Harrow House. Click to enlarge
I stood in the entranceway, held back as if by some invisible force. It was not, as folklore would have it, that I needed an invitation. I was held outside by my own fear.
There is something terrifying about the Shades, something that rises from our close relation to them. They, like us, are the products of Lachiel's Curse; humans suspended somewhere between the Quick and the Dead. I suppose we feel about them as the living feel about us...they are an abomination that should not be. But as empty as we may be--corpses animated only by the stolen blood of the living--they are so much more so, devoid of memory and substance, devoid of feeling and awareness. They are like the outgrown husks of insects or the shed skin of snakes...something left behind. And yet, horribly, they continue to move.
The foyer was thick with them. The room itself was simple; decorated only with a tall statue and an antique telephone on a stand, but the real decoration was these restless dead. In one corner a young mother sat huddled on the floor, cradling a dead infant in her arms. Her mouth moved but made no sound, and yet somehow I could still hear the baby's screams faintly in the air. Near the statue, a naked boy watched me through empty eyes, a child no more than fourteen. He never moved a muscle, but black, fetid blood ran continually down his bare chest from a tear in his throat, trickling over his genitals and between his legs before pooling on the floor. I jerked my eyes away from him only to spy a school girl in the corner, her neck snapped and twisted around so that her head hung limp and sideways. The horror of them all came over me like a wave. If I had recently Fed, I might have vomited blood.
Harrow paused and turned back at me. When he saw my reaction to them, amusement flickered in his rat's eyes. Not all of us have the luxury of Familiars to Feed upon, Master Draegonne. Some of us still need to hunt.
I stared hard back at him. "But to bring all these people back here? And kill them in your own home?" A kind of cold fury twisted in my guts. Children. Infants. Young mothers. Harrow didn't take only what he needed, he raped innocence with impunity.
Such righteous indignation, from a creature that creeps into motel rooms to suck the blood of sleepers. He gave a dry, wheezing sound that might have been a laugh. Ignore them, Damien Draegonne. Hypocrisy does not suit you.
I opened my mouth to protest, and then snapped it shut, letting the heavy double doors fall closed behind me. Turning my eyes away from them, struggling to ignore the sounds or the icy shivers of their touch on my skin, I followed him deeper into the house.
Harrow House was exactly as I had always imagined it. Stained paper peeled from the walls, antique furniture was eaten away by mould. There were dark spatters across the walls and furnishings that could only be blood. There was no electricity. There was no heat. I could hear the rats burrowing through the walls. It made me pity Harrow's victims all the more. This was a horrible place to be condemned to.
Harrow did not sit, but gestured at the rotted furniture for me to do so. From behind the sofa, a pair of badly faded Shades--two elementary school children in uniforms--giggled and stared at me.
I remained on my feet. "I am here. Now, what do you want from me? What is all of this about?"
He glided silently to the corner of the room, half-vanishing into the shadows there. Only the skull-like face was visible, staring back out of the dark. I told you what I wished when we corresponded, prior to your Change. I asked only that if the Progeny should accept you, you return to me at Harrow House.
"I remember," I said quietly, my voice cold. "You claimed the others had robbed you of the ability to create any Get of your own, and that you were 'lonely.'" I sneered slightly at the last word.
And is that so difficult for you to believe, Young Master?
I straightened up at this, squaring my shoulders. "I have trouble believing that you have been poisoning me with your blood since I was an infant, or that you have left me a fortune, simply because you are lonely."
So says one who has the luxury of belonging, Harrow replied icily. You could at will return to the comfort of your Clan Hall, with its Familiar servants, any moment you wished. I have no such recourse. I am alone.
"Maybe then you shouldn't have tried to kill the founder of your own bloodline."
He seemed to ignore me, speaking softly, his voice like gas escaping a corpse. You may pass freely among the Quick, Feeding as you like, a little at a time. Yet I...I am fortunate if I can lure a runaway or capture a straggler once in a month. Do you know what it is like, to fight the Hunger for weeks at a time? You with your full belly. And yet you sit in judgement upon me for feasting when I can. You speak of things you do not understand, Young Master.
"What the fuck am I doing here!" I shouted, growing bolder.
Harrow did not speak, but he raised his clawed hands into the air, eyes blazing. Tendrils of darker shadow seemed to exude from his body, spreading rapidly across the walls, ceiling, and floor of the room. The room seemed to grow blacker, until only his face hung in the void. I wanted to jump back, but something held me in place. I didn't have the courage to look at what it was.
Keep a civil tongue when you speak to me, Child. You are in my House.
I nodded, feeling those inky black coils circling me, tightening. I imagined him crushing all of my bones with just a command. "Alright! Alright. I'm...sorry."
That's better, he crooned, releasing me. The room seemed to brighten again.
"But Harrow, what do you want from me?"
That is the wrong question, Damien Draegonne. Ask rather what I want for you.
He glided silently across the room, and the doors at the end of it opened for him. With a long, hooked finger he indicated I should follow. To my relief, he was leaving the house, heading back out into the night. I rushed after him, glad to be free of the place, but my relief was short-lived as he moved across the yard towards the broad steps leading up the cemetery hill. Come, Master Draegonne. Come home.
Reluctant, I climbed the steps after him, and only when we reached the top, and the iron gates there, did I realise I knew this place. It was the place I dreamed of back in the Clan Hall, the place from which Harrow first whispered to me. You have been to the Night Palace and seen something of where you came from. Now, I will show you the rest.
