"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


See Part Two here.

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In the ninth grade, I beat the undefeated Chess Club president by sacrificing my queen and checkmating him with my rooks.  I will never forget the look on his face.  Tall and reedy, Don was one of those nerdy boys who disguised their fear and alienation under a liberal layer of arrogance and superiority.  Chess was his wheelhouse.  Now it looked like he was going to cry.  "I never saw you coming," he said, lowering his eyes.

After that, the name stuck.  By the end of the year everyone was calling me it, even kids outside the club who had no idea what it meant or why they were calling me it.  I wasn't Damien Draegonne any more.  I was simply 'Rook.'

I was vaguely aware a 'rook' was also some kind of bird, but this was in the days before Google when if you wanted to know something you actually had to put some effort into it.  It never seemed that important.  But I got the answer a few years later, anyway.  My girlfriend was doing some fieldwork on the Akwesasne reservation in upstate New York one summer, and I drove up to visit her.  She introduced me to and old man she described as a 'shaman,' and sharing a meal one night we got to talking about totem animals.  "You are watched by Rabbit," he told her, before stopping and looking very hard at me.  "And you...you will be a Crow."

"Will be?"

The old man stared again, with the kind of look you saw in the eyes of the deeply stoned or people looking right through you.  "Will be.  They haven't come for you yet."

I remember deciding the old man probably was stoned and went on with the meal.  That evening though, my girlfriend brought it up again.  "That was weird, right?  The Crow thing?"

"Spirit guides in general seem pretty weird to me."  I said, brushing the conversation aside and attempting to nuzzle her neck.  I didn't want to discuss Iroquois spirituality.  I'd made the six hour drive for sex.

"I mean, because I introduced you as 'Damien.'"

"Mmmm," I murmured, trying to unbutton her blouse.  "Well that is my name."

"But everybody calls you Rook, and he didn't know that."

I realized, as thousands of generations of men before me had, that I wasn't going to get what I wanted until I let her say what was on her mind.  So I stopped pawing at her and sat up straight with my best "I am here to listen to you" face.  "And?"

"Well a rook is a kind of crow," she said, looking at me like it should have been obvious.  "Or a raven."

"Huh," I said, still thinking about undressing her.  "That's interesting."

They haven't come for you yet.

To this day I cannot tell you how we travelled from the Progeny's castle to the Tenebrati lair.  From my point of view, we just suddenly were "there."  I have no memory of the journey, and at the time had no idea if I was even in the same nation or hemisphere.  I have since learned the effect the Progeny can have on the minds of the Quick; We can lure one of you away from the herd and feed, returning you with no memory of the event.  It's not hypnosis so much as pushing you down gently into a dream state, just as easily as shoving the head of a child below the water line of a bath.  Individual Progeny develop individual powers, but this forced dreaming seems universal.

Perhaps the same applied there.  Maybe I made the entire journey in that thick mental haze, or maybe Athena actually possessed to power of teleportation from one place to the next.  All I knew then was that one moment I had been standing with her in the library at the Progeny castle, and the next I was blinking and dizzy, the world coming into focus around me, somewhere else.

And as my head cleared, I became aware of a semi-circle of figures gathered in front of me.

"Everyone," Athena announced to the room.  She had not raised her voice but a stillness fell over them all nonetheless.  "This is Damien. He is seeking to join us."

She began a round of introductions.  Again, there is a surreal haze over my memory--perhaps the Progeny affect on the Quick--and my impressions of the evening are blurry at best.  I remember the amber firelight flickering over the ancient stone walls, the intricate pattern of the carpet on the floor.  I remember the whisper of fabric as the Progeny moved through the room.  But their faces, and any details about them, are veiled.

I remember Alexa was there, with her young Get.  I remember Marcus, immaculately dressed in a tailored suit.  Others came and went it seemed, appearing and disappearing in the fog around my perception like ghosts.  They moved around me, pale shadows with glittering eyes and soothing voices, and in my memories they chatted with me amiably, as if I were an equal.

