Shaking with rage, I lifted the boy from the filthy rain puddle he had been left in, brushing wet hair from his face. I whispered his name, gently using my fingertips to pry open his eyes. The pupils were fixed and dilated, turning his irises into twin black holes. He was dying, right there in my arms. I could feel him teetering on the edge, right to the point of expiration I had been before Athena turned me. What did I do? Could I open my veins right here and turn him into a creature like me? I had no idea if I even possessed that strength yet.
I stared blankly at him. "Presented?"
The two exchanged glances, and the woman put her hand on my arm. "How old are you, Fledgling? And how is it the one who Sired you told you none of these things?"
I looked between the two of them. "I was Sired less than six weeks ago. I am in the Clan Tenebrati, in the Raven's Claw..."
"One of Athena's brood?" The male asked, drawing closer.
"She is my Sire, yes."
"Athena is your Sire?" The woman's eyebrows shot up. "I find it hard to believe she would release one of her own into the world without a proper education first. The Mother Lioness is ever so protective of her cubs."
"And you have a stench about you," the male added, leaning just inches from my face and taking a deep whiff of me. "Something old and unclean, I think."
"What is your name?" The woman asked.
"My name is Damien Draegonne, and I am telling you the truth." I didn't like where this was going, and was mentally assessing my position. I was in their lair, and Stefan was in no condition to be moved. It was two against one. In short, the odds were all very much against me coming out on top of this if it went bad. "I was sent here because that blue-haired kid thought you could help. I am not looking for trouble."
"Draegonne?" The male stepped even closer, so that our noses were almost touching. He said my name slowly, like he didn't believe it. "Sind Sie von der Nacht Palast?"
I stared, caught off guard. The Night Palace. Twice in one night. That could not be coincidence. He must have seen the look of recognition in my eyes because he snatched me by the throat, showing his fangs. I unsheathed mine as well, ready for a fight.
"Bad time then?"
The male released me, snarling over my shoulder at the blue-haired boy.
"Sorry to be late. 'The Dead travel fast' but the rest of us need to deal with traffic." He moved around us towards the table, looking at Stefan. "Will the kid pull through then?"
"What did you get us into this time, Kit Kat?" She was speaking to the blue-haired boy, but her cold eyes never left me. "This one comes stinking of lost things better left forgotten."
The boy, 'Kit Kat,' shrugged. "You lot owed me big time, now our slate is clean. That is what matters here, I think. Besides," he winked at me. "I like this one. So handsome and all devoted to his little Blood Doll there. I think I might play with him awhile."
I yanked away from the male vampire, staring between the three of them. "Listen, I am not ungrateful here, but who are you people? I understand about ten percent of what is going on."
The girl frowned, then straightened up to her full height. "I am Noetia, Damien Draegonne of the Tenebrati. And this is my Brother in the Blood, Roman. Noetia and Roman Drachen." She emphasised the surname, never taking her eyes from mine. "That name, and its variations, is common to those in our Blood Line. We are of the Order of the Dragon."
I nodded, though with all the revelations of the night whirling in my head, I couldn't fully grasp the weight she was putting on the name. I knew of the Order of the Dragon from Athena, as I knew a bit about all the other Blood Lines. I knew they were strong in Eastern Europe, that they had a long and bloody history, and that they had a penchant for Embracing human nobles into their Blood Line. That was all I could remember.
"I am very grateful to you both," I said carefully. "Really I am."
Kit Kat cleared his throat. "Moi, handsome. Grateful to moi. I am the guy who called in his markers tonight."
I nodded impatiently. "Yes, grateful to you all. And I am sorry I didn't present myself or whatever. I had to leave my clan quickly...to see to business here. I didn't realise it was customary to present yourself to the local vampire population."
Noetia frowned, glancing at Roman. He was having none of it, and continued glaring at me. "More than just customary. If you don't present yourself, we might just assume you are another Outcast." He narrowed his eyes. "And I am not convinced you aren't...you smell of the Raven's Claw, yes. But there is a foulness there as well."
Harot. Harot's Blood. After all these years he can still sense it.
"And don't try to pretend you don't know what the Night Palace is, little Fledgling. I saw it in your eyes." Roman finished, his voice icy.
Feint, I told myself. I turned and looked at Kit Kat. "And you? We haven't been introduced either."
He leaned against the table where Stefan lay, grinning at me. "Kit Katsuyama, at your service." His grin broadened and he winked. "And if you need servicing, let me know."
I tried to ignore him. "You said you knew who did this to Stefan?"
"I said I might," he looked over at Noetia and Roman. "I spotted one of the Nikolea and his group in that area earlier."
Roman sneered. "Outcast scum."
Noetia nodded cooly. "He must have smelled the Tenebrati on your Familiar, Draegonne."
I looked at her. "Why? What makes you say that?"
Roman scoffed. "This Fledge really doesn't pay attention." He spoke slowly to me, as if addressing a child. "Tensions have been flaring, Little Fledge. Your Clan and the Outcasts are pretty much at War. We all may be soon."
I nodded at this, recalling the whispers I had heard in the clan hall. I cursed myself again for bringing Stefan here, looking at him lying so pale on the table. So much was going on I needed to understand. And Harot seemed to be part of it. Biting my lower lip, I decided to roll the dice, and looked directly at Roman Drachen. "You mentioned the Night Palace. You were right...I had heard the name before, but the first time was earlier tonight. That's why it surprised me. What is it? Why did you bring it up?"
Roman looked at Noetia, and she furrowed her brow at me. "You really don't know?"
I nodded. "I really don't."
Roman sighed. "The Night Palace once was held by those of our Blood, Noetia and mine, I mean. He ruled the Black Forest from its walls. Upon being Embraced into the Order of the Dragon, as Noetia told you was common, he changed his surname and that of his mortal descendants to a variation of 'Dragon.' Noetia and I are Drachen. Drakulea was the name assumed by one of our more famous Brothers in the Blood. This Dragon fell, however, and for his treachery was made Outcast. He was exiled, and his Night Palace forfeit."
Recognition dawned on my features. "Harot? His name was Harot?"
"You just don't listen, do you," Roman snapped, a sneer on his face. "'Harot' was the name he used before joining us in the Blood. The ruler of the Night Palace, and the mortal family that served him there, was called 'Draegonne.'"
It took everything I had not to scream.
Catch Part Nine here.