ellymelly’s fanfiction

“The curiosity of unaccounted time is little more than a deep, creeping silence awaiting inevitable disturbance…”

THOUGHTS, PLOTS AND MISUSE OF A TAPERECORDER March 20, 2013

Title: Thoughts, Plots and Misuse of a Taperecorder
Category: TV Shows » Sanctuary
Author: ellymelly
Language: English, Rating: Rated: T
Genre: Humor/Romance
Published: 09-21-09, Updated: 10-17-09
Chapters: 4, Words: 5,771

Chapter 1: Nasty Little Test Subjects


Two – maybe three part story that could best be described as useless (um – suggestive?) fun. Nubbins are to blame.


I’ll admit it – this was a bad idea. From start to epic finish, probably the most unhelpful suggestion ever made by a member of humankind. Still, it’s hardly my fault that the suggestion was taken seriously. I lay the blame purely where it deserves to lie – with her.”

“Nikola!”

Nikola jumped, nearly dropping the small silver recording device cradled in his hands. He had been muttering into it for the better part of the morning, sneaking around the campsite. Now, he narrowed his eyes at the intrusion, glancing suspiciously at Helen Magnus as she approached from the tree line.

“How many times do I have to repeat myself,” she continued, with a displeased look. “That recording device is not a toy. It’s on loan from James’s Sanctuary so that you can properly document your research here. Your research on this case,” she stopped him from interrupting. “It is not for your personal thoughts, plots or opinions.”

He remained silent, turning the object over and over between his slender fingers.

“Why aren’t you giving me any indication that you understand me?” she prompted, taking another step toward him.

“Because,” he snarled slowly, raising an eyebrow at her intrusion into his personal space, “it is beneath me.”

Helen held up four fingers, indicating the number of days he had left before this expedition ran out of funds, and walked off.

As I was saying,” he hissed back into the recorder, pacing over to the far side of the camp where an endless screech was drowned by the encroaching forest, “capturing these creatures, whilst being a necessity for their productive study, is not good for our general welfare. Two of the three have attempted to dislodge my hand from my wrist and all of them have made significant progress in their attempts to chew through the cage bars and escape back into their godawful wilderness. Helen says that –”

“I can still hear you,” said a voice behind several layers of leaves.

“Fine…” Nikola slipped the recorder back into his silk-lined pocket. “How are we all today?” he grinned at the three furry creatures scampering about the cage on the large table in front of him. They looked innocent enough – mostly fur and ears, but Nikola knew that they head sharp sets of serrated teeth. “Positively sinister.”

Nikola procured a pair of leather gloves, making sure they fit snugly before he dared open the cage and extract one of his test subjects. The thing – wait – Nikola held the struggling creature in one hand as he located his recorder and clicked it on.

Have decided to name species, ‘Magnussius’ after a similarly tempered woman.”

Nikola was not aware that the species already boasted a pet name, designated by Ashley. It had been Helen’s idea for her and Nikola to capture Nubbins in their native habitat for study. His speed and resilience to injury meant that so far they had succeeded where her many other expeditions had failed. She also didn’t inform him of her previous dealings with Nubbins – or their special ability to interfere with human (and she presumed, Vampire) body chemistry. It was better that he didn’t know, reasoned Helen, as the last thing Nikola needed was an excuse to cause trouble.

Damnable creature bit me today,” went Nikola’s next instalment. “Sunk its teeth in and left several rows of puncture marks. Suspect venom of some kind is present. Horrible thing got away – haven’t told Helen yet.”

Nikola kept his sleeved pulled down over the bandage as he returned to the other two. Chromatphores had always entertained him – Nigel Griffin especially whenever he vanished into thin air. These things didn’t just mimic their background, they trained incoming light waves around them. Understanding this phenomenon required a genius – him, in particular.

With no choice, Nikola returned to the cage and captured another Nubbin, continuing his examination. He couldn’t believe it when the second Nubbin wriggled free from his grasp and promptly vanished.

He felt woozy and concluded the source of his condition to be the bite on his arm.

I have begun to worry about the potency of the venom. Contemplating seeking a second opinion though this would require alerting Helen to the absence of two test subjects. Not sure how that will go down. She seems to be adamant that these creatures are a vital part of her research so I can only assume that losing one of them would expose me to the less pleasant side of her personality. Losing two… well, I guess I’ve done worse things over the years… Many years. All those lost ambitions – I wonder what ever happened to that black lace dress of Helen’s that she –” Nikola stopped himself with a deservedly confused frown. “What on Earth am I talking about?” he shook his head and deposited the recorder on the experiment table. “That’s quite enough of that.”

Oh, this was bad, he couldn’t help but think, as Helen folded her arms firmly across her chest, reclining awkwardly against the communications table later on in the evening. Nikola sighed, wishing he’d never come into the tent in the first place. Up until this point he’d done a good job of avoiding her.

“Nikola,” she started, in a tone he knew all too well.

“Evening…” he averted his eyes, heading straight for the coffee machine, hoping to spend as little time as possible in her presence – but she had other ideas.

The little silver tape recorder was still in his pocket, only just visible where it glinted in the low light of the tent. He was starving but had decided to replace food with caffeine.

“I really am going to have to confiscate it,” she began, straightening the closely woven jumper over her body. It was not cold of a night in the jungle, but the insects were fierce. Short of a blood transfusion, this was the easiest way to survive the night. Nikola though – well, he was always in that damn suit of his no matter what he was up to or into. She was beginning to suspect it was grown onto him.

“Really, Helen,” Nikola muttered in reply, carefully aiming the steaming liquid into his cup before adding two rather gracious teaspoons of sugar to the mix. “It’s not very polite to invite,” read ‘drag’, “me here, halfway across the world for my professional opinion and then tell me that I can’t express it.”

“Oh, no-” she pushed off the table, “your professional opinion interests me greatly,” there was only the slightest hint of mockery in her voice, “but the students at the sanctuary needn’t be subjected to your long, detailed opinion of my preference of hair colour.”

Nikola gulped. He hadn’t remembered saying that at all. Then again, his mind was a bit fuzzy of late, and it seemed to get worse whenever he was around those damn creatures. More than once he’d caught himself droning on with useless chatter into the voice recorder but Helen’s hair? He certainly could not recall discussing that.

Why oh WHY, he thought to himself, did the recorder have to be a live-feed back to the sanctuary? Couldn’t she have just given him a normal one? Was that too much to ask?

“Will that – be all?” he finally brought his eyes up to hers with a pause. Nikola flinched at their sharpness as they burrowed into him.

She was cross, very cross and ever so slightly amused.

“For now…” she said, strolling out of the tent and back into the night. Maybe she should tell him about the known effects of the creatures on human? Then again, Nikola was not a creature that needed excuses to act – well… behave in such a manner.

Before Nikola knew what he was doing, the recorder was back in his hand and he was muttering into it:

So far the most interesting wildlife has been the imposing figure of our project director. One is tempted to conduct a more detailed study of her except a general desire to live outweighs the risk of Magnus’s dark smile.”

Back at James Watson’s sanctuary, many thousands of miles away, a small group of students huddled around a speaker groaned. It was yet another useless entry by Tesla – seriously, ever since he recorded being bitten by one of the test subjects his documenting skills had slipped from their already low standard. Three more days – that was all they had to survive.


Chapter 2: Things That Go Missing


Thank you to all my wonderful reviewers! um… leave a note if you like what you read :D


“Where – are – they?” she asked darkly, pacing in circles around the conspicuously empty cage where the creatures had been with a cross look etched across her face.

It was early morning – the sun not yet able to reach over the lofty canopy of wet jungle into their camp so instead the world appeared a muted, mellowed out grey that he disliked intensely. Cocking his head to the side, Nikola led her gaze to the twisted line of metal where something had clearly chewed its way through. He need not inform her that this damage was the work of one – not all of the Nubbins.

“WHERE ARE THEY?” she repeated – returning her eyes to his. She took a few more steps, edging dangerously close to him. “And it better not be, ‘I have no idea?’

Nikola remained silent. At the end of five minutes, she finally spoke.

“You’ll be in more trouble if you don’t speak.”

As much as he would love to discover the full meaning of that statement, Nikola opened his mouth to reply.

“It truly is one of the worst habitats on the continent. The mud – it’s just not my thing. You seem to enjoy watching me trudge through it as though you have organised this second expedition to acquire more test subjects solely for my displeasure.”

A hand raised to the air stopped him.

“Don’t speak to me like an entry in your recorder,” she scorned. “Not if you want to live.”

His fingers traced their over the bars of the empty cage.

“As you can see,” he said, with a superior air that really made her want to hit him – or lock him in a spare cage – or something… “They have escaped all on their own.”

“Well, that is unfortunate,” Helen strode over and to his great shock and surprise, inspected a large smear of mud on his jacket. He had no idea how that had gotten there in the first place – urgh, it had to go. Helen had other ideas, smudging it further into the fabric by pressing her finger onto it and dragging it along his chest.

“Because this jacket of yours is going to get a lot dirtier…”

His eyes widened – or glossed over, he wasn’t sure because he was overcome with distraction.

“…now that we have to recapture at least one of them,” she concluded, lingering for a moment before removing her finger from the fabric of his jacket and stepping back. “Fifteen minutes…” she shot over her shoulder as she left, probably going for more tea.

Nikola blinked back the first flecks of sunlight, tessellated and re-arranged by the leaves above. He’d long ago given up dodging the occasional heavy drips of water from their dark leaves. That was the thing with rainforests – they were perpetually wet and full of things more dangerous than himself.

So now I am forced to metaphorically pay for Ms Magnus’s poor choice in containment. Also, beginning to suspect that I should get my arm looked at. The wound healed well enough – they usually do, benefits of being a superior creature, but there’s something very wrong with my ability to focus. What do you think?”

There was an extended silence from the taperecorder. Of course, it was a one-way transmission only and somewhere in England a few bored students were shrugging at each other and slamming their collective heads against the desk.

And now I’m asking a tape recorder for its opinion… We’re going to forget this conversation ever happened – so why is it still happening? I’m putting you away now. Oh, and I told you we should have fed the Magnussius more last night.”

“Nikola?” Helen was crouched down behind a fern with her knee buried in a layer of jungle mud. There was a tranquiliser gun clutched firmly in her gloved hands and several stray leaves tangled in her hair.

His reply was merely to glance in her direction from where he was hiding being a boulder.

“Do you think you could scowl or something? Your perpetual grin is starting to disturb the others. They think you’re going to bite them or something.”

He had been grinning? Since when did he grin?

Nikola’s form flickered slightly, causing his teeth to taper into a sinister row of fangs, his eyes to become almighty black orbs and his fingernails sharpen into claws.

“Better?” he hissed.

Helen rolled her eyes – the rest of the expedition looked more disturbed than ever.

“Uh – I guess…” She found it an improvement, but mainly because she preferred her men bad.

Helen paused. What. The. Hell. Kind. Of. Thought. Was. That.

“The Nubbins must be getting close…” she said, and raised her gun.

Nikola’s eyebrows rose several centimetres when he observed the distinct flush in her cheeks. “Whatever gets your attention I guess…” he whispered at the recorder, and slipped it back into his chest pocket.

It didn’t take long for them to spot them – the first brown balls of fur hopping through the undergrowth into the small clearing lined by Helen’s expedition members, all poised and ready to strike. The Nubbins hadn’t bothered with their invisibility reflex as they huddled around the bait of fresh meat – clearly unaware of the many sets of eyes watching them.

Nikola was pretty sure that if the need arose, he could catch several of the little buggers himself – except for the pro quo that Helen wanted them alive and without puncture marks. So instead, he held his breathing steady and waited for the serious of soft clicks from her weapon that sent several feather tipped darts sailing through the air.

Three of them missed – casually flying into the dense hem of leaves around the clearing without the creatures noticing, but the last one found its mark, stabbing the poor critter who blinked its golden eyes and then rolled over, sound asleep.

“You’ve lost your touch…” Nikola sneered – Helen’s aim used to be better than that.

Her eyes cautioned him against continuing with that line of discussion. She was already shoving another set of darts down the barrel of her tranquiliser, prodding the red feathers until she clicked it closed and re-aimed. Several of the other Nubbins were hopping around their sound asleep comrade – wondering what on earth it was doing sleeping instead of eating.

This time, three arrows found their mark, with only one Nubbin escaping the carnage. It squeaked and became invisible, bounding out of sight into the undergrowth.

Helen flicked her long – luxurious hair over her shoulder. “As if you could claim any acquaintance with my touch,” she snarled, and stood up.

If she was trying to appear impressive, she dismally failed. The torrents of water and stains of mud peeling off her pants and jacket weren’t particularly attractive – neither was the hairy spider considering how to progress from her shoulder to the ground.

“You’ve got a –” Nikola started to say, pointing one of his claws at her, but she rolled her eyes and stormed off toward her catch leaving nothing for Nikola to do but shrug knowingly and take out his tape recorder.

People should listen to me more. I usually have their best interests at heart – when I’m not trying to exploit, bite or kill them. To tell you the truth, I’m not particularly looking forward to babysitting more of these horrid creatures. I was hoping that they might live up to their name and make themselves rare but no such luck. The pathetic little creatures can’t resist a good steak and Helen – Dr Magnus – Ms Magnus? – Scary Project Director knows it. I wonder what else she knows. Shall make a note to steal her private research folder later. I really need to know what I’m in for as far as this bite goes. Seriously, I could be dangerous – or maybe Helen wouldn’t miss one of those goons she’s hired? A quick snack…”

And then – and then he was splattered over the forest floor like a spent leaf.

“Very appealing…” a voice snapped, stepping purposefully over him. “Remember,” she said, retrieving the recorder which had flown from his grasp. It had been embedded in the mud like a lost relic of some ancient world. “You break it, you bou-ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Helen swiped wildly at her shoulder. Nikola reared his head just in time to catch a few dark, hairy legs disappear under her hair. A grin slipped over his lips. This should be fun, he mused, no longer the least bit concerned by the thick layer of mud under his chin.


Chapter 3: I’m Not Sure I Approve


Thank you for all the reviews – I think there’s one more part left. This is for all the Helen/Nikola shippers out there!


Helen’s eyes went wide as she forced herself to stay dead still instead of thrashing about like a maniac. If there was something deadly crawling around on her it was probably best not to piss it off – not unless she wanted to be the first immortal killed by a spider – that would look good on the headstone.

Meanwhile, Nikola pried himself from the mud with a wicked smirk.

“Now, now, Helen…” he did his best to wipe his hands on his ruined suit. “One must remain calm.”

“Oh trust me Nikola,” she snapped viciously, her teeth clenched together as she tried not to think about the eight legs wandering over her, “this is calm. You want to see the opposite – keep walking.”

“I – am – merely,” he stepped closer with each word as if approaching a wild, dangerous animal, “offering – my – assistance.”

“I don’t need it,” Helen flinched, certain she could feel the creature somewhere inside her coat. Truth was, she probably did need assistance but she didn’t trust Nikola anywhere near her clothes.

The rest of her team weren’t being particularly helpful either. They were busying themselves collecting up the sleeping Nubbins and locking them away in separate cages. Their loud snores filled the air as a passing raincloud decided to open up on top of them.

Helen frowned – that was the last thing she needed – to be totally drenched. Gods, her hair would be nothing but frizz.

“Nikola,” she scorned, “I thought I told you to stop inching closer to me.”

The rain poured down a little harder.

“Did you?” he stopped, but it was too late. He was barely a foot from her now, well within uncomfortable arm’s reach.

Her eyes rolled dramatically.

“In-sufferable,” she drawled.

“In-genius,” he corrected her.

Both Helen’s arms were held out from her body, frozen there. In one of her hands was clasped the little silver recorder and Nikola’s first order of business was its retrieval.

Before she could protest further, he laid both of his elegant hands lightly on the shoulders of her leather jacket – just resting them their – testing the waters and her patience. Curiously, her glare worsened but she made no move to kill him – yet. Positive feedback. Next, he ran one of his hands down and then up her arm until it reached the her tightly clutched fist and inside that – his recorder.

“Come on Helen,” he softly hissed, “mustn’t steal…”

“Maybe we can negotiate for it?”

Nikola paused, interesting proposition but wait…the last men Helen ‘negotiated’ with had ended up tagged as one of the great ‘unsolved crimes’ of the century.

“If memory serves,” he finally continued, “you don’t negotiate particularly well.”

“Oh,” she caught herself looking a tad lower than his eyes and quickly fixed the situation, “but I have something you want that you can’t coax from me any other –”

Helen wasn’t sure when he’d gotten so close, or how she’d failed to notice that Nikola’s other hand had worked its way from her shoulder, trailing down the front of her coat to her waist where it pulled her slightly closer to him. Suddenly she could smell the damp wool of his blazer and the faint remains of that coffee she should have banned from the premises long ago. He dipped his head down towards her, diverting at the last moment to brush his lips lightly against the side of her face in an amused whisper.

Momentarily distracted, she loosened her grip of the recorder and immediately it was tugged out of her grasp by a thoroughly satisfied Nikola.

“Now, that’s sorted,” he grinned, stowing the recorder safely in his pocket and returning both his hands to her waist, “we can negotiate.”

“I’m not sure I approve of your method of negotiation,” Helen’s eyes flashed dangerously in his direction. “Kindly unhand me.”

“You’re snappy on occasion but I know you don’t mean it.” His fingers expertly unclasped the buttons on the front of her large leather trench coat ignoring her scowl.

Nikola,” she warned. Not only were they in a public place – well, forested place with a few stray personnel lingering in the distance, but it was raining. “Whatever it is you’re thinking of doing, I advise against it.”

Nikola wasn’t listening particularly closely as he grasped the edge of her jacket and began pushing it gently off her shoulders. If she hadn’t been paralysed by the fear of the giant spider hidden under her coat she would have stopped him with a firm slap.

“Your coat,” he strolled menacingly around behind her, removing her coat carefully, “m’lady.”

Ah, Nikola grinned through the freezing rain – there it was, the giant Amazonian-whatchamacallit-spider, all eight legs spread out across her back. Nikola, after carefully folding Helen’s coat, dropped it unceremoniously to the ground to the sound of a sharp, NIKOLA! from Helen.

“You have a stowaway,” he approached the spider, tilting his head as the eight beady eyes blinked.

Helen shivered unconsciously, “Get rid of it, Nikola.”

“You are in a bad mood today,” he commented, unfurling his clawed hand toward the spider. It reared up at him, displaying its sharp pair of fangs. Nikola grinned back at it with his own set on show. “I want my own lab.”

“What?” Helen thought about snapping her head around to look at him but restrained herself. “None of us have labs here.”

“Not here…” Nikola’s voice whispered softly, “at the sanctuary.”

The sanctuary – her sanctuary?

“Not a chance,” she shook her head carefully as the rain came down harder.

“You know, I don’t think this friend of your is very happy,” Nikola prodded the spider with his claw. The creature tried to strike him, but missed. “I wonder if it’s poisonous…”

“Stop it, Nikola… You can – you can have one room but you are not going to be connected to the mains power or our internal servers.”

“One room,” he repeated, “inside the mansion, you swear it?”

She knew she was going to regret this, “I swear it – now shut up and help me.”

It only took Nikola one quick swipe to displace the spider. It swung from his hand, dazed and agitated. Helen wasn’t sure if he’d done anything until she saw the horrible enormous black thing squirming in his grip when he strolled to parade it around in front of her.

“That is disgusting…” she scowled, searching for her coat.

“Aw – I thought you were fond of critters that hunt in the night?”

“This is day and that is a spider. Come on,” she wiped the rain off her face, blinking back the water and mascara that poured in streams down her cheeks like black tears, “stop playing around, we’ve work to do.”

Nikola tossed the frightened spider over his shoulder and followed Helen back to the camp.

Back at the camp – it wasn’t until Nikola and Helen stepped into the warmth of the main tent that they realised just how wet and cold they were. The rest of her staff were already seated around the scattered tables, most of which had been dragged in front of the large heaters that glowed in the centre of the room like lonely stars.

Her personnel sat there, sipping tea and coffee until they heard the tent flap open. They craned around to watch Magnus and Tesla enter – looking rather bedraggled and ever so slightly unprofessional.

The pair couldn’t avoid the accusing looks shot in their direction. They’d been gone a long time, and the last anyone had seen of them hadn’t been in a particularly innocent position.

“Urgh,” Helen dodged a smirk from her senior mission personal leader who had known her far too long to doubt the worst of her, “this is just what I don’t need.” She rung her hair out on the floor and headed straight for the tea.

Nikola stood there in the doorway – wiping the mud from his hands with a serviette he’d snatched from a nearby table.

“This is exactly what it looks like,” he said wickedly, loud enough for everyone to hear, before finding a seat.


Chapter 4: The Danger of Live Feeds


Helen was scowling loudly from her corner of the tent – following Nikola’s every move despite herself. He was doing it again – muttering into that infernal recorder. Goodness knows what he was saying now – nothing to her benefit.

She was cold – wet and the talk of the room – as was he. That was it, after ten minutes she’d had enough.

Helen set her cup of tea down on the table with a crash and paced through the crowd.

Nikola, meanwhile, was keeping himself amused in the corner of the tent.

Ah yes, did I tell you of the spring of 1889?” he mused. “It was a beautiful afternoon and I had just completed one of my MANY earth-changing projects when she turned up at my door – unannounced as usual. She was there – golden hair wafting gently in the wind, when –”

“Nikola, I’m going to find a way to kill you!” Helen swore into his ear. She had come up behind him and, without giving him the opportunity to react, grabbed onto his arm sharply and pulled the recorder away from his mouth.

“Ms Magnus,” Nikola greeted her with amusement. “I was just talking about you.”

“So I feared,” she retorted, tugging firmly on his arm.

Nikola tried to remain rooted to the spot, but Helen was much stronger than she looked and succeeded in pulling him forcefully out of the tent and back into the heavy rain. He glared at her when she refused to release him.

Fury really brings out the Brit in you,” he complained.

“And a good shower of rain really dampens your dashing looks.”

“My…?” he tried to think of a response, but she merely proceeded to drag him further away from the main tent.

Living in such proximity to Nubbins was really starting to make the air thick and heavy – the tropical humidity didn’t help either.

Nikola had no choice but to follow her as she haul him along the muddy paths that trailed through brief sections of forest back to his temporary lab. Once they reached the small clearing with his white tent, they stopped.

“If you wanted to get better acquainted,” Nikola spoke before he could stop his thoughts from slithering out, “you should have just asked.”

Helen ignored him. She was staring oddly at his sleeve where she was clutching his arm.

“And – what did you do to your arm?” Helen asked in frustration. She started randomly squeezing her away along his forearm until he grimaced and she pulled up his sleeve to reveal it wrapped in layers of blood soaked cloth.

“Nothing that will kill me,” he assured her.

Nikola…” she met his amusement with a firm glare.

“One of the Ma – Nubbins bit me. Disagreeable little test subjects,” he frowned. “Are you certain you wouldn’t rather they be turned into stew?”

Helen’s eyes widened with something a little more than concern. Bit him? Oh – that was bad – it also explained – things…

“Nikola, listen carefully to me – you’re – you’re already not listening!” she complained, as he daringly reached forward to play with her hair, tucking one of the wild strands back behind her ear.

It was impossible for them to get any wetter as the rain continued around them, thundering through the forest canopy.

“What makes you think I’m not listening?”

“You’re staring at my neck like you’re going to bite me – you’re not – are you?” she didn’t flinch from his touch, or attempt to bat his hand away. Helen simply let him continue tucking her hair back into place.

“It wasn’t my first thought,” Nikola confessed, his voice lower and softer than before.

The people on the other end of the live-feed looked worriedly at each other. This certainly wasn’t conversation pertaining to research – at least, not any kind of research they were trying to study.

“How am I supposed to account for your welfare,” her speech may have faltered slightly as his hand moved from her hair to her cheek, tracing down her face and along her jaw bone. “If you never tell me anything?”

“I’ve told you plenty,” he complained, thinking back to that I love you that he swore he’d never confess.

Was her hand actually working its way up his forearm, pulling him a little closer?

“Despite what you may think,” she scorned, “you are not indestructible.”

“We shall see,” he mused, listing toward her.

There were at least a dozen Nubbins hiding in the nearby ferns. They had come in search of their stolen kin and had now found the creatures, locked in a cage near the white tent. As a group, their pheromones were infinitely stronger – a fact intensified when they plotted en masse.

Helen noticed Nikola leaning closer as he invaded her vision, eventually blocking all else from her view. She wasn’t sure how she’d managed it, but one of her hands was on his shoulder – heading for his collar while her other caught the soaked front of his jacket, trailing over its smooth surface. It felt expensive and sadly ruined as she flattened her palm and let two of her fingers play with the button on his pocket.

“This is a bad idea,” she whispered in half-protest, after Nikola’s finger brushed over her lips.

“All the best things in life are,” he replied, tilting her chin up so that he could look into her dark brown eyes.

Helen knew that it was the Nubbins talking. She recognised their intoxicating effect from the last time yet she simple could not stop herself from rising on tip-toes, suddenly closing the gap on Nikola – crashing their lips together in a surge of passion.

Nikola was briefly stunned by her brazen move but caught on quick, parting his lips against hers. He felt her warm breath and her tongue gently graze his bottom lip. Her hand tightened, clutching to his jacket, keeping him close. Nikola couldn’t help the soft moan he gave as they both deepened the kiss. His hand roamed into her hair while a tiny shudder escaped across his skin when he felt her begin exploring his mouth.

It was a heated moment and even Nikola’s famously cold skin flushed and warmed to Helen. Not even the rain streaming over their skin could distract them as they demanded more of each other.

In a turn of events that would prove disastrous, they failed to see the cage of re-captured Nubbins teeter and fall. It was only the sudden crash that startled the pair, snapping them apart.

Nikola and Helen, still mostly entangled in one another, turned in the direction of sound just in time to see a herd of Nubbins squeaking and scampering off into the forest with their rescued company in tow.

“Oh no…” whispered Helen in despair, quite out of breath.

“Not again,” Nikola echoed her sentiment with an equally irregular voice. “Devious little critters,” he added, “I can see why you wanted my help.”

With the Nubbins retreating, Helen and Nikola felt their senses slowly returning. Hands were slipping away from places they really shouldn’t have been and eyes averting – avoiding each other.

“Much good you are,” she accused softly. So far all he’d done was manage to get himself into trouble and divulge her life secrets to the – oh… “Tell me,” she demanded, eyeing the tape recorder peaking out of his pocket, “tell me you didn’t leave that on…”

“Live feed,” he shrugged in the affirmative. “Isn’t that what you’ve been chastising me about since you gave it to me?”

Helen gave him an embarrassed, scathing look. “Yes, but it still has an ‘off’ switch.”

He untangled himself from her to reach retrieve the item from his pocket. He quickly spied the prominent, clearly labelled ‘power’ button.

“So it does…” he drawled.

Helen rolled her eyes and paced over to the empty cage. With her hands on her hips, she circled the table in distress, splashing about in the deepening puddles. Damnable Nubbins! She ranted in the privacy of her thoughts. That was a pretty big lapse in judgment, she scorned herself, and he will never let you forget it. Helen suddenly came to a stop, realising that she had been biting her lip, and that he was staring at her.

Nikola brought the recorder to his lips dramatically, cradling it like a microphone. He enjoyed the incredulous look breaking over Helen’s face and the way she bit her lip as she realised that he was about to make another entry.

 

CHEAP

“Give me that…” Helen set her glass down on the table and then reached forward, attempting to pry the tray from his hand. He was busy waving it around most unhelpfully, observing and testing like any good scientist.

“I always knew you were cheap,” he drawled. Though the tray masqueraded as silver – it most certainly was not.

“Careful,” she cautioned, taking hold of both sides of the tray. “You won’t heal so easy now should I dig up that silver stake of mine.”

“It’s probably not even real silver.”

“Care to test it out?” she tugged the tray free – both of them falling back to the respective corners of the couch.

The wine in Nikola’s glass lapped at the rim as he steadied himself.

Helen turned the tray over in her hands – her reflection flashing in and out. She was surprised to see undeniable evidence of the time she had spent getting ready for this moment. Her hair was swept back and fastened with an evening clip, her makeup had been freshly applied and her skirt was – well, shorter than she had realised. Combined with the cherished bottle of wine that she had sacrificed in his honour it struck her that she was being positively flirtatious. For once, Nikola had not noticed.

“I can’t believe you kept it,” Nikola sipped at the golden liquid, his eyes roaming over the room in search of metallic items.

Please…” she drawled. “It was worth keeping for the silver alone.”

Nikola lofted a brow in her direction, presenting his now empty glass. She rolled her eyes and leant forward, taking the bottle and tilting it over his glass.

“When was that anyway?” he held his glass steady as she poured, his eyes occasionally flicking to hers. “Ninety-two?”

“Eighteen ninety-three,” she corrected him. “Your perfect memory fails you again.”

Nikola shot her a cautionary glance. “It has a lot to remember…”

“Forever is a long time, isn’t it?”

“It was,” he held her gaze for a moment, searching her clear blue eyes before looking away. It was. He was mortal now and he couldn’t even begin to deal with that yet.

Nikola…”

Nikola didn’t hear her soft call of his name the first time. It was only when she repeated it – her hand falling to his knee, that he turned back to her.

“My lady,” he started, mustering all the charm of a bygone era, “I do believe you are flirting.”

A smile broke across her face, spreading to Helen’s.

“Positively scandalous,” she assured him.

“Well,” Nikola teetered in slightly – a satisfied glint in his eyes. “It’s about time.”

Nikola was considering his chances of closing the distance between when a fountain pen from her desk up and flew at him.

“Ow…” he drawled, when it stuck persistently to his neck. “Let me guess…” he said, as Helen reached up – trailing her fingers over the collar of his suit.

Cheap…” they both said together.

 

FIRELIGHT

Filed under: Firelight,Sanctuary — ellymelly @ 9:07 am
Tags: , , , , ,

FIRELIGHT

It was – no – she was beautiful.

There was no feminine manner to the way the flames writhed through the room or specific curve to their overall form which might suggest a woman’s waist. Still, there was something about the warmth and sunset hue that had him captured. She. Yes, Nikola was certain.

“Not so close, Icarus…” James glanced up from the control panel of the weather machine.

The temperature in the enclosure, deep underground in the London Sanctuary vaults, was holding steady. Decades after its discovery, they had managed to bring the Fire Elemental safely into their keep. Of course, Nikola and James were still bickering over ownership rights to the weather machine that contained it. Nikola’s blueprints, James’s money, Nikola’s objection, James’s insistence… it was all more like a display to attract Helen’s attention than anything else. She usually rolled those deep eyes of hers and left them to it at the expense of her wine.

The four that were left were all staring down their first century. James would be first to turn one hundred in May. A few years later Helen, then John would follow. Nikola was baby of the group, eight years Helen’s junior – not that such things mattered. All of them had stopped counting long ago.

Most of the team scurrying about the floor were busy trying to take readings from the Elemental, but the vampire just stood there – staring. There was no barrier to keep the fierce blaze contained. Its fortress was invisible, a mixture of significant air pressure in the room and the strong magnetic field encircling it.

Nikola was of course, standing far too close. His usually pale cheeks had flushed pink from the heat as he watched its chaotic dance. The only thing he could compare it to was the surface of the sun.

“You cannot just keep her here…” he whispered, reaching out to touch her. There was a flare of heat around his fingers, almost as if the fiery tendrils of light were trying to draw him to her. To his surprise, it didn’t hurt.

James frowned at the display. He stepped forward, reached out and grabbed Nikola by the scruff of his jacket, dragging the vampire to a safer distance.

“It’s a dangerous creature, Nikola,” James reminded him, only letting him go when he felt confident the little rascal wouldn’t go straight back to misbehaving. Honestly, he’d spent a great portion of his years keeping Tesla out of harm’s way. Damn his infernal curiosity.

“I’m a dangerous creature…” Nikola replied casually, inching forward toward the flames again.

“Yes – and Helen still has a cage for you back in her Sanctuary.”

Nikola just grinned, a few sharper than normal teeth glinting under his lip. “She’s shot me, staked me, pushed me off buildings, drugged me and even once, I believe, run me through with an exquisite dagger from the British Museum’s private collection. Helen’s having way too much fun with me wandering free to bother locking me up from a cell I’ll inevitably escape from.”

“That’s not what she said over dinner last night.”

That’s right… Nikola’s jaw instinctively tightened. Most of the time he could pretend that his object of adoration was not sleeping with James. It was the off hand comments that dug in the most, proof that he didn’t stand a chance in her heart. He stared deeper into the fire, fixated on it.

The flames of the Fire Elemental flared out suddenly, startling the workers who ducked and scurried in fright. Nikola stood perfectly still as the glowing spiral arms swept over his face – warm but not burning. They left him entirely unscathed save for a flutter in his heart.

She,” Nikola insisted again, “doesn’t like being cooped up here.”

James sighed heavily. Only Nikola had the skill to make that noise of utter defeat slip from his lips. He’d been going on like this ever since it had arrived.

“And what would you have us do, Nikola?” James asked slowly. “Leave it out there, unguarded for the Cabal or some curious scientist to pick apart? Or find a way to destroy it, perhaps, for the safety of the human populace…”

Well… thought Nikola. It wouldn’t be the first time the Sanctuary had destroyed a beautiful creature for the safety of humanity. “Neither,” Nikola replied, once again stepping too close to the flames. She reminded him of an hourglass – only filled with fire instead of sand. “We should let her go.”

“Let it – Nikola… We’ve discussed this. If we release the elemental hundreds, if not thousands will die as it feeds. From what we were able to recover from the temple wall of the original tomb, they are very deadly abnormals – if you could even call it that.” It was more like a thing… A quirk of nature.

“I think we should trust her instead,” Nikola whispered back, his eyes wide at the wonder and beauty of her. “She won’t hurt us. Keeping her like this – it hurts her.”

James folded his arms, making sure he kept a good few feet from the circle of heat radiating from the elemental. He didn’t know how Nikola could stand so close and keep his hair perfectly slicked down.

“Nikola, Helen will have my head if I listen to your foolish notions. This isn’t some little science project of yours.”

By ‘science project’ Nikola assumed that James was referring to the revolution Nikola had started – a brand new age of technology that would cover every land. He was taking over the world, quietly. Nikola turned and winked at James just as a few alarms on the weather machine started to sound. Its dials and gauges were going nuts.

“What the devil…” James rushed over to the main control panel. It was having some sort of seizure. There was some kind of powerful electric charge in the – “Nikola!” James bellowed. “What have you done to my machine?”

Nikola folded his arms across his chest innocently. “My machine…” he whispered defiantly, as the magnetic field vanished from the room.

The heat rose at once; the wind the pressure change created rushing against Nikola’s face. Ah, freedom. At the centre of the room, the Fire Elemental grew – stretching and twisting – unfurling and spreading. When it was finished, it looked like a flower burning in the air. It was magnificent.

Nikola had questions, questions like, ‘What makes you burn?’ He would never force the answers from the creature though. The mysteries of the universe had to be coaxed. She was a puzzle that couldn’t be solved if you kept her locked up in a box.

James watched in horror, expecting at any moment for the creature to envelope the room in flames and kill everyone. Only it didn’t. The bloody vampire was right, for once, and now he’d never hear the end of it. Indeed, the only person that the flames engulfed – was Nikola.

The vampire saw the wall of fire rushing for him but he did not move. Nikola closed his eyes as the flames touched his face, rippling over his skin and through his hair, thoroughly ruffling it. Nikola smiled as thoughts, emotions and whispers rushed through him. She was telepathic, she must be. He saw a perfect crystal lake, somewhere in the mountains long before humanity was born. Then a city rising out from the ancient hills. Places rushed by as time was flipped like the pages of a book.

“She’s immortal…” Nikola whispered, the flames drawing back from him, resuming their calm form. She had made no attempt to escape or harm anyone. “And she’s looking for Sanctuary.”

Slowly, Nikola opened his eyes, turning to James. He was unscathed save the messy state of his hair.

“Where are your manners, James? I thought you were a Victorian gentleman…”

James just lofted his eyebrow as the vampire resumed his enamoured gaze with the Fire Elemental. This was going to cost him a very expensive contribution to Helen’s wine cellar… She’d left him with only one rule; don’t let the vampire into the enclosure.


written for sanctuary_bingo and tardis-mafia on the prompt, ‘Fire Elemental’

 

Rome (role play) October 20, 2009

This is not a straight fic – but a transcript of a Role Play between myself and ‘givemeyourwings’. It is in progress and unedited lmao.

Helen Magnus: givemeyourwings
Nikola Tesla: ellymelly
Title:ROME
rated: M
Fandom: Sanctuary
Pairing: Helen/Nikola

ROME

Nikola wasn’t usually one for crowds and bustling streets – but he always made an exception for Rome in the spring – especially the decaying corners of Old Rome where ancient buildings crumbled around the growing flocks of pigeons, picking over the cobblestone pathways that trailed in and out of promising shops.

He wasn’t braving this onslaught of people for nothing – Nikola was busily hunting for a very particular artefact – and was quite startled when he caught sight of a distinctive leather jacket strolling down the opposite side of the narrow lane way – almost lost among the other shoppers.

Instinctively, he fell against a shopfront, trying to hide in its shadow.

It wasn’t as though Helen was simply doing the tourist thing, either. She’d been to Rome enough to have seen all the usual attractions long ago. No, the day found her among the throng of people dotting the streets with a more pressing purpose. If memory served correctly, there was an old book shop just nearby wherein one could find all manner of strange and wonderful texts. Helen happened to on a mission to that very place. Had the crowd been less dense, Tesla’s sudden movement across the way would’ve caught her attention. For now, she remained unaware of his nearness.

Nikola remained pressed up against the glass of the store, contemplating his escape until he was prodded sharply by a very displeased Italian.

“Move along MOVE ALONG!!!” the shop keeper all but shouted in a thick Italian accent.

Nikola obliged at once, leaping back into the crowd and straight into the oncoming path of one Dr Helen Magnus.

That’s one way to get her attention. Helen tried to shift her weight in time to avoid crashing into him, but to no avail. After the rough collision, she stepped back, brushing her hair form her line of sight. A polite ‘excuse me’ began to form on her lips, though the words stopped short when her eyes fixed on him.

Not the entrance he’d been trying to make… Nikola thought to himself, hoping she hadn’t noticed his suspiciously nervous appearance.

It was probably too late to duck past her and back into the crowd – Helen was one who usually gave chase in those cases and he certainly didn’t want to be chased unceremoniously through the streets of Rome.

Instead, he settled on a quiet, “Afternoon…” as he brushed a few smears of dust from his unseasonal suit.

The crowd continued to shove past them, knocking Helen and Nikola closer to the marble building towering above the street.

Not to worry. Helen’s more concerned with the fact that Tesla’s right there than his out-of-date attire or his less-than-smooth entrance. The push of the crowd jostled her where she stood, though she made no effort at all to move, only a little more to hide her surprise.

Oh, yes, she’s surprised to see him. While Helen’s able to mask just how surprised, a hint of the emotion colours her expression. Her head canted slightly to one side, brows lifting in an expectant sort of look. “Nikola,” muttered in greeting.

He gracefully recovered his dignity and looked her over – oh yes, definitely the one and only immortal Ms Magnus looking just as out of place as him and ever so slightly flustered.

“Curious…” Nikola said, nudging an annoying tourist out of his way. “I wasn’t aware you were travelling at the present time,” his tone may have been mocking but Nikola’s eyes betrayed his sincerity, “with the Cabal so keen for revenge.”

A single eyebrow lofted a bit higher, her gaze mostly impassive. “I wasn’t aware you were monitoring my movements,” she countered.

There was a dark flicker in his eye.

“You should know, better than anyone, someone’s always watching.”

His gaze continued to shift between the enormous library behind them and the curious store opposite he’d travelled halfway around the world to investigate. He had to get Helen as far away from that as possible, so he boldly reached forward and took her by the arm.

“There’s an exquisite little cafe inside – unless you’d rather stay out here with the dust?”

His other arm opened out, enticing her forward toward the library steps where two guards in full dress suit tried to keep still despite the heat.

“I would not have suspected you to be among those watching, Nikola,” she droned.

Her gaze lowered, lingering on the hand at her arm. Bold move, to be certain. She looked back in the direction she’d been moving, brows furrowing slightly. Telling him of her errand would likely only draw questions. It could wait.

“As you like,” uttered she with a noticeable measure of suspicion.

He led her up the steps – through the large oak doorway that had seen better eons and, after a brief nod at a wary gentleman behind the welcome desk, strolled into the gothic-themed cafe.

The rich smell of coffee wafted on the air – somehow making the room with its leather furnishings and enormous ceilings feel homely.

Several choice pieces on loan from the museum were scattered around the room in glass cases – the most beautiful of which was a four foot inscribed rock that shone proudly in the centre of the restaurateurs.

And – ah yes, what an interesting surprise. On the far side of the room, just out of reach, was a Cabal agent sipping coffee, entirely unaware that their ‘most wanteds’ had wandered through the door.

Nikola picked a private booth along one of the walls.

“So tell me – Rome, interesting choice, not your usual scene at all. Either you’ve got a new lover you haven’t told anyone about,” he paused for effect, “or you’re after something rather special.”

By ‘special’ of course, he meant rare and dangerous – not the kind of thing you wanted people to see you acquiring.

The odd thing about coffee: it smelled delicious, but tasted like (for lack of a better description) ass. Ever observant, Helen noticed the silent exchange between Tesla and the man at the welcome desk. Clearly, he’d been here before and left an impression on the man. With Telsa guiding her, Helen was free to take a cursory glance around the café.

She located possible exits should the need for escape arise. Her eyes swept over the assembled people, noting the seemingly innocuous agent on the far side of the room. Brilliant. Once seated, Helen turned her attention to her old colleague, a wan smile coming to her face.

“One could say the same of you,” Helen countered, skirting the issue of her purpose in the city. Yes, make the conversation about Tesla. He always seemed to be keen on being the centre of attention.

She didn’t miss a trick – honing in on every available escape route. Clever girl – she’ll probably need them.

“She’ll have the tea, Earl Grey – lemon,” Nikola hissed at the waiter and then added, “and I’ll have…that,” he pointed at the large inscribed rock in the case in front of him.

“The Traveller’s Stone?” the waiter’s eyebrows hit the roof.

“Relax, I’ll settle for a short black.”

The waiter made a hasty escape and Nikola returned his attention to the Helen.

“I have something for you,” he began ominously, “but you’re not going to like it.”

Helen’s brow arched at the order. Not only was she well and capable of ordering her own drink, but, really did he need to make a scene? Well, of course. He simply wouldn’t be Tesla without the unnecessary dramatics.

Her expression shifted from bland endurance to something with a touch more worry around the edges. “In which case you may keep it.”

“Oh Helen,” he rolled his eyes dramatically, once again nervously fixing his collar. He was thankful he could put the action down to OCD – even if it wasn’t. “You don’t mean that – besides, I’ve been carting it around for ages – just in case.”

He reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a small bundle of red silk. On the other side of the room, the Cabal agent’s eyes snapped up – not as blindly unaware as Nikola and Helen had thought him.

“I mean every word I say,” she warned. Her eyes darted from Tesla to the bundle, suspicion rising. Without hesitation, she reached across the table, wrapping her hands around his. “Whatever it is, I hardly think this is time or place for it.”

He couldn’t help it – he paused at her gesture, looking down at her hands over his and suddenly he wished that his weren’t perpetually cold. Finally, he lifted his eyes back to hers – but didn’t move.

Crockery hit the table as the waiter returned with their drinks.

Awkward.

That wasn’t quite what she had in mind. Helen gave a slight nudge to push whatever was in his hands back. Thankfully, the server returned with their drinks, a most welcome distraction. She pulled her hands back, reaching for the tea with a nod of thanks to the waiter.

Nikola looked at the silk sadly, returning it to his jacket. The Cabal agent let his coffee go cold as he watched the pair intently.

“There are only two reasons why Helen Magnus wanders the globe. Either she wants something or she’s about to steal something. If you’re going to steal from me, I’d advise strongly against it.”

Helen lofted a brow at him. What gall to make assumptions as such about her!

“There is an old book store in Rome with rare volumes amidst its shelves. I am acquainted with the proprietor who has found something of interest to me.” To be truthful, it’s a personal interest having nothing at all to do with her work.

“Acquainted… So only one of us will be doing the stealing on this occasion…” he grinned, laying his fingers on his cup. “Age old question,” Nikola lowered his voice, “fight or flight?”

The Cabal agent was talking into his sleeve and things were about to get nasty.

Helen sighed quietly into her cup, glancing toward the fidgety agent. “It’s far below you to steal when you’re quite capable of charming what you desire out of so many,” she chastised. “Is there at least time to finish my tea?”

Nikola sized the agent up.

“Plenty… I think this one’s actually afraid of us.” He twitched his freshly grown moustache. “You try charming a cranky, elderly ex-CIA agent – it is well beyond my skills although you might manage it…” he added.

Colour her mildly curious. “I’ll have no part in your schemes,” she reminded him. Well, it wasn’t as if they could have a leisurely afternoon. Helen gulped down a bit of her tea and looked expectantly toward Tesla. “At your leisure,” she murmured, indicating that she’s prepared to leave when he is.

He flexed his claws.

This,” he pointed to the library beyond the cafe, “is an extremely old library. When we’re – done, go out the door, swing a left and head toward the large granite stairwell. On three – shall we?” Nikola counted down on his claws, then turned his head and snarled at the Cabal agent who realised, a second too late, that he was in trouble.

Oh, dear. Helen swept her gaze around once more. A clear route would be best and, of course, she had to be mindful of the bystanders. She sighed, knowing there was nothing else to do once Tesla set his mind to a plan. Tesla was more than enough to deal with one agent.

For her part, Helen grabbed to cup of tea in one hand, keeping the other free for her gun should it be needed, and bolted toward the door. Focused determination narrowed her eyes, keeping her alert for any more potential agents in whose faces she’d be tossing that hot tea. Tea garners far less attention than gunfire.

He watched her hurray away before he heard the definite click of a weapon loading right beside him. Nikola turned to see the waiter standing over his shoulder and under his folded napkin – the barrel of a gun.

“Very unwise,” Tesla snarled.

The other Cabal agent had risen and crossed halfway through the room in pursuit of Helen.

Nikola calmly stood up, stretching to his not-so-impressive height, laid his napkin on the table and then stepped forward until he felt the barrel of the weapon on his jacket.

“Shame, I really did love this suit.”

The restaurant fell into silence as the gunshot rang out. Then, one by one – the screaming started. So much for not making a scene.

So much, indeed. Helen turned back, flinging the still-hot drink into her pursuer’s face. As the liquid flew, she reached for her gun. A quick scan of the room separated those fleeing from those who were threats. Helen’s sights were trained, not on the waiter with the firearm, but the agent they’d initially identified. The gunman would deal with Tesla, a far worse fate than being on the receiving end of a bullet. As for her own tail, well, he’d be blind and flailing long enough for them to flee.

“Nikola!”

Nikola was busy grinning menacingly at the gunman who was more than shocked to find the bullet had no effect on Tesla.

“Ouch…” Nikola whispered, then threw the Cabal agent back against a table sending cups and plates shattering to the ground.

He looked down and frowned at the trail of blood dribbling onto his suit, staining it. Nikola! he heard Helen’s voice. She was lingering at the door with a traumatised Cabal agent clutching his tea-soaked face.

“Are you paying – or am I?” Nikola asked Helen, cocking his eyebrow.

Helen jerked her head toward the door, a clear indication for him to move. The sooner they left, the less likely they were to be identified by locals. Being hunted by the Cabal was one thing, having to pull strings to divert local authorities, that was another annoyance all together.

She stepped out through the door, following the instructions Tesla gave, whether he was behind her or not. Left out the toward the large, granite stairwell. Somehow, it seemed all her most recent encounters with Tesla led to violence and fleeing.

Never one to run, he strode quickly behind her, pointing up the impressive stairwell. No one was giving chase yet and the library staff seemed more concerned with the squealing mortals in the cafe.

Nikola led the way to the third floor of the library where he spied a ‘Restricted Access’ door. He winked at Helen.

“While we’re here…” he said, running one of his claws over the door which crackled with electricity and unlocked.”Might as well…” he disappeared into the dark room.

“Nikola!” Helen hissed in dismayed protest. She cast a glance back down the stairs and then followed him into the room. She pulled the door closed behind her to better cover their tracks and stalked after the man. “I don’t appreciate being dragged into your mess, yet again. What have you done now to earn their ire?”

The room was pitch black and smelt of dust and accumulated time.

He could see just fine – one of the perks of being part vampire. Truthfully, he hadn’t had the nerve to break into this place on his own.

“Be a dear and help me with this vault…” he knelt down in front of the locked, metal vault. Finally, all his notes from a past life, confiscated by the FBI, classified, lost, hidden, sold and now, after all this time he was so close to recovering them.

Technically he thought, it’s not stealing.

Helen glared in the direction from which his voice had come. “I’ve already told you that I’ll have no hand in whatever scheme you’re hatching.” Helen paced for a moment while waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, arms crossed over her chest.

“Oh come on, old time’s sake – it’s not like I’m stealing. I am merely reclaiming a few personal items and then we can go wherever you want… Uh oh…”

His claw slipped into the lock and twisted. It hurt a damn-site more than being shot.

“Never mind,” he grinned, as the vault opened. There was a pile of paper inside along with a rather worn diary. Nikola wasted no time stashing it inside his jacket which puffed his chest out like a pigeon.

“I’m done,” his teeth bared themselves in a grin. “Where to – m’lady?”

It’s just like him to suggest gallivanting about Rome with the Cabal hot on their tail. Her brows knit as she strained to stare at him in the dark. She stepped closer, eyes wide to better see.

“This was all part of your plan, wasn’t it?”

“Plan?” he inched closer. “No… eventual plot – perhaps.

That man never had much regard for personal space. Not that Helen could tell in the darkness. “Have you someplace safe we can go?”

“That depends entirely on your definition of ‘safe’.”

He brushed past her on his way to the door, opening it a crack so that he could survey the stairwell for pursuers.

“My lab is nearby but I’m not sure yet if I trust you enough to give you the guided tour. For all I know, you could be in Rome on Watson’s request to corner me. However…” he opened the door a little more so that bright light gushed into the room, “if I had your word you would behave…”

If only he could see that incredulous look on Helen’s face. Yes, he may be able to see in the dark, but even Tesla couldn’t see behind him.

“If anyone is justified in having trust issues, it’s me.”

