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Chapter Ten - Das Vadanya

Chapter Ten

Пусть умрет

There is silence in the servant’s quarters for a long time. Mishka furrows his brow and Ada stares down at her lap, where her hands are clenched tightly into fists. Though he almost blurts out that he doesn’t believe her, Mishka holds his tongue. Clearly, this is all a very hard thing to relive. But a daemon? Monsters like that simply don’t exist. There are enough of those in the world already. Perhaps she is simply misremembering her encounter with this man. Maybe she doesn’t want to remember.

But Mishka needs to know the real story, so he decides to try to fill in some of his questions, and maybe with a small push, she’ll really remember.

“So... did daemon keep his promise?” he asks.

Ada takes a deep breath and slowly returns his gaze. “Yes,” she says. “When I woke up the next morning, I was delivered an envelope from a Monsieur Kapov from Russia. There was a letter explaining that his employers, the Volkovs, were looking to take on a new maid and that an acquaintance of his had recommended me. It was written entirely in Russian, mind you, but I somehow found that I could read it.”

“Wait,” Mishka interrupts. “The next day? You say that you were recommended by acquaintance, but that Mr. Cowell could not have contacted him so quickly in any meaningful way. Are you sure this ‘acquaintance’ wasn’t your brother?”

“Ahh, so you don’t believe me. I would have been worried if you had, if I’m honest. I’m not even sure I myself believed it until that package arrived.”

Mishka looks down, a little ashamed.

“I’m positive it wasn’t my brother,” Ada continues. “Why not just name him in the letter if I knew him as well? Besides, you’re forgetting; I hadn’t heard from my brother in a year. How could he be around to recommend me?”

“I suppose,” Mishka shrugs, still not convinced. “But I interrupt. Please continue.”

“Also in the envelope were a series of boat and train tickets that would take me to the heart of Russia. The first was for a train leaving in three hours.”

“Three hours? What about whorehouse debt? Was there money inside?”

“Only enough for miscellaneous expenses. Just a small message scrawled on the inside of the envelope: ‘An extra gift from me to you. Stick to the shadows. -C.’”

Now Mishka really is perturbed. “Cowell?”


“But how did he get message on inside of—?”

Ada cuts him off with a sour chuckle. “That actually has a rather simple answer, as you’ll see.” She waves a hand dismissively. “The important part is that when I stuck my arm into the shadows in the corner of my room, like this...”

She demonstrates with the shutters on the small window just above their heads, lifting her arm up towards the horizontal pattern they make on the wall. In the places where the shadows hit her, Ada’s arm disappears entirely. Well, maybe not entirely. If he squints he can see a sort of smudging of the air where her arm should be. But unless he looks for it he’d never be able to see it.

“...How...?” is all he manages to get out.

“Now do you believe me?” she sighs. “So essentially I just walked out. By the time anybody realized I was gone I must’ve been halfway to London.”

Mishka puts his face in his hands. Desperately he tries to rationalize what she’s told him. But ultimately, he’s now seen it with his own two eyes. A real daemon appeared to this girl and bartered with her. Yet if this is all true, really truly genuine, there’s still one thing that doesn’t make sense.

“I don’t understand,” he says finally. “He offered you so much, and all he ask for in exchange is your smile?”

She just shakes her head, a downcast expression crossing her features. “You don’t understand. I told you, didn’t I? My brother loved my smile. He said to me once that my smile was sometimes all that got him up in the morning. And now... when I finally see him again, I won’t be able to smile for him. Not then, and not ever. I can manage a small twitch on the one side, but that’s all. It’s not a deep price, but it is an... unfortunate one.”

“I found that I quite enjoyed the irony of it all, I think.”

Mishka stands. For he has just heard a voice that he does not recognize. Someone has been listening to their conversation. But Ada, for some reason, just sighs. “You’re just scaring him.”

With a sinister chuckle, a thin figure flops through the doorway. He looks a little strange with spectacles perched on his long nose and his suit-coat abandoned, but Mishka immediately realizes who the man is.

“Aren’t you... Kapov?” he asks, dumbfounded.

“Why, of course.”

But now he’s speaking perfect english and is sporting a devilish grin quite unusual for the quiet butler. Mishka shakes his head. “Wait one minute... Kapov... son of.... Cowl. Cowell!”

