's there?" a wary voice demanded, as a pair of shadows appeared in the darkness.

"Daniel Delgrave, who are you?" He called back.

The worried faces of a pair of bears, a man and a woman, in shabby clothing swam out of the darkness, illuminated by Fenya's lamp. The man, broad and nervous looking, stepped forward-- the woman had a small bundle in her arms. "Ygor Rubov," he grumbled. "This is my wife, Natya. We were trying to get into the hospital, but..." "There are no beds," the woman choked quietly. "And the young man helping the doctor told us that Osgrov couldn't see any more..."

Daniel frowned , and stepped forward "...the young man helping the doctor said he couldn't see any more?" "...damn, I had hoped it wouldn't have filled up so fast.." he paused a moment, and looked at the bundle "...are you sick, or...?"

"Our son," the man frowned, gesturing to the woman and her bundle. There was a soft cough from within.

Daniel walked over and looked into the bundle "..I see..." He took a deep breath "I might have something to ease his symptoms....and a place where you can watch over him in safety with instructions on how to keep his condition stable while I search for a cure."

The woman looked at him suspiciously. "You are a doctor?" she asked, holding her child protectively. Daniel could just about make out a pair of fuzzy ears and the tip of a nose from the bundle.

Were the ears marked with the sign of infection? "yes. My name is Doctor Daniel Delgrave....of the Astorian University." He said "I'm the man currently researching this disease and hunting for it's cure."

There was no sign of black in the little boy's ears, and from the sudden sneeze from the blankets, Daniel could guess that the boy was probably sick with something other than the sleeping disease. "The astorian doctor," The man murmured to his wife. "Doctor..." she nodded. "Is there anything you can do for him?"

Daniel sighed with relief "...there's plenty I can do." He smiled warmly "and we're in luck...it's not the sleeping sickness, so I'm certain if I take a brief look, I can help your little boy on his way to recovery in no time flat."

The woman choked up with relief as well, offering the boy to Daniel gently. "Please, doctor," she nodded, leaning into her husband.

Fenya took Daniel's bag for him so he could look over the boy.

Daniel took the young boy in his arms, and began checking him over...testing for fever and noting the symptoms "hm.."

Oh yeah, he definitely had a fever. And Daniel could hear the gurgle in his breathing. It was a classic chest/lung infection. --something that could luckily be cleared up by something he'd had Fenya put in her purse, that hadn't yet been useful. The boy looked up at him with gooey eyes.

Daniel gently poked the kid on the nose, before looking at Fenya "may I have the antibiotics, please?" He looked at the parents "it's just a chest infection...it could get serious, of course, but if we give the lad antibiotics it should clear up relatively quick."

Fenya nodded and dug in her purse for the bottle. "Of course, doctor." She pulled it out, and offered it to the woman. "Will he get better?" Natya asked, with hope in her voice.

"he will." Daniel said, nodding his head "just make sure to give him one tablet of that a day until the bottle's run its course, and he'll be fine."

The woman nodded. "One a day, yes... thank you doctor." The man pulled a bag out of his pocket and offered it to Daniel, pressing it into his hands.

Daniel held the bag in the hand that didn't have the child in it, and cocked his head "what is this? you don't have to give me anything.."

The bear man shook his head. "I am not the kind of man who does not pay a doctor for healing his son," he grumbled.

"I understand." He offered them their child once more "then I'll accept it gladly. May your child feel better soon,"

The woman took the boy back in her arms, both of them gratefully thanking Daniel some more.

Daniel nodded, and put the pouch in his bag "now please, get back to your homes...it's dangerous out as of late."

They nodded, and the man said. "We'll get right home. Thank you so much doctor." He bowed his head gratefully, and they hurried off into the darkness.

Daniel sighed with relief "at least it wasn't the sleeping sickness."

"Thank goodness," she breathed a sigh as swell, offering him back his bag. "You did good for them-- the hospital must be completely overwhelmed."

Daniel took it gratefully, nodding his head "it's packed...which means we have all the more urgency." He took her arm again and said, "I'm just glad I could help."

"As am I," she agreed, taking his arm as they started off into the darkness again. "I suppose it's obvious, but hard to think about the idea that normal sickness doesn't stop just because there's a plague.."

"it's true...during a plague, normal illness rages on." he agreed "...and is often untreated, becoming more deadly in the process."

Fenya nodded quietly as they walked. "Unpleasant to think about. ...you're a brave man for facing this sort of thing, Danochka."

"it is unpleasant indeed." He sighed, before leaning against her "Brave? Do you think so?"

"I do," she nodded, leaning against him as they walked. "Someone with your academics could have chosen any field, but you decided to, well, I'd almost say go to war. It makes my own career feel just a little bit like mere whimsy."

"I could have." he admitted "...I often get told I could have gone into any other science. But I feel as if the work I do is important...even if it is a bit like a war." He shook his head "the more we study death, the more we can learn to prevent it." He glanced at her "though I would hardly call your career whimsy. Chemistry and medicine go hand in hand....and your passion for finding the alchemical secrets could end up saving lives."

She smiled at him bashfully, her ears flicking. "I'm pleased you think so, Danochka.," she said. "I'm still very passionate about my own work, but, well, this whole trip has certainly given me a fresh perspective."

He smiled back at her "Good. You shouldn't ever lose that passion. It's part of what makes you so charming." He walked with her "...but...honestly....I can imagine. It's given me a fresh perspective as well."

Her ears flicked with embarrassment as they hurried their way up the empty street among the manors. "I suppose we'll both be taking more home to Astoria than we thought we would," she murmured.

He nodded, holding her arm as they walked....his own ears flicking in embarrassment as his tail swished behind him "I suppose we will. I certainly won't complain."

"Nor I," she agreed as they arrived at the steps of Volkov manor. The lights were lit inside, and there was a guard lingering outside of it, with a cigarette lit in his mouth.

Daniel gave him a wave as he approached "good evening."

The guard waved back. "Doc." He realized his lazy wave and turned it into a salute.

Daniel saluted him with a nod "How are things here today?"

"Quiet, thankfully, sir," the man nodded. "The missus even brought me some coffee."

"well that was very nice of her." he chuckled "might we come in?"

The guard nodded. "Of course, sir. The Captain is not about right now though, if you are looking for him."

"no, I was hoping to speak to Lydia, actually."

"Ahhhhh," he nodded thoughtfully. "I see. Well, as far as I know she is in. Mrs. Volkov has been fussing over her."

"that makes sense. "Daniel nodded "thank you very much. Keep up the good work." he pushed open the door'' I'll see myself in then?"

The guard nodded. "Give her a shout so you don't surprise her," he chuckled. "I'll keep a look out here."

"Promise." he chuckled, and nodded his head before heading in and calling out "hello? It's Daniel Delgrave, might I have a moment of your time?"

"Doctor!" the warm voice of Katrina greeted. She poked her head out from the kitchen. Her ears were droopy, and there were dark circles under her eyes, but she had a wide smile.

Daniel smiled back at her "good morning Katrina. You seem cheerful."

She chuckled. "I'm doing my best," she said, sounding warm as before, but tired. "I've... been following your advice."

"good...I'm very glad to hear that." he said genuinely "it seems to be helping.."

She chuckled and pushed a hand through her hair. "Well, helping is a relative term but yes... probably."

"I hope so, at least." he chuckled. and shook his head "...as for us...we're well on our way to getting to the bottom of this, but we have more unpleasantness ahead..."

"I'm sorry to hear that," she nodded. "Do you have time for a cup of coffee? I'm... well I'm on my third pot."

"I think we do." he chuckled "we'll bloody well need some coffee for the rest of the day ahead."

Fenya nodded. "It would be *very* nice to pause for some," she agreed. Katrina waved them into the warm kitchen. "I thought as much. The dear captain sent a message that you'd been in the old jail."

"yes..." Daniel frowned "...we found some...rather unsettling things down there."

"I shudder to imagine," she murmured, handing them both large mugs of exceptionally strong coffee.

Daniel took a long sip, savoring the strength of it for a moment "...indeed. It..." He grimaced "it was bad. And I'm just glad he's dead."

Katrina nodded, a grim look on her face as she poured her own coffee, and took a sip. "The world is better off without him, without a doubt."

"without a single doubt." Daniel agreed "...sadly, while we were able to find what we were looking for...we're still struggling with finding the last piece to this puzzle."

"Last piece of the puzzle?" she asked.

"...I need to find Osgrov's phylactery." Daniel said grimly "...I may have found the source of the infection, but it's hidden behind some damned puzzle door that needs the phylacteries of each of the dead masters to open."

She raised her eyebrows. "Sorry did I hear you right? The source of the infection might be behind a puzzle door?"

"Believe me," Fenya said. "It's just as strange as it sounds."

"Yes, that...is absolutely true. It's absolute nonsense. I feel like I'm in a dime novel, but yes. it's behind a bloody puzzle door because the town masters were *irritating* on top of being utter bastards."

"It *does* feel like a dime novel," Fenya agreed, taking another long drink of coffee. Katrina nodded. "I'm not surprised. With the way their minds were twisted. of course they'd come up with something like that."

"when you have all the time in the world you think up nonsense puzzles to pass the time, I guess." Daniel sipped his coffee. "bastards." He sighed "but the problem is we have everyone's phylactery...except Osgrov's...and Sasha says he threw everything of the man's away."

Katrina nodded, and frowned. "yes, with my blessing," she agreed. "We got rid of everything that we could find. Even some of the furniture."

"indeed, and for good reason." He said "...was the phylactery among them?"

She shook her head. "No, I assumed it was wherever they kept everyone else's."

"they all kept them in different places." Daniel said with a sigh "....we found Misha's in a room under the church. Nika's was kept by Mitya's family...and we found Volkov's in his *secret office of cruelty*."

"Secret office," she sneered. "Of course. Well, if they all had them, then it's likely my 'father' had his hidden in some similar way." she spat.

"indeed..." Daniel said with a sharp frown "...I'm certain he did, but the question is where." He sighed "No doubt somewhere horrible. With more nightmarish secrets hidden away."