Trust issues? well, she did have a point there. The last time they had been in Rome he hadn’t been on his best behaviour.

“So we’re clear,” he turned to her, and continued in his best ‘honest’ voice, “I was not and would never kill you.”

Truthfully, he wasn’t sure if he wanted ‘the great’ Helen Magnus snooping around his lair – all those things she could touch and break – it was enough to turn his pale skin pure white with fear. Besides, she was bound to disapprove of his latest experiment after having expressly told him not to undertake it.
That said – he didn’t like to leave her wandering aimlessly around Rome with the Cabal this eager.

“I need to know that you believe me before we go any further.”

No,” she asked, canting her head as she turned to face him. “Would you have tortured me instead as you did to John?” Helen pressed her lips together. No, he’d done little of late to earn her trust. Then again, there was the more distant past to consider. “I need to have a reason to believe you, Nikola.”

“Other than, I love you?” he nearly snapped back, then recovered. “We’ve all been alive a lot longer than nature intended. I admit that – for a brief time – I may have slipped into the realms of hostility but I never killed anyone in cold blood. Indeed – I think we can both safely say that Whitechapel is much improved since his experience.”

Her eyes narrowed, glaring balefully at him. “The ends do not justify the means.” There was, perhaps, a touch of hostility there, indignation perhaps on John’s behalf. Yes, Tesla may have helped him, but that certainly wasn’t his intent.

“There was a time when you would have taken me at my word – are things so different now?” he eyed her with his enormous dark eyes.

“I forgave you everything,” his voice was barely more than a whisper. Something else was slipping into his tone – betrayal?

Cue the curious, yet somewhat blank look. Helen racked her brain, but save for three bullets could think of nothing she’d down for which she’d need Tesla’s forgiveness.

Nikola looked unbelievably hurt.

“You don’t even remember – do you?” he answered her blank look with a fierce glare.

1952, she had left him in the Cabal’s hands for five months, trapped in a cage like an animal because Watson had uncovered evidence that ‘proved’ he’d been playing both sides. It was a straight forward set up and when Helen finally showed up for the rescue, Nikola had just nodded and forgiven her for believing the worst.

It was never Helen’s job to look after him. Honestly, if she had to recount every bit of trouble he’d dragged her into, well, her long memory would easily be filled.

“We are not all blessed with eidetic memory, Nikola,” retorted she. “You’ve manipulated, betrayed, tortured. You tried to kill me and have on numerous occasions wantonly put me in way of harm to further whatever game you’re playing.” Helen stepped closer, peering around him to see out of the door. “I ask again, what reason have I to trust you?”

“Trust me,” he stepped purposefully away from her, visibly unimpressed with her temper “or trust them…”

He could already hear a set of Cabal agents taking to the stairs – considerably more than before.

As a pair, they were good at escaping trouble but every decade the Cabal got faster and smarter. Capturing either Tesla or Magnus would be very bad but both at once? It would be a disaster and the Holy Grail of the Cabal.

“And for the record,” he added, “I don’t wantonly throw you in the path of danger. It’s your own over-ripened sense of curiosity that does that all by itself.”

Helen eyes him with great suspicion. However, at the sound of the approaching Cabal, she lifts a finger to hush him. The look she gave silently questioned how the genius of them planned to get them out of immediate danger.

Nikola’s eyes flickered with something that worried Helen. Before she had the chance to protest, he daringly slipped out of the room, strutted to the edge of the stairwell and peered down to see eight Cabal agents take to the stairs. A few of them looked up, saw him, and shouted.

Nikola bounced back from the stairwell.

“This could be fun,” he fixed his cufflink. “Or we could both die – personally I prefer the first one.”

Oh, how Helen glared at him, a look that accused him of trying to get them both killed. From under his breath, she muttered in frustration, “You’ve a twisted idea of fun!” Even as she spoke, Helen checked her ammunition. She would definitely be having words with him about informing his unwitting cohorts as to the plan before acting next time. If there was a next time. “You’re leading this dance,” she uttered, waiting for some indication of what he planned to do.

“It’s always a pleasure,” he watched Helen cock her weapon.

He, in turn, brought on his vampiric traits – the sharpening of his claws – darkening of his eyes and the ever so slight spiking of his dark hair.

“There – I see them!” a Cabal agent reached the final landing of the staircase.

Yours…” said Nikola, inspecting his claw lazily.

Helen let out a breath, stepping into the doorway to fire at the first agent up the stairs. Two more shots rang out taking down the two immediately behind. She was careful to stay behind Tesla, allowing him to be the first line of defence should anyone come in close. However, if she could keep the agents at bay, a fight with Tesla, which would inevitably prove deadly, could be avoided.

A stray Cabal bullet clipped his arm, adding another hole and blood stain to his suit.

“Being your shield is not nearly as appealing as you think,” he growled at her, then laid his hand on the metal balustrade, shocking one of the Cabal agents pulling himself up the stairwell with it.

Another bullet from a persistent agent caught Nikola in the shoulder, sending a shower of blood over him, Helen and the floor. Nikola scowled.

“I’ve had enough of this party,” he said. “How’s your trust coming along, Helen? Because I’m walking this way,” Nikola began to head towards the lift.

Helen smirked, the expression perhaps a bit more triumphant than it need be. While he was busy electrocuting the hapless agents coming up the stairs, Helen peered down, taking aim and firing on those a level below them.

“It’s quite preferable to the alternative,” she teased. However, the splatter of blood across her face quickly ended her amusement. Yes, Tesla was difficult to kill, that didn’t mean he didn’t feel the pain. Or suffer from the loss of blood. The woman nodded to him, following along and ready to cover their escape with a rain of bullets if need be.

The lift was regrettably old and small – one of those flimsy, early 1900’s models he remembered from the good old years – indeed, he doubted anyone had shown the poor thing any attention in its long life hauling bookworms between its levels.

Nikola pulled the iron grate shut manually, and then locked the second set of doors just as the remainder of agents caught on. A few of them fired at the elevator doors but their bullets resulted in nothing but sparks as they bounced off.

“Interested in a nice view of Rome?” he asked Helen, as he pressed the uppermost button with his claw.

Well, it could never be said that Tesla didn’t show her an exciting time when they were together. Despite all the danger they were facing, she gave him a charming smile and an agreeable tilt of her head. “Can you show me one I’ve not yet seen?” After all, she did spend a bit of time in Rome now and again.

He grinned, and, despite his rather bullet-strewn exterior, managed to look rather dashing.

The lift lurched into action, grinding its way up with a worrying rattle.

“I can show the lady many a thing she has yet to see,” he said cryptically.

This is what he missed, the constant danger – undeniable intrigue and just a touch of Helen Magnus.

“Such things you say,” Helen crooned in kind. “You may very well upset my delicate Victorian sensibilities.” Just in case it hadn’t been obvious that she was making light before, it certainly was after that.

“A bullet-ridden vampire is hardly a new sight for me,” Helen reminds him, glancing around at the unstable lift. How it takes her back to less modern times.

“Your ‘Victorian sensibilities’ – such as they are,” he openly mocked, “will remain intact.”

The lift shook and came to a stop at its pre-destined location. Once again, Nikola pried open the grates. He strolled out of the lift, over to the doors and pushed them open revealing the roof. At once the smell and sound of Rome poured in.

“Rome awaits…” he said, holding the door open for her.

It’s true, even in the Victorian era Helen was a far cry from the ideal Victorian woman. No, she was ahead of her time displaying qualities which would in the 1920s embody the New Woman.

After the chase through the old library, the smells of blood, books, sweat, and staleness gave way to the sweet outdoor air. All the scents of the city washed over her. The momentary distraction was enough to make her forget, for only a few seconds, that danger still lurked behind.

“We’ve not much time.” Already, pale eyes scanned the rooftop for a latter or an old fire escape. Any means by which to get to the ground and once more lost in the throng of people on the street.

But there was nothing – nothing but an expanse of concrete speckled with air-conditioning units spinning happily to themselves.

He could see the terracotta rooftops of the other buildings tessellated around them in an endless maze and – far beyond, the dark hills of Rome. The air was full of passing flocks of seagulls, squawking as they grazed by in a single white sheet and somewhere in the distance a siren wailed.

There were no safety railings around the tops of these old buildings. The sides of the roof simply ended in a low marble step with a sharp, slippery drop to the busy streets below.  This feature was haunted by a solitary pigeon, softly cooing as it bobbed its head and moved away from the pair of humans intruding on its territory.

Nikola closed the door behind them – for all the good it would do, and headed off toward the nearest edge. He strode the half-step onto it, and nestled himself right at its extremity with the toes of his shoes hovering over nothing while he fished around inside his jacket pocket.

“You always complain that I never keep in contact,” he said to her, against the wind.

Nikola withdrew the same silk bundle from before – only this time it was soaked in his own blood.

“I did try to give you this earlier,” he said, as a stunning amber stone fell out of the silk and into his other hand, “but now we’re going to use it.”

Helen followed behind him, close at his heels. Until, of course, he walked to the building’s edge. Her gaze drifted from the edge, to the ground, then back to Tesla. There’s no doubt he has some plan to escape. He’s not so foolish as to trap himself. Then again, being part vampire lends him a resilience Helen lacks. It’s very likely Tesla could fall or jump from such a height and still manage to walk away.

“Rightfully so,” Helen mused. “I usually see you on occasions such as these, then not again, not even a word of greeting, for decades.” Perhaps a touch of bitterness to the words? They’d been friends once upon a time, hadn’t they? Whatever insult she may have felt was quickly pushed aside when Tesla unwrapped the stone. Now it was pure curiosity that gripped her. Glancing back over her shoulder, pale blue eyes then drifted back to the stone, then up to Tesla’s face. “Make haste, Nikola.”

“Ah…” he sighed, “and now she’s curious.”

Nikola held the ruined silk out and then let it float down into the street, caught in several currents of air. The stone he kept safe, resting in the palm of his hand with the strong light piercing through it, scattering out the other side in waves of colour.

“This is one-half of a quantum pair,” he cast his eye over his shoulder at her as if he were some kind of professor. “Call it, a souvenir from Bhalasaam.”

He held his free hand out to Helen, inviting her to join him on the ledge.

Her eyes widened slightly at his words. Whether she was more amazed by what it was or form where it came, who could tell? Maybe it wasn’t what he said at all, but the offer of his hand, at which Helen now stared.

At length she stepped closer, reaching tentatively for his proffered hand. How had he come by such a trinket, she wondered silently. It wasn’t as if he’d give a clear explanation if she asked directly.

“Brilliant as the ancient vampires were,” he caught her hand firmly, “I doubt they completely understood its properties.”

Nikola helped her onto the ledge, keeping a determined grip on her as she wavered slightly against the strong wind.

“I spent many years with these relics – but this is no place to talk,” he observed, as the door behind them crashed open.

Not wanting to risk another bullet, Nikola pulled Helen towards him, capturing her in a sudden embrace – and then threw them both off the edge of the building.

Whatever thoughts or questions had been in her mind to voice fell away into a tumultuous and panicked cacophony of silent screams. Had she not been plummeting to what was likely an inevitable death, Helen would’ve noted the oddity of being held flush to someone with little body heat of which to speak.

As it was, Helen clung tightly to him as the shock lanced through her. Her fingers dug into his already ruined jacket, wrinkling the fabric in her white-knuckled grip. The wind deafened her as they fell, whipping her hair around her face and into her eyes. Oh, God, this could really be the end! And all she could think of was Ashley…

Nikola had been prepared for the fall – but not the strength of Helen’s desperate grasp on him which nearly squeezed the air from his lungs. Before taking the plunge he’d whispered something to the stone and now all that remained was to wait and trust that the ancient technology would not fail him as they fell toward the street in what would certainly be Helen’s end – if not his own.

They didn’t have long – the slanted calico of market stalls, sea of bustling people and very solid ground was approaching with haste.

A haze of dust kicked up into their faces. Nikola turned his head away and held Helen protectively so that if they hit the ground he would hit first.

Something was wrong – they were still falling.

Had he miscalculated the distance to the ground – the time it would take them to fall?

He had just closed his eyes in a final surge of panic when a flash of golden light enveloped them.

With a crack they were gone – literally vanished into thin air.

TESLA’S LAB

Helen gasped, nearly as much at the resounding crack in the air like a clap of thunder as the sudden thud onto the floor of… wherever they were. Of course, Tesla took the brunt of it, Helen was still jarred by the sudden stop in their descent. Equally jarring was lying there on the floor, on top of the inventor, clinging to him with all her might.

“If I had known you would be this easy,” Nikola managed, their noses almost touching, “I would have thrown you off a building sooner.”

He held her gaze for a few seconds too long before his countenance changed entirely. Pain washed over him and he threw his head back in a heavy groan. That fall had done nothing positive for his bullet holes – indeed, he could feel the warm crimson puddle forming beneath him, spreading across the stone floor of his underground lab.

Angered insult gave way to concern. Helen didn’t know how many shots had actually hit Tesla. She knew the last bullet to hit him in the library would’ve killed any human. Yes, he healed quickly, but even his vampiric body was far from perfect. He still could be injured, could bleed, and could feel the pain.

Helen sat up quickly, worry mounting over the sheer amount of blood he was losing and the pace at which he was losing it. With little regard for his already ruined clothes, she tore open the jacket and the shirt beneath to find the source of the major bleed. “Have you a first aid station?” She wouldn’t put it past Tesla to have neglected a safety station in his lab.

“I don’t need one,” he tried to bat her hands away.

She had made a right mess of his clothes – not that they were salvageable. He made a quiet note to never wear his best suit unless he was absolutely certain he wouldn’t encounter the legendary ‘Doctor’ Magnus. Nikola hadn’t worked out why, but circumstances always tended culminate in his ruined clothes and wayward bullets.

It was always a surprise to see the horrific injuries on his body and to know for certain that he would not die from them. Her worry though, was curious indeed.

“Quit your fussing – I just need a moment,” he glanced at the wounds on his bare chest, “or two … perhaps.”

“Nikola,” she insisted, batting at his hands as they tried to bat hers away. “This isn’t good, even for you. Especially for you.” Vampire short on blood? Not Helen’s idea of a good time.

“All right!” he finally gave in, letting her pin his hands away. “God, you’re persistent when you want to be. I believe there are some left over medical supplies over there from the last time…” ‘The last time’ meaning, when the famous Jack the Ripper had nearly found a way to kill him.

Nikola was pointing at a small cupboard pushed against the stone wall with a shaky hand.

The room itself was rather large and hummed with the cheerful drone of motors powering his various experiments – some of which he had not intended anyone to see. Despite his few homely touches – a leather armchair in the corner, a fine mahogany desk beside it and several slender work tables running the length of the lab, it still looked and felt like the catacomb it was.

Good, best that the scientist follow the doctor’s orders. Besides, this is mostly the rush of adrenaline from being flung off a building working itself out. Let the woman fuss over you, Tesla. It isn’t something that will often happen.

“Here,” she instructed, taking his hand and pressing it to the worst of the injuries. “Apply pressure for a moment.” That said, Helen moved to get the indicated medical supplies. Just something to help staunch the bleeding. In a worst-case scenario, Helen did have a tampon in her coat pocket… Those worked in a pinch to plug up bullet holes.

Nikola instinctively disobeyed orders – pulling his hand away as soon as Helen turned her back. He inspected the sticky red substance dribbling down his wrist – what a mess – and all over his lab.

“Don’t you go sneaking off,” he warned her.

With a sigh of effort, Nikola sat up, rocked himself forward and somehow made it to his feet. The remains of his jacket and shirt hung open around his chest and waist.  He shrugged off the jacket, folding it carefully and then laid it lovingly on a nearby bench.

Helen turned back, dismay coming over her features. Shoving a tampon in those bullet holes seemed more and more appealing by the moment. Fine, if he didn’t want her help. She stalked back over, a decisive set to her shoulders and that every present swish of her hips, pausing in front of Tesla.

If you attack me, Nikola, by god I will end you.”

Is that a challenge or a threat? He wondered.

If it wasn’t for that pesky vow he’d be out hunting something innocent – but he had been true to his word for over a hundred years and he wasn’t about to break it, and certainly not on Helen.

“Where were we – ah yes,” he spied the quantum stone lying abandoned on the ground, “souvenirs…”

Nikola bent down and plucked the stone from the concrete floor. It took him a few goes to straighten back up, but when he finally did, it was with a triumphant grin.

Perhaps a bit of both?

Her eyes narrowed, flicking over him to access how bad the injuries were. It didn’t seem as if he’d need to have any bullets removed, they looked to have passed through cleanly. Not to worry, Tesla, she’s neither letting her gaze linger on bare skin nor on his inventions around the lab.

Not much… he eyed her accusingly, and then dodged her on the way to his desk.

Nikola set the stone down next to its partner, shuffled a few sensitive papers into a drawer – which he locked, and then spun back to face Helen. He let himself lean against the desk, half sitting – half perching on its edge.

He made an effort to re-button his shirt but found nothing but loose thread dangling where buttons had been. He cocked an eyebrow dramatically at her.

“Now who’s the one who knows how to get attention…”

She wasn’t exactly unscathed either.

“Rome’s very amicable – don’t you think?”

Dirty, frazzled, perhaps even grazed by a bullet. Helen, however, wasn’t the one gushing out blood. She crossed her arms over her chest, giving Tesla a hard gaze.

“It was more pleasant before bumping into you,” she retorted, eyes drifting once more to his wounds.

He definitely needed to be wearing more clothes with Helen eyeing him like some kind of snack.

“Never let it be said that I don’t show you a good time,” he winked – and then stumbled over to a coat cupboard where he hunted out a beautiful Victorian trench coat. He slipped it on and buttoned it up to his neck, concealing all injuries from chin to ankle.

“Welcome to my lair, Helen,” he said, finally remembering his manners. “It’s not much, but it’s home. Of course,” that playful tone that had gotten him into so much trouble in the past was back, “now that you’ve seen it I’ll simply have to kill you.”

Sadly, the jacket did little to improve his limp as he hobbled back to the desk. He wasn’t about to admit it, but he genuinely needed the extra support.

Not like a snack! Like a patient! A patient! There was no way her gaze was lingering on his pale skin because she was curious just how cold it was to the touch or anything like that! No way!

Helen rolled her eyes at his dramatic statement. “You sound like one of those cliché vampires one reads about in fiction you so loathe.”

“I’ve been alive for more than 100 years, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve read my share of fiction and, occasionally, found it tolerable.”

He’d been reading a lot of fiction of late – nearly all of it relating to vampires, their mythology and imaginary history. Nikola couldn’t help it if their tone had rubbed off on him. Indeed, a quick glance at the bookshelf behind the desk revealed this to the casual observer. Among the spines of books were some very rare texts he’d travelled far and wide to acquire.

Nikola folded his hands in front of him. He’d been alone in this lab for a long time – many, many years. Sure, he had thought about making contact with the others but the only member of The Five that he had any real intention of contacting was the most closely watched by the Cabal.

Still, here she was and he wasn’t sure what to do.

She canted her head slightly, worry still gnawing at the edges of her mind. Stiffness began to settle into her muscles from the fall. “Clearly,” she pointed out. “You’re beginning to live like one of them. If you manage to get a pipe organ here, I’ll be duly impressed.” Teasing? Yes, perhaps just a bit.

“Will you at least let me bandage your wounds?”

He subconsciously fiddled with his jacket – contemplating her request. It was true, he was still dripping and leaving smears over his furniture and as much as he tried to deny it, Helen had a point.

Besides, he really did love this jacket and didn’t want it completely ruined for the sake of ceremony.

“As it seems I’ll have no peace until you do…” he gave her his unique brand of approval. There were bandages enough in the cupboard for the task – and if she looked closely, a box of painkillers for her own inflamed joints.

There were few in this life who could refuse the great Helen Magnus. “Off with the coat,” she instructed, moving to fetch any antibiotic ointments he had in addition to bandages.

Nikola hesitated, his fingers brushing over the clasps of the jacket. Whatever battle he had going on inside his head, one side was eventually victorious and he proceeded to unclip each silver hook.

He wondered what she’d make of his interesting collection of medication. In addition to your average pharmaceuticals there were several rows of glass jars, stoppered with corks lurking in the back of the cabinet looking ominous. Most were.

Finally out of clasps, Nikola eased himself out of the heavy garment, draped it over the table and wondered if he should do the same with his ruined, ripped and rather destroyed shirt.

Certainly, being in his lair and all, Tesla had other shirts.

Helen’s eyes took note of the odd bottles with their archaic stoppers. For now, she could keep her curiosity at bay. There would be no answers to be had if the man bled himself into unconsciousness, blood frenzy, or worse.

The first aid items were placed on the desk against which he’d been leaning and Helen gave him a once over. “Shirt, too. Every bullet leaves two holes and exit wounds are the messier of the pair.” It isn’t as though Tesla didn’t know these things from first-hand experience. However, it helped to set Helen at ease to explain why she needed the vampire half-naked.

He obliged her, not that there was much left of the shirt to remove. For someone so particular about his appearance, it was difficult to accept just how much of a mess he was currently in.

“Prognosis, doctor?” he quipped. “Will I live?”

She breathed out heavily through her nose in amusement. “Anyone else would’ve been dead by now,” she offered. First things first, Helen looked over him thoroughly, front and back, to ensure all of the bullets had gone through. Pulling one out would just be messy. Additionally, in her once over, Helen checked to ensure he hadn’t been struck in his extremities, as well.

She dabbed antiseptic around each wound with her finger tips after wiping away the immediate blood with a sterile pad. One by one, each of the bullet holes was dressed until his torso was practically wrapped in bandages and gauze. “I can’t do much for your internal injuries, though, I’ve no doubt your preternatural healing will serve you well.” Honestly, after being torn into by John, quite literally, a few bullets passing through should seem as nothing.

Now that his blood was all over her hands, Helen glanced around the place for a sink at which to wash. “I wouldn’t recommend wearing any shirt of which you’re horribly fond. Those bandages will seep and need to be changed every hour, two at maximum.” The idea of Tesla trolling around in this cave in a sweatshirt to spare his wardrobe flicked through Helen’s mind and brought a smirk to her lips.

“I’m glad to be of amusement,” he caught the smirk as it crept over her lips. If it had been anyone else, he would have scowled.

Tesla had to give pause to think of a shirt he didn’t like or could hope to spare. In the end, he opted to return to his lucky jacket – the one piece of attire that put up with all the abuse and seemed to come out unscathed.

“Your skills have improved somewhat,” Nikola observed, as he pulled his jacket around his slightly larger girth. Her poking and prodding had hurt – yes, but he was never one to complain about female hands running lightly over his back and chest for the better part of half an hour.

“I’ve been practicing for the better part of a century. I should hope my skills improve after so much time.” Heaven knows she’s spent enough of the last two decades patching up Ashley. Only after washing her hands of any trace of Tesla left one them side she come over and clap him genially on the shoulder.

“You’ll live, Nikola,” she offered with wry smile. Her hand may have lingered for a second, possibly two before it fell away. As if to cover the gesture, Helen breathed out a sigh and rolled her shoulder before making a grab around Tesla for those pain killers.

“Ow…” he said softly, as she hit him playfully on the shoulder.

Nikola may have been injured but he was still faster than her. He swiped at the pain killers too – reaching them first and whisking them out of her reach.

A brow lifted, just slightly, bringing a look of incredulous questioning coming to her face. Unfortunately for Helen, Tesla’s a bit taller than she. In spite of that, she reaches for the tablets.

“Nikola.”

He raised it higher.

“My last bargaining chip,” he mused, twisting it to the artificial light, “as if it could be conquered so easily.”

Helen continued to give him an expectant glare. “Bargaining chip for what, pray tell? You threw me from a rooftop and would deny me some measure of relief from the resulting pain after I tended your wounds?”

“Charming as this city is,” he lowered the bottle just a touch, nearly letting it slip into her grasp before elevating it out of range. “I need to get out, but lately, every time I try…” his voice ambled off.

For some reason the Cabal were determined to capture him and planes – roads and boats proved opportune for such a task. He’d lost count of the close calls he’d escaped. ‘Travelling’ just wasn’t something he was able to achieve.

“I know you have the means,” he flicked the lid off the bottle with his thumb and tilted the bottle so that its pearly white pills tumbled to the rim – but not over it.

Her gaze fixed on the bottle of pills, the ache from being jostled so roughly seeming to settle deeper into her bones with each passing moment. Helen’s lips parted, eyes slightly wider than usual as the means to relief flicked into her sight.

With a blink, her eyes shifted to Tesla. “The means for what,” pressed she, a note of irritability creeping into her voice.

“…traffic me safely out of the country.”

Nikola let a single pill fall into her hand – it was a start, but it wouldn’t be enough to numb the pain.

“I’d of course need somewhere to stay – and a supply of vintage wine.”

Honestly, be rewarded like some sort of pet. Beyond insulting! Helen caught that single pill, tossing it back dry. What’s a little ibuprofen among friends?

Ever closer to her hairline that brow crept. Was he serious? He seemed to be. “Nikola, I came to Rome for a book. If that Cabal’s sources are clever enough to track you, they’re going to know I didn’t come here for a human-sized artefact…”

On the other hand, for the sake of their old friendship and sort of future alliance, Helen couldn’t outwardly decline. For a long moment she contemplated him, weighing the pros and cons of having him at the Sanctuary for a time.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

A steady stream of white objects rained down from the bottle into her hand. There were a dozen more bottles where it came from – more than he’d ever need. Without a smirk of his own, he tossed the empty container aside. It bounced across the floor and rolled into a corner adding to the mess.

His lab was ruined anyway – an adventure was just what he needed – a bit of time spent prowling around a change of scenery.

“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you Madame,” he dipped into a shallow bow.

“I don’t need that many,” she pointed out. “Unlike you, these things still affect me rather pleasantly.” Though, Helen did pop a few more pills into her mouth before pocketing the rest.

“If you think you’re to be rid of me so easily, Nikola, you’re sorely mistaken.” Her eyes narrowed, a gleam of determination flashing in them. “I’ll not be leaving Rome until I get that for which I came.”

That sounded positively ominous.

Nikola matched her stare and raised her a slight, amused tilt of the head.

“And what would that be?”

Helen tilted her head slightly, a small grin quirking up one corner of her mouth. “If I’d known you were so easy to flabbergast, I’d have fallen on top of you ages ago,” she taunted. Check and mate. “I understand after all the excitement that you’ve forgotten since, of course, my purpose here is of little interest to you and your schemes.”

“Touché…” he let the word linger for a while.

Her taunting had him well and truly distracted. He tried to tell himself it was just the loss of blood affecting his usual indifference but it simply wasn’t true – Helen Magnus had always been his weakness – ever since the spring of 1880 when she’d sauntered into Oxford and given the exact same smile she was giving now.

“Your book,” his mind clicked back on, “ah yes – you were after a book.”

Helen smiled, reaching up to pat his cheek in a playful manner. “That’s the one with which you’re supposed to think.” That said, she pivoted on the ball of her foot, making her way across the room. Finally, she was sweeping her eyes around the lab, taking in the vampire’s lair. A bit gauche in her opinion.

“You will have one room at the Sanctuary. I will also supply you a lab of your own, but there will be conditions. You will not have access to my databases or our computer systems. For security purposes.” She moves over behind the desk, trailing her fingers over it before flopping into the leather chair. “However, those arrangements will be made on the successful retrieval of my book.” The implication of which was that Tesla was to help in that endeavour.

“Very generous…” he assured Helen.

She still didn’t trust him and that made him proud. Nikola had to spin around slowly to watch her flop into his favourite chair. The leather squeaked as she shifted around. He peered at her from the other side of the desk, resting both his hands on the wood and leaning halfway over it.

“You’re in my chair,” he cautioned her.

Helen nodded, as if to affirm his observation. “I wouldn’t want you to bleed on your fine leather.” Leaning back in the chair, she cast another look, a suspicious look, about the lab. When her eyes settled back on Tesla, they were impassive.

“I presume most, if not all, of this will need to be transported.” Even if whatever he was working on was simply for his own amusement, Helen dare not leave any of his work behind for others to find. “You know,” she added, a smug look touching her features, “I’m sure James has space at the UK Sanctuary. Been a while since you’ve been to London, hasn’t it?”

“You wouldn’t dare,” he was now resting on his elbows, still lounged across the desk. “We both know that an arrangement like that would lead to an unfortunate murder – and since I can’t die – apparently…”

He wasn’t sure he liked the way her eyes wandered over the room – across all manner of incriminating research. He was not an entirely benevolent creature, and littered among the genuinely useful machinery was the occasional ‘world domination’ contraption – for his own amusement, of course.

“No indeed,” he corrected her. “I travel light – a briefcase should suffice.” The security on this lab put Helen’s Sanctuary to shame. All he would need was a change of clothes and a laptop. Yes, despite choice of attire, he was well in tune with the modern era. Only fair seeing as he had invented most of it.

The suitcase in question was already packed, sitting neatly beside the desk after his last attempt to escape the country.

Her brow lofted as if daring him to make another threat. “I never specified at which of my Sanctuaries you’d be hiding.” She leaned forward in the chair, resting her elbows on the desk, and contemplated him. It’s likely he’s seen to the safety and security of this location, hence his ability to remain settled in Rome for so long.

“With the Cabal watching you so closely, Nikola, I’ll have to insist you remain unseen for a time. I’m not certain we could fake your death again, not to them.” Helen reclined back into the chair, her gaze fixed on Tesla. “Have you a phone directory?”

“I am the master of discretion,” he whispered, undaunted by her sudden approach.

Nikola always stood his ground.

“Phone? Nothing so primitive,” he snipped. “Phones can be tapped, tracked, listened in on – no, phones outgrew their usefulness long ago.”

This time it was Nikola’s eyes that wandered slightly – most against his will and better judgement.

Oh, what a disbelieving look those words earned him. “Really? Is it that what you call attempting to sell your teleforce weapon during a time of war to nearly every Allied nation?” Well, at least he hadn’t offered it to the Nazis. That was a small blessing. “Or perhaps another show of discretion was in your approach last time we met in Rome?”

Helen’s look faded from incredulous to border-line annoyance. “I didn’t ask for a phone, Nikola, just a directory. They have addresses. If she noticed his wandering gaze, she made no sign of it.

“Do I look like I would keep a directory?” he reached forward with one hand and took hold of a small, rather scruffy looking book. It was no bigger than a common diary. “This, however, is something unique.”

He opened it with one hand and it became clear that it was no book. The pages were some kind of flexible display screen that flickered on after a moment. One of his more useful inventions.

“Ask it anything whatever you want and it will do its best do oblige you. And, if you must know, at the time I really did have honest intentions for the world and its squabbling rabble.”

“You don’t really want an answer to that,” she murmured. Helen took the little technological wonder and pulled it close. To its illuminated pages she softly whispered, “Why is Nikola Tesla such an arrogant egomaniac?”

Nikola Tesla rolled his eyes pushed off his desk in distress.

The page of the book, however, glowed slightly as several lines of text appeared.

“… and never in my life have I met someone as arrogant, disagreeable or intolerable as that Tesla. What an egomaniac – I shall destroy him just for the sake of it.” Thomas Edison, 1893

He dreaded what kind of an answer she was reading.

“It’s not a perfect piece of technology,” he said, as he strode over to the workbench where his ruined coat from earlier still lay in a mess. Nikola pulled at hit, extracting his life’s work from its various pockets. Sadly, most of it was soggy and rather blood stained. At least it was once again in his possession, where it belonged.

Helen couldn’t repress a chuckle. Saucy little book! Her gaze flicked over to Tesla, then back to the gadget. “It must rub you horribly that you don’t get credit for inventing Google.”

All jest aside, Helen was impressed by the book. She laid it flat on the desk to admire the workmanship of it. Very clever, as expected from the brilliant mind of Nikola Tesla. Running a finger over the luminescent page, Helen murmured the name of the book store in question, asking for its street address.

Nikola could tell by the look of satisfaction on Helen’s face that his book was answering whatever it was she had purred at it.

He took his time sauntering back to the main desk, keeping a respectable distance from her secrets.

Without a word he hauled his suitcase onto it, fiddled with the brass locks until they snapped open and then proceeded to fill it with his personal papers.

“These go where I go,” he said firmly – as did the ‘book’ under Helen’s hands.

Helen’s not muttering secrets to Nikola’s little black book! Blue eyes flicked up to him, watching him with a polite measure of detachment while he fusses with the case. “I can arrange for a fire-proof safe in which you can store them when you’re act the Sanctuary. No one will have access to them save you,” she assured.

At length, she slid the book across the table, the address she’d requested still on its pages. Helen was banking on Nikola’s eidetic memory to remember those numbers. “How well do you know Rome’s tunnels, Nikola?”

“Are these trick questions?” he glanced at the page and it set into his memory.

He knew the place – quaint little store. Amongst other things its range of historical documents was extraordinary.

The ‘book’ joined the rest of his things in the briefcase which he shut firmly, adjusting the brass locks.

“Hamish may have an unparalleled collection of books and trinkets,” said Nikola, taking his briefcase in hand before wandering around to each piece of machinery in the lab, switching it off. Switch by switch, the room went quiet – as if sleeping. “But he’s a nasty old man with a temper and will overcharge if he gets so much as a whiff of affluence,” he risked a glance over his shoulder at her, “which he will.”

The only door to the lab was to the right of his desk where Helen was still draped over his chair. Talk about sights he never thought he would see.

He makes it seem so scandalous! It isn’t as if she’s wearing a short skirt with her legs thrown over the arm of the chair revealing the lace of her stockings. Not at all! Helen’s just sitting as a normal person sits. Worry clung to the edges of her thoughts as she peered over at him. Was he ready to travel so soon after being made into man-shaped Swiss cheese?

“Hamish and I have a bit of history, Nikola. Being personable often has long-reaching rewards.” Was she preening? Just a bit. Helen knows just what the man has for her and he knows exactly what he’s going to get for it. She’s been known to reward handsomely for things she covets.

Nikola was not one to laugh out loud but he absolutely could not prevent a soft, amused snigger before it slipped out when he watched Helen run her fingers through her hair, unconsciously removing flecks of dirt. No amount of attention could possibly hide her ruffled state. What Helen needed was a hotel room and an ensuité.

“You seem to have a lot of history,” he accused her.

There was something else he felt – that undeniable flicker of jealousy that surfaced every time Helen paraded one of her conquests in front of him. Hamish though? Now he was really depressed.

Helen paused in the fluffing of her hair to contemplate Tesla for a moment. And then it happened. Realization dawned and a broad smile broke across her face. “Are you jealous, Nikola?” There was a note of laughter to those words, just barely restrained. “Of Hamish? You must be joking!”

“Jealous?” he scoffed, “what rubbish.”

Nikola all but stormed back to his desk, this time coming around the side of it where Helen was seated. He stopped abruptly in front of her – the edges of his elegant coat just drifting far enough forward to sweep over her.

“Pity – perhaps, for having to endure you.”

Helen tilted her head slightly, her lashes lifting slowly as her eyes raked over him. For a long moment Helen met and held his gaze, pale eyes searching for something unknown in him. Tension grew in the air, thick as a heavy fog, and palpable.

Finally, Helen stood, flipping her hair back over on her shoulder, her expression hardening. A flash of fire lit in the depths of her eyes. “There are some things about which even you are bad at lying,” she grated out in a low, measured voice. “I promise you, you’ll have no need to endure me any longer.” That said, Helen turned on her heel and stalked toward anything that resembled an exit. “Good luck leaving Rome, Tesla.”

Nikola wasn’t sure when he had stopped breathing, but as Helen peered through him, examining the secrets of his soul at her leisure, he suddenly gasped and she had her answer.

The tension swirled with her sudden fury, which Nikola realised was as much about current events as it was caught up in their past.

Impulsively, and quite without his consent, he reached for her – just managing to catch the sleeve of her jacket before she strutted out of reach.

At the touch of his hand, that impulsive, desperate clutch, Helen whirled around, insult and fury lining her face. Instinct pulled her arm away from him, but something else froze her in place. Cold, distant eyes fell on him once more and it was all Helen could do to remember to breathe. Like in that moment when she met John… In the heavy silence, those seconds that felt like eternity, Helen could hear only the throbbing her heart in her chest — surely Nikola could as well.

It was as if she was seeing him for the first time. Not the scientist, the genius engineer, eccentric inventor. All of those melted away under her intense scrutiny. No more did she see arrogance, obnoxiousness, or even a vampire. Under that stare, Helen saw him, Nikola Tesla, the man, for the first time.

There was something human in him still, something he denied and hid from others. Something he, whether by his own will or not, revealed to her now. Helen stared at the magnificence of it as if watching a flower burst into bloom. All his well-crafted masks fell away in that one, simple, and so very human gesture. It left Helen breathless. Colour touched her cheeks, her eyes darkened slightly, and her lips parted. In those few seconds, rather than pull away, Helen stepped forward, closing the distance that remained between them, so close he could feel her breath on his skin.

He was frozen by the revelation; after decades of teasing, taunting, warring and outright avoidance there was something real beneath it all – and it shone through now, as starkly as a desert sunrise.

Nothing else mattered. She was a breath away – and Nikola’s eyes fluttered closed when his lips crashed down on hers.

Shock ran through her as hot and jarring as live voltage would’ve been. His lips against hers drew a small, perhaps startled, sound from Helen. However, whatever anger had been there, whatever tension, and lingering adrenaline served only to fan the flames. Rage was nothing more than a passion in and of itself, after all.

Even Helen was surprised to find her hands reaching out, cupping Nikola’s face. Her lips parted beneath his in a silent invitation to pour out decades’ worth of repressed and denied feelings into one heated moment.

Their collision knocked him backwards until he ran into the edge of the desk – his free hand fumbling for it to steady them.

Passion – in its most pure, demanding form took control of him.

Nikola’s lips answered her silent requests, parting in turn as his hands roamed up to hers and then tangled in her hair. He pulled her, if possible, closer as if he were afraid she would vanish like one of his countless reveries.

No mind was paid to Nikola’s injuries nor to the logical part of Helen’s mind railing against this lapse in judgment. No, she simply moved with him, pushing him back even once his desk stopped their progress. Her hands slid from his face, one remaining poised against the side of his throat, the other threading through his hair.

Helen’s tongue moves to greet Nikola’s, deepening their heated kiss with fervour. For a few seconds — and God how they seemed to drag on forever! — there was nothing else in the world other than the taste of him filling her senses, his hands in her mess of hair (shocking, considering Nikola’s aversion to touching hair!), his body against hers… Or so she thought until a great pop sounded and the room went dark. First instinct was that it was one of those parlour tricks he so enjoyed. Helen pulled back slightly, panting softly against his lips.

“Have I short-circuited you?” teased she, in a breathless voice.

For once in his life, Nikola’s mind was completely blank.

The feeling of Helen against him, inside him and all around him was overwhelming. A century of desire coursed through his veins – his heart pounding so hard he was sure that she would be able to hear it, pressed up against him like this. Her hands were knotted in his hair and her lips – they were hovering on his as she spoke.

It wasn’t until she repeated herself that his eyes flicked open and he realised that the lab had been thrown into darkness.

His chest pained from the awkward angle Helen had him at – half laid over his desk. Still, he tilted his head and lowered it to the side of her neck and breathed back his response.

“It wasn’t me…” he said softly, revelling in her for just a few more stolen moments.

She made no effort to move away from him. Through the fog of angry passion, the weight of Nikola’s words settle over her. At length she blinked, a sudden chill gripping her that has nothing to do with the coldness of his skin.

“… Move! Now!” She insisted as she pulled away. “Get what you can, we have to go!”

He heard a pile of papers fall to the floor beside them, knocked by his hand as he pushed them off the desk.

It wasn’t him which meant it was someone else – and, save the woman trying to pull him out of the room, he had only enemies.

He fell to the floor – half-dragging Helen with him as he searched for his briefcase – discarded in their passion. Eventually he found it and scrambled to his feet.

“This way,” he said, taking her firmly by the hand as he led her through the pitch black room toward the only exit.

Nikola could see but only just as he ran his hand over the door, grasping at the handle and shuffling Helen out from in front of it.

“Tunnels,” he told her, as the lights in the lab momentarily flickered back on – as if someone was fighting for control of them. “Whatever happens, Helen,” he told her seriously, as the room returned to black. “Keep your free hand on the right-side wall. It’s a maze down here – but that will lead you out.”

There’s a slight groan from Helen as she’s nearly dragged to the floor with the inventor. Helen grasped at his sleeve with the same desperation he’d grabbed at hers before. She may not have had any great love for Tesla, but Helen certainly didn’t bear him enough ill will to leave him in the hands of enemies.

In the dark, she staggered behind him, her fingers curling around his if only to keep from being lost in the lab. Her eyes widened at his words, a hand already going for the wall. “Nikola, I’m not leaving you behind.”

He was quickly hatching an escape plan as they entered the tunnel. The door to his lab locked behind them. No-one else would be getting into it alive but the longer they stayed here, the less chance they had of getting out of this mess un-captured.

“Leave me behind?” he eyed her scornfully in very low light of the tunnel. It was almost an unnatural ambient glow, barely allowing a differentiation between the stone walls and dirt floor. “I’d be offended if you did. It’s just in case,” he added, releasing her hand for effect, “we get separated.”

Just for the effect, she takes his hand firmly in her own. It may be hard to see in the dim light, though if anyone could see the determination in her eyes, Nikola would be the one. “We won’t.”

He raises his eyebrow as she re-takes his hand firmly, working her fingers between his until Nikola has no choice but to take hold.

“And there go all my carefully laid plans to vanish for the next century,” he joked, starting off down the tunnel with an air of caution.

These networks of tombs under Rome were positively ancient. There was no sense at all in their haphazard, confused and ridiculously complex design – if anything, it seemed contrived solely to trap unwitting wanderers in an endless tomb. This, of course, worked in Nikola’s favour most of the time. Rome had been his home on and off for nearly sixty years which gave him a decided advantage over any pursuers.

Surprisingly, they continued on for a while without trouble – navigating the occasional semi-collapsed section of tunnel until the floor began to tilt upward as if they were heading to the surface.

Helen frowned, following Nikola’s lead through the catacombs. It wasn’t beyond reason that he’d acquaint himself with them while in Rome. Hadn’t she herself done the same thing with the closed off undergrounds during World War II?

“Should you vanish again for a century,” Helen warned in a very serious tone, “it will only be because I’m testing what precisely will succeed in killing you.” That’s her way of saying, ‘you’d better not!’

After the tease she’d just given him? For once he wasn’t in a hurry to retreat into the shadows.

“Wouldn’t want to be your enemy…” he observed, as they neared the end of the catacombs.

Whoever had been playing with the lights in his lab hadn’t managed to find them – with any luck they were lost, huddled like frightened rats in a corner somewhere.

“It would be a shame to depart Rome without your purpose for coming here,” he said, pausing to sniff out the way ahead. Her bookstore was not far from where these tunnels emerged.

It was by far his favourite escape route – coming up under the great Pantheon. From there it was a leisurely stroll through the cafe courtyard to Hamish’s alleyway.

There was  a set of heavy doors a dozen metres in front of them with three other passage ways meeting at their foot. He listened to the other tunnels carefully for any hint of life.

Helen simply gave him a stare, one of complete agreement. “I don’t intend to leave without my book.” The question is how angry will Nikola be when he realizes said book is a rare first publication of short stories by Ray Bradbury?

Must be some book, he mused. His heart was still beating irregularly. He had not forgotten those moments in his lab. They were surreal – utterly so. The only evidence that they had transpired was Helen’s hand in his and the slightest stain of red lipstick on his mouth.

They crossed the last tunnel together. Nikola pushed the door open and the ruckus of the Pantheon could be heard as a distant haze of noise. The late afternoon was peak tourist time in Rome – those few hours before sunset when the soft yellow light caressed the streets and the café’s became bars with their iron chairs and tables littered over the giant courtyards.

Helen and Nikola ascended the stone steps – the background noise rising as they came to a second door. This one was brand new and, as he opened it, a blur of people came into view along with the lofty dome of the beautiful ancient building.

They found themselves inside the Pantheon, emerging from a door labelled, ‘Fire Exit Only’.

Helen’s grip on Nikola’s hand never wavered as he manoeuvred the tunnels. Her eyes narrowed, adjusting to the brighter light as they depart the underground catacombs. Her free hand lifted to shield her eyes from the glare of afternoon. Blinking while her sight adjusts, Helen paused to peer at her surroundings.

Impressive, Helen thought. Nikola’s knowledge of the catacombs must’ve come from years of exploration. That photographic memory of his can’t have hurt the process. Nikola may have taken note of the slight in-take of breath at the sight before her while they moved away from the Pantheon.

“Hamish’s shop isn’t far,” Helen finally murmured at length. “I’ll check your bandages there.”

“Ah yes, the great and alluring Hamish,” he teased, wading through the sea of tourists.

Out in the safety of the streets they almost forgot the chaos of before. To any casual observer they were simply two travellers, hand in hand, wandering through the twilight of Rome.

And then there it was – the time-ravished shop front of the bookstore, huddled away in the gap between two buildings.

Nikola brought them to a natural stop and then turned to her with an amused smile. Without a word, he set his briefcase down and then reached forward, brushing a smudge of dirt from her cheek.

“First impressions are key,” said Nikola, before retrieving his case.

Helen smirked, tipping her head slightly away from the coolness of his fingertips. They felt so cold against her skin after their flight through the ancient tunnels.

“Whatever impression Hamish has of me was made long ago,” informed she. However, she did run her fingers through her tussled hair to shake free some of the dirt and dust. Then, she reached forward, her thumb gliding lightly over his lower lip to wipe away the tell-tale smear of lipstick lingering there.

He held her gaze through the small gesture, smiling against her finger as it lingered a fraction longer than was necessary.

“Clearly not the impression you’re after,” he joked.

Eventually his eyes drifted to the shopfront.

“We should probably…”

Helen simply gave him a smirk, turning her attention toward the shop. “I have a reputation to maintain, at the very least.”

Nikola kept his thoughts in check as he strode over to the doors and peaked through the dark windows. Ordinary one tried to make a shop look open and inviting but Hamish wasn’t like that – he preferred his clients brazen and curious.

“He’s open all right,” Nikola turned the large door knob and pulled the rickety thing toward him. An old bell tingled as he did so, strung from a nail on the back side of the door. “I’d say, ‘ladies first’ but you’d only scorn me.”

Instead, he ventured into the poorly lit shop, tilting his head up to the surprisingly tall tiers of bookshelves. They looked like throwbacks to ancient Rome with netting wired over them in case of earthquakes or passing thieves and dust, god the dust…

Just to keep Nikola’s suspicions up, as they she walked through the door she pulled a key that looked easily as old as they were from her pocket. “It doesn’t matter if the shop is open for business. Hamish’s doors are always open to me, Nikola.” Yes, now she’s just being cruel.

The way that Tesla winced as the dust danced in the last beams of afternoon sun making their way into the shop brought a small, nostalgic grin to Helen’s face. One had to wonder how the man managed to survive with his aversions and predilections before the modern era he did so much to usher in.

At the tinkling of the bell, the heavy footsteps of Hamish sounded from behind distant shelves. Helen put on a bright smile as he emerged from a cloud of dust. A quick embrace and a kiss to the cheeks served as greeting. “I’m here for my book,” she crooned as if there could possibly be some other reason she’d come to see this man.

Nikola knew that she was playing him but could do nothing but mind his manners and keep a safe distance as Hamish embraced Helen in welcome. The old man was very Italian, and went in for a second peck. Nikola’s eyes rolled at the exchange and he made no effort to acknowledge his presence.

He was infinitely more curious about Helen’s key. It is not common practice to bring keys to bookstores, especially decorative ones like hers that bared all the trappings of age – a dull sheen, hairline scratches and that distinctive layer of silver sulphide.

Helen smiled politely, pulling back from the man. There was no need to introduce Tesla. It was likely they were already acquainted and, if not, there was little point in doing so now. While Helen had no doubt that Hamish would protect them until the end, there was no sense in throwing one more person between them and the Cabal.

“I can’t stay long,” Helen added, a note of urgency in her tone. “Little bit of trouble managed to find me,” she intoned, giving a pointed stare to Nikola. the man nodded in understanding. He murmured something about finding the deposit to his account before waddling off to get Helen’s goods. A simple book wrapped in paper and neatly tied with a piece of twine. The woman perked up, clutching the volume in her hands. “Thank you.” For a few brief seconds, she basked in her glee before turning to her companion. “Let’s go, Nikola.”

Nikola’s eyes were on the parcel clutched in Helen’s hands. He made a non-committal sound and stepped aside, allowing her to step past him and lead the way to the door. They stopped just before opening it – but well out of earshot of Hamish, who had vanished into another corner of his store.

“I hope you have a plan,” Nikola said to her, quite seriously, “because I cannot return to my lab.”

He wasn’t one to beg for help, but he was tired of fleeing – being a shadow on the edge of civilisation. Nikola had being doing it longer than her and with more organisations on the hunt.

“I have nowhere left to go,” he admitted.

Helen nods, taking a quick look outside before stepping out of the shop. “Of course I do,” she assured him. “There is a safe house on the outskirts of Rome. We can stay there for the time it will take for my contacts to arrange the necessary paperwork. Two, three days at most. I’ve been staying at the local Sanctuary, but that would be the most likely place of refuge.” Hence why they’ll not be going there.

Helen paused outside the door of the shop, offering the parcel in her hands to Nikola. “Will this fit in your case?” As if she hadn’t missed a beat to make that query, she continued. “We’ll take a series of taxis to the house, but we must start our travel quickly before the Cabal finds us once more.” Helen paused, then, wondering on him with a mild expression. She knew it was difficult for him to step around his ego and ask for help, hence why it was only in the most dire of circumstances that he called upon her. She also understood that was simply his way and no amount of chastising or assuring it needn’t be so would change it.

Nikola took the parcel with a snippy comment, even though his curiosity was more than peaked.

“I am not you caddy,” he snarled, wrapping his elegant fingers around the parcel.

Nikola could feel through the paper that it was a slight book – at fifty pages with a heavy binding. Nevertheless, he knelt down the ground – careful not to actually touch it, as he opened his brief case and laid her book beside his notes.

He was not blind to Helen’s gesture. After a second shuffling his things around to accommodate the book, Nikola shut the lid, locked it and straightened.

Catching taxis in Rome wasn’t like catching them in London. Most streets were too narrow for anything but people and scooters so Helen and Nikola found themselves hurrying along between the buildings until they emerged on one of the few main streets.

A tide of people and cars were squeezed together in the open space and amongst them, a speckling of taxis.