Though they questioned me extensively, I was also able to learn something of them.  Some of it I knew already from Harot.  I knew that the Progeny were bound by an elaborate web of traditions and customs, stretching back through time.  I knew they divided themselves first into Bloodlines, which might be compared to "nationality" or "ethnicity" among the Quick.  Within  these Bloodlines ran smaller sub-divisions, known as Clans, just as human nations have local regions.  If a Bloodline were, say, the United States, a Clan might be New England, the Pacific Northwest, or the Deep South.  The difference of course is that Bloodlines and Clans were not bound by geography.

"We are the Raven's Claw," Athena told me, a note of pride in her strong voice.  I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, the shaman's words echoed in the back of my brain.  You will be a crow.  They haven't come for you yet.  I was to be a Crow.  The Rook.  A Raven.  I had never believed in destiny before, but my path seemed to have led inevitably to these beings.  "Our Bloodline spans many Clans, and even includes some among the Quick and the Others."  The Others, I would come to learn, referred to supernatural beings other than the Progeny.

"We tend to be less autocratic than many Bloodlines," Marcus smiled from across the room.  His words buzzed like Novocain in my head.

"In some the Get are bound tightly to their Sires, in a strict chain of command." Athena agreed.  "We value independence here...which gives us a reputation of being intensely political.  For we do not always agree, and can be passionate in our disagreements."  The others in the room nodded at this as if thinking upon some incident I wasn't privy to.

"You are fortunate you happened upon Athena," Marcus added.  "Our Bloodline is not as contemptuous of the Quick as some may be."

I realized even as they spoke to me they were discussing business among themselves in those eerie, inaudible voices.  The air hummed with it around me, even if I couldn't make out the words.  Now and again they glanced my way, and I felt certain they were sizing me up, examining me in ways I couldn't comprehend.

"Rook is a scholar," Athena informed them.  "A writer.  I think perhaps he might like to help me with the archives."

I found myself agreeing, partly because I had come this far and was desperate for acceptance, and partly because the dizzy, narcotic influence they had on me made me want to say "yes" to everything they said.  If Athena had told me it was a good idea to take a steak knife and carve off my face, under their influence, I would have to struggle not to refuse.

"I think I will keep him," she told the others, and there were murmurs of agreement.

I was given quarters in which to stay, as the Clan made plans for my Embrace.  I cannot tell you how many days or weeks I was there.  At night, the dreaming effect of the Progeny was strong, making my thoughts slow and thick.  During the day, my head cleared, but I felt strangely lethargic.  I spent most of my time pouring over books that Alexa had given me, the laws and customs of the Raven's Claw, the those that bound the Progeny entire.  Food was brought to me at regular intervals, but I had less and less appetite as the days passed.  I was losing weight.  My skin had turned pale and them clammy.  Dark circles appeared under my eyes.

Are they feeding on me?  I felt a thrill of horror.  If they were, I had no memory of it.  Still, I was showing all the signs of increased blood loss, even if I could find no tell-tale bite marks on my skin.

When Athena returned to visit me, I was very weak.  My supper sat uneaten on a try beside the bed.  "Are you ready to join us, Damien?"

I nodded, and told her yes.

"You understand what this means, I hope?  There will be no turning back."

"I understand.  And I am ready."  I was ready, I felt it in my bones...but if I wasn't?  I wondered what then.  I was in their lair, and it was clear they had been draining me.  They had opened up their secrets to me.  Yes, I had come if my own free will, but I felt certain if I had a last minute change of heart I would simply disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.

"Dress is formal," she replied with a nod.  "I will send for you."

It was a struggle to dress.  Standing, I felt dizzy and weak, and my heart pounded irregularly in my chest.  I put on a suit left for me and knotted the tie, realizing with a curiously detached feeling that my life was about to come to an end.  Not the end the doctors had condemned me to; but something altogether more alien.  My breath would stop.  My heart would cease to beat.  But I would live, after a fashion.  I would be some entirely different order of being.

And I would feed on blood.

The horror came to me then, the same limb-seizing terror that gripped me on my way to First Communion.  I am the resurrection and the life.  He that believeth in me, though he were dead, shall live.

A raven landed on the windowsill and cocked its head at me.  And I knew with perfectly clarity my entire existence had led to this.