"If he had more nightmarish secrets than those he kept in open secret I may literally scream, doctor," she muttered bitterly over her coffee.

Fenya gave her a sympathetic look.

Daniel nodded, grimacing in sympathy "...indeed." He glanced at her "I'm sorry about all this. Dredging up these memories for you is something I wish I could avoid."

She shook her head. "I wish too, but I haven't been doing a good job avoiding them anyway."

"no I...imagine not." He sighed "...can you think of any place the man spent a considerable amount of time?"

"he worked out of the house," she said. "I wish he had been somewhere else."

"indeed..." Daniel said softly "...and I imagine you both scoured the entirety of the place to rid it of him..."

"We did," she nodded. "Lydia was there too, of course."

"of course.." Daniel said running his hand through his hair "....damn it."

"Sorry," she frowned. "I wish I could be more help."

"no. no.. it's alright." Daniel shook his head, "it just means we need to think...there's got to be *some* clue..."

"I'm sure Sasha would let you check the house," Katrina said. "Only it's full of the sick now."

Daniel nodded "that...complicates matters as well."

"It does," Katrina frowned. "What about Lydia?" Fenya asked. "Oh, Lydia? She's sleeping upstairs now. I doubt she would know, but I suppose perhaps. The very thought makes my blood boil."

Daniel grimaced "...indeed, and I can hardly blame you." he frowned "...but perhaps we should ask, just to be sure.."

Katrina nodded. "yes. If it helps close the final chapter in their horrible book I'm sure she'll want to help as well."

"indeed." Daniel said "I hope after this...we can put all of it to rest once and for all...for your sakes."

"So do I doctor," she sighed. "So do I."

Daniel sipped his coffee "..they've done too much damage to this place" he said "...I've gotten more and more evidence that shows just how they've corrupted and twisted this town to their own ends, hurting whoever they felt like..."

"That doesn't surprise me at all," Katrina breathed quietly. "I knew it couldn't only be our bastard of a father who was rotten."

"A manipulator...a pedophile and a *bloody serial killer*" Daniel hissed "and your heinous father. Four people undeserving of power who had *all of it*"

Fenya grimaced nodding. "It's disgusting." "Yes," a soft voice said from the doorway. Katrina turned. "Lydia, you're awake."

Daniel glanced over his shoulder, nodding his head "...good morning, Lydia."

"Good afternoon," she said quietly, giving a little curtsy.

"Are you feeling alright, Lydia?" Katrina asked quietly.

"A little better now...."

Daniel nodded his head "...i'm pleased to hear that. Did you sleep well?"

She was quiet for a moment and then she nodded. "Yes....."

"good." Daniel said "I was quite worried about you."

"You're too kind, doctor," she said in her small, breathy voice.

"I try..." he said, looking at her over his shoulder "would you like some coffee?"

She thought about it, and then nodded. "Alright...."

Katrina smiled and stood, to pour her a cup. "Here you are, Lyda."

Daniel waited for her to sit before he asked "would you mind if we asked you a few questions?"

She shook her head. "I thought you might want to."

"You had, hm?" He chuckled softly, sipping his coffee "I imagine you did.."

The pale girl held her coffee between her hands and nodded.

Katrina looked uncomfortable, unsure whether she should stay in the room.

Daniel glanced at Katrina "...it's up to you, you know. I understand if you want to take a breather."

Lydia looked over at Katrina, and put a hand on her hand. "You and Miss Fenya should go for a few minutes. I'll be okay." Fenya raised her eyebrows, but didn't contradict. "Well.... if you;'re sure," Katrina frowned.

Daniel nodded slowly "thank you. It will certainly be okay."

Fenya stood and offered Katrina her hand. "Come on, lets go have a chat for a bit. We can talk about something more relaxing."

Katrina looked hesitant, but stood with her, and the two left the room, with Fenya giving Daniel a nod before she vanished.

Daniel nodded back to her, before turning back to his coffee "Thank you for speaking with me, Lydia."

The ghostlike young woman nodded, her hands around her own warm cup. "Of course...."

Daniel sipped his coffee "...we're looking for Town Master Osgrov's phylactery."

She nodded quietly. "Yes."

"with it , we hope to end what's happening here, and...leave them in the past once and for all."

"Leave them in the past," she sighed. "That would be nice..."

"it would be. I...hope we can start things on the path where that could happen."

She smiled sadly and sipped her coffee. "Maybe."

She looked up at him. "You've already changed so much."

Daniel blinked over the rim of his coffee cup "have I?"

Lydia nodded. "Yes. You chased out a monster."

"I suppose so..." Daniel said with a nod "But there's still more to do."

"Yes," she agreed, dragging a finger over the table idly. "There will probably always be more to do."

"that's the way of things." Daniel agreed "but with each one done, the world is a slightly better place."

Lydia smiled. "Yes... though you'll always be fighting the people who do one bad thing."

Daniel ran his hand through his hair "...one bad thing?"

She nodded. "For every good thing you do, there are other people who do bad things... and monsters who do lots of them."

Daniel frowned into his coffee. "indeed...but if you stop trying to do good, even knowing that you can't stop every monster or moment of cruelty, that bad will outnumber and overwhelm. So best I keep trying to do what I can where I'm able, don't you think?"

Lydia smiled and nodded. "Yes. and... it's good to remember if you ever think you're not making progress with good."

"I'll do my best to remember that, Lydia." he smiled over his coffee cup with a nod "..and I hope to continue doing some good here...but for that, I need Osgrov's phylactery."

She nodded. "you have the others?"

"all three of the others, yes." Daniel nodded.

She nodded.

"Would you have any idea where this might be?"

Lydia nodded again. "yes."

"may I ask where it is?"

"It's in my room."

"...." Daniel blinked "it's in your room?"

She nodded quietly. "Yes. Not the one here."

"the one in the manor turned hospital." Daniel closed his eyes thoughtfully "...where?"

"under my bed," she told him. "There's a loose floorboard where my mother used to hide her diary."

"...were you hiding it away, Lydia?"

She nodded. "So that he couldn't escape."

"so that...he couldn't..." Daniel paused "you know, Lydia. that may be the most alarming thing you've said since I met you."

Lydia seemed to think about this, and she nodded. "Probably."

"he being....Master Osgrov?"

"yes," she agreed. "Did you know he's my father, grand-father, and great-grandfather?"

Daniel lowered his coffee with a rather unhappy expression "i had heard such. yes."

Lydia nodded. "Maybe even more. But I know that for sure."

"..." Daniel frowned "....indeed. It's...." "it's not the way it should be." "..when you say 'so he couldn't escape'...what do you mean?"

She turned this over in her mind. "So he couldn't leave it."

"..they can 'leave it'?" Daniel asked

"They were sorcerers," Lydia explained slowly.

"..yes. I..got that one could call them such." he admitted "and they did things that could be seen as sorcery."

Lydia nodded. "Then you see."

"I ...suppose. You're saying that he has a way of coming back, yes?"

She nodded. "Maybe, yes."

"hm. Well I would like to prevent that, Lydia."

"So would I. That's why I kept it."

"Yes...well..." he sighed "hopefully whatever we do down there can help banish them for good, hm?"

Lydia nodded. "I hope so."

"as do I.." he shook his head "....but for tonight, I suppose I should get to your bedroom and seek out that bloody phylactery so we might finish this."

Lydia nodded. "Yes.... it'll probably be over soon."

"it will be." Daniel promised "and I hope that whatever we do can put your mind at ease enough that you're no longer bothered by monsters or demons."

"You've already done so much," she smiled a little sadly.

"I'm glad to have." He said, smiling tiredly back "but my work isn't nearly done."

Lydia nodded. "Good luck, doctor," she said, softly.

"Thank you, Lydia. Good luck to you as well." he put his cup down and stood , offering her his hand "should I go back to get Katrina?"

Lydia nodded. "If you want. Or I can go and send Miss Fenya out to you."

"no, I think Fenya and I should be on our way...not many hours left until the sun goes down and...I'd like to start on our way to finishing things before more people are hurt."

Lydia nodded. "I thought so."

"I'm going to need that luck." he chuckled softly, before nodding "be well, Lydia. and stay safe." he started to walk out of the room

"Goodbye, doctor," she said softly, without facing him as he left. "Thank you for helping keep me safe." Daniel found Fenya and Katrina chatting in the parlor. Fenya had just finished doing Katrina's hair for her.

"Goodbye Lydia. I'm happy to." He said, before he headed out into the hall "hello, Katrina, Fenya." he bowed his head

Fenya pulled a pin out of her mouth and smiled. "Danochka." Katrina gave an embarrassed wave.

Daniel smiled at her "It seems like things are going pretty well out here."

Fenya smiled. "It is. How about for you?"

"Well...we had a nice conversation." He shook his head "and I know where to find the phylactery."

Katrina raised her eyebrow. "So she did know."

"she did. She's been hiding it to..ah. prevent him from escaping."

"Prevent him..." Katrina murmured. "Dear gods."

"...yes." Daniel frowned "it's an alarming thought but.." He said slowly "it likely isn't going to come to pass."

"I should hope not," Katrina muttered. "Same," Fenya nodded, frowning. "But, we know where it is now?"

"...it's in the Osgrov manor." Daniel said "under her bed, in a loose floorboard."

"She was *keeping* it?" Katrina asked in surprise. She stood. "I should go see her."

Daniel nodded slowly "it was nice seeing you Katrina...i hope you don't mind if we're off. We need to retrieve it before the day's end."

"I don't mind at all," Katrina shook her head. "Good luck, doctor. Let me know how things go."

"Thank you. we'll let you know." he offered an arm to Fenya "shall we?"

Fenya took his arm. "Things are heating up, Danochka. Lets go."

And with that, the two of them headed out.

Daniel walked out into the mist with her "how was Katrina doing?" he asked as they headed along "she'd seemed exhausted when we arrived.

"She's definitely exhausted," Fenya nodded. "And her hands were shaking so much this morning she couldn't do her hair. She hasn't had anything to drink since you told her to stop."

"....." Daniel grimaced slightly "withdrawal from that sort of thing is difficult, but I'm glad she's sticking to it."

