Thirty thousand feet below me, the Atlantic was a black abyss. In my mind's eye I could see it, reflecting the starlight like polished obsidian, the surface rippling as the things beneath it swam about their business. I'd never been comfortable flying, especially over water. Not even death had changed that. I had this dream, this re-ocuring nightmare as a child, of falling out of the sky, spiralling down and down and down, the sea waiting to receive me. I'd awake in horror, my sheet soaked in my own piss. I wasn't a child any more...nor did my body produce piss. All the same, I gripped the arms of the seat tighter than I should.
Katsuyama and I had come back from der Nacht Palast a day late, sharing the master bedroom despite Richter's less than subtle suggestions that I might prefer the crypts below the palace. These had not been on the tour, and the idea of sleeping in a mouldering grave beneath this ancient house was just a little too Bela Lugosi for me. But as I closed the heavy wooden doors of the bedroom behind us, an image of the mausoleum outside the courtyard walls suddenly came to me head, the heavy stone sarcophagus with the knight slumbering eternally on its lid. This is the resting place for you, a voice seemed to whisper in my mind. You are the lord here now. I shut it out, violently, uncertain whether it was Harrow's voice or my own...uncertain which possibility was worse.
I found myself strangely reluctant to leave the next evening. It was almost as if the blood of my ancestors was calling to me from the soil of the place. Was this, possibly, what they meant when they spoke about vampires and their native earth? I wished, as I did thousands of times a night, that Athena was there to answer my questions.
It rained lightly all the way back to Geneva, and as we climbed into the Alps it slowly changed into a gentle snow. Kit dropped me in front of the hotel, but made no sign of getting off the bike. I glanced at him, puzzled, snowflakes swirling in the air around us. "You aren't coming up?"
He lifted the visor of his helmet. "It's been fun, handsome. And I really did enjoy the fuck. But I've got things to do." The Cheshire Cat grin crept across his features. "You haven't fallen in love with me already, have you?"
I don't know why--this was just the way Kit spoke, and had never bothered me before--but I bristled at this. "I prefer dogs to alley cats. More loyalty. Better morals. Look after yourself Katsuyama."
He looked strangely at me as I turned and walked away, never saying a word. The motorcycle didn't pull away until I was halfway across the sumptuous lobby of the hotel.
What the Hell was that? I asked myself as I approached the concierge. A second voice in my head spoke up reassuringly. It's better this way. Being around you is dangerous. You'll get him killed. Besides, I still had no idea who he even was. I had no idea what he was...given those strange visions filling my head as I Fed upon him. No. I definitely didn't need the complications Kit brought into my existence.
All the same, the twinge I was feeling, the pull, was not unlike what I had felt leaving the Night Palace.
"Ah Mr Draegonne. A package arrived from Herr Schnidrig for you." The concierge smiled blandly and waved for one of his underlings to retrieve it. "Also your, 'son' has returned with your 'cousin.' I believe they are waiting for you in your suite."
Which 'cousin,' I wondered. Roman or Noetia. He handed me the package and I headed for the elevator, bracing myself for a fight.
She was sitting on the sofa, arms folded, in the centre of the suite. The room was dark, back lit only by the reflected glow of the city filtered through the windows. I closed the door and stared back at her, wondering who was going to speak first.
Noetia Drachen turned her head, nodded at the second bedroom. "Your Familiar is in there. He is much improved, but I don't recommend Feeding from him for a few more days."
I nodded, taking off my coat. "Thank you, Noetia. I owe you and Roman both."
"Spare me your thanks," she spat, and despite myself, I chuckled. Her face twisted up at this. "I amuse you, abomination?"
I nodded. "Actually, yeah...yeah you do. I was trying to thank you. I get that you don't like me, but you don't need to be such a cunt about it."
And it was out with the fangs again, her eyes blazing. Her next words were going to be something like I ought to tear your throat out or I should rip your head off. She was predictable, this one. Like Roman. Like any good chess piece it moved the same way every time.
Something laughed softly in my brain. I think it was Harrow.
"Watch your tongue with me, abomination, or I will tear you to pieces."
Ah yes, VERY predictable.
