Peering out of the rocking carriage window I first caught sight of the Haagen family hotel as it rose out of the darkness like a terrific beast perched on the black mountainsides of northern Bavaria. Light shone from the high windows making clear the long and well hidden path leading from the villages of the south to the infamous hotel. As they came closer, apparently hitting every rut and boulder along the way, it appeared to me that the hotel took on the visage of a lighthouse, guiding the lost and the weary towards shelter and safety. Although many of the individual windows were dark and shuttered, perhaps guarding against the storm that was no doubt brewing in the ominous looking clouds that I had spotted early in the day just east of the hotel, the large and picturesque windows of the lower floors, undoubtedly the ballroom and dining halls, were illuminated nearly as well as the sun herself.

Haagen Hotel had been described as perhaps the most intriguing and pleasant vacation spot in this area of Bavaria for years. Originally it had been built by the descendents of the current owners, nobles in their own right, and passed down the family lines. For some time it had been a getaway spot for the rich and the middle class both, catering the upper crusts of European society and the more modest class as well. I had been attracted originally to the heavily gothic influence in architecture on the manor. As a student of European history and a dabbler in the realm of architecture as well the very buttresses and towers fascinated me to no end. Even then, as I stared longingly out the window at the fast approaching sanctuary, I felt a shiver run through my body. At the time I told myself that it was due to the sudden drop in temperature, common after nightfall now that summer had finally passed for another year. Now, I am not so sure.

I have always been a firm believer in the supernatural powers each person is gifted with at birth, be it inner sight or extraordinary senses of perception and it was this belief that led me to the Haagen Hotel, an isolated ominous looking structure along the border that ran between Germany and Poland. Something, I had felt then, glancing down at the black and white pictures a friend had sent me from his own travels abroad, drew me towards this place. I have never been loathe to respond to the inner urges of my own psyche lest I miss something important.

My carriage pulled up to the front of the building, underneath a large archway of stone and mortar. Gargoyles perched upon every ledge keeping a watchful eye over the patrons of the Haagen Hotel. Mine was the only carriage there, the stables silent, aside from the occasional snort of a sleeping horse. A young boy, certainly no older than thirteen, hurried over to open my door, though the action was unnecessary as I had already exited my mode of transportation, eager to forget the unpleasantness of traveling in such a wild country. I tipped the boy a fair amount, though he said nothing and barely acknowledge the hefty weight of coins I placed into his outstretched palms.

He must have left quietly, as I did not see or hear the expected crunch of gravel as the boy slipped away. It was not until I had turned from unloading my baggage that I did notice he had stolen away into the night. Slightly perplexed at the actions I continued to unpack under the constant gaze of the carriage driver, eager to be on his way. I did not mind his fidgety impatience; again I thought of the clouds brewing in the distance. With no small measure of exertion I managed to haul my luggage, only a few hefty bags, but enough to make my scholarly, academic muscles groan.

The driver was kind enough to open the door for me and when the warmth of the place reached my chilled bones I felt immeasurable happier. The gloominess and uneasiness of the dark night outside washed away under the air of hospitality and comfort that emanated from the lobby. A kindly looking gentleman stood behind the front desk; his eyes twinkling in the light provided by an ornate chandelier hanging on the low ceiling overhead. "Welcome to the Haagen Hotel. May I ask if you have a reservation?" He smiled slightly, but it did more to warm my heart at that moment than anything else.

"Darius Jamison," I introduced myself happily. "I should have a room under that name."

"Ah yes, a Doctor Jameson. You will be staying in number fourteen, on the main floor." He smiled again. "I am sure that Lord Haagen would be happy to meet you as well sir. He is already in the main dining room entertaining the hotels other guests. As soon as you have finished unpacking he will be expecting you." He handed me an ornate skeleton key, about as long as a finger, with a red ribbon attached to the end of it. The number fourteen was proudly emblazoned on the ribbon in bold black numerals. I thanked him and tucked the key into the front pocket on my vest and felt weight of the key against my chest.

An hour later, unpacked and washed up, I did indeed join the noble and the other guests in the dining hall. Haagen was a narrow looking man with eagles eyes and the nose of a hawk. A dark, carefully trimmed beard grew on his face in a way that reminded me of vines on an old New England university. He spoke little in comparison to the score of guests he had about him that evening, but as I stepped into the dining hall, a room of simple elegance, he acknowledged me with a short and most courteous nod. "Welcome," he said; his words coinciding with a terrific clash of thunder, the first of many in the storm to come. "To the Haagen Hotel."