It was time to go in after them.
The kid--Stefan, his name was--scrabbled over the wall first and then helped the girl over it. From my vantage point I was high enough to see over it, and a minute later watched the two of them make a beeline for the front entrance. I cursed under my breath. They couldn't seriously be that stupid, could they? But then he kind of redeemed himself in my eyes, changing his mind at the base of the steps and signalling for her to follow him around the side of the house. Maybe he was thinking they could find a window, or a back door. Either way they disappeared from sight, and scowling, I went after them.
I raced down the wooded hill towards the edge of the road, looking both ways as I emerged from the tree line. Between the road and the wall was a narrow ditch, no more than a meter wide, and the wall itself was less than three meters tall. I didn't think it would present much of a problem. Taking a running start I leapt, springing from the yellow line in the middle of the road and landing on the top of the wall, crouching there.
Yeah, I know. I've got some mad skills you haven't seen yet.
I scanned the yard and then slipped down into it without a sound, heading after them. Whoever was doing Harrow's landscaping, I decided, needed to be fired in a big way. The front yard was a high tangle of dead, yellowed grass and black briars, and the few trees scattered around hadn't put forth any leaves in a decade. The soil itself was a wet, sucking mud that stank...well, I preferred not to think about what it stank like. Let's just say I had some vivid ideas about what was buried beneath my feet.
The worst thing though, was the whispering.
I am not quite as tuned into the world of the Dead as the vamps are, but I know a Shade when I feel one. The air around me hummed with them, a tangle of weeping and screams and pleas. It's an unmistakable sound, really, something that hovers right on the lowest edge of your hearing range, making the hairs on your arms and the back of your neck prick straight up. The last time I heard it this bad was Chelmno (fun fact; the Third Reich had been crawling with vampires). Harrow had to be a motherfucking butcher.
I glanced uneasily around me, and up at the black windows of the house. I had a clear image in my head of a ring of shuffling ghosts around me, inches away but invisible to my eyes. It was almost enough to make my balls of steel crawl right back up into my body. Swallowing, I forced myself to move on ahead.
I really didn't want to be there. Harrow scared the shit out of me.
See, here's the thing about vamps; the young ones? Not so bad really. I mean most of them are basically idiots. You can spot them coming a mile away. Give "Eugene Blatz" or "Mary Sue Smitty" a pair of fangs and suddenly they are calling themselves "Lord Venger Nocturnus" and "Countess Carmilla deVille" or some bullshit like that. They strut around in black leather pouting in goth clubs, looking around for Blood Dolls to bite. Because they haven't let go of their humanity yet they call their Clans "their Family," refer to their Sires as "Mummy" or "Daddy," and their fellow Get as "brother" and "sister." It's some pretty sad Emo shit, really. If they weren't out to drink your blood you could feel sorry for them.
But the Old Ones? They are a whole other fucking story.
These guys are the real deal. They're not going to walk up and ask to bite you, they're just going to take what they want and most of the time you will never know what hit you. If they leave you alive. The Old Ones don't walk around trying to look like vampires--they're not seeking attention. They are well-groomed predators who slide smooth as silk through crowds of their prey, charming and deadly. Or, on the other side of the spectrum, there are the ones that just completely slide into madness and monstrosity. They don't bother seducing, they just come out of nowhere and leave drained husks behind.
And looking around this place, I was pretty sure which category Harrow fit in to. Come nightfall I didn't want to be within twenty kilometres of that hell hole.
So I ignored the army of ghosts whispering in my ear, pretended I couldn't feel the thin, wispy chill of them reaching out for my skin, and concentrated on catching up with the kid.
It was easier than I thought.
The place had a back porch of sorts, and I say "of sorts" because the wood was mostly rotted away. The kid was on his knees at the back door, and to my surprise he had lock picking tools and was working on getting in. I guess he had some mad skills I hadn't seen yet.
The girl had her back to me, but the kid spotted me right away. And you know, the kid didn't even stop what he was doing. His eyes widened a fraction in involuntary surprise, but a split second later he was back at his task, concentrating. There was no "Kit! What are you doing here" or "Thank God, Kit! You came all the way from fucking Europe to save our sorry asses!" Nothing. Instead, he waited for the lock to click, before nodding in my direction.
