Day Five: Recovery

When Daniel woke in the darkness much later, he found that he couldn't move, frozen strangely next to Fenya's still form. He heard the sound of rustling from the room.

Daniel lay frozen in bed, trying to glance off to the side with a soft hiss. Whatever was happening...he didn't like it.

He managed to direct his gaze enough to see a light come up the stairs and enter the room. The small ball of glowing light surprisingly didn't illuminate much-- just enough to see the almost impossibly tall figure in a cloak sweep into the room and head toward the table where they had their little labs set up.

"....." Daniel held his breath. *what in the world was happening*. He tried to will his limbs to move in the strange stillness. Was this..the one behind the ghost light? the one he'd felt the judgement of earlier?

As he struggled to move-- and failed-- his question was answered. The figure seemed to turn toward him for just a brief moment, but it was enough to feel that same strange, weighty sense of judgement on his heart. The light the figure was holding brightened-- enough for Daniel to make out the strangely skeletal hand as it reached into Daniel's pack, drawing out one of the phylacteries and holding it up.

Daniel hissed through his teeth, watching the figure helplessly. He hoped his heart would stack up under the judgement. He hoped whatever *strange night terror this was* wouldn't end poorly.

It didn't seem that he was the one under scrutiny right now-- rather, the creature held up the phylactery-- and pulled back its hood. A strange, leering bird skull was revealed, and it opened its beak. And pressed the phylactery into its mouth.

"...." *yes, this was a strange night terror indeed*

The bird-skull raised its beak and Daniel heard the noisy choking sound of it swallowing the phylactery whole, like a feral raptor with an egg.

He tried to speak, narrowing his eyes in confusion. *it's **eating them**?*

The figure took a second phylactery out of the bag-- regarded it harshly for a moment-- and repeated the feat from a moment before, swallowing this one as well.

"...." *an unfavorable judgement for the Town Masters it seems...*

The figure glared at the bag again for a long moment-- considering, perhaps. Finally, it turned back toward Daniel, and raised its finger in a 'shushing' gesture. Then the light dimmed to a mere ball again, showing nothing but the edge of the figure's silhouette as it slipped out of the room.

*yes, this won't haunt me at all for the rest of my life. Not in the least*.

The darkness returned, and the quiet. Daniel felt whatever was holding his body still relax-- and he felt sleep draw him down once more.

Struggle as he did to keep awake....sleep claimed him nonetheless.

When he woke up again, the pale dawn light was filling the room. Fenya had him clutched close, her long-- now quite messy hair-- splayed over the pillows, and her chest bare.

Daniel wrapped her in his arms, holding her bare body close for a long moment as he collected his thoughts.

In the grey dawn light the strange bird figure seemed impossible. Surely it had been a dream brought on by stress. After a while Fenya's soft breathing turned to a yawn and she stirred gently in his arms.

Daniel leaned against her "did you sleep well. Fenya?" he asked with a soft purr.

She nuzzled his arm with her ears and smiled shyly. "Mmmm.... very," she nodded. "Though I feel like I had a strange dream. I can't remember it."

"Interesting..." he mused softly "...I...had a strange dream as well. And I remember it all too well."

She nuzzled him again and cocked her head. "I can hardly blame either of them for strange dreams after yesterday."

"indeed." he nuzzled against her, gently petting her ears "...I saw a skeletal bird...hulkingly tall, come into our room and eat two of the Master's phylacteries."

She purred gently as he pet her, positively kittenish with her cuddling now that the touch barrier had been broken. The dream talk made her pause and blink however. "Goodness. *eat* them?"

Daniel nodded, "Swallowed them whole like they were bloody eggs." He scratched the base of her ear "It seemed to judge them...and found them lacking. It was the same figure we saw in the fog...a spectre of death...a skeleton of an avian in a dark cloak."

She nuzzled him closely and frowned. "I.... see. That's.... unsettling, certainly," she murmured.

"it certainly was." He said, petting her hair with a frown "It was a terror, I suppose. But...just a dream. "

"Yes," she agreed, leaning into his hand. "After all, we'd see if any of the phylacteries were missing."

"we would." Daniel mused, glancing over at his bag "which they couldn't possibly be." He leaned against her "hm"

She nuzzled him, and pushed a lock of hair out of his face. "Shall we check, Danochka?"

He nodded, and smiled at her with a warm chuckle "as comfortable as I am at this moment..." He tucked her hair over her ear "we might as well." He shifted to slip out of the bed

She chuckled and slipped out of bed after him, grabbing a sheet to cover herself as she did. The bag was sitting where it had been left, seemingly undisturbed.

Daniel walked over, and bent down to pry it open and look inside.

It came open easily, and it was immediately obvious that there were four phylacteries inside. *HOWEVER*.

However...? He picked them up with a frown.

Two of them were broken open, and empty, nothing but a thin film lingering on the smooth edges of their interiors.

Fenya looked over his shoulder, clutching the sheet to her chest. "...."

Daniel stared at them with an unreadable expression for a moment. HIs brow furrowed "......Fenya."

He looked to see whose had been broken...and who remained..

The broken ones had belonged to the Judge and the Healer. The Midwife and Carver's remained.

"Y-yes, Danochka?" she murmured, still staring at them as well.

"I wonder if it really was a dream." He held up the hearts of the Midwife and the Carver. "Nika and Misha weren't judged as harshly as the others...what should we do with their hearts?"

She frowned slightly. "So it seems... I suppose we should either burn them as we planned, or ask their relatives...."

"yes...we might as well ask them." He picked up the broken ones with a frown "...damnation.'

Fenya shook her head. "This town..... absolute madness," she murmured.

The wood of the broken phylacteries was quite light.

"absolute madness." Daniel said, and put the broken phylacteries back in his bag. A memento of sorts. "....utter and complete madness. I feel mad just staying here."

"Maybe we'll finally be able to put it behind us soon," she mummured. "Shall I dress?"

"maybe indeed." He said, shaking his head "but yes..I'll dress myself, as we should get started...we have much to do."

She nodded. "Another busy day in tadibya," she murmured. "Hopefully a better one." She started to dress-- more leisurely in past days.

"hopefully a better one." He agreed, dressing up without much of a rush "...the deed is done, we can only hope that we can finish the procedure."

"Indeed," she agreed, brushing out her tangled hair, and pinning it carefully.

Daniel brushed his hair back, over his ears, and took a deep breath "Let's hope we can see the sun today, hm?"

She paused, as she finished dressing, and glanced at the locked window. "Now that you mention it-- doesn't it seem brighter this morning?"

Daniel blinked "....why don't we check outside." He said, with the barest trace of a smile on his face.

She nodded. "I admit I'm *very* curious. Ah we should check on your patient too."

"that we should." Daniel said pulling on his shirt...his coat was...yes. All but lost.

Fenya grimaced at her own cloak as well and sighed. "If the cleaners can't help us I suppose we'll have to visit the tailor," she murmured. She offered him her arm.

Daniel took her arm, chuckling softly "i suppose we will. Why not, too? We deserve a pair of new coats." He lead her down the stairs

"We do," she agreed with a little chuckle. The stairway was bright enough that they didn't need to bring out a light. Downstairs, Sasha was laying right where they'd left him, his breathing strong.

Daniel smiled a little wider "...the light, Fenya..." he looked down at Sasha "..and our patient seems to be doing well." He bent down to check his pulse.

Sasha's pulse was strong, and the man stirred under Daniel's touch. Fenya smiled brightly, and pushed the blinds of one of the post office windows open. Fragile, grey light came filtering in.

Daniel looked over his shoulder at the light "...and lo...the sun has returned." he glanced down at Sasha, smirking "and our surgeon is alive and well."

Fenya gave a deep, relieved sigh. "Thank goodness." From the light streaming in, it was by no means a *sunny* day, but even a heavily overcast one seemed bright compared to the eternal black fog of the prior days. Sasha murmured. "Mmm.... ??"

"thank goodness." he mused, before glancing down at Sasha "good morning, Sasha Osgrov. Welcome back to the world of the properly living."

Sasha slowly raised his arm, and pushed his hair out of his face. "Doctor Delgrave?" he murmured. "I had the strangest dream."

"Did you?" Daniel asked, leaning on the counter by him "what happened?"

"There was this figure with a light, standing over me, staring...." he coughed a chuckle. "Like one of the heart-eaters out of some local tale."

Fenya raised an eyebrow and looked at Daniel.

Daniel grimaced slightly "...I believe I had a similar dream, my friend. I take it the heart-eater judged you to be a good person in the end, hm?"

"I suppose," he frowned. He touched his chest gingerly. "Doctor Delgrave did you....." he looked at Daniel in disbelief.

"yes, yes I damn well did." Daniel said, looking down at him "I put your heart back in your bloody chest, where I *insist* you keep it from now on, hm? Doctor's orders."

He made a slightly strangled noise that turned into a half chuckle. "Ah. Yes. Alright. Consider me in compliance, doctor delgrave. It... must have been quite the surgery." "I can attest to that," Fenya nodded.

"good." Daniel chuckled softly "I'm pleased you pulled through. It was difficult...but you and that heart below the earth...should heal well enough. We've put an end to it."

Sasha stared at him in amazement. "That heart too? .... you have my thanks. And my admiration." He touched his chest again, and sat up gingerly. "I... feel warm again. And the craving is gone..."

Daniel nodded "you've got proper blood pumping through you once more. You won't need to take it from others ever again." He paused "...those you've taken from won't come back, but that craving should no longer plague you. You're as whole as anyone else now." He shook his head "and with the heart healing, we should be able to remove the rookery and let the dark presence over this town finally dissipate, hm? "

"I think so, doctor delgrave. You've done more than one miracle." Sasha nodded. "Thank you again--- for helping me out of the darkness I had fallen into. I...should return to check on Mitya and the patients."

"i'm happy to have helped." Daniel said "you were on your way to following in *their* dark footsteps. Please, go see Mitya and the patients. Take some painkillers, and *take it easy*. we don't want you busting open your stitching."

he nodded, and brushed his fingers along his chest again. "Understood. I promise I'll take good care of myself. On your orders."

"good. and...try not to let yourself walk that dark path again, hm?" He patted his back "...be safe."

He nodded, "I will, doctor." He stood, with a bit of difficulty, but not that much, and fixed his bloody clothing the best that he could.

Daniel nodded "will you be alright walking there on your own?"

"I.... believe so," he nodded. "But I wouldn't complain if you thought it best to accompany me."

"I think we might as well." He said "...we're heading out anyway."

He smiled. "I'll be pleased for the company then. Thank you for taking the trouble."

"After last night, I'd say walking you to the clinic is the least of the trouble," Fenya said dryly.

Daniel nodded "mm hmm. I'd agree with Fenya here." he chuckled, and gestured "shall we?"

