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  • Writer's picturePatrick Deveney

1. Desiderium

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

I


The forest of thick spruce trees was beginning to darken as the evening sky's orange glow was dissipating, the heavy snowfall which had been on and off all day had been steady for at least an hour now and was beginning to worsen. As layers upon layers of snow continued to cover the forest floor and its trees, a traveller and his horse journeyed through the bitter cold with nothing but the sword he had hung on his horse's side for company, he pulled his cloak and hood tighter to shelter from the snow as best he could. Snow was not an uncommon occurrence here and as this road was seldom travelled it made their journey through the forest incredibly difficult. The only sound that could be heard was the soft crunch of the snow from the horse's hooves and the sound of the reins along with the rustle of the traveller's clothes and leather armour. He had set out over a month ago from the city of Atana, leaving his past behind him but he still bore the scars, he gripped the right side of his neck as he grimaced from the pain that the freezing cold caused to the most recent addition to his collection which served as a constant reminder of what he had left behind but since he left he had been on the road with no particular destination in mind. On his travels he had done odd jobs and even offered his help to those in need in any way he could for little to no coin, he wasn't sure if he was being kind or punishing himself. Things had been quiet lately so he was beginning to find himself in the position where he could consider the road more and more his home, he was tired and hungry but in that moment it was the freezing cold that was getting to him and he regretted to think his horse was feeling the same, with his morale at an all time low and his coin purse heading there, he pressed on through the heavy snow.

Fortunately, and to his surprise, it wasn't long before the traveller came across a welcome sight as he peered through the snow and fog, off in the distance, not even a quarter of a mile away, he saw a faint orange light emanating from a building at the side of the road, although calling it a road at this point was being kind as a thick layer of snow had claimed the path. The traveller gave out a sigh of relief, he was no stranger to camping out in the wilderness, in fact that was what he was accustomed to but on a night like this shelter and warmth was a dire necessity. As he neared the building he could make it out much more clearly, it was a fair size and was undoubtedly a tavern or inn which was good news for the traveller, it was made entirely out of the dark spruce that surrounded the area and even had a sizeable barn or stable located directly to the left that was well lit and it too looked inviting, he wondered if his horse was as relieved as he was to get out of the cold and into the warm embrace of the indoors. He could hear the faint sound of voices emanating from the tavern which grew louder as he approached, there was something oddly satisfying or warming about that, he had been on road on his own for so long that finally hearing other people brought a strange feeling of calm, he never even noticed he had felt on edge before but for now he felt at peace.

There was a small clearing just outside the entrance of the tavern and a path had been cleared which led round to the stables that was clearly made recently but the snow was already trying to reclaim it. The traveller jumped off his horse as he arrived on this small clearing and began to lead his horse by the reins round to the stables, he pulled on the huge wooden double doors which opened up to around twenty sizeable fenced off sections with around half of them already filled with horses. He began to walk down the middle aisle passing several horses who were far more interested in eating, drinking or sleeping to take any notice they had a new resident when they finally came across an empty pen close to the back wall that looked fully stocked with hay and water. The traveller took a quick second to pet his horse and remove his sword and saddle, placing them against the wall before saying his farewell and heading back down the aisle and back out into the snow, making sure he closed the stable doors as he left, he headed round to the front entrance of the tavern and opened the front door as a wave of voices and heat hit him.

Silence washed over room as the traveller stood over the threshold and into the well lit bar, he stood in the doorway as ten maybe fifteen blank faces stared back at him. He took a second to look around the room, it was an average size for a tavern, enough space to seat maybe forty patrons but it was sparsely decorated and was mostly filled with tables and benches, the bar itself stood at the centre against the wall opposite the entrance. The furniture and most of the room was made from the same spruce wood as the building itself with the only exceptions being the two stone fireplaces at either side of the room which gave off an intense heat as the fires roared with the odd crackle echoing through the now silent room. Slowly the traveller felt their measured gaze fade as the interest in him began to subside and soon enough everyone had gone back to their business with the murmur of conversation starting back up again and the traveller gave out a sigh of relief, in his travels he had come across many towns or taverns which didn’t take too kindly to outsiders but at least at the moment they seemed content. He walked through the centre of the room passing most of the tenants who paid him no further mind or attention, he heard the tail end of conversations and ones that were halfway through.