O death where is thy sting?  O grave where is thy victory?

The ones who came for me, I felt certain, were human.  What had the books called them?  Familiars.  That was it.  It was a pair of them, a young man and woman, both pale and dressed in black.  I had read that the Progeny often kept human servants, or Familiars, around for protection and for food.  Some did it hoping they too could someday be elevated into the Progeny's ranks, others found a sort of submissive sexual thrill in being vampirized.  These two, brother and sister by the look of them, took me gently by the arms and escorted me, slowly, into the hall and down the grand stairs.  I was glad to have them.  My knees were weak from blood loss and my head was swimming.

The room they led me to was some sort of chapel.  The girl swung open the heavy wooden doors while the boy helped me keep standing.  Lit by flickering candlelight, the smell of incense heavy in the air, a low chant poured out of the room.  As the boy escorted me in, a saw a dozen or more shadows around me, turning their glittering eyes towards me in unison.  Male and female, of all nationalities and ethnicities, they had the same air of hunger about them.  They moved aside, silently, as the pair led me towards a black altar on the far side of the chamber.

Athena was there, in a black evening gown.  She stood directly before the altar, Alexa not far away.  The pair of Familiars left me standing in front of her, my back to the assembly.  It took all my strength to remain on my feet.

"You understand what must be done here," she said.  It was not a question.  I nodded both to demonstrate I understood, and that I was giving my consent.  "You must be drained of blood to the point of death," she continued, nodding at Alexa.  "I have asked Alexa to prepare you in this regard, and she had been draining you over the last few nights.  She must now finish the task."

This is my blood that establishes the covenant...

For the first time my nerve faltered, and I stumbled back towards the altar.  Alexa seized me by the wrist.  Athena stared at me hard, and summoning what remained of my courage, I nodded.  Immediately Alexa rolled up my sleeve, exposing the wrist.  With a soft, wet, popping sound her canines unsheathed, dagger-like fangs elongating.  With the speed and natural instinct if a cobra she struck, a flash of pain surging up my arm as the bite landed.  This was followed by the strangely sensuous thrill of her lips and tongue working against the wound, sucking sounds filling the air.

Athena has assumed the position of a high priestess at the altar, reciting a litany.  To be honest, I cannot clearly recall to this day what was said.  I was at that moment literally dying; the words she spoke and the chant repeated by the assembled Progeny was drown out in the roar that filled my ears, and the writhing blackness filling my head.

I think I fell.  There was a sensation of falling, of my body becoming weightless.  In the distance a drum was beating, but the rhythm was irregular and slow.  I became aware of strong arms snatching me, arms as hard and cold as marble.  They were the only things keeping me from falling any further, a plunge I knew then led downwards into Death.

Drink of me.  Drink of me and live forever.

(I am not worthy...but only say the word and my soul shall be healed)

I became aware then of sucking at something, something black and cold...or so it seemed to me at the time.  I realized with a start it was Athena.  She was giving some of her blood to me.  "Decem," I heard her say somewhere above me, "he needs more.  Let him drink of you."

A male stepped forward, and opened his own wrist for me.  After swallowing the blood of my Sire, I fastened hungrily onto him.

The hunger of a newborn, someone said, and the rest of the room was laughing.

I could compare it to many things, but none would be accurate.  I could tell you it felt like sex after a long dry spell.  I could tell you it felt like gulping down water on a hot summer day.  I could tell you it was like feasting after days without food.  Perhaps the closest analogy was scoring a fix after trying to go cold turkey.  All I can say is that I have never needed anything as badly as I needed the blood oozing from his wrist, and never been as hungry for anything.  I was lost in the need.

But they pulled me away and I began to feel the poison working inside me. I fell to my knees and then face-down on the floor.  Numbing cold was spreading through my body, and my senses were dimmed by it.  My pulse became erratic and sputtered to a halt.  My lungs couldn't get any air.  Ice cold and paralyzed, the blood of the Progeny ran through me, changing ever cell.  The darkness took me, a dreamless sleep as near death as anything I have ever known.

See Part Four here.

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