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Chapter Eighteen - Das Vadanya

Chapter Eighteen

Pазбей меня

The door to Jack’s room is open. Within, Ada finds rotten crumbs of food, bloody bandages, and more that a few flies. The smell makes her want to vomit. But despite all the things she finds that are left behind, Jack isn’t among them.

Ada is too late. They’ve already taken him.

Hot, boiling anger roils inside her chest like a kettle about to blow. The only thing she can do to relieve the tension is slam her fist against the wall as hard as she can.

“Wait and see, huh? What piss poor fucking advice. I know you can hear me Cowell, you bastard!” she shouts to the empty hallway. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

She’s met only with silence.

Of course he doesn’t respond. As the pain from the wall hits her like a horse, she faces the fact that it wasn’t Cowell who made this choice. It was her.

“God… fucking… dammit!” Her voice trembles as a streak of hot tears run down her cheek. No, she will not cry. She can’t. Not now. Not ever again.

Ada has only herself to blame for this mess. She’s been residing in this manor, living shoulder to shoulder with these people for more than two months. She’d been given everything: a job, the ability to literally hide in plain sight, and she’d wasted it. Wasted all of it on fear.Ada has to get him back. There is no hiding from it now. Either she gets him back, or he will most likely be dead by the day’s end. No matter what condition he’s in, no matter what other countless obstacles she’ll face, she has to try. He’s her brother.

Before she has a chance to hesitate, Ada takes off running, back down the hallway. She knows where they’ve taken him, where this all will end. It has to be.The cellar.

~~ o ~~

Mishka isn’t really conscious of anything that is happening for a few minutes. It isn’t until Ivan is dragging him and Maria across the wind-whipped courtyard that he even vaguely understands what’s happening. And it isn’t until Ivan deadbolts the door behind them with a heavy clunk that he is able to think at all.

With only the small cracks around the outside of the door to see each other by, the two stand at the top of the stairs for a long time, each struggling with what they want to say.

Eventually, it’s Mishka who breaks the silence. “I… have no excuse for my actions.” He hangs his head, even if she can’t really see it.

“Don’t be ridiculous. My brother killed someone very important to you. He’s my brother. I love him very much, but… but even I know that his actions were unforgivable. Anyone would want revenge.” Even as she is defending him, it is with the harshest tone he’s ever heard her use.

“Well, I meant about that, of course, but…” he hesitates for only a moment before plowing forward. “More so about how I treated you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I didn’t believe you, about your dream. I jumped to the worst possible conclusion and slandered your character. I shouted at you, I was… violent.”

“Like I said, anyone would have—”

“No,” he interrupts her quietly, but firmly. “That is no excuse for my behavior. You let me into your confidence and I betrayed you. I’m sorry.”

Maria giggles a little, and he feels her hand touch his cheek. “You were scared. I’ve seen far worse reactions to the feeling. Yet, the apology is appreciated. But I have something to apologize for as well. I violated your deepest thoughts, no doubt utterly against your will. And to top it all off I shoved it right back at you. I want you to know that it was entirely unintentional, and I apologize as well.”

“You had no idea that memory belonged to me.” He placed his hand on hers. “I… have to ask,” Mishka adds after a pause. “How… did you see that, exactly?”

“I told you the truth,” Maria sighs. “I saw it in a dream. Something has been… wrong with me since I was a little girl. Sometimes, maybe once every few months or so, I’d get a terrible headache, and when I would fall asleep I would… see things. Eventually I learned to, I suppose, control the dreams, and I didn’t see things anymore. But for the past few years the headaches have gotten more and more frequent, and so the other day I just… couldn’t control it anymore.”

“And you dreamed about Bloody Sunday?” Mishka tries to keep the incredulity out of his voice. “Vasily’s death?”

“I dreamed of a lot of things,” she admits, “but that was one of them, yes, I’m sorry I… didn’t tell you, it’s not something that you can just come out and say. Ivan knows a little, but Tasha’s the only one I’ve ever really told.”

