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Chapter Sixteen - Das Vadanya




Chapter Sixteen

Темный рай


The dining room is exceptionally quiet, the only sounds the clinking of Natalya and Ivan’s silverware, and the crackling of the fire, stoked high to keep out that winter chill that pervades well into the spring. It’s just them for breakfast this morning. Katya’s absence is to be expected, the goblin is rarely awake until the last possible minute before her lessons. Maria’s is more noteworthy, if not entirely rare, but Natalya suspects that she might be suffering from an entirely different sort of headache this morning.


So it’s just her and Ivan. Whenever this occurs, for posterity’s sake they tend to keep their interactions brief, lest one of their siblings or a servant enter at just the wrong moment. Today, however, may be either one of their last days on this earth. Propriety is not exactly the first thought on her mind.


“You remember the plan?” she breaks the silence.


Ivan nods, for once entirely sober. Maybe too sober, as he has a strange look in his eyes that she’s not sure if she’s fond of. “I incapacitate the tutor.”


“I know it’s not exactly the ideal task,” she concedes, reaching in to grab his arm from around the corner of the table. “But you’re the only one I can rely on.”


He sighs, and places his hand on hers. “I know,” he nods again. “It’s probably for the best anyway. You know he almost tried to hit me with a candlestick the other day. He decided against it, ultimately, but he does not seem to like me very much. Maybe he’s a communist?”

“A communist?” Natalya’s eyes widen. “Maybe I should have been more careful with the selection of tutors. I didn’t give a very close look to any of them. Who knows what they’ve been teaching Katya.”

Ivan chuckles then, but the two quickly fall silent, the pressure of the day muffling all other emotions. Natalya feels him squeeze her hand, and it calms her racing heart.

“I don’t know what will happen today,” she mutters. “How can I?”


“Are you scared?” he asks.

She has to think about it for a moment. “I… I don’t know.”

As his grip on her hand tightens, she’s surprised to find him shaking. “I am,” he says. “I hate that thing, and what it’s… done to the people in this house. What if it’s right? What if this is all in vain?”


“Not possible.”


“That’s not true,” he says, glancing back up at her.


“I know, theoretically, that it’s not,” her gaze hardens. “But failure is not a possibility. Not for me. The instant I start thinking like that, it’s won.” She’s stunned to hear a tremble in her own voice.

“You liar,” Ivan smiles, just a little. “You’re as scared as I am.”

Again, she pauses. “You know, I think I might be.”

She believes her own words, of course. Failure is not an option. But that just makes its prospect all the more terrifying. Her resolve is the only thing that can protect her against Him. Natalya won’t even think about what will happen if she fails. She’s seen it first hand, of course, but there’s no way it could ever happen to her.

Yet somewhere, deep down at the most sensitive part of her nerves, Natalya knows that her loss of control is a very possible outcome, and that is why her lip trembles despite herself.

“Ivan,” she steadies her voice as much as she can. “I need you to promise me something.”

He nods, gripping her hand tightly still, but looks away, knowing what she’s going to say.

“Whatever happens, I cannot let that thing have me. If it comes to it, I need you to… be the one…”


“You can’t ask this of me.”

She touches his cheek, and turns his face to look at her. “Please. It must be you. If He is inside of me, then I am already dead. For Him to use my corpse would be the utmost disgrace.”

“Tasha…”


“Promise me.” Her heart is steel, her gaze uncompromising. She knows how selfish it is of her to ask this of him. To ask him to kill something yet again. But if he doesn’t agree, she cannot move forward knowing that not every outcome is at least accounted for.

Ivan closes his eyes, but finally, answers her. “Alright.”

Natalya doesn’t know if he is telling the truth, but if he isn’t, she knows that Maria will convince him somehow.

But that horror will not befall her. She believes she will succeed, although she cannot fathom what that really means. Shaking off that black terror, she wraps her arms around Ivan’s neck, trying to memorize his smell, his warmth, in case she will be unable to see him ever again.

“Whatever happens, it’s all over today.”

He hugs her to him, breathing quickly. “Please, don’t fail,” he begs, and for the longest time they sit like that, both afraid to let go…

~~ o ~~

With the morning sun just rising over the great hills around the manor, and not much more time available to her, Maria puzzles over the thoughts she saw in her dream. She doesn’t know why she feels compelled to do this now, on the day that’s so important to Natalya, but she feels that it’s important somehow, that perhaps she can glean something of use for their current predicament.

So she sits in the library, a small piece of paper laid out in front of her, and tries not to rest the pen on its surface for too long as she’s thinking, lest it leave ugly blotches.

All in all, Maria has pieced together that there seems to be at least six different thoughts—dreams, maybe?—involved, possibly more.

Of these, she can place half of them fairly easily. She got confirmation of Natalya’s last night, and after that talk, is equally confident that the horrible battlefield is Ivan’s. The coffin is more tricky. She doesn’t know why, but she feels like it might belong to Jack.


Maria recognized another voice as well, Katya’s, which makes four potential matches.


There are two, maybe three remaining. Of those, she hovers over one in particular, maybe because it seems so out of place: that land of mist dyed in purple and green. All of the rest of the dreams are relatively real, even the coffin, despite that scenario never actually occurring, at least to her knowledge. But that Other place, with no ground to speak of, seems like something that just cannot be.


Over and over again, she thinks through it: that weightless feeling, the strange, dog-like creature, none of it makes any sort of sense. Maria’s mouth is dry, and her head is foggy from the previous night. Maybe it’ll all make more sense later. If there even is a later, she supposes.


That leaves the final two. Those first two dreams she saw. In one, she had a woman’s throat. In the other, a man’s. Most of the women in the manor are already accounted for, save the maid and the cook. From what she saw, the room around her had a sort of… lower-class look to it, but for all she knows she could have been seeing the thoughts of a woman in the village a not uncrossable distance away.

