It was a dark and stormy night, as the saying goes.
Of all the places Diana had ever lived, Britain quite possible had the worst weather of them all. The skies were consistently grey, the rain frequent and torrential. Although conditions were rarely scenic, the cover of darkness had its uses.
Diana Cavendish was a vampire. A mistress of darkness, friend only to other creatures of the night. Sunlight burned her skin as if she tread on the sun's surface. Even if she could walk in the daylight, she wouldn't be so much as tempted to blend in among humanity.
Her home, Cavendish Manor, lay on the outskirts of Wedinburgh, far from the prying eyes of humans and their ever-advancing technological surveillance. Gone were the days when a vampire could simply go wherever she liked without worrying about leaving a permanent trace of her immortal existence. Woodcuts were too inelegant to produce an accurate likeness, and it was a rookie mistake to pose long enough for a portrait, but humans these days could capture a vampire's image in a photograph. Not only that, now the average human had a pocket-sized version of a cinematograph. Immortals wouldn't know peace if humans learned of their existence, and the nuisance was enough to make a hermit out of Diana.
For the past decade, Diana had been taking care of her affairs through her familiars and human agents paid well enough for their discretion and incuriosity. Vampiric company was hard to come by, but she kept in touch with her friends Hannah and Barbara through long distance. Human technology was useful for something at least.
A howl cut through the ambient noise of the rain cascading against the windows. Diana rose from her armchair, put the book she'd been reading down on a table, and went to the full-length window to listen for further information from her familiar. There was another short howl, and Diana's sensitive hearing picked up the sound of something entering the house through the old kennel.
She waited until the source of the footfalls padded into her bedchamber: a large grey wolf dripping water from its fur onto the rug.
"Geri, how many times have I told you to dry off properly before coming into the manor?"
The wolf smiled sheepishly and shook herself off. Her mate, a black wolf named Freki, came up alongside her and nipped at her muzzle reproachfully. Geri yipped and the two wolves butted heads. If left to their own devices, they would have gone into a full-on play fight.
"Enough, girls," Diana said sternly. Her familiars broke apart. "What was all that howling about?"
Geri grumbled low in her throat.
"An intruder on the grounds? In this weather?" Diana looked to the storm through the window. Even a vampire's eyes had trouble seeing outside; a human wouldn't be able to see a metre ahead of their face. She knew better than to ask if Geri was sure about the intruder—her senses were extraordinary even for a wolf supernaturally bonded to a vampire. It wouldn't be the first time a curious or foolhardy human made their way to the Cavendish estate... but in this weather...
Her doubts were shattered by a knock at the front door. Geri and Freki's ears perked up, their lips pulling back into a growling snarl.
The fist pounded against the door again and again, repeated in sets of threes. Diana considered letting her wolves chase the interloper off the premises. Such a tactic might arouse suspicion, as wolves had been extinct in Britain for centuries, but they might pass as dogs in the darkness. Albeit monstrously large dogs.
After a little deliberation, Diana decided to simply ignore the human. The storm would drive them away before long.
Or so she thought.
The pounding at the front door was relentless. Diana had resumed reading her book, but she soon slammed it back down out of frustration, her familiars flinching in surprise as she suddenly stood up.
"What could possibly have possessed this person?" Diana muttered to herself. She told her familiars to stay in the room and swept out of the room.
The front door was quite a walk from Diana's bedroom, and she put murder in every step of the way. The nerve of this human! she thought. Diana had isolated herself specifically to avoid this kind of nuisance, but here she was, subject to a human's whims. She was a vampire, for goodness' sake!
Her fury gave way to bloodlust. Only a fledgling vampire would give in to the thirst over such a trivial frustration; nevertheless, the temptation to sink her fangs into the human on the other side of the door was something awful. Diana hadn't drunk fresh blood in years.
She tore through the entrance hall, unbolted the front door, and swung it open. The persistent knocking finally came to a stop.
The source of Diana's ire was a young woman, shorter and wetter than average. Her chestnut hair was plastered against her face and neck by the rain, her jacket and the dress beneath it soaked all the way through. A pair of crimson eyes widened when their gaze fell upon Diana.
"Thank goodness!" the woman exclaimed. "I was starting to think that nobody was going to come!"
I should have waited a little longer then, Diana thought. She considered slamming the door in the woman's face. "Why are you here?"
"I got lost in the woods! Before I knew it, it was raining cats and dogs, but then I found your house and now I'm saved!"
Diana wasn't so sure. Her fangs were still primed to sink into human flesh. "My manor isn't open to the public. I advise that you seek shelter elsewhere."
"What!? You're going to leave me out here in this storm?"
"Yes," Diana said curtly. She kept her mouth tight to keep her fangs from showing. "I value my privacy over all else."