"Yes, we'd better." Fenya took Daniel's arm, and the three of them headed out into the pale morning light. The fog had lifted, and it felt like the whole town was laid bare under the cool, hazy light of the overcast sky. The bright disc of the sun was just visible behind the clouds, working at burning its way through them.

"for the first time in days...the sun" he chuckled "...and right in time."

"Right in time indeed," Fenya agreed as they headed down the road toward the clinic. "It feels good to see it again-- but it *does* show what a mess of a state I'm in. I'd be embarrassed to be seen at the university."

"likewise" Daniel chuckled "this whole adventure has gotten to us."

"Indeed it has," Fenya nodded. "I can't wait to put myself together again." Sasha chuckled and shook his head. "Good luck to both of you."

Soon enough they were back at the door of the manor/hospital. Surprisingly, there was the sound of somewhat excited discussion going on inside.

Daniel raised his eye roe "oh I can't wait either..." He paused "what's all this, then?"

"I'm not certain," Sasha murmured. "Let's brace ourselves, shall we?" He went to push the door open, and found Mitya surrounded by patients sat up on their cots, talking excitedly. "I know, I know," Mitya nodded, holding his hands up reassuringly. "But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Please do not leave before the doctor has a chance to-- Oh! doctor! And doctor daniel too!" Mitya looked *extremely* relieved to see them all.

Daniel nodded, and smiled at him "Mitya, we've arrived...it seems things have gotten rather exciting as of this morning, hm?"

Mitya nodded. "Ah, yes! all of the patients have started to wake up. That's a good thing, right?" "I would think so," Sasha mused, giving Daniel a glance.

"yes..yes it is." Daniel frowned "i...I'll admit...I was hoping that might happen with what we did last night, but..." He walked to one of the patients...and started looking them over "but I didn't expect it to be *instant..*"

"What you did last night?" Mitya asked. "Ah.... Oh! I should let you look at the patients." He backed off as Daniel and Sasha started examining.

Each of the patients had the same developments. Their color was much stronger, and the darkness in their eyes had completely cleared. There were some who still had slightly darkened veins, but overall it looked *much* better.

"...." Daniel looked up at Sasha with a puzzled furrow of his brow "...it shouldn't have healed so *soon* but..." He chuckled weakly "it...seems after healing the source of the illness...things are already clearing up."

"So it seems," Sasha nodded. "A miracle indeed." Fenya chuckled. "You got straight to the heart of the illness."

"So it seems." Daniel chuckled softly, shaking his head "...and with that...the town can heal." He patted the patient on the shoulder "you'll all be alright."

The big man nodded. "Thank you, doctor. Hmmm," he grumbled. "Should we get out of your fur then? or must we stay for some medicine."

Sasha shrugged and looked at Daniel. "What's your opinion, doctor?"

Daniel looked them all over "...I think...perhaps...we've done all we can do here. I don't think it'll spread anymore...what do you think?"

Sasha nodded. "I would suspect the same."

"then we should let them all go home." Daniel mused "and talk to the Mayor and governor about what to do about the fishery."

Sasha nodded. "Probably a good idea. Well, I can take care of discharging them all. I would imagine you have more to do today." he paused. "Could I ask you to check on my sister if you get time?"

"thank you." Daniel said with a smile "...and I would be delighted. Your sister is a good woman, Sasha."

"She is," he said quietly. "And hopefully now she can live without fear."

"I hope so." Daniel agreed "...I should hope you know...your father's heart is gone. It's no more. "

Sasha raised an eyebrow. "No more, you say? Well....good."

"it..it's gone." Daniel said "yes. his and Volkov's.."

"Good," Sasha repeated. "nothing of value was lost."

"nothing at all." Daniel snorted "good riddance to them both."

He paused "ah, Mitya, come here for a moment."

Mitya started. "Oh! ah, yes doctor," he said, hurrying over to Daniel.

Sasha smiled grimly and turned to the patients.

Daniel pulled out Nika's Phylactery, and handed it to him "here...do with it what you wish. I return this to you."

He blinked and accepted it. "Oh. ....thank you." He nodded. "I'll return it to my father I suppose."

"Might be for the best." Daniel said with a thin smile "thank you for your help."

Mitya nodded. "Of course. I hope that it helped you. I ah, had better help Sa-the doctor."

"you can use his name, you know." Daniel chuckled, winking at him "enjoy your day, Mitya."

Mitya flushed and his ears flicked. he nodded and chuckled with him. "Thank you, doctor. Ah, you too!" he gave him a little wave and headed off to help Sasha.

Daniel turned, and headed out, offering his arm to Fenya as he went.

Fenya took it, and smiled as they headed out of the manor. "Things are turning around."

"they certainly seem to be." He smiled as they stepped into the sunlight "....we really just needed to heal the heart."

"So it seems," she agreed. "The old sorcerers really should have just patched the damned thing up instead of making the rookery like some sort of witchcraft bandage."

"witchcraft bandage." Daniel laughed "yes, yes indeed. But if they'd done that...I imagine their immortality would have run dry. And they *couldn't have that, could they*? The selfish fools."

"Agreed," she said, shaking her head. "Well, you put a stop to that foolishness, I suppose. Ah.. where to, first, doctor?" SHe leaned into him, her tail swishing happily behind her.

Daniel's own tail swished cheerfully as he thought "...we should go speak to the mayor, perhaps...he should know that the disease is dispelling. And..." he thought "we should get some food...visit Lydia and Katrina...see the governor......visit Rook."

She nodded thoughtfully, "Mmm, all good ideas," she agreed. "Rook's closest, but they Mayor is arguably more urgent-- and I *am* a bit hungry."

"We should save Rook for a little later." Daniel nodded "...the mayor is more urgent...but so are our stomachs." He chuckled "i say we eat, then visit the politicals *after*"

"Excellent idea, Danochka," she agreed. "There's only one problem."

"and what is that?" He asked , raising his eyebrow.

She couldn't help the sound of amusement from edging into her voice. "It's only that, if anyone's listening to your quarantine, then all the shops and the pub are closed."

Daniel pressed his hand to his face "damn it." he chuckled "then let's go about fixing that, hm?"

She patted him on the back as she chuckled as well. "Yes. Which means we should see.... the governor I suppose? Since it's technically his mandate."

"indeed." he agreed "and I wanted to say hello to his wife, as well."

"Elizabeth, yes?" She nodded with a smile. "I rather liked her."

"yes,I rather liked her as well." Daniel chuckled "she's...quite interesting."

"Very interesting," she agreed. "A former soldier. Now there's an exciting life."

"isn't it? I'd I had the time I'd be interested in hearing all sorts of war stories from her."he chuckled

"Same," she chuckled as they turned the corner to the Governor's manor. "Though I dare say some might be a bit inappropriate." She laughed, leaning on his arm.

Daniel chuckled "oh without a doubt, but that's half the fun."

Fenya smirked. "Isn't it just?" she walked up to the governor's stoop, and knocked.

"Maybe we can carve out some time for it," he chuckled,standing close beside her.

"I suppose we'll see," she grinned. The tall, pale mink woman was the one who answered the door, her dark curls cascading down around her shoulders. She.... was still in her nightdress and robe, but that didn't seem to bother her at all, and she grinned widely when she saw who was standing there. "Daniel, Fenya, good morning," she grinned. "I see that it *is* a good morning too. No more of that miserable fog."

Daniel bowed his head with a chuckle "It's a lovely morning, Elizabeth. And it's lovely to see *you*." he put his hand to his chest "what if we told you that we performed a miracle last night?"

Elizabeth grinned. "Then I'd want to hear *all* about it. Why don't you come in?"

"much appreciated. Might we trouble you for some coffee?"

"You're in luck, I've already got a carafe ready," she grinned, "Please." She waved the two of them inside, and into the cozy and modern kitchen. "I'm afraid my darling husband isn't up yet."

"no?" he chuckled "a bit too early for the man?" He drifted into the room, chuckling under his breath. "I'll have to tell him the good news when he wakes up then"

She chuckled. "Good news is one of the few things he'd be pleased to wake up for I'm sure." Fenya sat down with a smirk. "I can get behind his attitude."

"so can I." Daniel chuckled "..though often the work keeps me up regardless." He took a seat

"I said attitude, not implementation," Fenya joked. Elizabeth poured them large cups of coffee, and one for herself, taking a seat at the kitchen table with them. She grinned.

Daniel grinned back at her "so...the plague is cured."

Elizabeth set down her coffee with a grin. "Cured? Really? Already?"

"already." he chuckled "i'll admit...I didn't expect it to be so immediate. but..." "all the patients in the hospital are clearing up, or already cleared."

"You weren't kidding about this miracle," she nodded.

"I wasn't." he chuckled "...the sleeping sickness shouldn't trouble you any longer. We can lift quarantine, and figure out this whole mess with the fishery...everything can click into place....and the town won't have to worry about the Old Masters any longer."

"Tell me there's a story behind that, and that you didn't just discover that the sickness was some kind of nasty cold that lasts a few days."

"depends on how much you're willing to believe." he murmured "because I won't lie to you Elizabeth, it feels like bloody madness, but it's true."

"I've seen a thing or two in my time," she nodded. "Madness sounds fascinating."

"doesn't it?" He smirked "...we went below the earth, Elizabeth, using a secret door that had to be unlocked with their phylacteries. After completing *another* bloody puzzle of theirs, we went deeper." He sipped his coffee "....and in the depths of the earth, we found a massive beating heart. The heart of the town...and it was wounded, torn open."

"There was a pool of blood on the floor deeper than the heel of my boot," Fenya nodded.

Elizabeth whistled. "A damned heart under the ground...."

"A damned heart. Wounded, of course, by the Town Masters, who went and tore chunks of it out for their damned 'ritual'. "

She took a long sip of her coffee. "Who even does that?"

"people hungry for power and control." Daniel murmured "lunatics." He shook his head "...regardless, we reached the heart, some...other events occurred...and we patched up the heart's wound and coagulated it's blood enough that it can start to heal. Which...should help fend off the infection that had been gathering in the Rookery all this time."

"So that was the root of the illness, hmm?" she shook her head. "I can see why you called it bloody madness."

"emphasis on the bloody," Fenya added with amusement.

"indeed." Daniel drawled "I hardly believe it myself, but I have the blood soaked coat to prove it."

"I suppose its sacrifice wasn't in vain," she nodded. "No wonder the two of you look the worse for wear."

"indeed." Daniel mused "we...didn't get much sleep."

"A shame. Though you can sleep all you like now, I imagine." She shook her head.. "You've been staying at the post office, haven't you? I can't imagine they have much of a bath. if the two of you would like to freshen up here---" "Oh *could* we?" Fenya breathed.

Daniel's eyes widened "why Elizabeth, if you allowed it....you'd be a lifesaver. I've been craving a good bath for *days*."

She chuckled. "I'd say the two of you earned it for your efforts. I'd be pleased to let you. And I can wake up my husband and get some breakfast going while you wash up."