Once on the main road, hailing a taxi didn’t prove a difficult feat. Once they shuffled into the vehicle, Helen instructed the driver to take them to some random tourist site on the opposite end of the city. From there, they’d transfer to another cab and head once more to another part of the city before switching to yet another and making their way to the edge of Rome.

“Our best option is tourists. Easy enough since neither of us are Italian. A commercial flight will be booked and we will travel economically.” As she’d told him before, it would take a few days to get papers in order allowing them to travel with less chance of being tracked.

He sighed heavily as the word, ‘economically’ left her lips. Clearly they would be trapped in baggage class. Helen really was cheap – always had been – probably always would be. Nikola wasn’t one to talk though, as he was perpetually impoverished despite his best efforts.

Nikola nodded in reluctant agreement, glancing at the window of the taxi as a stand of weary poplars blurred past.

“I hope you have wine…” he said, still watching Italy out the window.

NIGHT TIME TRAVEL

Spending two to three days in a confined space with Tesla could prove to be Helen’s end. She’d contented herself reading through several books she kept at the house (and the one for which she’d come to Rome) and working diligently from her PDA. After spending the first day laying the ground rules (which included limits on how much wine he was to drink in a day and discussion of staying in the house except in the most dire of emergencies), Helen was pleased to learn their papers were to soon arrive via a courier.

Once the parcel was delivered (along with their airline tickets for that evening), Helen couldn’t help her amusement once she’d looked over the documents. “Nikola,” she called to him from the sitting room. “I have news for you.”

Nikola set his last allotted glass of red down on the table and slinked toward the hallway. He lingered in the doorway, arms folded across his chest as he observed Helen rustle through some papers.

“You called?” he said.

He was dressed in his only other change of clothes – a dark maroon vest over a black dress shirt with black trousers.

“Papers,” she stated, moving to hand him his needed documentation. If he flips through them, he’ll see a passport sporting his photo with the name ‘Milos Jovović’ printed on it, issued from the government of Serbia. It shows extensive travel through various parts of Europe. Among the documentation, he’ll find an IR green card, the type the spouse of a US citizen would have. The name listed as his sponsor reads as one Johanna Denton-Jovović, coincidentally, the name on Helen’s documents.

“It seems,” she droned on as if bored by the topic, “we’ve recently been married and have spent our honeymoon abroad. We’ll be flying back to the United States this evening.”

Nikola’s eyes languidly move from the papers in his hands to Helen’s bored look. He had read them twice, just to be sure.

“Maybe wine does affect me,” he said, slipping his passport into his buttoned pocket for safe keeping. “All I remember of Rome are bullets and mayhem … Mrs Jovović.”

Is he staring at her in a manner that he shouldn’t? Quite possibly. On occasion he can’t help it, especially when she purposely baits him by feigning disinterest in his existence.

For a long moment, Helen simply continued to look through her papers, completely impassive. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” she droned, the tone making it clear this little ruse was the closest he would ever get to her.

Finally, her gaze lifted to meet his, a flash of a startled look crossing her features. “Nikola, you’re leering.”

“So I am,” he acknowledge, snapping out of it. Nikola cracked into one of those smiles where it was impossible to tell if he’d been kidding or not. “I’m packed…” he nodded roughly in the direction of the front door where his briefcase stood next to her luggage. “And your driver is late.”

“I’ll thank you to refrain from staring at me like something into which you’d like to sink your teeth,” snapped Helen. She glanced over to the clock on the wall, mildly concerned by the time. “Only by five minutes. He could be stuck in traffic.”

Nikola pushed off the doorframe and gave her a lofty eyebrow.

“I don’t bite…” he snapped, and headed back to the lounge room to finish his glass of wine before it was snatched away.

Long plane flights – Nikola despised them – or was mildly wary of them.

He set the empty glass down and plucked a book from the desk at the corner of the room. It wasn’t his, but Nikola was not about to travel without something to distract from the precarious arrangement that was flight.

“Forgive me,” she offered almost instantly. That was not the best metaphor to use in the presence of a vampire. “I didn’t mean to imply that you would, Nikola.”

The sound of an approaching vehicle caught her attention. Helen peered out the window and watched as her driver pulled up to the house. “Our ride is here.”

“Pity doesn’t suit you, Helen,” said Nikola softly but sternly, as he retrieved his coat from the leather armchair and moved to navigate around her en route to the hallway.

He risked meeting her eyes with a brief glare, but it softened after a moment.

Her attention drifted from the approaching car to the direction from which Nikola’s voice sounded. “Pity insinuates I feel sorry for you. I do not,” Helen quipped, moving to get her own coat and her bag. Brushing past him to the door, Helen nudges his shoulder with hers. “Buck up, Milos. We’re newlyweds.”

Nikola’s shoulder jarred a little with the impact as he bent to pick up her bag as well as his.

“Yes darling…” he drawled for effect, “mustn’t keep them waiting.”

‘Newlyweds…’ she really did have a cruel sense of humour but wait – they had no rings. Anyone with half a brain would see through their ruse.

“Not to question your genius,” he said, laden with luggage as she opened the door, “but you forgot something…” Nikola looked pointedly at her bare hand.

“The letter that came with our papers, my love,” God, that just sounded so wrong, “informed me that our driver would be bringing that last small detail.” Then she grinned, sauntering out the door. “My genius is as great as yours.” Oh, yeah, she was teasing.

Nikola was forced to bite his tongue at that last comment of hers. Instead of detailing, at length, the many reasons why he outranked her in genius, he chose to follow her out of the house, frowning at the way she was enjoying the entire predicament.

The taxi waited on the gravel stretch between the house and the iron gates. The sky was beginning to darken and small specklings of light could be seen on the surrounding hills. Church bells rang out through the valley, marking the hour as they always did.

Their driver was leaning up against the taxi, having a smoke. He nodded in greeting as they approached.

“Dr Magnus,” said the driver respectfully, “Mr Tesla.”

Helen smiled to the driver, giving a nod of greeting. “Nice to see you again, Lucian,” she mused politely. Wide and varied were the contact of the great Helen Magnus. Walking to the back of the car, she pushed open the boot and turned to take the bags from Nikola. Once loaded, Helen closed the trunk and made her way back around to the driver.

“I believe you have something for us,” she stated, holding out her hand as the man pulled from his jacket a small envelope. From it, Helen dumped into her hand a pair of rings. “Platinum,” she mused with a frown as she inspected them. Far more expensive than she would’ve liked. Turning her attention back to Nikola, she held out the larger of the two to him. “Put this on.”

He hesitates. It was surreal at best. The white gold ring, beautifully worked but simple in its elegance, was nestled in her open palm.

Maybe this whole thing wasn’t such a good idea after all. He had not lied back in the catacombs on her last visit to Rome and this was worse than any form of torture he had endured.

Eventually reached out and, his fingers brushing lightly against her palm, took the ring. It fit perfectly as he slid it onto his finger, glistening against his pale skin. He hoped that she had not noticed the flash of emotion through his eyes. That was the last thing he needed – for Helen to see the pitiful, human side of him.

“Adequate,” he muttered, opening the taxi door for her.

Helen does notice his hesitation, the way his hand seemed to quiver every so slightly as he reached for the ring. She watched him intently, noting the way his lips moved and his strong, careless façade faltered. Once he finally put it on, Helen smiled gently.

“Good,” she mused to break the awkward silence settling between them. “I guessed right on the size.” Helen however simply closed her fingers around the remaining ring in her palm, not yet putting it on. “Shall we go?”

“Your carriage awaits,” he watched, waiting for her to disappear into the taxi before he closed the door firmly.

The driver gave Nikola a wink.

“Love is tough,” said the driver, then broke into one of his brief fits of laughter and coughing. He never ceased to be amused by the trouble Magnus got herself into.

Nikola ignored the driver, roamed around to the other side of the car, and shuffled in next to Helen. The metal on his finger was already warming as he pulled his own door shut and the taxi lurched into motion, turning out the drive and through the decorative gates.

“You should marry that thing instead,” said Nikola, pointing at the PDA in her hands.

It took a moment for Helen to hum in question. Another second before the she realized what he said. With a few decisive keystrokes, the PDA was tucked away into her shoulder bag and she peered over to Nikola.

“Oh, I will once it’s made legal for humans to marry inanimate, non-sentient objects.” Still coiled in her hands was that ring. The metal was warming to her own temperature, though her eyes lingered on Nikola. Ever since that moment in the lab, her mind had been wandering when there was time to spare. “You sound like a jealous husband already,” she quipped, holding out her fist to give him the other ring.

“Apparently,” he glanced at her outstretched hand, “I’m entitled to.”

His tone had lightened somewhat as the car continued to groan along the highway.

“Barely married two weeks and you’ve already found a better offer,” his lips twisted in amusement, still not taking the ring. “Not even wearing the ring…” Nikola withdrew the book he’d stolen from his coat and flipped it open lazily, skimming a random page.

She had played with him, and now he would return the favour. He wanted her to ask.

“Is that my volume of Yeats,” she asked, her brows furrowing slightly.

As if to draw more attention to it, Helen jiggled her hand in front of him. “Don’t be petulant. Do you want to put this on or not?”

Nikola’s will was not that strong. He gave in.

“Yes,” he answered, “to both questions.”

He let the book fall forgotten to his lap, extending his hand forward to hers and she dropped the ring into his grasp. It was lighter and smaller than his but adorned with a pair of perfectly cut diamonds. In every way it was more beautiful – as it should be.

He took her hand tenderly in one of his, brushing over her fingers deliberately until they parted. Finally, he singled one out as his other hand brought the ring to the tip of her finger, holding it there just shy of her skin as he lifted his eyes to hers.

Then, slowly, he slid it onto her finger until it sat snugly against her skin – his eyes never moving from hers.

Now you’re Mrs Jovović,” he flashed her an honest smile.

Helen couldn’t repress the shiver that ran through her when his fingers brushed against hers. Suddenly, the metal she’d taken care to warm in her hand felt cool on her skin, like Nikola’s fingertips.

She faltered briefly, her lips parting to take in a sharp breath. Finally, her eyes darted to the book on his lap. Dark lashes fell closed as she recited her favourite of the author’s work (if only to distract from more personal thoughts).

‘When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars.’

Nikola faltered, his hand, still holding hers, shaking slightly as he returned her whispered words.

“No, don’t approach me! I wish from a distance
to love and want your two eyes.
For happiness is sweet only while you wait for it,
while it’s giving only a hint of true self.

No, don’t approach me! There is more joy
in this sweet awe, waiting and fear.
Everything is more beautiful while you search for it,
while you only know its trace.

No, don’t approach me! Why and what for?
From this distance everything shines like a star;
From this distance only are we admire.
Ne, nek mi ne pridju oka tvoja dva”

Revel in the triumph of sending Helen Magnus into a moment of speechlessness. In Nikola’s hand, her fingers shook slightly. Dark lashes lifted, her eyes moving to meet his once more. That was completely unexpected.

“…Nikola…”

“I’d believe it,” said the jarring voice of the taxi driver. He had been watching the pair through his revision mirror the whole way.

Nikola broke away from her at once. He had not meant to do that. He had really not meant to do that. Reciting poetry from his home land – to her – while she looked at him like that, their hands resting together, shivering with… No, he had not meant to do that at all.

She was still starring. Even turned to the window, Nikola could feel her eyes settled on him – no doubt scornfully.

That was all the distraction she needed to pull her fast and hard back to the reality of the moment. Helen let her hand fall away from Nikola’s, the metal band still cool against her skin. She kicked the back of the seat, jostling the driver with a small glare.

Helen’s attention turned back to her bag, fishing out her PDA. Once more her fingers moved swiftly over the keys. “We’ll be landing in JFK. It appears we’ll be there two days before catching a small plane to Detroit. The day after, my private jet will come to collect us and take us to the Old City Sanctuary.”

His eyebrows lifted a little as she kicked the seat.

“A private jet?” he mused aloud. “This new century has been good to you I see. Shame we won’t be enjoying such comforts on the most arduous stretch of the trip.” Was it eighteen hours – twenty? He couldn’t remember – it had been so long since he’d flown. Nikola had caught a boat from the states to Rome.

“Tell me,” he continued, “do all Victorian women own their own planes?”

Ten hours across the sea by plane. Less than an hour to Detroit. Another three or four to Old City.

“The Sanctuary network has its needs and we’ve the funds to see to them,” she offered. “It is used in dire circumstances.” She glances up from the PDA and over to Nikola, trying to ignore the heat rising in her cheeks.

“I don’t know any other Victorian women,” she pointed out.

“Dire indeed,” he meets her eyes – sees Helen’s cheeks unnaturally flushed – and promptly looks away. Nikola is blissfully unaware that his own complexion looks positively normal – for a human. There is colour in his pale skin and it has something to do with his shaking hands.

“I do – just the one though,” Nikola continued. “She was never very good at being Victorian though, not even when the century called for it…” He was, of course, speaking of her.

“What an un-gentlemanly thing to say,” Helen quipped. Even if it was a true thing to say. She wasn’t the only bad Victorian in this taxi. For a long moment, Helen was silent, even the tones of PDA went quiet.

“Nikola… about before,” she began in a more subdued, uncomfortable tone.

His heart stopped for a moment. Was she going to torment him further? God, he was hoping she would just ignore him for the rest of the journey but her tone was clear that she would not.

Nikola made a non-committal noise somewhere between a sigh and a grunt. Finally, he turned back to her and saw how she was paused, waiting, her eyes focused solely on him.

No, she’s not trying! “Put it out of your mind,” she advised.

He eyed her incredulously. Even if he wanted to, it was technically impossible given his Eidetic memory. Lying though, he was better at.

“Put what out of my mind?” rhetorical, of course.

They were well within the confines of Rome now, skirting along the edge of the city on approach to the airport. On one side of the car was a dusty chasm – an immense excavation of the ancient city below with sad hollows of buildings and half crumbling pillars lit with spotlights against the night.

An aircraft coming into land roared above the sound of the traffic.

The taxi continued on until they reached the airport, even the driver noting the thick, heavy silence. He drove them to the drop-off pointed, where Helen removed their luggage from the car and paid the man for his time and his silence.

After the vehicle drove away, she peered over to Nikola an affected a pleasant smile. “Milos, shall I check your bag?” The implied question, of course, ‘do you want to carry this on the plane?’ Helen’s shoulder bag held the important items she would need should their luggage find itself lost.

He had one of her larger bags strung over his shoulder, making his lofty figure lopsided. Nikola’s briefcase however, was grasped firmly by his side.

“Secrets of the universe…” he reminded her, with a healthy lashing of sarcasm. His bag would be coming on board.

They made their way inside the airport, dodging as best they could the endless stream of bodies, piled up against each other, humming about in frantic patters across the airports tiled floor.

The length of the check-in queues elicited a groan from Nikola’s throat.

“We’ll be old and grey by the time we get through this,” he muttered, and then turned to her with a pointed look. “And that’s saying something.”

“If you’re very patient,” Helen crooned solicitously, “I’ll ask if we can upgrade to first-class since we’re on honeymoon.”

“I don’t think we should be drawing any undue attention to ourselves – considering the circumstance…” the line shuffled forward, as did Helen, Nikola and the luggage.

An Italian security guard gave the line a close pass, his black hat with gold braiding weaving around the tourists.

“Besides, I have grown used to being impoverished,” he flashed her a smile with an ever so slight hint of vampiric teeth.

Helen canted her head gently to one side, her look mild, but incredulous. “And yet such a taste for fine wine,” she pointed out as an aside. Playing to her role, Helen stepped closer to Nikola, reaching to brush her fingers against his. “Simply too much distance between us in those large first-class seats.”

“It rarely belongs to me…” he explained, then stopped as her fingers brushed against his again. “Oh yes,” Nikola picked up the end of her tone, “those first class seats are entirely too comfortable and spacious. Still – I will miss the complimentary beverages.”

His fingers moved against hers.

Awkward. Though Helen keeps the smile in place as the queue slowly shuffled forward. It seemed like months passed before they were at the counter. Bags were checked, their boarding passes assigned, and the happy couple wished-well.

As they wandered away with their carry-on bags, Helen sighed. “How are you healing?” she queried in quiet concern.

It was a much more pleasant stroll now that he was free of Helen’s surprisingly heavy baggage.

“Completely,” he replied, but amended it to, “mostly…”

Other than the occasional throb of pain through the worst of the bullet holes, there was nothing to show of their scuffle in the library.

Helen was wandering toward one of the many cafes that lined the terminal, but Nikola’s eyes kept drifting to the clock beside the departure board.

“We really don’t have time,” he cautioned her, pulling himself to a stop and backtracking to where she was lingering at a particularly excellent display of sweet pastries.

Helen smirked over at Tesla as he doubled back. “There’s always time for scones,” she informed. “I don’t know how often you fly, but airline food is a step above prison and hospital fare. It’s best we get something here to take on with us.”

She smiled at the girl at the counter and ordered three scones for herself and a cup of hot black tea. Then she turned to Nikola. “What would you like?”

His eyes flashed at her as he drawled, “Coffee… black, lots of it.”

Reluctantly, with both hers and his beverages in hand, he loitered around the nearby newsstand while Helen waited on her scones. A private smirk crept over him. Scones, a definite weakness o the great Helen Magnus.

His eyes tracked over the newspaper titles as the endless drone of boarding calls added to the general noise of the airport.

Oh, but this was interesting, He leant closer to a particular stand.

MONSTER SIGHTING IN OUTSKIRTS OF OLD CITY

Nikola wondered if it was one of Helen’s pets out for a wander.

It wasn’t long for the scones. The girl at the kiosk wrapped them neatly for take-away and Helen tucked them into her shoulder bag. Helen padded over to Nikola’s side, peering over his shoulder.

“Mmm,” she hums in his ear, reading the headlines. “This is why my trip was to be brief. We have some trouble on the home-front.”

He feels her long, dark hair fall over his jacket shoulder as she leans in to read over him.

“So it is one of yours then?”  Nikola moves slightly forward, freeing the paper and holding it up for them both to read. It is vague, as all news in the 21st century was. “I think we’ll keep this,” he said finally, folding it in half and slipping it under his arm.

She was still resting on his shoulder, her chin lightly pressing on him for support. Nikola wasn’t sure if he should move or not – he was not used to being used in such a practical manner.

“Have I suddenly morphed into a lectern?” he asked her lightly, turning his head just a little in her direction though it was difficult to achieve without crashing into her.

She reaches around for her cup of tea and nod in the direction of the terminal. “We need to check in there, too,” Helen advises.

“It’s something we’ve been trying to find for a time. Chances are, if it’s causing a noticeable commotion something got too close to its territory. It’s usually a docile creature living in the old underground tunnels of Old City. Every now and again, some unwitting person or Abnormal strays there and… well, natural instincts.”

“This is supposed to comfort me?” he hands Helen her tea. “Your Sanctuaries are magnets for trouble,” Nikola continued, as they set off toward the second terminal – the now stolen paper still under his arm. “But part of me suspects that you enjoy the constant peril.”

The first boarding call for their flight was already ringing out above their heads. Nikola took the opportunity to depart a look of disdain in her direction.

“Tardiness is another thing you enjoy,” he commented. “I remember how your invitations always carried a different time to the rest of ours. It was the only way to ensure you presence.”

Helen lofts a brow at him as they bustle toward the terminal. “I dare say you attract a far more dangerous sort of trouble than I, darling. I suspect you enjoy it as it gives you an excuse to contact me once more.”

She sips her tea in an airy manner, nose turned up slightly as they meander through the queue to board the plane. “Have you flown over the sea before?”

He dipped his head at her, darkening is playful glare as they paced.

“Fair’s fair, on this occasion it was you who bumped into me.

Nikola drained the entire coffee cup in one go, depositing it in a nearby bin.

“Of course I have flown,” he answered her question. “1942, friend of mine owned a plane. Long story short, it was not entirely pleasant.”

Helen couldn’t help but laugh, clapping Nikola on the shoulder. “Planes have changed a great deal since then.”

“I am sure this one will be perfectly –” they rounded a corner and entered the glass lined lounges were the planes could be seen, waiting eagerly for passengers.

One had a pack of brightly adorned engineers clambering over it, another was making a most unhealthy sound as it tested its engines and the one closest to them had a man suspended from a crane picking bits of debris out of its nose. “Satisfactory…” he finished, not looking so sure.

She watched him intently as his speech slowed unnaturally. After a few seconds, Helen took his hand and squeezed it gently. The band of metal on her finger, though warm from her skin, is still notably cooler.

“There is a greater chance of being struck dead by a meteor than dying in a plane crash. I dare say even that might not kill you.”

“I am very sure that you will be the death of me long before that transpires, Mrs Jovović,” despite the lightness of his tone, he makes no move to let go of her hand.

They checked in for the final time and, as they were already late, found themselves ushered down the small connecting tunnel and into the large plane. As they had expected, their boarding pass had them seated in a non-descript second toward the back of the plane, well within the confines of Economy.

Amazingly they found a pair of seats nestled next to a window awaiting them.

Under normal circumstances, such behaviour would’ve earned him a serving of scathing wit. As it was, Nikola seemed genuinely unnerved at the prospect of flying, as evidenced by his hand still gripping hers. Once settled into their seats, Helen turns to face him with an indulgent smile.

“You shall enjoy every moment you have with me,” she teased.

“Is that a promise?” he replied, turning to her. There was a hint of danger in his eyes – the same  that had been there in Rome, just before he threw her off the roof.

They were still holding hands – an action that played well with their cover though was not entirely necessary given nobody paid them more than a cursory glance. Nikola could feel her ring, cool on his skin. He hadn’t dared move his hand in case she remembered that he was still holding onto it.

Helen’s brows lifted as if in challenge for him to test her words. “Have I ever failed to show you a good time, Mr. Jovović?” she drawled with a note of amusement. She recognized that look in his eyes, her own daring him to try something in the confined space of the plane. She may not have her gun with her, but she could still make him suffer horribly for the next six to eight hours.

Helen’s free hand moved to rest over his, giving him a light, reassure pat. Despite all their snipping at one and other and their disagreements, she still sees Nikola as a friend.

“It’s going to be a long flight – I can tell…” he mused aloud, as she laid a second hand on him.

It was entirely impossible not to have flash backs to those moments (minutes?) in his lab, especially now that they were packed together so closely in these quite frankly, cheap arse seats. He could clearly see her giving him that daring look of hers – the one that said, ‘trouble’ like nothing else.

He must have been contemplating her – them unabashedly staring at each other – for a long while because the next thing he felt was his body pushed back in the seat and the plane take flight.

For his sake, Helen squeezed his hand more tightly as they plan took flight. She flew frequently and wasn’t horribly troubled by it. He on the other hand, seemed to have some trepidation.

Once they were at cruising altitude, Helen did retract her hands from his, digging through her bag for the book she’d picked up in Rome and a scone. Time passed in silence, Helen engrossed in her reading. It helped her ease the long hours of flight when she travelled.

Eventually Tesla put his memories of the shaky, hand-built aircraft of 1942 behind him and relaxed into the chair, staring out at the completely black porthole until an airhostess rudely snapped it shut. The divider between their seats was most irritating and by far the worst part of the flying experience. Nikola observed its construction quietly for a moment and then discovered that it could, indeed by lifted up out of the way – which he promptly did, removing the barrier between himself and Helen.

Then, he flicked open the newspaper he’d stolen earlier and began to read on about the strange creature sighted outside Old City. It sounded like some kind of extinct feline to him – perhaps some kind of rear wildcat imported illegally and then set free when it got too big and scary.

Miracinonyx inexpectatus,” Helen droned at length. “Thought to be extinct. What it’s doing so far north, I’m not certain. We’re hoping to capture it and transport it to a Sanctuary closer to its native climate.” She closes the booking, shifting to look at Nikola. “Why did you lift the arm rest?”

“Because it hurts,” he answered, matter-of-factly. It was true – it did hurt. No matter how he rearranged himself in the seat it always ended up prodding into the side of his ribcage.

Nikola gave her an innocent look which was, for once, actually innocent.

“You object?” he lowered the paper.

Helen peered beyond him to the third party sharing their group of seats. She slid her hand against his, twining fingers with him before she moved in close. It seemed as if she was going to whisper, but instead speaks loudly enough for the other to hear. “I hadn’t meant to be so rough with you.” Now, she just wants to watch Nikola go red in the face.

Nikola continued her motion, tilting his head slightly to the side to avoid colliding with her – instead brushing against her cheek en-route her ear.

Instead of leading on the poor, tortured passenger beside them, Nikola made sure that only she could hear as he whispered, “Not to worry…” His face is half buried in her hair, but he can still feel her reddening as he continued, “You know I like it rough darling.

And how colour burst into bloom on her face, causing pale eyes to widen. A hand lifted to push him away, though stopped short against his shoulder. If his injuries were, in fact, still causing him pain she didn’t want to add to that. Plus, she’d be compromising their cover. Not to mention, Helen had opened that can of worms. She should’ve known better with Nikola and his quick, often sharp wit.

She hadn’t pushed him away – probably because she didn’t want to blow their cover, he reminded himself. Whatever the reason, Nikola snuck a quick, soft kiss to her exposed neck, lingering there before he withdrew and returned to reading his paper as if nothing had happened.

Oh yes, it was a small victory. Helen was practically scarlet.

Practically? Please! She could put a poinsettia to shame!

The portly gentleman beside Nikola grinned and gave him a little nudge with his elbow during the moments Helen remained completely flabbergasted. She huffed out a breath, letting her hand fall away from his shoulder in defeat.

Despite surprise and embarrassment, Helen couldn’t stop her thoughts from drifting back to that stolen moment in Nikola’s lab, that moment she’d almost left him to fend for himself against the Cabal. Still she could feel the cool press of his lips to her throat, a hand lifting to brush lightly to her lips. After a long, silent moment, Helen shifted in her seat, leaning into Nikola before blatantly resting her head against his shoulder.

Now it was Nikola’s turn to colour as Helen settled on him, nuzzling against him slightly as she got comfortable. Scandalous threats he could handle but this, Helen resting gently up against him – it played havoc with his carefully built resolve.

Lost for an appropriate reaction, Nikola did something he had always wanted to do. Carefully, and without disturbing her, Nikola freed his arm from between her and the seat. Next, he lifted his hand up until his fingers could reach the stray curl of hair that had fallen over Helen’s face. Nikola hooked one of his elegant fingers around it and moved the wild lock tenderly to the side.

Certainly the trip to Rome proved eventful, more than Helen anticipated. Even after bumping into Nikola, being shot at, flung from a building, harried through the catacombs of the ancient city once more… After all that in the security of the safe house, Helen still managed little sleep. The endless toiling of her mind saw to that. With literally nowhere to escape to busy herself, Helen’s exhaustion finally caught up with her.

Though she wasn’t fully asleep, she was fast on her way, lips parted and breathing slow where she nestled against his shoulder. The brush of cool fingers on her cheek did little to jar her. She simply tilted her head slightly into the soft touch, letting out a quiet sigh.

Nikola swallowed as Helen moved against his hand, turning – burying herself closer in the warmth of his jacket. Yes, he may be a vampire, but Nikola was still alive and even he had enough life to warm a jacket.

In truth, this was the reason he had left all those decades ago – vanished from the world and from her. He had always loved Helen, despite his protests and whining and scheming and – well, everything. Nikola had not lied about that. It was hard watching her with John back in Oxford, laughing and smiling with him when all along Nikola had known of John’s dark side. It was harder still when, after a hundred years Nikola could not stop the quickening pace of his heart and shortness of breath whenever she approached. It was impossible knowing that she would always belong to someone else.

But now here she was, hovering on the edge of sleep – trusting him and Nikola couldn’t keep his eyes from her.

It would be a terrible lie to say that Helen had no lovers since John. A woman has her needs after all. There’s only so much loneliness one can bear through the decades. She’d even had a handful since Ashley’s birth. Still, it was different to just lean into Nikola, to rest against him with such trust as few have earned from her. If he knew, he’d clearly see it’s a deeper sort of bond she extended to him than to most men she’d had in her life.

Which isn’t to say Helen would admit to or is even aware of the feelings she may or may not have for Tesla. Despite all they’ve been through, she would happily step up to help him when the need arises. Even if Nikola hadn’t vanished for six decades, Helen would’ve kept her distance, as she did with James. All the more reason to relish what time she had with him.

She nestled in closer, shifting in her seat to settle against him. One arm tucked up against her, laying lightly across her stomach while the other hand came to rest on his thigh. Though she was almost lost to sleep, there was a comfort to be had in knowing Nikola, her old friend, someone who understood her better than so many others, was right there.

Nikola exhaled deeply, deciding to finally give in and enjoy whatever this was that Helen was giving him. He moved a bit as she did. Oh, she’s comfortable with him all right – she always had been – since Oxford.

As Helen curled up to him, Nikola lowered one of his arms, lighting draping it down her shoulder and along her arm until his hand rested on top of hers, both rising and falling on her stomach in time with Helen’s sleepy breaths.

He let his head rest back into the seat until, as a pair, he and Helen were lounged as best they could in the confined space – and all the while Nikola tried desperately not to think about the hand she’d decided to leave on his thigh.

Helen sighed in content, the puff of air soft and warm against Nikola’s throat. To anyone walking by, they could very well be just what they were pretending: a couple very much in love. Helen, of course, being a Victorian woman put little stock in the endurance of romantic love and more in the ideas of trust and comfort in a kindred spirit. She’d always felt, as most Victorian women, that love came with time. John had been an exception to that rule, she was certain.

But Nikola claimed to have loved her for so long, despite everything. Time, distance, John, Ashley, even their own altercations. Whereas, despite the same things, Helen had always felt comfortable with him. Though others may doubt it, she knew beyond all doubt that he would be at her side should she need him.

Quite some time passed while Helen slept in Nikola’s arms, dreams of a peaceful life moving like shades and spectres through her mind. As pleasant as sleep was, she was too soon jarred back to reality by a particularly rough patch of turbulence the plane encountered. Blue eyes snapped open, wide, pale, and alert. Her fingers tensed against his leg, back straightening as consciousness was thrust upon her. A second, perhaps two, passed before Helen recalled they were travelling. One more before the realisation that she was snuggled against Nikola.

“Oh dear,” she murmured softly.

Nikola, roused from sleep, caught the end of her sentence, mumbling his reply through a thick haze of sleep.

“What is?” he said, his eyes slowly opening to the dim light of the cabin. It took a few moments for him to realise that he had been asleep – with Helen cuddled against him – on a plane – that was now bouncing through pockets of air.

It was a kind of artificial twilight inside the plane with most of the passengers sleeping, snoring in the near-darkness with only the occasional reading light casting halos of light over their owners.

At some point during the many hours they had apparently been sleeping blissfully, someone had thrown one of the complimentary blue blankets over them to stave off the inevitable chill of air-conditioning.

If he hadn’t been awake on the first jolt, the next once certainly did it. Nikola’s head rolled to the side then jerked up – properly alert as he felt Helen’s hand tense against his thigh and her body stir awake.

Helen let out a sleepy grunt, blinking away the lingering haze. A quick glance around the darkened plane brought the realisation that they weren’t yet landing. Her hand lifts from Nikola’s leg, rubbing at her eyes.

“How long did I sleep?” inquires she in a quiet voice.

The wrist with his watch was currently buried somewhere under the blanket covering them. That particular hand of his was still cupping hers – resting comfortably on her warm skin.

Nikola averted a yawn as he tried to speak.

“About as long as me,” he replied, most unhelpfully. Nikola never slept in public and he felt quiet disoriented waking up to an environment that had clearly been moving and changing while he wasn’t watching.

The turbulence was settling now – more than likely they had just cleared a mountain range.

Helen’s eyes blinked rapidly, a surprised look overtaking her features. “You… slept?” The awe wasn’t so much in the fact that he’d slept, but that he’d done so as they were fleeing the country and while in a mostly public place. Then she noticed the blanket, his arm around her and a slight heat came to her cheeks.

He frowned at her.

“Stranger things have happened,” he said, defiantly. “Besides,” he continued, his frown becoming a challenging smirk, “you slept too.”

Was she blushing again? He couldn’t tell in the half-light – it robbed all the colour from the world. Though, Nikola had to admit, it did little to calm the violent blue of the blanket thrown over them. It was just in its own little universe.

“What do you think,” he started, purposely glancing at the blanket, “worst blue you’ve ever seen?”

Nikola sleeping is rarer than her sleeping. “I’ve been shot at, chased, and thrown from a building in the last few days. I rather think I’m entitled to some rest.”

She’d never admit it, but she’s thankful for the change in topic. Peering down at the blanket still draped over them, Helen smiled lightly. “Even in the half-light it’s nearly blinding.”

And thoroughly kissed, he wanted to add to that list but didn’t. His thumb grazed over the back of her hand as he considered her – but they were interrupted by a sharp click.

All around them, the lights of the plane flickered on and the seat-belts signs flashed. A few people groaned in protest as the chime of the pilot’s intercom rang out.

“Good evening ladies and gentleman. We are now beginning our descent … please return to your seats.”

There was a general shuffling of disapproval around them as people glared through the new light, gathering up their things and re-arranging themselves. As for the third passenger beside Nikola, he had been squished into the side of the plane but didn’t seem to mind.

They would have to untangle themselves – but that meant admitting that they were indeed, tangled up.

Helen joined in the collective groan. She was far too comfortable and not horribly inclined to move. Helen shifted in her seat, pressing closer to him before moving slightly back. The hand his fingers crushed against under the blanket moved to take hold of his.

“H-” he went to protest with her name, but amended it to, Johanna…” as she continued to do the exact opposite of what they were supposed to be doing.

Somehow she was getting closer to him, something Nikola didn’t think possible after having the one and only Helen Magnus asleep in his arms. Her hand was threading through his and his objections were falling away with every millimetre she claimed.

Helen’s look was quizzical. She opened her mouth as if to speak. Maybe something more?

Alas, the moment was ruined when a stewardess came to snatch their blanket away and chide them for not sitting properly while the place descended.

“She certainly told us,” Nikola, now seated correctly with nothing but the myriad of creases in his good jacket to show for last few hours, pulled the armrest back down between them to avoid further scorn. “It’s a good thing that your Italian is rusty,” he assured her.

Helen pulled her hand back in silence. Once the arm rest was returned to its proper position, she glanced over to him with an awkward look. “We must’ve slept most of the way.”

Nikola’s eyes dropped to his mostly ruined coat as he said, “Evidently…”

Truth was, they both looked rather ruffled with his hair jutting out oddly at the side where he had been resting against the seat.

He couldn’t help a satisfied smirk on his lips as he looked at her.

Helen lifted her hands to smooth, then fluff out her hair. She brushes a few wrinkles from her shirt, the platinum band around her finger catch the light and drawing her eyes. For a brief moment, she simply peered at it, captivated, before she returned to preening.

Nikola kept catching her glancing at her ring but chose to say nothing.

“You look fine, he assured her, as she continued to flit about beside him.

He on the other hand, well, he looked like most people did after long haul flights.

“Where exactly are we?” he inquired, as he had not even checked his tickets.

Of course he‘d say that! She could roll around in mud and he’d still tell her she’s beautiful.

Helen pauses in her fussing blinking off the last remnants of sleep. “Uh… New York.”

Nikola frowned inexplicably and turned away.

He hadn’t been expecting that feeling upon realising that he was about to return to the city where most of his ‘life’ had been spent. So many memories – tragedies – friends and they were all gone. History had even forgotten him.

“Oh,” he said quietly, before his eyes returned to her, a little paler than before. “New York.”

The shift in his demeanour didn’t go unnoticed. “We won’t be here long,” she assured. “Our flight to Detroit leaves in the morning.”

“Plenty of time to get caught and killed then,” he mused aloud in a light tone, flicking off whatever that moment of quiet had been.

“My bet is that the Cabal travelled first class…”

Helen snorted at that. “You don’t think they’d have taken the opportunity in the sin hours in which we slept?” Why, was that a little stab at him for not staying awake?

Nikola gave her one of those, ‘like that was my fault’ looks.

“Maybe we played our roles a bit too well,” he teased, “and they simply passed us by.”

Neither Nikola or Helen could know that that was exactly what had happened on the flight – or that an innocent couple three seats behind them were about to be pulled up by security on arrival.

A good thing for contacts.

Helen turned to Nikola, lifting a hand to smooth over his hair on one side. It was standing up unnaturally from being slept upon. Her smile was soft, almost fond. Once done she took his hand and mused, “Welcome to America, Milos.”

“Worrying…” he observed her. “Whenever I see you with that look, trouble is never far behind.”

Nikola’s fingers slid from Helen’s, running over the back of her hand until they curled around her wrist, holding her in a gentle grasp. In a quick, simple movement he had flipped her hand over, exposing the base of the wrist where the palm met onto which he lowered his head and pressed a kiss into the delicate skin there.

It was worrying all right – worrying how easily they slipped back into this closeness – how the centuries apart were quickly forgot and the need to paw at each other won out. Each testing the other’s boundaries until someone tapped out. It was a dangerous game they used to play and Helen usually won.

“I am not sure America is ready for me,” he grinned, his breath warm on her skin.

Pawing! He makes it sound as if they’re randy teenager with no sense of propriety!

The touch of his lips to her skin took Helen by surprise, though she hid it well. A slight widening of her eyes, a quick, soft gasp for breath were her only betrayals. Nikola undoubtedly felt the speeding of her pulse at the touch.

“I’m not sure I am,” she murmured in reply.

The plane was landing. A slight bump as its wheels hit the tarmac was the first Nikola and Helen knew of it.

“I guess we’re going to find out,” he replied – let it linger – and then added, “because it appears we have arrived.”

The bump jarred her senses back, her eyes narrowing slightly as she glanced toward the front of the plane. It was barely a few seconds since they’d touched ground before Helen’s PDA was in her hands.

“A driver will be awaiting us. We’ll be staying in…” Helen stopped, a small frown pursing her lips. “We have a decadent room in Times Square.” Far more expensive than she would’ve liked, but it helped to keep up the appearance of a honeymooning couple.

The flight attendant swept past them as soon as the plane had come to a stop, leaving a trail of expletives at the sight of Helen’s PDA in use.

“She really doesn’t like us,” he grinned, rising from his seat behind Helen – his briefcase uppermost in his priorities.

There was a general shuffle as the passengers became a solid mass, funnelled through the plan and out into the terminal where they immediately began to disperse. They were almost at the baggage carousel when Nikola heard it – angered and confused voices coming from gate they had just departed. Without drawing attention, Nikola tilted his head and glanced over his shoulder through the crowds of people.

“Helen,” he said quietly, directing her attention to the airport security pulling up an innocent couple while a Cabal agent lost his temper.

She glanced back casually, one hand clutching her bag, the other his hand. Helen’s eyes didn’t linger long. “We need to hurry. Fortune is on our side for the time being.”

Though the last thing they needed was to draw more attention to themselves. She couldn’t shake the edge of nervousness as they gathered their luggage from the carousel and made their way to the car awaiting them.

NEW YORK

“Niiiiice…” he tilted his head up to the chandelier tangled high up in the ceiling.

The hotel was gorgeous – a vast improvement on the hovel he had occupied last time he had been in town. It was difficult not to let his eyes wander around the various art displays as they wandered toward the check-in desk.

“This is certainly the best escape plan I’ve ever been a part of,” he hissed under his breath.

Helen snorted a breath as she followed along beside him, her eyes trailing over the decor of the place. Far too ritzy. Helen was already dreading how much this was going to cost her.

“I rather preferred planning your funeral in ’43,” she hissed back with a frown. “Can you at least fake an Eastern European accent for our check-in?” It would make their cover more plausible.

“I’ll try not to take that personally…” he drawled back in his best Croatian accent.

Oh yes, the stay here was going to take a stab at Helen’s bank account but unlike him, she was uncommonly apt at acquiring finance. Case and point – her castle-like residence.

“Ah yes…” Nikola said, as they approached the reception desk with a pretty, well kept girl tapping away at a computer behind it.

For her part, Helen played the role of the eager bride, fidgeting slightly while clinging onto Nikola’s free arm. She left the check-in process to him, only dropping the façade once they were alone in the room.

“Honestly,” exclaimed she as she paced through the decadent room. “As if my contacts couldn’t have found something more modest!” Helen didn’t fail to realise that this was the best cover. After all, surely the Cabal would expect that she’d hide out in a modest hotel. What better way to keep them off the trial than to travel economy then book the honeymoon suite of an opulent hotel in Times Square.

“I saw a deli just down the street. I’m going to get some supplies. Do you want anything?”

Nikola strolled through the lavish room and found himself a leather couch by the window. He folded himself into it, lounging back with his shoes on the graceful arm.

Instead of answering her, Nikola glanced over his shoulder at her with a look of disapproval. Satisfied that he had been left alone after the door closed firmly behind her; Nikola quickly spun around and hopped off the couch, taking the opportunity to inspect the room properly. Yes it was most certainly an expensive room. The enormous windows looked out over the city while the fashionable furnishings gave the room a clean but comfortable feel – something you could easily live in. (Or maybe he would always hold a soft spot for hotel rooms, given his history of residence in them?)

Finally his eyes rested on a false cupboard underneath the kitchen area. That was no cupboard… He wandered over to it – tapping its sheer surface lightly with his finger.

It was the mini bar…

Not only did she see a deli, but a drug store, too! Needless to say, between buying snacks to tide them over for the night and the next plane ride and purchasing some decent skin and hair care products, Helen was gone nearly an hour. Upon her return… Nikola pointedly wasn’t where she left him. She’d never admit to the flash of worry in her eyes as they scanned the area and found nothing.

Except an empty minibar.

Whatever concern she’d felt evaporated as she followed the trail of tiny, empty bottles to… the bedroom. Inside, Helen gave the man a blank look. Partly because the candles and rose petals were so… something (and clearly he either hadn’t seen the bottle of champagne or he was saving it), and partly because there was Nikola, draped out across the bed and the flowers, surrounded by those little bottles from the minifridge.

They were all empty – of course – hardly enough to keep him busy. Indeed, he had consumed the entirety of the minibar – one of the many reasons why it was unwise to leave Nikola Tesla alone in a hotel room.

Nikola heard a pair of feet pad into the room and draw to a halt at the door. His eyes fluttered open from the half-sleep he had been enjoying. As it turned out, beds were infinitely more comfortable than airplane seats. Languidly, he rolled off his back, onto his side to find Helen, shopping in hand, looking a little miffed. A few rose petals dislodged around him, tumbling over one another.

“Ah,” he sighed contentedly, “room service…” The way he accentuated the observation with a cocked eyebrow suggested he wasn’t after food.

Helen. Just. Stared.

Then, without any hesitation, she reached into the bag from the drug store. With one hand, she thumbed off the cap of a leave-in hair conditioning spray and promptly spritzed Tesla with it. Like a half dozen times.

The first jet of slimly liquid took him by surprise. All of a sudden there was something cold and wet stinging his eyes which promptly slammed them shut with a muttered, “Urgh…”

The initial strike was quickly followed by a succession of secondary attacks as his chest and neck fell victim to the conditioning bottle.

Finally Nikola realised exactly what she had done. He wiped his face with the back of his hand, removing the gel.

Ruined… was all he could think as he looked down at his shirt.

“What – was – that – for?” he growled, seriously displeased with the overpowering rose fragrance now wafting from him.

“I’ll appreciate you minding your cheek despite this ruse,” Helen snapped. Then she added, “Be thankful I don’t have mace.”

Nikola’s eyes flashed dangerously back – their vampire traits turning his pale eyes into black marbles.

“I see your sense of humour hasn’t improved,” he hissed at her.

With great difficulty, he began to slide forward and manoeuvre himself off the bed without dripping the conditioner on the bedspread. Anyone who didn’t know him better might have suspected that his sluggish movements and occasional fumbling betrayed his abnormally high blood/alcohol content.

That amused her. She watches as he slithered away, moving to pick up the trail of bottles from the bed to the minibar. “Every time I see you, I find myself thrown into danger,” she called after him. Once the room was tied, Helen sank down onto the edge of the bed. A few minutes passed before she frowned. Why hadn’t she noticed before Nikola went into the bathroom? A few minutes more left Helen shifting this wy and that before finally she walked over to the door.

“Don’t come out of the shower, Nikola. I… have to use the toilet.”

Nikola froze for a moment – the shower spray already hot and pouring over him. The Bathroom was extensive but (tragically) lacked a shower curtain. It was a mostly open-plan shower with a curved wall that one could try to hide behind, albeit not very effectively.

Heavy layers of steam filled the air like a kind of fog, blurring the world a little.

Nikola backed away toward the wall as he heard the door open.

Not to worry! Helen’s got her eyes on the ground to keep them from wandering anywhere unsavoury or inappropriate. Such a decadent bathroom matched the motif of abundance in this room. Oh, how Helen shivered at the thought of its price.

The thought flicked through her mind that Nikola’s going to use all of the hot water in the building. So much steam in only a few minutes’ time… For that, however, she was thankful. It at least gave them a small measure of privacy.

Damn Nikola thought to himself, when he reached for the micro-bottles of shampoo and conditioner that were supposed to accompany showers at hotel rooms. There weren’t any. Not fond of the prospect of standing for an unknown amount of time cursing the modern shower for its oversight, Nikola decided to make use of his unwanted guest.

“Helen…” he started, ducking out of the stream of steaming water just enough to speak. Nikola assumed she was listening, though she gave no answer. “Pass me whatever it was that you just bought – please,” he attached as an afterthought.

Oh Lord. Helen rolled her eyes and breathed out a sigh.

“I didn’t bring it in with me,” she hissed from the toilet. Instinct caused her to turn her head she spoke, though she quickly jerked her eyes back to the floor. She had, in fact, left it on the sink which was out of reach. “Give me a moment.” As an afterthought, she added, “Might want to step out of the water.” Because she’s going to flush now.

He was going to – and maybe he did by a step or two, but Nikola quickly realised that that wasn’t going to work. The (what Nikola now considered to be poor) design of the bathroom meant that he had to endure the cold rush of water for the sake of his modesty.

Nikola suddenly felt very compromised and wondered what fit of folly had induced him into what was about to happen. He turned the temperature of the water up to something near scalding, creating more clouds of mist to obscure the room. It was almost suffocating.

Helen would’ve looked away, Nikola. His modesty is as important to her as to him. Once she finished her business, Helen moves to grab the bag with the toiletries she purchased. Without turning fully toward him, she reached out to hand him the plastic bag with the soaps and shampoos.

God, Nikola, how can you breathe?”

He stifled a cough – the water vapour clogging his lungs.

Nikola heard her approach and thrust his hand out for the bag, misjudging slightly causing his hand to accidentally clamp around Helen’s wrist.

“Sorry…” he muttered, fumbling over her hand until he found his way to the plastic bag. Nikola could just see her face through the plumes of mist tumbling around them. She was looking away. Her hair was damp, falling around her face nearly dripping. God, she hadn’t changed in over a hundred years.

The touch startled Helen and she turned to face him, though swiftly wished she hadn’t. Colour rushed to her face and Helen quickly raised her eyes to and locked them on his face. “…”

As she turned to face him, he saw her eyes run from the floor to his face, causing his breath to catch. Thank goodness for the mist. He was surprised to see her cheeks flush as her eyes settled on his face. She was getting rather drenched now – the water from the shower splattering over her.

For a moment, one short, sweet moment, Helen was lost. That is until she heard her blackberry ringing angrily just beyond the bathroom. She pulled her arm back with haste, her fingers losing their grip on the bag of toiletries. “I need to get that,” she offered as an excuse to leave the bathroom in a hurry.

Nikola, of course, dropped the bag and had to fish around through the mist for the shampoo once Helen had gone in search of her blackberry. He wasn’t quite sure what had just happened but something had definitely happened.

Shaking his head, Nikola turned the hot water down – if only so that he could breathe, and began lathering up his hair. How had he gotten himself into this utter mess? And why, god why, did Helen have to pick such florally shampoo?

Beggars can’t be choosers, Nikola. At least this would be better for his hair than the hotel’s offerings. A few minutes passed, Helen’s voice muffled by distance, the closed door, and the spray of the shower. A few minutes more before there came an urgent knock at the door before it opened just a sliver. “Shake a leg, Nikola. We need to get out of here.”

Could he not enjoy five minutes of peace? Nikola looked up in confusion, oddly surrounded by bubbles.

“Go?” he shouted through the spray. “We just got here…”

He was in no mood to go anywhere and was it just his imagination or did Helen sound more insistent than usual.

“The Cabal have caught our scent,” she offered in a grave voice.

Nikola actually sighed and lowered head, the shower washing away most of the soap. Reluctantly he turned it off and wrapped one of the towel-bathrobes around himself, pacing over to the slightly open door.

He can see Helen just shy of it, by the bed pacing frantically around.

Nikola cleared his throat to get her attention.

“My clothes?” he says, as they are no longer in the bathroom where he’d left them in a heap.

Once he called out, Helen nudged open the door, praying silently he at least had a towel to protect his modesty. “Something clean,” she informed, gesturing to the neatly folded clothes in her hands. Yes, let’s ignore the fact she took them from his suitcase. He’d notice that she’s also in different clothes, her usual black leather. Just in case.

“My my,” Nikola purposely lounged in the doorway – his bathrobe a tad loose. “You’ve been in my suitcase,” he observed.

Somehow the urgency of the situation wasn’t rubbing off on him. Nikola usually responds to threat best if he can actually see it.

Her eyes skimmed over him, her lips set in an unimpressed line. Helen sauntered over, her step deliberate. Why, was that an exaggerated swish of her hips as she moved? The clothes in her hands were thrust against him and Helen remained still waiting for him to take them.

“If I have to throw you down and dress you myself to get you out of here before we’re captured or killed, don’t think I won’t do it.”

Nikola swallowed hard. He made no effort to take the pile of clothes from her (which she was currently crushing).

“My my,” he rolled the words in a playfully threatening way, “what a curious proposition.”

She is, in fact, crushing the clothes against him. A good thing the room is still so full of steam that it could possibly pull any wrinkles out of them. Helen gave the bundle a little push into Nikola chest as she glowers at him impatiently.

“We haven’t the time for games, Nikola,” she pressed, urgency lacing the words. “Get dressed. We can play later.”

Nikola rolled his eyes dramatically and backtracked into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

He reappeared a few minutes later, dressed in a CRUSHED suite with damp, spiked hair which only added to his unimpressed demeanour.

Nikola roamed through the bedroom, stepping into his shoes as he goes.

“Better?”