“...so I says to him, says I…”

“...after the Battle of Atana…”

“...ask Johnny he'll get…”

“...heard there was these creatures…”

The traveller lowered his hood as he walked to reveal his face, he was a good way in his forties and was looking rough on it with his long greying hair slicked back and slightly dishevelled with a beard to match, several scars covered his face each telling their own story, his neck was still giving him some bother as he held the three, what looked to be claw marks that ran down the side of his neck, he headed towards the bar before grabbing a stool and taking a well deserved seat.

“You’re not from round here are you?” a woman's voice said, she had an air of curiosity rather than disdain. The traveller looked up to see the barmaid standing in front of him, she was a larger woman with shoulder length blonde hair who looked to be in her early forties.

“How could you tell?” the traveller replying in his low raspy, gravelly voice that was almost a whisper.

“I can always tell, you're not used to the cold and snow like we have out here are you? You know I've been seeing a lot more travellers since we got our new King of Azlaria after that nasty business over by Atana city. Anyways I'm Elsa, what do they call you, stranger?” Elsa asked as she cleaned a glass.

“Rurik.” he said, instinctively grabbing for his neck.

“So what can I do for you Rurik? We got warm beds, warm food and cold ale and plenty to go around.” Elsa said almost in a song, Rurik got the impression she had been saying that motto for years.

“I would take all three but I'm not sure I can afford it, your stables would be more than perfect for me.” Rurik replied, which was met with much disagreement from Elsa.

“Nonsense, in this weather! I wouldn't sleep a wink if I knew someone was out there in this cold. Then it's just your lucky day, tonight we just happen to have an outsider discount.” Elsa said with the biggest smile Rurik had seen in some time and he couldn't help but give a smirk back.

“You are too kind, in that case I will take anything that's hot and ale.”

“Well why don't you find somewhere more comfortable to sit and I'll bring it right over when it's ready.” Elsa said as she scurried off through a door behind the bar.

Rurik stood up and walked over to a table beside one of the windows and looked out into the cold wilderness, it had gotten significantly darker and the snow was even heavier, he was just happy he was out of the cold. Rurik took another look around the tavern but something was off that he did not seem to have noticed before, it was still as busy but he noticed that everyone was sitting at the centre of the room which in itself did not seem out of the ordinary as that was where the bar was. This was only drawn to his attention because off in the far corner at a table on their own sat a man, it was relatively darker in that corner than the rest of the room which is why he never really noticed beforehand but he was definitely there. There were several empty glasses on his table and he seemed to be stuck in some kind of trance as if in deep thought or daydream but he did not seem okay in the slightest, in fact he seemed like he was holding back an intense emotional pain. This was a face Rurik had seen far too many times and he knew the man was drinking to forget.

It wasn’t long before Elsa the barmaid returned with a steak pie straight out of the oven and his ale, placing it in front of Rurik before heading back to the bar when she was stopped.

“So what's his story?” Rurik asked as he gestured over to the far corner. He watched as Elsa's body language changed, becoming more reserved as a seriousness washed over her face as she leaned closer to Rurik.

“That there is Jakub Reynor, he lost his wife and child a few months back, it was soon after they moved here into that big house a few miles north of here, folks round here got to talking in their hushed voices and think that he killed them and has been at the drink ever since but I don't believe a word of that nonsense, you best be asking him for his story, it's not my place, enjoy your food sir.” Elsa said in a low hushed voice, as if she did not want to be overheard.

II


Rurik sat in silence eating away while in deep thought, the only thing on his mind seemed to be Jakub Reynor but whether that was genuine curiosity or as a way to distract himself from his own troubled past he could not say. He wondered what could have possibly transpired for this man to lose both his wife and child, he thought of the body language of Elsa at the mere mention of the man, there was something dark or at the very least something not quite right in her reaction as if there was something she would not dare to say, so he knew it was no simple story.