"You're the real lifesaver here, Elizabeth," Fenya said.

Daniel flashed her a wide grin "Elizabeth, you just became my favorite local in town."

She smiled. "I'll happily accept the honor. When you're done with your coffee, I'll show you the facilities."

Daniel sipped his coffee, draining the cup with a nod of his head "thank you very, very much."

Good on her word, a moment later, Elizabeth took them upstairs and set them up in a rather normal bathing room that seemed positively *lavish* given their conditions for the last while. It had plumbing from the well, and was piped such that the chimney ran below it and heated the water. Elizabeth promised that she wouldn't speculate about whether or not they bathed together.

Daniel flushed, and bowed his head "i appreciate that lack of speculation." he drawled

Elizabeth grinned impishly and left them to themselves in the room that was already growing steamy.

Daniel unbuttoned his collar with a low chuckle "scandalous. tsk tsk."

Fenya chuckled. "What *would* they say back home? It's like we;ve turned into barbarians." She shed her clothes slowly.

Daniel shook his head , and undressed. "they'd drop their spectacles in horror." He drawled "thinking we've come from some dreadful dime novel."

Fenya shook her head. "At this point I'm not certain that we haven;t."

"....I'm getting that feeling as well." he drawled, and glanced at the bath "I've needed one of these."

"As have I," she agreed. "Ah.... it does look quite big enough for both of us...."

"..." he looked her over with a chuckle "...why don't we? After all, we received the promise that she wouldn't speculate."

"Indeed... which means she'll assume we do whether we did or not," she joked. Fenya's slim, grey and white mottled body was on full display.

He smirked, "indeed. So why not, at that point." He walked over, and brushed the fur of her shoulder "You look stunning, Fenya, even before a soak." He walked over and started up the water.

Her ears flicked and she smiled at him. "Well aren't you full of compliments," she purred.

He chuckled "...why be shy after last night, hm?"

"Touche, Danochka," she purred. She eased herself into the filling tub.

Daniel slipped into the tub with her, and nodded. "indeed." he chuckled "... I have to say, I'm hoping we find ourselves working together more often."

"I *certainly* hope so, doctor," she purred. The heated water steamed around them. "Perhaps we should endeavor to make it so?"

"perhaps we should." he said , settling in against her as he leaned into the warm water "I'm certain we can arrange it, should we try...our fields go hand in hand after all."

"They do indeed," she purred. She soaped up the body comb leaned toward him, in an offer to help him wash. "It should be easy to work together."

Daniel gratefully accepted the help, offering her his back "it should be." he said "I've grown to quite enjoy your company, Fenya."

"I've had a long few days to grow close to you too," she agreed, combing him gently with the soapy tool. "It would be a shame to cut our partnership short when it has come out so well."

"I agree." he purred , comfortable in the tub as his fur was finally brushed after far too long. "I see no reason we should. I don't think I've ever gotten on so well with a research partner before."

She gently massaged his skin as she worked out the knots and tangles from his fur. "Nor I," she agreed. "People tend to find me a bit... much," she admitted.

"do they?" Daniel shook his head "no taste then, as I find it incredibly charming."

"Why thank you," she grinned, She offered him the brush to do her next. "I tend to agree."

Daniel took it, and shifted over to get better access to her body. He carefully began combing out her fur with the soapy brush "you're *quite* welcome." he purred "most people tend to think I'm hung up on fairy tales, myself. That I'm 'obsessed'."

"I'd say *driven* rather than obsessed," she purred. "It's intriguing. You're passionate."

"i'm a man of deep passions." he purred "i'm pleased you can see that." He massaged her neck as he brushed the comb down, through her fur.

"I saw it last night too," she teased, arching her back a little as he combed her.

Daniel's ears flushed, and he leaned in to kiss the tip of her ear "mmm. I'm certain you did. Typically my passion's reserved for my research, but.."

Her ears flicked gently after his kiss and though he couldn't see it, she grinned. "I'm pleased you had some to spare."

"As am I" he purred "Seems life had a few surprises in store for me."

"I'm *full* of surprises, doctor," she teased. "I can't guarantee you've seen them all."

"is that so?" he said, combing out the fur of her lower back "well, then I think I simply *must* stick around until I have, at the very least."

Fenya chuckled, purring gently. "Good to know."

"I may have a surprise or two up my own sleeve, Fenya." he smirked "you'll have to wait and see."

"You have my interest, Danochka," she promised.

"And it's unlikely to waver any time soon."

Daniel's ears flicked, as he started working on her tail "likewise. Perhaps we really should petition for that 'research trip' to Mordona."

"I'll start writing up the proposal on our train ride home."

He chuckled "allow me to assist with it." he said, brushing out the tangles "you do have a lovely tail, as an aside."

"Why thank you," she purred, "To both. And I suppose we should thank my mother for the tail."

"I suppose so." he said, brushing the comb through it "it's quite soft."

Her ears flicked as she purred louder. "It shall be even softer once it's dry from this bath. I haven't properly washed it since before we met."

"is that so?" he said, combing out the tails "well, I dare say the temptation to pet it might be difficult to ignore then." he purred

"Doctor, how scandalous," she purred. "Surely not in *public*."

"I wouldn't want to sully your honor" he purred "but perhaps in private."

"Nor I your gentlemanly reputation. But....In private I might be quite pleased if you did."

"mm" he chuckled as he scratched the base of her tail "in private I could be *delighted* to."

She smiled and looked at him over her shoulder under long lashes. "It sounds like we have a long research project together, hmm?"

Daniel's ears flicked, pinkened, as he nodded "quite the long research project." he smirked "I'm prepared for it, however."

"Oh as am I, Danochka, as am I." The two of them finished their bath after a long, cozy and rather intimate while, and helped one another towel off. "Feeling better?" Elizabeth asked as the two of them returned, dressed, but still damp, to the kitchen.

Daniel nodded, brushing his hair over his ear "much. Like a brand new Daniel."

She smiled. "I'm pleased to hear it. You both look leagues better. Why don't you come into the parlor with Boris? I'll bring in breakfast." "Let me help, Elizabeth," Fenya offered.

Daniel nodded "that sounds lovely, thank you very much." He bowed his head, before turning to head to the parlor.

The beefy old warrior was sitting in an armchair in the parlor, and gave him a wave as he came in. It was very different to seeing the tough man in his office, and he looked much more relaxed. "Doctor. My wife tells me you've conquered the disease in record time, and I should give you the keys to the city."

Daniel waved at him, chuckling warmly "your wife is correct. The plague is cured and the fog over your town...metaphorically speaking...should clear "

He poured a glass of brandy and raised it to him. "And literally it already has I see. Very well done, my boy. Very well."

Daniel bowed his head "we did our best" he said "and we took steps to prevent it from happening again."

The governor sipped his brandy, and poured another glass to give to Daniel. "Good. *excellent* in fact."

Daniel took the glass, and raised it "thank you, Boris." "I'd say, all in all, a job well done."

"So would I," he agreed. "You didn't even take two weeks. A less experienced man than I might suspect you hadn't done anything at all."

Daniel chuckled softly "oh, but I certainly did. I have the blood soaked coat to prove it. The spent materials."

"As I said, a less experienced man," he nodded with a chuckle. "A successful guard appears to be doing nothing, wouldn't you say?"

"oh, I wholeheartedly agree." Daniel said, sipping the brandy "but without him...chaos."

"Precisely," he nodded. "And I pride myself as a man who knows that. And a man who trusts his help. If my wife says you worked a miracle, you damned well worked a miracle."

"It was a hard won miracle, my friend." Daniel nodded "so thank you. I've also...taken care of your 'vampire' problem"

"Did you?" he raised a heavy eyebrow. "Well done then, man. One less damned plague on the town."

"one less damned plague...and hopefully the last one for a while" he sipped his brandy "You shouldn't have any more corpses in the dark for a bit."

"Aside from the usual," he chuckled. "you'll never stop men from killing one another in the dark I'm afraid, but one has to try." The brandy was quite good-- strong for the time of morning, but good.

Daniel , at least, was glad to have it provided their trial was truly finished "Indeed." he chuckled "no more wraiths in the dark"

A moment later, Elizabeth and Fenya bustled in with a pair of trays of breakfast. More fish sausages and the kind of large, savory pancakes that were endemic to the region. "Hope we're not interrupting," Elizabeth grinned. "Not at all. I was just congratulating our doctor on his success."

Daniel shook his head, his ears flicking "as he said. I was telling him of the fact the vampire and the plague are both quelled."

"You didn't even mention the vampire to me," she chuckled. "well done."

"the situations were sort of wrapped up together with the same incident."

"Ahhhh," Elizabeth nodded. The old warrior didn't enquire. It seemed he was satisfied enough with his wife's version. The four of them ate companionably-- Elizabeth's cooking was quite good if flavorfully intense. There was a *lot* of talk about the improving weather.

Daniel ate, quite happy for the hearty and flavorful meal. He talked about the improving weather, and a little bit about the foibles of their adventure here and there. He even bitched about Lukyan.

'I've run afoul of the damned clown myself," the governor nodded. "Damned frivolous fool."

"I'm almost sorry to say I'm glad I'm not his *sole* target.." he shook his head '...an irritating little man."

"I don't know I always thought he was a little funny," Elizabeth chuckled. "mad... but funny."

"mmmm" Daniel shook his head "funny, perhaps, mad absolutely. The man was stark raving mad."

"I'd have him locked up but he hasn't done anything illegal," the governor grumbled.

"I think he's gone for now. Last I saw he left me a doll saying it was 'time to shoo out the clowns.'. Bloody idiot."

"A doll?" Elizabeth chuckled. "What will he think of next?" "I hope we won't find out," Fenya laughed.

"I just hope to be rid of the man, honestly." Daniel drawled

"Indeed," the governor nodded. "Speaking of which, what about your own plans, doctor?"

"We haven't quite decided yet." Daniel admitted 'we have a tentative plan to petition a trip to Mordona for us." he mused "but we're absolutely planning on working together."

"Congratulations," Elizabeth grinned. "Not planning to stay in Tadibya then?" the governor chuckled. "Can't say I blame you at all."

"thank you." Daniel winked at her "..and no, not unless there's a *very* compelling reason to stay. I am, after all, on the hunt for the secret of immortality."

The governor nodded. "well, I won't impede your quest, doctor. I imagine we're set to lift the quarantine and all. I can't think of what else I might need you for aside from having another sensible man about the place."

"I'm sure I could provide, but..." he held his hands up with a chuckle "the job will have to go to another."

"More's the pity," he chuckled. "was there anything else you needed from me?"

"hmm...well. We need to find someone to take on the fishery, don't we?" he mused "I know I had Volkov looking into finding anything that could point to who it's meant to go to.."

