The view from the foremost tower of the old stone castle — the latest in a long line of such castles, scattered throughout increasingly obscure pockets of country in eastern Europe, in which Dr. Lalonde and her daughter had taken up residence — was, Rose decided, very picturesque. She noted this with an impassivity verging on disappointment. Her mother had told her it would be, in an insufferably pleasant sort of tone. Rose had stood upon many such towers in her seventeen years, and always the views from them could best be described as picturesque. She had grown quite inured to it.
She decided to go down into the interior of the schloss and search for anything in its disused halls and dusty chambers that might feed her inspiration for the novel-length letters her friends back in England would surely expect after the lull in their correspondence her recent period of traveling had necessitated. Before she had the chance, she noticed a carriage coming up the road that passed by the drawbridge. That alone might have piqued her curiosity, since as far as Rose knew the road ran from Nowhere In Particular at the south to Nothing Of Interest at the north. Additionally, it was already dusk, so the people riding inside must have been intending to journey for a very long while at night. Of more immediate note, however, was the fact that the driver had lost hold of the reins, the horses appeared to have gone mad, and the whole contraption was careening dangerously. Rose thought at first that it would fall into the moat and held her breath in sympathy. Instead it tipped over on the opposite side, spilling its passengers onto dry ground.
They appeared to be uninjured. Once Rose had ascertained that, her first thought was, characteristically, a sardonic one: that a carriage overturning on her own ludicrously secluded doorstep was so improbable, it almost seemed the travelers must have come miles out of their way specifically to inconvenience her. At the time she mentally reprimanded herself for being uncharitable, but later she would recall it smugly.
"That sounds like she could have a concussion," Rose's mother was saying to the older of the two women who had been in the carriage when Rose got down to them. "You should stay here and let her rest for a while. I am a doctor." Rose kept her lips sealed and did not volunteer that though she was indeed, and technically a medical one at that, the only patients she'd had in the past few years were all either inhuman, inanimate, or, most frequently, both.
"We couldn't possibly," the lady said, wringing her hands. "Where I am going, I must go with haste. There there, dear."
That last was said to the dazed-looking younger woman who had just reached out to touch her arm, a girl about Rose's age with a most striking appearance. Her skin was white as polished bone, and a sharp contrast to the blackness of her short but elegantly coiffed hair. Also strangely sharp were the angles of her face and her teeth when she worried her dark-painted lips. She was far more peculiar than pretty, though very pretty in her own peculiar way, and Rose found she could not stop staring at her.
The girl stared back. "I think," she said slowly, "that I could bear to languish here without your cherished company, Mother." In spite of the impossible absurdity of the words, her tone rang perfectly earnest. Rose liked her instantly.
"An excellent idea," said Dr. Lalonde. "She can stay first under my observation as a patient, then upon my hospitality as a guest until your return."
"We couldn't possibly impose—" the lady began.
"You would be doing us a favor," Dr. Lalonde interrupted her. "My poor Rose gets so lonely with no friends her age."
"My correspondents, Mother," Rose reminded her icily.
"Her correspondents," Dr. Lalonde repeated beseechingly to the lady. "She writes such letters to the children back home." The strange girl's eyes met Rose's, and the silent sympathy that passed between them had nothing to do with friendlessness.
The lady assented after only a bit more persuasion. The girl stepped forward, clasped one of Rose's hands warmly between both of her own, and pulled it close to her breast. "My name is Kanaya Maryam," she said. "About myself, I fear I am permitted to tell you little more than that. I hope that you are the sort of girl who can appreciate mystery, and that it will not hinder us from becoming friends."
Not for the first time, Rose was grateful for her mother's ironic negligence in the manner of books she allowed her to read. Were it not for that, the sudden swelling she felt in her chest and stirring somewhere else deep within her might have confused her dreadfully.
Once Dr. Lalonde got Kanaya into her lab, it took her a matter of minutes to determine that the girl was not, in fact, concussed. By that time, the carriage and her mother within were long gone. "You've been forsaken," Rose told her, "in the devil's own house."
"They say Hell for the company," replied Kanaya, and this time when she took her hand, she kissed it.
The next point Rose found in Kanaya's favor was that she liked cats. More specifically — and more impressively — she liked Patchwork the flesh golem.
"What a fascinating feline!" she exclaimed. The creature in question had just stretched himself out between them. They had been idly chatting and sitting very closely side by side, legs almost brushing, on the bed in the spare room in which Kanaya would be staying — the spare room, in fact, adjacent to Rose's bedroom. His calico head rested in Kanaya's lap, his gray and yellow tabby hind legs sprawled out across Rose's, and his white and cinnamon-tipped tail twitched contentedly in the air. "I've never seen anything like him!"
"Nor will you ever again, most likely," Rose told her. "Which is a bit of a sore point for my mother. Replicability is a cornerstone of science."
"Did she breed him herself?"
"Do you really think this was bred?"
"I was attempting to be discreet. I can stop, if you like." Kanaya scratched underneath Patchwork's chin and smiled when he rumbled in response. "Who is a winsomely affectionate reanimated purrbeast? You are!"
"Subtlety I can appreciate," said Rose, "but discretion, I think, is held in too high regard. We've tried being discreet. It's never stopped us from being found out sooner or later and forced to relocate her abominable experiments to some other fortress of evil."