Fenya nodded. 'I gave her some of my pain relievers. Hopefully it'll help."

"hopefully." Daniel nodded "that could ease the worst of it. " he smiled "glad you could help her."

She smiled. "She put me off at first with her ah... forwardness, the other night but, Katrina seems like a very nice lady. Not, you understand, one I would want to ah.... room... with, but a very nice lady all the same."

Daniel's ears flicked "indeed." he said "i ah, understand what you mean completely. She is a rather nice woman, however."

Fenya nodded, her own ears flicking. "Yes... how was Lydia?"

"Better. She thanked me for helping her...told me of her family's past...and how the master was her father and grandfather and great grandfather and so on.." he shuddered "...we talked about doing good in a world where evil still happens , and I promised to do what I could to help her and town before she told me where the phylactery was."

Fenya grimaced at the morbid family tree, and nodded. "It sounds like... a productive conversation."

"yes." Daniel murmured "it was. I worry for that girl."

"you're not the only one," she nodded as they turned up the road toward the makeshift hospital.

"no...I expect not." he shook his head "She's a nice young woman who's had a hard life."

Fenya nodded. "Hopefully she can overcome that hardship..."'

"I think what we're doing here should help. Given that the hope is to try and help people move on from that sordid legacy the Masters left behind."

Fenya nodded. "exactly," she agreed. "I'll feel better about the whole thing after we're done, and I think a lot of others will too."

"Agreed wholeheartedly." Daniel said with a shake of his head. "...this whole town needs to heal."

Up ahead, the Osgrov Manor was lit in every window, a beacon of light on the dark street, the house with a dark history now a makeshift hospital for the sick of the town.

Daniel felt a bit of satisfaction at that...it was like a symbol of the good they were trying to do, that way. He walked towards the front door, and knocked firmly

Mitya answered the door promptly. "I'm sorry, we--- Oh! Doctor!"

Fenya blinked. "Mitya?"

"Mitya?" Daniel blinked '...are you the boy helping Sasha out?"

Mitya nodded, "Yes, sir!" his ears flicked embarrassedly. "It seemed more important right now than other things."

"Good lad." Daniel flashed him a smile "I agree." He patted his shoulder "i need to get access to one of the rooms, if you don't mind.'

"Oh, yeah?" he cocked his head. "I'm sure it's fine... come on in."

Daniel stepped inside "thank you." he chuckled "...do you know where Lydia's room is?"

The whole front area had been converted, with makeshift cots everywhere, and sick people laying on them, asleep, or half asleep. Mitya nodded, stepping around the cots and beckoning Daniel and Fenya to follow "Lydia's? Ah, I believe so. It should be one of the few rooms that Sasha hasn't filled with patients."

Daniel stepped around the cots, looking over the people as he passed. There were so many sick. It only drove home the urgency of all this... "yes? Good to know we'll have a little privacy."

Mitya nodded pushing up his glasses and taking the two of them upstairs. "He said it didn't seem right to disturb her privacy. Oh... actually... maybe I should ask him before I let you in...."

"...yes, that would be for the best." Daniel agreed

"Do you mind waiting for me in the hall?" Mitya asked. "I can run and ask him."

"No, that's quite alright." Daniel nodded, and leaned against the wall

"if you could tell him that we already have an okay from Lydia, that would be appreciated as well."

Mitya nodded. "Got it!" he gave a salute. "I'll be right back!" The young man hurried awkwardly down the stairs again.

Fenya settled against the wall next to Daniel. The whole house was filled with the dull sound of human occupation.

Daniel looked at Fenya "...things here are holding up alright it seems...but I hope this lead helps us figure out the root of all this soon."

Fenya nodded. "I hope so too. Sasha seems to have things under control but... it can't hold for long."

"no, it can't...not with them at capacity and more people sick every hour. " he shook his head "...I want to end this in the next few days. "

Fenya nodded. "Maybe the masters left instructions for a miracle cure," she half joked.

"maybe." he chuckled "or maybe whatever's down there is stranger than we could possibly imagine."

"Down where?" Sasha asked, with a cock of his head as he came up the stairs. He had a mask and coat on, and he looked tired, but alert.

Daniel nodded to Sasha. "...down into the bowels of the earth. Where I think we might find the source of our infection."

The white furred man raised an eyebrow, and nodded. "I see. That's an.... interesting hypothesis, doctor Delgrave. And Mitya tells me that you need to get into Lydia's room?"

"yes. She told me she had something hidden in there that we need to get past some damned puzzle door the old bastards left behind."

"Puzzle door," he snorted. He waved his hand for them to follow. "Isn't that just like the pack of superstitious bastards."

"isn't it?" Daniel followed "....I've come to expect that kind of nonsense from them"

"Yes," Sasha nodded, leading them down the hall. "And your colleague, the folklore professor, was insatiable for it. I imagine he thought that being *mysterious* somehow made them great."

"mmm, being mysterious doesn't make a man great. It just makes you *obtuse*."

"On that, doctor delgrave, we agree very much," he nodded, and unlocked a heavy-doored room. "Here we are."

Daniel nodded "thank you very much. I do appreciate it." he pushed the door open "we shouldn't be long."

Sasha nodded. "Of course. I trust you'll be as polite with her things as possible."

"of course. " Daniel said, and looked around the room

The room was done in soft, pale colors with lots of thin, wispy fabrics, aside from the curtains, which were heavy over the thick shuttered windows. The bed was quite large, and had a canopy. There was a bookshelf, and a little tea table, and a vanity, as well as a door that might be to a personal bath.

"It's nice.," Fenya murmured.

Daniel nodded as he looked around "it's very nice." he agreed, and walked towards the bed.

Sasha lingered in the doorway quietly as they looked around. The bed was a fair distance off the ground, its heavy mattresses on a big, old frame that had a step up.

Daniel bent down , and felt around under the bed for a loose board "hm.."

Daniel's fingers quickly found the place where the one board was higher than the others. He could easily dig his fingernails into the edge and pull it up.

Daniel dug his nails into the board and pulled it away "and here we go." he looked inside

Inside he felt something wooden, and rounded. It definitely felt like the other phylacteries. It was immersed in something dry and grainy.

Daniel lifted it out with a handful of whatever other material he was holding

As he pulled it out from under the bed... Fenya frowned looking at it as it drained from his fingers. "Is that salt?"

Daniel raised his eyebrow "to keep him trapped in there, I imagine. by her own logic."

Fenya pursed her lips. "Salt *is* supposed to cleanse and stop that kind of thing in folklore."

"That's what I've heard as well...both in New Astoria and elsewhere." he put the phylactery and a handful of salt into his bag.

"Careful with that," Fenya chuckled. "You have that light jarred up tightly, right? or it might react to the salt."

Sasha peeked his head in. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

"I do." Daniel nodded "it's pretty well sealed off." He looked at Sasha with a nod "we did. We're probably going to head off now, if you don't mind...we don't have a lot of time and much to do."

Sasha nodded "Of course. The work doesn't stop here either," he agreed. "even with Mitrophan to put out the fires."

"indeed." Daniel nodded "he seems to be a great help."

"He is," Sasha nodded. "I should get back to him. Is there anything else you need?" Fenya glanced at Daniel.

"no, not that I can think of." Daniel shook his head. "unless I'm missing something." he smiled "just keep doing your best. This all is a valuable service."

Sasha nodded deeply. "I hope so," he agreed. "Good luck my friend. " He ushered them out of the room, and locked it again.

"good luck to you too, my friend." Daniel walked down the stairs "we'll see you after the deed is done." he went for the front door, winding through the patients

Fenya wound her way with him, looking pensive.

Daniel pushed the door open once he reached it, nodding behind him to Sasha "keep up the good work."

The cool, wet air of the misty darkness greeted them.

Daniel looked at Fenya as he started towards the graveyard "penny for your thoughts, Fenya?"

"ah..." she paused. "I was just wondering if...we should let someone know where we're going. In case."

"..." Daniel opened up the door, hurrying back "Sasha!" he called "we're going to the old graveyard out of town. If we don't come back by tomorrow morning, send someone to investigate, will you?'

Sasha peeked his head out from a nearby doorway. "I'm sorry?"

"I'm letting you know because I trust you. WE're going to the old graveyard outside of town...and should something happen, we would like someone to know."

Sasha nodded seriously. "Alright. I'll send the guard after you if I don't see you again by morning. Feel free to check in late, I won't be sleeping."

"thank you.' Daniel nodded "I expect neither of us will be." He bowed his head...before he headed off to catch back up with Fenya

Fenya was holding the lantern outside on the stoop of the makeshift hospital."Sorry to be such a worrier."

"no, it was a damned good point." He said with a shake of his head "...we should have at least someone know where we are if the worst happens."

"We should," she agreed, taking his arm again. "....not that I think there's anything supernatural down there. But... well, I doubt the masonry is up to code."

Daniel looped his arm with hers as they walked through the near darkness "no. nothing supernatural but there's plenty of mundane dangers that await us I'm *certain.*"

Fenya nodded, the two of them walking arm in arm in their little bubble of light in the darkness. "Indeed..."

Daniel held up his own light, heading out into the mist...out where there wouldn't even be the light of town. "And that 'vampire' too..'

"Think he'll show up to the festivities?" Fenya murmured.

"It's my concern that he might very well." Daniel admitted

"Like you said earlier-- like a dime store novel," she sighed.

"like a dime store novel, we'll have to face the dark and terrible villain" he drawled

"I'd settle for just grabbing the evil sorcerers’ hidden notes," she muttered. "Honestly with all the guards around I'll be surprised if the ''vampire' can get anywhere."

"which may be while he's hiding in the graveyard where it all began." he frowned

She grimaced. "You know, somehow I failed to connect vampires and graveyards until just now, Danochka."

"I'm glad I could help" he smirked "too many dime novels."

"A secret fan?" she asked with a chuckle. They neared the post office, which was dark now.

"A man has to do something while waiting for his samples to finish." Daniel smirked, walking past the post.