He chuckles at her remorse, the sounds bouncing hollowly against stone walls. “I doubt I would have believed you had you said anything. I’m still having trouble with it now.”

“Yet, even so, yesterday you… listened to me.” The way she’s mumbling makes him think that she might be blushing. “Even if it was all a lie, if you were just using me to get to my brother, still I… thank you for your kindness.”

Mishka remains silent for a minute. Behind those words is an accusation, and a question. One that he is now made abruptly aware he doesn’t really have an answer to. And yet, an answer he must give her. What were those words he was thinking, back then? When it was her tears that stopped him from committing the unforgivable? If he just starts talking, maybe it will come to him.

“It’s true,” he begins methodically, “that when I first came to this manor, my intentions towards you were not exactly… honest. Yet, I think… even then, that was just an excuse I was telling myself.”

In the darkness, he fumbles for her hand, and upon finding it, grips it tightly in his own. “You looked… lonely, and sad, just… just like how I felt. But as I got to know you I think… some part of me saw just how much more than that you are. Even despite how ill you get, you can still play the piano. You aren’t consumed by the injustice of your life like I am.”

“You exaggerate.” She sounds so… down as she says that.

“I’m not,” he insists. “It’s why I’ve fallen in love with you.”

There is silence for a long time. Try as he might, there is just no way for him to make out her expression. He has no idea why he even said that. Mishka doesn’t even know if it’s true or not. But it must be, or the words would have never left his mouth.

Yet, he doesn’t get time to think about it.

“I wish you hadn’t said that,” Maria whispers, her voice fluttering. “Now I have to go down these stairs knowing it.”

Mishka has nearly forgotten that this dark room is at the top of a staircase, leading to only God knows where. “What’s at the bottom?” he asks.

“I’m not sure, but none of the others made it out alive.”

“I see,” he takes a deep breath.

Through the darkness, Maria releases a small, choked noise from the back of her throat. “I…” she manages. “I don’t want you to die too. Not you.”

“Well, you’re in luck.” Mishka awkwardly wipes a tear off her cheek, only by chance guessing correctly where it is. “I don’t particularly feel like dying either.”A small, watery laugh bubbles up through her tears.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen but, I think, if you grab my hand, we can figure some happier way out of this mess.”

Even though she doesn’t sound confident, she assents. “Alright. Let’s try.”

Deep down, he truly believes it. Though he doesn’t know what lies ahead. Because right now, he has at least one, small thing to live for. That’s what he thinks to himself, at least, as he and Maria take their first step towards whatever awaits them below…

~~ o ~~

Ivan paces the courtyard. Natalya told him to wait until it’s all over to make the trek down to the cellar, but he has no idea when that will be. All he can do is worry and wait for a sign.

This plan, this hope of her success is all he has now. Ivan tries, and fails, to keep his mind on that. Yet his thoughts keep drifting back to the tutor. Like an avenging angel from God, he had descended on high to smite the demon that is Ivan Volkov, to pay him back for his many trespasses of the sanctity of the flesh.

And yet he stayed his hand. Mikhail Borozov was too strong for that. He did not succumb, as Ivan had all those years ago, to the fear. All he’d had to do was pull that trigger. But he did not. That small action had condemned Ivan to Hell in its own way. He has no excuse now. Ivan is just an animal, a monster, plain and simple.

God has finally judged him, just as he’s always known he would. He can only pray now that his condemnation will be his alone, and that Natalya will be allowed to live. Though he doubts God will listen to any of his prayers anymore.

Ah, perhaps He is merciful after all. Because Ivan’s attention is abruptly drawn to the massive front doors, at the top of the stairs. There, just under the head of the beast sneering down at him, the doorknob is turning. He doesn’t know how he knows, but Ivan is convinced that whoever is on the other side of that door has come to kill him.

The door opens, and all Ivan can do is shake his head. Under any other circumstances, he would have relaxed as his eyes met those of the interloper. She’s just the maid, after all. But the look on Ada’s face and the kitchen knife shaking in her hand tells him that this is not the time to underestimate her.