"Yes!" Kanaya said, looking first surprised, then deeply thoughtful. "That conforms with my experience as well. I wonder…"
But Rose could not coax her into saying what she wondered, and at last she had to retire to her own room and her own bed. "I will see you in the morning, Kanaya," she said as she stood.
"Oh, probably not!" said Kanaya. "I keep odd hours."
In the middle of the night, Rose opened her eyes and found she could not move. Her whole body felt languid and heavy, all her muscles so relaxed that no amount of concentration could force them to contract. Sleep paralysis, she thought, and her initial burst of panic faded into curiosity. It had always been such a fascinating phenomenon to read about. She tried to remember what she had eaten for dinner the night before, since all of the most recent and rational-minded books attributed it to diet, and that could be fertile ground for experiment. When her mind proved too hazy, she resolved to put that train of inquiry off until morning and instead cleared her thoughts and waited to see if she would hallucinate.
Presently, she did. She saw, or fancied she saw, something like a large black cat stalking across the room and approaching the foot of her bed. It leapt up and landed on top of her, and suddenly its silhouette was not that of a beast, but of a person, though it arched its back like a cat, and moved every bit as lithely. Heat coursed just beneath Rose's skin, but still her body remained unresponsive. It was not an unpleasant sort of heat. Even the small twinge of fear that twisted in the pit of her gut was not of an altogether unpleasant sort, more akin to the thrill of reading a particularly depraved penny dreadful than the terror she would have expected to feel at having her room invaded, or even the illusion of it.
The creature dipped its head, and Rose was struck by the sensation of two needles spaced about an inch apart piercing the top of her left breast. She did not scream, for this, too, she found more fascinating than fearful. For the next few minutes, neither of them moved, though gradually Rose began to feel her limbs grow slightly sore and her head a bit dizzy. No sooner had that begun to trouble her, though, than the creature looked up, meeting her eyes with its own glowing yellow. It then leapt back to the floor and vanished as though it had never been. Before Rose could think any more of it, she lapsed back into sleep.
When she awoke, she found that her breast ached. Upon examining it, she discovered a pair of freshly scabbed-over puncture wounds. She thoroughly searched her bed for anything that could have injured her in such a way, but came up with nothing. That was a problem. The next time she saw her mother, she would have to ask whether something might have gotten loose from the lab, and if so how worried she should be. Currently she was not quite worried enough to hasten that encounter and ensuing discussion by attempting to seek out Dr. Lalonde in the enormous schloss, though she did take the precaution of carrying a pair of sharpened knitting needles with her when she left her room.
Kanaya's door was locked, and when Rose knocked on it she got no answer. Feeling vaguely disappointed, she went to take breakfast on her own, and then to explore the interior of the castle as she had been meaning to the evening prior.
It was a good castle for exploring, as they went. There were old things left about in it, which was the most preferable state of affairs. One room in particular, to Rose's delight, was filled with old, packed-away portraits. Rose always enjoyed discovering old portraits of girls who had been her age at the sitting. They always looked so devastatingly bored. She liked to pretend that they understood her soul.
In this trove, however, there was one painting with such a subject that was a greater discovery than ever Rose had made before. The date on the plaque was over a hundred years ago. The name beside that date was unfamiliar.
The likeness was that of her guest.
The door to Kanaya's room was still locked. Rose held her needles in one fist as she banged upon the wood with the other. "Kanaya," she called when there was no response, "you've slept in late enough, and we have so many things to discuss! They include a Lady Maryana Kamay and a fascinating dream I had last night!" No response still. "You should probably be made aware," she continued a bit more quietly, almost conspiratorially, "that my mother would, with no hesitation whatsoever, break down a door in her own house to get her hands on a real live vampire."
At last, Kanaya spoke from inside the room. "Do you intend to run me out, perhaps brandishing a long tri-pointed hay transferring implement? Because if so, you should know that I am a reasonable woman who is perfectly capable of seeing when she is not wanted and departing of her own free will and also teleportation."
"I wouldn't dream of it," said Rose. "You're actually interesting."
There was a long silence followed by the sound first of footsteps, then of a key turning in the lock. When the door swung open, Rose's eyes blinked shut to protect themselves from a sudden burst of light. Kanaya was no longer pale; she was luminescent.
"I had heard you were a strange one, Rose Lalonde," she said. "That's why I dared return to a place where traces of my history might still linger. I wanted to meet you."
"I think you mean you wanted to eat me," said Rose.
"I do have to eat. I can either drain someone dry and be full for an extended period of time, or drink only a little from many people and be likewise satiated, or else feed regularly from one person, always giving her time to recover. If it is any comfort, I have almost never done the formermost."
"You could ask first."
"I am under no illusion that anyone would say yes."
"I might have. It was an edifying experience." Kanaya looked startled, and Rose continued coyly, "Mind your manners in the future, and you may find me acquiescent yet. I believe I have already told you that repetition is a cornerstone of science."
"Replicability, you said."
"Kanaya, are you going to be pedantic, or are you going to corrupt me?"
Kanaya took a deep breath, as though to steel her courage, then leaned down and brushed her lips over where she had bitten Rose the night before. "I flatter myself to believe that I can accomplish both at once."
Rose smiled triumphantly. "You flatter yourself to believe you can accomplish the latter at all."