Something was wrong with me, or rather, something was different. The same way I had snapped at Kit I had no patience for Noetia Drachen now. I found myself crossing the room towards her, slowly, a smile on my face. "I am laughing at you because you and Roman are such cartoons," I heard myself reply. "You aren't going to tear me to pieces because you don't want to start a war with the Ravens, remember? And my Sire sits at the left hand of the bloodline Patriarch. You don't need a Blood War with the ally helping you fight the Outcasts. So either keep a civil tongue in that pretty face of yours Noetia, or get the fuck out of my hotel suite."
I made a point of walking right past her, bumping shoulders, and opening the window.
She whirled around, livid, too furious to speak. So I did the speaking instead.
"Do you really think you and Roman can scare me? Seriously? There is a creature out there right now, a vampire nearly a thousand years old, with his sights set on me. A vampire that makes little girls and little boys like you and Roman piss yourselves. And you think I should be more frightened of you and your little temper tantrum?" I turned around, smiling politely at her. "I am not your enemy, Noetia, and I am grateful for what you have done. But I am getting tired of hearing you say 'abomination' again like a broken record. My name is Damien. Use it or don't speak to me."
I was expecting another tantrum...she would leap across the room and grab me by the throat, gnashing her teeth. But then, the little chess piece did something unpredictable. Her eyes widened, and her mouth closed into a tight, bloodless gash in her face. Unbelievably she backed away a few steps. I don't even think she knew she was doing it.
"Blood of the Source," she whispered. "You went there, didn't you?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Again with the 'cryptic?' What is it with you, Noetia? You read too many bad vampire novels before you were Embraced?"
"The Night Palace. You went there."
I showed my teeth in the coldest of smiles. "Oh yes, terrifying isn't it. A Draegonne back in the Night Palace. Your worst nightmare."
(damien what is wrong with you)
Some small voice was whispering in my head, and it sounded almost like Athena's. I realised with a start that I had crossed the room again, closing the distance between Noetia and I. I had reached my hand out and gently taken her by the chin. And she was trembling like a leaf.
I didn't remember doing any of that.
"You should never have gone there," she whispered, now clearly terrified of me. "You don't understand."
I dropped my hand from her face. "Then for fuck's sake tell me. What did Harrow do to you people? Why did you make him an Outcast? Why does he scare you this much?"
She backed away again, wetting her lips. I could almost hear the wheels turning in her head. She was realising now that keeping me in the dark had been a bad idea...she was thinking if she and Roman had told me everything maybe I wouldn't have gone to the Night Palace. She wondered if telling me now might avert the thing she was most afraid of. I lowered my voice persuasively. "Just tell me, Noetia. By not telling me all you have done is let me walk deeper into his trap."
She hissed at this, jumping back. "Are you in my mind? How?"
She froze, staring, and I stared back, our gazes locked. After several moments, possibly even minutes, she looked away. She half turned from me and folded her arms across her chest. "Simon Draegonne, the one you call 'Harrow,' was the worst mistake the Dragons ever made. Worse even than the Impaler."
"Come," I heard myself say. "Surely not as bad as that."
She glanced at me, still refusing to make eye contact. "The Impaler's crimes were against the Quick. Draegonne's crimes were against the Progeny, and his Patriarch." She rubbed her arms, a leftover tic from her breathing days. The Undead did not feel cold and didn't get gooseflesh.
I watched her pace the room, slowly, wrestling with herself. "We don't speak of him. Of them. Of what happened. It has all been stricken from the histories. But...you are right, abomi...Damien." She paused, shooting a glance at me again. "You are right. The Old Serpent is uncoiling again and either you know or you become his creature."
Finally. We are getting somewhere.
"Simon the Monk was an alchemist and sorcerer before he was Progeny. The Church cast him out of his order for diabolism. I am not certain how he got himself Embraced. We can't know, because Simon later killed his Sire and his Sire's Sire. He was obsessed with the Blood...he believed he could decode the mind of Lachiel, steal fire from the Source. He was made Outcast for killing and draining all the Blood of his Sire, and as I said his Sire's Sire, and then his Sire. He managed to work his way all the way back to the Patriarch. He discovered the resting place of the Great Dragon, and thought if he could drain him dry as well he--Simon Draegonne--would assuming the powers of the Patriarch. He was caught and apprehended halfway through the process."