"Too true, Danochka, too true." Up ahead, Ivan and Mila's little manor was warmly lit. Daniel knew that a little past it, the trail would meander out, and leave them walking through the wet field to the graveyard.

Daniel pressed forward. He appreciated the warm light while they had it, knowing things would get very dark and very cold soon.

As they passed Ivan's house they could hear the reedy strains of a phonograph from inside. Fenya walked closer to Daniel.

Daniel put his arm around her, walking off into the mud "...too true indeed..." he murmured "....in a moment we'll be stepping into the darkness"

"Good thing we're bringing the light with us," she murmured, holding onto him. The gravel crunched under their feet, until it didn't, their boots sinking slightly in the soft grass and mud.

Daniel held his light up as they trudged into the mud "mmm...indeed. Wandering into this without a lantern would be suicide."

"Agreed," she nodded. It was quiet here, except for the sound of wind and occasional drops of rain.

Daniel listened to the rain as they walked "it'd be all too easy to get lost in the fields of this place."

Fenya nodded. "Yes... and wander our way right into the river."

"which I'd be surprised we couldn't smell a mile away." he drawled

"Fair point," she chuckled. The light of their lamps illuminated the crumbling edges of the graveyard as they reached its outer perimeter.

Daniel smiled as he approached the graveyard "and here we are again...back in the old and forgotten graveyard."

The ground smelled musty and old in the rain, like a soggy library of secrets. Fenya clung close to him. "And it's even more miserable than this morning."

Daniel nodded "I think it's got a special quality where each time we see it it's more miserable than the last." he snorted, holding her tight as he approached the stone building.

"How magical," she drawled, approaching the building with him. She held up her lamp, and there were the pear shaped indentations that they'd seen before.

Daniel pulled out the phylacteries , and held them up in his hands, two in each. "...I wonder what order I put them in." he mused, trying Nika's in the top indent.

"I didn't even think of that," Fenya murmured. The Midwife's phylactery fell out of the indent back into Daniel's hand. "I guess there aren't too many different orders to try."

Daniel nodded, and tried clockwise, testing it until one clicked into place.

He only had to move it one space clockwise before it clicked in and stuck in place.

"See?" Fenya murmured.

Daniel nodded "I see indeed." He tried Misha's next, doing the same method.

Misha's eventually slotted in the bottom hole.

And Volkov's with the same method...

Volkov's slotted in the rightmost. Which left the top slot for the "Healer"s.

Daniel pressed Osgrov's terrible heart in the top slot, and stepped back from the door.

There was a final click and then a sort of rumble and scraping noise. The door of the stone monument slid open a few inches, a breath of cold air expressing from the narrow crack.

Daniel shivered, and pulled the door aside 'ready to enter the abyss, Fenya?"

The stone door pulled aside surprisingly easily, opening on a small, dark stone room, with a staircase leading down into the earth.

"Once more into the breach, doctor," she nodded.

Daniel looked down, holding his lantern up "into the breach indeed...and once more under the bloody earth." He walked in, taking her hand, and began his descent.

The steps were narrow, so fenya walked behind him, but didn't let go of his hand. Though the door didn't close behind them-- at least they didn't hear it do so-- the only light was still that from their lamps.

Daniel walked down the steps, tense and ready for anything as they descended deeper and deeper "...what could be down here I wonder.."

"So do I," she murmured. The sides of the staircase were carved roughly out of stone, and the stairs were steep. Strangely, instead of colder, as they went further down it started to get more warm.

Daniel raised his eyebrow "well that's...hm. Ominous."

"if we're walking into a big fire I'm walking back out, Danochka."

"mmm, i don't think we'd find much in a big fire, so I might very well back out with you."

"Good, or I'd have to drag you," she snorted. That said, it didn't get *that* much warmer, just a warm, comfortable temperature like in a well heated room. Finally, they came to the bottom of the stairs. At the bottom was a small, roughly carved stone chamber, much like the one above. It was empty, save for another great stone door, this one carved with a complex relief of a heart with blood running through it. On the floor was etched a circle, or more accurately a complex sigil with small divots in it.

Daniel frowned, and looked around the room "....what in the hell is this?"

"I'm.... not certain," Fenya frowned. "Aside from another barrier."

Daniel nodded "...another barrier we'll just have to get past." he walked to the door, and tried to push it open.

It absolutely didn't budge.

Daniel looked over the door with a frown "...i wonder if it only opens with blood?"

"That would be annoying," Fenya frowned.

"To say the least."

"highly irritating." He agreed, before he bent over the sigil with a frown.

well... he didn't see any dried blood on the stone door, so it might not be that. As he looked at the sigil he saw a glint in the deep groove, as though there were a wire running through it.

Daniel raised his eyebrow, and brushed his finger through it "there's a wire down here."

"Wires? Whatever for?" she frowned and bent over it as well.

"i'm not sure." He mused, and traced it with his finger.

It almost felt like a tingle of energy ran through his finger.

Daniel shivered "...it's ...lively."

Fenya furrowed her brow, and pressed her finger to it as well. "So it is...."

"I wonder what it could mean." he mused "some sort of crude electricity?"

"It could be," she nodded. "Generated somehow by the stone here."

"Indeed...which means something could activate it to open the stone door, hm?"

"Very clever...." she bit her lip. "But what?"

"...what could activate a circuit like this." he asked "...it seems like a chemical reaction might do the trick, don't you think?"

"It might," she agreed. "There are lots of chemicals that react with electricity..."

"mm..." He looked at her, curiously

She raised an eyebrow.

"water, obviously would....would salt?"

"Not salt," she murmured. "But.... we *do* have that bottle of water..."

Daniel nodded "..." And then he stopped "Fenya...the stones and the water."

"Oh!" She smiled and got the bottle, and the bowl of stones out of her purse.

Daniel looked at the indents. Did they look the right size for the stones?

They *did* look like the right size.

Daniel started arranging them. As he went, he checked to see if there was any writing to say which stones where.

Now that he was looking for it, he noticed small scratches in the stone that indicated colors.

Daniel made sure to match the colors to the scratched indicators, nodding as he did "...clever little door puzzle, i suppose."

"I suppose so. They certainly were worried about security, putting *two* damned locks in front of whatever's in there."

"indeed." he mused, and placed the last stone. "...I have to wonder what they were protecting."

The last stone clicked into place, and Fenya offered Daniel the bottle. "If we're right, we'll find out in just a moment."

Daniel took the bottle "let's hope we are." He said, pouring the water into the groove.

The water hit the circle, and filled the groove, traveling from stone to stone, filling it up. As it did, it started to snap and crackle with electricity.

Daniel stepped away, handing her the bottle with a grin "and here we go."

The circle sparked and flashed for a moment, and there was a scraping noise as the heart-marked stone door started to move aside, shaking the floor as they stood on it.

Fenya grabbed Daniel's arm with her free hand.

Daniel leaned against her, holding her arm tight as the door swung open "...and deeper and deeper we go.:

They stepped once more into a narrowly dug tunnel. This one had no stairs, but was at an incline, and wound deeper down into gaea.

Daniel stared down into it, before raising his ghost light, and nodding "down we go into the depths..."

Fenya held the flickering fire lantern as well, the two lamps lighting up the darkness. However, the tight coil of the spiral downward meant that they still couldn't see too far ahead of themselves.

Daniel started his way down, frowning "...unsettling place, isn't it?"

"Extremely," Fenya agreed. "I hope there's buried treasure down here because the alternative is something unpleasant I'm sure."

Daniel thought he heard something at the very edge of his hearing, but he couldn't make it out yet.

Daniel frowned "...indeed...do you...hear something?"

Fenya frowned, "Something... yes, I'm not sure what....." Deeper and deeper they wound into the tunnel.

Daniel worked his way down ...down...down into the tunnel "...I wonder.."

"Yes?" she murmured quietly.

"They went to such lengths to hide this...but...how did this 'vampire' get down there when we had so much trouble?"

She wrinkled her brow. "That's a good question...." Daniel felt something as he walked-- felt it before he heard it.

A rhythmic... *thump-THUMP....thump-THUMP*....

"...it's a heartbeat." Daniel said suddenly "...that's a heartbeat, Fenya."

Fenya's ears pricked and swiveled. "A heart-beat? Is.... is the cave ah... amplifying ours?"

"...I.." he put his finger to his neck, feeling his own heartbeat "don't know."

The heartbeat that came up through the soles of his boots was out of rhythm with his own.

"...it's not my heartbeat, Fenya." he said slowly

Shute took her fingers away from her own neck and breathed,"not mine."

"...." Daniel looked down into the darkness "...that's quite ominous, Fenya."

"Extremely..." she breathed. "Should we.... keep going?"

"yes, yes we should..." he pressed on down into the abyss.

Down they went-- it was difficult to decipher how deep they were, but it turned out they only had a few more turns before they saw the literal light at the end of the tunnel.

Daniel shielded his eyes "light...we must be getting close to something..."

Fenya's fingers tightened around Daniel's. "But what?" she breathed. One more spiral and they could see-- something at least. A deep red illumination from the mouth of the tunnel as it opened up into a large cavern. The sound of the *thump THUMP* filled their ears.

Daniel gripped her hand a little tighter "...is that...a bloody...heart..?" He stepped into the cavern,stilling his confusion and nerves as much as he was able.

Daniel heard a small *splish* as he stepped into the red-tinted cavern, the sound of the heartbeat filling his ears. The wide, round chamber was lit by torches high off the ground-- Daniel could just make out the sight of copper wire leading to them through grooves in the wall. But that wasn't what caught his attention. Hanging by thick, ropey cordlike tendrils from the high ceiling was a massive, bloody, pumping organ. A heart.

"....." Daniel stared out at the massive pumping heart "......." "It's literal, Fenya." He managed to choke out. "A literal heart of the town.:

Fenya made a strangled noise, unable to manage anything more coherent for a moment. Finally she pushed out, "What--? *How*?"

There was another sound now, that Daniel could make out over the sound of the thumping, pumping heart.

A dripping sound that echoed through the cavern.

Daniel looked up , around...trying to find the source of the dripping "...I don't...know." he said "i don't know. I have *no idea* how any of this is possible but ...." he hissed "this *has* to be the source of everything."