A few hours had passed and the night was getting on but still Rurik sat as more and more patrons left to stagger into bed. He was waiting patiently, waiting for the precise moment before speaking to Jakub, he knew this would be a very delicate topic and Jakub would be far more comfortable without an audience, Rurik was confident this was still early into the night for Jakub and he never minded waiting. As the spruce door which led to the rest of the tavern where the rooms were located swung behind the last patron to leave, Rurik finally made his move. He took a slow patient walk across the room towards the darkened corner, the smell of strong alcohol hit him first as it lingered in the air surrounding Jakub, he was encompassed by empty glasses while a half empty one rested in his hand as he stared blankly at the table, Rurik had been watching him most of the night and he hadn't seen him take a drink for at least an hour or two, Rurik guessed at the reason why.

“Are you here to mock a drunken coward too?” Jakub announced, his speech slightly slurred.

“No,” Rurik replied as he sat down at the table. “I'm here to listen.”

“Now why would you want to do that, is this so you have an interesting story to tell when you move on from here, I know your type.” Jakub said in a mocking snarl.

“No, I can help. I'm a mercenary and you suspected this or at least that I could help, which is why you haven't drank in the last hour. So, start from the beginning.”

“Aye you're right, you have a dangerous look about you and I bet you have seen things, things you can't explain.” Jakub said as he let out a sigh and glanced at the scar on Rurik's neck.

“You could say that.” Rurik sat in silence as he watched Jakub take a deep breath and close his eyes for a moment before he took one last drink from his ale downing the rest, he spoke almost in recital like he had told this story a thousand times.

“Just over six months ago me and my wife Olena bought a house just a few miles north of here with our six year old son Luka, it was our dream home, see me and Olena we were trying for another baby so we needed the space. A friend of ours who stayed near here had heard it was going relatively cheap and said it was a steal, we just jumped at the chance and packed everything and left immediately. All we knew was that the house had been empty for the last ten years but the previous owner still owned the house and had recently fallen into money trouble and decided to sell it for anything she could. When we arrived at the house we instantly fell in love, it was a good size, not too big, not too small and even had a lot of land surrounding it which was surrounded by the trees. We were greeted by the owner, a woman named Katia. She was younger than I expected she was maybe in her late thirties but there was something off about her, you know that way when you just can't explain it but you just know something ain't right. She was rude and impatient as if she didn't want to be at the house, I made the mistake of asking her why the house had been empty for so long and she did not take that well, she took a second but she still told us, it turns out she had owned the house along with her sister Alina, there was an accident and Alina passed away and Katia couldn't bear to be in the house alone so she moved, she still lives in the area, she has a cabin in the woods just north of the house but she couldn't stay in that house after what had happened, so being back at the house brought back a lot of pain for her. We should have left then but I'm not sure why but one of the previous owners dying in the house didn't seem to put us off, we were just eager to start a new chapter in our lives.”

It was at this moment they were interrupted, Elsa, who had been cleaning the tables as the tavern was practically empty at this point, came over to take away any glasses and clean the table.

“You know I knew those girls for years, that Alina was the most beautiful girl I have ever seen and I wasn't the only one to think that, all the parties those girls had, if the stories are true Alina often had at least two marriage proposals which she always refused, what happened to her was a real tragedy and for her to end up looking like that was horrific if I do say so myself, poor girl, I haven't seen Katia ever since, she turned into quite the recluse.” Elsa chimed in as she cleaned the table, she picked up the glasses on a tray and turned to leave when Rurik stopped her.

“What do you mean 'for her to end up looking like that', what happened to her?” Rurik questioned as he focused on Elsa.

“Well that's the thing no one knows, it was poor Katia who found her with her face, well…” Elsa said as she sounded increasingly uncomfortable.

“It was all mangled.” Jakub said with dread as he stared off as if the image had been seared into mind.

“Hmm.” Rurik mumbled in a suspecting tone.

“I've said enough I'll leave you two alone, if you need me I'll be through the back.” Elsa said as she scurried off in a hurry behind the bar.

“What did you see in that house?” Rurik said as if he already knew the answer.

“I didn't see anything until the last night, that face…oh Luka, my Olena, forgive me.” Jakub trailed off into a sob as Rurik sat there, his mind racing.

Rurik stood up and made his way behind the bar and through the door to where he had seen Elsa enter, leaving Jakub inconsolable. It was a small room, like an office or study, there was a table and a few bookshelves filled with documents and papers, Elsa sat on the chair at the desk with her back to the door.