“Move aside.” Her voice is even and barbed. “I know you have him down in that cellar of yours.”

“That’s a demand that leaves me with a lot of questions.” Ivan takes a single step towards her, silently readying his pistol. “First of all, just who do you think is down there?”

Only now does she betray her emotions, bouncing back and forth on her feet. “Don’t play dumb. You’re just fishing for time.”

“Actually, I am honestly very confused.”

“Jack!” she shouts. “Jack Steel! You’ve been holding him prisoner for two years, and now you’ve dragged him down there to do god only knows what. I can’t let you do anything more to him, he’s my only brother, dammit!”

“Good! You just answered my next question.” It’s true that Ivan is stalling for time, but not for the reason she thinks. Regardless of how feisty, a tiny, untrained girl with a kitchen knife will not put up much of a fight. And he really doesn’t want to kill her. If he was a better talker, he might have convinced her to back down. From what he knows of her, he doesn’t think Ada is a bad person. But Ivan really only has one skill, and that’s in the wielding of the cold metal in his hand.

He also, admittedly, needs time to process what she just said. Ivan doesn’t know why he never made the connection that she and the madman downstairs share the same last name. Natalya had never mentioned it though, so he just assumed it was a common one in England.

Between the communist and the little sister on a rescue mission, they really should have done a better job of screening the help. If the two of them hadn’t been so ill-prepared, so young, they might have actually stood a chance at putting a dent in their plans.

As it stands, however, it now falls to Ivan to clean up the mess. It really is a shame. She’s so young, so smart. She managed to find out her brother was here, and hide her connection to him, completely under all their noses. Well, he supposes that no one ever pays attention to the maid.

“Then I just have one more question for you,” he keeps his voice as casual as he can. “What will you do if I refuse?”

Ada doesn’t say anything, and he’s given hope for a split second that she might back down. But then, even by his standards, something… unusual happens. Ada vanishes.Ivan looks around, confused, before just a moment later he feels her breath on his ear and the knife against his throat.

“Is that a good demonstration?” she asks.

“Yes, absolutely.” Ivan laughs, the sound much louder than he intended as it bounces off the stone walls. “This may prove to be more interesting than I thought.”

~~ o ~~

Mishka really doesn’t know what he expected to find down in that cellar. A prison full of moaning victims? A lab packed with steam and beakers, miscellaneous liquids curdling in each one? Perhaps. But there isn’t anything like that, at least that he can see. An old table or two covered with papers and books, a few dusty cabinets. The only thing that registers as even remotely strange is whatever is covered by a cloth sitting at its center.

Natalya leans against one of the tables, her silhouette flickering in the candlelight. In her hand is a gun, which she holds slightly away from herself, as if not comfortable with its presence.

On either side of her, each a short distance away, is Katya, who squeaks pitifully when she sees him emerge from the stairway, and a man that he doesn’t recognize. He squats on the floor, rocking back and forth and humming to himself. There’s only one person who comes to mind: the missing Jack Steel, Mishka’s first predecessor. “I was about to go looking for you myself,” Natalya says flatly when she looks up from a book. “I take it you and Ivan finished your business. No regrets?” “I—” “Good. It’s best to die without any.” “So you are going to kill me.” Mishka narrows his eyes. “Do you honestly think I won’t fight back?” “You won’t.”

Lazily, Natalya gestures Maria away from him. She looks like she might protest, but then her eyes widen an inch as she starts to whimper, doubling over as she squeezes her temple with a hand turned white as paper.

Natalya looks concerned, and grabs Maria gently before she falls. “He’s already affecting you this much?” she mumbles, or he guesses something like it, as when Mishka tries to follow, Natalya points her gun at him. “You stay right where you are,” she says. Once he’s raised both hands in the air, and she’s satisfied, she helps Maria into a chair. “I’m sorry you have to be this close to Him. I know it must be painful.” She whispers. “It will all be over soon.” “Please,” Maria winces through the pain. “Don’t hurt him.”