His medical eyes found the source of the dripping almost immediately-- and the splish noise that had happened when he entered the chamber. There was a gouge the size of a man's head in the base of the heart, as though a piece had been carved out. It was slowly dripping blood, which splashed on the pool of the stuff that covered the floor an inch thick.

"You're right," a voice breathed behind them. "It *is* the source of everything."

Daniel froze, his hand going down to his pistol as he turned to face the voice "who..?"

"No need for violence, doctor," the voice said, as Fenya turned with Daniel. Despite this, the man in the dark cloak was aiming a pistol of his own at the two of them. "Lets keep this civil, like the gentlemen we are."

Fenya swallowed, her ears flattening.

Daniel frowned, keeping the pistol aimed squarely at the cloaked gentleman "...hm." "Civility has to be mutual, my friend." He said slowly "...who are you? our *vampire*?"

"Vampire," he hissed. "A disgusting necessity." Still holding the gun, the figure drew back his hood. Sasha. Sasha Osgrove stood there, pistol in hand, ears pale and eyes puffy and sunken.

"Sasha." Daniel said slowly. "...I have to say, I'm not entirely pleased to hear you're the man who's been going about killing people in the streets."

"I have to say it gives me as little pleasure as it gives you," he admitted, breath heavy. "Likely less, in fact."

Daniel kept the gun leveled "...I imagine not. Which brings me to the question of *why* did you undergo whatever fell procedure creates a man who must drink the blood of others."

"It *wasn't* supposed to do that!" Sasha hissed. "And now that you've helped me get down *here* it won't."

"you want the immortality the Town Masters had." Daniel said with a frown "but I ask again *why*? and *how*?"

"You have the how of it right in front of you," Sasha said breathlessly, gesturing with his free hand. "And the why?" Fenya murmured, watching the entrance. "Why?" he shook his head. "I'm surprised the answer doesn't immediately leap to your mind, doctor! To further science. healing. To understand what makes Gaea *tick*. Not to mention the ability to set right what my disgusting forefather and company got wrong. To drag Tadibya out of the darkness!"

Daniel glanced back at the beating heart, "...there's hardly anything scientific about this." he murmured "i've never seen anything like it. What *is* the damned thing?" he glanced at Sasha "...but are you sure about this? Doing what they did...what's to stop you from following in their footsteps?"

"What's to stop--" he faltered and stared at Daniel with disbelief, his knuckles tightening around the grip of his gun. "You think that I would become that kind of *monster?* Delgrave I spent my entire *life* trying to get away from those disgusting creatures that called themselves my ancestors. I couldn't *get* far enough away, even in the capital."

Daniel held up his hand "They haunt you, I'm well aware." He gestured behind him "but rushing headlong into what is essentially their *legacy*....isn't that the opposite of getting as far as you can?"

Sasha clenched his fist. "*something* needed to be done!"

"But is this it?" Daniel glanced back at it "the damned thing is wounded, whatever it is. Wounded and seeping whatever sickness is killing men, women and children up there, I'd bet."

He snorted. "Just how much of this have you unwound, Delgrave-- Daniel. Can I call you Daniel?" he muttered. "It's not the heart that's making people sick."

Daniel frowned "...." "...I've unwound all I could in the few days I've had." he glanced at the heart "...if it's not the heart, then what bloody is it?"

"It's the *wound!*" he said, pointing to it. "Its utter madness but it seems as though their sorcery was *right*, Daniel. Which makes it an *undiscovered science*. It's not heart that's causing the disease, it's the *phylactery*. " "What?" Fenya breathed.

Daniel stared at it, slowly lowering his gun "...." "the phylactery. the *rookery* is causing all this?"

Sasha started to lower his gun as well. "Now you understand! According to their notes, the rookery was meant to store the evil energies that attack the heart, you understand? Wounding the heart when they made their bid for immortality made it *vulnerable* so they had to build the tower."

"and that energy has been seeping into the earth...and has taken the form of the plague." Daniel mused "those little creatures in the black blood..." He looked at the heart "...then...wouldn't the best thing to do be to heal the heart itself, and demolish the rookery? If the heart is healed...then it cannot be vulnerable to the energies the Rookery was made to hold back."

"Perhaps, yes," Sasha murmured. "Assuming it *could* be healed. But was that so...." "It couldn't be used for immortality," Fenya said as it clicked in her mind.

Daniel nodded slowly "..." He frowned. His whole life he'd looked for the secret to immortality , and it came down to this. The possibility of it in his hand, and a town burning to ash above him. "...there's a problem, Sasha. If it's not healed...then the Rookery must stand. And if the Rookery stands, more and more people will die here as the sickness spreads."

"There's another way," he said slowly. "The rookery is crumbling for the same reason the blood here is pooled on the ground-- no one has been performing the damned *rituals*. And.... there's one more problem.... with healing the heart."

"..." Daniel frowned deeper "...someone has to perform the bloody ritual each year, forever." He ran his hand through his hair "...damn." He hissed softly "and what problem is that?"

He pulled his cloak away, revealing his bare chest. There was a long shaved line where fur was just beginning to grow back, and all along that line, tight, black stitching.

"I'll die," he said quietly. "I began the ritual before I knew that they had kept me locked out."

Daniel stared at him "....god....*damn* it Sasha." he gestured towards the stiches "it's a foolish man who experiments on himself without knowing the factors!"

Sasha grimaced. "More fool, I, then. I certainly wasn't going to experiment on someone else! not like my father in his gross genealogical studies! ...It's why I've needed the blood. And it had to be very.... very fresh...."

"..." Daniel shuddered "...Hell...the victims..."

"Muggers and thieves mostly," he said, looking away. "I'm not proud of it. I shouldn't have tried to leave it off as long as I did... let the pain get to me." He twitched slightly as he spoke.

Daniel gestured for Fenya to get a little behind him. "It was a risk you took, Sasha...and the result was less than optimal. Far less."

Fenya carefully moved her way behind Daniel, her little steps splashing in the blood. "On that, Daniel, we certainly don't disagree," he said. "But... if I can take the heart's flesh, and its blood each month, then I will no longer need to be a slave to those drives."

"Instead you'll be a slave to the ritual." Daniel said slowly "and to trying to keep your long life from getting to you, as it had to them."

"Stop comparing me to them!" he barked suddenly, pressing his hands to his face. "I got rid of them! they can't hurt *anyone* anymore! This damned disease is their last curse and once we get rid of it we can live in peace!!"

"I don't think he's doing well," Fenya breathed, behind him, her voice barely audible.

All around them the thump.... thump... of the heart kept rhythmic time.

Daniel shook his head "i don't believe so either, Fenya..." he whispered softly "....That's why I'm concerned with this whole 'ritual'." "Sasha." he spoke up "Their final curse was *starting this nonsense in the first place*" he hissed "there's better ways to beat death than to maim some *thing* and bind yourself to it forever." "look at yourself." He gestured "you're a mess! You tore your own bloody heart out, you're halfway to raving, and you're utterly convinced that doing *exactly* what those monsters did will somehow bury them for good! when this town just needs to *move on* from all of that. All these people have suffered, for years, because of the people who practiced this ritual. We don't know...we don't *know* the intentions they started with, but we know where they ended up! We know how this whole damned thing changed them."

For a moment Sasha looked wild-eyed and mad-- like he might do anything-- he raised the gun again.... only to drop it in the pool of blood as all the fight went out of him. He looked at Daniel, aghast and sorrowful. "I've been such an idiot." His knees went out under him.

Daniel walked over to place his hand on his shoulder "...you were trying to do what you thought was best. People hurt you, Sasha." he knelt in the blood beside him. "Terribly. People who became monsters due to the corruption of the very darkness they sought to hide away in that hellish tower of theirs." "You thought you could stop it, but there's no promise that it wouldn't get to you too..."

Sasha knelt in the blood as it soaked his pants and fur through. "I just.... wanted to protect everyone," he breathed. "I wanted to protect my sister.... I wanted...." he started to laugh, and then he started to weep.

Daniel held his shoulder as he cycled through the emotions in this heated moment. "....I know you did, Sasha. And she deserves protection." "but...for her to be truly safe, the master's legacy *needs to end* once and for all."

"Yes.... you're right," he laughed again. "I guess my last good decision was putting my faith in you, doctor."

Sasha's eyes rolled back, and he fell forward.

Daniel tried to catch him "*damn it*." he hissed softly...but he was sure he was too late. "....Fenya. I think...we've lost him."

"Damn it," Fenya hissed. "Are you sure?" Sasha's too-cool body landed in Daniel's arms.

Daniel put his finger to his pulse "...he feels like a corpse already." he murmured

There was a pulse. It was faint.... too faint.... but it was there. Hand;'t there been an *experimental procedure* that Daniel was keen to try the first night he had met Sasha? Something rolled out of Sasha's cloak and Fenya bent down to pick it up. "His phylactery?" she murmured. "Its heavy. Like the masters...."

Daniel paused "....Fenya. It's not the most sanitary of conditions, but I do have a plan that might save the damned man's life and undo his mistake."

Fenya nodded, grabbing her purse. "Tell me what I can do to help."

"first..." He grabbed the phylactery, and attempted to break it open "I'll bet you the bloody hearts in here."

There was no need to bet. The phylactery came open easily-- it wasn't even as well carved as Darchik's, and inside was a large heart.

It was even beating.

Well... weakly, anyway.

Daniel hissed "....Fenya, remind me that we have a *lot of papers* to write when this is all over. Papers nobody but us is going to believe." He pulled out his surgical tools, "...do you have any spare cloth we can use to keep him out of the blood?"

He frowned, and pulled off his coat "Damn it all." He lifted the man, and placed him on his own fancy coat. He'd get a replacement. It didn't matter in the moment.

"Here," she nodded, taking off her cloak and offering it to him. "Use mine too." She started fishing in her bag for chemicals as well. Daniel had all of his common medical supplies-- and even the rubber tubing he'd been carrying around just in case.

