“Where is this?” Susan asked, the sleeping bag still clasped around her shoulders.
“It’s all Dacia to me. But it’s very roomy and scenic, poupée, honestly... no rent, no…” Sachiin extended the syllable and then smiled again, gesturing toward the steps. “Look, they have piglets...”
A small and strangely-formed intruder skipped up onto the roof with an air of slight, inquiring disapprobation, quadrupedal, jacketed in longitudinal stripes of creme, sable and russet and wearing a pair of bat-like ears on its narrow head. Small bronze eyes followed a questing snout; the piglet paused, peering at her suspiciously before trotting across the flags on tiny hooves and placing its nose against her leg in a brief, assertive nudge. Susan bent down to touch its back but was checked hard by her tooth, an imposition it scurried from anyway with its tail erect. From the same steps came the ruin’s heavily-swathed chatelaine, coat fastened about her neck as though the swiftly-settling cold demanded it. An almost clockwork transit took her along the parapet, though for a moment the vampyre paused and frowned at the sight of her porcine companion standing on its hind hooves and gazing up at Sachiin, who stroked its velvet ears and picked it up.
“My little darlink Fyodor.” Petrouchka sighed. Her stare settled on Susan, who had sat down on the stony margin and embraced herself beneath her quilted cloak. “You... walk to here?" Her guest nodded without looking up. “My god. Now I know why you look such a horror.” The observation finally commanded Susan's attention, but the steps projected the small sounds of Edward’s approach, distracting them both. He carried a pair of loosely gracile shapes in the crook of his arm; two hares twitched stiffly in the rigor of their recent deaths when he lay them in her lap, the warm blood oozing from their mouths soaking her jeans while one kicked against her stomach. Susan sat imprisoned between dread and disbelief, looking up at him with both flagged in her expression. His mouth drew back over his teeth in a strange, embryonic expression of contempt, its brevity integral to its power.
“Where would you be if nothing ever died for your convenience?” he asked her. Across the yard the vampyre tisked and rolled her stony eyes, both of them watching Susan rise and let the dead beasts slide onto the flags before retreating to the corner of the parapet. Sachiin berated him acidly. "Sis'thle vahd'ya si srihyaan." Edward muttered as he quit them. Fresh tears slid down her face as she turned it toward the gorge, her misery unwittingly compounded by its spectators. Petrouchka regarded Sachiin implacably from across the yard as he concluded his admonition.
"Avai'sahdi..." he sighed, looking back to Susan. "I'm sorry... I do have to go and walk the river. If we have to get out of here we need to know where to get across." She sat hunched as he kissed her head and took the stairs himself.
Her hostess came forward and shooed the piglet from the dead game where it had fallen on the flags; she took them up and set them on the table between them, producing a folding, pearl-handled knife from the pocket of her sable. Petrouchka used the blade to strip the hares of their elastic hides, turning them over and dressing them without pause, except to lick the fresh blood from her fingertips.
“My mother’s mother, she was old bajorai countess from Kaunas... her family have many bad time. She say to us, know how to eat rabbit and you will never be slave." the vampyre began, small voice winding around Susan's shoulder though she spoke with an almost recessed disinterest. "Why do you leave from Gévaudan? Here is no place for you.”
Susan took a long time to reply.
“I’ll go if I’m not welcome.”
“Go? Where do you go? You know good hotel?” Tart amusement sharpened the vampyre’s smirk. “No... you won't go... you have what you want, so you stay here, feel sorry for you. You bite, but you can’t chew."
“Does this look like something I wanted?”
“You come here from Auberjonois, who care for you like prince... these two, they bring you safe, fight alujha for you... Kala'amātya, who hate to kill a thing that can’t talk back, he give these, and you have Sachiin, all for yourself, who has never said a word to you in anger, who live only to please you...”
"He lives whether I'm here or not."
Petrouchka wiped her blade on the dry fur, small teeth shining in the darkness of her sardonicism.
"Who must we blame for this outrage? Pauvre de toi." A wind had risen from the gorge, climbing up over the drop and blowing their hair across their faces. "What has happen, kotik? You see something of yourself and you don't like?" Her trenchant analysis met with a gaze that fell again toward the flagstones. "I think so. You find that face in mirror."
Misery intermingled with the poison leaking from Susan's tooth, striking down her will to speak in her own defence. Petrouchka obviated the need to do so by cutting sharply across the yard and scowling down over the wall onto the slope below where it lay thickly strewn with fallen debris.
“Qu’est-ce que tu veux?” she called, the sudden, argute volume of the demand lifting Susan’s head. “Allez-vous faire voir! Otyebis!” The vampyre’s curt manual dismissal, tossed out over the drop like refuse, translated her remarks. Three figures in hooded black and olive camouflage stood upon the hillside, their mirrored, skyward stares the last thing Susan could have wished for. Two of them shared enough of their dark, parochial physiques to have been brothers while the other wore a severe, shadow-like crop and two stars tattooed on his wide throat. In the midst of her affronting scorn Susan saw that her hostess quartered the strait of forest behind them, while the alujha persisted with their own argot, its imperfections antagonizing her further. "Zatk'nis, you pigs! Idi na khui! You don’t come here to tell to me... I tell to you! I am surioarã!” she shouted down at them, flying into a Russian tirade enlivened by the choicest local epithets while Fyodor stamped and squealed at the hem of her coat. Susan took herself back into the ruin, unable to bear the sound of their voices even as the brothers walked out of the trees behind the visitors with their rifles in their hands, absorbing the details of a situation they had overheard from halfway down the gorge.
Their business concluded on the slope below, Edward returned to the cheerless exposure of the roof where he found Petrouchka still partaking of those qualities. There they remained, together and apart through the unlamented hours that were the claim of the long-lived and the long dead. Behind them the moon bore her own waning scale toward the horizon, a pitted, barren planet in place of that distant emblem glimpsed between the structures of urbanity, the sky arrayed with stars that wheeled as though pinned to her black skirts. Petrouchka raised her head and voice together.
“All this time, all of this long way, and Helaine is still with you. I see her, in your eye.” she observed. “You are not alone, at least.” She shrugged her chin down into her coat. “It will be ugly winter... no place for that girl. I don’t like her always in front of me.”
“I told him to leave her in France."
"Pozhalujsta... you thought he would?"
"They won’t stay here.”
“And you? What do you do?”
“Rebuild some capital.”
She contemplated his response for some time before steeling herself to deal with more immediate concerns.
“These mudilo wolves, they have offend you? How many die for it?”
“No more than necessary.”
“I did not trust them, but they bring, from town for me, when I need...”
“If you need something, I'll go for it myself.”
“Maybe. Maybe, I don’t need, anymore. But these alujha, they are chefur govno... they crawl in from all over... next week, I don’t know which one I talk to, and you know a wolf as well as I... they will come back to you for this.” She smiled to herself, staring up into the impassive darkness. “You don’t care, I know… you want for them to do this, but Kala'amātya…” the vampyre urged, awaiting his gaze. “Look at me and ask if you can wash her off your skin with blood.”
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
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