"Ahhh the fishery," he frowned. "Yes, Volkov gave me a report that there was a problem with the succession."

"indeed." Daniel nodded. "There was a huge argument about it yesterday."

"Wonderful," he grumbled. "What's your advice doctor?"

"I say we don't give it to the man who's looking to sell it immediately." He drawled "...perhaps Morozov's son would be a good option."

"His son?" The governor raised an eyebrow.

Daniel nodded "...from what I understand, Morozov shut the boy out of his life quite completely....I don't know the whole situation, but..."

"That would be the young Tomya you mentioned to me, wouldn't it?" Elizabeth asked.

"yes...it would be." Daniel nodded slowly

Elizabeth looked at her husband "Ah." Alekhin nodded. "Well, that makes things simple then. It's an easy matter to assert possession to the man's son."

"yes, yes it is." Daniel mused softly "someone can be appointed to help him with the business, of course..."

"I'll make certain to vet the volunteers," Elizabeth said firmly.

"Elizabeth, you're a lifesaver." Daniel nodded

"I do my best," she chuckled. "I'll see to the matter personally. It sounds like someone should take him under their wing."

"that's my thought exactly." Daniel said with a chuckle "..and I appreciate that you agree."

"I very much do," she agreed. "My wife is very charitably minded.... in certain areas," the governor murmured into his brandy with a smile.

"In certain areas." Daniel chuckled , sipping his brandy as well "she's a wonderful woman, Boris."

"Stop it, I'll blush, "Elizabeth chuckled. "Doubtful," Boris teased her.

"will you?" Daniel chuckled "payback for your attempt at matchmaking the other day." he teased

Elizabeth grinned. "Payback indeed. Hush, doctor."

He chuckled, taking another bite of the breakfast "regardless....there's a few people i need to speak to in town, but...on the whole...perhaps we just...work to prevent anyone from trying what the town masters did ever again, hm?"

"I can heartily agree with that, and I'm certain my husband can as well," she smiled. Boris chuckled and finished his brandy. "Yes dear. The more we can do for this town the better, eh?"

Daniel nodded "this town needs it...it desperately needs to move on from all the harm those four did, and heal."

"Here here," Fenya nodded, raising her coffee.

"Here here," Elizabeth agreed. "and we can't thank you two enough for your help."

"here here!" Daniel raised his own drink "...we just did what we could. And i'm pleased it helped."

Breakfast dragged on in a leisurely way, but eventually Daniel and Fenya did have to get going. There were a few other stops they'd have to make after all. Elizabeth saw them out-- and pressed hugs on both of them, extracting a promise from them to write.

Daniel had returned the hug, as surprising as it was, and promised to write, before he and Fenya set out to their next stop... "we should visit Volkov as well.."

"Agreed," she nodded. "He deserves to hear the news too."

"he does, and he's been a damned good help. I wouldn't want to finish things without saying goodbye."

"Certainly not," she agreed. "Shall we head over to the guard station, or see if we can catch him at home?"

"why not try his home. If we're lucky, we catch him...if not...we did want to talk to his wife and Lydia."

"Yes and Sasha wanted us to check on her." As they started walking Fenya commented. "Was it just me, or does Mitya have a bit of a crush on him by the way?"

"yes, yes he did." Daniel chuckled, shaking his head "as for Mitya, yes it's quite obvious he fancies the man."

"I wonder if they'll work it out."

"I wonder indeed." Daniel chuckled, "I wish the boy the best."

"Same." Soon enough, they were at Volkov manor, and Katrina welcomed them inside.

"Rumor has it you cured the plague," she smiled.

Daniel chuckled "word travels fast, hm? yes...yes we have."

"It *has* been a couple of hours," Fenya teased.

"Fast enough," Katrina said, urging them inside. "Is it true, then?"

"mmm" Daniel nodded and stepped inside "it is true...we spent last night stemming the source of the illness, and when we returned , everyone in the hospital was starting to heal."

"That's fantastic," she grinned, ushering them into the parlor. The pale, fragile little Lydia was there, working on some embroidery in her lap

Daniel walked into the room, and bowed his head to Lydia. "and how are you this morning, Lydia?"

Lydia smiled at him. "I had a good dream last night."

"a good dream?" He asked, sitting down nearby

She nodded. "That some monsters went away."

She paused and smiled at him. "Thank you, doctor."

"they did, once and for all, Lydia." Daniel smiled at her , quite warmly "you're welcome. I'm just glad we could help."

She nodded at him, and went back to her embroidery, humming happily. Katrina grinned. "Seeing her smile was the first sign that things were going right this morning. Then I saw the fog was gone."

Daniel smiled a little wider "...it seems things are finally starting to look up."

"So it does," Katrina said. "And it sounds like we have you to thank for that. A messenger came by about an hour ago saying that Sasha was sending people home."

Daniel nodded slowly "we ...healed the heart of the town, mad as it sounds."

Katrina shook her head. "I won't question it, Doctor dear. Let me see if I can get my husband here he'll want t--" There was a knock on the door.

Daniel glanced over his shoulder "hm?"

"I'll get that," Kantrina said. "Just a moment." She dashed back to the hall.

Fenya cocked her head. "I wonder who it could be..."

"I wonder too." Daniel mused "Volkov? maybe?"

A moment later they found out-- it indeed WAS Volkov-- and Tomya besides. The young man looked a bit worse for wear, but in good spirits. "Morning, doctor," Tomya grinned tiredly. "Sent the guard after me, eh?" "Hmph," Volkov snorted.

Daniel chuckled "I did, but I think perhaps you'll enjoy the reason why." He bowed his head "Volkov. Lovely to see you again."

"The pleasure's mine, Delgrave," Volkov drawled. "I heard you gave our plague the boot." Tomya sagged a bit against Volkov, grinning. "Good job, that." Katrina looked positively delighted behind them.

Daniel nodded slowly "that's right. We cured the plague and stopped the vampire as well. Things should start getting better around here very soon."

"Finally," Volkov nodded. He clapped Daniel on the shoulder. "I don't usually give people accolades for doing their job but in this case-- thank you, doctor."

Daniel smiled, and pat his shoulder as well "and thank *you* for keeping people in line while I worked. I couldn't have done it without you. It would have been chaos otherwise."

Volkov nodded. "It was nearly chaos anyway-- but I;ll accept the praise, just this once." "What a pair of saps, eh?" Tomya teased. Volkov snorted again. "Doctor, do me a favor and put this man on bed rest."

"I'll do just that." Daniel said with a smirk "...though I do have some news for him."

"News, doc?" Tomya asked.

"I was wondering if you were interested in a job." Daniel said

He grinned. "Doc, doc, you know the answer to that. But you're going to ask right now with ladies present?"

Fenya smothered a laugh as her ears flicked.

Volkov meanwhile looked mortified-- although not unamused.

Daniel choked "...not like *that* , Tomya. Hell!"

Tomya snickered. "No? What kind of job then?"

"Head of the fishery." Daniel drawled "with help, of course."

"head of the fishery?" he grinned. "Not sure I'm qualified for that job. but Iosha here's been trying to talk me into it."

Iosef nodded. "I told you, it's not like you'll have to *run* it."

"It's not like you have to run it, indeed. And you can learn all you want about it in time. You'll have someone to help you. someone trustworthy. Elizabeth is going to be searching for the right person for the job for us."

"Elizabeth?" Volkov cocked his head. "well, she'll get her way on that then." Tomya grinned and held up his hands. "Alright alright. If you all insist, hmm? But what's this about bed rest?" Tomya, for all his good spirits, looked exhausted, and like he could use a good several meals, which the doctor could tell without the need for an examination.

"you look exhausted. And underfed." Daniel said firmly "you've been living a hard life, and it's about high time you started changing that....you need to sleep, properly, get some good food in you...and bathe."

"Doctor's orders" Tomya asked with a grin. Volkov put a hand on Tomya's shoulder and said firmly. "Doctor's orders."

"doctor's orders. indeed." Daniel drawled.

"If you insist I guess I can't stop you, captain," he grinned at Volkov. "After all, you could handcuff me again."

Iosef flushed and marched the man out of the room. He turned to look over his shoulder. "Thank you again, delgrave."

Daniel nodded, giving him a little salute "I'm always happy to help, Volkov. We made a good team."

Volkov gave him a salute in return before he vanished.

Katrina grinned. "Oh that worked out *well*."

"it certainly did, didn't it?" Daniel said with a grin "I was hoping it may."

"Clever man," Katrina grinned. "ISn't he?" Fenya smirked. "It's all wrapping up nicely."

"indeed it all is." he chuckled "a perfect ending to a *damned mess* of a situation."

"I'd say it calls for a celebration. Unless you have more to take care of?" Katrina smiled.

"A celebration might be nice." he chuckled "there's a few other people we wish to see, but..."

"Should we celebrate now, or should I plan a party then?" she chuckled.

"why don't we plan it." Daniel said "we can finish our affairs and....celebrate."

"That sounds lovely," Fenya agreed. "Well then, I'll get to it," she grinned.

"And we'll get going." he chuckled "to finish the rest of our little errands."

"See you later then," she cooed. "I'll send a message your way when I have things ready."

Fenya offered Daniel her arm and they headed out.

"Where to next, doctor?" she asked with a wide smile.

Daniel took her arm, chuckling "let's go see Ivan...and offer him and his wife a way out of town, hm? I also want to drop off that last phylactery to him. After that...the Chernoff family...." he paused "....and Elias, I suppose."

She nodded. "Probably best to see him. He *was* the whole point of coming out here."

"Indeed" Daniel agreed "we might as well say hi. If he survived, I mean"

"You think he might not have?" she cocked her head as they walked, not sounding particularly worried about it.

"there's a chance. He *was* one of the more severe cases after all."

"I suppose it's true. And the first besides," she nodded,

"so it's possible we ran out of time ...I hope not , of course."

"As do I," she nodded. "I wonder if he's well-- do you think he'll be coming back to Astoria?"

"possibly...I know I don't *exactly* want him poking around the graveyard anymore"

"No, I can't say I do either," she nodded. "Probably better if we... persuade... him it's time to come home."

"I believe we may be able to," Daniel mused. "...we should at least try."

"We'll put him in a different car on the train, however," she said firmly.

"oh absolutely. I don't want to deal with a whole train ride of...*that man's nonsense*"

"No indeed," she shook her head. "It would certainly spoil what will otherwise likely be a pleasant journey."

"indeed" he chuckled "preventative measures will be taken....like locking the door if we're lucky enough to get a sleeper."

"It'll be nice to be finally off our feet either way. But a sleeper would be *lovely*."

"wouldn't it?" He chuckled "that's my hope, in all honesty"

The two of them passed the post office again, and came up toward Ivan and Mila's house.

Daniel walked towards it "this...will be one of our more awkward encounters." he said with a murmur "given what we dealt with last time.'

