"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.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Read Part Six here.

The Hotel de la Paix overlooks Lake Geneva, and the bellhop made a point of opening the doors to the balcony with a grand flourish, showing off the view.  The dark waters, framed by the jagged alps, dazzled in the reflected moonlight, but I barely acknowledged the sight.  It had been three days since I had fed, and the Hunger was a dull throb in my veins.  My fangs ached with it, and the bellhop--a blonde Swiss boy with pale blue eyes--was the focus of my attention.  As he turned his head to show us the scenery, my gaze fixed on the artery pulsing in his neck.

"Thank you, it is all very lovely," Stefan said, seeing from the taunt muscles in my jaw I was fighting the urge to feed.  He stepped forward and gave the boy what little money we had left.  "And the room is perfect.  I am sure we can manage."

The bellhop nodded, smirking to himself at Stefan's urgency.  He probably assumed the boy and his "sugar daddy" wanted alone time.  Harot's Swiss solicitor had booked the room for me alone, and when I showed up with Stefan behind me the clerk, with all the cool discretion one might expect from a five star hotel, barely blinked.  "I am afraid the reservation was for a single bed, monsieur.  I would change it for you, but unfortunately there is nothing else available at this time."  I nodded, and told him my "son" and I could "make do."

"Very good, monsieur," he replied, summoning the bellhop.  He did not comment that the boy and I looked only a dozen years apart, or that with exception of dark hair had little else in common and looked nothing like relatives.

As soon as the bellhop was gone, Stefan turned towards me, rolling up his sleeve.  "Please, Master, you must feed."

It was not that I was in any danger; I could go at least twelve days before starving myself into the Dusk.  If I let it go that far, however, I would have to kill and gorge myself fully.  It was better by far to feed a little and often, to keep as full as possible.  The Hunger had a mind of its own, and could reduce the strongest of us to ravening beasts if not appeased.

"Stop calling me that," I said, my voice harsher than I had meant it to be.  "We are out in the world now, not hidden in the Clan citadel.  I told you, called me 'Damien,' or 'Rook' even."

The boy nodded, offering up his wrist.  "Yes Ma...Damien.  But please.  Take what you need from me."

Stefan was, I had rapidly learned, the best thing that could have happened to me in my flight from the Clan.  I had very poorly thought my escape out, and in retrospect I might not have made it to Geneva if he hadn't followed me.  The sun, for example, did not burn or scorch me as it might those Sired with Blood weaker than Athena's.  But still, for six hours out of every twenty-four, and always during the day, I fell into slumber.  Having no pulse, no breath, if found in that condition I could easily be mistaken for dead.  Stefan though, guarded me like a watch dog, making sure I rested in peace.  When I drew the shades and lay down on the bunk of my darkened cabin, he was there watching over me.  When I opened my eyes six hours late, he hadn't budged. He carried a switchblade with him, and I had no doubt that anyone who tried to disturb me would feel its sting...and it would likely be the last thing they ever felt.  I couldn't help mentally comparing him to a dog I once had, or immediately feeling guilty about making the comparison.  But the fact was it was true...he had the kind of single-minded loyalty you usually only found in the canine heart.

I shook my head and brushed his arm away.  "I need you strong, Stefan.  This isn't back home where you can just go and rest after I take from you.  We may have enemies here."

To my surprise he stepped forward and gripped me firmly my the arm.  It was a brave move; of course I could shake him off and throw him across the room if I wanted.  But the devoted look in his face quelled any impulse to do so.  "Mas...Damien.  I have already explained.  I am stronger than the Quick.  I can take it.  And because we may have enemies out there, it isn't safe for you to go hunt.  Please.  Feed."

He had been surprised that I didn't already know the secret of the Familiars, that my Sire hadn't told me.  It was not Athena's fault; I had fled in the middle of my instruction and I was sure there were literally thousands of things she hadn't had time to teach me.  I had assumed the Familiars were merely Quick who volunteered to be fed off of...and I was wrong.  In fact, the Familiars were no longer strictly speaking "human."  Like us, they underwent a process of transformation that infused them with a portion of our nature.  The Familiars lived longer--double the natural human lifespan--and were highly resistant to disease.  More importantly for the Progeny, they healed rapidly, and regenerated blood twice as fast as one of the Quick.  They could be fed upon more often without danger.

I took his wrist lightly, my cool fingers brushing his warm skin.  The Hunger snarled, thrashing at the bars of its cage, and my fangs slid free of their sheaths.  He looked at me and nodded, eyes wide.  I surrendered, and bit into his flesh.

That same explosion of color, of light, of being.  I floated up and out of myself and into him.  He is six years old.  His mother has been gone five days.  The refrigerator and cupboards are empty.  Yesterday he was so hungry he ate a quarter of a bag of flour.  There is nothing left and the pain in his stomach is a white hot fire.  He is curled up on the floor, weeping.  The memory is so vivid, I see it so clearly, it was as if I was there...  No, I am there, right there with him in the room.  How is this happening?  Rushing forward, I take the terrified child in my arms, holding him.  I want to find his mother and tear out her throat.  "It's okay," I whisper, stroking his hair.  "It's okay.  You aren't alone..."