Daniel placed it down, giving them enough room to lay Sasha down. He took his scalpel, and hovered it over the stitches on his chest "I'm going to put his heart back in his bloody chest...then we're going to do a transfusion. "antiseptic, please." he held out his hand.

"Antiseptic," she nodded, handing him the bottle as she unstoppered it. She knelt in the blood beside him. Sasha's breathing was weak, barely perceptible.

Daniel dumped some on a spare rag, and began wiping down the area. Once he was satisfied...he began cutting the stitches.

The stitches were carefully done, but they came away easily, and revealed a wound that had only barely started to heal, right across Sasha's heart.

"Did he cut his *own* heart out?" Fenya murmured to herself, ready to assist. "Madness."

Daniel nodded, hissing through his teeth "utter madness. Can you thread a needle for me, Fenya? We're going to need to suture the heart back in." he sliced down the neat wound, and got ready to perform the surgery "I may need you to inject him with a stimulant if he starts to go."

"Lucky us, I still have the cocaine we got from Morozov," she nodded. "I prepared one of the doses as a tincture just in case." She carefully threaded the needle for him, trying to stop her hands from shaking. The wound came open, and the first thing that struck Daniel was the empty space where the heart should be. And the lack of blood.

Daniel hissed "...this whole procedure is ...abhorrent." He placed the slowly beating heart into the space it rightfully belonged...aligning it with the cut tubes and arteries "...when you're ready, the needle.."

"Needle, doctor," she said, handing it to him. The tubes and arteries were carefully cut-- no one could say that Sasha had done a *bad job* cutting his own heart out of his chest.

"...he's a skilled surgeon, I'll give him that." Daniel grumped, as he began sewing the heart back in. "thank you , Fenya."

She nodded. "He'd have to be I suppose,"she muttered.

Daniel nodded as he worked, carefully trying to place the heart back in the man's bloody chest. "antiseptic?"

"Antiseptic," she nodded, handing him the bottle again. The heart was in place, and Daniel's tiny stitches afixed the arteries in their proper place.

Daniel sterilized the area, and his tools, before he worked to sew the chest cavity back up "next is the transfusion. let's hope it works."

"Right," she nodded, and then paused. "Doctor--- whose blood are we using?" She glanced at the heart.

"we could use mine." Daniel murmured , before glancing back at the heart "...We don't know how safe that heart is, or what it might do to him...should we risk it?"

"I saw the chest cavity, doctor," she murmured back. "He was basically dry, wasn't he? Do you have enough blood?"

She paused. "if you don't want to risk the heart, you could take some of mine as well."

Daniel ran his hand through his hair . He tried to think. The blood...from the heart was the key to the ritual, yes...but if he didn't have his heart removed, it shouldn't have the same effect, should it?

He stopped "...ugh." he'd gotten blood in his hair.

There wasn't much of it luckily, but it dripped down his forehead just the same. Fenya reached over and mopped it up with her handkerchief.

As for whether it would have the same effect, well, it seemed as though the sorcerers had been using it for centuries. But there was no way to *know*.

"....guh..." he frowned "...we'll risk it. He has his heart in his chest, doesn't he? It'll likely be fine...he'll likely be fine. "

Fenya nodded. "Right.. just... tell me what you need me to do," she nodded. Sasha was pale. Distressingly pale, beneath his fur.

Daniel nodded "...we hook one end of the tube into the heart with a hollow needle, and another into his vein, and we monitor it...let it pump blood into his veins to replenish his supply. After that, we monitor him to make sure nothing...*unpleasant* happens."

Fenya nodded. "Got it," she said, standing carefully. "Give it to me and I'll put it into the heart."

Daniel nodded, and took one end of the tube, tipping it in a hollow needle before offering it to her "be careful, Fenya.."

"I'll try, doctor," she murmured, taking it. The rubber hose unwound as she stepped toward the beating heart. It's thunderous thumping filled their ears.

Daniel shuddered , but carefully worked to find a vein to insert it into on Sasha's arm.

With how little blood there was in him, Daniel had a lot of trouble finding a vein. He lost moments as Fenya was pressing the needle into the heart and-- wait.... was Sasha's heart still beating?

Daniel hissed , putting his head against his chest "...come on.."

No... there was nothing..... wait! a beat! it was very slow.... very faint.....

Fading....

Daniel frowned "we're losing him, Fenya. The tincture, did you make it?"

"It's on top of my purse!" she nodded urgently, as she held the needle into the heart. "It'll work fastest if you inject it, but it can be taken by mouth."

Daniel grabbed the tincture, and one of his spare needles. A quick disinfect and expelling of air and he pulled some of the fluid into the chamber, and prepared to inject it into Sasha's neck. Once he was convinced he found the artery, he pushed the needle in and depressed the plunger "Administered! Once i get a pulse again, I'll start the transfusion."

"Standing by, doctor," she nodded, watching with eyes wide. At first, there was no reaction-- and then Sasha suddenly *seized*, his body jolting on the ground.

The pale man croaked a gasp and his whole body arched.

Daniel grabbed him and pinned him down, "hold still, you fool, you don't have much life left!" He tried to find a vein once more.

Sasha gurgled under him and now Daniel could *definitely* hear his heartbeat. The little blood that was in his veins flowed, and Daniel managed to find a vein.

Daniel pressed the needle into the vein and called "now Fenya! we're ready!"

"Ready!" Fenya let go of the spot where she'd been pinching it closed, and thick, dark red heartblood rolled through the tube. Daniel could see it as it filled the rubber tube darkening it, and starting to make its way into Sasha's veins.

The patient was breathing raggedly, and Daniel could see his eyelids fluttering.

Daniel watched, careful not to let him take too much of the blood, as he monitored the process "....there we go." he murmured "I knew it was possible.'

The doctor watched as Sasha's sunken veins filled, and the color started to return to his body.

"Damned fool." Daniel said, shaking his head "Do me a bloody favor and never do something that stupid again, eh?" He chuckled softly "there's people who need you out there, who'd rather appreciate you didn't go around meddling in the *dangerous occult ravings of monsters*"

Sasha groaned, still very much out of it-- but his ragged breathing became slower, steadier.

"How is he, doctor?" Fenya asked cautiously.

"he seems to be recovering...his breathing is stabilizing..there's color coming back to him, too. Provided that blood isn't *damned cursed* or some fool thing, he should be fine after a little more."

"Cursed blood," she muttered. "We can certainly hope it isn't. Should I take the needle out of this..... thing?"

"Yes, you can remove the needle Fenya." he said, pulling the end out of Sasha, and letting it drop onto their coats. "....." he glanced back at the heart "...that's one patient down, at least. "

"One to go," she murmured, with a sigh as she took the needle out. "What do we do about.... this?" she asked.

Daniel pat Sasha's shoulder, before he stood, and walked towards the heart "...I suppose we treat it like any other heart surgery." He paused "only *stupidly big*"

"Well... bigger should be ah... easier? Yes?" she said, encouragingly, but with a rather desperate note of bemusement.

Sasha was resting easy for the moment, thankfully.

Daniel laughed weakly "...indeed." "Easier. I'm certain. How fun. Thank you town masters for this glorious opportunity."

"How kind of them to provide it," she drawled, looking up at the massive heart. The massive organ was at least as tall as two men.

"mm hmm." He took a step forward, and began investigating the wound itself "...this is going to be difficult." He admitted.

The wound was a little larger than a man's head- it looked like a part of the meat of the organ had simply been carved out. Something one could possibly do successfully with a liver- but not really with a heart.

"...they carved chunks from the bloody thing." he murmured "That's a lot of missing flesh to work around."

"Is there anything you can do for it?" she asked.

It looked like stopping the bleeding would be the main thing. Either the heart would regrow or it wouldn't, but if it kept bleeding it would never recover.

"We need to stem the bleeding." Daniel murmured "if we can stop the bleeding, the heart may be able to regrow...or at least heal."

"I suppose you could try to stitch it, though it's awfully wide... I wonder why it hasn't clotted up?"

"that's the question." Daniel mused, and investigated it closer .

It wasn't clear why it hadn't... but perhaps daniel could introduce something to make it clot?

"hold on..." He mused

"we should try to urge it to start clotting" he mused "I know there's some compounds that can manage it...potassium, for example .."

"Potassium.... I might have some in my bag," she murmured. "let me check."

"thank you" he nodded, looking at the heart

The heart throbbed and bled from the gouge.... at least it didn't look *infected* merely wounded.

"Lucky us, it's not infected." He mused "we can probably cover it with something...to help it heal once we introduce the clotting, too."

"A bandage?" she considered, bringing the bag. She pulled a small vial out from it.

"A bandage." he agreed, and placed his hand on the heart "I think we can heal it, Fenya."

The warm, mucousy organ pulsed under his hand, slow, and strong.

Fenya nodded. "Gaea only knows what would happen if it.... stayed like this."

"The town would die, no doubt." Daniel said "...since this ...strange thing seems somehow entwined."

"Bizarre," she said, shaking her head. "Like some kind of perverse miracle."

"a twisted, wonderous monstrosity beating under the earth."

"Not what I expected when we arrived, I must say." She offered him the vial of potassium.

"no, it's not what I expected either." he admitted "we should inject it into the affected area."

She nodded. "Do you have a syringe?"

"I do." he pulled a fresh one out of his bag "it's good to have a few spares."

"Perfect," she nodded. She took another vial out-- this one full of liquid, and removed the stopper, pouring a few drops into the potassium. "Saline."

Daniel nodded "to dilute it, good thinking." He emptied the air out of the syringe "ready, Fenya?"

"Ready," she nodded, handing him the mixed vial.

Daniel took the vial, and pulled some of the fluid into his syringe. "I'll inject it on three, into the heart of the wound."

She nodded. "Right. One.... two....."

"three." he pressed the needle into the heart flesh, and depressed the plunger.

He injected the heart in between beats. The viscous fluid sank into the heart flesh. There was no *immediate* reaction.

Daniel took a step back "let's see...we can try to patch it...but we don't have a lot in the way of bandages..."

She frowned. "we have *some*," she supposed. "I'd suggest my cloak but it's soaking through now certainly."