He takes a little bow. “We finally meet properly.”

“Can you see how the acquaintance wasn’t my brother now? It was all just this git here having a laugh.” Ada glares a hole through the bespectacled man. “Imagine, if you will, my shock when I arrived at the manor and this was the first thing to greet me.”

“Alright, alright,” Cowell claps his hands together. “That’s enough about me. We have a mission, don’t we? You have a brother to save, and you a friend to avenge.”

Mishka had just sat down, but nearly stands back up again. “How did you know about—?”

But Ada puts an arm on his shoulder. “Don’t bother. He somehow knows everything. Bit annoyingly smug about it, but so far he seems harmless.”

“Harmless? Is that all you think of me?” Cowell opens his mouth in mock offense, and Mishka finds himself desiring to shove something in there to shut him up, like a sock. “I’ve been nothing if not downright helpful.”

“Is he going to be part of plan-making?” Mishka asks.

All he receives in response is a long sigh. “I don’t think we could stop him if we tried.”

Said annoyance pulls up a chair and grins like a maniac. “Ahh, I always love the part where everyone finally comes together. So, better start with the ideas, then. Something tells me that you two may not have much time...”

~~ o ~~

Ivan is sitting in the hallway again, right outside the curtain to the north wing. He has a book in his hands, which he frowns at as his eyes slowly move back and forth across the pages. It looks comically small in his over-sized hands. Behind him, the curtain flutters somewhat ominously.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mishka can see Ada staring at it intently. It’s incredibly unnerving that he can only see the faintest glimmer of her outline as she has quite literally sunken into the shadows by one of the carved pillars. When did his life become so bizarre?

Three years ago, is the real answer. This benefits Ada, of course, but also himself. This will be his first real chance to speak with Ivan since coming to the manor. His job is simple, get Ivan away from the north wing, and keep him away as long as he can. They never said how he had to do it.

To be honest, he doesn’t even know how he’s going to start. But he needs to know. He needs to know if Ivan remembers. He can’t stand here forever, though, because Ada is waiting. So Mishka starts the longest walk of his life.

And yet somehow, it is over in a singular blink, and there he is, standing right in front of Vasily’s killer. Yet for some reason, Mishka can’t get a single word out of his frozen throat.

It takes Ivan a second to notice him, but when he finally looks up from his reading, he jumps a little. “Monsieur Borozov,” he says, “I apologize, I didn’t see you. How long have you been standing there?”

“Only a second,” He manages to wrench the words past his tongue.

Ivan waits a second for Mishka to continue, and when he doesn’t, continues for him. “So, what can I do for you, friend?”

“Oh, um, actually,” the panic jolts him into speech. “I... was wondering if I could borrow a minute of your time. It’s... uh... Katya. You see, she wanted to know some things about...” he pauses, struggling. It has to be a topic that Katya might reasonably ask about, something that Ivan might know something about, and one that could get him to speak about himself. Not an easy task. But in the split second before his pause would begin to appear unnatural, it comes to him. “Your family history,” he says, recovering. “I obviously don’t know much about it, so I was wondering if you might... enlighten me.”

But much to Mishka’s dismay, Ivan frowns. “Why wouldn’t she just ask me herself?”

“I think she was, uh... embarrassed.” Oh no, that phrase comes out before he actually has time to think of anything. Katya? Be embarrassed? In what reality? He cringes, knowing that Ivan will never buy it.

“Ah, that makes sense.” Ivan simply chuckles, shaking his head. “She rarely likes to admit that she doesn’t know something. I think she means to impress me.”

Mishka can’t believe that worked. He almost gets lightheaded from the relief and euphoria.

“Shall we head down to the library?” Ivan stands, towering over the rest of the room. “I believe there are some books about the subject down there.”

Ten minutes later and Mishka still can’t believe his luck. He stands idly by a stack of dusty tomes as Ivan searches a few shelves down. “I know it is somewhere here...” he mutters.

“I, uh, couldn’t help but notice that you have a large amount of books of an... occult nature in this library,” Mishka remarks, running a hand over a particular spine so beset by age that only the word “Solomon” remains in tarnished gold lettering.