With a shock like a physical jolt I yanked back my head, his blood still running down my throat.  Stefan, tears wet on his face, lowered his bleeding wrist.  "You...you were there.  I saw it.  How?"

I looked at him.  "This has never happened to you before?  With the others who fed from you?"

Slowly, he shook his head, wiping the tears from his face.  His voice was small, like the child I had seen in his head.  "No.  Never."

I nodded, feeling a sudden wave of tenderness for him so intense I reached out and put my hand on his cheek.  "When I feed, I see things...memories, experiences.  It is like sharing a soul, with the blood.  My Sire said for each of us the Gift is different.  There is something in me that joins with those I take blood from.  It's like, in that moment, we fuse together."

He nodded, taking my hand and pressing his face firmly against it.

"But usually I see into your head...this time, you saw me in your head.  I don't know...maybe because I have fed from you so often that bond is getting more intense."

"I know you weren't there, back then.  Not really...but now in my head I have the memory that you were.  It's been rewritten."

"Well," I said, still feeling the intense connection to him from the blood sharing.  "I am here now, and no one is going to hurt you."

The promises we make...promises we cannot possibly keep.

Schultheiss & Staehelin was located on the Rue du Mont-Blanc, easy walking distance from the hotel even for the Quick.  My appointment with Herr Schnidrig was for ten PM.  I had no idea what his usual business hours were, but I doubted late evenings were the norm for him.  Yet he had set the time when I responded to his emails, and as Harot's agent, I had the nagging suspicion he knew exactly what my nature was.  Why else the night meeting?  I wondered how much he knew about Harot himself.

Stefan had insisted he should accompany me there, but I ordered him to stay in the room.  In all honesty, my motivations for keeping him back were mixed, so entangled with each other even I could not sort them out.  Some of it was logic...if this was a trap, some elaborate plan for Harot to ensnare me, if I didn't come back there was a chance Stefan could return to Athena and get help.  In the very least she would know what had happened to me.  But the rest...this bonding with Stefan was affecting me.  That image of him left to starve by his drunken mother burned in my brain.  I was feeling protective of him, against both good sense and my own will.  I wanted to keep him out of danger.

So I went alone.

The security guards at the door were expecting me, and within moments I was taking the lift to the fourth floor.  The law offices were empty...the computers and lights all shut off, the rooms thick with darkness.  All except one.  The green gold light of a desk lamp spilled from an open door, and focusing my senses, I could here the steady drumming of a single human heart.  If I had still been alive, I would have taken a deep breath.  Instead, I simply headed for the lit room.

Standing in the doorway, I cleared my throat.

"Ah, Herr Draegonne.  So punctual.  Ten on the dot."  Herr Schnidrig rose from the leather throne tucked between the windows and a massive oak desk, offering me a bow with his head.  He made no effort to approach me or shake hands.  Instead, he gestured at one of the smaller leather armchairs in front of the desk.  "I am Hans Schnidrig.  Won't you please take a seat?"

I nodded, slowly crossing the room.  Unhindered by the dim light, my eyes took in the man.  He was in his late fifties at least, his thick hair a gunmetal shade of grey.  Not a single strand was out of place.  He had a broad, square face, and eyes that seemed too small for it.  There was something cold in the downturned corners of his mouth, and between his hair, immaculately clean glasses, and perfectly tailored suit, I read a kind of steely efficiency in the man.  This one was unencumbered by morals or ethics.  He would perform his duties like a machine.

Sinking into the chair, I noticed the cup of tea cooling on his desk.  As he sat across from me and sipped it, I wondered if he didn't offer me one out of coldness...or if it was awareness of my nature.

"I trust you found the de la Paix acceptable?"

"Very comfortable, yes," I replied.

"Good good," he said, laying both his hands flat on the desk.  "If there are any other services you need, you may have the utmost confidence in my discretion."

He means if I need victims to feed on.  "Thank you, Herr Schnidrig.  But mostly I am just anxious to find out what this is all about."

"Of course of course," he nodded.  "I had to be discrete in my emails, you understand.  Electronic mail is so easily intercepted and read."

I nodded but said nothing, waiting for him to make the first move.

"To begin with, I have been under instruction for the last several months to reach out to you if I did not hear from my employer every three days.  The last communication I had from him was twenty-two days ago. As per his instructions, I sought you out."

I narrowed my eyes, a half dozen questions springing to mind.  I arranged them into order.  "To be clear, your employer is Simon Harrow."

The lawyer shrugged slightly. "That is not how I know him, but that is how he is known to some."

"You stopped hearing from him...is he in some sort of trouble?"

"I am sure I have no idea."

I frowned at this, then; "Why me?  What am I to him?"

The lawyer shrugged again.  "These are matters that do not concern me, Herr Draegonne.  My instructions are only that if I do not hear from my employer, I am to turn over to you ownership of two pieces of property, and possession of an account at Wegelin & Co."