Helen, of course, was pacing through the room, eyes moving from the door, to the window, to her Blackberry. She looked up at Nikola’s words, urgency etched into her face. “We don’t have much of a head start. It seems as if they haven’t managed to pin down our aliases yet, but we need to move quickly.” She paused to type into the phone and then tucked it away into a hidden, inner pocket of her leather jacket. “Let’s go.”

Nikola retrieved his briefcase and hoisted her heavy bag onto his shoulder.

“Are you aware,” he made it to the door, opening it just a crack to check that the hallway was clear, “that your major relationship in life is with a machine?” Nikola looked back over his shoulder, hinting at the pocket of her leather jacket where the phone had just vanished into.

“You might want to work on that,” he advised, opening the door fully and stepping aside to allow her to leave first. “Immortals before geniuses…”

Helen snatched up her smaller bag, pulling the strap crossways over her shoulder, and padded toward the door. “I rather think that applies to both you and I,” she mused as she stepped into the hall.

“Nikola, you’re hardly an appropriate person to lecture me on relationships. Especially with technology made possible by your work…” Helen jerked her head for him to follow. “I left the card key in the room, we can check out virtually in the morning.” Down the hall she want, alert and attentive for any sign of danger.

“So what you’re really trying to say, rather in-eloquently,” he closed their hotel door so it didn’t look completely like they’d left in a rush, “is that you’re actually having a relationship with me – well, my work, that is.”

Nikola followed her with his signature, paranoid glance over his shoulder.

“I knew there was something odd about the way you looked at my saucy little book – as you called it.” Not that he was letting her name his inventions.

Good thing he’s behind her so he doesn’t see her rolling her eyes. Once the elevator arrives, Helen reaches in to hit a random floor before waiting for another elevator to arrive. And people think Tesla’s paranoid. Helen steps into the next elevator, pushing the button for the lobby with impatience. Once more she pulls out her humming Blackberry and peers at it with consternation.

“The head of the New York Sanctuary chartered a private plane for us. It leaves as soon as we get back to the air port. She says there’s a taxi waiting for us two blocks from here.”

Nikola watches with amusement.

“It doesn’t matter how many decoy lifts you send down, they’re still going to be waiting for us at reception – unless you care for another freefall?”

He steps into the lift with her and this time it’s his turn sigh as she pulls out her blackberry. Again.

“Two blocks?” Tesla looks far from amused. “Were they lost?

“They’re not here yet, according to my intel,” she pointed out. “We need to hurry though,” Helen insisted. “The distance is due to traffic. Have you forgotten we’re in Times Square?”

“Please…” he drawled, “how long have you known me?” As if the great Tesla forgets.

The elevators opened with an ominous, ‘ping!’ to reveal a rather suspicious looking lobby. There were far too many business men pretending to read upside down newspapers, twitching towards the elevators.

“Is this room how you remember it?” he muttered, wondering just how far it was to the glass doors on the opposite wall. He also glanced at the fire exit to their left – a move which definitely attract attention.

Helen’s eyes scanned the room and she nodded in approval when Nikola glanced to the fire exit.

“Nikola,” she whispered. “There is nothing in that bag I can’t part with.” Yes, he’s free to drop it or throw it at any attackers. “Walk toward it causally unless someone runs at us.”

“Because it wouldn’t be at all suspicious if I were to leave your bag in the middle of the lobby…” he grinned at her. Still, Helen Magnus short on clothes? Maybe he would abandon the case after all.

Nikola did as he was told and pretended to head towards the magazine rack that was near the fire exit. There were definitely eyes following them, eyes that weren’t in the least fooled by his subterfuge.

“Pesky little things,” he commented, swerving toward the fire exit.

Before he left the lift, she swatted him in the chest for being cheeky. She too meandered in the general direction of the fire exit, waiting for Nikola to bolt. She watched as eyes fell on them and fingers flew over keys sending their location to who knows where.

“Go,” she murmured.

Nikola heard her murmur in his ear and he instantly relaxed his hand around the handle of her bag – dropping it to the floor with a loud crash.

Well, that certainly got their attention. Half a dozen men launched themselves from their seats and skidded over the marble floors in pursuit.

Nikola hit the fire exit door first, pressing down on its metal bar before throwing it open. He ushered Helen through it and then slammed it closed, pausing for a moment to lay his and on it – imparting a nice little electrical surprise for the next person lucky enough to touch it.

Helen darted out the door, sparing a backward glance to ensure Nikola was still behind. At some point, she’d pulled the Blackberry from her coat and peered at it. “Nikola, here!” she called to him, all but diving into a nondescript taxi that came screeching to a halt in front of them.

Halfway into the taxi – Nikola grinned with satisfaction as the fire exit door sparked, marking the demise of at least one Cabal agent. The taxi, meanwhile, began to speed off without the least bit of consideration for him, and Nikola had to launch himself through the open door, slamming it behind him, to avoid being left in a pile of dust on the street behind.

“So much for your luxury hotel,” he straightened his jacket and set his briefcase safely on his lap. “What can I say – their wine was cheap and their lobby infested with rodents. Your taste is definitely slipping.”

“Slipping?” she panted in question, peering out the rear window as the driver (not just any driver, but an agent of the local Sanctuary) made quick work of the traffic, putting distance between them and the hotel with impressive skill. “It should’ve been obvious in the troublesome company I’m still keeping.”

It wasn’t long that they were on the road, speeding to less crowded parts of the city that Helen was once more consulting her Blackberry. A sudden jerk of the vehicle to one side, pulled her attention away. The sound of shots were cause for alarm.

“I think they may still be following us…” Tesla said sarcastically, twisting around to look behind before suddenly ducking out of the way of a volley of poorly aimed bullets.

“This constant peril is not working for me,” he slumped against the seat, well aware that the shell of the car was no match for automatic weapons. “And yet you are still focused on your blackberry,” he noted, as Helen’s head dipped once again to the screen. “Honestly, I’m actually starting to feel the cold pang of jealousy,” he finished melodramatically.

Helen graced him with a scathing look. The sort that clearly showed the inappropriateness of his wit. Then again, Nikola’s comments were often pointed during these most inopportune of times. “Change of plans,” she called over the squeal of tires and the ruckus of one, two cars pulling up to their vehicle. She pushed the phone back into her pocket and drew her own weapon, preparing to return fire.

Over the noise and the rain of shattering glass, Helen called out to the driver, the man doing his very best to escape very untimely death as well as pursuit. A small charter plane is waiting for them at private air field, if only they can get to it. “Jealousy doesn’t sui–” The words were cut off as another hail of bullets tore through the rear window. Helen cried out as one struck her, splattering hot blood across Nikola’s face.

All the sound was ripped from the world except the sharp cry from Helen as her body jarred. Nikola’s eyes closed instinctively as the warm spray of blood fell across his face. It wasn’t his.

When he opened his eyes, it was in a moment of shock. The driver was arching his head back, shouting something over and over but all Nikola was looking at was the dark spread of red across the side of Helen’s shoulder and her gaze starring into nowhere.

“Helen…” he whispered, through another onslaught of bullets, diving across the seat to catch her as she began to slide into view of a Cabal car pulling up beside them.

Glazed eyes stared out at nothing, the slack expression showing little other than shock. For a moment, she pressed a hand to her injured shoulder, pulling it away to see the blood on it before the rest of reality seemed to come back into sharp relief.

That arm was going to be useless until it was tended to, Helen thought with no small measure of consternation. Gun still in her good hand, she looked to Nikola through a haze of pain.

“I need you…” A rough jerk of the vehicle cut her off as did the volley of shots fired at them once more. “I need you to get my Blackberry, Nikola. It has the directions the driver needs…”

Nikola caught her bloodied hand in his as she withdrew it, the gun slipping to the seat between them as the car swerved.

“I need you…” he heard her say, as a fresh round of bullets sounded the demise of his side window. It rained safety glass, covering them in tiny scratches. “…to get my Blackberry…”

The scorn on the air was palpable.

Nikola reluctantly let go of her hand and carefully (as best he could in a swerving car), hunted it out inside her jacket pocket.

“Any last words for your blackberry?” he quipped, holding it aloft.

Helen panted softly, glowering at Nikola.

“Lose it, accidentally or otherwise, I will destroy you.”

Surely he knew better than to toss it, their lifeline, right now. Her contacts that helped them thus far would be put in danger, locations and travel plans exposed. It simply wouldn’t be a good plan. Holding on to consciousness grew more difficult and Helen slumped against Nikola.

“I’m trusting you… to get us out of here.” And then all went black.

He was about to make a snarky remark about it being ‘worth the risk’ when Helen seemed to rock unsteadily and all of a sudden she was on his shoulder, mumbling incoherently until she slipped into unconsciousness.

This wasn’t good… Nikola thought, as Helen slid from his shoulder into his lap, leaving a dark stain of blood over his suit. She was losing far too much of it, even for an immortal.

The taxi swerved again but this time it deliberately hit the Cabal-driven car beside them, knocking it into a street lamp. The impact threw Helen and Tesla roughly around the backseat and then again as the driver pulled a handbrake turn into a gravel drive leading to a small airstrip where a private jet sat waiting, lights on – ready to go.

“Drive not crash!” Tesla screamed at the driver, stowing Helen’s gun in his briefcase before turning her over, checking her pulse, not wanting to watch the way colour was leeching from her skin at an alarming rate.

The driver stopped looking at the road and glared at Tesla shouting, “You don’t like my driving?!” He too, had narrowly avoided being shot, as evidenced by the bullet hole in the headrest of his seat.

Nikola eased open Helen’s jacket just enough to see the wound on her shoulder better. Her white shirt was now dark red and torn in an absolute mess that he had no time to investigate further.

The brakes were slammed on without warning and the taxi fishtailed to a stop beside the plane.

“Get out of my RUINED car,” the driver yelled, glanced nervously at the three cars following them, turning onto the tarmac not far away.

Nikola kicked open his door, causing another hail of broken glass. The driver was out as well, pulling his gun and aiming it at the oncoming Cabal cars. Nikola thrust his briefcase and Helen’s bag at him.

“Get these to the plane – NOW,” at which point the driver obeyed.

Next, Nikola pulled Helen gently across the back seat until he could slip his arms underneath her and lift her from the car, scooping her up so that her head fell against his neck.

He swore at the screech of the Cabal cars pulling up around him. They were already opening their doors and aiming their weapons.

Helen in his arms, Nikola sprinted the short distance to the waiting plane where several Sanctuary personal had begun returning fire. Nikola was at the foot of the jet when he remembered…

…Blackberry…in the car…

“What are you doing, man?” one of the men said, as Tesla paused.

“The – the…,” Tesla tried to explain before deciding that it would only waste time. “Hold this,” by ‘this’ he meant, ‘Helen’. The man started to protest but was given no choice as Helen was transferred to his grasp.

“Christ, is that Helen?” was all Tesla heard him say as Nikola swivelled, bowed his head and raced back through the party of bullets to the car.

This better be gods-damn-worth-it… he snarled, as a bullet clipped is jacket but not him. Nikola retrieved the damnable piece of technology and somehow made it back to the plane uninjured and unimpressed. “You don’t want to know,” he hissed at the scowling man, holding the door open.

CITY OF GLASS

Sleep clung to Helen stubbornly. She fights for consciousness with great effort, a soft groan and the slight flutter of lashes alerting any nearby that she’s coming to. Her vision is blurry at first, taking a few blinks to focus and cast off the remaining sleep from eyes. The dully coloured ceiling and walls weren’t familiar to her, nor the scratching sheets drawn up around her frame.

A few seconds more passed before Helen recalled the car chase and fire fight. Worry lances through her, followed by a sharp jolt of pain as she tried to push herself upright. A hand flew to her shoulder, Helen now noting the bandages beneath the simple tank top. That’s right, she’d been shot. Pale eyes widened, then. Had she been captured? And where was… “Nikola?!”

Nikola’s head popped into view at once, bobbing up and down beside her. He was on the floor, next to her bed, hunting out an awkwardly placed powerpoint in a last-bid attempt to charge Helen’s Blackberry.

“Steady,” said Nikola, dropping the cords in his hands. He stood up and re-arranged Helen’s pillows, fussing around so that she could sit without injuring herself further. “That was no scratch,” he nodded at her bandages.

There were still a few residual scratches on his face from the glass. Some of the deeper ones appeared as angry red lines darting over his face at odd angles – much like Helen’s although she didn’t have nearly as many.

Yes well, being passed out in Nikola’s lap certainly helps to keep the glass shards from her face.

A worried line creased her brow, pulling her lips into a downward bow. Having just woken, Helen hadn’t yet had time to steel herself against outward shows of emotion. Her hand reached to him, grabbing his with a firmness wholly uncalled for in a calm situation.

“Where are we?” Her eyes flicked over him, scanning him for any sign of injury. “Are you all right?”

Nikola was tugged unceremonious down toward the bed, causing him to lean oddly as Helen clasped onto his hand, crushing it with her urgency.

“Middle of nowhere – known affectionately by its inhabitants as, ‘Toledo’.”

He noticed that she was pulling him a little closer, glancing over his cuts and abrasions. Typical, she was the one who was shot, not him.

“Am I all right?” he eyed her scornfully. “The better question is are you all right?”

Helen closed her eyes and breathed out a sigh, her fingers slacking in their grip. “I’ll live, I’m sure.” When her eyes opened once more, they were clearer, more intense than before. “How long have we been here?”

Nikola felt her relax.

“Not quite a day,” he answered, brushing a few wayward curls from her face as she clearly hadn’t noticed them. Nikola’s fingers hovered over her skin, barely touching it as he restored her hair to some form of order.

“The surgeons operated on you mid-flight – they did a good job,” mainly because he spent every spare second threatening to feed off them if they didn’t. He really hoped they didn’t tell her that. He’d be in SO much trouble.

Helen’s eyes drifted closed once more and she smiled as she exhaled. At length she finally chuckled, though it did make her shoulder ache fiercely.

“Damn it. I really liked that jacket.” Helen groaned quietly as she shifted against the pillows to get a better look around the room. “I suspect this is going to be home for a few days.”

“On that front,” Nikola untangled himself and rose to his full height, “I can be of assistance.”

He paced over to the far end of the room, opening a wardrobe from which he withdrew a hanger with Helen’s jacket.

It looked – fine.

Nikola roamed back and laid the jacket out in Helen’s lap on the bed.

“The test of a good jacket – can it survive a decent fight?” He smiled. “And you are correct, I expect we’ll be here for a few days, doctor’s orders. Also, there’s a contract of sorts out on our head…can’t think why.” He tried to look innocent.

The moment was spoiled by an unhealthy ‘beeping’ sound from the floor beside them. Nikola’s lip curled up in a silent snarl.

Perplexing! By all rights there should’ve been a bullet hole in that jacket but… Helen couldn’t find the slightest flaw. Whatever awe she felt at that feat was forgotten by the sickly beeping of her phone. A laugh tore from Helen, causing tears to spring to her eyes (both form pain and amusement).

“Is that my…?”

Nikola was practically glowering.

“Unfortunately – I don’t think that it likes me,” he said, bending down to retrieve it.

Try as he might to keep it alive, it seemed determined to die after its heroic rescue.

He placed it in her hands at which point it seemed to shift to an affection ‘beep’ rather than one of displeasure.

“See…” he muttered.

“Despite your thoughts to the contrary, it has no feelings.” And then Helen did something most shocking: she pressed the button that powered off the Blackberry. She set it aside and turned her attention to Nikola. “Thank you, Nikola.”

Nikola gave the abandoned and finally silent machine a second look. Eventually he dragged his eyes away from it and back to Helen, who looked remarkably serene.

“If I hadn’t run into you in Rome, I’d probably be locked in a Cabal lab by now. All this – is,” he doesn’t normally admit to these things, so it takes him a few goes to say, “my fault…

The amusement melted from her face and her fingers still clutching Nikola’s hand tightened. “Nikola,” she murmured, her voice both sympathetic and chastising. “You are far too precious a being for the Cabal to every hold captive. If this is the price to keep you free, I pay it gladly.”

He averted his eyes at once, suddenly finding a patch of wallpaper fascinating.

“You shouldn’t have to,” he replied, his eyes closing. “It was too high.”

“I know that were situations reversed, you would help me.” There’s no doubt in her words at all. Despite whatever questionable encounters they’d had in the past, Helen knew she could count on Nikola. He could easily have left her behind for the Cabal, but he hadn’t.

“I’ll be fine,” assured she. “Stop this fretting.”

His gaze flicked back to her.

“Don’t tell anyone though – it would ruin my reputation.” Nikola squeezed her hand in reassurance. “Rest a while – you can get back to thwarting my plans for world domination later…”

Helen looked down to his hand, returning the squeeze gently. “No rest for the weary, Nikola. Every moment I’m not actively thwarting you, you’re making headway.”

She takes another look around the dull room, noting the ‘security’ measures. The door is bolted and a chained, the curtains drawn. And then her gaze fell to Nikola once more. “Are you… you’re hovering.”

“No choice,” Nikola replied perfectly innocently. “My … hand,” he said, hinting at the way she had clasped onto it a while ago and made no plan to release it.

What was not innocent was the way he lowered himself perhaps a millimetre closer – nothing she would notice.

Her eyes move to their clasped hands and she manages a resigned smile. “You’re worried.”

“Sh…” he shook his head at her. “People will hear you.”

Nikola? concerned? Please! – well, maybe just a little. Repeated and prolonged hand-holding wasn’t usually a sign of hostility.

A look of completely unimpressed disbelief came over her face. “What people? We’re the only ones here!” Then her eyes widened slightly, concern flickering into them. “Were we followed?!”

Nikola laughed lightly, highlighting the deeply embedded smile lines around his face.

“Not that I know of – it was quite a daring escape we made. Car chase – plane taking off through a hail of bullets – emergency mid air surgery – hauling your sorry state across the tarmac…”

Helen frowned, giving him an unhappy look. “Don’t forget this is your fault.”

“But you forgive me…” his grin only got wider. “You always do.”

“A quality you take for granted,” she snapped. “My patience has bounds, Nikola.” She pulled her hand free of his and gave him a friendly swat to his shoulder. “You could do to be a bit kinder while I’m laid up.”

“Ow,” he mocked, looking intently at the place where she had swatted him.

Kinder?
he mused. “Then I shall do the gentlemanly thing, and allow you to get some rest,” said Nikola, leaning down after a moment, to gently kiss her on the forehead.

Helen smiled gently, waiting until the last possible second to tilt her head back. Yes, Nikola, she learned that little kiss stealing trick from you.

Instead of meeting with Helen’s forehead, Nikola’s lips brushed over Helen’s in surprise.

An involuntary gasp escaped him as Nikola realised what she’d done. Helen’s head tilted further, sliding Nikola’s mouth against hers – prolonging their stolen kiss.

A trick learned from the master. Helen’s eyes falls closed and she leaned upward, into the kiss with a soft groan thanks to the ache in her shoulder. There was no effort made on her part to put distance between them. In fact, Helen’s lip parted slightly against his.

He was vaguely aware of her pulling him gently down toward her – of her uninjured arm gliding over his back and the way she moaned against him – parting her lips.

Nikola’s hands splayed onto the bed either side of him, supporting his weight as he teased his tongue over Helen’s lip.

It didn’t linger long. Helen knew better. She pulled back slightly, just enough to give them room to breathe, but still kept her arm around him, not quite ready to let him escape completely.

That fraction of a second was enough for it to dawn on Nikola what they were doing.

Her eyes were enormous and frighteningly close to him. For once they weren’t glaring at him with suspicion or chiding him for insolence – they were simply looking at him.

“Uh…” Nikola managed, not quite as smoothly as he would have liked. It was surprisingly difficult to speak when you couldn’t breathe. “I think I might have your meds checked…” there was no other explanation for her – friendliness?

Nikola began to slip slowly from her hold.

She let him move away, her hand falling back to the bed as Helen let out a soft breath. It was odd seeing him insecure, amusing, but odd. The man was usually so confident in everything. A gentle smile came over her face as she watched him move away.

“They’re fine, Nikola,” Helen assured. He’d hear no explanation from her as doing so would imply that there had to be some reason she’d kissed him other than simply wanting to do so.

Nikola didn’t say anything – instead he just kept backing away, crossing the room without turning – opening the door without noticing that he broke its locks and finally closed it, shutting her safely behind it.

He stared at the closed door.

Finally, Nikola turned and laid himself against the cool surface of the door, dipping his head with a sigh.

After several days of laying low to let their trail go cold, Helen was feeling restless. Cooped up the Sanctuary was one thing. Cooped up in a tiny hotel room was another completely. There were only so many times she could soak in the small bath basin and read through the woefully small amount of literature on Toledo. Finally, Helen emerged dressed and styled.

“Nikola?”

Nikola was not far away, perched on the open windowsill – still reading that stolen book of Helen’s.

“What are you doing walking about…?” he asked sternly, lowering the book with a playfully-cross expression. Truth was, Nikola was relieved to see her strength returned and damn she had dressed to kill. Why though, he wasn’t quite sure as there was nowhere to go.

Oh, she knew he was going stir-crazy too. Flipping open a page in the catalogue advertising the Toledo Museum of Art, Helen held it out to him. “Let’s go here.”

Nikola squinted at the image on the page and slowly raised his eyes back to her questioningly.

“You want to go to the Museum,” he said slowly, clarifying. “Now…” Her continued silence meant that he was on the right track.

Nikola’s brow furrowed a bit as he closed the book.

“Your near-death-sympathy-credits are wearing out,” he reminded her, as he hopped off the sill like some kind of bird.

“It’s either that or the zoological gardens. There seems little else to do in this place.”

Helen Magnus was beckoning him forward and all he could do was roll his eyes and throw the book into a nearby chair.

“Museum first,” he said firmly. “The animals are always more friendly after they’ve been fed.”

Nikola managed to twirl, collect, and put on his coat at the same time – buttoning it as he led the way to the door.

Helen chuckled lightly. “We’ll get a decent meal while we’re out,” she offered, snatching up her own jacket as she sauntered toward the door.

They weren’t in the museum five minutes when Nikola discovered that he had a fondness for glass. Fondness – fascination – whatever it was, he felt compelled to touch every delicate expensive object he could find.

This display, of course, was not helping Helen’s health as she watched items worth thousands rock unsteadily as Nikola let them.

Helen gave Nikola a hard look each time he moved to touch the art. Once or twice she even made to swat at his hand.

“Nikola,” she hissed, reaching out to bat at his hands, though checking herself to spare whatever valuable item he was poking at. “Stop it!”

“I can touch or buy,” he replied. “The latter may leave you as impoverished as me.”

Nikola averted her swatting hand, pacing through the aisles of glass structures, trailing his fingers over them so that they bobbed behind him like a wave.

Eventually his luck ran out – as one rather large, especially pretty vase teetered past the point of no return and began its descent toward the ground.

Helen glowered after him in silence. That is until he started touching things again. She paced after him, righting any of the more precariously wobbling. Until that vase began a-tumbling.

Nikola!” Helen screamed out in a breathless voice. Yes, she was diving for that vase, trying to slide between it and the floor.

Nikola’s shoulders hunched instinctively, awaiting the crash and accompanying crunch of glass – but it never came.

He whirled around to see Helen splayed out on the floor, her palms extended expectantly and the expensive vase held aloft by – the curator…a gentleman of about fifty who looked none-too-pleased.

The man glared first at Helen, (because she was closest) and then at Nikola, halting his hand mid-air as it reached for another precious item.

“Out…” the man managed through gritted teeth that rivalled Nikola’s.

Helen didn’t know whether the curator was more angry because she’d made so much noise or because she was presently bleeding through her clothes onto the floor. With difficulty Helen pulled herself to her feet, scowling at Nikola before turning to apologise whole-heartedly to the curator.

She waited for no explanation, grabbing Nikola by the collar of his shirt and dragging him toward the exit. As she left, she promised the curator a hefty donation to his museum as an apology for the troubles.

Outside, Helen glowered at Nikola, pacing dangerously toward him. “I have faith in your ability to do great things,” hissed she. “I am quickly losing faith in your ability to do the simple things. Adhering to certain social norms of behaviour, for example. Those things in there do not belong to me, nor to you, and yet you touch them, play with them as if they’re simply toys, without regard for their value or fragility or for what a bumbling imbecile you appear to be for doing so!”

None too pleased about being dragged around by his collar, Nikola did little but roll his eyes through her scolding. He’d heard much worse.

“Aw, come on…” he eventually said, when Helen paused briefly to take a sharp breath.”It’s been decades since we’ve been kicked out of somewhere.” More than a century, actually – British Museum, 1889 though Nikola always maintains that that was her fault.

Nikola’s grin was decidedly cheeky until it suddenly turned into a concerned frown. Without explanation, he reached forward and began undoing Helen’s jacket – pushing it to one side to better see where all the blood was coming from.

Oh, she just kept on glowering, pushing his hands away. “Good of you to be concerned now for the ramifications of your actions! You used to be so far-seeing! Immortality has dulled your brilliance!” Yes, she’s just taking her jabs where she can at this point.

“Oh lighten up,” Nikola said off-offhandedly, as he batted her annoying hands out of the way.

“Keep still woman,” he scorned, as she continued to struggle against his efforts.

Nikola had slipped her soft cotton shirt down over her shoulder as well now, and was inspecting the two stitches that she had partially town. He was also completely unaware of the strange looks passersby were giving them.

Nikola,” Helen snapped, glaring at the man. “This is positively indecent, stop it!”

Nikola paused – indecent? – oh… He suddenly noticed the creamy curve of Helen’s shoulder on which his hands were resting.

He lifted his right hand and picked up the edge of the cotton shirt, sliding it slowly up to a more respectable position. Nikola flashed her a frown a cross doctor might give.

“You’ve torn your stitches,” he stated matter-of-factly, trying to ignore the way his pulse had picked up pace.

Next, he reached to her sleeve and straightened her jacket, putting Helen back exactly the way he had found her.

Helen glared at him, her eyes both hot and cold in their anger. “You tore the stitches,” she growled. “With your childish antics and thoughtlessness!”

Nikola stepped backwards with a dangerous look. She really was determined to chide him despite his best efforts.

“You said you liked it rough…” he declared, thinking back to the plane.

He couldn’t understand why she was still mad at him. Nikola had never been a particularly normal person – he couldn’t help his unsocial tendencies and really, he did try.

Colour flashed across her cheeks, her eyes widening slightly. Damn his eidetic memory!

“I’m leaving you at the zoo with the rest of the animals!”

“Mere bars will never hold me,” he assured her, entirely satisfied by the flare of colour to her cheeks.

However, Nikola did not miss the important part of Helen’s comment, namely, that she had no intention of abandoning him on a foreign street. No need for all her hard work rescuing him to go to waste.

Without further words, Helen pivoted on her heel and began to stalk off toward their rental car. The drive to the zoo wasn’t long, but oh was it tense. Helen in her fuss decided it best to give Nikola the cold shoulder rather than lecture him. She’d begun to believe he was like a poorly behave cat, the sort that looks right at you before making mischief just to be sure it has your attention.

At the zoo (which is one of the best in the nation, the brochure boasts!) Helen paid the admission for them both and promptly ducked into the gift store. Maybe she could find a leash to keep the unruly vampire on.

He was genuinely surprised when she didn’t ask for an adult and child when buying the tickets – though her new tactic in dealing with him seemed to be to ignore him outright.

That was fine by Nikola – silence helped him think. He didn’t begin worrying until he caught Helen in the ‘pet’ section of the gift store, snooping around leads and collars.

He swooped slowly past her, cocking an eyebrow – making sure she saw it – and then continued on his way to the zoo entrance.

Oh no, she was getting a child harness for him. Helen grinned as she picked up the item and took her purchase to the counter to pay. Outside of the store, before they once again mingled with the crowd of zoo-goers, Helen smiled sweetly and beckoned Nikola over.

“Nikola?”

Nikola, who was hovering by one of the free-roaming peacocks, wandered over to her. She looked – like she was up to something.

“Mmm?” he replied, unfolded one of the free maps he’d been handed.

A wicked smile spread over her lips as she sauntered over and promptly snapped a wrist cuff onto his arm. In her hand, Helen held the end of the tether to keep Tesla from wandering off.

“That’s much better. Let’s be off, then!”

Nikola lifted up his wrist and inspected the article tying him to Helen. He blinked.

“You didn’t tell me you were into bondage,” he quipped, just as he was yanked sharply by the leash. He nearly tripped, having to take a few quick steps to catch up.

If people weren’t looking before, they certainly were now.

This is you laying low?”

“If you hadn’t proven yourself a hopeless fool at the museum, this wouldn’t be necessary. I don’t think you can regenerate entire limbs should they be torn off by animals you feel inclined to poke.”

Helen sighs. Of all the people in the world she had to be stuck with, it just had to be Nikola.

“It’s not the exhibits that I’m afraid of ripping bits off me,” he stated, as she continued to drag him along.

“The aquarium is nearest,” Helen droned, giving a little tug on the leash. Oh, how that brought a smile to her lips. Though, in honest, even a straight jacket couldn’t restrain Nikola if he didn’t want it to. At least he was allowing her this little delusion of control.

“Have you ever seen flashlight fish?” inquired she, as they meandered into the vestibule of the aquarium. Just inside was a dark display with curtains draped over it and a small group of people waiting their turn to go inside.

Large volumes of water suspended overhead made Nikola nervous. He’d never been fond of the stuff after first drowning in it and secondly electrocuting himself for the first time.

Nikola realised that the leash worked both ways, and decided to test his theory with a light tug.

“No…” he replied, “but I am fond of the dark.”

Not to worry, Nikola, this is one of the oldest buildings in the zoo. There’s no over-the-head water displays. Merely large displays of tanks with local and exotic fishes, small sharks, jelly fish, moray eels, etc etc.

Nikola kept pulling the leash toward him, winding Helen in before she realised what was happening.

“Don’t stray too far,” he cautioned, as the stepped into the darkness of the exhibit. “Wouldn’t want to get lost…”

And then he let the lead slack.

Oh, she noticed. She simply chose to ignore it. Sadly, they weren’t alone in the small, dark exhibit. Bodies piled in behind them, from the sound children and teenage girls all jumbling and jostling about to get a look at the flicker lights of the fish.

One rough bump pushed Helen into Nikola, her hand lifting to his chest to keep herself from running him down. In the darkness, she could barely see the gleam of his eyes as she peered up at him, pressed flush against him. The flicker of the fish went unnoticed as the breath caught in her chest.

The room was aglow with the flicks and bursts of the Flashlight fish as they glimmered out of the darkened tanks like fishy-stars.

Nikola could see Helen perfectly in this near blackness – one of the perks of being part-vampire. Though what he hadn’t expected was to end up with one Helen Magnus colliding with his chest – her curves perfectly fitted against his body while her hand worked its way up his suit, apparently under the pretence of ‘steadying’ herself.

He stumbled, set slightly off balance by her but thankfully found the solid edge of the building rather than a bumbling crowd.

“No more wine for you…” he whispered, trying to ignore the way her breath hitched.

“Mm, more likely light-headedness from blood loss,” Helen breathed our slowly. She slid her hand up to his shoulder where she patted him firmly. “Remember those stitches you tore?” Her hand lifted to lightly pat his cheek before she moved away, tugging the leash.

When her hand ran up his shoulder Nikola felt a ripple of electricity follow it.

I tore? Nikola thought to himself. Hardly.

As Helen pushed away from him, giving a sharp pull to the leash, he couldn’t help the spark of static electricity that jumped through the air in a bright flash and discharged on the metal handle of a door.

He seriously hoped that no-one saw that – perhaps the Flashlight fish would cover for him.

Victory is sweet and you can bet Helen relished it in silence. That tiny crackle of static might have been overlooked by another, but not by she. A small smile touched her lips as they moved from the flashlight fish into the aquarium proper.

“I read in the brochure that there’s a rainforest exhibit with free-flying birds.” Anything to ease the silence that was settling. It was comfortable, but Helen wasn’t sure she liked how pleased she was at startling Nikola like that.

Nikola was ready to agree to just about anything as long as it took them out of this pitch environment where his occasional spark was far too obvious for his liking.

Besides, he was feeling a bit peckish – an exotic bird would make a nice snack.

“I like birds,” he drawled, following her (though he had little choice).

“I seem to recall a fondness for pigeons,” Helen teased. As they walk, she slowly wound the tether around her hand, leaving less distance for Nikola to move. She certainly didn’t mind this little game; it gave her something other than the Cabal threat and the ache in her shoulder about which to think.

Helen’s seen so many rare and exotic creatures, there isn’t much a zoo can provide her in terms of entertainment. Though, she drifts to a stop in front of a tank of moon jellies. They’re just so pretty and shiny!

Helen’s winding him in, shortening the leash with every absent turn of her hand. Nikola wonders if she’s forgotten she’s doing it while she gazes up at another tank of jellyfish – their enormous blue forms like giant electrons wafting through space.

Eventually his hand brushes against hers – completely out of leash. He carefully lifts his eyes to Helen who is still enthralled in the tank. Nikola purposefully lifts one of his fingers, running it softly over the palm of her hand.

Helen’s breath caught at the soft static poke. Thought she made no effort to pull her hand from his touch. In fact, her fingers curled gently around his. Maybe it was the slow float of the jellies around them, but time seemed to slow as Helen turned to look at Nikola bathed in the blue glow.

“There you are,” he said, as she turned slowly toward him. It had been a while since she had really seen him through all their running-from-death and usual bickering.

Another jelly fish floated by, leaving a trail of light across Helen’s face. Nikola felt her fingers curl around his.

He lifted his other hand and brought it to the side of her face, brushing her wild hair behind her ear. There, she looked practically the same as she had in 1888, hair colour aside.

Helen breathed out slowly, her eyes slightly wide and more luminous than usual. Perhaps it was something about the light, their proximity, or maybe just the fact that all her anger seemed to dissipate. Whatever it was, Helen seemed to forget the throng of people meandering about them.

“You should kiss me now,” she murmured. “Before I change my mind.”

The hand lingering on her hair snuck down to rest on her neck as Nikola stepped forward, closing the distance between them before Helen could finish her sentence.

Half a breath from her, he tilted his head to the side and let his eyes fall closed as he brushed his cool lips briefly over hers – leaving her wanting…

“We can’t have that,” he whispered.

“Mmm,” Helen hummed, keeping her eyes half-closed. Her fingers trail up the back his hand, lingering at his wrist. She sighs out a warm breath against his skin. “That’s too bad,” she murmured, making quick work of the fastening on the kiddie-harness. “You’re on your own taking care of that static problem.” That said, Helen pivots away from him, brushing the curve of her hip against him before sauntering away.

A spark snaps between Nikola’s now free hand and the metal edge of the jelly tank with a sharp crack that several tourists notice and begin backing away from.

He thought he’d settled that little problem more than a century ago – but evidently not when Helen was close by.

Helen is already turning away from him, her body purposely brushing over his eliciting a moan louder than was decent.

“Helen…” he nearly pleaded, his hand falling down her shoulder and ending at her waste where it blocked her escape.

She gives him a hard, chastising look, a little embarrassed by his outcry. Good thing for her the eerie blue light from the jelly tanks helps mask the colour in her cheeks.

Turning back to face him, Helen moves in close enough to whisper, “Yes, Nikola?”

But Nikola isn’t interested in asking a question.

He takes the opportunity of her hesitation to regain the ground he’d lost between them. Nikola leant further towards Helen – unable to help the slight currents of electricity surging through wherever their skin touched as he move to steal a more demanding kiss from her, something that he has wanted to do for more than a century.

Helen’s hand slid along Nikola’s arm, her fingers twining with his. Her eyes fluttered closed and she breathed out as their lips met. She parted hers easily, allowing him into the wet heat beyond.

“Helen…” Nikola’s lips only just managed to murmur against hers before he felt them part beneath him, enticing him forward.

The kiss deepened immediately, drowning out the world as his tongue rolled over her top lip and then found itself lost in her, sliding against hers.

His hand tightened around her waist while the other roamed up her back, through her hair until it cupped the back of her neck.

Carefully, Nikola tilted his hips and in a slow, fluid motion, began to twist Helen to rest in his lower arm.

To say she wasn’t surprised by the drama of the kiss would be a lie. Helen lifted a hand, letting it settle comfortably on the back of his neck. It was as much an intimate gesture as a practical one.

Helen’s tongue moved against his, mindful that Nikola likely wasn’t expecting her to reciprocate. Somewhere in the back of her mind she registered the ‘awwws’ and ‘ewwws’ from those around either thinking their public display of affection cute or disgusting.

Nikola answered Helen’s enthusiasm with ardor, pressing his lips closer to hers and tilting her back even further. His arms encircled her now, holding her securely as Nikola kissed her languidly and passionately.

Most of the crowd were now in favour, encouraging the random pair that had decided to steal the show from the jellyfish.

Those who weren’t paying attention simply continued by admiring the fish. Nearby, and older gentleman commented that they must be newly-weds.

Helen clung to Nikola, hoping only not to over-balance and topple over, though that though was far from the front of mind. No, it was the warmth of him against her (though still far cooler than a regular human), the taste of him and the faint scene of ozone that always seemed to surround him that dominated her thoughts.

Just as the crowd leered in to watch as Nikola’s mouth moved in for what was definitely a second kiss, a strange crackling sound began working its way around all the tanks and through the low lighting.

Oblivious, Nikola moaned softly into Helen’s mouth as she took control of the kiss from him. Her hands were clutching at him – he could feel them crumpling his good suit but he didn’t care. He held her more tightly, keeping her impossibly close as if he were afraid of her vanishing.

Suddenly, a bright light tore through the air, splaying out in jagged rivers and hitting some of the nearby tanks. It was over as quickly as it had started, but it left the room in complete pitch except for the glowing jelly fish.

The crackle of the electricity and the flash of light before it went dark. Her lips lingered only a moment longer before she pulled away with a panted laugh.

“Nikola!” She exclaimed in a breathless whisper. “Tell me it was you this time?”

Nikola realised that the (now slightly frightened) eyes of the room were on them. The crowd was positively fearful of the sudden absolute darkness that they had been plunged into.

Helen though, seemed relaxed in his arms. He pulled away from her with a satisfied smile and said.

“Oh yes, that was me.”

“We should pretend it wasn’t and find somewhere safe.”

“Safe?” he said against her ear, nipping gently at its lobe with just a hint of sharpened teeth. “Vampire – remember?” Nikola finished, before righting her – carefully setting Helen back to her feet.

Oh he had wanted to do that for a long time.

She’s still mostly tangled in his suit and Nikola hasn’t even noticed the strange angles his hair has acquired since Helen’s fingers ruffled it.

Helen licked her lips and pulled back enough to look him in the eye (as best she could in the jelly-glow). “I have a few tricks up my sleeve that will keep me safe from the likes of you.”

“That sounds like a challenge…” he replied, returning her bold look with a mischievous one of his own.

Nikola noticed that her eyes were heavily dilated in the blue-light, drinking him in unabashedly.

In this game, Helen usually won. She was the bolder of them, despite Nikola’s best efforts.

Helen reached out for his hand, clasping it in hers and giving a light tug. “Let’s get out of here.”

Nikola’s shoulder went down with the tug before his feet kicked in and followed.

“You are aware, I trust, that you have just quoted the most cliché line in television history…” Nikola digging for trouble? Playfully perhaps.

God, he felt like he was back in Oxford being dragged by Helen to the library in pursuit of another one of her insane ideas.

“Where, exactly, are you absconding me to?”

Helen smiled, pulling him through the crowd.

“Some place with light so I can better keep my eye on you.” Once outside of the aquarium, Helen stopped, putting her hands on his shoulders. She looked over him, an amused expression on her features.

“I thought you took care of that little problem years ago.”

“I did,” he said, as her hands roamed to his shoulders, building another current inside him. These public displays were going to be the death of him.

Nikola’s head fell back slightly, trying to abate another spark. Thankfully this time it was hard to pick out it from the bright day.

“You’re doing this on purpose,” he muttered.

She nodded, brows lifting in amusement. “Yes, well, it is entertaining, I must admit.”

“I can think of better ways to keep ourselves amused Mrs Jovović…” said Nikola, starting to walk again so that Helen had to keep stepping backwards.

Helen’s brows loft as she keeps in step with him. “Why, Mr. Jovović, I wasn’t aware you had those sorts of ideas,” she teased.

“Well you certainly didn’t marry me for my money,” he replies, moving his hands to her waist to navigate her around an oncoming group of people.

He’s a bit lost, actually, and has no idea where they’re supposed to be going.

Helen grins, leaning in close. “Let’s finish our tour. We paid to get in, after all.”

“Best make ourselves more respectable then,” he said, lifting his hands up to hers before removing them from his shoulder.

They were approaching the African section of the zoo. Nikola liked dangerous things and so started to steer them in that direction.

Helen hoped that Nikola didn’t get the urge to swim with the hippos. As they walked through the exhibit, Helen slipped her hand into Nikola’s twining her fingers in his.

“Having fun, Mr. Jovović?”

“Now I am,” he replied, spying the cheetah enclosure approaching. He had a fondness for fellow sharp-clawed species.

It didn’t escape him that she was holding his hand – and not just holding it – intertwining her fingers in his like a lover would – not that they were.

With her, he felt like he was walking through some kind of mirage – one that might shimmer and vanish if he analysed it too closely.

A bit more electricity cracked off him – just a tiny spark that she wouldn’t notice. He would have to make a point of controlling that. It wouldn’t do to wear his emotions on his sleeve like that.

The cheetah enclosure was several metres below them, protected by a fence running at waist height. Nikola lifted his hands up to rest on the fence, naturally bringing Helen’s with it.

If not for her watch, the little static shock would’ve gone unnoticed. At the tiny crack, Helen jerked her eyes to the man beside her, a warm, perhaps slightly flirtation expression settled over her features.

Noting the way in which Nikola’s eyes lit when they fell on the creatures with claws and fangs, Helen resolved to keep her grip firm. She may even retrieve the child harness from her shoulder bag and tether him once more.

Honestly, Nikola was on his best behaviour this time – content to watch the small shifting of tall, bronze grass where he could just make out the slinking form of the cat.

That was – of course, until something completely out of his control happened.

They hadn’t seen the very large, well marked sign that said,

DO NOT LEAN ON FENCE

and so were surprised when it suddenly screeched, bent – and sent them flying through the air towards the enclosure with its shifty grass.

“Ni-Nikola!” Helen barley managed before the last syllable extended into a cry as the toppled into the swaying savannah grass.

Urmph… Yeah, that stung a bit.

After a moment, Nikola rolled over and withdrew a sharp stick that had staked him through his ribcage with considerable scorn.

“Nice,” he hissed, tossing the bloodied stick aside before scanning the grass of Helen. It was difficult to see anything but the rustling five-foot grass.

“Helen?” he called.

 

RED DUST – BLUE BLOOD March 26, 2009

UNTOLD SANCTUARY

RED DUST – BLUE BLOOD

by ellymelly


TABLE OF CONTENTS

01 Beautiful Chaos

02 Blood Relations

03 Lovers of the Past

04 Smoke and Sand

05 Accidents and Acquaintances



1

BEAUTIFUL CHAOS

18th December, 3082

Helen watched the world escape beneath her, shrinking into a hazy ball of blue. Milk white clouds lulled by, apparently unaware of the seas shimmering beneath, plotting to transform their casual clusters into cyclones. It was always like this during the sun’s peak solar cycle – a beautiful catastrophe.

Another of the passengers roughly deposited a file into her lap. She startled, glancing up for the culprit but all she found was a bored looking bureaucrat doing the exact same thing to the next person. Raising an eyebrow, Helen Magnus flipped open the top sheet and started skimming.

It was a summary, detailing the purpose the team’s mission. She rolled her tied eyes and threw the folder onto the spare seat beside her, returning her gaze to the window. The shuttle skimmed out of the atmosphere and followed the curve of the Earth until it escaped the sun’s bombardment. In the shadow of her home planet, Helen saw the cities come alight, trailing along the coasts of continents like lonely stars.

She smiled, letting her eyelids fall closed. A moment later she was peaceful, finally asleep after a long day.

*~*~*

The man staggered backwards, holding onto the handle of the knife embedded in his stomach. Pain blurred his thoughts as his eyes searched feverishly around the room for the safe. He had dragged himself halfway through the building like this – gasping for air. Finally his hand found the keypad beside the silver box. He fumbled his pass code, slipping over the keys.

The door unlocked slowly, sliding across as the man coughed up another gush of blood. He was dying and knew it.

As soon as the safe was open, he reached into the small box and withdrew an old paper manuscript. There were footsteps coming down behind. They were tracking him, following the trail of blood straight towards him.

Panicked, the man threw the manuscript into the small, mesh wastepaper bin. He poured the remainder of his vodka over it and set the whole thing alight. The combination burned fiercely, blackening into ash as he watched.

“Found you…” announced a sinister voice, slipping into the small office behind the man. The pursuer carried a set of knives around his belt identical to the one in the man’s stomach. With an air of fascination, they withdrew another, slowly turning it between their fingers.

Flames reflected off the metal edge, dancing over the blade as it cut through the air.

The scientist, still on his feet, rested against his desk as he waited for the inevitable.

*~*~*

Mars wasn’t half as impressive as the brochures led you to believe. It wasn’t so much red, as pastel orange up close. Rust, by its very nature, was not particularly attractive. Neither was traipsing through it. There were reasons Helen rarely visited the new city and this topped them – miles and miles of sand getting into the air and over her skin. She couldn’t see what John and Ashley found so appealing.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said another member of the team, falling into step beside her. He was a young gentlemen dressed specifically for the walk rather than the orientation afterwards. Despite it all, he seemed to be enjoying himself as evidenced by the enormous grin hogging his face.

Helen didn’t respond. She shifted her shoulder bag, wondering if there’d be time to change when they reached the outer building.

“Really a marvellous feat,” the irritating man continued. “A terriformed planet, habitable to humans. Extraordinary.”

Hardly, thought Helen. Despite their best efforts, apart from breathable air, Mars was still the same lump of iron oxide it had always been. The ‘city’ held as the pride of the human race’s achievements was a smattering of buildings huddled together inside a small crater. In the beginning, when the promotional photos had been taken, they were stunning white pillars, capped in polished sheets of limestone. They glittered in the soft light, going pink at dawn and dusk. Granted, they had been beautiful then. Now the dust had got to them, reddening their edges and smudging into their facades.

Despite its three thousand permanent inhabitants, Prosperity appeared a ruin in the sand.

It was twilight before they reached the first building. The sun, a weak mew at best, had dipped behind the wall of the crater casting a shadow over the city.

The team of fourteen led by a tall man in green, filed into a squat building at the edge of the city. It was warm inside, a pleasant change from the freezing winds on the surface. Helen ditched her coat, stuffing it into her bag. She whipped her head forward, trying to shake her hair free of dust.

“Welcome to Mars,” said the leader of the group. His ginger hair was straight to his ears where it took on a light curl. “No time for sightseeing I’m afraid, we have a lot of work to do and no time to do it. Break into your teams and follow me.”

*~*~*

The scorched wreck was still smouldering when the first team approached. Level 4 of the Ecological sciences building had been badly damaged by the fire as it raged most of the night. A cloud of ash could still be seen on the horizon as the last of the light faded from the sky, revealing a glittering sky of stars. With no moon, it was their light that cast shadows after the sun was gone.

Helen was the last into the room, slinking around the burnt out doorway.

“Nice of you to join us, Magnus,” the team leader lifted his eyes to hers. Her inclusion on the team was not his choice. As far as Smith was concerned, Helen Magnus was nothing but a red flag for trouble. No-one knew anything about her except for ridiculous rumours.

The other five had lined themselves along where the windows had once been. Behind their feet was a sharp fall to the city streets. Helen joined them, waiting for the leader to continue.

“Two days ago this level was burnt to a shell. The forensic scientists have found a set of remains belonging to Dr. T. Edwards. He was of course, Mars’s chief climate engineer. This knife,” Smith withdrew a plastic bag with a blackened knife, “along with another like it, were found in the victim. It is your job, ladies and gentlemen, to find and bring this murderer to justice. Now, we have reason to believe that they are not working alone and that their ultimate goal is to destroy the terriforming equipment, making Mars uninhabitable. This must not happen. Work fast and diligently. Dismissed.”

Helen immediately made for the exit. She was stopped by a hand latching onto her coat sleeve.

“What are you doing? There’s work to do,” said Smith.

“I have contacts here,” replied Helen, tugging herself free. “You’ll have your answer inside the week.”

With that, Helen Magnus vanished out the door, descending the flight of stairs to the building’s foyer and out the double glass doors into the night.

*~*~*

Nikola adored this century.

It was a fresh, uncomplicated bed of corruption. He smiled, a thick moustache accentuating his grin. It was not so much that he loved corruption, more that all the major organisations were so busy watching each other that they left him in peace – a peace that he used to his advantage designing ever greater technology.

He sold patents whenever he needed money. Most of them ended up on space ships or Martian technologies and indeed, had he not blown the last wad of cash on this machine, he would be quite the wealthy gentlemen. Instead, he was as impoverished as he had ever been. But that was okay.

This was the main reason that he was surprised one night by the sound of the locks on his door thumping to the ground. There was another loud bang, bringing him to his feet just in time to see his door fly from its hinges and a group of people file in, covered from head to combat boot in black.


2

BLOOD RELATIONS

She ran her hand along the sand that lapped at the destroyed building’s edge. Helen felt the night through her coat – it was bitterly cold as if on the edge nothing. Martian life clung to existence by silken threads of atmosphere constantly ripped away by solar winds. The artificial magnetic shielding set up to protect the planet was fragile and in constant need of attention.

The street ahead of her led directly to a set of tall apartment buildings on the outskirts of the city. Behind them, the rim of the crater rose up, cutting a silhouette against the sky. Laneways criss-crossed in front of her, but they were all empty. She had to keep to the road as the footpaths had been consumed by unstable mounds of red sand, blown there in the recent storm. It was a constant battle against a planet that seemed set on burying them all.

More than a thousand years had passed since Oxford – since that night. It was a dream to her, a faint set of memories of times past and feelings lost to history. The only thing still sharp was the moment the needle had pierced her skin – it hurt, even now.

Helen spun silently, raising a sleek gun to the night air.

Something had darted behind her, rushing into the shadows. She eyed the parked cars nestled against the line of buildings. Helen could hear heavy breathing and the frantic heartbeats of the person cowering against a rise of sand.

“Come out if you want to live,” she took a step forward, backlit by an ocean of stars.

Whoever it was scurried around the cars and vanished into a side street.