“Elsa, what can you tell me about the sisters Alina and Katia?” he said, almost sounding impatient, Elsa jerked with a start, Rurik suspected she had fallen asleep and was now feeling guilty.

“Oh, sorry, excuse me I must have dozed off, we...well what did you want to know?” she said, sounding exhausted.

“Just one thing, was Katia jealous of Alina and her looks?”

“Katia? No, I don't think so. Well she wasn't a looker like her sister and never got the attention she got, but jealous? They loved each other.” Elsa said as she hesitated at the end, Rurik picked up on this.

“What is it, what aren't you saying?” Rurik questioned.

“Well, now that you mention it there was this one time, I overheard Katia talking to herself, which was odd, but she did say some horrible things about Alina, why? You don't thi…” she was cut off by Rurik who abruptly left without saying a word.

When Rurik returned to Jakub he had calmed down significantly but in the short time that Rurik had gone, Jakub had snuck behind the bar and poured himself an ale, as Rurik arrived at the table, taking a seat he took the glass off of him much to the protest of Jakub.

“You can have this when you tell me what happened that night.” Rurik said with command and from Jakub's face he knew there was no objection.

“For a few weeks my wife Olena had been complaining about noises in the night but I dismissed them as the house settling or animals outside, I never thought anything of them until the last night. I heard my wife get up in the middle of the night which woke me up but I didn't move, it wasn't until I heard Luka get up shortly after that I decided to go see what they were doing, but that was when I heard it, as soon as I stepped into the hall I heard a woman quietly crying just down the hall, I thought it was my wife but when I looked down the hall I saw Olena standing looking into one of the rooms staring at something, I didn't know what. Luka wasn't too far behind her standing at the top of the stairs, and then I froze, in the darkness I heard a woman's voice call out to my wife, 'do you think I look pretty?', it asked in a chilling cold voice, I couldn't move with fright, I just stood and watched as my wife backed up against the wall as the voice asked again, 'do you think I look pretty?', that was when I saw it, floating through the door and into the hallway, it was a woman wearing white that was glowing in the moonlight with long brown hair that was floating in the air but I couldn't see her face, then Luka, oh god, Luka said 'what's wrong with her face mummy?', the woman turned round to face Luka and then I saw it too, red with blood and mangled. She screamed at Luka and he...he, he fell backwards down the stairs. That was when I could move I ran down the hall for Luka, the woman was paying me no mind as she turned her attention back to Olena, I ran down the stairs to see Luka lying there, motionless, a pool of blood beside him, I tried to wake him but I couldn't, I called out to Olena with no reply and then I heard footsteps behind me upstairs. I turned to see my wife walking but something was wrong, she was crooked and slow. As she reached the top of the stairs she turned to look at me, she smiled and said 'do you think I look pretty?', it felt as if my heart had been ripped from my chest, she was not herself anymore, I turned and ran, the next thing I knew I ended up here, covered in my son's blood, Elsa took me in.”


III


The snow had subsided in the night and as the sun rose from the east the bright sunlight danced upon the fresh blanket of snow before shining directly into the small room Rurik had been staying in which woke him much to his annoyance. He sat up in bed for a few moments before he pulled the several layers of fur and bedding off, he had a difficult day planned ahead of him although waking up this early was not part of this plan as he always worked best after a long sleep, realising that would not be possible he decided to get dressed. He pulled on his black woven trousers and his long sleeved linen tunic that matched, he grabbed his boots, lacing them methodically before he carefully began to put on his armour. He liked to take his time with this, in his line of work it was often life or death and improperly assembled armour would most definitely mean death. He pulled on his leather cuirass which covered his entire torso, ensuring he correctly fixed all the ties and straps, he then attached his pauldrons to his shoulders with leather straps wrapping across his chest and under the opposite arm creating an ‘X’ where the two straps met, he pulled on his bracers which covered his wrists and the majority of his forearms before pulling on his gloves and finally grabbing his cloak, there was nothing particularly intricate or expensive about his armour but he looked after it and it served him well with only minor scratches and tears here and there to show for his precarious lifestyle. As Rurik walked the quiet halls he quickly came to the conclusion that he was the only one to have been woken by the morning sun but he also suspected he was the only one that would not be nursing a hangover today, he made his way down into the entrance of the tavern where the bar was, strolling across room for the exit when a voice called out to him.