"indeed..." he took a deep breath "i just hope that all of this is enough to stop the bleeding.."

She started pulling gauze out of both of their bags. "I hope so too....."

Daniel nodded, and kept a close eye on the bleeding heart. It'd take a bit, of course, but...

It looked like the flow of blood was starting to slow. The drops were coming further apart, but the heart was still pumping rhythmically.

Daniel grinned "we're doing it, Fenya. We're clotting the wound." He brought up the gauze , starting to delicately cover the wound.

She passed him rolls of gauze as he wound it delicately. "Oh thank goodness."

Daniel nodded "...if it holds, then..perhaps this town can finally heal."

A spreading smear of blood stained the gauze on top of the wound-- but it held. Nothing dripped. The flow was stemming.

"We can only hope," Fenya murmured.

"we can only hope." He said, watching the blood smear...but not drip "...I think we've done all we can do for now.""

She nodded. "What now, then, doctor?"

"...I think we see if we can get Sasha up and out of here."

"Good idea. It'll probably be better for him to rest somewhere more....." she trailed off.

"Cleanly? Less maddening?" Daniel drawled

"Either, yes," she agreed. She took a breath, and stepped over to where Sasha lay. He still didn't look *great* but he had some color to him, and was breathing comfortably.

Daniel bent down to start lifting the man up "will you grab our coats? or shall we call them a lost cause?"

Fenya grimaced. "They've absorbed a *lot* of blood.... but, well neither of them are white."

Sasha, unlike most Mosgravans, was light enough that Daniel could lift him

"Grab them...we'll see if we can salvage them later." He held the light young man in his arms, and stepped towards the stairs "...we've done all we could do so far."

Fenya grabbed the sodden coats under her arm, and wrung them out the best they could. "we have. Hopefully it'll do some good. If *nothing* else you've solved the vampire problem."

"We certainly have....Sasha , all along." he murmured "we'll have to...address that...in one way or another."

"Yes...." she agreed carefully, moving toward the long spiral upward. "I'm not certain how, but we will."

Daniel nodded "a bridge to cross later, once we've taken a moment to breathe."

"Yes...." she nodded. "It'll be night already, I'm sure. Not that it matters much."

"no. Not with the vampire out of the way...the streets should be...mostly safe." he said as they ascended

"Aside from the whole plague thing," she agreed, walking up with him. The sound of the heart started to fade the higher they climbed. "Though perhaps that will resolve itself too.."

Daniel nodded "...it's the rookery, isn't it? we may need to burn it down."

"You think so? Hmmm.... Rook won't like that."

"no. But I'm sure we can make him listen to reason." Daniel drawled "he has to understand that the people here are dying."

"Yes...." she nodded. "I suppose I could hold him down if need be."

"That may very well be helpful. Distract him while we put it to the torch."

She chuckled slightly. "I can certainly manage that."

They wound all the way up to the secondary chamber, where the circle was still sparking away.

Daniel looked down at it, "should we bother gathering the stones just yet?"

"It depends-- are you worried someone else will come down here and mess with the heart?"

"...We can't dismiss the possibility." he looked at Sasha "...after all, someone's already tried."

Fenya nodded. "You keep hold of Sasha then. I'll take care of the stones."

Daniel nodded, holding Sasha in his arms "alright."

With the sole of her boot, Fenya kicked the stones out of alignment and the circle stopped sparking. The stone door started to grind closed.

Daniel nodded "collect them, and we'll grab the phylacteries on the way out as well." he mused

Now that the electricity wasn't flowing, Fenya was easily able to bend down and collect the stones. "Good thinking," she nodded, hurrying with him.

Daniel smiled as he carried Sasha out the door "Lock them away or take them home for study, perhaps.."

"I'd be curious to see what we could get out of them with a lab," she agreed, heading up with him. "Chemical exposures and the like."

"real, proper study." He said "..but one thing's for certain...this isn't the bloody way to gain immortality. That's for sure."

"No it certainly isn't," She shook her head as they stepped out into the fog. "But maybe there's *something* that would be useful to your research?"

"perhaps there is...we'll have to see." He stopped and gestured "will you get the phylacteries?"

"Seeing as you have your hands full," she nodded, pulling them out. The door remained open until the last one was removed, and then it slid noisily closed.

Daniel nodded, and glanced out into the fog "...let's get Sasha back home. Then we can figure out what to do about the Rookery, hm?"

"Good idea," she agreed. She checked her pocket watch as she stepped carefully beside him. "That.... took a while. Its past 8 oclock."

"it did...but we got a lot done." he said "...we solved the bloody mystery and moved one step closer to ending this." he trudged through the mud

"Thank goodness," she said exhaustively as she trudged with him. "You know.... we're a lot closer to the post office than the Manor...."

"that's true.."Daniel said "he can spend the night with us, perhaps?"

"It might be a good idea if he's in rough shape," she sighed. "I wish we had that hand cart...."

"I wish we did as well..." he sighed "but he'll be fine with us for the night."

Fenya nodded, as they carefully made their way out of the cemetery and back toward the road. "Yes... hopefully he left Mitya with... some kind of instructions?"

Daniel grimaced as he carried Sasha towards the road "..we can only hope he was forward thinking enough to do that."

"If he wasn't, perhaps Mitya will turn up at the post office," Fenya snorted. She paused. "Do you need me to take his legs? would that help?"

"it might." he said "though he's not the heaviest man around."

She chuckled. "I suppose not. Well... if he gets too heavy let me know and I will magnanimously help you."

"Fenya, what would I do without you?" Daniel chuckled with her..

"Lets not find out, hmm?" Together, they made their way back to the road, where the streetlights seemed to be burning a little more brightly through the fog. And it wasn't far from there back to the post office.

"Let's not." he said with a note of affection. "I'll keep that in mind once we finish our accounts here."

"Please do, doctor," she purred. Soon- just as Daniel's arms were really starting to tire-- they made it back to the post office.

Daniel gestured with his head "would you get the door for me?"

"Of course," She nodded, pulling the door open to the dark post office. "No fire again, but at least we're not drunk."

Daniel chuckled "thank hell we're not. Things might have gotten messy if that was the case. We needed steady hands for this."

"Very messy," she agreed. "I'll start the fire. Should we take Sasha upstairs or make him comfortable down here?"

"down here, provided we take care to make him comfortable so he doesn't pop those bloody stitches."

Fenya nodded. "Hold on to him for a moment and I'll bring down some bedding," she said. "Then I'll make the fire."

Fenya scurried upstairs, leaving Daniel temporarily in the dark with Sasha in his arms.

Daniel nodded, looking down at the unconscious man "you'd better pull through, Sasha."

Sasha was at least still breathing regularly, and the stimulant didn't seem to be having any dire effects, which was.... good. Fenya hurried down the stairs almost engulfed in a pile of blankets.

Daniel looked up "perfect." He said "We'll get him settled in, leave a note for Mitya, and retire for the night."

She nodded. "Good idea, Danochka," she murmured. She folded the blankets into a makeshift bed on the floor. "There.... that should be alright."

Daniel set him down, as comfortably as he could manage "there we are. Will you make sure he's properly covered?" he asked as he went to the desk and began writing a simple explanatory note in case Mitya came back.

"Of course," Fenya nodded, tucking Sasha in. "The last thing that we need is him catching a cold after all this."

"Agreed. In his state a cold could be the end of him." Daniel agreed.

"I'll get that fire started," she nodded, rolling her shoulders. She swept over to the downstairs fireplace and started to arrange the tinder. "I tell you, Danochka, if we ever do this again I am making a concession to practicality-- I'm wearing pants."

Daniel nodded , chuckling softly "I can't blame you in the least. The skirt couldn't have been ...easy...during all this."

"I can think of worse wardrobes to have brought with me, but not many," she nodded. She blew on the coals as the fire started slowly.

"next time then." he purred "pants. and a nice coat." he looked down at himself "...and better boots."

"A spare pair of boots," she added with a sigh.

"And maybe a third pair. to be safe." He drawled

"And maybe an intern to carry all of our luggage," she agreed dryly.

"...not a bad idea, actually." Daniel mused

"I'm full of clever ideas, Danochka," she chuckled. "But what about your clever ideas? Are we settling in for the evening to watch the patient, or....?"

He tugged his collar to loosen it "...I think we should." he said "though perhaps we should unwind beforehand...some tea...excetera."

Fenya nodded, "I was about to suggest the same," she agreed. "I'd say that we;ve earned it."

"I do believe we have." Daniel chuckled softly "very much so."

She smiled and rolled up the cuffs of her dress. "I'll get it started then." She took a long breath, and busied herself making tea.

Daniel nodded, and unbuttoned his collar, before kicking off his boots and cuffing his own muddied pants "what a damned long day."

"And it isn't even our latest night," she murmured over the kettle. "Who would have believed?" She slipped the tea leaves in and waited for them to brew.

"Who would have believed indeed." He leaned on the wall by her "...a giant beating heart under the earth."

"I didn't hallucinate that then?" she shook her head. "Once we got back to the surface I wasn't quite sure."

"no It was very much real." Daniel said, looking at his bloodied hands "I touched it with my own hands. I'm covered in very real blood."

"True enough," she frowned. "Would you like to take a few minutes to wash up in the sink a bit? we never did find that bath."

"...yes, we might as well." He said. "shame about the bath.."

Fenya nodded. "Maybe tomorrow," she sighed. "Who knows what it will bring?"

"Who knows what it'll bring." he said as he went to the sink, looking to wash off.

The water closet upstairs was small, and ill equipped, but there *was* running water into the sink at least. And his hands were *very* bloody. His nails were caked with it.

Daniel worked to rid himself of it with each splash of running water, his brow furrowed over the impossibility of it all.

The cold water slowly took the bulk of it away-- all of his clothes *desperately* needed cleaning. if they weren't a lost cause. A giant heart, beating underground. What would the university think?

They'd think he was a bloody raving lunatic. Even with Fenya to back him up...how would they believe two scientists they tried to write off if they came home with such *madness* to tell. A town with a beating heart, wounded by those too greedy and stupid to think of the consequences.....