“Or you could just run away,” Helen sighed, lowering her weapon. “Everybody else does…”

*~*~*

The black-clothed people in Tesla’s lab caught sight of the imposing scientist and froze, watching as Nikola buttoned his jacket calmly. There was an ever-present menacing air circling Nikola and the intruders could feel it tense.

“Do you have any idea,” began Nikola, his voice rising just shy of subdued fury, “whose Sanctuary you are breaking into?” He gave a cord dangling above his head a tug and the room was engulfed in a bright light which crackled, rife with scattered lightening.

Usually, this party trick was enough to startle would be thieves into leaving, but the team of whatever they were simply pulled a set of goggles over their eyes and converged on Nikola.

They were keen, he would give them that.

“I tried to be fair,” he sighed, sharpening his claws. Nikola’s eyes blackened into smooth domes as a set of sharp teeth grew from his jaw. He cocked his head, clicking several vertebras back into position as his vampirish form stirred.

The closest attacker quickly pulled out a small gun, aiming it at Tesla’s heart. Nikola raised his eyebrow. Would they ever learn?

He had expected the bullet to hurt – they always did, but this one was different. Instead of burning through his flesh, it was cold as ice, shocking his torn skin into uncontrollable shivers. He staggered backwards, inspecting the trivial hole in his coat before his knees buckled and he crumpled to the floor in human form.

“Clever little birds…” he gasped.

Nikola was paralysed, hardly able to breathe as the unknown group began emptying his draws of documents into bags, smashing anything they could reach in the process. His masterpiece, a delicate system of copper disks, met its demise at the hand the group’s leader.

When they were finished, one of them strode over to Nikola. Seeing that the scientist was conscious, he knelt down.

Nikola’s eyes caught a flicker of silver where a set of ornate knives hid along their waist.

“It has been a pleasure doing business with you,” they said. One of the others had a bottle of flammable liquid and was busy splashing it over the room.

A moment later a match was struck and Nikola was left to watch as his life’s work caught alight and burnt furiously before him. Even though he couldn’t move, a tear slipped down his cheek and onto the dusty floorboards.

*~*~*

“By God, you look exactly the same.” John stepped aside, allowing Helen into the small apartment.

He didn’t. Time had taken its toll on John in the form of scars networked across his face and neck. His hair had started to silver in patches behind his ears whilst his nose was slightly larger and his eyebrows – a little longer. He was still alluring though, in ways Helen had always struggled to understand. All she knew was that she had missed him, these last years.

“It’s been a long time,” she said, still with a very British accent, as he closed the door gently.

They stood in silence, observing one another until John broke a shaky smile and said, “I called you, twelve years ago when I was back on Earth. You were in the papers again and I –”

“I know,” Helen cut him off. “We were very busy then.”

The silence returned. She didn’t mean to be harsh, there was just a lot of things that needed to be said – centuries to recover but as it so often turned out, she didn’t have the time.

“Is Ashley here?” she asked, catching sight of a female coat hanging on the back of the door. Ashley had been offered a job with a Martian security firm, so they shared an apartment.

“She went out earlier, hunting a petty thief. I shall tell her that you’re in town. Do you have a number that I can contact you on?”

“Ecological Science Building – Level 4. I’ll be there tomorrow morning. John?” John lifted his eyes from the floor, a place that they had chosen to settle to avoid Helen’s cold demeanour. “Is there anything that I need to know about the city?” she asked. “Nasty surprises that wouldn’t have been included in my briefing? I don’t have long for this job and I can’t afford diversions.”

He smiled, ever so slightly. This place has been his home for a long time, and he knew it well. He’s never grown particularly fond of it, but he can feel its blood rising and soul stirring with every new day.

“The food shipments have been delayed two months,” he began. “I help to distribute it, what little there is left. You might also want to keep an eye on the hydrogardens, they’re in poor condition after a rupture in the main water pipe. The firm Ashley works for suspects sabotage but I don’t know Helen, whoever did it lives here as well, and if the gardens go, then they’ll die like the rest of us.”

So basically, thought Helen, chaos as usual. He opened the door for her, and she slipped out, lingering in the hallway. “Give my love to Ashley,” she said, wanting to say more. “Tell her to write again.”

“No one writes any more, Helen,” he replied, closing the door.

*~*~*

She was knee deep in water and not happy about it. The thick pipe running along the roof of the tunnel took up most of the space leaving just enough room for her to walk below, scanning it for damage.

Ashley found cause of the problem a third of the way through the tunnel. The rivets holding each section of pipe together had been half unscrewed and then hit by something, smashing them back into the pipe at strange angles. Water leaked from each one in a process that would eventually flood the whole tunnel.

“Great,” she whispered, taking out her camera and snapping away for her employer. “All I need is sabotage…”

“Progress?” Her caddy, for lack of a better description, had finally made it to her position carrying the rest of her equipment. He was a young boy new to the concept of hormones, and seemed content in his job of trailing Ashley.

“Your father’s tunnel’s buggered,” she said, focusing her flashlight on the torrents of water pouring out. “He’ll have to turn the water off and replace the whole section unless he wants to start an underwater colony…”

“Was it like he said – on purpose?”

Ashley nodded. “I reckon so. Rivets don’t usually bash each other to pieces after a late night party. Not that you’ve ever been to one of those. Bad parenting tip.”

The boy took her camera from her and stowed it away. “It’s starting then, just like they said it would.”

“I hope not,” replied Ashley, sloshing through the water back toward the exit.


3

LOVERS OF THE PAST

It started with a ‘click’. A sharp, sudden snapping of metal as one of the rivets holding the pipe in place dislodged and hit the water. Ashley froze mid conversation when the pipe above her head groaned. She could hear the thousands of litres of water gushing through the pipe, swirling, trapped in endless currents. It was begging to be free and as a second ‘click’ rang out, it might just be about to get its chance.

Ashley closed her eyes as the entire line of rivets popped, flung out into the tunnel with the enormous force of the water pressure. She stumbled forward, taking the young boy with her as the pipe shuddered and cracked, unleashing a torrent of freezing water over them.

They plunged into the water, submerged by the pressure above them. The boy’s arms flailed wildly, his feet finding the bottom of the tunnel and kicking off, propelling him back toward the surface. He emerged in a nightmare of white spray.

“Ash!” he screamed, convulsing as water stuck in his throat. He coughed it out, treading water as he spun endlessly. The air was indiscernible from the water, heavy and thick in his lungs. His eyes stung, pierced by the saline edge of the unrefined liquid pumped out of the Martian crust. The lights above were blurred into a monotonous, disorienting glow.

He couldn’t see her. All he could hear was the great roar of the fractured pipe and the pounds of another series of rivets hitting the walls of the tunnel as they exploded from their holdings.

The water was rising around him, developing a current as it searched for an exit. He was no match for it, tugged and thrown about as the dark waters gathered speed. Eventually he slipped under, no longer able to fight the drag.

The boy opened his eyes in the water, madly searching for escape. He found a thousand tiny creatures, aglow in the murky water. Their limbs were delicate, notched by several joints and feelers. They drifted peacefully by him as the last of his breath bubbled away, rising in perfect spheres through the creatures.

*~*~*

Helen felt the city rumble beneath her. It was a soft shudder, rattling a tray of refreshments servicing the huddle of investigating officers. She hung back from them, strolling in and out of the morning light coming through broken windows.

“Five minutes…” Smith reminded her, pointing at his watch. The mysterious woman wouldn’t tell him what or whom she was waiting for, but he couldn’t keep the team waiting on her behalf – well, not for much longer anyway.

She nodded back, running a hand nervously through her hair. Helen had not seen her daughter for decades, ever since she moved to this horrid planet.

The building rumbled again, hard enough for the others to glance around in confusion. Mars was supposedly geologically dead. No plates, no continents grinding against one another – no reason at all to shiver its skin.

“What is that?” Helen asked Smith, as he joined her at the window. They kept back from the edge, out of reach of the wind kicking along the edge of the building.

“No idea,” he replied, as the trembling ceased. “But it feels like it’s right below us.”

Helen’s eyebrows furrowed, peaking out under a mass of unrestrained dark hair. “Do I need to worry?”

“Shouldn’t think so. Been here five times now and on every single occasion this place throws us a curve. You can’t get settled. She’s got life left in her yet, this world.”

“Are my five minutes up?” she craned her head to get a look at his watch.

“I can’t let you stay. The company wants you out examining the shield.”

“I know,” she folded her arms and turned back to the room. Two of the team had moved towards the door, waiting. Helen and Smith joined them with a sigh audible on her lips as she spied the red haired enthusiast from orientation.

*~*~*

“So beautiful,” he grinned. The wind buffeted his red hair as the dune buggy bounced and skidded over the sand hills. The dirt was coarse and slippery, falling away from the tires as the rickety piece of machinery navigated its way to a metal outcrop on the horizon.

There were eight shield generators placed equally around the rim of the dome-shaped enclose keeping the city safe from Mars’ vacuous atmosphere. This one was nestled between a low rise of ironstone, gnarled and ghastly as it poked through the ground in melted columns.

The buggy dipped over the last of the wandering dunes and found a gravelly expanse. It wasn’t like the rolled whitestone of estates back on Earth; this stuff was a razor sharp mixture of boulders and daggers from a mountain range that no-longer existed.

“God. Damn.” Helen gripped the metal bar over their heads harder, doing her best to remain inside the vehicle as it bounced again.

All of a sudden they were stopped. Smith swore, slamming the wheel with his hand in disgust. It wasn’t the wheel’s fault that the buggy had stopped, rather the exceedingly flat tire drooped over the gravel. He ordered everybody out and they went ahead on foot while he laid himself down on the painful gravel and began jacking the tire off.

As Helen had feared, the gingerbot was tracking her, striding up through the others so that he could not so subtly fall in step with her.

“Mike,” he introduced himself. Helen muttered her name half-heartedly at him. “Oh, I know,” Mike seemed amused. “You really don’t know who I am, do you?”

Helen couldn’t help but wonder if this was a trick question to get her attention.

“Most people say I look just like him – my grandfather.”

That made her take a second look.

Pale skin mottled with blemishes, thick eyebrows with loosely curled edges forming a permanent expression of wonder, scrawny disposition made worse by well-worn attire, disarming eyes – Helen tilted her head.

Maurice Newton. Through and through. How could she have not seen it?

“Now you see him,” he said. “The rumours about you are true I see.”

Her eyes snapped away defensibly.

“If it makes any difference at all, it was my grandfather who told me about you. He thought very highly of a Ms Helen Magnus, perhaps he was even a little in love.”

Helen picked up the pace, almost falling on the uneven ground.

“She couldn’t help her curiosity – that was half the thrill of a lifetime with Helen,” as his grandfather used to say with a sad smile. “He died a happy man because of you.”

Her breath caught. She swallowed a sob, brushing away the beginnings of a tear. Of course he was dead. She knew that. Hearing it though – having it confirmed as an absolute certainty, that was something else.

*~*~*

Nikola coughed. A thick layer of black smoke oozed around him full of singed paper. He couldn’t move, forced to lie there on the floor and wait for the encroaching flames. Vampires were hardly creatures with exceptional healing power, but even the most resilient of them could not survive an inferno. Nikola was only half-vampire, if that. He could see the end of his life coming – taste it in the smoke and for the first time since that night in Oxford he realised how much he wanted to live.

They had been young then, a thousand years ago hidden away in their ad-hoc laboratory. The terror he had felt then as the needle’s contents spilled into his veins had returned to him. He could see auras of red inside the smoke and feel fronts of heat creeping toward him. This is not how the great Nikola Tesla wanted to die – helpless and alone.

His work bench collapsed. He heard it slam into the ground and snap in half taking what remained of its contents with it.

“Not like this!” he screamed out.

*~*~*

“So this is the one of the famous shield generators,” she ignored Mike’s previous comment as they reached the metal cone. It stuck out from the ground, angrily pointing at the sky with its sharp tip.

“Clever little thing,” said Mike, kneeling down beside it. As it turned out, Mike was the shield specialist, taking after both his father and grandfather. Technology was in love with him, obeying his most gentle touch.

He traced his finger over the machine’s sinister tip, carving out an intricate pattern on its cone. It was a form of code – unlocking the outer shell of the device. Helen watched closely should she need to mimic him later.

“It really shouldn’t do that,” he commented, frowning in concern as the usually invisible shielding above them flickered.

Helen looked up, catching a ripple of purple ride along the roof of the dome, showing her its contours for the first time.

“Power fluctuations,” he said, inspecting a readout on the machine’s screen. “It’s been going on for months now. I’m not talking about slight changes in output,” he shook his head at her. “Just then we lost 87% of the power required to keep the roof up, the module shifted to its backup batteries to maintain the shield which is what caused the flicker.”

“How long do the batteries last?”

“A hour, maybe. It depends on how often they’re used.”

“But we’re back on mains now,” Helen looked up to where she knew the shield was. It was back to being an invisible curtain against the morning sky.

“Yes. For the moment we’re back on the main power supply but I hate to think what would happen if it failed for any great length of time.”

“It was only this unit that was affected,” Helen noted.

“On this occasion. I have a live feed back to my lab on Earth. Nearly every unit has reported similar power fluctuations. It’s why they called me. Why did they call you?”

Helen was taken aback for a moment. Mike wasn’t nearly as pleasant as she had summarised. “They need me,” she answered, “for all the things you can’t predict.”

“I thought it was because of him,” replied Mike. “They say that you’re the only one he listens to. The only one that can control him. No one would ensure this operation without you along to babysit.”

“What on –” she was about to say, ‘Earth’ but stopped herself. “What are you talking about?”

Him. The man who built these this system in the first place. Nikola Tesla.”

Helen stopped dead. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“He should have been here to meet us,” said Mike. “As I was to understand it, the man’s never late.”

4

SMOKE AND SAND

“God, you’re an absolute mess. You’ll have to lose that moustache, singed to bloody oath.”

“Yes, thank you for your – ” Nikola rolled over, coughing violently. The smoke had worked its way deep within his lungs, blackening them. “Assistance…” he finished. Nikola’s long suffering neighbour had dragged him from the burning laboratory, down the stairs and out into the freezing snow.

Rome never changed. Millennia had passed it by calmly, as if wandering in and out of its marble streets while the rest of the world dug its feet in and battened down the hatches. Nikola buried his hands in the white powder. This was not the first time his life’s work had burned to the ground, reduced to a pile of smouldering rubble. It certainly wasn’t something that got easier to watch.

“Is there any good news?” he asked, ignoring the painful burns on his hand. They would heal.

His neighbour shook his head in amazement, “You really are an optimist.” Nikola assured him that he was just crazy. “Well, aside from the obvious fact that you’re alive – still. I swear I’ve known you for forty years and you never look any different. Yeah I know, don’t ask,” he caught himself, “the only other positive thing I can think of is the letter left for you this morning. I was on my way to deliver it to you when I found the whole place ablaze.”

“A letter?” Nikola lifted his head from the ground. Flecks of ash drifted over, spiralling with the snowflakes.

The neighbour eyed Nikola’s burnt hands, “Would you like me to open it?” Nikola glared, snatching the letter before growling, dropping it in the snow. “That’d be a yes then.” He unfolded the letter carefully, holding it up to the glow of the burning building.

To Mr Tesla, owner of patent 3029A0,

Your presence is required for immediate repairs…”

“That’d be right,” hissed Nikola. “They never pay me for anything, skimp on materials, make drastic changes to design, and then want help when it breaks.”

“Are you going to be quiet so I can read this?”

*~*~*

The shuttle dropped him roughly in the desert, miles from anywhere. Nikola eyed the landscape. It was eerily quiet and choked by peripatetic dunes. Sol was at its brightest, shining high above but at this distance it was more like a light bulb than a star. Had it not been for the shield encapsulating the area he would have frozen to death very quickly in the faint milieu of light.

He waved sardonically at the awkward craft as it rose back into atmosphere with a storm of sand. The red particles embedded themselves in every nook of Nikola, staining him a general red. He hadn’t been on Mars five minutes before he decided against it.

“Horrid planet…” he muttered, attempting to dust himself off.

The rendezvous appeared to have failed as there was nothing to ‘rendezvous’ with other than a curious rock which Nikola approached, tilting his head in curiosity. It was a vaguely round protrusion, weathered on one side by the endless grinding of sand storms. Tesla had seen a lot of rocks in his time. During those few decades he’d spent seducing a geologist, identifying rocks had become an unwanted skill. This was no rock.

He got within a nose of it, rubbing away at its surface with the sleeve of his Victorian style jacket. Underneath all the grit was an ochre colour – naturally smooth. Nikola stretched out his tongue, resting its tip on the strange surface. Instantly he felt the pull as the surface tried to suck all the moisture in. Bone – a very large lump of ancient bone.

*~*~*

These doors ain’t gonna hold the water,” an engineer hurried through the unground facility, upsetting piles of paper scattered over the office desks. “We closed them as soon as the pressure spiked but we’re losing integrity in the tunnel. It’s going to bleed out into the surrounding rock and when it can’t do that…” He came to a halt in front of the senior engineer. Professor Robert Hill was newly appointed after the sudden death of Dr. T. Edwards and currently having the worst possible day.

“We’re going to have a very pretty water feature in the middle of town…” Robert rubbed the vein between his eyebrows. By, ‘very pretty water feature’ he mean that the entire city would be drowned in thousands of litres of raw Martian water and they would lose the food gardens, essentially bringing an end to humankind’s attempts at colonisation. “What about the expert we sent in to assess the damage?”

“Ashley Magnus,” the engineer shook his head. “We had to close the tunnel doors. She didn’t make it.”

“What aren’t you telling me?” Robert took a step closer to the rattled man. “Come on, I don’t have time to be subtle.”

“It’s the boss’s kid. Video footage shows him following Magnus into the tunnel just before the accident. He didn’t come out either.”

Robert felt ill. “The force of the artesian basin will eventually break our pumps. Get those drills working on an evacuation tunnel for the water – I don’t care how rough it is, as long as the water has another option. At least we won’t all drown.”

*~*~*

The dune buggy skidded over the sand in a crazy curve, nearly tipping over before coming to rest beside Tesla. Lowering their sunglasses, the driver eyed the man running his hands over a rock. It appeared that the rumours were true – the man was a complete nutter/eccentric –whatever.

“You Tesla?” the buzz-cut Major asked, well aware that the possibility of it being anybody else was slim.

Nikola spun around with his eyes agleam, “Did you know that there was life on Mars?”

The Major did away with his shades completely. “Yeah…” he replied slowly, as if it were the most obvious thing ever said. “Get in.”

“Fascinating,” said Nikola, as he slipped into the passenger seat.

“Someone wants you dead.” The Major shifted the car back into gear, racing down the side of the dune. They were headed for one of the shield generators on the outskirts of the liveable area, a good ten minute drive.

“I would be offended if they didn’t.”

“The government has taken extra precautions, changed most of your arrangements since the incident at your laboratory. We, your security, would prefer it if you didn’t lean out over the door like that whilst the vehicle is moving…” The Major grabbed the back of Tesla’s coat with one of his enormous hands and yanked the man back into his seat. “Appreciated.”

“You should be more worried,” said Tesla, preening himself, “about what you’ve already got in the car.”

That made him laugh. “They warned me you’d be trouble.” Nikola stretched out, resting his feet on the dash. “It’s a rough ride,” he cautioned.

“And so is life,” Nikola replied, closing his eyes.

*~*~*

Helen was not pleased by the news and had set to pacing around the shield generator as Mike sieved through its error log.

“I’m going to make a catastrophic error if you keep that up,” Mike lifted his eyes to the distressed woman. “They said that he was a colleague of yours – your reaction suggests that there is more to that story.”

“Got a thousand years?” she hissed back. Mike mistakenly took that as a joke.

“Oh, here he is now – or is that our car… no, it’s definitely him.” They both stood as the buggy approached with a red trail of dust swept up behind, stalking it.

As the car stuttered to stop, Helen couldn’t help but think about a similar scene back in Egypt, 1929. Humans may have moved to another planet, but they didn’t change.

“You’re going to regret this,” Helen whispered to Mike, as she caught sight of Nikola sporting a moustache.

*~*~*

John Druitt took the stairs three at a time, gliding down toward the depths of the Ecological Science Building. He was trailed by a security team two flights above, doing their best to catch him.

“Oy!” one of the grey-suited men yelled, puffing as turned and began the next set. “I said stop!

He could see the final emergency door. John hit the landing and pushed into the engineer’s level. Half a dozen shocked scientists froze at the sight of the imposing man who was scanning the room.

“Where is she?” John growled.

One of the men, dressed in white pants and matching lab coat, shifted to the front. He was wearing a bright red hard hat, clutching a clipboard. “I am Professor Hill,” the man said.

The pursuing security team finally caught up, piling in through the door behind John in a grey blur. Several of them grasped onto John, pretending to have him captured.

“No, no…” Robert raised his hands, trying to calm the security detail. “Let him go. I was about to call him anyway.”

They did – but very reluctantly.

“Please, my office is this way.”

With the news Robert was about to deliver it wasn’t going to make a difference whether or not he had protection. Druitt was either going to help him – or kill him. It was as simple as that.

5

ACCIDENTS AND ACQUAINTANCES

The dust swirled in front of the buggy, temporarily enveloping it in a red blur which stung Helen’s eyes as its edges wafted out. She heard two doors slam. Mike straightened up beside her, wiping his greasy hands on his shirt as they both watched the dust.

A tall silhouette was the first to emerge. Like a slender shadow, it slinked toward them with a confident air. There was no mistaking that strut – the way each foot seemed to glide before landing or the rigid line of his shoulders greeting the world like a wall.

“Nikola Tesla,” said Helen, self-consciously fixing her hair.

A gentle wind kicked the dust away revealing Nikola, his escort and the buggy that was parked crookedly on the embankment. Helen had to do a double take – sporting a thick moustache and attired in an early 20th Century suit, he appeared as a distant reverie – a shadow from her past merging with the present. It was the same feeling others must experience upon seeing her.

“Did you know,” he announced as soon as he had come to a stop in front of them, “that there was life on Mars?” Nikola seemed genuinely taken with the concept, eagerly awaiting her answer.

Helen couldn’t quite believe it – three-hundred years and that was the first thing that he chose to say to her. She frowned and briefly looked away, running her eyes of the desolate border between the sky and dirt.

“Do you,” she inquired, whipping her head suddenly back with a storm of hair flying over her shoulder, “participate in television, newspapers, radio?”

Nikola ran a finger thoughtfully over his moustache. “You mean, other than inventing it?”

“It’s a worry…” Helen trailed off. Nikola took a few steps closer, dipping his head in.

“What is?” he asked, menacingly.

“You, Nikola.”

He went quiet. Yes, he was the first to admit that he led a solitary life, often cutting himself off from the rest of the world for exceptional lengths of time but he had always figured that that had something to do with the world ignoring him. Mutual apathy. Thus, the world’s events were often lost on him and the passage of time made trivial.

“But you still love me,” he ventured quietly, almost too privately for this very public meeting.

Helen couldn’t help it – she rolled her eyes dramatically and let a grin slip over her lips. “A thousand years,” she began, “and you think I’m going to admit to that in the middle of a god-awful Martian desert?”

He matched her grin with a line of sharp teeth. “It really is awful, isn’t it? I thought that Mars would be more pleasant, like a beach in the southern ocean.”

The far-too-cool-to-be-standing-here-ignored Major stepped forward and slapped Nikola on the back. “Introductions are over, time to work.”

Helen twinged, aware of Nikola’s dislike of physical contact. The military officer was just lucky that Nikola’s attention had already roamed to the field generator behind them.

“Look what they did to it…” Nikola exclaimed, pushing past Helen and Mike (whom he was yet to acknowledge). He ran his hands along the outer casings of the machine, stroking it like a favourite pet. “What a disaster.”

The rest of them assembled in a semicircle around him. “Can you fix it, Nikola?” Helen knelt beside him.

“I could re-design it,” he muttered. “But this needs to be put out of its misery.”

“We can’t do that, Nikola,” she replied. “The life support for the planet would fail – thousands of lives.”

“What did they do?” he asked himself out loud. “Scrounge up the cheapest, flippant excuse for an engineer and let him violate this beautiful design.”

Mike cleared his throat loudly. “That would be my grandfather.”

Tesla snapped his head up and narrowed his eyes madly at the scrawny, red haired individual. He looked vaguely familiar, like a bad scent that had embedded itself in the fabric. “You’re a Newton,” he hissed, as if the very words left a sour taste.

“Nikola…” Helen cautioned, sensing trouble. “Fate of the planet…”

Mike and Nikola took an instant, violent dislike of one another.

“Fine,” Nikola said at last. “It will take me a while to determine what’s wrong. You will have to leave me with it.”

Mike snarled, unhappy with the thought of his machine being left in the hands of this horrid person. “I don’t trust him.”

“Thank you,” snapped Nikola, “for the vote of confidence. I might just destroy it to spite you.”

*~*~*

“Please take a seat, Dr Druitt,” the Professor extended his arm in the direction of the minimalistic chair, half pulled out from the desk. Hill’s office was brightly lit and lined with one way glass . At its most basic, it was a corner of the lab that had been sectioned off, pretending to be an office but really, Robert Hill had only been here a few days and none of the items inside the room were his. Mostly he felt like a trespasser, borrowing his superior’s office.

John sidled into the office, ducking under the low doorway. The scientist ducked around the other side of the desk and sat awkwardly in the chair, hinting for him to do the same. John didn’t sit. He knew that something very serious had gone amiss and he was going to find out.

“As you wish,” said Robert, folding his hands nervously in his lap. “I have just been informed that the water pipes connecting the underground water with the gardens has ruptured. We are taking measures to avert damage to the city but we’re still not sure if we will succeed. The danger to the Martian colony is quite real.”

“The whole city felt the rumble,” said John simply.

“For some time now – several months, we have suspected foul play on our technologies. Someone has been sabotaging our basic services. The last case was anomalous damage to the water pipe. A Ms. Ashley Magnus was called in under contract to assess this damage.” The man opposite shifted uneasily as his dark eyes glossed in unsettled fear. “She was doing this when the first pipe ruptured. We waited, as long as we could,” Robert protested, as John turned and went to leave, already understanding that his daughter must be dead, “but we had to close the doors to save the city.”

Unchallenged, John raged out of the office and back up the stairs to the main building’s foyer. It was large and sleek, with granite walls and twisted columns with no purpose but honouring the early human architecture. The sun had risen high now – its pathetic light streamed in the heavy glass doors betraying the emptiness of the building. Everything seemed hollow on this planet. It had about every feature a loneliness. Though a few inhabitants tried to makes homes out of it, Mars had lost its life long ago and it spent its time in mourning, crying through its red tides.

As he pushed out the doors and into the street, John made a vow to the planet itself – he would find who was responsible for his daughter’s death, and he would make them suffer the unimaginable loss.

*~*~*

“Do you think he’ll be all right – out there alone?” Mike tried not to squash Helen into the opposing door of the vehicle as they turned the corner sharply. They hadn’t left Nikola entirely alone – the Major was there, watching over the landscape like some kind of predatory bird keeping its prey.

“You mean,” said Helen, over the noise of the engine, “do I think that your precious shield generator will be okay left alone in his company?” Mike shrugged in the affirmative. “Yes. You may not like him,” she continued, clinging onto the head rail for dear life as their driver came too near a protruding rock, “but there is no soul in the human race better at what he does.”

“Yet still I worry,” he sighed. “Is he really the man that –”

He was stopped by Helen’s vivid eyes, glaring at him. “Yes. But don’t say anything. There is one thing that the man’s ego doesn’t need, and that’s stroking.”

“I wanted to ask you something else –” Mike began, but he did not get to finish for the buggy was thrown sharply to the side where it reared up on two wheels and threw its two passengers onto the sand. After this, it flipped entirely with the driver still fighting the wheel. It careened along the side of a mound until burying its bonnet and pivoting upright. The driver toppled limply from his seat, snapped his back on the bars protecting the seats, and then hit the ground.

Helen stirred first. She had not lost consciousness, but her vision was blurring and several parts of her body throbbed with the impact. Something had happened, but she couldn’t recall anything but the frightening rush of sand next to her.

There was a black shuttle hastening toward them, gliding silently over the broken landscape. Helen lay there, watching it approach – unable to move.

 

SANCTUARY OF THE MOON

UNTOLD SANCTUARY

SANCTUARY OF THE MOON

by ellymelly


  1. Nothing but Lies
  2. Tracks in the Mud
  3. Empty Tombs
  4. Buried Cities
  5. Lockdown
  6. Room with Columns
  7. Blue Eyed Monster
  8. Awakening
  9. Vampire Stories
  10. The Second Bite
  11. Storm in the Desert
  12. Deeper into the Caves
  13. A World of Whispers
  14. Silver Dreams
  15. Silk
  16. Darwin’s Spiders
  17. Playing with Silver
  18. On the Edge of the Abyss
  19. Throat of Thoth
  20. Dead Walking
  21. Rivers in the Snow
  22. Ice Cliffs

 

1

NOTHING BUT LIES

It was a humid afternoon, clinging to the end of summer. Ashley ducked under the roar of the helicopter as it flung a fresh sheet of water over her face. The blades beat the surface of the nearby river, sending shallow waves onto the bank which was thick with weeds and unpleasant refuse from the last town before the rainforest.

Finally, the noisy machine lifted off the ground and headed toward the low lying mountains behind her. Dripping, she rung her pony tail onto the ground, flicking it over her shoulder before doing the same to her coat.

She waved at the pair of small children who had moved in for a closer look, half hiding behind a stand of shrubs. They had strayed from the village, following the black chopper as it sailed in close. The pair ventured out and waved back at the blonde woman, grinning with bright eyes against dark skin.

Ashley knelt onto the damp grass, slipping her backpack off. She dug through it, quickly finding her grandfather’s journal. Flipping through the delicate pages, Ashley scanned each one until she caught sight of it – a map, roughly drawn by her grandmother and beside it a line of instructions. It didn’t look particularly forthright but if her grandfather could find the Sanctuary of the Moon using this, then so could she.

Turning it around so that the North symbol lined up with her compass, Ashley started searching for matching landmarks and soon found the Smouldering Match – a dark line of smoke leisurely trailing into the sky from a volcanic outcrop. An eagle soared over head, catching her eye as it enjoyed a warm air current. She wished that she could join it, play on the air for a while away from the world and all its trouble.

Instead, she gazed at the jungle in front. The knee length grass field that she was standing in ended fifty or so metres ahead. The dark green jungle loomed beyond, like a wave rearing up on the shore.

*~*~*

They relocated detective Joe Kavanaugh to one of the guest bedrooms where he happily fell into a deep sleep. His injuries were minor and not in any immediate need of attention. Helen closed his door and turned to John, Henry and Nikola who had been shadowing her through the corridor.

“Follow me,” she said sternly, though they didn’t need to be told. All of them could feel the air tensing around the brunette as she strode ahead, clearly upset by the turn of events.

She led them to the medical lab, ushering them into a line along the glass enclosure where Will sat on the edge of the hospital bed. When Helen had seen John and Tesla appear in her foyer, she had been inches from Will’s skin with the tip of the needle. Its contents would have killed him quickly and painlessly but her instinct told her to stop, that this couldn’t possibly be the end for him, and she had been right.

“I want you to tell me again,” she said to Nikola, who had broken the line and instead reclined against the desk containing print outs of all his files. He eyed one of the piles, folding his arms across his chest with disapproval.

This one,” he nodded at Henry, “has parroted my research correctly. I have strong reason to believe that there is a small community of vampires living in the Peruvian rainforest. The closest civilisation is the water-locked city of Iquitos. If Ashley’s smart, she’ll stop there for a guide. Sadly, Ashley has the only map so once we get there, we’ll be wandering blind.”

“How did she get her hands on a – you gave it to her… If this is one of your desperate attempts to get your claws on vampire blood, Nikola, then I am going to kill you myself.”

“I assure you,” he replied, “that although it might be true that I’m making the best of the circumstance presented to me, I did nothing as advantageous as orchestrating it. It was your pet sand creature that attacked me in the middle of the night, remember?”

He had a point. “There are no copies of the map I presume…”

“None.”

“Helpful, Nikola.” Helen glanced at Will as he bent forward in pain. It was starting again. He didn’t have long. “You’re coming with us. Pack light everyone, we have a plane to catch. Not you Henry –” Helen caught his arm as he headed for the door with the others.

“But I’ve been researching this. Helen, I know the data. You might need someone with this information – you can’t just trust that man.”

“And you trust his research? For all you know Henry, he may have left that there for you to find. We have Nikola, and for the moment at least, our goals are the same. The fewer people we have with us, the faster we can move. I don’t want Ashley out there alone.”

“You know, ‘that man’ is standing right here…”

“Stay out of this, Nikola,” Helen glared at him. He bowed out of the room with a smirk.

“Helen, you’re going to need me,” pleaded Henry.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But Will needs you more.”

*~*~*

Ashley surveyed the river cutting through her path. There had been unseasonal rain, and now rivers were popping up that were not labelled on the map. This one was about three metres wide but gushing with a frightening velocity. If she missed the bank, Ashley would be washed in its current god knows how far off course.

There was no choice though, she would have to cross it.

Her backpack went first, flung across the gap where it landed safely on the other side.

“See, not so hard,” she said to herself. If her backpack could do it…

Ashley backtracked, taking a run up through a patch of clear, but muddy ground. She took one last look at the murky river as it raged past and then dug her heals in, launching herself at it in full run.

Her legs stretched out, striding through the air as her arms clawed forward until she hit the opposite bank. She landed on the ground hard and immediately started sliding down its inclined bank toward the river. The ground was covered in silty mud that was nearly impossible to get a grip on.

“Urgh, come on!” she hissed, as she felt water rushing over her boots.

*~*~*

Helen tightened her belt, drew her long, weatherproof coat around her and concealed an assortment of weapons on her body. John rested against the wall beside the front door, watching the large clock tick away the time as they waited for Nikola. Their bags were ready to go and the car was out front, prepped to take them to Helen’s private jet parked in a dark corner of the airport.

“What could possibly be keeping him?” Helen paced over the floor.

“He was never particularly reliable,” commented John, readjusting the tape Helen had strapped over his face where the creature’s claw marks cut deep.

“Will you two ever get over each other?” she shook her head. “Sometimes I think that this jealously was more about competition than actually loving me.”

Henry bounded into the room, kitted out in jeans and a jacket with heavy boots and a bundle of bags.

“Henry, we discussed this,” said Helen sternly, eyeing his travelling clothes.

“Mr. Tesla is gone,” he panted, out of breath from the run down the hall. “I checked all of the motion senses and security cameras. He disappeared into the library and never came back.”

“Typical,” grinned John.

“Don’t you dare enjoy this,” Helen instructed. “The reality is that without him, we’ve got no chance of finding Ashley – what is it Henry?”

Henry held up a bundle of papers. “I know where he’s going, Helen. I can do this. Will’s dead if we don’t leave now. Worse than dead.”

Helen shifted her gaze between the expectant Henry and the impatient John, who shrugged his approval.

“Ready to leave?” she nodded at Henry’s bags. “Let’s go then. Next time I see Nikola, he better have a bloody good explanation.”

*~*~*

Ashley looked like a mud monster that had crawled out of some festering swamp. She sniffed her arm where the mud was starting to dry into a shell and crack off. This was just like the old days, she thought, tracking abnormals in their native environment. The only difference here was that she knew that the abnormal in question was way smarter than her, worse still, she wasn’t just hunting it, she wanted to talk to it.

“Right map,” she held the book with slightly muddy hands. “A little help would be good.”

There was no path to speak of, only a trickle of water running over a twisting line of boulders cutting through the foliage. She clambered over each one, sliding on their rough surfaces until she reached their top and could stare out over the next fall of jungle.

Suddenly, the ground underneath her gave way. All she saw was the stunning view vanish to black as her body curved, free-falling. She held onto the journal, pulling it to her chest as she hit the soft ground. Ashley’s vision blurred, her thoughts fractured by the fall. Above was the bright hole where she had fallen through the weak earth. Tree roots dangled around her, one brushing over her face. She moved it aside, sitting up with a groan.

An avalanche of dirt drained off of her – not that she could get any more filthy…

“Urgh…” she rested her head on her knees, closing her eyes. “Ouch.”

It was a while before she located her torch and began inspecting her situation which couldn’t possibly be a good one. The ground which had given way was four – maybe five metres above her head. Initially, she thought that she might be able to climb up the sides of the hole, but the earth was too soft. The tree roots, though prevalent, pulled free every time she tested their strength.

With the obvious route of escape failing her, Ashley turned her attention to the ground level. The hole extended into the earth around her, almost like a cave. On closer inspection, she found that one of the side walls had been propped up by timber. It was soft and mostly rotten but at one stage it had definitely been a doorway of sorts. The inside of it was blocked by a recent fall of dirt from above, flowing out into the main room. Perhaps it would be possible to clear a space through that.

The rest of the floor was bare. There was nothing at all that she could use as leverage to climb up toward the hole at the top, not even a well placed bolder like the thousands that she had trampled over to get this far.

“I refuse to die in a hole,” she told herself firmly.

Returning her attention to the ominous doorway of wood, Ashley began to dig into it with her hands. She kept her torch off, conserving its battery unaware of the tunnel waiting beyond.

 

2

TRACKS IN THE MUD

Helen waited on the phone, impatiently tapping her fingers against the plane’s window until the tone rang out and Ashley’s message service clicked on. Helen ended the call; another message wouldn’t make any difference to the eighteen unread ones already in there – no doubt having a nice chat about why their intended recipient wasn’t answering.

“Her phone does work, doesn’t Henry?”

Henry was tucked into the chair opposite, watching the clouds waft past as Helen’s private jet skimmed in over the mountains. He had an unsightly blue rug scrunched up under his nose which he had to fold back to speak.

“Yes, like I said,” he mumbled, simultaneously hungry and sleepy after the sixteen hour flight. “She’s set up on the global roaming thing. If her phone’s not working it’s because she’s dropped it, or drowned it, or one of the many other new and interesting ways that Ashley Magnus had discovered to damage technology. I’m a particular fan of her work on the microwave.”

“Sorry Henry,” Helen realised that she’d been pestering everybody on board for hours and it was starting to grate. “I’m just worried.”

The plane shook again, falling through an air pocket. Unstable weather went with the territory. High mountains created turbulence – at least it meant that they were getting close.

“Me as well, doc.” He didn’t admit to leaving a few of his own messages on Ashley’s phone. “But we’re gonna find her. We know where she’s headed –”

“Roughly…” added Helen, with an ever-so-slightly raised eyebrow.

“I can do a little better than ‘roughly’.” These days Henry was constantly in the presence of a large pile of paper. He had brought Tesla’s print outs with him – not all of them of course, only the ones that were difficult to acquire. At the moment they were neatly filed away in his shoulder bag. “As long as she doesn’t get lost, we should all end up at the same place and you can ground her then.”

Helen really hoped so, otherwise her daughter was out there alone, about to wander into the lair of the most dangerous Abnormal that ever lived.

*~*~*

Far from walking, Ashley found herself clawing forwards through the dirt – torch clenched between her teeth whilst she tried not to dribble all over it.

She was in a bit of a tight spot – lodged between a mound of dirt and the roof of the tunnel. The hole that she had dug for herself was on the small side and so she had to squeeze painfully through it, nearly getting stuck on the way.

“Come on hips,” she grunted.

Finally, she emerged, dusting herself down unnecessarily. They layers of mud and dirt on her were never going to leave her voluntarily.

She perched on the tunnel side of the mound, with her legs dangling over the rise of dirt in front. Prying the torch from her teeth, Ashley panned its light over the area in front. What she found was a narrow, half collapsed tunnel lined with the same trestles of wood as the entrance. Whatever this place had been, its previous life was long buried.

Ashley slid down the mound onto the semi-solid ground, landing in a puff of dust.

“Well, this is better,” she said to the tunnel. At least it showed promise – in other words, she couldn’t see the end of it which meant that it had to lead somewhere.

She progressed through it, slowly at first but soon her patience wore thin and Ashley entered a jog. The air got staler as the tunnel took her down further beneath the ground. Maybe she had been wrong, perhaps this was a mining tunnel and the exit was back the way she had come. What if it was an abandoned shaft, a hunting trap, some useless idea or any number of unhelpful things?

Always look before you leap…’ Wise words she usually chose to ignore. In her defence, it was more of a ‘fall’ than a ‘leap’.

Not ready to give up, she took a few more deep breaths and settled into a pace. She was mid-step when she felt it – the lower part of her ankle buckle and roll. Orthopaedics. She couldn’t count the number of times her mother had begged her to wear them yet still she insisted on going without. It was times like these, when she was trapped in a collision course with the eager ground, that she wished she’d listened to her mother.

“Ow…” she skidded to a halt, losing her grip on the torch as her hands spread out, taking the impact. “No, no, no –” Ashley watched as her torch began to roll away from her, catching the sharpening slope of the ground. “You get back here!”

She was on her feet, half-limping half-hopping in pursuit of the escaping torch, grimacing every time that she tried to put useful weight on her sore ankle. It wasn’t seriously injured, just refusing to co-operate with her. Her torch seemed content to continue this chase, gaining speed and distance from Ashley.

Soon Ashley couldn’t see the ground in front of her – only ahead where the torch’s light bounced, unhelpfully illuminating more walls of dirt.

“Don’t make me replace you with a Maglite,” she stumbled on.

It didn’t seem to care for her insults, vanishing from sight as it dropped over the edge of something that Ashley was yet to reach. Darkness, pure and black engulfed the tunnel around Ashley. She brought herself to a sudden stop, reaching out to the wall beside.

“Shit…” she whispered.

*~*~*

They took a boat upriver from Iquitos. Their petrol motor jutted and spluttered its protest at being picked for the trip, but Dr. Helen Magnus had paid good money for its services so their guide whacked the plastic cover with his stick and it quietened.

Henry sat up front, cross-legged on the bow of the small fibreglass boat. He gripped the pale blue bars, dislodging the old paint that had never really adhered in the first place. The wind was pleasant, whipping across his face in something that felt awfully like freedom.

The Amazon rainforest sprawled out ahead, climbing up a set of mountains in front of the river. Beside them, the last field of grass was swiftly running out. Farmers waved to them from the shore and packs of children gave playful chase along the bank.

Helen had her phrase-book out, doing her best to direct the guide to the place on the map they needed to be. It was slow going, like her father – Helen had always been mediocre when it came to foreign languages.

The guide was shaking his head at her last suggestion. At first she thought that it was her poor pronunciation, but the grey-haired man took the phrasebook from her and flipped it open to a page.

No thank you,” he said. What he meant was that he would not take them past open field. The boat was already slowing, making a gentle curve toward the muddy bank thick with reeds and animal tracks.

John suddenly reached over and relieved the arguing pair of the map.

“We knew we’d be in for a walk,” he said, stoically. “Ashley will have done the same so our chances of tracking her are better if we start where she did.”

Henry’s sense of freedom soon took a turn when he found himself face to face with a sinister line of trees reaching out to him with sticky leaves. The boat had pulled up right on the edge, where the rainforest reared up at them.

“Buck up little one,” John’s hand startled Henry, as it landed on his shoulder. The tall – strange man shook Henry in a ‘friendly’ manner, no doubt his version of encouragement. “It’s not the trees you need to be afraid of.” He leant right down to Henry’s ear and lowered his voice to a whisper, “It’s me…”

Henry gave a small yelp and bounced away, finding himself in the shade of the rainforest. It was cool and surprisingly enticing after hours baking on the runabout. John gave a quiet chuckle, glancing over his shoulder as Helen came marching toward them.

“That’s the spirit Henry,” she said, striding past him and John.

*~*~*

Detective Joe Kavanaugh opened his eyes with a groan. The world hurt and his head most of all. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep in the strange room, but there was daylight creeping between the drapes as the smell of fried eggs swirling around the bed.

The blur of last night began to take shape as he sat up. Tunnels and creatures; gunshots and bickering voices – finally he remembered.

He stumbled across the dark room, took hold of the heavy folds of material and pulled them open, revealing a bright morning over the city. His eyes stung in the sudden light. Joe blinked furiously, turning his head away until he felt his skin warm.

There was a silver tray on the table beside the bed. Its contents were covered by an ornate lid with steam creeping around its sides. Breakfast.

*~*~*

“She never ever listens…”

Helen Magnus had her knees buried in a soft layer of mud beside an angry river. Rough tracks, half washed away led into the current.

“They continue over there,” John pointed to the opposite bank where a skid mark had dislodged a section of weed and leaf litter. “Give me your hands…” he stood between Helen and Henry with his palms outstretched.

They were both hesitant at first, but soon clasped tightly to John.

It was over in a flash. A sharp, dreadful moment as they teleported to the other side of the river. Henry fell over, clutching his head in pain. Helen shook it off, forcing her eyes to focus and not slip into the enticing darkness.

“That’s nasty…” Henry whimpered, clambering back to his feet. “Don’t ever do that again.”

“You would rather take your chances with the river?” said John.

“Yeah,” replied Henry, straightening, “that’s what I’m saying.”

Helen was frowning, twisting the map in every direction possible until she turned to the others. “This is the wrong way,” she said, holding the map up for them to see. “We should be further that way,” she pointed to their left, “up where that line of rocks starts.”

Henry leant backwards, trying to see around the large tree beside him. He didn’t know how Helen could find anything in this mess. There were trees, ferns, creepers, spiky plant things he didn’t know what to call, and general obstacles everywhere. He was struggling to find his own feet.

“It could be the map,” said Henry. “Ours is something that Mr. Tesla drew himself. Ashley has the original.”

“This,” began Helen unhappily, “is why I don’t trust that man.” That, and he had a habit of disappearing when he was needed most.

“Do we follow the map, or Ashley?”

Helen’s eyes flicked between Henry, John, the map and the tracks in the mud.

3

EMPTY TOMBS

“You are very late,” Tesla inspected his nails. He was seated on a large boulder, perched at its top high above the pair approaching through the undergrowth.

Helen stopped, panting as she lifted her head. Through the light covering of leaves she spied an individual who was soon to die.

“Nikola…” she whispered, narrowing her eyes at his preened form. He did not look like he’d spent hours trudging through muck but then again, Nikola had a talent for cleanliness.

Henry beat his way through the forest behind Helen, swearing at a particularly sticky plant that refused to let go of his arm. It suckered onto his skin, stuck fast.

Nasty little good for nothing piece of ancient shru-” he ran into the back of Helen, nearly knocking them both to the ground. Helen stumbled forward.

“How many times, Henry,” she said, without taking her glare off Nikola. “Eyes up.”

Henry pealed the possessive frond off of his skin with a displeased grimace. He hated forests, trees, large wild cats, slippery rocks, humid air, insects – anything that crawled, really. It was only the two of them now; Helen had sent John off after Ashley’s tracks while they stuck to the map. Helen had wanted to go after Ashley herself, but Henry wouldn’t leave the map and she couldn’t trust John on his own with Henry. At least this way, John’s motivations were headed in the right direction – find Ashley.

“Oh great,” Henry’s mood deteriorated further when he saw that ‘Tesla person’ impossibly balanced on a boulder.

“I’m been here for whole hours,” Nikola gloated, pulling his knees up to his chest, enjoying the pleasant breeze and vantage over the jungle. They were at the summit of a small hill that wanted, ever so desperately, to be a mountain.

Helen fought through the remainder of the ferns and strode out into the clearing, planting herself at the base of Nikola’s rock. She tilted her head back to speak. “I’m going to need a very good reason not to kill you,” she said, unhooking her gun. Helen snapped off the safety and aimed it straight at him.

Harsh, thought Nikola. “Only one?” he challenged. “My dear Helen, I can give you many reasons to keep me alive but I dare say one will suffice.”

“I am still waiting for it,” Helen ignored Henry, who was trying to remind her that Nikola was useful and possibly better kept alive.

“Impatience? That’s a new one for you.”

A loud ‘crack’ startled hundreds of birds who took to the air in a great curve of white, screaming as they flapped away.

“You know, that hurts my feelings…” Nikola dusted flecks of limestone off his suit. Helen had made a sizable hole next to his leg.

“Whoops…” she muttered darkly. “I appear to have missed. Care to go again?”

“Ashley’s not here,” said Nikola. “Haven’t seen her and that’s a bad sign because she had a decent head start on us.”

“Where is she?” Helen’s gun lowered slightly as Nikola edged himself forward and slid off the rock. It was quite a distance to the ground and he landed rather ungracefully in a heap.

“Ow… Well, if we’re lucky she’s gotten a bit lost – you know what girls are like. Map reading isn’t their strongest attribute.” Helen’s gun re-aligned with him. “Or,” Nikola decided that being shot at point blank range wouldn’t be fun, “she’s already inside.”

“Inside what?”

Nikola’s arms stretched out, beckoning them forward. “The sanctuary,” he grinned. “This way…”

*~*~*

Joe checked his appearance in one of the full length mirrors scattered throughout the Sanctuary’s hallways. There was a nasty cut above his eye but the stitching was holding. It was very important that he looked normal. Airlines were picky these days.

Making short work of a flight of stairs, Joe turned the corner into Helen’s office, gently opening the door and slipping inside. He felt like a small child, breaking into the headmaster’s office as he crept over to Magnus’s desk, eyeing every shadow with suspicion.

The flowers on her desk were dying, dropping petals over her desk. One unopened bud wept, dipping down where it hung over a mournful statue. Joe was looking for something very specific, hidden amongst her records which she kept locked in the desk drawer. A small black granite figurine on her desk caught his attention. He reached for it, holding the object firmly as he smashed the lock on desk with one, quick blow.

There wasn’t time to waste now. Someone would have heard that.

Joe pulled the drawer open and shuffled through a pile of papers until he found a thick folder. He pulled it out and opened on the desk. Yes, this was it; information on a camp site in the desert dated three days ago. He took the whole file, folding it under his arm as he made his way to the window.

*~*~*

Nikola pulled his unhappy entourage to a halt.

“Four – hours – of torture,” Henry gulped from a water bottle and then continued. “And this is where you take us?”

There was an eerie layer of mist burying them from the waist down. Towering above, sheltering the forest world from the fading afternoon light was an imposing cliff face. Its black surface was smooth and shimmered, as if moving with a life of its own. It looked like black glass excised from the bowels of the earth.

Nikola reached out, touching one of the carvings which framed the entrance to the cave. It was a small white circle embedded like a jewel. There were hundreds more clustered along the vertical edges. Some of the markings were circles like the one he had beneath his fingertip, the others depicted stages of the crescent moon.