There was no one she knows in that one. For the moment, she lets it rest. Maria doesn’t think it’s important, and it isn’t a very pleasant thing to think about anyway.


Then there’s the second dream. Maria knows for a fact that Ivan was in it. That makes it important.


But she doesn’t get much of a chance to think it over, as just then the door to the library creaks open. Maria’s heart skips a beat as the intruder pokes his head in the doorway. Mishka.

Maria is ashamed to admit that she’s been avoiding thoughts of their… encounter yesterday. She didn’t think in the heat of the moment, but it was incredibly inappropriate, and she was not in a rational frame of mind, and really, how rude it was of her to impose herself upon a servant like that.

But he was warm.

Everything in this manor is so cold, so rigid. This is a place where the halls are stalked only by suspicions, and melancholy. How else could it be, with that thing in the north wing hanging over all their heads like a veritable sword of Damocles?


But Mishka had been so… alive. His lips had been soft and his touch gentle. He is everything this place is not, and even now she longs to feel that otherness as he meets her eyes from across the room.


“We… seem to keep running into each other like this,” she can see him struggling not to look away from her as he shuts the door behind him.


“For once I’m the one who’s not supposed to be here,” Maria realizes. “You have lessons with Katya, don’t you?”

She stands, making to leave. She can’t be doing this. Today is the day, after all. The final day. There’s a very real chance that Mishka will not be alive tomorrow. None of the others were. And Natalya isn’t a person whose mind can very easily be changed. She cannot stop it. Not after Natalya has worked so hard.


But Mishka doesn’t know this. “There’s plenty of time before lessons begin,” he takes a step towards her. “Please, stay.”

Maria sits back down as he pulls up a chair next to her. She needs to leave. Even now she can picture that look of betrayal in his eyes. But she doesn’t want to. Selfish. She’s being so terribly selfish.


“What are you working on?” he asks, tilting his head to look at her paper.


Maria flinches, but fights the urge to cover it up. She already said too much yesterday. Best not to draw too much importance to it.

“Just thinking about that… that dream I had yesterday,” she shrugs, trying desperately to keep her face placid.

“Ahh, that one.”


“I said some very silly things to you,” she lies with little confidence. “It was merely confusion, from my illness and all. It was a very vivid dream.”

“I’m no stranger to that,” he admits. “Sometimes I don’t even know where I am when I wake up. They occasionally seem more… real than reality.”

Maria doesn’t say this, but she thinks with confidence that he has no idea what’s he’s talking about. “I thought I was the only one who got dreams like that,” she says instead. “I heard somewhere that sometimes dreams mean something. And this one struck me as rather… meaningful, so I was trying to write it all down, just to see if anything… stood out.”


It’s not entirely a lie. Maria finds it much easier to hide information than to make it up entirely.

She hopes that he’ll write it off as frivolous, but instead he leans in closer. “And did anything?”

If he reads what’s on her paper, he’ll realize that this is no ordinary dream. “Well,” she says, trying to draw his attention back to her while covering up the sheet with her hand. Just say something, anything arbitrary. “Well,” she repeats. “There was this one part that still really confuses me.”

“Well, I’m certainly no dream expert,” he grins, a little sheepishly. “But maybe saying it out loud will help.”


Pausing, not thinking, Maria tries her hardest to put it into words. She doesn’t mind sharing some of her dream, as she’s just grateful that he’s not looking at the paper anymore. “It’s… snowing. And very cold. There’s a hole in one of my gloves, that’s how I can tell.”

Mishka tilts his head slightly.

“But that’s when I notice that they’re… covered in blood. There’s a man laying on the snow in front of me, but I didn’t kill him, I somehow know I didn’t. Then I hear a small click…”


This whole time, Mishka’s expression has been shifting, but she isn’t really paying attention anymore.


“So I look up and… someone is holding a pistol to my head. It takes me a second to realize who it is but… I think it’s Ivan—”

“How did you know?”


His voice is so quiet that it takes her a second to realize he’s said anything at all.


“Sorry, what was that?” she asks, desperately trying to pull herself back to reality.

“Even down to the hole in my glove.” The air is suddenly filled with something dangerous. Mishka is staring down at his hands, so she can’t see the expression on his face. “How the fuck did you know?”


It happens in an instant. Mishka finally looks back at her, his eyes filled with a rage she’s never seen before. She tries to shrink away, but he surges forward, grabbing her by the collar of her dress so she can’t get away. But now, as they are the closest they’ve been since yesterday, she sees something else. There’s anger in his eyes, yes. Maybe even hatred. But also, clear as crystal, the hand holding her in place is shaking. He’s afraid.


“How long have you known?” he demands.


“I...I—”

“I thought it was all too convenient. Being offered this job, Ivan not recognizing me at all, even though his face will never leave my mind. You’ve all just been fucking with me, haven’t you?”


“No, no,” she shakes her head vigorously. What is this? Why is he suddenly screaming nonsense at her? “I told you, I—I dreamed it.”

“You think I believe that for a second?” he growls. “Shit.” he seems to fight with himself for a moment. “Shit, shit, shit!” Mishka lets go of her and bolts from the room.

Maria is suddenly left alone, and she falls to her knees amidst the sudden cacophonous silence.


It was him. Maria doesn’t know when, or where, but that snowy day really happened. Her brother, her own flesh and blood, killed someone precious to him.


So why is he here now? Why degrade himself by working for the family responsible for that heinous act? The answer is simple, of course, though Maria can’t even bring herself to think it.


She doesn’t know what he’s going to do, or what she can hope to accomplish, but for once, Maria doesn’t think at all.


She stands, and runs out of the library after him.

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