"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.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Katsuyama drove like he did everything else; hurling himself head first at breakneck speed, acting on impulse, a grin etched on his face.  We weaved between the traffic, racing stop lights, until finally we escaped the city and he could push the engine to its limits on the open road.  He was wearing his headphones under the helmet, and I could hear him singing some German punk song at the top of his lungs.  Singing was not his forte.  I sat behind him, holding on, the wind and the darkness whipping through my hair.  Had I been Quick I might have been in fear of my life, but I was already Dead.  I wondered what Kit's excuse for his fearlessness was.

High, thin clouds like shreds of ice cut across the moon, turning the white-peaked Alps silver.  As the kilometres shot by, we descended into the heavy German dark.  To my eyes, the night was a dazzling tapestry of colours, but I had no interest in the scenery.  My mind was anywhere but the present, divided between what lay ahead at the end of the road and what Kit Kat had told me in the hotel suite.

"I think I can tell you a bit more about your mysterious patron," he had said, hopping naked off the windowsill and scooping up his smartphone.  He flopped down beside me on the bed.

"What?  How?"

He shrugged.  "I had time to kill while you did your corpse thing, so I searched the Internet."

I raised an eyebrow, sitting up.  "I've spent years doing that, though.  I haven't found anything."

Kit flashed his toothy grin, like he'd just dined on canary.  "Ah, but you were looking in the wrong places Herr Blutsauger.  You had the French and English versions of his name.  I found his original."

Now he had my full attention.

"You've never bothered to research your own family name, have you."  It wasn't a question.  “With what Roman told us, I decided to start there.  And with this Night Palace.”

I nodded.

“Back in the 12th century, Frederick Barbarossa granted reichsgraf status to a lieutenant who helped him seize the throne.  The guy’s name was Harrau.  He was from Styria, originally.  With the title came land in the Black Forest…the place the Night Palace is at now.”

A tingle started pricking the back of my head, slowly crawling up my scalp.  I knew, of course, that Athena herself was nearly a millennium old, but for some reason the idea of Harrow personally knowing Barbarossa drove home the point of what I was dealing with.  I was good at chess, but Harrow had been playing it for at least ten centuries.

“I don’t think that Harrau was your guy, though.  He had two sons, see.  Towards the end of Barbarossa’s reign, the elder Harrau died, leaving the lands and title to his first son.  But suddenly—and their were rumours of poison involved—this son died and his younger brother claimed the estate.  He was called ‘Simon the Monk.’”

I nodded, leaning forward.  “That’s him.  Simon.  He’s used the name before.  It’s the one I first knew him as.”

Kit nodded.  “Unsavory reputation, that one.  He was a monk who broke his vows, and later there were whispers of witchcraft.  I couldn’t get exact dates but it looks like he ruled his lands for the better part of eighty years.  Quite a feat, back then.  But here’s the juicy part; a few years into his reign he changes his surname and that of the family to ‘Draegonne.’”

The cold tingle spread to my limbs.  “The family?  He had sons?”

Kit Kat shrugged.  “Not sure.  Actually it looks like he took in his brother’s kids after the poisoning.  Who knows?  Maybe you are descended from the brother and not old Simon himself.”

We entered the Schwarzwald, the forested peaks closing in around us.  The road writhed and coiled like a snake through the mountains.  Just past midnight, we reached the outskirts of Oppenau, a quaint medieval town of just over five thousand souls.  It looked like something out of a movie.  Kit raced under the old city gate, and then followed a narrow road past the ruins of an ancient abbey.  The minute I saw them, pale fingers of deja vu started plucking at my memory.  Had I been here before?

Near the abbey, Kit pulled to the side of the road and tugged off his helmet, shaking his mane of blue hair.  There was a sign there, in both German and English, showing the outlines of the Black Forest and the positions of various tourist attractions and historical sites therein.  Karlsruhe, Baden-Baden, Schoss Eberstein, Furstenberg, Staufenberg…nearly a dozen palaces and castles were listed.  But no mention was made of the Night Palace.  As far as the historical and cultural landmark society was concerned, it didn’t exist.
“How do you hide a palace?”  I asked aloud.

“I know where it is,” Kit said nonchalantly, and I was about to ask him “how” when he put his helmet back on and revved the engine.  I set the question aside, and we took the narrow road into the forest.

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We seemed to constantly be exchanging roads for smaller and smaller ones, until finally we raced up a leaf-strewn path barely wider than a sidewalk.  Ancient trees leaned in on either side, their intertwined branches forming an arched corridor.  Razor blade shafts of moonlight cut through the canopy of leaves.  And then, suddenly, it was there.

Kit Kat killed the engine.

“My God…” I whispered, wide-eyed.  

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Rising above the trees I could see the massive central dome of the Night Palace, and the smaller central domes of the towers around it.  The wind rustled the leaves, and somewhere, an owl called.  Just ahead of us was a massive stone gate.  I approached it very slowly.

“Damien,” Kit said behind me, nodding.  I followed the line of his gaze.  There were ancient graves scattered amongst the trees, and down a short path what looked like a mausoleum.  Something inside me stirred when I saw it, a flutter of excitement in my core.

Come, Damien.  Come.

I headed in the direction of the tomb.  Through the iron gates that sealed it, I could see a massive stone sarcophagus, a knight carved on the lid, wearing a helmet and bearing a sword.  My eyes went up to the weathered letters etched into the stone over the entrance.  DRAEGONNE.