“It looks real,” remarked Helen, eyeing the cave’s entrance. “I’ll give you that.”

He lay against the rock, pressing his cheek and palms onto the cool surface. This felt like home, thought Nikola. His ancestors had found a measure of sanctuary within this cave, he wondered if it would bring the same peace to him.

Henry’s head had developed a worrying slant as he watched Nikola embrace the sinister looking façade. “He’s gone all strange and stuff on us…” he said.

“No,” Helen corrected him. “This is normal. Let’s go Nikola,” she plucked him from the wall and deposited him in front of the cave entrance. “Vampires first.”

“I could – I could just wait out here…” Henry hadn’t moved from his spot in the mist. Everything about this idea smelt bad. There was something sinister swirling around him – and it wasn’t the mist.

“There’s no point in remaining outside, Mr Foss,” Nikola straightened his coat, buttoning it all the way to his neck. “They know that we’re here.” He darkened his eyes so that he could see better in the half-light of the cave. Helen took a more practical approach, fishing out her torch as she stepped into the shadows.

Henry shivered involuntarily. “Well, that makes me feel much better about the whole, ‘let’s wander into a dark, scary cave’ thing.” He lost sight of the other two as they ventured into the cave. Suddenly alone, Henry’s feet kicked into action, propelling him in pursuit despite his common sense telling him no.

*~*~*

Ashley curled her fingers over the mossy edge, gripping the delicate roots of dark-loving plants. The tunnel in front ended where the ground had been torn away. Her torch was far below, a tiny point of light glowing like a distant star.

“Shit…” she whispered, running her hands over every surface that she could reach. There had to be a way down and it wasn’t long until she found it – a damp strip of wood tied onto two lengths of rope. Moving her hands down further, she found more pieces of wood forming the basics of a ladder.

Ashley was eternally grateful that she couldn’t see this ‘ladder’. Given the way it felt in her hands, she never would have allowed herself to clamber over it, grimacing at every tremble and crack it gave in protest.

This is such a bad idea,’ she reminded herself halfway down. The ladder agreed, one of its boards snapping away from her foot. Ashley clung onto the ropes tighter, feeling for the next step as they groaned – squeaking and unravelling.

Eventually, her feet hit the ground and she was reunited with her torch. Ashley shined it back over to the ladder she had traversed. Damn, she wouldn’t be going back that way.

The ground beneath her was odd in that it bared no resemblance to the tunnel above. Down here she had to fight to find her footing on the smooth bed of river stones, polished by the small stream at the centre. It was clear that at some point the river had raged down here, filling the entire chasm.

She wanted to whistle her awe of the size of the place, but decided that the last thing she needed was a startled flock of bats freaking out. The water at her feet was running, trickling with distinct purpose over the white rocks. It had found a way out, Ashley was sure, so she followed it.

Ashley’s ears pricked up and she paused, turning slowly back toward the ladder. She listened carefully to every drip of water and shuffle of dirt. The more she concentrated on the silence, the louder the tunnel became but she didn’t hear it again – her name whispered in the darkness.

She avoided the water, clambering over the rocks and pebbles. Without sunlight, the cavern, cave, mine – or whatever this place preferred to call itself, was freezing. The water carried ice-crystals along in its current. Whenever she panned her torchlight over its surface, the beams scattered into shards of colour. There was something else in the water too – flecks of gold, tumbling over the stones and accumulating in pools around the edge of the river.

Rivers of Gold, that reminded her of something. She took a moment, seating herself on the rocky ground. Ashley pulled out her grandfather’s journal from her jacket, flipping through the damaged paper until she came to the map. There was nothing written on it about falling down large holes, which confirmed her suspicions that she was well and truly lost but a few pages on, she found an entry that peaked her curiosity. It was about the Seven Cities of Gold, searched in vain for by expeditions since 1150. Apparently her grandfather suspected its location to be in South America rather than North America but never had any success in finding it himself. Here it was, the part that she remembered, the cities sat by the edge of a golden river which carved out shimmering tracks across the land.

“Rivers of gold,” she whispered, eyeing the water. “Another day, perhaps.”

*~*~*

Ash-leeeey!”

John extended his top half over the hole, careful not to let his weight tilt him over the edge. It was a long way down and from what he could see, someone had taken the plunge into its depths recently. Ashley’s tracks ended at this hole and he had scouted the area ahead to no avail.

He called her name again, but there was no reply from his daughter.

*~*~*

“Why haven’t you been here before?” Helen stayed a few paces behind Nikola as they explored the entrance of the cave. “You clearly knew how to find this place. I’m surprised you could resist visiting the homeland of your ancestors.”

Nikola lowered his eyes to the glittering floor but didn’t say anything.

“Don’t tell me,” continued Helen, with a look of satisfaction. “An army of vicious killers born from your blood no problem but one full blood vampire – you wouldn’t dare face them alone.”

He stopped, and whispered very quietly to her. “If you knew what you were really walking into,” he said, “you’d be afraid too. Now please, a little hush.”

“What did he say?!” shouted Henry from behind, dashing into the cave after them.

Nikola sighed.

*~*~*

The plane touched down twice. Its first landing was brief, a mere taste of the ground as it bounced from the gravelly airstrip back into the crosswind which nipped the plane’s wings. The second time, the pilot grounded the plane with such force that the passengers gripped their seats in alarm.

Bit rough, Joe looked out the window, checking that nothing had caught fire.

Travel was like that around these parts. You arrived and you had to be happy with that.

Joe stepped out into a desert wind, bracing himself against the funnels of sand burning his exposed skin. The rest of the passengers scurried away, ducking into waiting cars parked in the open by the airstrip. The terminal was dark inside its locked doors and broken windows bandaged with helpings of duct tape. It was a god awful place with nothing between it and the full force of the desert lurking just over the rise.

“Doctor Kavanaugh – of Oxford University?”

Joe hadn’t noticed the tall man approach from the side. Most of his body was covered with layers of cloth, a sensible idea. Joe waved and nodded.

“I am Professor Lierdly from the expedition. We spoke on the phone. My car is over there,” he pointed at the only vehicle still braving the dust. “This way please, there’s a storm coming.”

 

4

BURIED CITIES

 

The black mountain range stuck out from the sand like a set of knives. Its thousand faces of polished rock interlaced to form a sinister barrier – sometimes catching the sun in a blinding glare. Joe could see the remains of Magnus’s camp site nestled at the base of one this monstrosity. From what he could tell at this distance, there was nothing left but ruined tents and a makeshift airstrip, gradually disappearing beneath the sand.

“We told them,” said Lierdly, from the driver’s seat. He was barely holding the wheel as the car shook its way down the gravelled track, riding a ridge. There was a dune to their left, working its way toward the road in a surge of burning sand. The professor pointed at the speckling of tents obscured by a layer of ‘liquid-air’. It’s what they called the turbulent air hugging the ground which distorted anything further than arms reach. “We say, ‘nothing to find there but dirt and rock’. My associate even offered them a share in our site – we could use the extra funding, but that crazy woman wasn’t interested and now look, all that’s left of them. They abandoned less than a week ago. In a month there’ll be nothing.”

“Crazy indeed,” replied Joe. That sounded like the Helen Magnus he knew.

They pulled up at Lierdly’s archaeological site, framed by a tent city. White linen flapped in the breeze, snapping sharply like whips cracking in Joe’s ear. People hurried everywhere carting books or screaming instructions at their satellite phones. One man tripped in his haste, scattering a box of identification tags in front of Joe and Lierdly. He swore in Dutch and then set about plucking each one from the sand while at the same time hissing behind him at someone in a tent.

On this side of the mountain range to Magnus’s camp, Lierdly and his team had set up shop beneath a series of tunnels burrowed into the rock. There more than a dozen of them poking out in no particular arrangement.

“We thought they were tombs,” said Lierdly, pointing at several starting barely a foot off the ground. Each was just over a metre high and roughly made. They could have almost been mistaken for natural caves except the rock cleaved in hexagonal pieces, and these were circular holes. “But they just go on and on. I had one of the boys take a wander and he found nothing for kilometres. Whatever’s buried in there, if anything at all, it wasn’t meant to be found.”

“Superstitious?” Joe raised an eyebrow.

“No…” he averted his eyes to the sun, “You can’t do what I do for a living and give in to that kind of thinking.” Lierdly shifted, resting his hands on his slender hips. “I’d never have made it into my first tomb. Some of my workers, locals, they think that this place is cursed. It’s the same story wherever you go in this country. This is cursed. That is cursed. Don’t touch that, the sky will fall. Mostly, I think that they don’t want us sniffing around in case we find something about their past they don’t want to know. Perhaps that is the curse.”

“Do you mind if I have a look for myself?”

Lierdly shrugged. “Go ahead. Let me know if you get attacked by a mummy. Can make good money out of that sort of thing.”

Joe’s laugh turned into a shiver as he hopped up the rocks.

*~*~*

“Is it supposed to be doing that?” Henry backed away from the cave wall nervously, as another flicker of electricity sparked into life next to his ear. There was an ever-present crackle in the background getting louder as they progressed.

“You ask me,” said Nikola, sniffing out the darkness, eyeing it cautiously, “as if I do this kind of thing often…”

Helen had her gun raised, realigning it to every sound no matter how small. “It wouldn’t be a first, Nikola,” she said in a whisper, as she stepped behind him. “You’re always claiming an affinity with these creatures.”

“Ancestry,” he corrected her, shuddering as her hair tickled across the back of his neck. He hated that she did that – always on purpose, to unsettle him and remind him who was really in charge. “A different thing altogether.”

“If you like,” she grinned, as he ran his hands over the back of his collar.

“Seriously though,” Henry had stopped at one of the walls and was entranced watching the electricity flow along tiny tracks in the rock, almost like veins. “This is not normal.” He reached his hand out to the surface, lowering it slowly to the fluid patterns until – “Ow…” he shook his hand. “Ow, ow, ow…”

The spark had been quite spectacular, lighting Henry in a sudden flash.

“You once hand-picked this thing as a protégé?” Nikola widened his eyes in disbelief as Henry muttered something about, ‘being okay’.

Helen shook her head. “It was more like an adoption,” she confessed. “What do you know about real vampires?”

Nikola shrugged, “Not much. Their records are, regrettably, destroyed or lost.”

“But you have your suspicions,” Helen prompted.

“They were civilised,” he said, “but civilisation millennia ago is not what it is today.”

“You really are worried, aren’t you? Meeting our sand creature deepened your fears that vampires have a – how would you put it, viscous side?”

“They had a talent for survival in an age noted for its brutality. Yes, it worries me. As does this…” He pointed at the currents of electricity running over the walls.

“Nikola…” she reached out and grabbed his arm with her free hand. He stopped, turning to find her eyes wide, glistening in the torchlight. “Where’s Henry?”

*~*~*

Ashley stopped, balanced on the bank of pebbles to the right of the stream. The water ended at two giant doors which towered to the roof of the cavern, out of reach of her torchlight.

Sheee-it…” she exhaled, taking a step back to take in the sight.

The doors were made of a heavy wood, intricately carved with a life-size freeze of the jungle stretching across them. Plants with their curled leaves protruded while hidden beneath them, creatures prowled. Carved trees stood at their real height, vanishing into an elaborate canopy. Two snarling jaguars faced each other in the middle, gnashing their curved teeth at each other mid-pounce. It was unlike any artwork she had seen. It was so real that Ashley hesitated to take her eyes off it in case the creatures came to life and leapt free.

The doors were not infallible though. Along their base, the water had cracked and discoloured the wood. Fragments of gold caught inside the fibrous surface making them look as if they had been dipped in liquid gold. It was like an embroidered curtain, sealing the cave. Ashley had never felt so small.

The water had not backed up at the door. Instead, it was running under it. Ashley stepped into the freezing water, grimacing as it sank through her boots and swelled around her ankles. Her skin reddened, burnt by the cold as she waded in deeper. The river’s depth had been deceiving. Soon it was up around her waist as she reached the centre of the door, holding her arms up above her head.

“Bad idea,” she grimaced as the cold became a stabbing pain. Her backpack was waterproof, and floated defiantly as she threw it into the water. It followed the current and hit the doors, bobbing against them.

There was a second current in the water. Ashley could feel its tug on her lower legs in the deep water, beckoning her forwards.

“Moment of truth,” she said, more to convince herself than the empty chamber. Ashley reached down under the water, following the line of the door. Her fingers slipped over the golden edge. A foot under the water, the door ended leaving a gap just big enough for her to slip under.

Ashley gripped onto her bag, forcing it down under the water. It fought against her but as soon as it crossed onto the other side, Ashley took a breath and submerged, following it through.

The cold was unbearable, piercing her with such force that she thought she must have fallen victim to an ancient death trap. She kept her eyes clenched shut as she hugged her backpack to her chest, letting it pull her up through the water.

They broke the surface together. Ashley coughed, wiping the water from her face before opening her eyes. She was swimming now with the water deepening beneath her. Ashley brought her torch above the water. As with the previous room, there were banks of rock on either side. Ashley swam, forcing her stiff arms to stroke their way toward the shore.

*~*~*

They turned around together but neither could see any sign of Henry.

“Henry?” whispered Helen, about to backtrack before Nikola caught the back of her coat.

“No, no… wait,” he said. Nikola tilted Helen’s torch, pointing it up toward the ceiling of the cave. There was nothing but a small flock of napping bats, swaying in their sleep. “I think this is a mistake,” he said, not letting go of her coat. Helen wasn’t sure if it was for her own safety or his.

“Where’s Henry?” Helen demanded.

“I don’t know,” he replied truthfully. “But nothing got past us, I am sure of it, which means that whatever it was didn’t have to.”

“Teleporting? Like John?”

“It wasn’t John,” said Nikola. “Stay close, I mean it.” He didn’t just mean ‘within an arms distance’. Nikola wouldn’t let Helen stray any further than their shoulders touching. They stepped in time with each other, following the cave as it sloped downward.

“There is something down here,” she said, blinking at the darkness. Helen could hear movement, subtle but quick as it changed positions. “I think that you should say something.”

“Like what?” he had morphed slightly further towards his vampire form. Nikola was a ghastly combination of pale skin, sharp teeth and large, black eyes that Helen hated to see.

“Anything. Otherwise whatever’s home is going to think that we’re trying to sneak in…” Nikola was silent, trying to work out how that differed from what they were actually doing. “All I know,” continued Helen, “is that when things sneak into my house – it doesn’t end well for the ‘things’.”

“Well you say something then!”

“This is your idea!” she prodded him sharply. He buckled temporarily, curling his claws.

“Fine. Tell me what to say and I’ll say it.”

“God, you are such a child.”

*~*~*

The desert light was absorbed by the tunnel until it was nothing more than a bright circle in the distance. Joe had to duck, crouching his body to fit inside the tunnel. It smelt stale which was no surprise given the fragile bones of desert creatures he continuously crushed under his shoes. They had curled up and died all over the place, hiding from a sandstorm and forgotten to leave.

Lierdly had given him a small amount of supplies including a strong flashlight and tent pole, ‘for the cobwebs’. Joe could think of other uses for a length of wood. He gripped the stick with one hand, aiming it at the tunnel like a prehistoric caveman might have done.

The tunnel worked its way into the mountain, sometimes constricting into a space barely big enough to crawl through and at other times intersecting with several tunnels in large, domed spaces. Joe left himself messages in the sand floor so that he wouldn’t end up walking in circles. The deeper he progressed, the more well-worn the tracks became almost like he had been skirting through the side streets and only now finding the highway.

Eventually he found himself in a tunnel tall enough for him to stand with three others beside him. He was not the first to venture down these catacombs. Many kilometres inside, the air became putrid. Joe buried his nose in his sleeve as he closed in on the source of the smell, fighting the urge to by physically sick.

A skeleton, partially decomposed had reclined against the wall. It was difficult to know how long it had been there. With dry desert air and few scavengers, his decomposition might have been greatly slowed. His clothes were native to the area and he looked peaceful, like the remains of the animals.

Joe did not linger, pushing past the horrible sight before a mysterious urge to sleep befell him.

*~*~*

Ashley sat on the bank with her knees pulled to her chest, shivering. Her body had the slightest tinge of gold from the water and she could still taste its metallic edge. If Henry had been here, he would have made a quip about that James Bond film.

This room was different to the last. Instead of a rough cave surface, she found perfectly cut stones stacked tightly together to form smooth walls. She couldn’t comment on the ceiling because it hung well out of reach of the torchlight.

Instead of a river, there was a deep pool of water filling the cave edged by a low wall, maybe half a foot tall at best. On the top of this barrier was a trail of crescent shaped lights embedded in the stone. They did not shine brightly but like glow-worms, their collective light gave the water which they encapsulated a soft aura.

As her eyes adjusted to the softer light, Ashley saw the first hint of structure emerge from the far side of the underground lake. There were buildings, several stories high, packed tightly together in a crowded facade. Her torched flickered. She hit and cursed it until its light reappeared. She may as well have held a candle to the room. There was city down here, buried away from the world. It was silent – abandoned long ago.

This, Ashley presumed, was all that remained of the Sanctuary of the Moon.

 

5

LOCKDOWN

 

“Neat…” whispered Ashley.

She probably should have gone for something a little more epic, but as she clambered over the low wall of lights and onto the paved streets of the city, words refused to form in her throat.

The Sanctuary of the Moon was empty, deserted long ago by whatever creatures had chosen to make their homes here in this underground world. There were, however, remnants of them. Ashley had stumbled across a pile of bleached bones cluttered in a corner where two buildings didn’t quite meet. The sad skeleton was the first of many as she progressed up the main street.

There was a steady trail of rats ambling along the gutter, scratching against the stone floor as they headed toward the pool of water Ashley had climbed out of earlier. She avoided them, keeping to the centre of the road where her torchlight mingled with the occasional glowing shapes on the dwellings.

It was more like a hive than a city, with its buildings scrunched together, rising and falling with the uneven floor underneath the sinister dome of the cave. Some of these had crumbled, bleeding onto the streets with rivers of rubble and dust.

Very soon, she found her eye drawn to claw marks etched into the walls and ripped bodies with scattered weapons. The procession of time could not conceal the violence of their deaths.

Ashley stopped at three intertwined remains, tilting her head from side to side as she circled them like some wandering bird of prey that had missed the feast.

“Unpleasant,” she commented, nudging one of the outlying bones with her boot. The trio had killed each other in some kind of brutal fever. Bony fingers could still be seen clasped around the neck of one, locked in an embrace even through death while the victim had plunged a short dagger through the chest of a hacked skeleton which, to her surprise, sported a sizable tail.

The extra limb was a collection of naturally duplicated vertebra, tapering toward a softly curved tip. The last few bones had been pulled out of line, no doubt by hungry rats.

Ashley retrieved her gun and then secured the backpack around her waist with several of its buckles. This place gave her the creeps and it was a long, lonely walk through it to the back wall. She didn’t know quite what she would find up there, but all the roads trailed off in that direction – it was the rats fleeing from it that made her worry.

*~*~*

Bigfoot’s gentle breathing was interrupted by a snore. Not quite stirred from sleep, he rolled over on the uncomfortable lab floor and curled into his coat. He couldn’t see Will, crouched at the glass in front of him, deciding how best to escape from the glass cage.

The restraints that had held him to the bed were now lying, chewed through, on the floor. His transformation into a sand creature was complete. When Will looked down at his skin he saw it ripple with uncertainty as it adjusted to the changing background. There was a strange dryness to the back of his throat that made it difficult to do anything but grunt at things while the lights of the room glowed especially bright. The details of the world had become intense; feeling – smell, touch – everything was a thousand times stronger.

Will sized up the sleeping creature on the other side of the glass. He rocked forward and touched the glass with an extended finger. The surface was cool – fragile even…

Bigfoot woke to the sound of shattered glass raining over him. He opened his eyes and saw a thousand scatterings of light reflected off the tumbling beads of glass as the window of the observation room fell forward with Will flying through its centre. Bigfoot had just enough time to roll before the larger shards of glass stabbed into the floor around him.

“Argh!” he groaned, as two jagged pieces cut through his fur.

Will hit the ground with the glass. Sensing the first whiff of freedom, he straightened and surveyed the room with golden eyes slit through the middle. His original abnormality – the gift of observation, had now become a serious weapon. Will could pick out every tiny detail of an environment in one turn of his head. Possible escapes leapt out at him while he kept a watchful eye on the figure writhing in pain on the ground.

“Will…” said Bigfoot, trying to stand. He clasped his paw over his arm to stop the bleeding, but the brilliant red dribbled around his fingers and onto the floor. “Will,” he repeated, pleading at the creature who was presently eyeing the door to the lab.

Will’s lips curled into a sinister grin as his body flickered in and out of camouflage.

“Listen to me,” continued Bigfoot, stumbling to his feet. He made it three laboured steps before he had to fall against one of the tables for support. “You’ve got to fight it.”

Will felt that he should know this hairy creature struggling to stand so he closed his eyes for a moment and tried to think. There was a flicker of something. A memory? A thought – he didn’t know. He wanted to be free and that desire overwhelmed everything else.

Instead of finishing off the creature, Will simply turned and pushed through the lab doors – throwing his head back in the sudden escape.

Bigfoot let himself crumble back to the floor where he crawled through the scattered glass to the other side of the room. He pried open the cabinet and dug out a set of bandages, wrapping several layers of them tightly around his arm until he could feel neither the pain nor the seeping of sticky blood.

He had to warn the detective sleeping down the hallway before Will got to him and somehow protect the other Abnormals but first, he had to lock the Sanctuary down and prevent Will from escaping into the city where he would no doubt begin picking out prey.

The computer in the lab did not have security access, so Bigfoot injected himself with a large dose of painkillers and made for the door. He paused at their ajar surfaces, sniffing the air for any sign of Will before gently pushing them open.

The hallway was empty save for a broken vase that had been knocked off a hallway table. Bigfoot, barely able to walk, threw himself at the opposite wall of the hallway, fumbling for the door to Ashley’s office. As someone mostly unaware of their office, she had not bothered to lock it.

It was a room neglected, ignored by its reluctant owner and left to sit in solitude most of the year. Its desk was bare save a lamp and computer with a wandering screensaver. The bookshelf on the opposing wall was not Ashley’s but her mother’s, built to house a special collection of bound letters written by her many associates over the years.

Bigfoot woke the computer, which, overjoyed by the attention, jolted into life with a cheerful beep.

A few minutes later, Bigfoot heard the bars on the windows clang shut and the double bolts on the doors lock firmly into place. Steel doors were sliding over the larger areas and coded doors between levels locking into place. The Sanctuary had turned itself into a prison, with him and Will locked inside.

Will, already on the ground floor, dropped to all fours and hurtled along the ground toward the main entrance. The carpet beneath him folded and slid off to the side as he rounded the corner and ploughed into the solid door as the large steel bolt slipped into place. The door shook with the impact, but remained resolutely closed.

Trapped, Will snarled, baring several rows of razor teeth to the security camera above. Bigfoot watched on, busily wrapping his wounds tighter.

*~*~*

“Do you trust me?” whispered Nikola, taking her free hand within his clawed paw. His skin was freezing, sending unpleasant shivers over her skin whenever his claws grazed her.

“Is that a trick question,” she replied softly, still holding her gun firmly to the darkness in front.

“Whatever happened to us, Helen?” he said, as they edged very slowly deeper into the cave. The light of the entrance behind them had almost vanished and now it was his torch and the electrical currents over the walls that lit the way. “You used to like me.”

“I do like you,” she hissed back. “I would have shot you already if I felt anything less than affection – as perverted as it may be. Incidentally,” she continued, “I believe it was you who last tried to kill me. This little expedition of yours may well end both of us.”

“Oh please… this wasn’t my idea. You have that ‘detective’ to thank for all this.”

That caused Helen to come to an abrupt halt, ripping her hand away from him. “What on earth are you going on about?”

Nikola’s black eyes gleamed in the torchlight which he pointed directly at her. She ducked away from the glare.

“Seriously?” he said, almost unable to grasp Helen’s naivety. “You don’t see it? Vampires – even that bastardised sand creature you tried to keep as a pet, are not animals. They are highly intelligent beings that don’t waste time. If the detective was bait, then he had already served his purpose. I for instance, would have killed him once I reached the tunnels but instead, what do we find? He is safe and well after half the night spent alone with it. There was a reason for that, Helen.”

“He wouldn’t…” but, she realised, then again Joe had more to gain than any from the sand creature. This was personal for him. He spoke ancient Egyptian, he was not afraid of the creature and after she had refused to disclose the location of the tomb, he had become especially curious. “I,” she sighed heartily, truly unimpressed with herself, “never learn.”

“An endearing quality,” Nikola grinned. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

“For the sake of argument, then,” she flinched as he took her sharply by the arm, anticipating her answer.

“Close your eyes…” he said darkly, leaning toward her.

For the last five minutes, Nikola had sensed a presence hunting them through the caves, scant feet from them at any given moment. Despite his considerable observation skills, he was yet to catch a glimpse of his pursuer. Something had changed though. The assailant had gone from observer to assassin, more than once he had felt something brush over the back of his neck, considering how to sever his spine. Nikola Tesla may be hard to kill, but he had a sneaking suspicion that ‘beheading’ might just do it.

He didn’t want her to see what had to happen next.

With considerable force, Nikola knocked Helen to the ground. She stayed down, flattened against the cave floor perfectly still with her eyes slammed shut.

Nikola’s ears twitched as he heard fabric swish to his right and a shadow turn out of sight. He reached out with his clawed hand and ripped a strip free – the first tangible proof that there was, indeed, something else with them.

The rippling of electricity intensified, flickering and flashing in the air accompanied by a continuous crackle.

He bowed his head, and when he lifted it, his transformation into ‘vampire’ was absolute. Barely recognisable as this creature of the myths and fear, he leapt up to the roof, lingering on the cold rock amidst a few sleeping bats, before falling on top of a tall, slender figure.

Nikola had not expected the frailness. The creature crumbled beneath him, groaning as Nikola’s hands tightened around their body. Layers of cloak and a muddle of movement rolled down the slight incline of the cave until they hit a wall in a huge flash of light. Electricity poured from the cave wall through them in a shower of light.

Helen, unable to resist, opened her eyes a crack to see two heads glare at each other, encircled by shards of artificial lightning. One was Nikola as she remembered him – true and frightening in his vampire form. The other was an older man with twisted features and a permanent snarl. As she looked closer Helen saw that the other man’s features had sunk toward his bones in a horrid venture between life and death.

The two vampires rolled off the wall and the cave fell back into darkness. For a moment, Nikola thought he had the pursuer beat.

“We don’t want to –” he started to say, but found himself thrown off in a sudden surge of power. Nikola yelped as he slammed into the wall next to Helen and hit the ground in a shower of glittering dust. “Hurt you…” he finished to himself.

“Look out…” whispered Helen, as she saw the other creature straighten and turn to face them.

Nikola pealed himself off the ground.

“You should not be here…” the creature hissed. Its voice was cluttered with age, scratching through his throat. The ancient vampire blinked its sharp eyes and then disappeared from sight.

Nikola swore.

“This is bad, isn’t it?” said Helen, moving to get up.

“Stay down,” he snapped sharply. “The only reason I’m not dead is because he’s curious.”

Swirls of dust kept kicking in the air, disturbed by the vampire’s feet as he teleported from corner to corner to unsettle his uninvited guests.

Maybe, thought Nikola, it was time that he tried Helen’s approach. “This is a Sanctuary?” he asked the darkness, not sure if he should expect a reply. “We come here only to search for a missing friend. We mean you no harm.”

Silence. More crackling from the walls.

“We know what you are,” Nikola continued. “We desire your help. This isn’t working…” he shot at Helen.

Helen sat up, but didn’t go so far as to stand. “For your help we can trade information on the history of your people.”

Though they couldn’t see it, the vampire’s interest peaked.

“And what of them?” said the disembodied voice, bouncing off the uneven surface of the cave.

“Grant us safe passage, and we will tell you all we know.”

“Safe passage?” the voice scratched and died off with amusement. “You have intruded into sacred ground, we are now negotiating the manner of your demise.”

“Please,” Helen said, “a friend of ours has inadvertently trespassed. We are here only to find them and return safely home. We mean you no harm.”

“Harm?” the vampire hissed darkly. “Do not speak to me of harm.” In the cave ahead, they saw a faint outline of movement as the ancient vampire slowly paced toward them. “For thousands of years I have watched my people die – cut down, tortured,” it paused to take another laboured breath, “hacked apart in fields as they fled. You cannot know what it’s like to watch children burn, smouldering into the dusk while the skeleton of your empire blackens.” They could see the creature now, standing tall with its full length cloak dragging on the ground. “You may forgive me then, if I grow wary of human promises.”

A tear steadied in Helen’s eye. “I have seen such carnage,” she replied. “But please, she is my daughter.”

This seemed to stir a memory – and a distant smile. Not so long ago there had been another like herself bravely venturing into this cave. “There was a man here once before, on behalf of his daughter. You remind me of him…”

 

6

ROOM WITH COLUMNS

 

Joe’s body froze mid-step. The catacombs had come to an abrupt end – miles of narrow tunnels culminated in an empty, circular room which was bare of everything except its sandy floor.

“Impossible…” he hissed, turning in endless circles.

He had been so sure, absolutely positive that this would lead him to the tomb of the Priests of Amun, lost for thousands of years. They were not tombs for sleeping bodies dreaming of dead worlds, but crypts to keep monsters in – monsters who were very much alive at their time of imprisonment. If he was ever to find his father, it would be amongst the angry faces of its prisoners.

The walls were painted in ochre colours and scrawls of ancient writing marched up and down it, raving stories about underworlds and gods that now lay quiet. Joe advanced, stepping carefully through the sand, holding his torch aloft.

“Urgh!” he cried, as Joe felt the sand beneath him fall away. His stomach lurched and his arms flailed wildly as he was sucked through the floor into darkness. He had just enough time to gasp a breath of air in the light and catch sight of one of the wall murals laughing silently at him.

Then, the only proof of his existence was a torch half buried in the sand in the empty room, with its light gradually yellowing. Eventually it clicked off, and the room returned to its sinister peace.

*~*~*

The ancient vampire’s eyes were black like Nikola’s, but in the depths of their pits were hints of red. These blood-stained flecks ran over Helen, inspecting every inch of her as she spoke. The tiniest beads of sweat on her skin wreaked in the vampire’s nostrils while the grazes on her cheek and neck gave way to trickles of blood. Every minute that this breathing creature survived was a testament to the vampire’s strength of will.

“Quiet now…” the vampire curled his lips into a snarl. “My manners have slipped in these long centuries alone. If you wish to leave this place, you must do so now. Leave me be.” His voice cracked like the electric currents behind him – deceptively fragile in its fluctuations.

Helen and Nikola glanced at each other.

“I cannot leave,” insisted Helen, “until I find my daughter and the man that was with us before.”

You cannot stay!” it screeched, vanishing and reappearing at the far wall where electricity swelled around it. Its plea echoed over the walls in horrid waves of agony. The vampire hid his dripping fangs behind his cloak which he raised over his head, blocking his guests from view. “You cannot stay…” he whispered to himself. The oaths of peace he took long ago were brittle now. Hunger and despair had weakened him and now he could feel the clawing of his nature begging him to kill.

Nikola recognised the symptoms and took Helen by the arm. She resisted but he lifted her toward him and growled into her ear, “Don’t…” He dragged her from the cave and led Helen back out into the mist-laden clearing. A few birds called bravely, piercing the air in short stabs.

The cave entrance was still within sight, leering at them from the cliff face.

As soon as he let go of her, Helen raised her hand and clouted him hard across his face. This time, he did not react. His vampiric form made him stronger than her, though he usually chose not to show it.

“Helen,” he said, gradually fading back to the Nikola of old. “He was going to kill you. Me as well, I suspect.”

“I don’t care…” she replied, turning and heading back to the cave. He shook his head and caught her jacket, clutching the leather firmly. Helen whipped around, striking him again and with her other hand, raising a knife to his throat. “Out of my way,” she warned.

The cold blade on his neck was a familiar touch. It was not the first time that Helen had threatened his life, and he doubted that it would be the last.

“You will have to use it,” he assured her.

“I’ve lost two people in there,” Helen steadied herself, pressing the metal harder onto him, “and I am not leaving them to die!”

“I hear you,” Nikola replied, if anything, gripping more tightly. “There are other ways into this Sanctuary, I am convinced of it. He,” Nikola referred to the vampire, “had not seen Ashley or Henry. His thoughts were loud enough for me to hear fragments of them. He is an old creature, tormented by the world and he will not let us pass.”

“Where are these other entrances?” she said, loosening her hold on the knife. It caught a beam of sunlight, blinding him with the brightness.

“I don’t know,” he confessed. “Though I believe our only course of action is to return to Ashley’s tracks and proceed from there. The Sanctuary of the Moon runs deep through these hills, tunnelled out beneath the ground. It is possible that she has inadvertently found a way in.”

*~*~*

Although Will could no longer speak, he managed an unmistakable nod at the security camera. I am coming for you it said.

Bigfoot set the computer to monitor all cameras for motion so that he could detect Will’s progress through the mansion. He could no longer see him on the screens though, as Will has mastered the art of camouflage and torn off his clothes rendering him all but invisible.

He was more creature than human now, Bigfoot could feel it, and this hybrid species seemed always hunting for revenge. Bigfoot couldn’t stay in this room, though. There was no way to defend himself or capture Will amongst the computer, empty desk and lone bookshelf.

Taking a calm breath, Bigfoot opened the door and peered out into the corridor. It was too late to seek out the detective. Will was fast now, and it wouldn’t be long until he returned to this level. The great, hairy man swung around to the right and returned to the medical room where he gathered a large amount of sedatives, several needles and three rolls of bandages. He was about to go for the tranquiliser gun – locked high in the cabinets above the main work desk, when he heard the door at the end of the corridor slam.

With no choice, Bigfoot clambered toward the small, side door which led into the storage area of the level. In five steps he was in front of the equipment lift. Bigfoot slid open the door to the small enclosure and crammed himself painfully inside. As a space meant for trays of testubes, it groaned angrily at Bigfoot’s imposition.

Will, in a strange disturbance of light, rounded the corner and caught sight of Bigfoot forcing down the door of the lift amidst a tirade of curses.

“Come on…” growled Bigfoot, bashing the metal shell as Will raced towards him, claws digging into the polished floor.

Just when Bigfoot had begun to entertain the prospect of being ripped apart, the door shifted and the lift shuddered into action, taking its heavy load down toward the basement.

Will pulled up short as the door slammed near his nose. His sharp eyes flicked to the gage on the wall beside, betraying the destination of the lift.

Bigfoot knew that he would reach the basement first – there was no doubt of that. As fast as this new Will was, he couldn’t fall through the levels of the floor like John. That said, there would not be enough time to achieve anything before his inevitable arrival.

He clutched the lift control protectively to his chest, whispering and coaxing to it as the lift slowed towards its destination. When the final thump of motion sent painful ripples through his fur, Bigfoot hit the button for the top floor. The deceit would buy him some time. Not much, granted, but he hoped that it would be enough to save both Will and the Sanctuary from destruction.

When it released him on the library level, Bigfoot stumbled as fast as he could up the corridor toward the marble staircase. He left a nasty streak of blood behind him where it trickled down his leg. It was no good, he thought, knowing that a child would have no trouble hunting him, let alone an instinctual killer.

*~*~*

Joe grimaced and rolled onto his side.

He had expected darkness – the deep, constricting blackness of the world beneath the earth. Instead, he found the gentle din of a hundred wall lamps lit along the side of a great chamber. Their soft glows provided tiny halos of light against the immense stone walls that spread high above him and deep below the pile of sand beneath.

It was like the debris from a giant hourglass and he had been poured through it, landing at its peak.

He could feel a bruise spreading over his chest where he had hit the sand. It burned under his shirt as he sat himself up and took in the spread of the underground room. It was lined with red pillars, three stories high that were severed several times with ornate gold bands. Around their girths were painted figures cowering from the sun or drowning themselves in the blue hint of Nile.

Joe peered forward in search of their bases, but the floor of the room was difficult to make out in the faint light. With nowhere to go, Joe shifted himself forward on the pile of sand until he started to slide.

Just as a great sheet of sand dislodged itself around him, accelerating his motion into an unstoppable fall, Joe caught sight of several silver bullet casings tumbling along with him. He reached out and caught one of these heavy pellets as it hurtled past, staring at it curiously as the ground below approached.

 

7

BLUED EYED MONSTER

 

The bullet casing was dull in the low light. Reflections of the flame-lit room flickered across its slender surface until Joe hit the floor with a crunch and it was knocked from his hand. It bounced several times over the floor and then rolled casually from view.

Sand fell over his body, half burying him in its final rush. Joe scraped it away from his face before it suffocated him and crawled out onto the bare floor, coughing and spluttering it from of his lungs. Unlike the tunnels above, drowned in sand, the surface of this room was pure slate. It was polished into a flawless expanse of black and gave the appearance of an endless pit except for where the pillars reflected, perfectly tessellated in a fictitious second expanse beneath his feet.

Joe could hear his laboured breath echoing around the walls. It mingled with the sound of the flames licking their holdings and a few sand grains tumbling from his clothes.

It was only then that he saw it – a large rectangular slab of slate rising up from the centre of the room as if it had grown from the floor. Its contact with the ground was seamless and the beastly thing was gilded by a line of gold writing whose fearsome words he was able to read as he edged closer, trailing his finger across them.

My face is yours, my heart is yours as you are a protector to me, for my present condition is like one that is in need, all my limbs are dismembered as the sands of the desert upon which I lie have reached me.’

The script was a fragment, bordered by writings outside Joe’s limited teaching. The remaining columns of text looked far older and had been rubbed off in places by age and use. If he had not known better, he might have thought this burial coffin to be a re-use.

‘Sarcophagus’, literally flesh eating. It was only now, after the events of the previous days, that Joe appreciated its true meaning. This name did not describe the container, which was merely a prison, but its contents which would stalk the desert evenings if allowed.

As he paced around the imposing object, which exuded a strange kind of hush as if its very presence was silencing the room, he stooped and eyed the corner of its lid. The edge had been broken, cracked and crumbled away by some heavy impact. On the floor his feet knocked several more of the mysterious bullet shells which clinked loudly.

Something had gone on in this room other than the mutterings of the dead and he feared that it wasn’t over yet.

*~*~*

Nikola rubbed his cheek. It was still sore from Helen’s multiple outbursts and had now taken on a distinct red tint – a foreign colour in the usually pale Nikola. Oh well, he figured, at least it proved that he still had a little life left in his veins.

The undergrowth was thick and difficult to pass through, even via the ‘path’ which Helen and Henry had cut earlier. Nikola had, of course, taken the easier route through the rocky back slope of the mountain. Certainly the gravel was loose and riddled with sun-basking snakes but when creatures of all sort fled from your presence, it made the going much easier.

“I should never have let you talk me into this,” moaned Helen, as the log she was balancing on creaked and shattered. She quickly skipped over it and landed on the solid ground, flicker her damp hair out of the way. “You were lying.”

“No,” he corrected her, “I was guessing. Are we near her tracks yet?”

Helen pointed at the stream gushing angrily beside them. “A few more minutes this way and we should be there.” Her bare arm was covered in pale streaks of blood where vicious mosquitoes buzzed over her in a frenzied haze, sucking and stabbing every time she paused.

“I would never betray you without cause,” said Nikola suddenly, wiping away a line of mud from his face. “I want you to know that. My ancestral species may be riddled with violence and malice but much the same can be said of yours yet I do not assume you to be distrustful – except of course, when experience differs…”

“Was that a slight, Nikola?” asked Helen, amazed that he could turn a plea into an insult. “One does not beg for their life through offense.”

“Merely an observation.”

“Fine,” she snapped. “Call my distrust of you an observation, then. Here we are…” Helen pulled up at a particularly muddy area.

At first Nikola thought she was lost, but soon his eyes drifted to the ground and he saw the definite imprints of small feet set off balance and the resulting slip marks. There was another set of tracks in the mud – these were distinctly larger – belonging to someone tall, imposing and, Nikola guessed, ill tempered.

“So you sent Johnny after her – brave…”

“Not the time, Nikola,” Helen waved him off, sensing an onslaught of jealousy. “When we’re all home and safe back at the Sanctuary, you can mope all you want and I promise I shan’t mind.”

“Now that is a lie,” Nikola averted his eyes to her. “As I have no home to speak of,” he added quickly.

They followed the tracks, (which was hardly a difficult task) until they ended abruptly at a large hole in the ground. The moss and fernery trailed down into the abyss where it had been ripped off suddenly. Water could be heard dripping somewhere below as tiny streams trickled down the exposed roots of trees.

“That would have hurt,” noted Nikola, crouching down and peering over into the darkness.

“Careful…” Helen muttered, and then trailed off when he glanced back at her with a curious smile.

“Don’t suppose you brought a rope?” he asked, spying a nearby tree with a decent girth. Indeed she had. Helen quickly whipped off her backpack and unhooked a nylon rope, holding it up for his inspection. “A woman for all occasions.”

She dropped the rope on the ground beside him. “That’s what you said in 1885.”

*~*~*

Bigfoot faltered and fell to the ground, groaning as his paw-like foot went numb and became unresponsive. He could guess at the cause but right now there was no time to stop and investigate. Bracing himself, he crawled over to a door at the top of the staircase and used its handle to haul himself back to his feet.

From the landing at the top of the marble staircase he could see his own trail of blood, dotted like a line of breadcrumbs leading straight to his pitiful figure. It got deeper and thicker half way up the stairs where pools of it dripped back down, running along the joins in the rock. He was starting to feel the effects of the painkillers and he was thankful for it even though they made the world a tad blurry.

It didn’t take long for him to be joined by the thumping of feet down the corridor. As they got closer to the open area and high ceilings of the main room outside the library, they slowed and finally stopped.

Although Bigfoot hand little hope of seeing Will, probably camouflaged, but he did catch the carpet runner slipping slightly to the side. Will was close now and Bigfoot had no way to defend himself – neither could he run.

He waited, frozen to the ground for a sign of movement. The great room was quiet – but not silent. It was amazing the things you could hear with your ears pricked up and your breathing slowed.

There – no… that was the tapestry catching the air conditioner. Bigfoot’s eyes continually flicked over the various surfaces of the room, not noticing that his trail of blood through the very centre of the room had been smeared by a new set of prints as Will slinked toward him, hiding in plain sight.

*~*~*

Joe’s hand was still on the coffin when one of the flares on the wall went out. The room dimmed as darkness reclaimed the space between two of the large pillars. There was no breeze in here – he was hundreds of metres underground so what, wondered Joe with a chill creeping over him, was that?

He headed straight to one of the well lit walls and stole the torch from its holdings. Joe brandished it in front of him, slashing through the air in warning to whatever was hunting him. He heard something scratch over the floor near the giant mound of sand and a few layers of it slip to the floor.

His stick – it was half buried under a fall of sand but well within reach. Joe jogged across the room, sending orange flickers over the wall as his torched flattened in the rush of air. He squatted and reclaimed the stick from the ground, taking it firmly in his grip.

Come out…” he whispered, in the sand creature’s native tongue. Joe had guessed that he would find them here. He had waited his whole life for this moment but he had imagined more light – less dark corners where sinister things could hide.

Shadows, sand and another mysterious gust of wind turned his head. Something scattered the loose bullet casings by the sarcophagus and for the first time he heard a grunt. Six – ten – fifty? He had no idea how many there were but one would be enough of a match so it did not matter.

You – will – die…” the words came, scattered, from all over the room.

I come to offer you freedom,” Joe replied, peering into the blackness with his torch held aloft.

He hadn’t expected it to be inches from his face, snarling as it shimmered into view. The sand creature’s cold blue eyes seemed to hate the world and all that it had done while its crimson skin, scared and burnt, told why. Its face, resting on the flame, jarred away from the heat and began to circle Joe. The creature was dressed but only barely, by a grey strip of fabric around its waist held together by a gold clip belonging to centuries past.

Another creature appeared, reclined against one of the walls directly below a torch and then another and another, all encroaching for the edges of the room. The one closest to him had bent low down to the ground and scattered away into the room, vanishing back into the walls. Joe clutched onto the stick tighter.

That was when he saw his father lumbering towards him. More blue eyes, torn shreds of clothing and fragments of humanity clinging to the thin skin covering its bones.

Childhood fear was a persistent thing – it lurked inside you, pretending to be nothing more than an embarrassing memory right up until the moment you were forced to face it. Then the claws came out. Then the fear returned – and it was real fear – a form of monster that stops your heart and seizes your muscles; your mind, overcome with blurred memories and embellished nightmares, falls silent and with it, all hope of survival.

*~*~*

Nikola and Helen made short work of the hole and, with the help of Tesla’s sharp claws, made their way through the derelict mining tunnel. The soft earth and groaning boards holding it up unnerved her as they took it at a half-run, following the bright speck of her torch as it bounced over the ground.

“Relax,” he said to her, as another light rain of dirt hit them, “this thing’s been here for millennia – it’s not going to collapse just because Helen Magnus is here…”

She didn’t look so sure. “You’d be surprised,” she replied. “Oh,” Helen pulled them both to an abrupt stop, “better and better…”

The pit below them made the original drop into the tunnels look like a small ditch. Her rope, which she had bravely left dangling through the first hole, wouldn’t have been any use down here with nothing to tie it to.

“Ideas?” she asked, honestly hoping that the rumours of his genius were true.

“Caving is not my thing,” he muttered, keenly eyeing his options. “Although…”

Although is good,” Helen crawled over to the edge of the pit and shone her torch down. She could make out the ground but only just. There was no doubting that it was a long way down.

“Fancy a ride?”

Helen nearly choked.

“With these claws I think there’s a good chance I can scale the dirt wall – you’d have…”

“Yeah, I get it.”

Their clever descent was successful. Once Nikola’s feet were planted firmly on the ground, Helen let go of his shoulders and slipped gently to the stones beneath. Nikola wiped the dirt from his claws, cursing when he found one of them chipped off at the end. Helen fought back a quip about ‘breaking a nail’, instead turning her attention to the river trickling behind them and the bright glow in the distance.

“Riverbed,” Nikola observed, stumbling over the smooth rocks loosely scattered over the cave floor.

Helen stooped and took a sip of water. “Fresh,” she remarked, and drank some more.

“Helen,” started Nikola softly, interrupting her refreshment. She stopped, cold hand to her lips with water trickling back into the running water. “That’s not a rock…” he pointed to a small, unnatural mound of rocks behind her.

 

8

AWAKENING

 

It was a grave…

A bundle of stones had been hastily packed together in a primitive pyramid which, like its ancient cousins standing guard over fallen empires, had begun to collapse into a pile of misshapen rubble. Tumbled down beside the ailing monument was a bleached skull cracked in three places with an arrow head embedded deep within its bone. Helen retrieved her torch, smacking it against her hand until it clicked obediently back on, bathing the object in light.

She knelt down and traced her fingers lightly over the skull’s smooth surface. Nikola sighed heavily, wishing she wouldn’t interact with every sinister object of curiosity. He crossed the shallow stream and came up behind her, shifting his gaze nervously around the enormous cavern as if the very walls were watching them. He didn’t want to delay in the darkness – best they move through it as quickly as possible.

“Helen…” he whispered, his voice laden with chill and reverence. “Do you believe there’s any credence to those stories about the caves around here being passageways to the underworld?” Nikola may not have been able to see her face but he felt her eyes roll. “Just checking,” he mumbled. Maybe she was right about him – maybe he did read too much.

“You are supposed to be the scariest thing down here,” she straightened and shone the torch straight between his eyes. He flinched irritably. “So start acting like it.”

She handed him the skull – which he dropped immediately and furiously wiped his hands on his coat in disgust.

“And why are you so pleased?” he finally gave in and asked after they had followed the meandering creek for a while. She had done nothing but grin and hum since they had entered this horrid place whose high, spiked ceilings and distant black walls gave Nikola the shivers.

That skull belonged to Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett – greatest explorer who ever lived – went missing in the Amazon when we were still working for that uncle of Watson’s.”

“Are you trying to comfort me?” He shook his head then tripped, rolled his ankle on a loose river stone and had to make a rather ungraceful recovery. “How you can tell that from one nondescript skull I will never know…”

Helen promptly stopped, spun slowly and revealed a gold locket laced around her hand with an elegant set of initials engraved on its front.

“Stealing again…” he muttered. “Isn’t that –” Nikola stopped, pointing to a faint glow ahead of them where a figure stirred, barely more than another mysterious shadow.

They found John crouched at the edge of a pool of water, staring up at a mighty set of wooden doors carved with all kinds of terrifying things that could be thought of by the primitive tribes that carved them. He couldn’t help but admire it – the beauty in the danger.

“I take it the front door didn’t work,” John dipped one of his fingers in the water as the crunch of feet approached. A faint shimmer of gold left its residue in his skin making it glisten for a moment until the water dried and the gold fell off back into the water like dust.

“No sign of Ashley…” Helen had to step back to take in the enormity of the doors which were more like gates to the underworld itself. Maybe Nikola had been right after all…

“I followed her tracks to the water,” John prodded at several intents in the ground.

“And you just – stopped…” Nikola was pretty certain there was only one place that Helen’s daughter could have gone and yet, here John was, pondering eternity by the side of a lake.

“Well I would have continued only I heard the two of you bickering miles away and decided to wait.”

“We do not bicker,” snapped Helen in a whisper, even though it was not the first time she had endured the accusation.

Nikola looked from John – to the door and then back again. “Aren’t we going to just…”

John breathed heavily – or it could have been his favourite – drawn out laugh he used to disturb victims before the kill. “Oh yes, Nikola, as much as I would love to let you materialise inside a solid object I suspect Helen might disapprove. We will have to swim.”

Nikola fancied a swim about as much as he fancied Thomas Edison.

“What’s the matter,” John de-cloaked and rolled his shirt sleeves up, “electricity and water not mix?”

“Like love and murder, Whitechapel…”

There was an almighty splash and they both ended up in the water – crawling on their hands and knees as Helen stepped over them with a look of long-suffering detest.

“Just stop!” Helen sloshed past them and vanished under the water, leaving a trail of bubbles in her wake.

*~*~*

Joe risked a shaky step backwards as his father approached. The others were swooping and creeping behind, circling impatiently as Joe’s father lifted a clawed hand up into the air, prepared to rip the flesh from Joe’s body and end the intrusion into their world.

“Father – please…” Joe held the torch higher into the room so that the flames roared into a fresh layer of oxygen. “I have come to free you,” he insisted, “all these years, I promised I would come back for you and I have. Don’t give up now, you can’t.”