He swept open the gates, and moved down the overgrown path among the toppled and broken stones.
Tell me, Damien Draegonne, when the Dragons filled your head with their accusations against me, did they tell you of the vengeance they took?
I shivered, and not because of the chill. Glancing around I saw the names on the ruined tombstones. All of them had been 'Draegonnes.' I had grown up here, but it had never once occurred to me to look for the graves of my grandparents, or ancestors. They weren't in the town cemetery with the other families...Harrow had collected them all here. "They told me they killed all of the Progeny you sired."
Oh yes, oh yes. But that was not enough for them. Because I only selected new Get from among my human descendants, they hunted them all down, butchering innocent women and children to ensure a Draegonne was never made Progeny again. He turned and waved his arms at the stones. This branch I managed to save by spiriting them to the New World. Your branch.
I stared at the stones around me. "But your Get were all abominations. Slaves. Hollowed out for you to possess. My ancestors were better off dead."
The creature laughed again, a sick, hissing sound. Not so, Damien Draegonne. Not so. He moved towards what I thought was a mausoleum, and turned out instead to be a staircase plunging down into tunnels beneath the graves. Without a word he descended, and I followed him, now out of curiosity as much as anything else.
The Catacombs. Click to enlarge
The catacombs were, by far, worse than the house. Not only did Shades shuffle blindly through them, begging and weeping, but rotting corpses littered the floors, all in various states of decay. There were some mummified bodies he had impaled on high pikes, like those woodcuts you saw of Vlad Tepes. In horror, I noticed their dry, dusty eyes still twitched in their skulls. These were vampires, vampires he had staked through the heart and displayed like trophies.
I was in life what might have been called a natural philosopher, or much later, an alchemist. Harrow continued, moving past these desiccated Progeny towards what looked like a primitive laboratory. I continued these studies in Un-Death, ever experimenting on the Blood which animates us, trying to unravel its mysteries.
He turned to look at me. You know, of course, of the Others? There are the Progeny of Lachiel that take blood, and there are the Soulstealers, who measure their rank and power by how many spirits they enthral?
Part of my Work was to take the Blood of captured Soulstealers and mingle it with our own, to combine the strains of vampirism. He stared hard at me, the rictus twitching across his face what passed as a smile for him. You yourself have experienced the results.
I shook my head. "I don't follow."
You think I have Fed you my Blood since you were in your crib? No, Young Master. I Fed your mother my Blood when you were in her womb. I Fed her my Blood when she was in her mother's, and I did the same to your father and both their ancestors going back generations. Athena may have made you Progeny by giving her Blood to you, but my Blood is in ever fibre of your being.
He lifted a glass vessel filled with something thick, and blackish red.
My Blood, in which I have combined properties of two species. And you see the results. When you Feed, Damien Draegonne, have you not noticed how you share in your prey's deepest memories as well? Feel what they feel? Merge with them? That is my Blood in you, allowing you to sap part of their soul.
I opened my mouth to speak, but he held up a bony hand to silence me. My Progeny and I all shared this gift, we shared, you might say, a common soul. Yes, I could see what they saw and felt what they felt, and yes, I could speak and act through them if I wished, but they were not slaves. They were bound to me in new and intense ways. But the Dragons...they were very religious in those days, you understand, and later, when they fought for Christendom against the Turk...they saw my work as Witchcraft. This is the real reason they stamped out my House, sent me into Exile, and killed all my Progeny, both the Quick and the Un-Dead.
"But you killed your Sire, and your Sire's Sire. You tried to kill the founding Patriarch of your bloodline."
Yes, oh yes. I am guilty of that, of trying to reshape the Dragons with the new powers I had discovered. And I failed. And this, Damien Draegonne...is why I need you.
I waited for him to continue, watching warily as he circled the long wooden laboratory table towards me.
I need you to resurrect House Draegonne for me.
I backed away from him, anger rising in me. "I don't know how much of what you are saying is true, Harrow, but I will not betray my bloodline or my clan. I will not betray my Sire."
He laughed again. Tell me, Damien Draegonne, do you think Athena is stupid? Do you think she knew nothing of me? Do you think she didn't know exactly who you were when I sent you to her?
I backed even further away, right into the stone wall. His words sank into my brain, buried like seeds in soil. It was highly unlikely--no, impossible--that Athena didn't know these things. But why Embrace me then?
He seemed to read my mind. Don't you see, Damien Draegonne? is it not clear? You are a Draegonne...but this time you are a Raven and not a Dragon. You are under their protection, and Athena's. The Dragons dare not start a Blood War to exterminate the resurrected House Draegonne.
"But why...why would Athena allow this?"
Because there is a new War coming, Young Master. The Outcasts are rising and growing bolder. There are rumours of Slayers and Lycanthropes rising against the Clans. By accepting you into her House, Young Damien, Athena of the Tenebrati gains all of my secrets. She absorbs the strength of my House into her own. I have a thousand years of secrets, of forbidden powers and black mysteries. And through you, they become hers and her Clan's. She does it for the same reason you sought the Progeny; survival.
I couldn't think straight, my mind reeling. Was any of this true? I had no way of knowing, and still, I didn't know exactly what I was being asked. I swallowed hard. "What are you asking me to do?"
I am asking you to do what I did, Young Master Draegonne. I am asking you to drain me. To absorb my soul into your own.
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