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Chapter Eight - Das Vadanya

Chapter Eight

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She should be waiting for a plan, backup, anything. If she’s discovered now, the cards will be all out on the table and that will be the end of her quest. But this is something new. Ada has seen both of the older sisters sneak off to the north wing at various points, but never in such a frantic hurry. And this time, Ivan is with them, carrying Maria in his arms like she weighs no more than a sack of flour.

He and Natalya are muttering to each other in anxious tones, but Ada can’t get close enough to hear. She flits from shadow to shadow, staying as close as she dares. Natalya pushes back the curtain that separates the northern hallway from the rest of the house, and the three of them are gone.

But it is here that Ada stops in her tracks. Up till now she’s had plausible deniability, but one step beyond these curtains is strictly prohibited. If she’s discovered there... well, she supposes that she won’t be worrying about Jack anymore.

But she has to make a move sometime, right? How long has she been here? Two months, bordering on three. Is she just going to keep waiting, and waiting on the people who have her brother? No, she’s going to take Mishka’s arrival as a sign. Now she has a potential accomplice, a potential witness. If she says that she’s been in the servant’s quarters all afternoon, he’ll say the same. Because if he doesn’t, she knows his secret.

A small pang hits her chest as she remembers that she has yet to tell him herside of things, but that can wait.

Right now, she takes a deep breath, and as silent as a draft through a window she continues to follow their voices; through the curtain and beyond.

The north wing is just as dark and dusty as she imagined. Officially, it isn’t in use, as it’d be far too much work to maintain, and the space is never used for anything, besides. So it had been closed off and left to fall into disrepair.

Each of the windows has heavy sheets draped over them from ceiling to floor, painting the whole hall in a uniform darkness. This isn’t ideal, but she makes due, sticking firmly to the spaces in between the few shafts of light that sneak through the heavy cloth. The twins have gotten further away than she likes, but she catches just a short glimpse of them before they enter a room towards the end of the expanse. Ada creeps up as quietly as she can.

The door is solid wood, no way at all for her to peer inside, but she can still listen.

“Put her there,” Natalya is saying, and there’s a gentle thump. Ivan must have put Maria down somewhere. But why bring an ailing girl to an abandoned, empty room?

Then Ada freezes, because it is then she realizes that the room is not empty at all.

“What are... you doing?” slurs out a new voice. Clearly male, but it can’t be Ivan, because with a jolt Ada realizes that the voice is speaking not in Russian, but in English. She can’t help herself, her breath catches in her throat, and the sound is just loud enough to be audible.

“Did you hear something?” Ivan asks suddenly, and Ada’s hand goes to her mouth. There is silence in the room for a good few seconds.

But Ada is able to let that breath out as the fourth voice speaks again. “Why... why won’t you speak to me?”

Of course, neither of the coherent Volkov siblings know English, so the man’s question is again ignored. “Keep him still,” Natalya instructs, Ada seemingly forgotten. After her instructions must have been followed, she continues in a much softer tone. “Find him if you can, Maria. Keep him in your garden as long as you can.”

The next minute or so brings sounds that Ada finds nearly indescribable. Whimpers, moans, and shaking so hard that it causes the harsh grating of metal to cut straight through her eardrums. She’s about to break into the room just to see what’s happening when it simply stops. Silence hangs over the corridor for what seems like an eternity.

But just before it happens, Ada can feel the change in the air, feel someone open their mouth to speak.

“It feels nice to get some fresh air.” This is an entirely new voice, speaking in Russian, but too low to be even Ivan. “The inside of his mind is so... damp. To what do I owe the pleasure, Mademoiselle Volkovna?” There something unpleasant in that last sentence, the sneering way they refer to Natalya, but Ada can’t place her finger on it.

“We’re almost ready,” Natalya responds stiffly. “I thought you’d be interested in knowing that you won’t have to deal with damp brains for much longer.”

Your little project?” the voice asks lazily. “I do sincerely hope for your sake that it works. Because I’m growing bored. And we all know what I’ll do if I get too bored.”

The woman scoffs. “I know your rules. You can’t get to me unless I let you.”

It’s only a matter of time, my dearest,” the voice chuckles, and the coldness sends a shiver down Ada’s spine. “You know you were always meant to be mine.

“I belong to no one, least of all you.” There is vitriol in her words, but her voice shakes nonetheless.

That’s not what you father thought when he gave you to me on that cold, winter night.

There’s a commotion, a sudden shifting of weight, and the voice laughs again. “I see. Sicking your guard dog on me, hmmm?”

“You say another word like that to her and I’ll shoot a bullet right between these eyes,” Ivan chimes in suddenly.

But the voice seems unconcerned. “More like a lap dog for all he’s worth. He knows that that will only hurt this poor boy, not me. Now, is that really all you came here to say?

“I have just one more question,” Natalya’s voice is quiet now. “When you are done with it, what will happen to our friend’sbody?”

There is silence for a moment. “I don’t understand the question. What do you mean: ‘what will happen?’”

“You don’t have to play his mind games, Tasha,” Ivan says. “He’s just trying to toy with you.”

But Natalya ignores him. “I mean,” she hesitates. “From what you’re said, this situation is... not ideal for him.”

Ada frowns. They seem to be referring to yet another person. But who could that person be? And what are they doing to him? Is it that man who was speaking English earlier?

The cold voice laughs. “Is that guiltI’m hearing, my dearest? Certainly not from you. I thought you were willing to do whatever it took to save yourself?