Waves of sand tumbled around the room. The coffin at the centre protruded like a wall of sea-rock, steadfast against all the ages time could muster.

His father was barely alive. The skin around his features was stretched tight, sunken and cracked. There were long locks of grey hair twisted up together and tossed over his shoulder while a deep scar cut diagonally from his forehead to his cheek. Though it had healed decades ago, it kept a record of the torturous years lived as one of the most hated creatures in existence.

Joe’s strength dissipated when he saw bone protrude from beneath the tattered rags of clothing, the remains of the brown pants and white shirt he had worn on his final dig. Finally, the truth unfurled and Joe realised that he had come back to save a dream – nothing more. All that remained of his father had withered away and he, forever a foolish child, had held onto a vision of something he could never have back.

“Father…” he whispered, with tears dripping down the side of his face and into the sand. Joe was content. He would die down here, with his father. The freedom overwhelmed him. “It was good to see you,” he said, slowly closing his eyes to the world, replacing all its darkness with a picture of his father waving goodbye through the glare of the desert.

Waiiit…” one of the other creatures slipped beside Joe’s father, tilting its head back and forth. This one looked younger, more alive and dangerous. The curve of its lip glistened and its sharp pair of blue eyes reflected the light of Joe’s torch. Joe’s eyes peaked open. “You want your faaather?” its skin rippled.

Joe’s heart quickened fearfully. “Yes,” was all he managed. As the creature inched closer, the grand room shrank – it seemed claustrophobic and chocked by scented smoke belonging to another time.

Do something for usss,” its words carried a modern accent that matched its surprisingly new clothes. Now that Joe looked closer, he could see the same crest sewn into the breast pocket of the creature’s tattered shirt as he had seen on the camp site tents. “And maybee you can leave this place – with your faaather. We are not simply monsssters, you see.”

“What do you want?” Joe realised that he had been gradually backed against one of the walls. “I have nothing to give you.”

Surely you have heard,” it replied, creeping its claws along one of the walls, as if fascinated by the joinings of the stones. “We are vampires.”

*~*~*

Helen emerged from the water first, breached through its freezing surface like some mythical creature breaking free. She ran her hands over her face and down through her hair, wiping the water away. Gold flecks formed a second skin over her own which held a subtle glow in the almost complete darkness of the pool. It was an impressive expanse of deep water. Only the top layer of which was bearable to swim in – whenever she dipped her legs too deep she felt the vicious stabs of cold warning her not to venture further.

Nikola and John surfaced with a flurry of bubbles and coughing – apparently they had been trying to beat each other on distance and thus nearly suffocated in the attempt.

“Extraordinary,” Nikola wined, treading water in circles, “this lake is cold and huge.”

They crawled out onto the stony edge, Helen and John dragging their heavy coats which had done an excellent job half-drowning them. Helen disposed of hers, throwing it to the side.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” she said, pointing at the deserted city sprawling between the cave walls ahead of them. Its derelict condition was somehow made more beautiful by the unsettled mist licking the edges of its walls.

“Precisely how old were those scrolls, Nikola?” John couldn’t help but notice the way the remains of the sanctuary crumbled on their approach.

The low stone wall which separated the lake form the city was aglow, softly lighting the edge of the water. They approached it, scrambling over it and onto the abandoned streets of the sanctuary.

“Look!” Nikola pointed to the roof of the cave where a small hole in the rock revealed a crack of the outside world filled by the full moon. The day had ended and night begun without any of them noticing.

What…” John jarred suddenly, pulling his right shoulder away to find a small arrow embedded harmlessly in the leather, “is that?” he finished, pulling the offending item out.

“Here comes another one,” Nikola ducked out of the way allowing it to strike again at John’s chest.

“Automatic defence?” Helen offered. “We must have triggered it when –” she watched John remove a third arrow from his coat, growling at the holes. “Is it just me or is it only shooting at John?”

“It’s very irritating,” said John, sidestepping a small volley of the things which clattered on the floor in the distance. “I think we should get a move on before I am annoyed to death.”

Helen, curious, ventured toward the origin of the arrows until one whizzed past her neck, tangling in her hair. “Yeah,” she agreed, “let’s go.”

*~*~*

Joe shivered as his hands touched the freezing stone. The lid was heavy and stuck fast by more than just its weight. He was surrounded by a crowd of sand people, sneering and hissing at each other as the lid made its first crack of freedom. A rush of air escaped the crypt and the lid slipped further opening, nearly off-balancing the detective.

The innards of the coffin were as black and mysterious as its stone. Joe took his torch from the sand creature that had spoken with him and held it over the opening where he caught his first, frightful glimpse of creature slumbering inside.

“It’s dead…” announced Joe, his eyes rolling over the decayed skin and bone staring lifelessly into nowhere with surprising glassy eyes. With its lip shrunk back, an impressive line of sharp, tapered teeth protruded from the creature’s mouth.

Oh,” hissed the sand creature, inching close enough to sniff the air above the coffin, “he is only sleeping. A long and dreadful sssleep. You cannot imaaagine.”

Joe pushed the lid again, revealing more of the creature’s body. It was shrunken and racked by age like its face and wrapped in a white sheet of linen bloodied by some ancient conflict. The remains of herbs and flowers scattered through the box collapsed into dust as the fresh air brushed over their delicate forms.

As instructed, he dutifully held out his arm and with a small blade, cut across his skin. The sickening drips of blood spread over the corpse but evaporated upon touching the skeletal form. It took a while for Joe to notice the subtle changes occurring below him.

The creature was waking up, reviving, reforming as Joe’s blood continued to fall over it. Eventually it resembled the sleeping man the creature had described and Joe was allowed to wrap his arm in a length of material as they waited.

It gasped, a terrible, strangled rush of air into its lungs.

Joe staggered backwards, shoved aside by the converging crowd of sand creatures who gathered eagerly around the coffin, writhing and whispering in a dozen languages he had never heard before. His father was somewhere amongst them, teeth bared in expectation.

 

9

VAMPIRE STORIES

 

Henry Foss rolled over with a groan. The long, flaxen grass of the open field rippled around him, hissing back and forth in the wind. For a moment all he could see was navy – pure ink where the sun’s beams had vanished for the day and left the world with a blank canvas of night. Gradually though, the first pricks of light seeped through until he was face to face with a literal carpet of stars.

Blinking back the surprising glare, Henry coughed and tried to sit up – too fast. The world spun a bit, made worst by the infinite carpet of grass rearing up for several feet above him.

“W-what…” he said, ignoring the overwhelming urge to sleep. He could smell a running body of water somewhere to his right – a river? Thick, succulent leaves – some kind of fruit bird – people – the faintest tinge of diesel…

The last thing he remembered was pacing through the cave, not far behind Helen and Nikola when there had been a brilliant flash of light.

This time, Henry lifted his head from the ground gently, letting it adjust to the new altitude before he even attempted to stand and get a better idea of where he was. Instinctively, he felt for his radio.

Helen, it’s Henry – are you there?”

Static – lots and lots of it. It was a long shot at best. She was probably still in the tunnels, well out of radio range of wherever he was.

Henry stumbled to his feet, rising just above the field of grass. It went on for acres – the soft tide, barely a blur on the evening. It was bordered on his left and in front by a dense rim of darkness. Behind him he could see a derelict tractor with a few hanging lights ploughing its way through with a bronze-skinned farmer at the wheel still working and to his right – yes, there was the river. He knew where he was.

No matter how hard he tried, Henry’s mind kept wandering back to The Lost World as he ran through the long grass. Stupid – irrational fear, but he could not shake it and so had no choice but to run harder until he emerged on the muddy bank and was met with the glorious hull of their boat.

“Hola!” Henry exclaimed in absolute joy, when he saw that their guide was asleep across the back seat, basking in the night like some kind of mythical creature. The man did not stir. Henry swung a leg over the side of the boat and clambered in, reaching for the satellite phone. He had been gone for hours.

He dialled the Sanctuary at once to fill The Big Guy in on their situation and check on Will’s condition.

The phone rang out.

Henry returned it slowly to the cradle and considered it for a few minutes with the steady snore of the guide in the background. Shaking his head, Henry tried again, carefully dialling the number. Again, the phone rang out and Henry was left with a sinking worry. Something was wrong. Bigfoot never missed a call, ever.

He was so lost in his worry that he didn’t notice the tour guide behind him wake, cracking open his sun-worn eyes to the night.

*~*~*

A horrible wail scratched through the room with such ferocity that Joe Kavanaugh dropped his flaming torch to the ground and swiftly followed with his hands clasped over his ears to stop them from breaking as he bowed his head to the dirt.

The creatures joined in, hissing with the voice as they moved together around the sarcophagus in a kind of sickly tide. Soon, they were crying too – pawing at the sand with their tapered fingers. Joe, unlike most, had always thought of the sand creatures as the people they were once – but now he saw what everyone else did – their animal nature. Truly, they were some bastardised existence between humanity and the ancient past – one that was afraid.

Finally taking hold of himself, Joe reached for the torch, still burning on the ground in front of him, and scrambled to his feet, backing away toward the large tower of sand in the centre of the room. Without realising what he was doing, Joe started backing up onto it, climbing it as best he could with one hand clutching into the shifting surface.

He was too transfixed by the frightening mass of wailing creatures to realise that he was no longer progressing, merely dislodging avalanches of sand like some kind of bewildered beetle. The room had never seemed so impossibly big. There was just no way conceivably out of it, no way to escape the eternal imprisonment it was designed for.

Suddenly, the flame flicked backwards across his hand. The heat scorched him for a second, before straightening and Joe realised that the rest of the room was dead silent. The sand creatures were parting, breaking away to reveal the hunched figure of their master.

“T – time,” the word nearly died on full-blooded vampire’s lips, he had been asleep so long, “shall keep us, death – pursue us but never,” he clasped his chest as the beat of his heart grew stronger for the first time in several thousand years, “end us.”

The vampire let the words settle. His strength was growing with every moment. He could not believe that his eyes could see again, that his perpetual world of darkness was removed by the unbearable brightness of a few torches. Oh – the world, how he ached to see the arching dunes and the crystal waters of the shore, hold his child in his arms again after – but – then the memories swept over him. His child was dead – all of his people were gone. Lost, slaughtered. He raised his head. Brother, he whispered to no-one, your time is up.

Breaking free of his murderous trance, the ancient vampire straightened up, laying one of his clawed hands lazily on the coffin that had been his tomb. He eyed the sorrowful crowd of half-creatures around him, more beast than vampire as they cowered at his feet and – how interesting, a human flayed out on the sand in front of him, trying to escape.

The vampire tilted his head and lunged through the crowd in several long steps, stopping short of Joe’s terrified gasp.

*~*~*

“Skeletons, dust – ancient ruins,” Nikola picked a small chunk of rock from his hair with utter disdain, “all of my favourite things…”

John’s glower darkened as he dislodged and threw the last mini-arrow to the floor where it lay innocently. “Is he being serious?” he grumbled.

“No…” was Helen’s swift reply, as she began to regret leaving her jacket by the pool. If nothing else, it left her quite extraordinary array of weapons naked to the world.

“Then is it possible to shut him up for a while?” John matched pace with the others and they continued up the main street of the deserted city, three abreast.

“This is worse than those crypts below Rome,” said Helen. “It’s like a ghost city,” she continued, navigating her way around a twisted skeleton. “They’re all still here,” she pointed out a pile of a dozen skeletons or more blackened in a side street. “It’s horrible.” It was clear to her that the skeletons were those of Abnormals, hundreds of them collected and destroyed.

“Reminds me of Pompeii – minus the imposing mountain. Ah, here we go…” John bent to the ground and lightly grazed a footprint with his hand. “Ashley,” he muttered, “casually strolling by the looks of it.”

“She’s about the only thing that’s been here in a while,” added Helen, as another row of bleached bones peaked out from one of the crumbling building’s window.

“This sanctuary,” said John, lifting his arms and with them, the heavily soaked coat, “whatever it may have been once, is gone. I doubt Ashley will find what she’s looking for in a place like this.”

“Rash child,” Helen snapped so sharply that the two gentlemen paused and glanced at each other. Helen was wiping her cheeks quickly, brushing aside a few surprise tears. “Whatever would convince her that this was a good idea?”

John and Nikola were exceedingly quiet behind her, passing dangerous glances at each other, neither willing to betray their part. There was too much at stake for both of them to risk the truth now.

Instead, Nikola cleared his throat and paced ahead of Helen, reaching the large set of doors ahead of them first.

“The intended entrance to the sanctuary,” he said boldly, noticing that one of the doors was slightly ajar – enough for them to slip through into the darkness one by one. Ashley’s footsteps led directly through the gap.

Behind the doors they were back into familiar territory – dark, cold and every-so-slightly damp walls. They were definitely back in the tunnels. Their voices automatically fell to a hush. John, having not encountered the vampire first hand, followed the others’ lead and clicked his flashlight on.

If Helen and Tesla are this nervous, he rationed, then it must be bad.

“Helen…” Nikola whispered in something barely more than a breath on her ear. She looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “If we get caught again – I don’t think our gracious host is going to let us leave alive.”

“Thank you Nikola,” she brushed him away, “I am aware of that.”

His eyes wandered down to Helen’s waist where her pale hand had settled on the handle of a rather sinister-looking knife. It warmed his heart.

*~*~*

She was surrounded by billows of black rock, glistening in the wake of her weak flashlight with something that wasn’t quite water. With the great doors to the city well behind her, she couldn’t help but notice a few skeletal remains brushed against the cave walls. Whatever violence had transpired, it had not been confined to the city.

Ashley backed up against one of the cold walls in the tunnel system and felt into her pocket. There were still several blood samples snuggled in there which she had entirely forgotten about since the first sample had tumbled and smashed, uselessly, over the train line. She wondered now, what had been the purpose of these? They seemed of no use to her now and she was tempted to abandon them completely – destroy them but they had belonged to her grandfather and keeping them was like keeping a little bit of him.

She let them clink against each other, rolling around in her fingers until she expelled a heavy sigh and turned her attention back to Magnus’s journal, flipping it open. Ashley scanned the untidy page for the next set of instructions, hoping that although she had literally fallen from the path, there was some guidance left for her.

There is no greater gift in this enterprise than English manners.’

Ashley frowned. Manners? In a cave? Who was she to be polite to – the bats?

What are you doing here Ashley? She asked herself. It had been a while since she’d been so far out of her depth. At least hunting monsters she knew where she stood – but this, how was she to convince a vampire to help her? More to the point, how to acquire its blood and fill the empty vial in her other pocket?

Hunt it

Her mind mused. Stick to what you know best. Hunt the vampire and try not to kill it.

*~*~*

Two dark eyes bored through Joe’s face like pealing back the skin and though the vampire’s lips did not move, Joe could hear a faint whisper on the air – or in his head, he couldn’t be sure.

What is your purpose here, human?” it asked, still speaking the ancient language.

“I – ” Joe stuttered, and then realised he would have to reply in the same language if he were to have even the slightest shot at surviving. “I came to make a trade,” he said slowly, and with very poor pronunciation.

The vampire snarled in amusement, indicating that Joe should continue.

I resurrected you from your tomb in the hope that you could restore my father to human form.”

The red behind the vampire’s eyes flickered wildly with fascination.

Your father – is among us?” he asked, as the sand creatures crept in closer around them. Several rows back, Joe’s father watched the proceedings dispassionately. The vampire smelt, rather than looked at the mass of half-creatures behind him. A moment later, he smelt the blood relation. “I see…”

I bestowed upon you your freedom,” Joe lowered the torch to a less threatening position.

What you say is true…” the vampire cocked its head to the side. “You should know that not all men are honest, young human, and even less of those are fair. What can be said of men is double for our kind.

Joe fought to keep his breath steady. Maybe he was going to die after all…

But as it so happens I am bound by law to return the favour.” The vampire turned to the crowd and, with one horribly clawed finger, beckoned Joe’s father forward. “Is this your father?”

Joe nodded.

Then he is yours.”

The vampire lowered his claws to Joe’s father’s neck, casually gliding down it leaving an angry red slice that began to drip with scarlet. The man did not flinch, his blue eyes glistened, staring into nowhere without change.

It happened so fast.

The vampire dipped its head and sunk its teeth through the creature’s next. Joe’s father squealed – then gasped for breath as the vampire dug in deeper. The victim’s blue eyes turned glassy and vacant. After a few dying gasps, his body went limp and the vampire let it fall to the dirt.

“No!”Joe screamed, falling to the ground beside the crippled body of his father.

 

10

THE SECOND BITE

The ancient vampire curled his claw and beckoned the half-creatures to follow. A few minutes later, they were gone – escaped from their prison like shadows and back at large in the new world leaving detective Joe Kavanaugh and his father alone in the tomb.

Father…” Joe whispered, cradling the tortured body in his arms. His father was human again but humans were fragile things that clung ever so softly to life. The man was old and withered without the ever-vengeful vampire blood coursing through his veins.

The tomb around them was softer now with its dozens of flaming torches flickering against the wall and the black sarcophagus laid open in surrender. The glassy walls reflected the flames down onto the sand in sad halos where Joe sat.

I never stopped trying…” Joe whispered, rocking slightly with his father. “Never.”

At least his father was human, free from an eternity cowering at a vampire’s feet. Is that not what humanity had spent millennia fighting for? Joe hoped it was freedom that the human race bled for…

My son,” a weak voice cracked onto the air. “…Joe…” the old man whispered, stirring in Joe’s arms.

Joe gasped softly as his father’s eyes opened, pale green and unblinking. It was as if he had not seen the world for thirty years.

A terrible dream…” the old man breathed, gripping Joe’s hand tightly.

Hours later, Joe and his father stumbled from the last of the narrow caves and out into the vanishing light of the desert. The rim of the horizon was starting to glow. Stars peaked through the veils of shimmering air while a few lone jet trails faded.

The remains of a canvas tent tumbled past, swept up in an angry curl of air. Shreds of it caught on the rocks beside Joe and his father, tearing with a loud rip before flapping off in pieces. Sand clawed impatiently at the edges of the decimated camp site.

My god…” Joe breathed in horror at the sight before him. The faces that had wished him well only hours ago were strewn over the ground – fed upon. His stomach lurched at the deep fang and claw marks in the corpses whose eyes were left open in terror. “They killed everything.”

The vampire and his entourage of sand creatures had left nothing alive – not even the camels tied up in the south pen.

We have to get back to the Sanctuary and warn them,” Joe realised, helping his father down the sharp rocks.

The faint flicker of settlement was visible a long way off, catching the last of the light. Joe and his father took one of the Jeeps and headed off on the gravel track, chasing the sun. The sand was already blowing over them, preceding the rise of dunes creeping ever closer to civilisation. The cities may have forgotten the desert but it had not forgotten them.

*~*~*

The Sanctuary of the Moon was not a place to wander.

It was an enormous sprawl of natural caverns, trembling walls of rockfall, mirrors of freezing water that seeped deep into the earth and complex tunnels designed to confuse even the most determined human. Its undoing had left the beautiful archways of stone that spanned between the walls of an ancient promenade in decay. Some of them had eroded, returning to their natural state of rubble while others protruded from the black rock, defiantly hanging in half-broken protrusions.

The ancient vampire could feel the others hunting about in his Sanctuary, scratching from tunnel to tunnel, fumbling about in the darkness. One lone child was drawing close to his private quarters whilst the larger party that he had already warned away once, was heading toward the crypt in the centre of the Sanctuary.

There they were again – soft, hesitant footsteps, slightly uneven as they approached the thin holographic barrier hiding the entrance to his lair. It looked like rock – felt like rock. The technology was an illusion. All the vampire need do was reach out…

Instead, the vampire laid silently against the wall beside and waited. Even from here he could hear the young creature’s heartbeat on the air. Humans, they were so fragile.

Ashley hesitated.

Slowly, she turned on her heel, dragging the torchlight over the wall. Nothing. She cautiously took another step and – and the breathing returned beside her. Ashley faced the wall, trailing her gaze from where it merged seamlessly to the ceiling down to the oddly clean edge it formed with the tunnel floor.

She reached out, grazing her fingertips over the rough surface unable to see the vampire in front of her mimic her action, ghosting his fingertips in front of hers like a twisted mirror.

*~*~*

Helen’s torchlight fell on another pile of rubble and bones.

Look…” she whispered, directing John and Nikola’s attention. They were hardly a few minute’s walk from the ruined city, their progress slowed by Helen’s constant distraction. “Draconis-aelianus, the Ethiopian elephant eater.”

A dragon?” John whispered, looking at the small pile of bones. Obviously this one was an infant.

Like that hideous furry thing you used to keep in your basement?” Nikola started but Helen cut him off as she knelt to the ground, trailing her fingers over the white bone.

These things have been extinct for a thousand years. Goodness, the line of spines on its back is intact.” When the relevance failed to register with the others, she elaborated. “All its brothers and sisters were hunted to extinction for the high quality ivory in their spine. I have some ancient human artefacts made from it. They cost me a small part of my fortune.”

Nothing has changed then… It’s definitely still extinct,” Nikola quipped before he was knocked by John’s rather large, deliberate and imposing shoulder.

You’re very nearly the last of your kind, Nikola. It would be my pleasure to hasten your extinction.” John winked rather disturbingly at Nikola who could do nothing but raise a claw. “This Sanctuary is ruined…” John bent down to the ground, sliding his fingers through the layers of cave rubble until they curled around an ancient knife that had been the source of the creature’s demise.

At least in this, Nikola could agree. “I’ve counted at least three flood lines, an earthquake or two and -” he frowned, his wiry figure edging closer to the wall. He ran his fingers along an ominous crack in the black stone patched over by thick cobwebs. “Gunfire…” he murmured, as his fingers dipped into the small indents sprayed across it.

Helen found one of the cartridges, holding it in her palm. “Muscat shots… Very old gunfire…” She turned to Nikola, tilting her head in a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. “Would it be too bold of me to presume that the reason for the demise of this great sanctuary made it into your research, Dr Tesla?”

She only called him ‘Dr Tesla’ when he was being thoroughly mocked. Tesla – shifted.

It may have touched on – passed across – brushed over…”

Nikola…” Helen levelled her gaze at him.

What can I say?” he shrugged softly. “Cats guarding the pigeons – they got hungry.” A Sanctuary run by vampires? Of course that was going to end in a flurry of feathers.

I thought you liked pigeons?” Helen lofted her eyebrow, prodding him sharply as John took a step closer, narrowing his eyes at the vampire.

He’s making it up,” John hissed softly.

Nikola turned, arms folded. “Yes, I’m making it up,” he admitted theatrically. “How on earth or otherwise would I know? Don’t give me that look – I wasn’t even born when this mess went down.”

Oh believe me,” London’s most notorious murder stooped to look the scientist in the eye. “I will find a way. Somehow, this will all trail back to you.”

Black ink seeped into Nikola’s eyes. That was an incredibly awful scientific principle, not to mention a wholly unfair comment on his character as a gentleman. “I’m confident I can outwit you,” he whispered, too soft for Helen to hear. “I always could.”

Won the game – lost the war, young vamp,” John smirked. Tesla would never get what he really wanted while ever John was around.

What is Ashley trying to do here?” Helen was several paces ahead of them, peering down into the long cave. “She’s got no chance against a full-blooded vampire, has she?”

She’d leave more than a few holes in it,” Nikola replied.

I can’t help but wonder…” Helen let her hand rest on the wall beside her. “My parents spent many months of my childhood in South America – here, in the nearby city. I think my father has been here – in these caves.”

Suddenly, Helen Magnus looked vulnerable.

What if he’s sent Ashley to finish whatever it was that he started?”

*~*~*

Bigfoot dragged himself up the marble stairwell one blood-stained step at a time. Will – well, creature Will had sunk down onto all fours, preferring to crawl slowly over the ground. It was difficult to make his form out. His skin had learned to mimic its surroundings near perfectly.

Will…” Bigfoot whispered, still backing up the stairs.

Will’s skin trembled unsteadily for a moment, the natural scarlet red of sand creature skin flickering into view.

This silent stalking dragged on until Bigfoot reached the top of the stairs. There was a door behind his furry form and beyond that, the rooftop and freedom. Will wasn’t truly interested in Bigfoot – it was the door…

Without warning, Will pounced. His lean body leapt through the air, bouncing off the wall with claws outstretched. He landed heavily on Bigfoot, bringing him to the ground. Bigfoot tried to hold onto Will, keep him inside but he was simply too strong now. Will broke free and pushed the door off its hinges.

The air was beautiful as it hit Will’s face. His golden eyes tracked over he sprawl of city beyond the roof – the endless tunnels that must lay beneath them… He growled, low and deep in something akin to happiness.

Will clawed at the stone floor, setting off at a run. Bigfoot’s cry of protest was lost in the wind as Will scaled the small wall of stone and launched himself off the roof and out into Old City.

*~*~*

This way…” John whispered. He had found something – another smaller tunnel diverging.

Nikola frowned as his feet suddenly found water. Great, the tunnel was half flooded… Helen sloshed up to him, unaffected by the freezing water that was flowing slowly forwards.

Oh yes, let’s all just follow blindly…” Nikola muttered at her. He had been leading, following the scattered writing on the all of the main tunnel. Afterall, he had gone to all the trouble of finding this place, you know, built by his ancestors. Not that he was possessive about these things.

Stop pouting,” Helen whispered, giving him a gentle nudge. “Jealously doesn’t suit your ego.”

I’m not jealous, I’m annoyed,” Nikola muttered, stepping over an ill-placed bolder which turned out to be the decapitated head of an old statue. At least for a little while, he stayed close to Helen. John was further ahead, under the illusion that he was leading. “Helen…” Nikola lowered his voice. “This isn’t the way Ashley came.”

Helen looked at him softly – more like she used to when they were alone. In silent reply, Nikola reached down with his free hand and brushed it gently against hers. His soft touches, however rare, were always disarming…

Helen – here…” John stopped ahead in front of a large, curved wall.

Helen walked away from Nikola leaving him standing alone. He sighed softly – and inevitably followed. He always did.

The wall was a mosaic. Millions of tiny fragments of brightly covered pottery covered the glass-stone, stuck there by some kind of translucent resin. It was a sharp clash of styles; the layout of the wall was distinctly Egyptian with rows of slaves, horses, food and ships faithfully detailing an event but the style – there was no denying the breathtaking realism of the Greeks.

Good heavens…” Helen whispered. The animals in the mosaic looked almost real with their riders whipping them hard to get them to board the ships. It was their eyes that haunted Helen.

It’s a door,” Nikola murmured. He was standing the furthest back, in ankle deep water. “There are numbers, all along the edge.” He pointed to them. “A combination lock by the looks of it.” A very pretty one.

There must be something important behind it to go to such trouble -”

Nikola hissed at John to get him to shush. “I’m reading…”

Helen couldn’t help laughing softly at Nikola as he started muttering under his breath, eyes tracking over the tiny lines of text riddled amongst the frightening images of vampires and humans.

Nikola…” Helen whispered, walking up to him and tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention. He frowned and tried to shoo her away. He was busy trying to translate. “Nikola…” she insisted, tapping his shoulder insistently.

Helen please… I’m trying to – that really is annoying,” he protested as she switched to tugging on his sleeve. “Seriously wha-oh…

Nikola had been so focused on the text that he’d utterly failed to see the bigger picture. Strewn across the otherwise beautiful mosaic was a bloody scene warning all thinking of opening the door. Open this tomb and you’ll end up like the butchered bodies – open this tomb and you’ll release its scourge upon the earth.

A touch melodramatic, don’t you think?” Nikola breathed softly.

Helen couldn’t help her lips curling in a smile. “A distinctly vampire trait, then…”

Nikola frowned as Helen returned to John’s side at the wall. “What are you doing?”

They looked back over their shoulders as they leaned against the wall – hands outstretched. Helen’s eyes were bright with mischief. “Opening it, of course…”

Honestly – people thought Nikola was bad?

11

STORM IN THE DESERT

The wall started to grind against the stone floor.

That’s it…” Helen whispered encouragement to her boys as they grunted and growled, steadily moving the enormous door with an ear-splitting screech.

As usual, the token vampire was right – brute force hadn’t been enough. The entire wall was an intricate combination lock that stumped the other two Oxford majors for the better part of an hour. Nikola had waited patiently, inspecting his claws while they tried every primitive thing they could think of.

Humans…

Nikola…” Helen had finally drawled, calling him forward. With only the very slight advantage of a private collection of ancient texts stolen from the British Museum’s vault, Nikola picked out the numerical sequences hidden in the mural, slid his long, tapered claws into several sets of holes burrowed through the rock and listened to the satisfying ‘click’ of the door unlocking.

Physically opening it regrettably required something a little less demure.

Come on, push harder…” Helen insisted.

By all means, chip in at any time,” Nikola replied airily. There was actually a layer of sweat on his brow – how distasteful. Gods and the dust… don’t get him started on the dust.

Helen tried not to think about the elusive, full-blood vampire lurking about. It had warned them not to return and here they were, raiding his cave like common tomb raiders having some kind of party in his vaults.

Well, in fairness, at the present they were common tomb raiders.

Honestly, if you’re just going to stand there and watch, could you at least be more encouraging?” Nikola gasped, trying but failing to get a better grip on the granite. This was going to ruin his claws.

Helen smirked.

Twenty minutes later, the door was open.

The rock gaped in its wake revealing a void that was presumably a room. Helen stepped forward, shining her torch into the black. Its light tracked up the floor until it scattered over a stone sarcophagus.

No one touch anything…” she whispered, stepping carefully over the threshold and into the room.

Steady on, Indy…” Nikola followed, closely trailed by John and his ridiculously long trench coat. “Step on something here and a wall of spikes tries to impale us.”

It’s not funny, Nikola…” Helen cautioned.

Nikola thought it was, judging from his large, fang-filled grin. Ah memories.

What the devil have we got here…” John asked, approaching more cautiously than the others. Caving had always been their thing, not his.

The devil indeed, according to the entrance foyer – a creature of unimaginable danger, locked away from the world and – oh…” Nikola reached the sarcophagus and frankly after all the paraphernalia at the front, it was rather unimpressive. “I was hoping for more.”

Don’t sulk, Nikola…” Helen warned him, throwing a spare flashlight at Nikola while she stepped forward with a lighter, catching several of the ancient torches with its flame. Their oily mixture exploded into flame rendering the room instantly bathed in light, enough for them to see that it was big and empty with nothing but the rectangular stone slab at its centre. “Bloody hell.”

Nikola slipped the useless flashlight into his pocket. Sometimes he thought Helen used him as a glorified backpack.

There’s no way that’s good…” Nikola said, bending down to get a better look at where the stone sarcophagus had been ripped open. He ran his claws along the crack. It was deep and weathered. “From the inside too…”

Helen picked up a fragment of the broken tomb. “Like alien – but with stone, in an Egyptian tomb – in South America and – “

Totally not like alien…” Nikola shook his head playfully at her, flirting as always. “You don’t suppose this pissed off creature escaped and wreaked havoc on the Sanctuary? It would explain why we’ve found it in tatters.”

A single creature destroyed them?” Helen replied, her hand resting on the capstone. She’d certainly come close enough to that inside her own sanctuary. “The walls don’t elaborate on its abnormality. We have no way of knowing what it was capable of – or what became of it.”

Except…”

John looked to Nikola. “Except?” he prompted. John had been wandering around the remainder of the room but had found nothing but a few spare torches.

Nikola twirled around to face him, arms folded across his chest. “Well, think about it. We’ve got one person here who was around in that time. Someone who remembers it. The vampire…”

I really don’t think it’s a good idea to hunt him down, Nikola.”

Just how many vampires are there?” John sighed. Was the world bloody crawling with them now? One vampire was quite enough for him.

We need to get back to finding Ashley,” Helen whispered. “This place has a dark history that is better kept hidden from the world before it seeps into it…”

Nikola smirked, pacing menacingly around the ruined coffin, leaning on it casually. “Helen… you know as well as I do that a full-blood vampire is too dangerous to leave roaming free. You could offer him Sanctuary.” How many times had she used that line on him?

Helen’s hands settled on her hips, her eyes narrowing at Nikola. “And when did you develop a responsible attitude? Nikola… I’m not kidnapping a vampire for you to study.”

You kidnapped me….”

We discussed this – no vampire species resurrections. The vampires had their time and unless you find a mate-”

John coughed sharply, somewhere between a laugh and disgust.

Nikola had the good grace to look flustered. “Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of saving that pet protege of yours. The one you’re so fond of. If anything holds the key to his survival and unfortunate return to his old, whining self – it’ll be our toothy friend. I’d bet all your best wine, that’s why Ashley’s here.”

John had stolen one of the flaming torches, stalking around the room with it. “A sample of its blood -”

Nikola’s hand waved John to a hush. “It may have nothing to do with his blood. Helen – we need the whole creature if you want to play this game – and somewhere under all that morality, you know I’m right.”

Helen stared back into Nikola’s sharp, blue eyes. Damn, she hated it when he was right. “I should have shot you when I had the chance…” she sighed, shaking her head.

The vampire winked at her. “You missed.”

Tragically,” John sighed.

*~*~*

The doors slammed coldly as they stepped out of the Jeep.

Jesus…” Joe whispered, at the devastation approaching.

Rising behind the ruined airport was a storm. Murky clouds had risen up from deep in the desert to stretch out along the horizon. Stained red, they swirled into a great wave of sand casting a long shadow over the desert that was, even now, creeping over the outskirts of the airport. Joe could hear a whisper of its approaching roar, the vibration making the broken windows in the nearby building rattle and fall onto the ground.

There were people inside the building nailing boards across windows and bolting the doors closed. The hanger was full of planes and cars squeezed in together. Its heavy iron doors were fastened with chains and then abandoned. All that was left in the open was a small aircraft perched on the tarmac like a dragonfly on a lily-pad. The pilot was arguing at the entrance of the airport, glancing nervously at the storm every time he paused for breath. It was obvious they weren’t going to let him park his plane – he’d have to take his chances outrunning the storm.

Joe only spoke fragments of the native language but he approached them anyway, pointing to the plane and flashing what little cash he had left in his wallet. The man didn’t seem interested, brushing him off to resume abusing the airport staff until Joe said two words, ‘Helen Magus’. The man paused, turning slowly. There were a few moments of silence between them in which nothing could be heard but the growing rumble of the sand storm. Finally, the man waved Joe and his father towards the plane, refusing the money.

Came from nowhere…” the pilot grunted, his English broken as they strapped themselves in. Parts of the plane were held together with thick wads of duct tape. Generally, it looked like it had been compiled from war scraps picked out of the desert. “Never seen them at this time of year,” he continued, not bothering with – well, most of the preflight checks that ordinary aircraft went through. There wasn’t much point when the answers would be, ‘broken’ ‘not functioning’ ’empty’. “Fierce bastards, tear this thing apart.”

Joe gripped both his father and the seat. They had to get out of this place. A pure blood, ancient Vampire had been free for two hours and already there seemed to be a terrible power unleashed over the land.

In ancient times, the world sighed for them not because of their fangs but because they could call the desert to their will and tumble cities into dust.

*~*~*

On the other side of the world, the phone rang.

Bigfoot grunted and sidled off the infirmary table leaving a mess of blood and bandages behind him. He balanced the phone in his paw, answering the phone with that same polite, indifference he always did. He was met with static.

Say again…?” he growled.

It was Detective Kavanaugh – little bastard. By the time Bigfoot put the phone down, he was shaking his head. There was a sand-Will on the loose, missing boss with two of the most untrustworthy men on the planet and now, an escaped pure blood vampire.

Begrudgingly, he made a few phone calls to the Sanctuaries based in Africa to stay on the lookout for suspicious behaviour. He didn’t mention vampires… Best they keep that to himself for now. In all Magnus’s years building Sanctuaries around the world there was one piece of information she’d left entirely out of the records – vampires.

*~*~*

Will curled up under the streets of Old City. The train tunnels were cool and dark, perfect for his freshly created body. Despite the aching hunger, he needed to rest, making himself a nest at the side of the track where part of the tunnel wall curved generously. Like a cat, he hid amongst the stones with his dark red skin rippling into grey to match as he closed his eyes.

He still had memories of who he was but that was all that they were – a distant awareness that he had once been something else. He could remember people but they were just names now. Helen Magnus, Henry Foss, Ashley – the Sanctuary itself, none of it meant anything to him. This wasn’t William Zimmerman, no, this was a creature of the sand, like all the others. When he finally woke up – he would feed.

By the time Joe reached the Sanctuary in Old City, his father had grown too weak to walk. A small medical team flitted around them, ushering them through the foyer.

He needs to reeest…” Bigfoot drawled, laying the fragile man onto a bed before wheeling him down the hallways. Joe followed, filthy and dishevel from the rigmarole of getting here. “Few weeks of food and sleeeeep should be enough.”

Bigfoot spent the remainder of the afternoon in the lab, drawing samples of blood from Kavanaugh senior and analysing them.

…it’s a virus,” he grunted, holding up the delicate glass slide to the light. The only other creature in the underground lab that was still awake at this hour was the Sanctuary’s mermaid. She shimmered in the water, her scaled tail never settling on a colour. Gently, she placed the palm of her hand against the glass, tilting her head curiously. Mermaids did not exactly speak but they did have a way of making you aware of their thoughts and without knowing how they did it, you answered their questions.

Hiiiis blood is littered with the carcasses of the things,” Bigfoot continued, turning slightly to the tank. “Whateeever that vampire did, it killed the virus.”

He put the slide down and sighed, staring into the empty lab. On the table in front of him were photographs of Joe’s father, most pointedly of his neck which bared a row of puncture marks – a vampire bite. He nudged one of them with his fur-covered finger.

*~*~*

Henry put the radio down in disgust. No answer from anyone. The cave had rejected him and he couldn’t say that he was surprised – there appeared to be some truth to those ancient stories of vampires and werewolves not mixing and frankly he was mildly insulted. It was a Sanctuary for all – except him. Typical. Oh, finally, the boat driver was awake…

Henry reached for the map, spreading it out on the crate serving as a table to show the tour guide where he needed to go when the man suddenly lurched forward, rocking the boat sharply.

What in the-” but Henry didn’t get to finish as he ducked out of the way of large piece of wood. It hit the map, tearing it and smashing through a small lantern hanging on the boat. The guide straightened up, quickly moving in again.

You’ll make a nice addition to the collection, Wolf…” His words were thickly accented but unmistakable. The man’s eyes were white in the moonlight. He worked for a shamble of an abnormal black market – trading what he could for cash. Usually, he only happened across strays or if he was lucky, his forest traps picked up humanoid abnormals living on the fringe. Tonight, he had himself a werewolf. Pay day.

Not good…” Henry stammered, cornered. There was nowhere to go in the tiny boat except into the black water. Close by, a bird screamed into the night and splashed against the thick reeds along the river bank. Henry didn’t fancy a swim in that water…

The guide brought the blunt handle of a machete down on the back of Henry’s head, sending him to his knees. Henry was dizzy, sharp pain rushing down his spine as he turned to see the driver of the boat grinning in the night air. His teeth were eerily white.

He had no choice but to let the wolf take over, growing to his full height – his clothes tearing away as fur sprouted over his skin and long, sharp canine teeth glinting in the moonlight. Henry growled, swiping at the man who ducked, missing Henry’s paw which went on to shatter the glass windscreen.

Several of the children that Henry had seen playing in the daylight – running beside them had assembled on the bank. They crept up amongst the reeds, watching with hungry eyes the strange beast and man fighting. They knew that their forests were full of devilish creatures – it had always been so. The land of monsters some called it, a place for things of the night to hide.

The boat lurched under the weight of the werewolf causing both of them to stumble and the last lantern to fall onto the deck, shattering and catching alight. The fire ripped along the spilled oil heading dangerously close to the fuel tanks.

Holy shit…” Henry growled – the other man pausing from his attacks to stare in horror. Both of them turned at once, leaping into the water as the boat exploded in a ball of fire that lit up the night.

*~*~*

Ashley stepped back from the wall. Something was wrong. She could feel a tingle in the air, like static electricity running over her skin.

She lifted her weapon, stepping back and pointing it squarely at the wall in front of her. A cold whisper of laughter filled the air as the rock wall flickered into nothing, revealing the ancient vampire.

It was only now that Ashley realised how ridiculous her gun looked. She could empty it into this creature and it would merely straighten its robes and grin back – so she lowered it.

I’m not here to kill you,” she said quickly, with that same measured tone as her grandfather. “I’ve come for your help.”

What is it these days with humans wanting my help….?” the vampire drawled back, his tone somewhere between menace and curiosity. “I could have used your help fifty years ago.”

12

DEEPER INTO THE CAVES

Ashley lowered her weapon, deliberately letting the vampire see the safety click on. She holstered it at her waist, out of sight.

What happened fifty years ago?” she asked carefully.

The vampire retreated, sinking into the cavern and its comforting dark. He was old. Every feature on his pale face had shrivelled to the bone, reflecting the cave-light along sharp, jutting angles. His black eyes were vulnerable. Their glossy domes sat high, accommodating a multi-layered lens which refracted the light differently to humans. The adaptation caused a red glow to leak from them giving him an unfairly sinister disposition. It was easy to see how an ancient culture may have confused them with devils.

A small flicker of electricity licked the cave wall around them with a short snap.

I – I do not remember exactly,” the vampire whispered, his voice cracked. “The city fell. I read of it, scratched into the walls with my very own claws. The memories of that time are gone. I cannot explain it. I must have seen…” He turned away – flashes of something storming through his mind but he couldn’t focus on them.

Ashley shifted uneasily. “Are you the soul survivor?”

If I wasn’t then, I am now.” The vampire dragged his broken claws down the cave wall eliciting a shower of sparks. “The Sanctuary is dead. This dream…” Such a young creature could not understand what he had lost.

I’ve seen the city,” Ashley added softly. “They killed each other. You didn’t kill them, if that’s what you – ”

The vampire wasn’t listening. He stepped forward and lifted his withered hand up to her face. Ashley held her ground as he mimicked the contours of her skin with a sweep of claws.

You are a child of the blood – I can smell it in you.” His head tilted to the side as if she were a curious piece of prey. It was his blood flowing through their veins – a very strange sensation. “The same blood as the woman and that mongrel vampire. What brings you to such depths as to seek my help?”

My friend is sick,” she whispered, her features softening. “He was mauled by something we call a ‘sand creature’ – a person, bitten by a vampire and turned into a mad half-creature. I need your blood to save him.”

The ancient vampire threw his head back in chilling laughter, withdrawing from her as the sound screeched off the cave walls. This human child had wasted her time. There was no cure for the plague.

Go home – forget your friend. He is a slave to the flesh.”

*~*~*

Detective Joe Kavanaugh set the glass slide down beside the microscope. The virus was inactive – as dead as something that was never technically alive could get. He levelled his gaze at it.

So there is a cure.” Joe turned to the sasquatch. The creature was lingering amongst the delicate glassware on the opposing bench, furry paws prodding the odd slide. “There’s hope for Dr Zimmerman, if we can find him.”

And if we can fiiiind another vampire,” Bigfoot drawled. “This did not come from hiiis blood – it’s from his bite. There’s some kind of venom in this sample. I managed to isolate a small sample but hardly enough for Will.”

…the others are trying to collect blood samples. That won’t be enough…” Joe paced around the room, passing in front of the mermaid’s tank. She watched curiously, remaining little more than a silver shadow in the water. “We have to tell them.”

Beeeen tryin’ to reach them for days,” Bigfoot muttered, shaking his head. “They don’ answer their phones.”

How long have they been gone?” Joe moved to the printer, catching another analysis as it printed. Biology wasn’t exactly his thing but he’d spent enough time lurking around the lab at the department to pick up the basics.

They’ve been out of contact nearly three days,” Bigfoot replied. “Magnus must have found somethin’ out there in the jungle.”

I have to go and find her.”

You’re stayn’ here,” Bigfoot growled firmly. “We’ve got to catch Helen’s protege.”

*~*~*

Henry dug his claws into the mud and dragged himself onto the bank. Burning fragments from the ruined boat rained around him, splashing into the water or striking the bank, erupting in tiny grass fires. The smuggler’s corpse floated down stream until something pulled it beneath the water. Henry shivered, dragging himself further into the long grass.

He lay there, staring up at the night sky. The reeds whispered against his fury body, bending and sighing in the wind. The explosions from the boat were dying as it too sank into the dark river. When it was gone, only the grass fires lit the world.

Henry thought about changing into human form – of seeking out the few children hiding not far from him and asking for directions – but there was something about this world that frightened him.

The werewolf rolled over and crouched on all fours, tilting his nose to the air. A village – to his left – boats, cars and houses. Henry could smell them through the smoke.

*~*~*

We’re not equipped to take down a vampire…” Helen shook her head, hunting through her pack. There was precious little in it that could neutralise a creature that powerful.

Good to know,” Nikola flexed his claws.

Nikola, you’re only part vampire. I can bat my eyelashes and take you down.”

That caused the Serbian scientist to stumble mid-strut as he sauntered into the alcove. He was always so dramatic. “Neither of you have considered the obvious.” Nikola received blank stares from both John and Helen. “We talk to him. It. At the end of the day, vampires are rational creatures. Pissed… but still highly intelligent.”

John scoffed.

What scheme are you concocting, Nikola?” Helen straightened up, hands on her hips. “Weren’t you the one rabbiting on about how dangerous ancient vampires are? You’re up to something, I can feel it. You’re always up to something.”

Not everything your protege says is true,” Nikola insisted.

He’s a profiler…”

Nikola grinned, his fangs visible against his lips. “Perhaps I just wanted to spend more time in your company, Dr Magnus.”

Nikola…” she stalked towards him with a scowl on her lips. It was getting airless down here if only because the vampire used it all up on his bite-less flattery. “If I find out that you’ve manipulated us into coming here for one of your pet projects – endangered my daughter – I’m going to clear out your old cell in my basement.”

His grin only got wider. “Me – you – chains… Why Helen, you should have said. Ow.” He rubbed his cheek where she’d slapped him again.

Focus! God.

Nikola’s gaze settled on John, lurking against the cave wall. The man was the very embodiment of nightmare and at the present, amused by Tesla’s rejection.

Tesla ran his fingers through his spiky hair which was tainted by dust. “I can feel the vampire, he’s not far from here.” His cheek was still red when he turned back to the tunnel. “There are electrical fluctuations in the air and they’re getting stronger this way. He can smell us from miles away and evade us easily if he wishes. About our only advantage is – “

A serial killer that can teleport?” Helen interjected helpfully.

I was going to say – a genius.” Nikola pointed at himself. “Come on, Helen…” he added in a whisper, eyeing her hungrily. “We both know who he’s most interested in. How could he resist?”

Helen frowned and then shook her head at Nikola, her stomach flipping unsteadily. “Nikola – no.”

Yesssss…”

He moved towards her until his face was within inches of hers. Nikola tilted his head, lips moving to her ear to whisper. “For over a hundred years we were a world apart and yet I could still hear your heart beat – my immortal…”

Helen’s eyes closed at his whispered words. They felt as if they had fallen from another time. For so many years they’d said nothing, hidden under professional endeavours of cheap insults. Nikola was right. Helen could feel the other vampire like a cold breath of air on the world. He wasn’t like Nikola…

What if he kills me?” she murmured, her eyes opening in time to catch Nikola’s gaze. He was far too close to her, those playful eyes of his dangerous.

I won’t let him.” Opportunistic bastard that he was, Nikola stole a kiss from her neck and headed off down the corridor. “Come along…” he insisted, and continued rattling off geological facts about the cave system.

John watched on, his eyes darker than before – his smile gone.

*~*~*

The flames licked at the sky, ripping from tree to tree as a bundle of fur tore into the village. Its inhabitants were assembled outside, forming a network of water buckets and barn shovels, awaiting the wall of fire.

Henry took the door of the post office with one heavy impact. He tumbled inside, thrashing around on the ground as his fur and claws disappeared back into this skin leaving him naked on the ground.

Urgh… Ow,” Henry rolled onto his side and then used the counter to haul himself back to his feet. People screamed outside as Henry foraged through the desk drawers until he found a satellite phone.

Biggie!” he sank down into the chair with relief when he heard the familiar grunt on the line. “I’m in the middle of nowhere – I need you to track the – what?” Henry leaned forward sharply. “Are you kidding me?”

Bring the vampiiiiire back,” Bigfoot repeated. “We’ll find Will.”

When the line went dead, Henry hugged the phone to his naked chest. It was his only possession in the world.

Bloody hell. I better find some clothes.”

*~*~*

Helen couldn’t take her eyes off the vampire.

Their party of three were heading deeper into the Sanctuary, following a series of neglected tunnels that wound their way down, following ancient streams. Nikola had spent the last hour rabbiting on about the geology of this underground world, taking particular interest in the limestone caves which they passed through every so often. It was a strange mix of nature and carefully cultivated beauty, bleeding together – both equally ravaged by time.

Enough about the rocks,” John hissed, boots splashing through the water at their ankles. There was something about this place that made him uncomfortable – as though it weren’t quite dead yet. “Are we any closer?”

Helen rested her hand against her chest; her heart was beating too fast. It had been so long since she’d felt the darkness resting at the edge of her vision or felt that whispering desire. Succumb… It begged. Kill the vampire. Restore the balance.

She was startled to find Nikola frowning at her, his hand holding her at arm’s length and her knife at his delicate throat.

Wrong vampire…” he murmured, gently helping her lower the knife.

Helen nodded, slurring an apology.

John didn’t understand what was going on between the two of them. There had always been something different about Helen. The Source blood had changed them all but he’d never been able to discover how. She was ageless, at least on the surface but beyond that, she was a mystery. It killed him to see that Tesla knew her secret.

What are you not telling me?” John asked, stopping abruptly. The water rushed by his feet leaving tiny flecks of gold on his pants. “It’s been over a hundred years, I think it’s time I knew.”

Helen and Nikola exchanged looks, neither saying anything.

For heaven’s sake, Helen. You honestly trust Tesla to keep your secrets? He’s a vampire with an ego the size of Mars who’d sell you out for five minutes of fame.”

Nikola remained silent.

He left you,” John continued, “sixty years of silence after you saved his miserable life. God knows I’m not perfect Helen, but he uses you for his own cause. You’re a convenience. A rescue service with a pretty face, bottomless bank account and cellar full of wine.”

There was a long pause, Helen’s gaze locked firmly on John.

Yes, I trust him,” is all Helen would say.

John shifted uncomfortably. “The least you could do is tell me the plan. How do you envisage us walking out of here alive? And what about Ashley – or have you forgotten about our daughter?