"Agreed," Fenya nodded. "Any idea what you're going to say?"

"I'll try to convince them to leave together." he said slowly "...and offer them that ticket out."

"Ah," Fenya nodded. "That should be... interesting to see how it goes."

"A trainwreck, should I fail to do so." Daniel said "...let's hope I manage it."

She patted him on the back. "Well, doctor, time to face your last challenge in town, hm?"

Daniel chuckled "Wish me luck, Fenya." He knocked on the door.

A moment later, Ivan answered the door. He had a look of concern on his face, but brightened considerably seeing Daniel. "Good morning, doctor!"

Daniel bowed his head "good morning, Ivan." He smiled "having a good morning?"

"Oh... it's been alright," he nodded. "But what about you? can you come in?"

Daniel chuckled "we ended the plague. Have you heard?" He stepped into the house

"You did?" he smiled. "No I hadn't heard yet! I thought I saw Mila speak to a messenger earlier but she didn't say anything about it."

"No?" He chuckled "well..it's over. The whole damned thing." He took out the phylactery and offered it to him "here. this is your family's."

He blinked and accepted it into his hands as the pair stepped inside. "Oh?"

He looked pleased, but baffled.

"It's MIsha's." He clarified, and gestured 'is there somewhere we could sit?"

"Oh! of course!" he nodded. "I have coffee in the kitchen if you'd like some. You must have been working all night?" Ivan, though cheerful, seemed distracted, as he led them to the kitchen.

"Most of it." Daniel said "coffee would be lovely." He paused "is something on your mind, Ivan?"

"You can tell, doctor?" he asked with a smile, pouring them each a cup of coffee.

"i've got a keen eye for more than just medicine, my friend."

He nodded. "You seem like a very smart man, sir....." he frowned and dropped his voice lower. "Mila's been acting strangely this morning. I'm sure it must be because her routine is no longer in effect, but...."

Daniel sipped his coffee quietly "strange how, if I may ask..?"

He bit his lip. "You don't think she could be, do you?"

"could be...sick? No." Daniel shook his head "the plague cleared up this morning."

He nodded. "So you said-- and--Oh! I didn't congratulate the two of you! I'm sorry!"

"it's okay." Daniel chuckled "thank you. We did our best and it bore fruit in the end."

"The whole town owes you their thanks, doctor," he smiled.

"Thank you Ivan." he bowed his head "it's enough to know everyone's alright." He sipped his coffee "but on the subject of your wife.."

"Right... Mila," he bit his lip. "Well... she's been avoiding me... and I saw her like, folding up old clothes? I know, I shouldn't spy on her...."

"ah." Daniel said softly "would you mind if I spoke with her?'

"Of course I wouldn;;t mind!"

Daniel nodded and stood "i'll take a fresh cup of coffee when I'm done, hm?'

Fenya smiled. "Ivan and I will chat while you're gone, shall we?"

"Sounds good." he chuckled, "enjoy, Fenya." He stood and walked deeper into the house

He heard humming coming from somewhere upstairs.

Daniel followed the sound "Mila?"

The humming stopped. "Hello?"

"it's Daniel. I wanted to speak with you/"

Mila poked her head out from a room with a large smile on her face. "Doctor, what a lovely surprise."

"mm hmm, you've no doubt heard the news."

"I did," she cooed. "Which means we're leaving, doesn't it?"

"It means something to that effect, yes." Daniel said "...I wanted to talk to you about that, actually."

Her smile froze, and became a little predatory. "I hope you aren't going to go back on what you said, doctor."

"no, not in the least." Daniel said, frowning "you're still getting a ticket out of here."

her smile eased. "Oh good. You had me worried for a moment."

"But I think...perhaps there's been a...difference of expectation with your riding partner." he said gently.

"Pardon?" she said, not seeming to get what he was hinting about

"...." Daniel gestured for her to sit "It's about Maxi."

Her face fell and her eyes grew concerned. "Maxi? He... you can't tell me he died," she breathed.

"no, of course not." Daniel scoffed "we're far more competent at saving lives than *that*."

She looked relieved by that, and then her eyes narrowed. "Good but.... then what's the problem?"

Daniel spread his hands "he doesn't want to leave, Mila. He told me that there was a misunderstanding. he has no intention of leaving this town, and I'm sure as hell not going to force the man." He looked her in the eyes "...I'm sorry,."

Mila stared at him, her confusion, and anger, only growing as second by second ticked by. "I-i'm sorry, *what*?"

"I mean what I said, Mila.. I talked to Maxi, and he told me in no uncertain terms that the plan to escape town was...purely yours, and that he was happy where he was." He shook his head "it's hard to hear, but there's nothing to be gained from seeking something where there's nothing."

Mila's eyes widened with hurt and sorrow. "W-but...." she choked out from behind the hand that covered her mouth. "you... you're not lying.... he said that, didn't he?" she asked softly.

Daniel put his hand on her shoulder "I'm sorry. I'm not lying. Sadly, that's how he truly felt." He shook his head "but that shouldn't stop you from leaving this place for your own good, don't you think? And...if I may make a suggestion.."

Mila crumpled against him, her large breasts pressed against his body suddenly. She didn't say anything, but she made a small noise. It was the most vulnerable Daniel had seen the fierce and sassy woman till now.

Daniel , briefly surprised, nonetheless held her and pat her back as reassuringly as he could "I'm sorry, Mila, to bring you the bad news." he murmured "but ...it's better to find out now rather than later."

"Later??" she scoffed raggedly. "As if it could be later than this. he's toyed with my heart for years!"

Daniel nodded "and it was cruel of him to do so."

She choked again and pushed herself up from him, pressing her face into her hands. "I'll just die here then. Like I was always meant to."

"I hardly believe that's necessary." Daniel said, keeping his hand on her shoulder "I promised to help you leave this place, didn't I?"

"Why bother?" she huffed, staring at the floor.

"Because there's a wide world out there." Daniel said "where you can live the sort of life this place robbed you of."

She wiped her face. "And how would I manage?" she demanded. "Or do you think I ought to sell my body?"

"...." Daniel stared at her for a long moment "....no?" "no. No. What kind of man do you think I am to suggest that sort of thing?" He pinched the bridge of his nose "this is where my suggestion comes in, I suppose."

She gave him a wary look, her eyes puffy and red, but didn't interrupt him.

"....why not take Ivan." He said , with a moment's hesitation. "I understand you and he have had troubles in the past, but there's a severe lack of communication between you. Perhaps a change of scenery, some freedom from this place, and conversation may sort out some of those differences...enough that perhaps he could help fund your travels abroad? Or perhaps I can suggest work with the university."

"*Ivan?*" she demanded incredulously, half choking it out. "You can't be serious."

Daniel glanced at her "well, why not?"

"He's an *idiot*," she hissed in the quietest voice possible.

"he certainly seems." Daniel paused a moment "earnest. To a fault, perhaps." He sat on the bed, and glanced at her "But perhaps his skills lie outside typical academia, hm?"

She slumped down on the floor against the bed. "He's not *unskilled*," she admitted miserably. "Not as a workman at least. Doctor he's not *interesting*."

She paused and continued. "He'd probably come if I asked him, but then what? I feel bad enough now but I had to marry *someone* in this town or I couldn't even work in my own bar."

Daniel looked up at the ceiling "This town is backwards like that." he said thoughtfully. "I suppose my suggestion is this. Have you spoken with him about *any* of this? Your unhappiness? Perhaps if you did you could work something out...and I know plenty of places in need of a good bar, if that's what you wanted to do."

She shook her head. "I.... I don't know. I don't want to work in a bar for someone else, and I can't get my damned supply out of here." She looked at the floor miserably. "All of my plans have come to tatters without Maxi.... no... of course I haven't told Ivan a word....."

"When one plan fails, you simply have to make another." Daniel said "...damn knows my own plans here fell through, but we pulled through in the end. You can't do that if you simply give up." he patted her shoulder "...how do you feel about New Astoria?...and the heat?"

"New Astoria?" She asked, rubbing her face again. ".... I... suppose I hadn't considered it."

"I happen to know a certain...unconventional group out there who owe me a few favors." Daniel rubbed his chin "who would ...certainly not have any issue with a woman who wanted to open a bar of her own in their neck of the woods."

"I'm.... listening, I suppose," she murmured. "What kind of group?"

"the ah." He cleared his throat softly, "Viper Gang, of New Astoria."

Her downcast eyes practically lit up. "A *gang?*" she asked eagerly. "And they owe you a favor?"

"I happen to be quite good friends with the couple that leads them." Daniel said "and...I sponsor their daughter's admission to the University's girl's school."

"So you know them well indeed," she murmured. "And you think they'd be...amenable?"

"oh yes. " Daniel said,'' I imagine they'd quite like you. They take all sorts there." He leaned on his hand "so. How about you talk to your husband, and I can perhaps set up passage out to New Astoria. Far from Tadibya and it's ‘stuck in the past’ ways."

"I *have* to talk to him, don't I?" she sighed. "I had been planning just to.... slip out...."

"it would be the easy thing to do." Daniel said "but he's not a *bad* man as far as I've been able to tell. It'd be a little cruel to simply vanish. Especially since he's spent all morning worrying that you weren't feeling well. If you vanished, he'd likely assume the worst."

She frowned painedly. "Of course he was worrying about me," she sighed. "Why does he have to make it so hard by being so *nice*?"

Daniel chuckled softly "...I was thinking the same thing." he shook his head "if he wasn't so...nice. I'd have simply suggested leaving out the window."

She hung her head. "How long do I have before you're leaving?"

"there's some celebration in town." Daniel said "...we'll likely attend. It'll probably be another day or so."

She nodded limply. "Alright. I won't make you stick around for the awkward argument...."

Daniel nodded "I ...appreciate that. But just think. when it's over, you'll be on your way to somewhere far, far from all this. No more town masters. No more Mosgrav."

She gave him a little smile, taking a deep breath. "No more Mosgrav. That *is* a cheerful thought."

"isn't it?" he chuckled "and I think the outlaw life would suit you."

She smiled a little more, thinking of it. "Doctor, I think you are right."

Daniel smiled back at her "I'm sorry about Maxi, but I hope this more than makes up for it, hm?"

"I should have known better," she said, standing slowly. "It hurts, but, i.... will manage."

"there's always people like that in the world, who don't think of others while acting." Daniel shook his head "You'll be alright, Mila."

"Thank you, doctor," she said with a little smile. "Thank you.... very much. For all your help."

Daniel chuckled "it's the least I can do."

"I suppose I should go talk to Ivan..."

"I suppose so." Daniel said "i...suppose I should take my leave."

"I won;t force you out of course but it... likely won't be pretty," she paused, and bit her lip. "I'm going to give him the truth. He deserves it."

"indeed." Daniel nodded "...it'll be good to just...have it out in the open." He bowed to her, "Good day, Mila. I'll see you again before we're to head out."