“Quit laughing, you fucking bastard.” Ivan barely manages to get the words out through the grinding of his teeth.

“Vanya, please,” Natalya intones. “Answer the question.”

Our dear friend is still very much alive,” the voice states, “When I’m done with him, he shouldn’t be too far gone—if, that is, you hurry. Whether he’ll still be sane is another matter altogether, however.

With every word Ada’s eyes get wider and wider. Even is this has nothing to do with Jack, they are downright torturing someone, or something equally as horrible, from the sounds of it. Though she tries to remain silent, she can’t help but whisper: “What in the bloody fuck?”

“There is someone there,” Ivan growls, and Ada panics. She shrinks back into the hallway’s long shadows, and holds her breath. A second later, the door opens, and Ivan peaks his head outside. Ada can’t help but tremble a little even as she’s craning her neck to try to see into the room behind him.

He shouldn’t be able to see her, she knows this, yet she’s still terrified of the possibility that he somehow might. His head tilts this way and that, eyes narrowed. But after a moment, he frowns and steps back into the room, closing the door firmly behind him.

As soon as it’s shut, Ada starts running back down the hall, legs getting tangled in her long skirt. She won’t get anything more out of the conversation, if she got much at all in the first place, and she has no intention of sticking around for when Ivan opens that door again.

One thing is burning crystal clear in her mind, a single thought eclipsing all others. English. That other voice, it spoke English. And though it was garbled and there was no way to be certain of its identity, there is only one person she knows who was ever at this manor that speaks the language. She strides forward with certainty now. This is what she has to do next. She has to get into that room.

~~ o ~~

Maria is somewhere very far away. Away from the pain in her head and the aching of her stomach. Somewhere the world can’t touch her. She sits in the middle of nothing, just her and the glow of a light she can’t see, soft and yellow on her face. Maybe it emanates from her very being?

For a minute, she just appreciates slipping into that world, away from the cold and the sadness. But of course, as always, Maria is slowly made aware of the fact that she is not truly alone. All around her are spots that seem... deeper than the rest of the darkness somehow, like the very air is a piece of cloth that someone is pinching together.

She tries her very hardest not to touch them, however close they come. She will not make that mistake again. Even with her caution, some sounds still leak from their contents. From the one on her right she can make out the short rasps of gunfire, and from the one to her left she hears a harsh wind and muffled sobbing.

But Maria doesn’t have to be here. This is her own mind—she thinks—and she can go wherever she wants. She squeezes her eyes shut tightly, and imagines the field of sunflowers that bloom outside the manor every brief summer. It’s quiet there, and breezy, and seems so very far away from the cold, compressed manor.

When she opens her eyes, the great, green stalks surround her, and she flops onto her back, allowing the dirt to coat her hair and dress. There is no one here to care if she is dirty. For a while, she simply lays in the garden, taking in the crisp air. But then she becomes aware of a rustling just ahead of her. Someone else has entered her garden.

Maria stands slowly, and ambles over to the shaking stalks. She pushes one aside, trying to avoid startling whoever it may be.

Sitting in a heap, head staring directly up at the sky, is a man. His hair is long and tangled, his face gaunt and vacant. Maria remains quiet for a while. This is his first time seeing the sun in a long time. And perhaps there’s a bit of guilt in her hesitation. She herself is culpable in this poor man’s fate, after all.

“You don’t have to hover.” His voice is cracked and husky from disuse, but his accent is still detectable underneath it all. Even if his Russian is very good—when he’s coherent, at least—it's hard to hide an accent. “I don’t hold anything against you.”

She pushes the last stalk out of her way and takes a step towards him. “I think you probably should. I’m just as much a part of this as my siblings.”

“I s’pose,” he admits. “But you’re the only one who has ever given me any peace.” As he breathes in deeply, he glances up at her and pats the ground beside him.

Though she’s still hesitant, Maria sits. “I just wanted to give you a rest.”

“How do you do it? Whatever this is?” The man gestures vaguely to the garden around them. “Unless I’ve finally gone completely mad and you aren’t even real in the first place.”

“Even if I told you I was, there’s no way to really know,” Maria admits. “And I really don’t know. I’ve always gotten terrible headaches, but after father died they started to get worse and then, little by little, this started to happen.”

The man nods, pondering, and the two sit in silence for a while, listening to the birds chirping as the wind sweeps through their hair. Somewhere, at the very back of her mind, she has begun to feel the pounding heartbeat in her head once more, but she tries to ignore it. Just a little longer. She needs to keep him here as long as she can. For Natalya’s sake.

“What do you think is happening... out there?” He breaks the silence.

“I don’t know. Natalya never tells me that part.” Maria closes her eyes briefly. Around her is the crinkle of bed sheets instead of the wind and birds. No, not yet. It’s too soon. She doesn’t want him to have to return to the dark and cold. Even colder and darker than her own mind.

“It’s almost over again, isn’t it?” The man’s voice sounds very far away.

“I’m sorry,” she cringes as her head throbs. “I’m trying, I really am.”

“It’s alright,” he sighs. “You don’t have to push yourself.”

“But I... I wanted to tell you, before I go: it’s almost over!” She struggles to get the words out. “The last one is finally here! So please, hang on just a little longer! Just a little longer, Jack!”

But he doesn’t respond, for her garden has disappeared, leaving her lost and alone once more.

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