Marion Draegonne sat up straight in bed, staring blankly at the wall ahead of her as if no one else was in the room. She didn't look like a woman who had just been startled awake by a pair of intruders in her motel room. Instead, she looked like someone on a massive dose of Thorazine. Her eyes were open but glassy, her face locked in a dull, moronic smile. A slight trickle of spittle ran from the corner of her mouth down her chin. With her grey hair sticking up wiry from her head, she looked vaguely like one of those troll dolls popular when I was a kid.
It had been three years since I last saw her. She looked like she had aged a hundred.
I turned my eyes to him.
Had I been Quick, had the lump of dead flesh in my chest still been capable of it, my heart would have been pounding. But it had been too long since I Fed. The thin stream of living blood in my veins was half-depleted, and I was half dead. My body was cold and numb, and the terror I felt remained confined to my head. I neither extended my claws nor my fangs, watching mutely as he emerged from the corner of the room.
There was no way he could pass for human. Not any longer. I thought immediately of that urban legend, the Slender Man. He seemed to unfold from the darkness in the corner of the room like a spider, all limbs. The centuries had stretched him, like an image imprinted on Silly Putty, until everything about him was wrong. His arms and legs, his spindly white fingers, even his thin tapering ears seemed elongated. He had to be at least seven feet tall, but the way he stooped over lowered him to six and a half. There was no hair on his skull, not even eyelashes, and the flesh had gone a diseased grey. Worst of all, his two inch-long fangs extended over his lower lip like a rat. I doubted he ever bothered to sheath them any more.
I have been waiting such a long time for you, young Master Draegonne.
I glanced over at my mother, considering my options. Could I move fast enough to get her from the room? I didn't think so. Harrow was at least a thousand years old, and I had no idea what powers were his to command. Despite his decayed appearance, he very likely had terrible strength and tremendous speed. I would never make the door.
Oh come now, Master Draegonne. The night is young and we have so much to discuss, you and I. You mustn't dream of leaving the party so soon.
I turned an stared hard at him. "What have you done to her?"
It was a valid question. I knew the numbing, hypnotic effect we could induce in the living, and I knew some Progeny could even exert enough force to issue commands...but this? When I reached out to touch her thoughts there was nothing there. It was as if she barely existed.
Marion is going to wait here, Master Draegonne, while you enjoy the hospitality of Harrow House.
I frowned. "And if I refuse? With her in the room you have leverage. You must know I will attempt to flee as soon as she isn't in immediate danger."
The thing's face twitched. He might have been trying to smile. How charming that you think my influence extends to but a single room. He turned towards her. Marion, attend.
Her head jerked towards him like a dog straining for the voice of its master.
Your son and I shall be leaving. You will remain here. Tomorrow night, if you do not hear from me, you will go into the bath and open your wrists with a razor. Understood?
My mother nodded mutely.
Now, Young Master, let us be off. Your mother will remain intact so long as you refrain from any unpleasantness.
I thought of Stefan in our room, and wondered if I could signal him. But really...what was the point? What could he possibly do? The fact is I had come all this way to confront the Dragon. There was no point in delaying my fate. Nodding, I followed him from the room.
Stepping out into the dark, his body twitched, bones snapping and reforming. His fingers extended out several yards, veined flesh stretched between them. With a sound like canvas snapping in a strong wind, Harrow took to the air, his arms now massive, bat-like wings. All I could do was race after him like a hound, following below as he beat his way across the night sky.
Of course, I really didn't need to chase him. I knew the way.
It had been a cold Sunday afternoon, the air wet with drizzle and fog, when I climbed the wall surrounding the house and snuck across the weed-choked yard. I was ten, and it was a dare. I went around the side to one of the windows, but could barely see anything as I pressed my face against the filthy glass. Suddenly, something moved just inches from my face, and I let out a shriek. It had been a rat, I think, scurrying across the inside of the window. Still, I turned and ran as fast as my legs could carry me.
And here I was again.
Harrow House loomed before me, and to my Un-Dead eyes it was far worse than I was capable of seeing it alive. It was the same grey, rotting heap, but now I understood fully why everyone whispered it was haunted. Living, when you pass by the gates you feel a chill in the air, the whisper of breath on the back of your neck. Maybe you imagine a moan or hiss in your ear. But Un-Dead, half between this world and the next, you see everything.
As I have explained before, gentle reader, when the Progeny take a life, draining our prey to death, some of our Curse passes into them. They do not, as legends say, rise as vampires themselves. Instead, their bodies die and rot naturally, but their spirit, their Shade, remains earthbound, rooted to the spot where it died. These blind, empty things can remained trapped for years, or decades, slowly fading until only a vague image remains, or the echo of their voices. Harrow House...the yard, the windows...was filled with Shades, and the air hummed with their pleading cries, their terrified screams, their dying. They were everywhere.
And Harrow landed in the middle of the yard, surrounded by them, like a king reigning over the dead. They shrieked, and grovelled, and cringed. Horror filled me. How was this possible? Shades were never aware of others. How is it they saw him?
Come, Master Draegonne. Surely you are not afraid of the Dead.
But I was. I was terrified. Harrow seemed to bend or break all the Laws of my condition.
Summoning my courage I passed the gate, and followed him into Harrow House.
Harrow House. Click to enlarge.
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