“Do you think this is his resting place?”  Kit asked from behind me.  I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“It might have been,” I said.  “But I think Harrow is still back in the States, at Harrow House.  He insisted I come there first.”

“So you came here first, you rebel.”  Kit grinned.

I said nothing, turning back down towards the massive stone gate.  I climbed the flight of steps up beneath it, walking into a wide courtyard, my eyes immediately drawn to the palace itself.  How the fuck did you hide something like this?

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It was a baroque masterpiece, a massive heap of pale grey stone adorned with arches and columns and those magnificent domes.  I realised immediately it was not abandoned…two iron lamp posts at the entrance flickered with gaslight, and from within the palace I could feel heat and heard the dull beat of human hearts.  Mentally, I compared the well maintained palace and courtyard to the rotting husk of Harrow House back home, wondering why Harrow would keep this place in such good repair while living in a ruin.  

“Well, what now?”

I glanced back at Kit and smiled faintly.  “We go inside.  We are expected, I think.”

Kit looked puzzled, and I started straight across the courtyard towards the front entrance.  Climbing the wide steps, I paused before the twin bronze doors, glancing around for a knocker.  There was no need.  One of the doors swung back, slowly, a tall, withered old man in black velvet looking back at me.  To my surprise, the old man went down on one knee, bones and sinews creaking painfully.  “Lord Draegonne.  The Night Palace welcomes you home.”

“I am nobody’s ‘lord,’” I replied, a bit embarrassed by the display and more than a little irritated that once again Harrow was two steps ahead of me.  he knew I was coming here.  He’d known for weeks, long before I had even heard of the place.

The old man rose to his feet.  “As you say, sir.”

“And you are?”

“Richter, sir.  It is my privilege to supervise the staff of the Night Palace.”  His wrinkled face cracked a yellowed smile.  “Everyone will be pleased that you have arrived.   I took the liberty of preparing rooms for you and your guest.”

So you have been watching me since Geneva.

“We were not planning on staying.”

“As you like, sir.”  The old man stepped back and gestured for us to enter.

Kit whistled through his teeth, the sound echoing around the room and soaring up to the dome.  I understood the sentiment.

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Standing at the entrance, the main chamber of the Night Palace was a massive, open space of air and darkness. Beneath the great central dome, a pool sparkled in the moon’s rays streaming from above and the reflected glimmers of the firelight.  Twin statues, bearing braziers of flame, knelt on either side of the pool, and beyond them were openings to other chambers.  In the distance, my gaze followed the curves of two massive staircases sweeping upwards.  I took a few steps forward, my eyes dragged up into the moonlit dome.  Bats circled around inside it.

“Nice digs,” Kit Kat whispered beside me, repeating his comment from the hotel room.  

I felt cold, staring down into the pool.  “This kind of wealth comes with a price.  I am not sure I am willing to pay it.”

“Would you care for a tour, sir?  Ot perhaps some refreshment after your journey?”

I glanced at Richter.  “How long would it take to look around?”

“A few hours, sir.  I am at your disposal.”

“Lead on,” I shrugged.  I needed time to think, and following Richter around listen to him babble about the history of each stick of furniture and each objet d’art seemed a good way to buy myself time.  I let Kit Kat do the oohing and ahhing for me,  my eyes scanning the somber stone walls, trying to learn more about Harrow from reading them. 

There was everything you would expect from a palace, an echoing throne room, a ballroom, a chapel.  There was a grand dining room with forty chairs around the table, a surprisingly intimate parlour, elegant bedrooms and a sprawling library.  None of this was gothic, Hollywood stuff; but there was nevertheless a kind of shadow beneath the opulence, a dark twist in the bronze statues that made them look almost like slaves, a desperation in the faces of the portraits.  The Night Palace was impressive, certainly…but its walls seemed mortared with blood and pain.  And yet, passing through the massive kitchens beneath the palace, it struck me what the fundamental difference between this place and Harrow House was.  The Night Palace was still very much a house of the living…it was meant for the Quick to inhabit.  I had never been inside Harrow House, but its haunted and decayed exterior gave the firm impression that nothing living endured within its walls.

Two hours later, in the parlour, Richter served Kit a sherry, which seemed to amuse Katsuyama no end.  When he left us, Kit approached me as I leaned against the mantelpiece, staring into the flames.  “Whatever it is, it’s not here.”  I said aloud.

“What’s not here?”

“The answer,” I said softly.  “Whatever it is Harrow is playing at.”  I turned and gestured around.  “This…all of this, is the bait.  He knew I would come here first, he wanted it.  Let me see up close everything that he was offering me…reel me in before dropping the hammer.”

Kit nodded.  “Still, as far as bait goes…”  He grinned.  “What will you do?”

I frowned, looking up at him.  “There is only one thing I can do.  Go to Harrow House.  To him.  Find out what this is all about.”

Kit Kat considered this.  “Or you could run away.”

I laughed, darkly, more at myself than at him.  “I could, and God knows I should.  But it isn’t just the wealth…and that is what pisses me off the most.  How easily Harrow played me.  It’s not the money or the palace…it’s my family name over that tomb door.  He’s tempting me with the one thing he knew I couldn’t resist.”

“Which is?”

“History,” I sighed.  “Simon the Monk knows exactly how to give a fellow scholar what he wants.”


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