"You had better," she nodded. "If you try to skip out on me *will* find a way to hunt you to Astoria and destroy you."

There was a note of teasing in her voice, as she gathered herself.

Daniel chuckled "and I believe I'd *very* much deserve it." he said "I'll go fetch Fenya, and we'll be off to tidy up the rest of our affairs."

"Good luck, doctor. A tidying of affairs can be .... a hell of a thing."

"it certainly can be...but at least the real work is done." He bowed his head, and headed out of the room "Be well, Mila."

When Daniel returned downstairs, Fenya and Ivan were happily chatting about ladies' shoes.

Daniel bowed his head to Ivan "Ivan, hope you and Fenya had a nice conversation."

Ivan smiled, and nodded. "We did. Ah... how's Mila?"

"She's...well." Daniel said "she's got some things on her mind, from the sound of it though."

"Oh...." he nodded. "Well, as long as she's okay....." fenya gave Daniel a subtle, questioning look.

"she's okay." Daniel said "She's not sick, that's for certain." Daniel looked at Ivan for a moment. Should he say something? he wasn't sure.

Ivan gave him a plaintive worried look that he buried with a smile. "Oh! let me get you a fresh cup of coffee."

Daniel nodded "..thank you." he said slowly

Ivan got up, and poured another steaming cup of coffee, offering it to him.

Daniel took it with a nod "Thank you. I just wanted to let you know...that your wife wants to have a serious conversation with you. So...be prepared for that. I wish the both of you the best."

Ivan nodded slowly. "Oh.... a serious conversation?" his smile was a bit forced. "Well, it'll be nice to have any kind of conversation with her.... she can be.. distant sometimes, doctor."

"I've noticed that from what I've observed.' Daniel said with an uncomfortable smile

Fenya coughed gently. "Doctor, didn't we need to go check on your patient? Our dear colleague?"

"y-yes." Daniel said, taking a long sip of coffee "...I'll...see you again before I go , Ivan. Be well. Good luck."

"You too, doctor," Ivan said, giving him a smile. a moment later, Daniel and Fenya were outside and moving *briskly* away from the Yahontov house.

Daniel walked with Fenya, tugging at his collar "it's about to get...awkward in there." he said as they walked

Fenya grimaced. "I suspected it might be the case," she agreed. "How.... did it go with Mila?"

"She didn't take the Maxi thing well." He said "and nearly gave up hope on leaving town, but I offered her a place owning a bar in New Astoria....pulling one of my favors with the Viper gang. I'm sure they'd enjoy her." He shook his head "she wanted to leave without telling Ivan. But I thought..perhaps the two of them needed to actually bloody talk about things before she left. For once. She said she was going to tell him everything."

"Well.... I can't say I envy either of them, but I think it's the right course," she nodded. "Whatever happens, they'll probably both be happier in the long run."

"I agree." Daniel said "nothing good would have come of just...running away."

"No.... a clean break is better," she nodded. "I hope they have an honest conversation."

"I hope so too." Daniel said "and I hope they find something that makes them happy going forward."

"So do I," she nodded. "Meanwhile... We have nearly our last important stop. Just Elias-- and Rook afterward."

"yes, yes indeed." Daniel mused "Elias and Rook. Both should prove interesting."

"Very," she nodded. "Hopefully less.... fraught.... than our last encounter but I'm not going to lay down any bets."

"we can hope." Daniel drawled "but we never know." he made his way down towards the farmhouse.

Under the warm, hazy light filtering down from the clouds, the farmhouse already looked more cheerful. Daniel could swear there was already some green coming back to the field.

It was impossible...wasn't it? perhaps it was just the light...such a change couldn't happen over a few hours..

"I've never been so happy for a normal cloudy day," Fenya remarked, shaking her head.

"likewise, Fenya." Daniel said with a chuckle "...the fog has finally lifted over Tadibya."

"Almost poetic," she agreed as they stepped up to the door.

"It's strangely poetic." Daniel admitted "...it's almost metaphorical."

"Almost," she chuckled. "Final bets on Elias?" she asked as she raised her hand to knock.

"Living, but stupid." Daniel drawled

"Lets see," Fenya nodded, knocking on the door. Drachik answered, her fingers in her mouth. "Hi."

"hey there, Drachik." Daniel said with a chuckle "Feeling alright?"

She nodded. "Daddy's awake."

"Oh good." he chuckled, "I'd hoped that would be the cast."

The little girl nodded again. "And Mr. Elias too."

"oh good, we saved our first patient, too." Daniel said

She nodded. "Mr. Misha said to say thank you."

Daniel paused "...Mr...Misha said to say thank you?"

Darchik nodded again, quietly. "Uhuh. Oh.... you should come in."

"thank you." he said a bit distractedly. "thank you very much." he passed into the house.

He could hear the sound of voices from the kitchen.

Daniel made his way towards the kitchen, his hands folded behind his back.

Fenya and Darchik both followed after him, and they found Darya cooking in the kitchen, with Konsatantin and Elias sitting there, looking better, and drinking coffee.

"I've been waiting for you this morning, Doctor," Darya greeted.

Daniel chuckled, bowing his head "sorry to take so long, we've been quite busy."

"I imagine," she smirked, pouring the coffee. Konstantin smiled widely. "Darya tells me you worked a miracle, doctor." Elias gave a quiet little wave.

Daniel waved to Elias with a slight smirk. "Elias. Your letter paid off." He glanced at Konstantin with a nod "I did. We cured the plague and ended the fog that hovered over this town."

"Thank heaven for you, doctor," Konstantin said with a smile. Elias chuckled bashfully. "Ah. Thank you for coming to our rescue, Daniel. It is... appreciated."

"It was an interesting research opportunity, Elias. I'm glad you didn't run off and get yourself bloody killed."

"I really wasn't trying to," he admitted. "Ah... speaking of which... how went *your* research?"

"it went..." he paused "...I didn't learn what I hoped to, but I learned of something to be *wary* of."

"Ah," Elias nodded. "Well, that can be a good thing as well, right?"

"It's always good to be aware of what works and what doesn't." Daniel agreed "and the Town Master's...experiments...are best never replicated."

Elias nodded. "I hope you'll give me the full debrief at some point. For my own notes."

"mmm." Daniel chuckled "as long as you don't go chasing any of it here, hm?"

He held his hands up. "My job is just to document."

"Good." Daniel shook his head "I'll give you the whole sordid tale then."

"I admit I'm curious about it doctor," Konsantin said. Darya snorted. "Don't go asking about things you don't want to know."

"there's...a lot there." Daniel murmured "this whole town's history and troubles are entwined in the whole mess."

Konstantin frowned. "I see.... well, you seem to have sorted it out for us. The sun is back."

"the sun is back." Daniel said "and the plague is gone. And the vampire has been stopped."

"A miracle indeed," Darya nodded. "I was right to trust you."

Daniel nodded "and I'm glad you did, Darya. You were a bigger help than you know."

She smirked. "I'm glad you realize that."

"of course." he chuckled , and took out the stones to offer her "these saved everyone's life."

She took the stones back and nodded. "Good. I'll continue to take care of them, then."

"that you should." Daniel said "keep them safe." "And thank you all for your hospitality while we've been here."

Darya nodded. "It was worth it. Besides, I wouldn;'t forgive myself for not showing hospitality."

"it certainly was." he chuckled "and I understand where you're coming from. is there anything I can do to repay you?"

"Mmm... maybe we can discuss it later," she said. "Unless you're leaving immediately."

"no, no, we have some time." Daniel said "not much, but..some."

She nodded. "Then we'll chat."

"Wonderful." he chuckled "and you two?" He glanced at Elias and Konstantin.

Elias and Konstantin looked at one another then back at Daniel. "Well, from my perspective we owe YOU doctor," Elias chuckled.

"I imagine you do." Daniel purred

Elias chuckled. "If there's anything I can do for you, Daniel, you know I will."

"Oh?" Daniel chuckled, "I'll keep that in mind."

He paused "well, actually.....Fenya and I wanted to...travel abroad for a bit... *without* getting a demerit for being away from the university."

Elias smiled. "Oh? Is that so? I suppose I could find a way to help grease the wheels."

"that would be *lovely*" Daniel purred

He clapped his hands with a grin. "You scratch my back, I scratch yours. Scratch here being 'save my life;'."

"mm hmm" Daniel chuckled "a very important scratch, Elias, don't forget that"

Elias nodded. "Oh trust me, Daniel, I won't soon forget it. Let me know if you'd like a more personal thanks."

Fenya coughed.

Daniel blinked at him, "Sorry Elias, but I believe I'm rather...taken, at the moment."

Elias chuckled. "Fair enough, Daniel."

Konstantin chuckled. "Ah, shall I get us some more coffee?"

"if you don't mind." Daniel said.

"Not at all," Konstantin smiled. "What are your own plans, doctor?" he asked, getting up.

"I have to speak to Rook before we leave." Daniel mused "and then there's talk of some celebration before we ultimately finish up our affairs and head out of town to...relax. We're thinking of Mordona."

"Mordona," Konstantin nodded. "That sounds nice." "A celebration hmm?" Elias chuckled.

"A celebration." Daniel chuckled "of the end of the plague, and the start of a new era, I suppose."

Elias grinned. "well i'm sure we'll all be there."

Darya nodded. "In all likelihood. Is it Katrina?"

"the party's host?" Daniel asked

Darya nodded.

"it was Katrina's idea, yes." he nodded

"I thought so," she smirked. "It seems like her kind of idea. ...I suppose I'll offer her a hand then."

"Doesn't it?" he smirked back "I'm sure she'll appreciate the help."

Darya nodded. "I'm sure. And later, you and I can chat."

"sounds wonderful to me." Daniel chuckled "I'll be around."

"Shall we go check on Rook, Danochka?" Fenya asked.

Daniel nodded to Fenya with a smile 'lets. We have the last of our affairs to finish up with him."

Fenya stood and offered her his hand. Konstantin smiled. "Then we will see the two of you at this celebration. Truly, we can't thank you enough."

"we're happy we could help" "Daniel said with a nod "we'll see you there." And with that, hand in hand, Daniel and Fenya made their way to the Rookery

"Well, that went well at least," she chuckled as they made their way all the way back across town.

"it did" Daniel chuckled "...seems Elias did survive."

"And he's even properly grateful," she agreed. "If.... gratefully improper."

"indeed." Daniel murmured "Even the plague couldn't stop Elias from flirting at the wrong time."

"It IS why he-- and by extension we, are out here in the first place isn't it?"

"it is, isn't it?" He drawled "you'd think he'd learn his lesson"

"Would you really? Considering?"

"I'd think after helping set a plague into motion and dragging *us* into it he might learn *something.*. Not to mention nearly bloody dying." Daniel drawled

"Well, maybe he did learn something-- that you'll dig him out of his hole," she teased.