"Even over human life?" The woman scoffed. "This is what's wrong with the bourgeoisie. You guys only look out for yourselves."
Diana's brows knitted together. "Do you think that insulting me is going to improve your chances to be let in?"
"Hey, you already made up your mind. I'm just judging you for it, little miss bougie."
"You're the most immature person to darken my doorstep in a very long time." Even the conquering Normans had a semblance of manners.
"Stingy! Stingy! Stingy! Whatever happened to noblesse oblige?" The woman huffed and her hand went to the back of her neck, pulling her wet hair back and revealing a flash of soft, pale skin...
Diana was about to close the door, but the woman's words—and her neck—stayed her hand. In centuries past, Diana allowed many a weary traveller to rest at her estates. She would play the generous host during the day, then take her payment by night. Each and every one of her female guests had fallen prey to her seductive charms and willingly surrendered their blood to her. Such was a convenient arrangement for both parties, but it was no longer tenable in the present age. These days humans were more suspicious than superstitious, and modern transportation rarely took humans near the remote manors and castles where Diana had taken up residence.
This woman was the first traveller she'd seen in ages, and irritating as she was, Diana felt a surge of nostalgia for her history as a host.
Diana sighed and opened the door wider. "Very well. It would be troublesome if you injured yourself walking through the woods at night. Come inside and warm up."
The woman's mouth made a small 'o' in surprise before breaking into a grin. "Thanks, lady. You're not so bad after all!"
How was it possible that a girl who looked like a drowned rat could have such a wonderful smile? "My name is Diana Cavendish."
"My name's Atsuko Kagari. You can call me 'Akko'."
The woman, Akko, shuffled inside and Diana shut the door behind her.
"Wow!" Akko said, gawking at the size of the entrance hall. "You have a really nice place! I couldn't really see it outside, but damn! This place must have rooms for tons of people."
"It does," Diana replied. "Alas, I'm the only person here."
"Really? You live here alone?"
"In a manner of speaking." A vampire's familiars were more a part of her than not.
As if on cue, Geri and Freki appeared through a doorway, defying Diana's direct order to stay in her bedroom.
Akko spotted the wolves and her eyes lit up. "Pubbies!"
Diana stared at her. Did this human have no sense of self-preservation?
The wolves cautiously approached Akko. Freki sniffed her hand and allowed herself to have her ears scratched. Geri saw the human dripping all over the floor and looked at Diana with a sense of betrayal. She chastised her familiar for tracking water inside, then she let a human drip a small pond all over the entrance hall?
"It can't be helped," she whispered, too low for the human to hear. "Don't be a baby."
Geri grumbled and nudged the human for headpats.
"You have a way with animals," Diana said. "Geri and Freki aren't usually so... welcoming."
"My friends say I have a lot of charisma." Akko chuckled. "Oh, I should probably get out of these clothes before I freeze to death." Without further warning, she stripped out of her jacket.
"Wh-what are you doing?"
"I don't want to get water all over your nice house," Akko said, nonchalantly dropping her wet jacket on the rug. "Besides, we're all girls here. What's the problem?"
Diana averted her gaze before the human started to peel herself out of her dress. That much bare skin would arouse her vampiric instincts. "You're unbelievable. At least wait until I've provided you with a change of clothes."
"I might freeze my butt off before that. Oh, and please tell me you have clothes that aren't as extra as what you're wearing right now."
"What's wrong with the way I'm dressed?" Her dress was the height of Victorian fashion, modest to a fault, a funereal garment covered in black lace.
"You look like a character from a Tim Burton movie."
Diana didn't know what that meant, and she didn't stick around long enough to find out. She left the room and took full advantage of her vampiric speed to retrieve a change of clothes as quickly as possible. That vexing woman couldn't complain about a plain, white nightgown, could she?
When Diana returned, Akko was standing where she left her, shivering in her underwear. Looking at her as little as possible, Diana walked by her, stuffed the nightgown and a towel into her hands, and kept walking down the hall. "Dry your hair off and get dressed. Freki will bring you to the sitting room when you're ready."
Geri followed Diana breaking into a loping run to keep up with her mistress's agitated pace. Once in the sitting room, Diana lit a fire in the old stone fireplace. Warmth washed over her, but it didn't compare to the heat of her anger. Or was it something else?
She tried not to think of the half-naked human standing in the entrance hall, but how could she not? Her bloodlust stirred again. She licked her lips, running her tongue over her fangs at the thought of sinking them into that infuriating woman's veins...
Diana shook her head. There was no way she could feed on this human. Drinking from uninitiated humans was more trouble than it was worth these days. Besides, this human was provoking responses low in her centre, reactions she hadn't experienced for so long.