“They’re mostly our father’s,” Ivan is only half-paying attention. “He went a bit... mad after mother died, I suppose.” He straightens up now, a book in hand. “Spent a lot of time in the cellar with many of them.” His face takes on a look of distaste for but a moment, but Mishka doesn’t fail to catch it. “But that is all in the past. As is this, thinking about it...”

He sets a large book down on the table. On it in silver lettering are the words: “Imperial Military Exploits.”

“To know the family history is really to know about the army.”

“The Volkovs have a lot of military men?” Mishka asks, somewhat sarcastically.

Yet either Ivan ignores it, or doesn’t notice. “The Volkovs were first given our nobility by the Tsar Peter way back when, for victories we led in the war against the Tartars. The family goes back much farther though. We think that the fortress around the house was probably built in the eleventh century, and as I’m sure you noticed from the... fortifications, it was made with defense in mind. The wolf, the hunter, is our symbol, after all. It’s even in the name. Fighting is just in our blood, I suppose.”

“You served as well, if I remember correctly,” Mishka tries to steer the conversation to the real thing he wants to speak of.

The small smile falls off Ivan’s face. “Ah, yes. I did. Of course I did. I was a second lieutenant in Manchuria for three years.”

“An... impressive amount of time.” If he’s honest, Mishka doesn’t even know why he wants to talk about this. “I remember you mentioning Bloody Sunday. You were home by then it seems. It must have been... horrific.” Maybe he wants Ivan to remember him. Maybe he wants to kill him now.

“For the civilians, I’m sure it was,” Ivan shrugs. “But compared to what I had seen? It was nothing special. It didn’t take much to break the proles’ resistance. Quite cowardly, really.” He grins at Mishka, as if they’re both in on some sort of joke. “Perhaps that’s why I don’t remember it very well.”

There’s a candlestick on the table right behind Mishka, and he feels his own hand wrapping around it. Well, he supposes he got exactly what he was after.

“That’s what I thought at the time, anyway.”

Before Mishka can even do anything, Ivan continues to speak. “Being back at the manor has given me... much time to think on the past. And I can see why they ran. They were just people, after all.”

Mishka’s grip on the candlestick relaxes.

“Just ordinary, everyday people trying to get a little more for themselves. Foolish ideas, of course.”

“Of course,” Mishka nods just to keep him talking.

“Can you imagine educated proles? Ridiculous.”

Mishka almost punches him, but the candlestick is now fully out of his grasp.

“The rebellion had to be put down. Things like that are too dangerous for the rule of the Tsar.” Ivan sighs. “But I sometimes wonder if maybe... quite so many didn’t have to die.”

As he stares at him, Mishka forgets to breathe. Is this really him? Is this really the same man who just a mere three years ago had shot Vasily in cold blood? That demon whose gaze contained nothing but anger? A gaze that spoke of just how many whose lives had ended with a similar fate by his hand?

No. No, it is. As he gazes off into the distance, Mishka can still see a bit of that fire in the depth of those icy blue eyes. A bit of that weight. Whatever has changed between now and then, it doesn’t change the fact that Vasily is dead. Nothing will change it.

“But enough about me,” Ivan shakes himself, returning to the present. “You wanted to know about the Volkovs.”

“Oh, it was quite a simple question,” Mishka claims, even while feeling an odd sense of disquiet. “I think I got what I came here for.”

~~ o ~~

A few, agonizing minutes pass as Ada waits to see if Ivan and Mishka are really gone. Her timing is of the utmost importance. Wait too long and he’ll come back, trapping her inside. Wait not long enough and risk Mishka failing and Ivan returning to his post. So she only waits a few minutes. That is all she can handle. She waits until she thinks her head might burst. Ada checks once more to make sure the hall is truly empty, and starts walking.

She doesn’t even bother to sink into the shadows as she usually does. Not the wisest decision, Ada knows this, but what part of any of this is wise? The only thing she can think of is her destination, and Jack waiting on the other side of that door. He’ll be in one piece, and smile at her as he always did. Ada has to tell herself this. She must, or she thinks she might just go mad from the worry.

Though Ada manages a brisk walk until she slips through the curtain, soon after that she finds herself in a full sprint. A pointless move, but if it can shave just a few seconds off the agonizing waiting...