“Good morning.” the voice sang, Rurik groaned, he had hoped he would be able to slip away undetected and get on with his job.

“Good morning Elsa.” Rurik replied to be polite, he did owe this woman a lot for letting him stay.

“Where are you off to in such a hurry? The sun is barely up itself.” Elsa asked politely.

“I'm off to Jakub’s house, I need to take a look around, I will be back before nightfall.” Rurik said as he edged closer to the door.

“Well, good luck.” Elsa said, sounding sincere.

“Thank you Elsa. Oh, one more thing, can you make sure Jakub has nothing more to drink today?”

“I will try.”

Rurik turned and left, out into the icy reception of the snow. Thankfully it had stopped snowing in the night but now Rurik had to deal with the aftermath, Rurik trudged his way through the snow and followed what would have been the path round to the stables, he opened the large wooden double doors as he made his way through to the back where he had left his mare, Beau. She was already up and seemed to have sensed Rurik's arrival as she trotted over to the gate to greet him.

“Morning Beau, we finally have a job, although I'm not entirely sure what I'm walking into,” Rurik said in a calm low voice, with Beau whinnying in response. “Yeah I think so too.” Rurik said as he opened the fence gate and entered the pen.

Rurik grabbed the saddle, strapping it around Beau and attaching any bags he had which carried his supplies, which incidentally were running low. He then grabbed for his sword which he hung on the side of Beau strapping it in before leading Beau by the reins back out into the snow, closing the stable doors as he left. Going off what Elsa had told him he needed to head a few miles north to find Jakub’s house, since he was facing out from the tavern which faced east and the rising sun, he headed left off down through the snowy path surrounded by trees.

The house, to Rurik's shame, took longer to find than he would care to admit. He had no inclination of its exact location and any semblance or remnant of any road or path was covered in thick layers of snow which did not help in the slightest but as he trudged his way through the spruce trees he finally came upon the house. He emerged from the trees out into the modest sized clearing which Jakub had mentioned that surrounded the house, the house itself stood directly at the centre of this clearing where it lay in wait atop a slight incline. It was a beautiful house just as Jakub had described, a balanced mix of expertly crafted stacked stonework blended with intricate and ornate spruce wood. It was a real pity seeing what the house had become, left abandoned, with nature seemingly beginning to take over.

Rurik neared the entranceway where there was a grand set of double doors made of spruce expertly crafted with carved patterns of flowers and various woodland creatures, he stopped and jumped off of Beau never taking his eyes off the property. He grabbed for his sword which was hanging on the side of Beau before he slung it over his right shoulder, tightening the several leather straps that wrapped around his torso. He cautiously approached the entrance, preparing himself for what he might see. He knew the foyer stood at the bottom of the stairs where Luka tragically passed and fully expected to see the poor boy in some stage of decay, but as Rurik slowly and vigilantly opened the front door and stepped inside the dark and musty entrance hall it was that of surprise that washed over him but more importantly, there was concern. Luka was nowhere to be seen. Rurik knelt down at the only remnant of that night months before, the dried pool of blood where Luka should have been laying, Rurik darted his eyes around the room and the branching off corridors which led to the rest of the house, he listened intently to the sounds of the house for any sign of life or movement but there was nothing, only silence, silence and the low howl of the wind emanating from outside as if far off in the distance. Rurik stood and began walking through the darkened house, he crept through the lightly furnished rooms which to his surprise were in incredible condition, there was only a thin layer of dust covering most of the decor, he supposed it had only been six months since Jakub's family had moved in.

