Them being here complicated things. I was best on my own, and there were things about myself I wanted to keep hidden. I had mentally prepared myself for Damien to discover them--hell, he was halfway there already after sampling my blood--but exposing myself in front of his pet and a stranger hadn't been part of the plan. I shrugged it off. Sun Tzu pointed out it was better to rely on contingencies than plans, and I was already pretty good at making things up as I went along.
I'd just have to play this by ear.
Harrow said nothing for several moments, his unblinking eyes silvery in the dark. I realised he was waiting for me to speak. The problem was, I had no idea what to say.
I knew we were playing a game of chess, he and I. Harrow had just blindsided me with an unexpected move and I was off guard. I needed time to figure out a response, and the clock was ticking. Stepping away from the wall, I circled the laboratory, keeping my distance from him, my eyes roaming the shelves of rotting, leather-bound books and tables of twisted glass vessels and tubes. The word "alembic" popped in my head, and the oven in the corner looked like an "athanor." But really, all I knew about alchemy came from what I had read in Jung. The actual function of all this equipment was beyond me.
Then, my eyes caught large sheets of yellowed paper nailed to the walls. In thin, spidery handwriting, hundreds of names were scrawled, connected by lines. It looked like some sort of web. Stopping to stare, I realised what I was looking at. My own name was down near the bottom. So was my mother's, my aunt's, and my cousin's.
"You've been breeding us," I whispered.
If I was reading this right, and I was certain that I was, then my father and mother were actually second cousins...something I had never known. As my eyes ran over the other names, it became clear that half the town was interrelated, all bred from the branch of the family Harrow managed to save in the 18th century. Those yearly scholarships he had handed out, such as the one I won? All of the winners were in fact part of his family, year after year. The Old Man was more than the town's Patron...he was it's Patriarch. He'd been arranging marriages, giving donations, managing charities for two hundred years.
I had to keep the Family alive, Damien Draegonne. I had to prepare for the day when one of them would become Progeny again, and the House Draegonne would rise once more.
I turned back towards him, slowly. "Why is this so important to you?"
The thing across the room chortled again, a sound like a prolonged death rattle. You cannot bring yourself to believe a creature such as myself has paternal instincts, can you.
"I am having a pretty hard time with that, yes."
Then, if it is easier, tell yourself it is all because I refuse to be beaten. He stood taller, and I saw a glimpse in his bearing of the nobleman he had been so long ago. The Dragons butchered my Get and massacred my living Family. They drove me into Exile and deprived me of the ability to create more of my kind. They thought they had exterminated the House of Draegonne forever. But I....HAVE....WON!!!
The last three words exploded so loudly that the stone walls of the catacombs trembled, and dust fell from the ceilings. I stood frozen, seeing for the first time a flicker of humanity in his face. Pride. Vengeance. Ambition. Jubilance. He had been carefully planning his moves and stratagems for centuries, and now it was all so close to paying off.
There will be a new House Draegonne, a House beneath the protective aegis of the Ravens, a House my enemies cannot ever touch. A House I will make so strong they will NEVER tear down its walls again.
"Unless I refuse," I said softly.
He froze, staring at me, and I felt a strong stab of fear again. He took a few gliding steps towards me, his long fingers clenching and unclenching. Why would you deny your own blood?
So this was it. The Endgame. I forced myself to hold my ground. "Because this is all about your ambitions, your revenge, your victory. I didn't ask to be fed your Blood, Harrow. I didn't ask to be bred like some racehorse. And the Blood in my veins is now Athena's, not yours. I gave my allegiance to her."
I didn't know what to expect, whether he would fall on me and rip me to shreds, wall me up alive, or just add me to his collection of staked vampires. I will not lie and say I didn't care, but there is a certain kind of resigned clarity that comes with knowing you are so overmatched you don't stand a chance of fighting back. The last move was his.
And slowly, a smile twisted his lips. That is why you will accept my offer, Damien Draegonne. In the end, you will do it for yourself and for her.