She was sitting now on one of the barstools. The mirror behind the bar showed the bottles, but not her. It was still part of our condition I couldn't get used to. I crossed the floor slowly, so as not to startle or threaten her, and sat on another stool, leaving one empty one between us. Curiously, I found myself wanting a glass of scotch. I shook the craving away, knowing it would do nothing for me. "Why didn't they kill him?"
"Because they were afraid," she replied, and something in her expression made me think she wished she could have a stiff drink as well. "Draegonne's necromantic powers were terrifying. You see, he didn't just take the Blood from his Sires. Somehow he had made them Shades. He had the spectres of his elders bound to him, doing his bidding. And..." she lowered her voice at this. "He had drained half of the Patriarch's Blood. Half of the Patriarch's spirit was within him. They were afraid that with this connection forged, killing Draegonne might kill the Patriarch as well."
"Jesus Christ," I whispered, the old Catholic boy inside me blaspheming in shock. "Jesus Fucking Christ."
Noetia nodded. "They say the Patriarchs begged Lachiel to intervene after that, and the Dark Angel did. Since then, it is impossible for us to strike out at any Patriarch. One cannot even physically unsheathe his or her fangs in their presence. Because of Draegonne. Because of what he almost did."
"So they exiled him. Made him Outcast. Sent him to the New World."
She nodded again. "Yes, but there is more. And this is the part you need to hear."
I braced myself as she slid from the stool and started pacing again. "Draegonne had adopted the sons of his brother, and these Quick relations continued to rule the family estates. But the Old Serpent also sired Gets from his family bloodline. Simon Draegonne only made his own blood kin into vampires. By the time he was banished, he had been Embracing Draegonnes for six centuries. There were dozens of them. It was decided that an Inquisition was required, to investigate House Draegonne and see if any of these lesser Dragons shared in their Sire's great crime."
She turned an looked at me, hard, her black eyes grabbing mine. "I was there that night, the night we went to der Nacht Palast. And it will haunt me the rest of eternity."
I sat up straight, hanging now on her every word. The strangeness that influenced me before seemed entirely banished. I was myself again.
"There were twenty-seven vampires in the House Draegonne. They were Simon Draegonne's not only by Progeny Blood, but my human blood as well. They were his own kin. And not a single one of them was left."
I had no idea what she meant, but the back of my neck was tingling again. "Go on."
"I told you he killed his Sires and stole their Shades? Draegonne had done something similar with all his Get. None of them had any individual personality, Damien. None of them had minds or wills of their own. Draegonne had hollowed them all out, and placed copies of himself inside each. They were all him."
I couldn't move. If the room had caught fire at that moment, I would have burned to death, unable to budge from my stool. Because I knew, now. I knew. Why he had been feeding me his Blood secretly in my breathing years. Why he was giving the Night Palace and his fortune to me. I knew. He was planning on becoming me, or rather, on making me become him.
Twenty-four hours later, suspended over the Atlantic, I turned these thoughts over in my head.
Stefan and I were the only passengers aboard the Gulfstream. Herr Schnidrig had arranged it all. As I sat replaying my conversation with Noetia, the boy was sleeping across from me, his dark hair falling across his face. After she left me that night I went into his room and sat beside him as he slept. He still looked pale to me, but I knew he was going to be alright. As I sat there stroking his hair, the way a Quick might pet his dog, I let my mind wander down the paths of Blood and enter into his. I saw the entire attack there, feeling Stefan's terror and pain. Foolishly, he had not obeyed me. Leaving the hotel to follow me despite my warnings. That was when it happened.
The Outcast had come out of nowhere, seizing Stefan and slamming him against the alley wall. Ice-cold fingers groped his face, twisting it painfully to expose his throat. The boy kicked his legs and wet himself, urine gushing down his leg in a hot rush. And then the searing white hot pain, teeth tearing open his throat, and the wet, hungry sucking sounds. The difference between the Feedings he was used to as a Familiar, and this attack, was as great as the difference between lovemaking and the most brutal rape. The scars on his throat were healing. I was not so sure about his soul.
I was coming home.