Sensing her dismay, Geri licked Diana's face to comfort her.
"Thank you, dear." Diana stroked her familiar's thick fur. "It's been a long time since we've had a guest."
The wolf gave her a look laden with meaning: is Akko really only a guest?
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Geri shrugged, as much as a wolf could. You've been looking at her the way I look at a deer. Hungry.
"I'm not going to drink her blood," Diana insisted. "I have plenty of blood in storage. Besides, who knows where she's been? Humans these days can be so unsanitary."
Geri, who remembered Diana had no qualms about feeding on humans during the Black Death, raised her brows. Diana suddenly regretted bonding with a social animal that could judge her with facial expressions.
"Anymore out of you and I'll—" Diana cut herself off. Akko was standing in the doorway, the nightgown hanging off her slender frame like... Why were her senses so sharp at this moment when she failed to notice Akko's approach until now? Why hadn't Freki alerted her?
Akko smiled. "Talking to your doggy? That's kinda cute."
Diana blanked. Cute? In over a millennium of undead life she'd never been called 'cute' or any equivalent in over a dozen languages. Beautiful? Yes. Enchanting? More times than she could count. But cute? Never until now.
She cleared her throat nervously but found that she had nothing to say, especially when Akko came over and sat down next to her.
"This fire's just what I needed," Akko said, lounging out on the floor, moving dangerously close to her host. "So warm. Your place is pretty cozy. I'm kinda glad I got lost." She relaxed and leaned back, and all Diana could see was her throat.
"You shouldn't be happy about that," Diana said limply as she turned her head away.
Akko giggled. "Don't be shy. Is that why you're hiding away from the world? Are you not good with people?"
If only you knew. "As I said, I value my privacy. What brought you out here?" Into my clutches?
"Travelling for the sake of travelling. I'm a bit of a free spirit, looking for some adventure." The human shifted her legs into a new position, and the nightgown rode up her thighs like a highwayman on the run. Was that dress always that short?
The human's exposed thighs held Diana's gaze, the veins singing with blood. It would be so easy for her to push Akko over and sink her fangs into her femoral artery...
Diana stood up so suddenly that Akko fell over in surprise. The wolves perked up their ears.
"I must retire to my chambers," Diana said stiffly. "Geri and Freki will show you to a room when you're ready to sleep." She turned sharply and started to walk away, gritting her teeth to suppress her bloodlust. If she didn't leave now, she wouldn't be able to hold herself back—
"Oh, c'mon!" Akko whined. "What's a girl gotta do to get bit around here?"
The vampire froze in place. Turning on her heel slowly, she saw Akko scowling at her again. "Pardon me?"
"I've been showing off my neck all night, and you aren't even looking at it!" Akko flailed her arms in frustration. "I even stripped in front of you, and you've been giving me nothing! I thought vampires were supposed to be apex predators!"
"Hold on... " Diana couldn't believe what she was hearing. "You came here knowing that I'm a vampire?"
"Well, duh! You live out in the middle of nowhere with a couple of wolves and you dress like Morticia Adams, of course you're a vampire! I've been researching you for years! It took me ages to find you. Do you have any idea how long I waited for this storm so I could trick you into taking me in?"
Diana pinched the bridge of her nose. "I thought you were clueless, but you're telling me everything you did was intentional? Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
Akko had the nerve to be offended. "Hey, I know what I'm doing! I'm a paranormal investigator. Well, an amateur one, but it still counts! I read a British legend about a platinum blonde vampire who gave refuge to people during the plague times, then when I did my research I found a lot of history stuff to back it up. All the signs pointed to the Cavendish family, and then it was just a matter of figuring out where you were currently living. It was pretty impressive of me, if I do say so myself!"
Despite the problem of having a human discover her true nature, Diana was somewhat flattered. "Why on earth do you want a vampire to bite you?" She narrowed her eyes. "You're not a Nightfall fan, are you?" One of her vampire friends, Barbara Parker, had explained that there was a cadre of humans with an unhealthy interest in replicating scenes from their favourite paranormal romance series.
"Eh? A friend tried to get me into it, but I'm more of Carmilla or Lost Boys kinda girl."
The second reference flew over her head, but Diana caught the Victorian novella like a punch to the gut. "Countess Karnstein is actually a lovely woman. Curse Sheridan le Fanu for writing that slanderous book."
"Book? I'm talking about movies and a web series. Wait, Carmilla's a real vampire?" Akko stroked her chin. "Maybe I should have looked for her instead. I bet she would've bit me by now."
That, and a lot more. "Why are you so dead-set on being bitten by a vampire?"
"Because I need to know what it's like! I have a zillion questions about vampires, but I need to know what it's like to be bitten firsthand. My pride as a paranormal expert depends on it!"