Mishka has to fight with himself to not run over to her and throw Natalya off.

But a second later, Natalya turns back, and stalks across the room towards him. “Do you see what He has done to her? I am trying to stop it. I think you would like her torment to end as well, yes?”

He nods, though he still does his best to stare her piercing eyes down. “Then you will help me, without complaint, not a single question uttered. Do you understand?”

What choice does he have? “I’ll help you,” he purses his lips. “But I have many questions to ask.”

Natalya smiles cruelly, antagonizing laughter emerging from her throat. “That, I think, is something I can compromise on. Katyusha!” She whips around to where the girl has been whimpering in the corner. “It’s time.”

Katya hesitates, but stands and takes a few steps towards them. Yet as the air around them is pulled as taut as tightrope, she glances back over to Jack in the other corner, laughing softly to himself and scratching at the side of his head. She takes a deep breath, and stares firmly up at Natalya. “I said I wasn’t going to help you anymore.”

Laughing, Natalya waves her off. “Don’t be absurd. Do what needs to be done.” “No!” Katya shouts. “No more! No more blood, no more pain, no more screaming! I can’t sleep for all the screams! I don’t want Monsieur Borozov to die. I want him to keep teaching me! And Monsieur Steel too! Give them back, Natalya! Give them—“

But she doesn’t get a chance to finish. Natalya may have been temporarily stunned by her outburst, but it doesn’t last long. She wrenches her arm back and backhands Katya with such force that the child skids across the floor. “Stupid little cunt,” she snarls. “I’ll take care of you later.”

Once again, Mishka steps forward to help, but Natalya’s attention immediately snaps back to him. She points the gun directly at his face as she stomps towards him. “I’m not supposed to touch any of the parts,” she states as if Mishka has any idea what she’s talking about. “But luckily, this one should be fairly easy to extract.”

Grabbing a handkerchief from the pocket of her skirt, she uses it to grab Mishka’s left hand and separate his pinky finger from the rest. Then out comes a very sharp surgical knife.

Even though he said he would help, Mishka’s eyes immediately dart over to the one exit and he calculates his chances of even making it to the stairs before he realizes that it’s hopeless. Sweat pours down his face and his eyes are thoroughly locked on the thin, gleaming metal of that blade.Natalya just laughs as he squirms. “I won’t lie to you. This is going to hurt. A lot. But it will hurt a lot less if you stay very still…”

~~ o ~~

Ivan is smiling. For the life of him he doesn’t know why. He hasn’t felt like this in a long time. That roar of blood in his ears, the loud thumping of his heart. For the first time in three years, Ivan is reminded that he is alive.

It’s a feeling you can only experience, ironically, when you’re close to death. And Ivan is so very close. Though small, a knife can be an absolutely deadly weapon if used correctly. Even if used incorrectly, any sort of wound will slow him down enough to give her an even bigger advantage. Any mistake on his part will most likely prove fatal.

Maybe that’s what he wants, ultimately. He doesn’t have the strength to do it himself, to take his own life with those hands that have taken so many. And that would be a pathetic, miserable end anyway. Going out protecting his family, and their future? At least that will mean something.

Yet this is not how he wanted it to happen. He’d reserved it for Mishka, who had every right to carry out his execution. This girl might be able to say the same for Natalya, but that’s a damn shame, isn’t it? Because Ivan will not let anyone lay a hand on her ever again. “It is truly a shame,” he says cheerfully, as he sidesteps yet another swipe of Ada’s knife. “If we were simply alone in the north wing, maybe I might have just stepped aside.” “And why won’t you do that now?” She has trouble talking in between her gasping breaths. Even if he can’t see her, those expulsions are helping him determine where she is. Come to think of it, how is she doing that? Fading into the shadows so effectively that she’s nearly invisible. He hasn’t even spared it a second thought until now. He supposes that, all things considered, this isn’t the strangest thing he’s seen. “Because I cannot let you make it to the cellar,” he smiles bitterly. “Nothing can stop Tasha now.”