"He shouldn't count on it." Daniel drawled "I'm a busy man, after all."

"Yes, and soon to be in Mordona," she smirked. "So let's hope he learned his lesson."

"let's hope." Daniel chuckled "as i think we've *earned* our vacation."

"So would I," she agreed.

Eventually they found themselves outside of Rook's tower.

Daniel looked up at it with a shake of his head "what sort of spirits do you expect the man to be in?'

"I'm not entirely certain," she mused. "What about you/"

"good, perhaps...I hope." He knocked on the trapdoor.

There was a knock in response.

Daniel attempted to open it

It opened, and Rook gave a wave from below.

"Good morning, Doctor. Ms. Fenya."

Daniel nodded "Rook. Have you noticed the *nearly* clear sky?"

"So I had," he nodded. He stepped up the stairs into the morning air. "Your doing?"

"our doing, indeed. We healed the heart of the town and cured the vampire."

"Congratulations, Doctor," he drawled, crossing his arms. "Dare I ask?"

"it was a man who foolishly tried to undergo the ritual without realizing the door to the heart was locked." Daniel drawled. "...and the heart was literal. A big. Beating. Heart."

"A big. Beating heart." Rook repeated. He nodded. "Of course. And it was wounded."

"of course. The Town Masters tore chunks from it to replace their own hearts. Wounding it in the process and, of course, making it sick. Which was why they created the Rookery, to absorb the.." Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose "darkness, corruption, whatever....because the heart was too sick to fight it off naturally. But the Rookery was poisoning the land and spread the plague." "But now the heart's healing, so..what's done is done."

He tapped his beak thoughtfully. "Replaced their own hearts. Wonderful. So the phylactery was a metaphorical rag stuffed in the wound."

"wonderful indeed." Daniel drawled. "but yes, the phylacterie was a rather soggy , ineffectual bandage over the whole stupid mess."

"Lovely," he nodded with a sigh. "...its job is done now?"

"it is. I've patched the heart up and started it's clotting...so it should heal in due time. There's no more need for the phylactery."

"Good," he nodded. "I'll tend to the heart, then."

"Thank you, Rook. It's much appreciated. Someone has to, and you seem like a good man for it."

He nodded with a slight smile. "I should hope so. If you'd let me know where it is, I'll make certain it remains undisturbed."

"it's under the graveyard." Daniel said "behind the stone building's puzzle doors."

"Puzzle doors?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Yes, one locked by a current and a set of stones in the possession of Darya with water...and another locked by their phylacteries...which...may be impossible to open now." He frowned 'given that...a presence ate the hearts of two of the town masters last night."

He paused. "A presence? Sounds like a heart eater to me."

"yes, that." Daniel frowned "seems to be what it was."

"Hmm," he paused. "Well, perhaps the heart is safe enough as it is. Nevertheless, I shall keep my eyes open for trouble."

"please." Daniel nodded "and I'm certain you can find a way inside should it prove necessary. Thank you Rook."

The bird man bowed. "Thank you, doctor. You have done us all an invaluable service."

Daniel bowed back "I did what any decent person would do. And used my skills to their best effect. I'm glad I could cure this plague of yours."

"As am I," he nodded. "It.... has been a long five years, doctor."

"I imagine it has been." Daniel frowned "...a very long five years. But they've come to an end."

"So it has," he sighed. "I suppose I can consider myself free to pursue my own interests now."

Daniel nodded "You certainly can." He looked him over "though I can tell you're a bit concerned about that."

"I have known a sort of servitude my entire life, doctor, which I assure you has been longer than you may suspect. It will be... an adjustment."

"I...imagine it's been quite a long while." Daniel murmured "...but I imagine it'll be an adjustment. But I think you'll feel better for it."

He nodded. "I hope so, doctor."

"If there's anything I can do, please, let me know."

He smiled. "Oh, I think I'll manage. But I appreciate your offer. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Aside from keeping an eye on things for me?"

"Aside from that, doctor."

Daniel chuckled "Only that you find something that makes you happy in the years to come, friend."

He nodded deeply. "That, I can do... my friend.," he said the word as if trying it on.

That brought a smile to Daniel's face, who nodded deeply "indeed. I'm glad to hear it."

"And what of you?" he asked. "I can't imagine you'll be staying in Tadibya long."

"Fenya and I are planning on traveling." Daniel chuckled "...seeing if we can find leads to our respective studies while taking in the sights. Mordona, first..and from there...who knows."

"Ahh," he nodded. "Well, I wish you both luck. Which, I am sure, given your results here, you're prone to."

Fenya chuckled. "Thank you."

Daniel nodded with a smile "yes, it seems we are. We make a good team, Fenya and I."

Fenya grinned. "We do-- Oh, Rook-- there's going to be a party in town this evening-- why don't you come?"

He raised an eyebrow. "A party?"

"a celebration of the end of the plague." Daniel said "We'd be delighted if you came."

"I.... have never attended a party," he mused. "Yes. I will go."

"what better way to get to know everyone, hm?" Daniel chuckled "good. we'll see you there."

Rook nodded. "Yes. I'll see you there. Thank you, doctor."

"you're quite welcome." Daniel nodded "See you there, Rook."

"I suppose we should go get ready ourselves," Fenya said, after they had departed.

"I suppose we should. For our greatest challenge yet." He joked "socializing."

She mock-shuddered. "It can't be as bad as a university party."

"No, no it can't." Daniel said , shaking his head "I still have nightmares about those."

SHe patted him on the back. "Me too, Danochka, Me too."

"at least." he chuckled 'this one is in our honor."

"Indeed. So... lets get celebrated." The two of them returned to the post office for a while, chatting and reminiscing about their adventure, and making plans for the future as they prepared themselves. In the afternoon, Mitya himself came to get them. The party, it turned out, had been moved to the Mayor's house, which had a long-unused ballroom. Katrina and Darya had gone to some lengths to decorate, coordinate refreshments, etc. There was even a small band, made up of what Daniel learned later in the night, were some of Tomya's musician friends. None of them were so overt as to hit on Daniel however. Most of the people they'd met in town were there. The notable absences were Lukyan, Maxi, and the dead Morozov, and his widow.. Tomya was there however, and explained that while Sofya Morozov was not yet in a partying mood, rekindling her relationship with her son had raised her spirits considerably. No one mentioned Lukyan. Even the priest, and granny Bobbin from the inn was there. Most surprising, perhaps, was seeing Ivan and Mila arrive arm in arm, about half way through the evening.

Daniel was surprised to see that. *very* surprised...but not displeased. He spent the time speaking with each of the people he had come to know, celebrating in his own reserved way with a few drinks. He caught up with those he hadn't seen yet, post plague. Despite how it would have surprised him to learn, only a week or so ago, Daniel found himself enjoying the company of this town's strange residents. Later in the night, as he mingled and celebrated the triumph over the plague, he even danced.

And Fenya danced along with him. It was, on the whole, a very pleasant evening. Katrina, who was enjoying the company of the governor's wife (Alekhin himself was deep in a political discussion with Konstanin about improving the arability of the land in Tadibya), made certain to point out to Daniel how well Volkov and Tomya were getting along, and was *quite* excited about it. She had even been staying away from the drinks at the party. Sasha he caught, quietly apologizing to his sister, who was refusing to let him, beaming quietly as she worked on her embroidery in a corner. Marta and Darya were studiously avoiding one another -- but they seemed quite good at it, and no bad blood sparked during the party. In fact, Daniel saw Darya chatting with Rook off in another corner later in the evening. Towards the end of the night, granny Bobbin came up to him, looking as though she'd had a few drinks. She pressed her birdlike claw into his shoulder. "Young man."

Daniel , surprised, turned to face her "ah, hello there." he said with a smile "it's good to see you outside of the inn."

"Hmmph," she grinned widely. "You ruined a perfectly good little end of the world, you know."

"it's what I'm good at, Granny Bobbin." Daniel purred, taking a sip of his drink "There's too much yet unknown to let the fool thing end *now* don't you think?"

"Hmmph!" she bristled, still grinning. "I'm old, young man. Gonna end for me sooner than later, you know. I was sort of hoping to drag the rest of this lot down with me. But you've gone and messed up my retirement plan. What do you plan to do about it?"

"hell of a retirement plan you had there Granny." Daniel drawled "you might want to rethink one that's less...." He paused "Fatal."

"You wouldn't happen to know anything about my *dear mother's* previous one, would you, dearie?" she asked with a cutting look. "If you did, now would be the time to share it. *She* never did."

"her...retirement plan?" Daniel said slowly "From what I gathered, the lot of them didn't plan on retiring. Ever. And they did something very stupid and dangerous in the effort to keep it that way."

"Dangerous and stupid you say?" she sniffed. "*How* dangerous and stupid are we talking?"

"Cutting the bloody hearts from their chests and jamming meat of mysterious subterranean organs into their chests in their place." Daniel drawled "and causing the sickness that nearly wiped everyone out, while allowing themselves to give in to the inevitable corrupting force of too much power and not enough maturity."

The nasty grin on the old woman's face slowly turned to an expression of disbelief, and then horror, and then sheer amusement. "Well, I'll be damned. I always knew my mother was an idiot, deep down. Thank you, doctor. I DON'T think I'll be pursuing that option- much as I may hate getting old."

Daniel chuckled "I thought you might think that." He nodded "might I suggest some time out by the beach instead? Retirement may serve you well in a warmer climate."

"If I'm not waiting to watch this place sink slowly into the pit, maybe I ought to," she chuckled. She patted him fondly on the shoulder. "Thank you, young man."

Daniel chuckled, nodding his head at her "you're welcome, Bobbin . Be well, hm?"

After the old woman had departed for another drink, Daniel had another visitor. Darya, whom he had promised to speak with earlier.

Daniel raised his drink to her "wonderful party you helped put together, Darya."

"I can entertain when I like, doctor," she smirked, raising her own drink in response. "I'm pleased it's to your liking."

Daniel took a long sip, chuckling "you certainly can. And it certainly is." He leaned on the wall with a smile "so...you wanted to talk to me, didn't you?'

"I did," she nodded. "You've been chasing down the town masters this whole time... I assume you must have learned about them."

"I...did." Daniel said with a slight frown "I've learned a lot about them , in the last few days."

"I thought as much," she nodded. "As I told you, I was Nika's pupil.... before... So. I am hoping that you will share what you learned with me. And leave me any documents or items you might have."

Daniel sipped his drink "...ah." He paused , looking off to the side "Darya, I'm going to warn you...what they did wasn't something that should ever be replicated. It's not anything *good* and I've uncovered...a lot of pain...caused as a result of what they've done and who they've hurt."

"I.... gathered that," she said with a frown. She took a long drink of her drink. "I don't plan to emulate her... not any more... but... I do want to know."