It seems like it takes her forever to reach the door, and also no time at all. All the doors look the same, but she’s sure it’s this one. Ada halts in front of it, the only sound her heavy breathing in and out. She’s here now, exactly what she’s been waiting for, so she has no idea why she’s hesitating. Grabbing the cold metal knob firmly, Ada pauses one last second, and turns it.

The door is locked.

It doesn’t even budge a centimeter. For a few seconds she doesn’t really register this development, just keeps trying in vain to pull it open. Finally, the reality of the situation hits her. The door is locked, she has no key, and even if the door was in the proper orientation to kick, Ada doubts she’d have enough strength to do it without drawing attention to herself.

She crumples down against the opposite wall. Ada has come so far, all the way to Russia, only to be foiled by a damn door. On top of that she’s dragged Mishka into the whole mess as well. This has been a colossal waste of time.

Pouting at the door doesn’t cause it to unlock either, of course. After a minute or so Ada sighs and picks herself up. Maybe there’s another way. There has to be. Perhaps she can get a hold of a key somehow, or worm her way into the Volkovs’ graces enough that they’ll allow her inside.

Just when she’s about to turn around, however, a small creak stops her in her tracks. Ada can’t believe her eyes. Quite of its own volition, the door has opened. Inky blackness seeps out of the aperture, to an almost unnatural degree. She suddenly faces a violent sense of unease seeping into her bones, but Ada is not one to look a gift-horse in the mouth. Swallowing her apprehension, she takes a step into the room.

“Jack?” she whispers to the blackness, waiting for her eyes to adjust.

There is no response, yet quietly, behind her heart thumping madly in her ears, Ada hears something: muttering. It’s so soft that she can’t make out the words, so all she can do is follow it into the dark.

Finally, when she’s mere feet away, Ada makes out a cot, low to the ground. There’s something, maybe a man, maybe a creature, curled up in filthy sheets. The smell nearly makes her gag, but she continues to approach. “H-hello?” She reaches an arm out, but before she can touch the thing, it flips around and reaches for her wrist.

Ada wrenches it away with a gasp. Long, greasy hair covers a gaunt face, one side of which appears to be mutilated, a puckering hole where an ear used to be. It stares up at her with hollow blue eyes. Blue eyes that Ada finds all too familiar.

They are the only thing that remains of the man she once knew.

“A... Ada?” Jack asks, in that same, husky voice that she heard through the door just two days before. “How... how are you here?”

After a solid second, Ada manages to unstick her tongue, but she doesn’t get a chance to use it.

“Did He let you in?” Jack looks around wildly.

“H... he? Who—?”

“No, no, no, no, no. Even the open door is an illusion. Yes, yeesssss.” Clumps of dandruff fall like snow as he itches at his scalp. “More hallucinations, you mad bastard? It’s not going to work this time, no, no, no. I know where Ada is. She’s safe back in Birmingham where you’ll never get her.” He laughs hysterically, before his orb-like eyes roll back up to hers suddenly. “Tell me, little ghost...”

Though she tries to back away, Jack grabs onto her wrist again, much harder this time. Ada struggles for a moment, but freezes up as she looks back at his face. There is something very different about it now. It’s impossible to put into words, perhaps, it seems to her in that moment, there are slightly more teeth in his smile that there ought to be. Jack is right in front of her. At least, he was until a second ago. But this... this thing gripping her arm... this is not him.

Tell me,” the thing repeats, but this time in Russian, and spoken in such a low octave that it strains Jack’s vocal cords. “Are you in Birmingham? Do you think he’s just seeing things?

“What...” is all she can sneak past a stone tongue. “What... are you...?”

But she is ignored. “I would run back there, while you still can. This one is not much longer for this world. You can’t save him. And when I’m done with him, I think that maybe I will come for you. You’re too pretty to resist.

The thing laughs then, a low rumble that sinks into her very soul. Somehow, Ada manages to wrench free of its grip. She tumbles through the darkness, towards the sliver of light at the edge of this pit. Was the room this vast before? With the last of her will, Ada grabs the door frame, and thrusts herself outwards, slamming the aperture shut behind her.

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