Rurik continued through the house entering a new room which seemed to be some form of study or drawing room, the walls were lined with half filled bookshelves and at the centre were several arm chairs surrounding a table, a single window on the wall to his right illuminated the room in a soft glow still leaving much of the room in a dark shadow, he made his way across to another door on the opposite side when he suddenly stopped. Up above him on the second floor he heard the floorboards creak and the unmistakable sound of footsteps, Rurik let out a slow sigh to calm himself as he listened attentively, the footsteps themselves seemed very light most likely a woman's but their footing was jagged, it almost sounded as if they were injured or limping. That was when he heard a voice, a woman's voice, it began to sing in an eerie almost ethereal manner which sent chills down Rurik's spine, he decided he needed to have a look at this women and he slowly began walking back down towards the entrance when a creak echoed from beneath him and he stopped in his tracks, feeling a great sense of dread and regret. The footsteps and singing coming from upstairs also stopped but only for a moment, much to Rurik's dismay they started again but faster than before, almost as if she was running, he could hear her grunts and mutterings as if she were insane. Rurik himself began to run back through the rooms but as he made his way into the foyer just as he was eyeing the door he was tackled, Rurik and this unknown figure tumbled across the floor as they separated as the thin layer of dust rose in the air. Rurik instinctively went to grab for his sword but he stopped himself as he jumped up from the ground, just as the unknown figure did the same.

He took a second to collect his thoughts as he stared down this figure. It was most definitely a woman, she stood crooked and panting as she stared through dark angry eyes that peered through her blonde hair which had become filthy and dishevelled, matted with leaves and mud strewn through it. Her pale skin made her look sickly as a torn and soiled nightdress hung loose on her frail looking body. Rurik thought that there was only one person this could be, Olena, Jakub's wife, but as Jakub had said in his story she was not herself anymore, so there was only one other person it could be, Alina. The beautiful girl who had tragically died ten years ago with her face mangled taking possession of Olena's body, Rurik's mind was racing. Before he could say anything Alina lunged for him as he tried to fight her off, pushing her to the side, he found his footing and Alina reared for another attack. Rurik had run out of options and he felt incredibly ridiculous but it was all he had left to try.

“I think you look beautiful Alina.” Rurik said with an unwavering hope that it would work.

Much to Rurik's surprise, it did. Alina immediately stopped and tilted her head curiously as she continued to stare at Rurik.

“I think I know what happened here, it was Katia wasn't it, your sister killed you out of jealousy, didn't she? All that hate and betrayal, all that grief and injustice, that's why you never really left, you stayed a part of this house,” Rurik said, sounding slightly out of breath as Alina nodded. “I'm on your side believe me but you can't live through other people,” Rurik continued, Alina hissed at this. “Olena had a son called Luka, you buried him didn't you? She still has a husband who isn't too far from here, his name is Jakub. It's not too late to fix this, how about a deal? If I bring Katia here, would you let Olena go?” Rurik asked, he wasn't expecting much but as they stared down each other, Alina muttered one word.

“Yes.”


IV


The journey from Jakub’s house to Katia's cabin was another couple of hours, it was nearing midday when Rurik finally laid eyes on the small cabin hidden in the woods. He was exhausted, from his very early start to the encounter with Olena or Alina, he hadn't decided on the best way to reference the woman from the house but in any case it had all exhausted him but he was somewhat at peace as he was beginning to see an end to this job. Katia's cabin was humble, it had small fenced off patches in the garden where it seemed she grew her own food and flowers, although Rurik was puzzled at the thought of anything managing to grow out here, he jumped off Beau, this time leaving his sword behind, it was imperative he didn't antagonise, he had no idea what he was walking into. He gave three hard knocks on the cabin door as he heard the muffled sounds of movement shuffle towards the door before it opened wide. There stood Katia, she was short and quite slender but there was nothing outstanding or remarkable about her appearance, a face you would forget in an instant. Rurik thought harshly but he had made up his mind about the kind of woman Katia was and wasn't frightened of offending her.

“What do you want?” Katia announced, sounding blunt.

“I'm here about the recent deaths at your old home, along with your sister Alina's death.” Rurik retorted just as bluntly, for a split second there was a sense of fear that crossed Katia's face that most would miss but it was all Rurik needed.

“Very well, come through to the kitchen.” she said as she turned and walked straight through to the back of the cabin where there was a dainty kitchen.