"Absolutely understandable." Daniel said "I'm genuinely glad, however...that you no longer want to emulate her. She certainly wasn't as malicious as some of the others, but.." He shook his head "...regardless. Under this town there's a beating heart."

Her jaw set. "A heart. The heart of the town. I see."

"yes..." He said, sipping his drink "and the four of them went down to it, presumably after having discovered it, and removed their own hearts...before putting them in phylacteries and placing meat from the great heart below in their own chests." "this is what made them immortal...but it also wounded *whatever that strange heart* is, and allowed it to become sick...the Rookery was created to sort of...absorb any...sickness...that came it's way, but a yearly ritual had to be done to keep the sickness at bay." He frowned "...and I believe it's part of what led to them all becoming quite so ...twisted. That and time, immaturity, absolute power.."

Her ears grew paler as Daniel spoke, and she nodded quietly. "I see. So that was their great secret. Small wonder they kept it so quiet, then."

"mmm...indeed...not only is it twisted, but it's the very thing that damned this town. I've found a lot of evidence in my travels this week, and from all of it, it seemed things only got worse and worse as time went on."

"And they knew, all along, didn't they?" she sighed. "Doctor.... does it have to be that way? I know that *you* are a man of science, but do you believe that all magicians become corrupted that way?'

Daniel sighed , looking at his drink "i'm not sure. I'll admit, there's not a large pool to draw from , scientifically speaking." He waved a hand "but the town masters let their own vices, cruelties and egos take deep root, and came to a point where they scarcely cared who's lives they hurt indulging them. They were all corrupted, some less than others. And the unkillable man of New Astoria, the Hellhound...used his invincibility to kill...maim...violate..." "While it's possible some magicians may not allow themselves to become corrupted by their own power, a fair few have."

He looked up at her "it's simply hard to say for certain, in the end."

Darya nodded. "I understand. Then they are simply people like the rest of us in the end."

"As all people are." Daniel said "what are you planning on doing with that knowledge?"

"I am.... not yet certain," she admitted. "I suppose we shall see."

"Just promise me you won't follow in their footsteps." Daniel said "don't let yourself become someone else's monster. Hm?"

Darya hesitated. "I promise you I won't replace my own heart, doctor. Or call down a plague on my own town."

Daniel raised his eyebrow at her "Or stalk and murder people in the night for your own fun and satisfaction? or...other such depravities?"

"because that's the sort of thing at least two of those town masters did. I like you , Darya. Just be safe. Take a methodical approach, and don't make the same mistakes as others."

She grimaced, and nodded. "I certainly intend to avoid those mistakes, doctor. I want to understand the world, not control or destroy others."

Daniel chuckled "Careful, Darya. That line of thinking sounds an awful lot like a scientist talking." he winked "...there's certainly nothing wrong with that...after all. That's what Fenya and I do."

She chuckled with him. "Perhaps then we have something in common, doctor. Thank you... for all that you have done."

"you're welcome, Darya." He said with an amused smile "Thank you for all your help. Hopefully I'll see you around again, hm?"

"I'm sure we'll cross paths again, doctor. It seems like fate." After Darya had excused herself with a smile, Fenya came up and quite familiarly put her arm around his waist. She had a large grin on her face, and her ears were quite pink. Unsurprising. since she'd been drinking all evening.

Daniel chuckled. He'd been having a few drinks himself...enough to allow himself a little boldness. He put his arm around her shoulders. "I have to say, not a bad sendoff, hm?"

"Not bad at all, Danochka," she grinned. "I've almost been having fun. Everybody's happy."

"almost." he chuckled , and bent to peck her on the cheek "Everyone's spirits are up, even the old woman. "

She flushed and her ears flicked as he kissed her, and she gave him a sly look. "Good to hear. I have to say, my spirits are up as well."

His own ears, quite pink as well, flicked as he caught her look "mine too, Fenya." he purred

She leaned in and whispered. "*Just* your spirits? We're returning to Astoria soon, we should take advantage of barbaric mosgrav while we can. Why don't you take me back to the post office."

Daniel's ears flushed hotly, and he couldn't help but grin "it's true, isn't it? We might as well , hm? before *the propriety* of Astoria." He gestured with his glass, "I think I've had enough socializing for tonight, hm? I think we're *well and truly* due for a fire and a little bit of...extra warmth."

Her ears flicked and she grinned, raising her almost empty glass. "I'll drink to that, danochka," she purred. The two of them made their goodbyes and slunk off to the exit-- only to be cornered by Ivan just before they could leave. "Doctor! I saw you were leaving....I won't keep you, but...." The big man was smiling.

Daniel, his arm still looped around Fenya, smiled "ah, Ivan. You seem in high spirits!"

"You do!" Fenya agreed. "Having a nice time?" Ivan nodded. "The party is nice! but... it's about Milaya. It's probably impolite to tell you.... but...."

Daniel cocked his head "hm?"

Ivan leaned in and whispered, conspiratorially, but a little too loudly just the same. "Thanks to you, she finally told me what has been wrong all these years. I told her that I loved her more than even my good morals, and if she wanted me to be rough with her in bed that is what I would do. And now we are going to go to New Astoria and become outlaws!" Ivan was beaming like a child at midwinter.

Fenya, who could hear this clearly, covered her mouth as her ears turned red.

Daniel's ears shot right to scarlet, and his eyes widened considerably as he said "o.." "oh ah, I'm quite happy to hear that. I'll get with my contacts in New Astoria to get that set post haste, just for the two of you and your , ah. newfound happiness." He bowed his head "enjoy yourself, Ivan. I hope you and Mila stay very happy among the Vipers, hm?"

"Thank you, doctor!" Ivan beamed. "You really saved everyone here. You and Miss Fenya should celebrate tonight. I won't keep you!"

Fenya made a small noise. It might have been *Thanks* but it might also just have been her choking to death.

"Oh i'm ah" Daniel flashed him a bright smile "ah. yes. You're welcome. Fenya and I..well. we're going to go...celebrate...now." He patted the man on the shoulder "ta ta." And with that he hurried off, somewhere between amused and mortified.

The two of them slipped out into the cool, dark, and clear evening. The whole presence of the town felt lighter, and more free. As they rounded the last corner back to the post office, they saw, standing in front of it, and facing them, as if waiting, a curious pair. A dark furred young woman, and a pale furred little boy, looking hazy and indistinct in the clear night air.

Daniel paused as they approached "....is that..." he murmured "Misha and Nika?"

Fenya paused, and blinked. ".....goodness.... is...?" she trailed off. The woman made sly eye contact with Daniel, and the kid gave a lazy wave. The woman gave a dignified bow, and the child a merry salute. The two of them turned, and made their way a few paces down the road away from Daniel and Fenya, before they vanished into the aether.

Daniel watched them go with a final wave, his fingers curling in the air as they faded into nothingness "...." HIs hand slowly lowered "...." "Fenya, I think we just saw a ghost."

"I.... think we might have," she murmured. "Even I saw it that time. Perhaps it's because I'm *very* drunk." she giggled.

Daniel laughed with her "...but I saw it too." He shook his head "...I suppose it means their spirits are at peace. Which is...good. i'm..glad" He leaned on her "I think I'd like to slip into bed with you now, however."

"Let's do that," she grinned, leaning on him in return. "And in an hour or so our spirits will be at peace too."

Daniel's ears flicked "oh I'm certain they will be." he said, leading her into the post office. "But only after some...further celebration."

"*Private* celebration," she agreed with a grin. As they dipped inside, she purred. "Doctor I think this is the beginning of a beautiful collaboration."

Daniel leaned in, and scooped her into a kiss. "I believe you may be right, Fenya." he purred "an absolutely beautiful collaboration. the finest Gaea's ever seen."

The great plague of Tadibya had been put to rest at least. The old town masters had gone on to what came next, each fated according to their actions. Two astorian scientists had made their mark on the small town. The future held many things. It held a train back to Astoria. Paperwork to be written. Wheels of academia to be greased. It held Mordona, and it held great scientific adventures beyond, and besides. But for now, it held the two of them, and they held each other. END POSTLOGUE:

Elias Banbridge remained in Tadibya for many months, writing up the folklore of the town, and enjoying the company of his large Mosgravan boyfriend. He returned to Astoria in the late summer, but then only with Konstantin, to deliver young Darchik to the Astorian Girl's Academy, under the sponsorship of Daniel Delgrave.

Konstantin and Mayor Alekhin worked closely together to improve the farmland surrounding Tadibya, which seemed easier now than it had ever been before, as more green things began to grow and flourish in the area.

Katrina gave up drinking, much to the delight of her darling Elizabeth.

Lydia, too, sobered herself, her nightmares and wicked nighttime visitors dispelled and destroyed, finding a passion in sewing and fashion.

Captain Volkov made his wife very happy by spending more time with Tomya, who made him quite happy in turn.

Tomya had little interest in running the fishery, but held on to it under his boyfriend's advice, as the governor helped them expand the operation, and bring new workers in from the capital, expanding and modernizing Tadibya slowly.

Vadim, after the nightmare of the plague, finally retired from the office of mayor, and took up a number of small, quiet pastimes. Eventually, he wrote a memoir. When the people of Tadibya elected a new mayor, it was Vadim's wife, Marta, who seemed pleased about the whole thing.

Sofya Morozov moved back to the capital, acting as a liaison for the fishery's exports. She was frequently seen at dance halls and other dubious establishments.

Maxi went on as he always had done, the premier thief and grifter in tadibya, happy to be the big fish in a little (though slowly expanding) pond.

The priest, Viktor, finally felt as though the grim business that had begun when he arrived in town had finished, and he too returned to the capital, before retiring from the church and running a charity house instead.

The children of the town found new games to play, the phylactery game had lost its charm. Misha's gang remained in name only, a name that would be passed down to successive clusters of children who would never know where it had begun.

Ivan and Mila made it to New Astoria, and were very happy indeed, their tales too numerous and exciting to do justice in a single summation.

Mirtophan expanded the post office as the town expanded, and eventually even established regular service outside of the town. He was frequently seen around town in the company of Sasha.

Sasha, meanwhile, experienced a newly repaired reputation in town, as he expanded the old mansion into a real hospital, and lured young medics into Tadibya from the capitol to work. He worked diligently to save more lives than he had harmed.

Lukyan was never seen or spoken of in the town again, as if he had never really been there at all.

Granny Bobbin likewise drifted out of the town and into legend. Her letters, bizarre and inscrutable, full of snarking wisdom and rude humor, were delivered mysteriously to the town for long years after she had gone.

Rook moved out of the phylactery and into a proper house-- purchased by none other than Darya Chernoff, with whom he had begun to research the true history of the town masters, and the arcane secrets of gaea. The two of them came and went from Tadibya like the wind, off on mysterious journeys of their own, and when Konstantin was asked how he felt about his wife's dalliance, he always said that he was glad she was finally able to follow her heart.

END