Fabien was forced to keep prisoner’s time, teasing guesses as to the hour and the day from the light glimpsed in the corridor when the door was opened and how often he was fed. Still, certainly at least a full day had passed since he had woken for the first time in that cell, although it could have been two or even three. It was undoubtedly long enough for his muscles to ache with disuse if he had not found an opportunity to stretch them.
The boy had doubtless become accustomed to the dreary routine. Colombe’s attitude was surly, that of a child forced to care for the family dog for a week as punishment, but she tended to the boy as she had been instructed. It was difficult to find fault with her care. However, anything the boy had to say on her frequent visits went unheeded as she performed a plausible imitation of having fallen deaf as well as mute. Despite her resistance, there was no real cruelty in her gestures; his meals were often delivered hot, the food clearly the excess of her own freshly-made repast.
Tariq had only slipped into the room once, briefly, and only then when the urchin was asleep. He was proficient as any doctor as he scrutinized the boy’s vitals, his hand cool against the bare skin of his chest. If Fabien had awoken during his administrations, he found the vampire had little interest in discussion and had departed swiftly.
Mostly, it was a lonely vigil for the involuntary invalid. Colombe made an attempt to accommodate his requests and he was given free reign of the room, should he have gained the strength to roam, but his freedom ended abruptly at the solid wood of the perpetually locked door.
Now, however, that door swung open with rare urgency. Colombe entered with her usual silence but her hands were empty. This in itself was unusual, as the girl did not make a habit of social calls, but even more disquieting was the palpable distress that shed from her like molting feathers. Her dark eyes were as wide as they’d been when she had bandaged his throat, fear that threatened to grow into terror glinting wet within them. She stepped inside swift enough to nearly trip over her own feet and stopped in the middle of the room as though at a loss, wringing her hands in front of her. Her gaze was intense, almost frantic, on the boy.
The house was, as a rule, exceptionally soundless as though blanketed in a death-shroud that muffled all noise. Both inhabitants that walked its halls were soft of foot and of voice, and the boy was as likely to overhear the faint rustle of shivering leaves as he was the murmur of the vampire’s voice on the infrequent occasion he spoke to the girl in his service.
Now the source of the girl’s worry became clear, floating up from the ground floor like a tendril of smoke. The vampire’s voice, unmistakably, ash-grey and serpent-soft, was raised in genial conversation. And in answer, as faint as the scratching of a mouse in the walls, a fluted response. It was too faded to easily discern the gender or age of its speaker, but it certainly did not belong to any of the usual inhabitants.
There was a stranger in the house. And, judging from the tightness of the girl’s lips as she worried her hands together, their presence did not bode well.