Rurik followed her slowly as he took in his surroundings, he looked around the entrance room which was tiny, there was a small fire pit in the centre of the room beneath a glorified hole in the ceiling which could barely be recognised as a chimney, some chairs and a table were off in one corner but that was it, no decoration or anything that would signify a home, there were two doors on the opposite wall from the entrance, one led to the kitchen and the other Rurik assumed it led to her bedroom, Rurik went to check if they were in fact alone but he recalled that Elsa had called Katia a recluse and he calmly continued. As Rurik entered the kitchen he caught a glimpse of Katia grabbing something and putting it behind her back before greeting Rurik, who at the same time eyed some pots that were resting on a counter opposite where Katia was standing, he took his place there as he looked around. It was a small kitchen but it was absolutely packed with food, supplies, cooking utensils, every inch of the kitchen had something in it, this was clearly where she spent all of her time.

“So what would you like to know, Mr...?” Katia asked, pretending to sound innocent and vague, it didn't work.

“It's Rurik. I would like to know why you did it.” Rurik asked without any regard for subtlety.

“I'm afraid I don't understand.” Katia gave a small chuckle.

“I'm afraid you do, you would kill your own sister just because you were jealous of her?”

“It's a little more complicated than that but I'm sure you would never understand.” Katia hissed clearly not wanting to keep up her game anymore.

“Enlighten me.”

“She always thought she was better than me, all she had were her looks but she lorded over me all the same, years of belittling, oh but she was clever she was never direct, all she had to do was be herself, no one cared for me!”

“Two people are dead because of you, there is nothing you can say that will persuade me otherwise.” Rurik announced.

“I had a feeling you would say that.” Katia said as she smirked.

Without warning Katia revealed what she had hidden behind her back, it was a long sharp knife that she held up in the air as she lunged at Rurik, who thankfully suspected this and was much quicker than Katia, he grabbed one of the pots behind him and in one move knocked her over the head with it as she fell to the floor unconscious with a thud.

The journey back to the house was significantly quicker as the sun had melted some of the top layers of snow but it certainly helped he finally knew where he was going. He entered the familiar clearing and walked up the entrance, jumping off Beau, again leaving his sword but this time he slung Katia over his right shoulder, he carried her through the front door and into the foyer, as the light shone in through the door illuminating the room, there stood Alina, waiting. Katia was now beginning to regain consciousness as Rurik sat her down tying her hands behind her back, Alina, after taking one look at Katia and then at Rurik, fulfilled her side of the bargain. Olena suddenly fell to the floor as if she had fainted, Rurik rushed to catch her before he glanced back towards the place where she had been standing where it was now occupied by the ghostly figure of Alina, her white dress shone in the sun as she floated gracefully over her sister, her long brown hair was beautifully well kept but her bloodied face peered blankly as Katia let out a desperate scream but Rurik paid her no mind, he nodded at Alina as he picked up Olena and carried her outside closing the door behind him as Katia's screams became more and more muffled.

Rurik and Olena made one stop before returning to the tavern, since Katia no longer had any use for her clothing or supplies, Rurik raided her stores of food packing it all into the bags on Beau as Olena who was now conscious and very confused, had a wash and changed into new clothes. As Rurik was concluding one final sweep of the small cabin he entered Katia’s room when he stumbled across a large wooden chest hidden under the bed, he pulled the heavy chest out from under the bed, opening the lid. A soft golden glow emanated from the chest as it opened, filled with gold, silver and bronze coins, it was likely the money Jakub used to buy Katia's old house, Rurik immediately rushed to Beau to collect his coin purses, it was then he decided to take no money from Jakub or Olena, he was more than fairly compensated having also decided to leave most of Katia’s money to them. It wasn't long before they finally set off back to the tavern. The journey was filled with an understanding silence, neither needed to say a word. Rurik could only imagine the depth of Olena's grief but there was the small solace and hope that he offered in returning her to Jakub, Rurik only hoped that Elsa and Jakub heeded his advice and stayed away from the drink.

They pulled up outside the tavern and made their way into the quiet bar where Jakub was sitting in his usual spot in the corner, although much to Rurik's delight he was not surrounded by empty glasses or for that matter have one in his hand, Rurik watched on as Jakub raised his head, his eyes lit up as they gazed upon Olena, he ran towards his wife and she ran to meet him and without saying any words they embraced.



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