Some people had an absurd concept of pride. Then again, Diana was having her own tickled from having been recognized and sought out. As she looked over the human in a new light, she couldn't help but admire her determination.
Diana sighed and returned to her seat next to Akko in front of the fire. "If you knew I was a vampire, why did you not simply ask me to bite you?"
"Where's the fun in that? I wanted the full experience! That heart-pounding, doki-doki no waku-waku feeling of being seduced by a super sexy vampire into baring my neck and giving up my blood!"
"Why would you—are you trying to get killed?"
"Of course not," Akko said. "I'm reckless, not stupid. I told you I did my research. You're not some mindless killer, you're a big softie! In the Dark Ages you let tons of people stay in your castle in England, and that's just the start!" She grinned. "There's no way you'd kill me!"
Diana had little regard for vampires who fed senselessly and slaughtered humans, but she resented the implication that she was completely harmless. She was still a vampire, after all! "What if I'm good enough not to leave a trace of my victims?"
Akko blew a raspberry. "As if. If you were a killer, you would've chomped me by now." She was right, and her smug attitude only made her seem more biteable.
Diana made up her mind. She nodded at Geri and Freki. They took the hint and excused themselves, going off to cuddle elsewhere in the manor.
The vampire leaned in, her blue eyes changing to a red that matched the human's. "Do you really want me to bite you, Akko?"
"Yeah! Gimme those fangs!"
Diana smiled wolfishly, her lips pulling back to reveal her elongated canine teeth in all their glory. "These fangs?"
She heard Akko's pulse quicken. "Oh, wow. Those are really long."
"Having second thoughts?"
"Nope. Just, you know, wew. " Akko blushed.
Diana put her arms around the human and pulled her close, their chests pressing together, Akko's heart beating fast as a trapped rabbit's. "Lean your head back, if you would."
Akko did as she was told. Her damp hair fell back over her shoulders as she eased into a more vulnerable position. Diana brushed away an errant tress with a single finger, stroking the sensitive skin of her neck.
"Quit teasing," Akko said, her voice quivering. "Just bite me already! The suspense is killing me!"
"Patience." She lowered her head and kissed Akko's neck, testing the suppleness of her skin. Akko let out a little gasp.
"Are you ready?" she whispered against her skin. When Akko muttered an affirmative, Diana found a vein, bared her fangs, and sank them into her guest's flesh.
Diana hadn't bitten a human in years. The hot, gushing blood almost overwhelmed her, but a millennium of experience held her in check. She sucked gently, careful not to drink too deeply or tear the skin more than necessary to coax out the blood. The delicious, fresh, intoxicating blood. How could she ever have lived without it? Preserved blood simply couldn't compare.
The experience was pleasurable for Akko as well, evident by one hand clutching at Diana's hip and another buried in her hair. A vampire's bite had an aphrodisiac effect, provided the human in question was calm. It made for a win-win situation.
Akko tasted divine. Everything about her, her smell, her warmth drew Diana in. She quickly drank her fill, but she wanted more. Her thirst was sated, but a carnal hunger persisted.
It took her a little too long to remember that she could desire more than blood.
Diana withdrew her fangs and licked the wound clean. She righted herself and eased Akko back into a sitting position. "Was the full experience everything you imagined?"
"Better," Akko gasped. "Way better. Wew! I'm not gonna bleed out, am I?" She retracted her hand from Diana's neck to feel at her wounds.
"Of course not," Diana said. That would be a waste of delicious blood. "The punctures will heal on their own if you don't pick at them." She grabbed Akko's hand to keep her from doing just that.
"So... the night is young," Akko said, winking and interlocking her fingers with Diana's.
"So it is," Diana purred in response. "I wouldn't mind spending the rest of it with you." To hell with restraint. Feeding on a human wasn't the only indulgence she'd been denying herself.
"Great! Because I have a million questions about vampires that I've been dying to ask."
Diana's eye twitched. Was she out of practice, or was this human just oblivious?
"Do you sleep in a coffin, or is that a myth?"
"How about you come to my chambers and find out?"
"I'd love to! A real vampire's lair!" Akko stood up and pulled at Diana's hand to get her to join her. "Come on, let's go!"
Third time's the charm. Diana rose to her full height and stroked Akko's cheek with her other hand. "I'm trying to seduce you."
"But you already drank my blood..." Comprehension dawned on Akko's face in the form of a glorious blush. "Oh... I didn't realize that was an option. I figured you'd be all old-fashioned."
"Modest women don't let strangers into their homes, never mind their bedrooms."
"Fair enough." Akko stood on her tiptoes and pecked Diana on the lips. "Um, to your bedroom then?"
"If we can make it that far."