"Sorry, what is that?"

"A bank, Herr Draegonne.  Switzerland's oldest."

This didn't make any sense.  I had always known the Old Man had money, but a Swiss bank account?  And why was he giving this to me?  "Is this an account he set up for me, or one that he is just turning over to me?"

"It has existed as long as I have served him, Herr Draegonne.  It is linked, I understand, to his holdings at Monte Dei Paschi di Siena and the Berenberg in Germany."

My eyes widened somewhat.  "Those are some of the oldest banks in Europe."

"Yes, Herr Draegonne.  Yes indeed.  Just as you say.  My employer's wealth is what you Americans might call 'old money.'  Its foundations predate even our modern currency systems.  And it is all now yours.  Congratulations, mein Herr.  You are now a very wealthy man."

With no pulse to start racing, and no breath to catch, I must have seemed extraordinarily calm.  Inside, however, I was reeling.  Harot was pulling me into something, some elaborate plan or trap, but I was completely blind to the shape or pattern of it.  I couldn't make sense of this.  I knew he still existed because his voice reached out to me in those moments before waking, but he was leaving everything to me as if he was dead.  I thought again of the blood this ancient monster fed to me in my crib, and clenched my hands into fists.

"The properties consist of his home in the United States, and one near Oppenau, Germany, called Die Nacht Palast."

Fortunately, German was a language I studied in graduate school, as many academic journals were written in it.  Die Nacht Palast translated easily in my mind.  I leaned forward in my chair.  "Surely it isn't an actual palace."

Herr Schnidrig allowed himself a small smile.  "Ah but it is, mein Herr.  The Night Palace is a fine example of Baroque architecture, and a palace indeed."

I stared, incredulous.  I had seen the house Simon Harrow lived in...I had grown up in its shadow.  It was a shambles, a rotting Victorian husk.  Yet all this time Harrow had owned a palace in the Black Forest?  The more I thought about it, the less sense it made.

"Now, and this is the important part Herr Draegonne, my employer's instructions are that you must agree to go to Harrow House in America as soon as possible.  You may reside in either property, or neither, but you must visit Harrow House within the first month of claiming your inheritance. Otherwise, you forfeit everything."

I shut my eyes, nodding.  Because that is where you are hiding, isn't it?  I don't know what game you are playing but you need me to come to you.

"What if I simply refuse all of this?"

The lawyer gave another of his little shrugs.  "That is your prerogative, Herr Draegonne.  But consider carefully.  You would be turning down many hundreds of millions of Euros."

Damien, his voice seemed to whisper in the back of my mind.  You have already sold your soul.  What have you to lose?

I opened my eyes.  "What do I need to sign?"

I left the office two hours later, deals with the devil spinning round in my head.  To clear it, I walked around in circles, up the Rue de Chantepoulet to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Genève, her flying buttresses stabbing the belly of the night sky.  Then I moved down the Place de Cornavin, turning my face upwards to feel the light rain that had started to fall.  Harot haunted my thoughts, his presence so strong he might have been stalking the streets of Geneva right beside me.  I had to figure out the meaning of these opening moves if I was ever to understand his endgame.  I asked you to help me become a vampire, my mind whispered.  Now you are turning me into Count Dracula.

I turned down the Rue de Monthoux, and suddenly froze in my tracks.  Whirling round, I scanned the street around me, but saw nothing unusual there in the dark.  Still, a slow sense of wrongness was spreading through me, silencing my thoughts of Harot's game.  Something wasn't right...I could feel it, though I couldn't in any rational way explain why.  I waited, motionless, letting the crowds pass me by.  I scanned their faces, drank in their scents, listened for their heartbeats.  There were no Shades among them, and none of my own kind...

I closed my eyes.

My focus went inward, my senses immersed in the Blood.  I followed the flow of it through the black channels of my veins.  Athena was there, of course...I caught fleeting glimpses of her hundreds of miles away.  Nothing I felt from her hinted danger.  I looked deeper.

Flashes of blackness...sickening and cruel...an animal trapped in the dark...  Is that you, Harot?  Hiding in the blood you gave to me?

Then, suddenly, another image bloomed, blinding.  I saw Stefan, facedown in an alleyway, the night rain falling on his back.  My eyes snapped open and I ran, a blur slicing through the crowds.

I let the blood pull me, that part of Stefan I had stolen earlier that still flowed through me.  I followed it through the labyrinthine streets like a red string.  Closer.  Closer.  I pushed myself harder, drawing on all the strength Athena had given me to propel myself.  I was nearly flying.

Then, turning down a narrow alley just minutes from the hotel, I found him.

I dropped to my knees beside the boy, my senses leaping on him.  His breathing was shallow, his pulse so weak it was barely a murmur.  He was alive...but barely.  I scooped him up, my fangs extending not in Hunger but in a sudden primal, territorial rage.  The vampire had not even bothered to cover its tracks.  On the boy's thoat the wound still oozed, jagged punctures surrounded by bruised and purpled skin.

Someone else had drained him, and left him inches from death.

Read Part Eight here

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