The girl, on the other hand, whirled around and nearly screamed. I started to spring forward but the kid beat me to it. In a blink he had his hand covering her mouth, lips pressed to her ear. "It's alright. He's on our side."
She nodded, seeming to relax. "Kit Katsuyama," he said. "Lee Harper."
I raised an eyebrow. "Like the To Kill a Mockingbird chick in reverse."
The girl flushed and nodded. "Yeah. Dad was a fan."
My eyes went to Stefan's face. "You don't seem surprised to see me."
He shrugged. "My Master is easy to love."
My mouth opened, and I was about to say something exceptionally witty and deeply scathing...but I thought better of it. We were still in Harrow's backyard. Banter could wait.
Instead, I narrowed my eyes. "Please tell me you've got some sort of plan."
The kid grew stiff, glaring defiantly at me. "He has taken my Master. I am going to kill Harrow and get him back."
I sighed. "Wow. What a relief. For a minute there I was afraid you were going off half-cocked or something."
The kid frowned at my sarcasm, and opened the tote bag he had slung over his shoulder. He had whipped up some Molotov cocktails. "We will go in there, find my Master, and get him out while Harrow sleeps. Then I will burn the house down around the monster."
I frowned. "What if he wakes up?"
The kid shook his head. "He will not. My Master's generation is much higher than Harrow's. His blood is stronger. He can resist the Daysleep better."
"How do you know?"
"My Mistress told me."
"Your what?" I was genuinely puzzled at this. Unless Damien had done an amazing job of fooling me, I was pretty damn sure he had the wrong equipment for the title of "Mistress."
"We do not have time for this, Katsuyama. Either help us or stay out of my way."
This last bit got my temper up. The fucking kid had no idea what he was doing, and he was going to get himself killed. Seriously, who did he think he was?
But then I saw his eyes.
The kid was fighting back tears, as terrified as he had ever been...but not for himself. For Damien. He knew it was a suicide mission, but he didn't care. He was going to get his Master out no matter what the cost was. I had joked about him being a puppy before, but realised now I was wrong. He was a guard dog, and something about his determination made me bite my tongue. "Ok boss," I nodded. "I've got your back."
The relief behind his eyes was gratitude enough.
I took up the rear--hey, I heard that, mind out of the gutter!--and followed the pair in. I still didn't know the girl's story, and from the way she was shaking like a leaf it was clear she had never done anything like this before. Where did the kid find her? But the backstory had to wait. We we inside.
I thought Lee Harper was going to scream again.
We were in the kitchen...or what passed for it. There was an old Victorian ice box in the corner, and a wood-burning cook stove. It stank, really stank...reeking of filth and rot and roadkill. Even I gagged a little. There were rat droppings everywhere, and the black and white tile floor was smeared and spattered with brown streaks and spots. It was obviously dried blood...we could still see bloody handprints, even a face print from someone whose throat must have been torn open while Harrow held him (her?) pinned to the floor. The girl's eyes bulged. She was close to freaking.
"I don't know," I said, my voice shaky. I swallowed and continued, stronger. "With a coat of paint and some floor polish, Damien could turn this place into a charming bed and breakfast."
The girl stared at me, baffled, but the kid knew right away what I was trying to do. To my surprise, he nodded at the ancient kitchen appliances. "Yes. My Master will make a fortune. Pretentious Americans love antiques."
We moved on.
The dining room was, well, let's just say Harrow hadn't entertained in a long while. We moved through it quickly, opening a pair of double doors into a dark hall. A staircase swept upwards, and another door, leading towards the cellar, plunged down.
The dining room at Harrow House
I looked at the kid. "Which way? It looked to me like this place had three stories, plus an attic. Are you thinking up or down?"
Stefan looked back at me, frowning. "Umm...down, I think. This is a a wooden house. If there was a fire, Harrow would not want to be sleeping on top of the blaze. That is a mistake only the young ones would make."
I nodded. It made perfect sense to me. Of course, that meant going into the cellar. The idea didn't thrill me.
The kid went first. He was prepared, pulling a flashlight out of the bag. The girl stopped in he doorway, shaking her head. "No. No, I can't do this."