The water finally stopped running red, but it didn't take his thoughts with it. This whole trip wouldn't do much for either of their reputations. Hopefully it would at least do some good for the town...

At the very least...it may do that. If nothing else they saved lives. *they* knew what they did, and the good it could do... Damn the university if it wouldn't believe that.

From downstairs, he could smell the scent of tea. The building was already starting to get warmer.

Daniel finished washing up...and walked back downstairs with a soft sigh. "It smells delightful, Fenya."

She smiled slightly. "I know my tea at least," she chuckled wearily. "A more domestic kind of chemistry." Fenya offered him a warm cup.

"A wonderful and useful alchemy." He took the cup, and settled beside her "one that can raise spirits even after *all that*"

She smiled and raised her cup. "Cheers to that, Danochka."

"Cheers" He raised it with a low chuckle "...nobody's going to believe us, Fenya."

"Really? I was thinking we'd get a research grant," she said with a slight smirk as she sipped her tea.

"oh yes, I'm sure the University is *very* interested in horrifying hearts under the earth." he drawled.

A little giggle escaped her lips. "*certainly*," she nodded. "But.... perhaps we'd better... be careful in our reports?"

"Yes, I think we might need to be." he murmured "Skirt around the ...stranger aspects of things..."

"Yes," she agreed. "or I fear there may be-- if not torches and pitchforks-- well, we're already both on thin ice in our departments."

"yes." Daniel frowned slightly "We aren't popular back at the University...they already looked for reasons to be rid of us...and if we bring back this madness they'll take it as a chance to commit us."

Her mouth wrankled for a moment and she took another sip of tea. "Damn."

"It's...frustrating, because this is the bloody find of the century."

"It is," she frowned. "I'd be curious to study it further, but...."

"but we can't risk the health of this place when we finally stemmed flow from that bloody wound."

She shook her head. "Absolutely not. It would be.... not just deeply unethical, but also a waste of all of our effort thus far."

"yes...we came too far, and I couldn't do it to these people at this point. They deserve to rest." He sipped his tea "to heal with the heart of their town, and move on from what *they* did."

Fenya nodded with a sigh. "On that I can *firmly* agree. If we weren't taking the phylacteries back to Astoria I'd suggest burning them."

"I'm honestly tempted to." Daniel said "...I don't believe in the occult , but there's something...uncomfortable...about them."

"Indeed. If nothing else, it's a powerful *symbol*."

"it is." he said "and they're carriers of disease...a disease I won't bring back to Astoria."

"Perhaps we *should* burn them then," she murmured.

Daniel glanced at the fire "why don't we? together."

She nodded. "They're in my pack. But.... not in the fireplace. Who knows what kind of fumes they'll give off."

"true." He said "...we can do it with proper ceremony tomorrow." he chuckled softly

"Indeed," she chuckled with him. "Will you prepare a chant?"

"oh of course. It'll be properly mystical, I promise." He drawled, and sipped his tea.

"The town will have to approve," she agreed dryly. She sighed and settled back in her chair. The bone-weariness was starting to set in to both of them.

Daniel leaned slightly towards her "i'm *certain* they will."

She smiled a bit at him, and chuckled. "Goodness...."

He raised his eyebrow "hmm?"

She shook her head. "I'm just... a little overwhelmed I suppose. And probably overtired..."

Daniel nodded slowly "...as am I. Exhausted, frankly. And..quite overwhelmed."

"we should probably get some rest as we can...."

"yes, we should." Daniel said, sipping his tea "...though part of me feels hardly prepared to sleep."

"Same," she agreed with a sigh. "Upstairs, or down here with the patient?"

"...upstairs. We won't be far."

She nodded. "No, and he seems to be alright for now," she agreed. She stood heavily. "Lets get some rest."

Daniel nodded, and stood with her, stretching out "well deserved rest."

She nodded, putting her cup and his on the shelf. She offered Daniel her arm.

Daniel took her arm, nodding back, and led her towards the stairs, leaving their patient behind.

Once they were upstairs, Fenya poked the fire-- it seemed she had started one upstairs while Daniel was otherwise occupied-- and quickly dressed for bed. Her movements were a little slow and heavy, it was clear they were both dragging.

Daniel worked to help her, though he was dragging as well...weary and tired from the long day. "Do you want help with your boots tonight, Fenya?"

She smiled her ears flicking a bit embarrassedly. "If you wouldn't mind, terribly, Danochka. Your fingers have done a lot more skilled work this evening."

"they have." he chuckled "but I don't mind at all." He knelt by the side of the bed "let me."

She offered him her boot, gratefully. "It's appreciated."

Her ears flicked as she watched him undo her boot, a tired, but pleased smile on her face.

Daniel worked to undo the laces, glancing up at her as he pulled the boot from her foot. "I'm certain." he said with a soft purr. "it's been a long day of walking, after all."

"It certainly has," she agreed. She was already half dressed for bed, her dress and corset off, in only her chemise. she wiggled her toes as he boot came free, claws briefly visible. "I've done more walking in the past few days than in quite some time."

Daniel appreciated the claws for a moment, before he glanced back up at her "I think after this...we should perhaps put our feet up somewhere sunny."

"I'm open to suggestions," she nodded, offering him the other foot. "Because that sounds lovely. It's going to take ages to soften my pads after this."

Daniel worked the boot off of that foot as well "I wasn't *entirely* joking when I suggested Mordona. Some foot oil, the beach...it might cut down on the recovery time." he chuckled softly

"I haven't been to Mordona," she admitted. "But after this I think I'm all out of leave from the department....." She eased her foot out of her boot gratefully, wiggling her toes again.

"hm..." Daniel thought for a moment "we *could* package it as a research trip"

"I was about to ask if you had a cunning plan for that," she said, slipping on her night dress.

"I'm full of cunning plans." he drawled playfully

"So I've noticed," she smiled. "Do you need a hand with anything or shall I finally collapse?"

Daniel laughed, and bent down to try and undo his own boots "I can't blame you if you simply collapse."

"You didn't answer me, Danochka," she chuckled, and bent down to help him with his boots in return

"mm..I suppose help with these would be wonderful." he chuckled "i didn't want to trouble you, though."

"I think you've earned a little trouble," she smirked, unlacing his boots for him and easing them off. "Considering the day we've both had."

"i'm flattered." He flexed his feet as the boots came off "and thankful."

She smiled, and her fingers brushed his foot (accidentally?) as she put his boots aside and stood. "You should be," she chuckled teasingly, ears flicking.

He flushed, ears flicking as he set his foot on the ground, nodding his head "Am I still due to show my thanks?" he teased back "I know we spoke of it the other day."

"I haven't canceled your debt if that's what you're asking," she smirked, easing her way into bed.

"hmm..." he said, as he eased his way out of his bloodied clothes, to change. "I'll have to think of how to repay that debt of mine, won't I?"

"You will indeed," she smirked. "I suppose if you manage to spirit me off to Mordona that would count for *something*. Though certainly not settle the debt."

He slipped into his bedclothes, and eased himself into bed beside her "and what might be what helps settle my extravagant debts, hm?" he asked "propriety be damned?"

"Oooh, propriety be damned hmm?" she smiled coyly, the insides of her ears pink. "are you suggesting I might be interested in something improper?"

Daniel's ears reddened, and flicked again "mmmm. I would *never* insinuate such a thing...though..."

"Oh no, of *course* not," she purred. "*though?*"

Daniel eased down in bed, glancing at her out of the corner of his eyes "if you were to insist.."

She chuckled. "Ahhh, how practical of you," she teased, her ears flicking. "Certainly if I were to *insist*..."

"I feel we've been through quite a bit together." he said, ears pink, and flattened "that I would be keen to fulfill said desire."

She shifted a little closer to him in bed, flushed. "Keen, hmm? well... I have to admit that IS encouraging. I might be interested in ha... having said desire fulfilled."

Daniel leaned on his hand, looking her over as they lay *quite* close together in bed. "Then I suppose what's to stop us but good old fashioned Astorian propriety?"

"What indeed, doctor?" she chuckled embarrassedly, looking up at him through lidded eyes.

He placed a hand on her shoulder, ready to pull away at her request "nothing...and we aren't *in* Astoria..."

"No, we *certainly* are not," she agreed. She didn't finch from his touch, in fact, if anything she moved a little closer.

His fingers brushed over her shoulder, petting it gently as he shifted close to her "So why not throw astorian propriety out the window, at least for the night, hm?"

"And here I thought we'd have to get drunk again first," she smiled a bit wickedly though the flicks of her ears betrayed her own shyness. She leaned in, putting her hands gently on his chest.

Daniel's ears flicked "Today's been full of enough baffling nonsense that I *feel* drunk enough, thank you." His hand drifted down her arm, brushing the fur there.

"Maybe you breathed in some fumes," she teased, her nose dangerously close to his own.

"maybe I did." he said "or maybe it's just the intoxicatingly good company I've found myself in." He purred, his nose brushing hers as his hand strayed to her hip.

"Oooh, what a charming thing to say," she giggled and batted her eyelashes-- before daringly leaning in to plant a kiss on her mouth. His hand felt white hot on her hip.

Daniel blinked in surprise, before he brushed his hands down the curve of her hip, leaning in to kiss her more firmly on the mouth.

The shyness melted away as they kissed and Fenya pressed her body to him, kissing him with the pent up passion of nearly a week of sleeping politely in the same bed.

Daniel's hand drifted down her thigh, pulling her close as the two of them finally let the unspoken tension between them break into a passionate embrace. He kissed her with passion, and an eager intensity.

The heat between them only intensified as the moments passed-- the doctor finally discovering just what a passionate woman he'd been spending his days and evenings with. The embers burned down and crumbled in the fireplace but the fire remained between the two of them.

That fire had burned hotly between them for a long while, as the doctor brought his own pent up passion to help warm the long and mostly sleepless night. And the warmth remained, as the two lay entwined even in sleep.

They had a long, and pleasant, time to simply enjoy one another's warmth and company before slumber finally descended on the pair of them as they lay close together.

Day 5: Recovery == >