He can feel the frustration in her swing as it clangs off the barrel of his pistol. “Even if it means the death of my brother?” “Perhaps it is selfish of me, but I simply do not care.” “Well, then I can’t let you stop me.”

Listening carefully, Ivan hears the squelch of mud where her boot just stepped. He aims carefully. “It seems we cannot help but be opposed then.”

He fires.

There’s a sharp intake of breath, but no blood, just a small plop as the bullet lands harmlessly in the snow. Ivan swears under his breath, and makes to aim again.

Except that he’s concentrating too hard. He hears the slight woosh of air just a second too late, and the sharp bite of the knife against his arm makes him wince. It’s only a small cut, it won’t slow him down much, but he clicks his tongue. It looks like he wasn’t the first to draw blood.

Or, on the other hand, maybe he is. There, in the corner of the courtyard, is blood on the snow. He must have grazed her after all. Unfortunately for the maid, a flesh wound might prove far more fatal for her that it is for him.

More drops of red appear a few feet away. So he follows its movements, and thusly, her. “I didn’t even know Jack had a sister,” Ivan calls to her, gripping his arm. It may not be a bad wound, but it still hurts like a son of a bitch. “He was rather young when he came to us,” he continues, turning a slow circle to follow her. “You are not younger than him, I hope?” “So what if I am,” comes the reply.Ivan stops moving. “Ahh, that does not make me happy.” “Well, perhaps you should have thought about that before you locked him up for two years.”

He sighs. “I doubt it would have changed anything. There’s a reason we’re doing all of this, you know. We have to fix the mistakes of our predecessors.” “Maybe this is selfish of me,” her voice comes out strained, “But I simply do not care.”

Ivan chuckles. “But if I did,” she continues. “I’d say that one doesn’t often fix mistakes by making more of your own.” Her words bite, but it’s no matter to him. He is already tainted beyond repair. “How many lives have you lot ended in this… insane quest? How many more do you think you’ve ruined in the process?” “In the end, does it matter if it’s one or a hundred?” he asks. “You should understand the lengths one goes to protect one’s family.” “You have a point,” she assents. “In order to save my brother, I’ll do anything. Even drag myself down to the same depths of hell as you.”

In an instant, Ivan hears her voice from behind him. Too close, far too close. He whips around, not even aiming, and fires his gun.

Whatever spell, or illusion Ada’s been using disappears. Yet if she’s wounded, it’s hard to say where. In an odd haze, Ivan’s vision blurs, and with a movement like molasses, he looks down to see her knife in his stomach. It’s so strange. All of the other wounds he’d ever received hurt like hell. But this one, this one just feels warm.

Ahh, he can see it now, blooming on her chest like a flower opening towards the sun. She didn’t miss, but neither did he. “If it’s any consolation,” he burbles around the blood tricking from his mouth. “I was rooting for you. I really was.”

Her voice comes out as barely a whisper, and she wheezes as she breathes. “I’m just mad you’re such a good shot.”

Ivan blinks several times, for he thinks he must be seeing things. For the first time since he’s met her, a broad smile breaks out across Ada’s face. It’s a smile that draws you right in, a girlish smile. Ivan closes his eyes. He can’t look at it anymore. For the first time, Ivan thinks he might have destroyed something truly beautiful.

A second later, he hears her collapse onto the muddy snow. He goes down a little more gracefully, but he falls nonetheless. “She might not kill him,” he says quietly. “After all this is over, Tasha might not even be human.” “Don’t say that,” she replies after a very long time. “You know it’s not true.” “You’re right. I’m a very bad liar.”

Ada doesn’t respond. Maybe she’s already dead.

Ivan won’t last much longer himself. Already the world is growing dim. He sighs, wishing things could have been different even here at the end. “Well, Tasha,” he says to no one in particular. “I won’t be here to kill you now, so you absolutely cannot fail…”

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