The boy looked at her, hard. "We agreed, Lee Harper. We made a deal. You assist me and I will make sure my Master knows you helped him. He will be grateful. But if you don't..."
I watched him, guessing a little bit of what had gone before. You manipulative little bastard. I kind of liked him.
She swallowed, nodding. "I know, I know...but I just can't..."
The boy nodded, and then quick as a flash had a knife pressed against her throat. "I should kill you right now, Lee Harper, to ensure you do not run off and tell others about my Master..."
Okay kid, that's a little too far. I started to move towards him, but stopped when he spoke again.
"...but you have aided us, so I will release you."
Lee swallowed, shaking badly.
"But you will give your car keys to me. I have need of your vehicle."
Mental note; teach the kid to stop talking like a bad movie villain.
She agreed, turning over her keys before giving me a wild-eyed look and racing for the back door. The kid slid them into his pocket and nodded at me. "We should hurry. There are only a few hours of daylight left."
"I couldn't agree mo..."
The scream sounded impossibly loud in the narrow hall, like a steam train blasting its whistle in a tunnel. My hands actually went to cover my ears. The kid looked at me, then turned away from the basement in the direction the girl went. he was chasing after the scream. Everything was happening so fast. I started to go after him, but standing there at the top of the cellar stairs my psychic whiskers twinged. I froze, staring down into the inky blackness, until I was was positive my nerves were not playing tricks on me.
Something was coming up the stairs.
"Kit!" The kid shouted. "Kit!"
Fuck, I thought blackly, slamming the cellar door closed and turning towards the hall. This pretty much smells like a trap.
The girl was in the kitchen doorway, and the kid was right behind her. I came up behind them. It's not often that I have the height advantage, but in this case I was tall enough to see over both their heads.
Kind of wish that wasn't the case.
The way out was blocked. Between us and the door was a line of extras from The Walking Dead. I knew what they were right away, even though, like I said, I never actually saw them before. They were Shades, the restless dead greedy vamps leave behind. But this...this was different. They were aware of us. They saw us. Somehow, Harrow was controlling them.
"Have you ever seen one that could do this before?" I hissed in the Kid's ear. Eyes wide, he shook his head.
There were three of them...what looked to me like a father in a plaid sports coat and matching trousers, all very 70s. His wife stood beside him, and a young son. They were all bled white, their eyes like black glass marbles, lips twitching over badly stained teeth. I had a flash in my mind of a Pinto station wagon driving by this place sometime around forty years ago. Poor bastard probably took a wrong turn. Harrow fell on the car out of the sky, draining the father instantly before dragging the screaming mother and son off to his larder.
How sweet that they were all together now.
To our left something moved. There on the floor, where just the hand and face prints had been before, was a young man, peeling himself up. His head was on backwards, twisted all around.
The girl screamed again, but the kid had the presence of mind to rummage through his bag. He tugged out one of his Molotovs and a lighter, raising his voice. "Harrow! Call them off! Call them off or I burn this place down! There are still hours left before the sun goes!"
He flicked the lighter and held the flame inches from the makeshift fuse. The Dead, meanwhile, just kept coming.
"I will do it Harrow! I will do it!"
"I know you will, Stefan..."
This time, I was the one who shrieked. I kind of hate admitting that. I whirled around and jumped back against the wall. The cellar door was open, and the figure I had seen climbing the steps was there in the shadows of the hall. He looked past me at Stefan, smiling.
"...but I would appreciate it if you didn't. You have nothing to fear."
The boy let out a strangled gasp, bursting into tears of joy. "Master! Master!"
Damien Draegonne stood in the cellar doorway, a faint smile on his pale face. At the sight of him, Stefan started to lower the cocktail. But I threw up my hand, warning him. "No! Wait, Stefan. Don't."
Stefan stared at me.
But my eyes were on Damien...sort of. See, I was also looking behind him. There was a shadow there, a tall, spindly thing, barely visible, with clawed hands and a face like a skull. I didn't normally see Shades, not really...but I have been to the Lands of the Dead before. I picked up a few tricks in my travels there. I wasn't sure what I was seeing, but my instincts told me it was Harrow. He seemed bound to Damien somehow...they seemed horribly connected.
"Don't put that down Stefan. I'm not sure it's really him."
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