Helen reeled around, eyes as dark as John’s.

Either you stay and help or leave, John. My secrets are my own, a hundred years won’t change that just as the years can’t wash the blood from your hands.”

I’m not the only one with blood on my hands…” John loomed over Helen. He was easily half a foot taller than her and strong enough to knock her to the ground with one blow if he chose.

I didn’t kill innocent women-”

No – just people that disagreed with you.” John snapped back before Helen could finish.

Nikola was ignoring their bickering. Something wasn’t right… He could hear whispers on the air that weren’t real, unkind voices murmuring imagined insults, egging them on. They were being played with.

Quiet!” Nikola hissed at the pair, shoving them roughly apart. “Listen… We’re not alone down here.”

13

A WORLD OF WHISPERS

The only thing holding Helen and John apart was Nikola’s firm grip. His black eyes scanned the darkness over their shoulders. He was looking for a creature. Any creature. Dry wind echoed through the caves around him, kicking up his cloak. The Sanctuary felt empty. Hollow. He startled when material ripped against his claws.

Tesla, get your claws off my coat,” John growled, attempting to free himself of the vampire. Tesla held firm – stronger than his slender frame suggested.

Only when the pair of you calm the fuck down…” he hissed. Those two could tear the world apart over the origins of English tea. Personally, Nikola would prefer to argue the merits of coffee though neither conversation warranted the end of life as they know it.

I AM CALM!” Helen screeched – then took a deep breath and had another go at sounding calm. She looked the vampire square in the eyes and whispered, “I’m calm…”

The hell you are,” Nikola tugged her closer until their noses brushed. Helen instinctively turned her head to the side. “We’re standing in the ruins of a city that tore itself apart. I think I’m starting to understand why. Now, if I let you go, do you promise not to kill your ex?”

She pulled a few inches from him. “Nikola…” Helen cautioned, eyes fierce. Her dark hair framed her face in messy tangles. He remembered when they had been lovely shade of blonde.

He sighed and set them free. John put his fingers through the claw-holes in his coat, scowling.

I think I know what destroyed this Sanctuary,” Nikola returned his eyes to the ruins of the Sanctuary. He shifted nervously, fighting the desire to un-sheath his claws. There wasn’t enough light down here – quite an admission for a vampire. “A creature of terrible persuasion.”

From the crypt?” John offered, then added darkly, “The crypt we just opened.”

For once tag along over here is right. According to your field reports, Helen, you’ve encountered abnormals that can make powerful suggestions to the mind before – why not a creature that does it softly? The vampires are history’s collectors, they might have – ”

You’ve been reading my field reports?” Helen interrupted with a scorn. Her gaze paused at the faint outlines of ruined columns and piles of rubble. “A Magoi – of sorts. Or something worse. Do you think it will attack us?”

It doesn’t need to. It felled a civilisation with a whisper. I’m sure it’s perfectly capable of dispatching us.”

If we’re dealing with a Magoi we could very well be standing in an empty room right now.” Helen reached out to touch one of the ruined columns. It felt real enough beneath her fingertips. “We stay together at all times. It’s in their nature to part us.”

*~*~*

At Nikola’s insistence, they also kept a silence as they trudged through the freezing water.

In Helen’s opinion, it was an ill-advised plan. The absence of conversation let her mind wander into dark corners she’d rather leave untouched. Paranoia creeping from the edges of her mind laced with vivid, horrible memories dredged from her soul. Another hour of this would be too long, let alone a day.

Stop – stop…” Nikola hissed. He held out his clawed hand expectantly. “Give me your weapons – come on, all of them.”

Nikola…”

I’m serious, Helen. Immortal or not, I am in no mind to end up embedded on the wrong end of your hunting knife – JESUS!” Nikola’s eyes went wide.

There it was, hovering behind Helen’s shoulder, using its sharp claws to hang from the roof. It’s skeletal hand was poised near her throat, ready to wrap its fingers and claws around her skin.

Nikola pushed Helen sharply. She crashed into the shallow water leaving Nikola to face the creature. Terrible grey skin hung off it’s jagged bones; the flesh barely alive. It opened its mouth displaying row upon row of fangs as it levelled a sharp hiss at him. Nikola lunged, claws drawn and fangs gleaming.

It evaded him.

Nikola cracked his elbow on the sharp rocks beneath the surface of the water, landing beside Helen.

What’s gotten into you, Nikola?” Helen growled, perplexed. Blood dripped down Helen’s forehead. The nasty cut had already started to heal.

Nikola’s thrashed around in the water, looking wildly for the creature. “You’re seriously telling me that neither of you saw that?”

John was equally unmoved. “I think it might be you going mad, old boy. Not us.”

The vampire scrambled to his feet, flinging himself at the darkness. He scanned his torch over every crevice of the roof corner behind the crumbled columns. “We’ve got to get out of these tunnels and back into the rooms,” he insisted. “It’s hunting us down here.”

What is hunting us?” Helen shook the water off her gun and re-holstered it. “Nikola, we didn’t see anything.” The hell she was surrendering her weapon.

Claws – withered looking body – bit like a bat with a bad attitude?”

We’re here to find the vampire,” John rescued Helen’s torch from the water. “Can we stick to one devil at a time please?”

Trying to capture an ancient, hungry vampire was the least of Nikola’s worries. He couldn’t get those cold eyes out of his mind. Whatever it was, it had been down here in the dark for a long time and now it was waiting for them.

It’s in your mind, Nikola,” Helen tried to brush some of his wet hair out of his eyes. “It’s playing tricks on you – making you see things that aren’t here. You have to concentrate on what’s real.”

My mind is perfect,” he growled, storming away from her.

The tunnel turned and headed back onto dry land. There was more light here and the narrow walls of the man-built passageway gradually turned into a corridor.

‘Nikola…’

The voice unfurled in his mind, calling him. His mother’s voice. Nikola looked up to the stone ceiling but of course, she was not there. Those grey eyes had left him long ago.

Watch it, Tesla!”

Nikola bounced theatrically off the mass murderer’s back. The vampire stepped aside, straightening his damp cloak without an apology.

We’re here. According to the blue-prints in your notes, this should be the entrance to the living quarters – hopefully where we’ll find our vampire.”

The entrance to the – I never had any blue-prints in my notes!” Nikola frowned. Helen was unfolding a water-logged map, holding it against the wall. John leaned over her shoulder, nodding. “Give me that!” Nikola snatched it away and held it up to the light.

Nikola!” Helen hunted after him, retrieving it. “Please, you’re starting to worry me.”

That’s not my map, Helen,” he insisted.

Henry printed it before we left, said he found it buried in your secret archives.” She shook her head at the vampire, then flashed her torch into his eyes. He ducked away, glaring. “Your eyes are dilated.”

It’s dark.” And now he couldn’t see.

You’re ill.

You’re the one playing with an imaginary map.” Nikola stalked toward the door and pushed. It opened.

What’s in there?” John asked.

Living quarters…” the vampire muttered.

*~*~*

Ashley ducked, sliding down the wall as the vampire’s claws scraped through the rock above her. Granite dust stung her eyes. Tears ran down her cheeks as she kicked forward, striking the vampire’s shins. He tumbled backwards in shock, rolling away in a shadow of cloth. Ashley rolled as well, finding her feet and taking off through the corridors.

A sharp crack of electricity chased her. Blue light flared for a moment, then died. Again. Again. It drew closer as she tripped down a rotten set of stairs and hit the stone floor. Her knee cracked but did not break.

Up!” she hissed at herself, dragging her body away in time to evade a fan of claws.

The vampire had turned, taking her by surprise. One minute they were discussing her grandfather and then next his eyes were red, his fangs salivating at the sight of her. He’d lunged at her neck but she was too fast.

Her torch slid free of her grip. She had to leave it, flying further down the ancient corridors. Soon the darkness was absolute save for the occasional flare of electricity. She reached out, letting her fingertips brush against both sides of the corridor as she ran.

It was behind her, dragging its claws along the stone.

Never trust a vampire. Never trust a bloody vampire. Isn’t that what her father had said? She remembered her mother in Rome. Tesla was meant to be one of her oldest friends and yet, for a moment he’d turned on her too.

She lunged forward when its claws caught her jacket. The test-tubes inside her pocket rattled dangerously against each other as the material ripped straight through and she was free again.

*~*~*

God god, there it was.

Henry tilted his head to take in the wall of black rock, arching up over the forest like a ghastly wave. The mist swirled around his waist, hiding the ground entirely. The first rays of sunlight struck his skin. It was the beginning of an angry dawn. New light was stretched by banks of smoke turning it crimson and gold. It was obscured by a stain of smoke from the village.

Let’s try this again,” Henry whispered, morphing into his wolf form. He vanished into the mist, padding silently over the ground and into the mouth of the Sanctuary.

Henry felt his claws slide as rock replaced dirt. They tapped against it, sliding uneasily. He didn’t like this place. It stank of death and dust. A few tunnels in he turned a corner and backed away. There was a pit of bodies, swept into the natural depression and left to rot into bones.

He growled, scaring a few rats.

Henry

Henry looked up, searching the darkness He could have sworn that he’d heard Helen call his name.

Henry – over here…”

No, he’d definitely heard Helen. Her voice was coming from somewhere deeper in the tunnels.

*~*~*

Someone’s coming – in quite a hurry.” Nikola looked toward the door. “It’s Ashley.”

Helen turned. “Ashley…”

Mum!” The blond girl fell into the room. She was drenched, covered in dirt and cuts with her hair tied back in a matted pony tail. She pushed herself off the ground, stumbled towards her mother and threw herself into her arms.

Helen drew her arms tight around her daughter, burying her head against her shoulder. “My little girl,” she whispered.

John ducked his head out the door and eyed the tunnel suspiciously. He found it empty but closed the door anyway.

I’m sorry…” Ashley whispered.

Don’t you ever do that to me again,” Helen murmured, kissing the top of her head.

Over her mother’s shoulder, Ashley’s eyes met her father’s. He shook his head. Neither of them would ever tell Helen what really happened all those years ago.

There’s no cure,” Ashley pulled back gently from her mother, wiping her face with what remained of her sleeve. “I found the vampire – begged him to help me – but he just laughed…”

Is that who’s chasing you?” John asked. Ashley nodded. “We can’t stay here – we’re cornered. This whole Sanctuary is a giant maze.”

Perhaps the vampires never solved the blood disease,” Nikola added cautiously. “It was the Praxians that unleashed it on them and this is an ancient vampire, from before the complete fall of the empire. He probably knows little, if anything of the modern world.”

He’s crazy, mum,” Ashley whispered. “One minute we were talking and the next – he just turned on me like I was some kind of snack.”

He’s hungry…”

That’s enough, Nikola,” Helen said quietly.

We should leave while we can,” John motioned to the door but Nikola stepped in front of him.

We can’t leave without the vampire. Remember why we’re here, Helen. Your protege will live out his life as a cursed sand creature if you walk away now. This vampire is old, all of us could take him if you’ve still got those silver-tipped tranquillisers you’re so fond of.”

Are you hurt?” Helen asked. Ashley shook her head. She handed her daughter another clip for her gun.

I’m all right,” Ashley nodded.

Nikola inspected his claws. “Are we ready? Remember – we need this one alive,” he levelled his gaze at John, who lifted his hands innocently.

Alive – as you command…” John mocked.

There was a sharp crack of lightening and then something that sounded like thunder rumbling down the corridor outside.

Here he comes…” Nikola whispered.

Ashley shifted, checking her gun. Helen withdrew a slender gun from her holster and started sliding silver-tipped bullets into the shaft. Nikola tilted his head, watching her closely. It always worried him that she kept that particular weapon close – as if she didn’t entirely trust him.

John lingered at the door – a butcher knife clutched in his fist.

Ready?”

14

SILVER DREAMS

Ready,” Helen nodded, clicking the last silver-tipped bullet into place.

Electric light flashed outside the door, branching wildly along the corridor in front of the vampire. He was starving and old. He could smell the blood, fresh and warm and he craved it. Gods to taste again – to feel again. His oath seemed meagre in the face of hunger.

The ancient vampire didn’t see Nikola pressed against the wall beside him. The young vampire hit him hard across the back of the neck, sending him stumbling to the floor with an angry growl, fangs glistening and wet.

Foolish child!” the ancient one screeched, dripping silken venom into the dirt. He turned on Nikola, long claws going straight through Nikola’s chest, dragging the young vampire up the wall with a trail of blood. “Stay out of my way.” He tossed Nikola aside into the shadows.

Nikola hit the floor to the sound of his left leg snapping. The bone shot through the skin. “Son of a…” he growled, looking down in horror.

John was next, ducking under the vampire’s sweeping claws and delivering a powerful hit to his chest. Then again, slamming his knee up into the vampire and taking him down to the ground with a quick succession of powerful hits. Ashley swung down from the ceiling, firing off two carefully aimed rounds into the vampire’s shoulders.

The bullets hissed into the vampire’s flesh, silver leaching into his blood. He reached up, cold blood running down his wrists. It was almost black.

Forgive – me?” the vampire whispered, feeling an ice take hold of his blood. Dark eyes closed, his withered body giving way to a deep, dreamless sleep.

Helen, John and Ashley stood over the bloodied vampire.

Piece of cake,” Ashley grinned, slipping her gun back into it’s holster.

We need to get him on a plane, fast. Let’s pack up and get out of here,” Helen whispered, kneeling down to restrain the vampire with ties. She looked up at a soft growl from the corner of the room. “You all right over there?”

Nikola scowled. “Oh yes, just peachy,” he hissed, pushing the bone back into his leg with a cry of pain. He held it there as his skin healed over. That hurt. “What about your puppy dog?”

Henry’s here?” Ashley asked, smiling a little.

He’s already en-route back to Old City,” Helen replied. “He checked in with Biggie a few hours ago. We’ll meet him back at base.”

Nikola limped over to the others looking paler than usual. Ashley offered him a sympathetic look. “Nasty – dude,” she nodded at his leg.

*~*~*

‘The plane’ turned out to be a helicopter picking its way through the mountains. The heat had burned off all the mist leaving a clear divide between the dark green expanse of jungle and pale blue sky. Nikola carefully eyed the rises and fall of the mountains as though looking for patterns in the chaos.

Penny for your thoughts…?” Helen asked, sitting opposite him. John and Ashley were chatting and the vampire was tied up in the cargo.

Nikola didn’t turn towards her, preferring his current view of the ancient world.

Doesn’t it bother you?” Nikola replied quietly.

Helen frowned, tilting her head. “What?”

Why did he stay there, starving in the darkness for thousands of years… Something was keeping the vampire there, Helen.”

She shrugged. “Perhaps you can ask him later, if it bothers you so.”

Nikola was quiet for a moment, tapping his claws against the glass. “Perhaps I will…”

*~*~*

Henry padded over the stone floor, leaping from side to side to avoid the rubble of ruined columns. There was water seeping from the walls, coating the floor in an ankle deep, freezing river that tumbled down stairs and trailed off into the darkness.

He had decided to remain in wolf form, covering ground quickly as he chased the echoes. Helen was here somewhere, he could hear her voice getting softer.

He barked, leaping up onto a marble block. Stretching out in front at the base of the ruined city was a deep, black lake. It was walled by a smooth, marble capped rim with glowing symbols that lit the room. There were great swirls of golden dust curling over its surface, moved by the deep, freezing currents like ribbons destroyed galaxies. The enormous door loomed behind – its ghastly figures as dead as the city.

Henry crossed the city and strutted along the marble wall, sniffing the air. The world had gone quiet again. His head lifted. Something was in the water on the far side. Henry barked.

Henry…” the voice whispered.

He broke into a run, skidding over the marble until he found a figure struggling in the water, slipping deeper into darkness. Helen’s long hair was plastered to her skin, her eyes wide and frightened. She was pale like a vampire, her strength failing as she saw the werewolf appear.

Help,” was all she managed to murmur. Helen didn’t even have the strength to reach out to him.

Henry curled his claws over the marble edge and took hold of Helen’s coat in his jaws. He pulled, tugging her out of the water and onto the dirt. She stroked his soft fur, closing her eyes as the wolf laid over her. All she knew was warmth as the wolf wailed softly.

Helen had been laying in the water for days.

*~*~*

Doc?” Henry, dressed and sitting beside a warm fire, brushed his hands over Helen’s cheek again. “Come on now, I saw you stir,” he whispered.

Helen groaned, opening her eyes. She tried to shield them from the firelight but the warmth got the better of her.

Thought I lost you there for a while,” Henry added, helping her to sit up.

She pressed her hand to her forehead in a futile attempt to stop the throbbing pain. “Where are the others?” she whispered, reaching for her gun – but Henry had everything laid out and drying on her coat.

No idea. They were here, several days ago by the smell of it. I found you alone,” he added quietly.

She accepted the heated water, sipping it carefully.

Something tried to kill me,” she whispered. “John, Nikola and I – we came under the door,” she pointed to the enormous structure that had once been the city’s defence against the world. “When I was under the water something latched onto my legs. It pulled me deeper, hooking me onto something beneath the water.” Helen looked away with a shiver. “I thought I’d drowned,” she whispered. “The next thing I remember, I was floating on the surface.”

Helen looked morbidly at the water, wondering if the others were still beneath its surface. Henry shook his head.

They definitely went through the city,” he whispered. “I’ve smelled them up in the tunnels.”

She frowned at once. “Nikola and John continued without me? No…”

Come on Doc – a vampire and history’s most notorious murderer?”

You better believe it, Henry,” she replied seriously.

Several hours later, Helen had scavenged a pair of torches from the outer walls of the city. She lit them from Henry’s fire and handed him one.

This place is huge,” Henry whispered, creeping up the main street with Helen. “And seriously creepy,” he added, passing more bleached skeletons.

What does this remind you of – Prague?”

That was a crypt,” Henry shivered.

Helen shrugged, that grin of hers stretched over her lips. “Bones, ruins – torches,” she waved hers about playfully. “Come on, those were the days, Henry.”

Hey – it was my first tomb. You took Ash and I out for a family outing. I thought we were getting ice-cream but no. Creepy dead things.”

And a giant lizard,” Helen added proudly.

Yeah – and that. Nice parenting touch.”

You called it Frank,” she smiled softly.

Well… He needed a name.”

Frank was a girl.”

Henry looked utterly guttered. His childhood robbed. “But…?”

She had two clutches of eggs while you and Ashley were at university. Oh that is unfortunate…” Helen paused, leaning into one of the ruined buildings. “It’s all right,” she brushed Henry off when he tried to tug her back. “It’s been here for hundreds of years, I’m sure it’ll survive me.”

Helen stepped into the crumbling building, avoiding the pair of skeletons huddled in the corner, their heads scattered on the far side. “Don’t you find it strange, Henry? Every one of these creatures has been killed violently – by each other – and yet the city shows no sign of invasion. If it were Conquistadors, all this would be gone,” she ran her hand along a gold embossed border in the wall. “Oh…”

Shit…” Henry finished for her. “Those – look familiar.”

They both tilted their heads up at the roof to see three perfect, white cocoons nestled against the stone. Helen bravely prodded one with her torch. The silk threads unfurled in the heat, falling to the ground and with it a pile of bones.

Dead,” she whispered. “It’s far too warm for Magoii to reproduce down here – but not enough to kill a full grown.”

I really hate those things,” Henry sighed, kicking some of the silk cocoon.

Now now Henry, what have I taught you?”

Henry rolled his eyes. “That even the most dangerous Abnormals have a right to exist,” he dutifully repeated the words Helen had drilled into him as a child.

Even Magoii. We have no idea how long these things can live but preliminary work by the Russian Sanctuary suggests they could have lifespans of hundreds of years, especially if they are left to hibernate.”

How many do you think are still down here?”

Helen looked carefully at the cocoon shell. “This could have come from a single Magoii. Come on, we better find out what happened to the others.”

Helen and Henry followed their tracks through the ancient sanctuary. After nearly a day of crawling through tunnels and wading in freezing water they realised that this place was completely dead. There was no life left here at all and whatever dream had started inside these walls had died here.

Shall we check in with the Big Guy? Maybe have him order us a nice private jet?”

Helen shook her head. “I don’t think so, Henry. We’re going the long way home this time.”

*~*~*

Nikola was milking every last ounce of sympathy out of his injury, limping toward Helen’s wine rack. He ran his claws over the dusty bottles, making a soft tapping sound. Truthfully, he’d expected her to stop him by now or at the very least issue him a warning in the form of a bullet to the back. Instead, his old friend was oddly absent, presumably down in her basement playing with the ancient vampire.

He forced himself not to be jealous, drowning those destructive thoughts in another Bordeaux.

Nikola set a clean glass on the window sill, uncorked a fresh bottle with his claw and tilted it over the crystal edge. Sand poured out of the lip, tinkling against the glass.

The bottle smashed against the floor, red wine splashing over Nikola’s shoes. He looked at his glass again.

Wine.

I’m losing my mind…”

15

SILK

Nikola knelt down, soaking the spilled wine up with a cloth. He was embarrassed by the mess, carefully attempting to draw the stains out of the rug with varying success. The remaining shards of bottle were collected in his palm until Nikola returned to his feet, relieved to see the damage mostly alleviated.

His nerves remained frayed.

With a great deal more care, he fetched himself another bottle and retreated to the safety of the sofa, lounging in front of Helen’s fire to think. He was dwarfed by the marble mantle, ironwork chandelier and tapestries that carpeted the walls.

Nikola’s mind was his greatest asset and the only thing in which he had absolute faith. If it was unravelling then he was lost. There were many things that Nikola could endure – idiocy was not one of them.

Reason your way out of it,” he told himself firmly, taking a firm swig of his wine straight from the bottle. “What do you know?”

He smirked, licking his lips.

That this is cheap wine.

What’s the matter with you?”

Nikola sneered at the interruption strutting into the office. Joe Kavanaugh was not his favourite person in the world although he had to give him credit for single handedly unleashing a vampire plague upon the Earth. Nikola would have gone for something more refined than a den of diseased half-breeds but it was a step in the right direction. Maybe. Only time would tell whether humanity would find shackles again.

This is Helen’s office,” Nikola replied dryly, as though he were the only other creature allowed to inhabit it.

Oddly enough, I noticed,” Joe kept an even tone with the moody vampire. “Actually, it’s you I came to see.”

That was even worse. Nikola twisted his lip up in disdain, downing another sip of wine. “How unfortunate.”

Joe’s look was one of infinite patience. “I was hoping to enlist your help in the search for Zimmerman. Ashley and Henry are following a lead in the subway -”

You mean the hunt?” he corrected. “No, I think not. When and if you manage to find Helen’s protege I will endeavour to return him to his former, pitiful state as per my arrangement with Helen.”

How very generous of you.”

Believe me, this is not an exercise in charity.” Nikola had his reasons.

Joe cast his eyes over the array of artefacts littering the side tables. Helen was a collector at heart and in true Victorian form she liked to decorate her world with each conquest. She wasn’t half as noble as she pretended to be.

I’m surprised,” Detective Kavanaugh added. “I thought you’d be the first in line to interrogate the full-blood vampire downstairs. Isn’t he what you’ve been searching for all these years?”

Nikola’s look was one of disdain. Not only was his business private, he resented Kavanaugh’s intimate dealings with the ancient ones, experiences which greatly exceeded his.

Our ancient friend is heavily sedated and I doubt Helen will wake him until her precious protege is well.”

And you are perfectly capable of biding your time.”

Something like that.” Claws tapped against the bottle.

Kavanaugh wasn’t finished.

And you have no designs on my father either, then?”

Nikola made an inhuman sound that could have passed for laughter. “The half-ling? Ex-half-ling actually… From what I’ve read of your report he spent most of his last four decades in a trance with little or no memory of either his cave or the vampire he kept guard over. No. Unsurprisingly I have no interest in him.”

That made the Detective feel more comfortable, sinking into the cushions, enjoying the warm glow of the fire.

You’re still here…” Nikola glared.

I’m still here.”

Nikola sighed tiredly and set the bottle of wine down with a clunk. “Are you going to make me guess?”

Actually, it’s easier if I show you.”

*~*~*

Al’right, Doc?”

Helen held her head between her hands. She could hear several heart beats in the world now – three of them clashing against each other inside her mind. Too many vampires. The balance had been lost with the awakening of two more. Nikola and the ancient one from the Sanctuary of the Moon were closest. She’d know Nikola’s heart anywhere.

I’m fine,” she lied, laying back against the car as it wove its way through Old City. She had not felt like this since Oxford.

Are you going to tell me why we’re not going home?” The Sanctuary was several blocks behind them.

We can’t go home yet, not if I’m right.”

You’re starting to worry me…” Henry turned to her as a downpour smashed against the car’s windows.

Nikola and John would not have left without me. I suspect they brought more than our souvenir vampire back with them.”

The Magoi – bloody hell.”

She tossed him a newspaper folded open to an article.

‘MISSING: The Suspected Trade of Old City’s Homeless’

‘…in the last week a suspected four people have vanished from slums around the city. Well known in their underground world, police have been unable to account for these sudden absences. The Town Hall is opening its doors this evening in a bid to offer shelter for the easy prey of what many suspect to be a human trafficking ring…’

Henry closed his eyes. “Will…” was all he said.

The Magoi will want to go home but it’s desire to migrate is going to interfere with our effort to save Will. Once we enter the Sanctuary we’ll have no way of telling who is real. The less people in there the better. I don’t want my Sanctuary to end up a pile of rubble and bone.”

Doc…” Henry added quietly. “Are we going to kill it?”

It’s too dangerous to live.”

We don’t really know anything about them, do we?”

In a hundred years we might be intelligent enough to have a conversation with them,” she replied, a dark shadow over her features. “I hope this city is worth the life of one Magoi.”

*~*~*

A gunshot rang out in the tunnel. It was absorbed by the distant rumble of a subway train, trundling through the dark.

A body fell from the ceiling. It landed with a crunch on the gravel in front of Bigfoot.

Ashley knelt down, nudging the sand creature with her boot as its body shimmered back into the visible spectrum. It was dead.

How many more of these do you think there are?” she whispered, standing up and re-loading her gun.

No ideaaaa,” Bigfoot whispered, his eyes searching the tunnels ahead. “Will has been down here for days – whatever he doesn’t kill is turned.”

There’s going to be a plague of these things.”

They worked their way through the tunnels leaving a trial of bodies for the other teams to pick up. This was getting out of hand. “We may need to contact some of the other Sanctuaries.”

Your mother wouldn’t like that,” Bigfoot replied. “She’s gone to great lengths to keep the truth of vampires from the world. They’ll ask questions when they see the fangs.”

The one Abnormal she hides…” Ashley whispered. “I used to think that the Abnormal world was a dark place but these last few weeks have shown me something else.” She paused as she climbed up onto an abandoned platform, helping Biggie up. “It’s mum’s world that is dark. I barely know her.”

Something their claws against the concrete. Ashley and Bigfoot turned, panning their flash lights over the walls.

Will sank away from the halos of light.

This world made your mother,” Bigfoot replied softly.

They both prowled closer, weapons raised and their torches sweeping back and forward. “There’s something she’s not telling me.”

Her torch caught a pair of golden eyes.

Will…”

*~*~*

Nikola stood in front of the freezer in Helen’s main lab looking greatly put out. He folded his arms crossly, reading the sign taped to its sad, stained surface.

‘OUT OF SERVICE – please use freezer on Basement Level 2’

The vampire shrugged. “So? What am I supposed to do, fix it?”

It’s not broken,” Joe replied, stepping forward. He placed his hand against the door’s surface. It was cool – the gentle hum of the freezer’s engine steady like a pulse.

Someone forgot to take the sign down, honestly, did the wolf put you up to this? I have a gnawing feeling that I’m being purposely annoyed.”

Henry’s still on a plane.” Compared to the psychotic criminals Joe was accustomed to, the vampire had a long way to go in petulance. “Ah, but that’s not the really cool bit, Doctor Tesla – pardoning the pun.”

Nikola groaned as Joe reached up to where the sign was and went straight through it. The surface was smooth – entirely sign free.

Nikola swayed back, staring at the empty freezer door. He was seriously starting to think that there were a few loose wires between his eyes and brain.

Ah, now I have your attention,” Joe whispered, lowering his hand to the handle of the freezer. He gave it a decent tug but the door refused to budge. “Now, I don’t know about you but I’m not particularly comfortable with objects coming and going from reality.”

It’s the Magoi,” Nikola whispered, feeling a cold shiver run down his back. “It must be here – it has to be.” The vampire turned on Joe with a suspicious glare.

What? Hey – no…” Joe lifted his hands innocently. “I don’t even know what a – what did you say it was?”

Magoi,” Nikola growled.

That. I have no idea what it is.”

If nothing else, Nikola doubted the Magoi would be pointing out things it had tried to hide so he gave Joe the benefit of the doubt. “Obviously it doesn’t want us to get into this freezer – so that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

It was not easy and after an hour of prodding, bashing and general abuse of the freezer door, they discovered that it was not actually locked. The mind was easy to manipulate, especially for an ancient Magoi.

Flustered from exertion, they pushed open the door and were met with a thick mist of frost. Joe waved it away from his face, squinting through the freezing air. Their sweat shattered as droplets of ice on the floor. “What, in the name of god, is that…”

Nikola inched toward the seven foot bundles of silk. They glistened in the frosted air, beads of ice adoring the fine threads like jewels. There were three cocoons stuck to the far wall closest to the air ducts with a faint shadow of something moving inside each one.

Baby Magoi,” Nikola replied, voice catching. “What a nightmare.”

We should go to Helen,” Joe whispered, but Nikola caught his arm sharply, claws out.

No. We don’t go to anyone,” he growled softly, as though afraid the cocoons would tear open any minute. “First, we shut this freezer down then work out what the hell is going on. Anyone in this Sanctuary could be a Magoi – anything you see. You trust your hands and nothing else, understand?”

*~*~*

Will clawed straight up the wall, sticking to the ceiling like an oversized gecko, hiding behind the shadows of steel thick beams. His skin rippled from crimson to grey rendering him invisible.

Shit!” Ashley hissed, looking up at the dark void above. She switched her gun to stun mode and started pacing forward, tilting her head sharply trying to catch a glimpse of the sand creature. “He’s completely turned.”

Yeah, reeeeeal little piece of work,” Bigfoot growled, moving to the opposite side of the tracks. “Tried to rip me in shreds before.”

Five minutes until the next train,” she warned, stepping carefully between the tracks. The rumble of the train was already shaking the gravel around them. “I don’t want to lose him again.”

Ashley moved fast and light through the tunnel. She used the side wall as protection and kept her head up to the ceiling. Damn these things were quiet. Her torch light was obstructed by a column of dust wafting down from the ceiling. She took a shot.

Missed it,” Bigfoot hissed from the other side of the tunnel.

Yeah, but not by much,” she replied, lifting her gun again.

This time she took three shots – chasing the flurries of dust. Her last shot hit Will on the back of the leg. He let out a screech of pain, scratching frantically at the roof before falling between the tracks. The thunder of the oncoming train started to roar like a wave building up against the reef. Bigfoot grabbed the semi-conscious sand creature by one of its thrashing limbs, dragging it over the tracks.

Hiiiit it again!” he yelled.

Will twisted and writhed, scratching at Bigfoot’s furry hand. Mid run, Ashley pulled the trigger again and the creature became a dead weight.

One minute!” she hissed, picking up the pace. “Platform’s not far.”

Bigfoot lumbered along with Will’s unconscious body. Ashley reached the platform before him, throwing her gun up over the edge before vaulting over the cement barrier. She laid on her stomach and took Bigfoot’s gun first – then started to haul Will up. He was visible again – his crimson skin heavily scarred already.

Come on, hurry up!” she urged, feeling the wind whip her hair up.

Too old fo’ this,” Bigfoot muttered, barely managing to get his enormous body clear as the express train rocketed through, its horn blaring angrily.

The sound of slow applause filled the platform. Ashley frowned – then turned to see Henry and Helen standing shoulder to shoulder – Henry applauding with a smirk on his lips.

Ashley rolled her eyes at the closest thing to a brother she’d ever get. “Two vampires – two days, count says I win.”

Henry shook her head. “Nah – I brought mum home; trumps a vampire and half-vamped-protege every time.”

What on earth are you talking about?” Ashley slid her gun back into its holster.

Helen was grinning at her daughter – only just fighting the urge to rush over and take her into her arms. She hadn’t seen her in over a week. “Let’s get Will somewhere secure – then we can talk.”

*~*~*

It was perfect. Transparent, tightly bound tubes danced under the glass slide. Nikola peered through the microscope, increasing the magnification again. Millions of tiny hairs appeared, interlocking like velcro – terrible, grotesque claws binding the silk together.

Nikola straightened up slowly, his hand shifting to his hip, the other resting on the edge of the table for support. His lab was meagre in comparison to the rest of the house but it was the safest place to be. Joe was standing by the window, leaning against the sill as the sun started to set over the city behind him.

This will change the world,” Nikola announced, holding up the glass side. The fragment of Magoi silk was difficult to make out except when it caught the sunlight and shone pure silver. “Darwin’s spider, eat your your heart out. Inch by inch this is the strongest material in existence.

Joe didn’t look so impressed. He’d prefer not to fawn over a creature that was trying to kill them. “I’m not sure that farming Magoi is high on our priority list, Tesla.”

Nikola shook his head impatiently. Mortals were just so … preoccupied with the present.

I don’t think that you quite grasp the material point,” his fangs peaked out. He was about to launch into a brief history of natural substances that changed the course of human history when Joe held up both hands.

You’re not going to be making any more world altering discoveries if you’re dead,” Joe pointed out bluntly.

Nikola sighed and set the slide down. “Producing those offspring would have used a great deal of energy. It’ll need to feed – it’s probably started on the abnormals already – possibly even the staff.” Nikola strutted over his desk drawer. He pulled out a couple of prototype handguns. “Combination electric stunner and laser pulse. The pain of the small burn is enough to get the attention of medium sized prey while giving their nerves a bit of a work over.”

This is what you do for Helen…?”

From time to time. Depends how quickly I run out of money, really… We’re going to stun everything and anything walking the hallways and start making good use of the cells.”

16

DARWIN’S SPIDER

…we should have started with someone else…” Joe whispered, pressed up against the wall.

Quiet!” Nikola growled under his breath. Damn humans.

The vampire tilted his head, peering through the guest room’s battered doorway. John Druitt’s immense form was stretched out on the floor, sprawled over the rug like some great feline after a feed – presumably asleep. Odd but to be fair, John had never displayed normal behavioural patterns.

Joe leaned against Nikola’s shoulder. “I know a lot of detectives that would give their right arm to hang that man – the Ripper – most evil man in history.”

Would you stop your prattling,” Nikola turned back, flicking Joe off his shoulder with an impatient glare. Humans were dreadful at stalking. “Firstly, even if you successfully marched old Whitechapel down to HQ – which better men than you have failed to do,” he added pointedly, “there’s not a lot you can do with someone who committed crimes over a century ago.

Secondly, starting in 1958, Mao Ze-Dong oversaw the murder of seventy-eight million people; Hitler raked in twelve of his own countrymen and three million Russians on the side. Leopold II, Stalin… “ Nikola trailed off, hands waving theatrically about.

One hundred million died in the Taiping rebellion, one and half slit their own throats in ancient Mexico for a religion that left little in its wake save stains of blood on temple stairs. John is a novice in the art of evil. It’s only doe-eyed detectives like you and your predecessors that have lorded him into the rarefied atmosphere.”

Joe lofted his eyebrow slightly. The vampire seemed… miffed that Druitt was famous. More famous than him. “He fooled the man who invented my profession.”

Everyone has their weaknesses, even James.” Nikola averted his gaze, not wishing to open that particular chapter in his life. The history of the Five was not for mortals to pick apart. “Come on… enough fucking about.”

Nikola crept back up to the door.

Bloody hell…” John was gone. “Christ!” Nikola jumped when John appeared in the doorway, glass of scotch in hand.

I never had you pegged as a voyeur Tesla,” he took a slow sip of scotch. “Quaint, is that a pet?”

Detective. We’ve met but… you appear to have forgotten me.”

John made a point of eyeing the weapons in their hands.

Did I miss something?” he drawled, in that sickening tone used to lure innocent women to the blade of his knife. “Last time I checked, we were on speaking terms and this is Helen’s house. You know the rules o’l boy. This is Switzerland for us.”

It’s not personal this time, Johnny,” Nikola smirked, levelling the gun back at him with a fang-laden grin. “And despite our better judgement, we’re not here to kill you.”

John laughed coldly, pointing his glass at them.

You think that I’m just going to let you shoot –” John was interrupted by a scalding pain in his chest. He looked down to find his pocket smouldering. “What the devil…” he growled, before crumbling to the floor accompanied by the dull thud of a scotch glass.

Joe slowly lowered his sparking electric weapon. “That was a lot easier than I’d envisioned…”

Come on, grab an ankle,” Tesla muttered.

*~*~*

Mum, this place is ancient…” Ashley complained. She helped her mother break through a hefty iron door, pushing it open with an angry screech of metal and rust. Bigfoot stood back, Will’s deformed body limp in his furry arms.

It’s one of Tesla’s old haunts,” Helen explained, dusting off her hands and holding her torch up, scanning the room with it. Broken pipes, air ducts, feathers. “Should still work,” she added, flicking a switch on the wall. A deep buzz rang out through the metal wall as rows of electric lights flickered into life.

Old – like from the 4th Dynasty.” Ashley tilted her head, inspecting the carcass of an experiment.

Helen cleared one of the work benches. Bigfoot laid Will’s body onto the surface and the pair of them bound him with duct tape and chain. Crude but effective.

He’s going to wake up soon,” Helen whispered, listening to the steady beat of his heart falter. “This room was built to keep in vampires – I’m sure it’ll be able to handle a sand creature for a few hours.” The duct-tape… probably not. She injected him with the last vial of sedative. It would keep him quiet – for a while.

Mum… We can’t just leave him tied up here. It’s cruel.”

You’re going to stay here and look after him, both of you,” she added sternly, when Bigfoot went to protest. “The less people in my house the better. If you don’t hear from me before nightfall, you call the London Sanctuary and ask for Declan.”

Seriously, Mum?”

Ashley… don’t fight me on this.”

I’m much better at hunting creatures than you,” she tried following her mother but Helen pushed her firmly back into the room.

That’s why you’re staying with Will.”

*~*~*

Well string me up with the garlic…” Nikola’s deep, vampire voice purred on the air. He ran his gloved fingers through the threads of silk swaying in the air-conditioned breeze. Someone had turned it up to full over the whole mansion leaving Nikola and Joe to resort to snow jackets and gloves.

Growing from the ceiling of the corridor were long tangles of silk. Like ancient vines, they’d twisted into ropes that bonded to the floor to form flexible, sticky columns.

God, it’s like a bloody spider web,” Joe whispered, sidestepping an ominous trail of silk.

I didn’t know Magoi did this,” Nikola admitted. “It’s like a nest.”

Yeah, well the more I learn about Magoi, the less I like’m, Doc. Give me your regular psychopath any day.”

Together, they had taken out most of the Sanctuary staff and locked them in cells. There were still a few small abnormals wandering the corridors but nothing big enough for a Magoi to bother imitating. There was, however, one noticeable absence from their collection. Helen.

You’re worried about her, aren’t you?” Joe asked, as they made their way through the freezing tunnel toward the fire stairs that took them deeper into the building. The further they went, the colder it became.

Nikola kept a few steps ahead of Joe, his black eyes focussed on the sticky hallway in front. “I’m worried I left my oldest friend in a South American tomb to rot, yes,” he snapped.

The walls were entirely silk now, glistening like ice.

It doesn’t take a detective to work out that you and her were -”

Joe didn’t get to finish. In front of them a very displeased (but admittedly distracting) Helen Magnus blocking the hallway, arms folded. She levelled a stern glare at Nikola.

Nikola – where are my staff?”

Nikola lifted his home-made weapon, steadying it at her chest. “I’d be happy to show you.”

You’re not going to shoot me,” she tilted her head like a bird of prey. “We’ve got a very serious abnormal incursion,” she nodded at the silk strangling the walls.

And here I was thinking it was your new wallpaper,” Nikola quipped, no intention of lowering his weapon. “That’s close enough…” he whispered, when she started walking towards him.

Are you feeling all right?” Helen lowered her voice into a tender lull. “Even for a vampire, you’re pale. Perhaps you should lie down?”

I don’t think so,” Nikola kept the gun steady. He was pale because he was cold and naturally disposed to looking like a shard of porcelain. “Detective – whatsyourname-”

Kavanaugh…” Joe filled in helpfully.

Whatever… What do you see?”

Joe tilted his head, “Dr Helen Magnus – or a very good copy.”

Copy?” Helen snapped, indignant. “Nikola!” she clicked her fingers to get the vampire’s attention. “My house is freezing, the staff are missing and my wallpaper’s been replaced by this sticky Magoi residue. Now, what the hell is going on?”

Nikola ignored her.

Be more specific,” he whispered to Joe. “Her eyes… hair – what does she look like.”

As Joe started to describe her, the Sanctuary alarm pierced the air. Its angry ringing made Nikola flinch.

We’ve got company,” he whispered.

Could be a trick?” Joe offered.

He was right. “Bloody Magoi.” Nikola nodded at Helen. “This is why I never joined your little creature-collecting mission.”

Not as salubrious as ruling the world?” she ventured another step closer.

I offered you the world…” Nikola reminded her, eyes bright.

She took another step, lingering dangerously close. “It wasn’t yours to offer…” she purred.

NIKOLA!”

He turned at once toward the angry voice to find another Helen standing behind them, smeared with dirt and greese. Nikola did his best to ignore his favourite fantasy made real. Two Helens… My, my, my.

Helen… meet Helen,” he said.

The two Helen’s eyed each other. One of them was a Magoi, the other was not…

Stop grinning, Nikola,” the Helen covered in dirt scowled. “She’s a Magoi…”

Joe lifted his weapon, levelling it at the newly arrived Helen. “Actually Doc,” he said, “one of you is. Which one is still in question.”

If you shoot me with that, I’ll break both your wrists,” she promised darkly. “You’re still grinning, Nikola.”

He shrugged innocently.

We’ve been re-decorating,” Nikola added, his weapon still trained on the original Helen. “What do you think?”

This isn’t funny, Nikola. She will kill you.”

Don’t think so,” he replied lightly, giving Joe a meaningful look. “And on three…”

Before either Helen could move, both guns went off and they dropped to the floor. The dirt-laden Helen groaned, holding her chest. The other body shimmered, its lie crumbling until the body of the Magoi emerged. It was unconscious. Nikola curled his lip in disgust. He’d flirted with that.

He was going to add ‘Magoi hunting’ to his list of skills.

*~*~*

Son of a…” Helen stirred. She was back in her bed, tucked in amongst the soft silk sheets with a fresh tray of tea steaming on the table beside her.

Slowly, she turned to see Nikola lounging on the bedspread, a book open against his chest. He was asleep, purring softly as only a vampire could. Such cheek!

Nikola!” she nudged him gently, poking his ribs. The movement made her groan. Her chest was tight and burned from the weapon. “God, what did you shoot me with?”

Nikola turned his head, opening his eyes. They were bright blue, grinning back of her. “New toy. Don’t worry, the effects are temporary. Technically, your pet detective shot you, not me.”

You shot the other me,” she groaned wearily, “so it still counts.”

Helen closed her eyes again, rubbing her chest softly with her free hand. It hurt.

I take it you’ve restrained the Magoi?”

Tagged, restrained and waiting in the SHU,” he put the book aside, turned over and rested on his arm. Nikola was all too comfortable, lounging beside her on the bed.

…and Ashley?” Helen added, not meaning for her voice to slip into such a soft tone.

The corner of his lip curled up into a smile.

Good of you to hide them in one of my old haunts,” he replied. “I called them in as soon as our guest was contained. Your protege is restrained and awaiting treatment. You’re lucky he’s still alive. There have been police crawling all over the city looking for him.”

I should -” Helen went to get up but Nikola nudged her gently back down.

Will can wait a few more hours.”

She lofted her eyebrow at him. “And what are you going to do?”

Oh you know, the same,” he shrugged. “Rule the world from your bed.”

Nikola’s smirk was hit by a well aimed pillow.

…I still can’t believe you shot me,” she whispered, closing her eyes again.

Eh – it’s like, one-to-fifty. You shoot me all the time.”

She couldn’t help a small smile. “You usually deserve it.”

*~*~*

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The sand creature eyed the machine beside him. Will’s eyes were gold and bulging out from his skull like some kind of reptile. His skin was scarlet, dry and cracked into a scaly pattern that resembled a riverbed ruined by a thousand years of ravaging drought. He flecked his claws, watching the black extensions reflect the bright lights of the infirmary.

He snarled, trying to retreat but a heavy set of chains held him still.

Sh…” Helen whispered, stepping into view. Her white coat made her form blur against the room. “You’re safe – you’re home.”

Will opened his lips, displaying several rows of razor sharp teeth. He hissed at her.

Ashley, Bigfoot, Henry, Joe and Tesla were all seated in the gallery behind, watching the procedure. Tesla had shifted to the edge of his seat, leaning close to the glass in curiosity. It had been difficult extracting the clear, vampire venom from their new guest. Helen was holding a refined sample up to the light. She pierced the seal with a long needle.

Do you think it’ll work?” Ashley whispered.

I hope so, Ash,” Henry replied, holding her hand.

The liquid entered the drip, slowly seeping into Will’s body. He thrashed irritably against his restraints, hissing again as Helen set the empty vial down and checked him over.

Elevated pulse, temperature steady. Patient is agitated but not in pain.” Helen flashed her torch light across his eyes. “Pupils are sluggish. Will, can you hear me?”

More snarling.

Dr Zimmerman, do you know where you are?”

Will arched his body up as far as he could off the bed. There was something cold sneaking into his veins. He felt – calm… His body gently lowered itself, slowly shedding its violent red for cream.

Patient’s skin is reverting back to human form. Heart rate lowering – body temperature declining.”

The fangs retreating into his jaw sent searing pain through his nerves. Will cried out, an almost human scream shattering the quiet room. Helen fumbled for another vial, this time consisting of pain killers which she fed through the drip.

He started to convulse. Helen used her weight to press his body back down against the bed.

Stay with me, Will,” she whispered, fighting for control. She pushed his torso firmly down, pulling another strap across him.

Will struggled to breathe, gasping between ragged cries.

17

PLAYING WITH SILVER

Subject stable… pupils, sluggish but okay. Will?”

Dr Will Zimmerman, entirely human, was laid on the bed. He stared blankly at the ceiling, focused on the infirmary lights which leered at him with neon claws. Helen hovered, carefully monitoring his vitals. He could sense her now… distinguish her from the others. She had a name and fragments of memories. Helen Magnus, yes, he remembered her now. Remembered her hitting him with a damn car.

Will, can you hear me?”

Slowly, his head tilted to the side. Will nodded at her in recognition, blinking slowly as if to say something. His wrists strained against the leather restraints causing their buckles to creak.

For a while there, we thought we lost you,” she added quietly, laying her hand on his arm in soft assurance.

Nine hours later he was sitting up, flicking through Sunday’s paper in his own room. His skin itched but aside from a few nasty scratches and bruises, he was unharmed from his adventures as a sand creature.

Quite the trail of destruction, eh?” Henry said.

Henry was perched on the end of Will’s bed, playing with one of his half-built experiments. Beams of sunlight fell over the Gothic room, warming it as the afternoon started to fade. Tesla’s stolen research towered in several looming piles of paper, some arching alarmingly toward the edge of the bedside table.

It’s not exactly a badge of honour,” Will sighed, setting the newspaper down.

Yeah, but you go to be a vampire,” Henry insisted.

Can you try to be less excited by this?” Will managed a grin though, nudging Henry with his foot. “Besides, I was even less of a vampire than Tesla.”

Don’t let him hear you say that, he takes his vamp-ness very seriously. He’s having a hard enough time now that we’ve got a full blood in the basement.”

A what?” Will’s eyes went wide.

Picked up a vamp in South America. They’re real ugly,” Henry added. “Trust me, Tesla’s the plushie version.”

That must have hurt his feelings…”

Yeah, he’s sulking in my lab,” Henry looked down at the gadget in his hands. “Made you this, though. It’s a hand-light – better than a torch. Long as you’re holding it, it’ll keep shining.”

Will took it and laid it in his palm. A few minutes later the silver ball started to glow. “That’s quite cool. I’ll put it in my ‘tomb raiding’ kit for the next time Helen decides to go on holiday.”

You know what else we picked up in South America… A Magoi – fully grown pain in the ass.”

Will’s face fell, a deep frown folding across his forehead. “Man, I hate those things. It’s not still here…”

Turned the SHU into a comfy nest,” Henry cut in. “Full house. Seriously dude, we need to start having words with the boss about the type of creature she brings home. Vampires are okay but I draw the line at creepy telepathic ice creatures.”

Me too.”

Will scratched his arm until it hurt.

*~*~*

Nikola had grown bored of picking through Henry’s lab. Truthfully, there were only so many items he could break or sabotage before he got bored or felt guilty – which wasn’t a familiar. Empathy – urgh, that was for humans not semi-immortal geniuses.

He wasn’t allowed near either the vampire or the Magoi so he sulked his way back through the lofty corridors of the Sanctuary and inevitably ended up in Helen’s office. He retired to her desk, strutting around to sit in her leather chair with a glass of scotch nested in one hand.

Sometimes he regretted signing this house over to Helen to settle a few bills. He was sure that he knew its secrets better than her – even down to the compartment hidden in the wall behind the desk. Nikola had his most treasured possessions five feet from Helen and yet she’d never even noticed.

What were you doing in Old City?”

Nikola jumped at Helen’s voice, spilling his scotch. “I – what?” She may not have adopted the claws or fangs, but Helen could sneak like the best of them.

Helen sat on her desk, eyeing Nkola suspiciously. “The night the sand creature attacked you in the subway… You said you didn’t organise this situation but why were you in town? Last I heard you were in Moscow digging around in some old Cabal base. Strange co-incidence that you should be found lurking at my back door the very night a sand creature appears. Were you following me?”

Nikola set the scotch down. “No. I was following Ashley.”

Nikola!”

Though you may not believe me, it was for her own good. When I heard where she was going I knew she was in trouble.”

Helen’s eyes were nearly as black as a vampire. She leaned forwards, curling her hands over Nikola’s side of the desk, furious. “You knew that there were vampires sleeping in the desert?”

One vampire and a den of diseased humans. Yes. I knew.”

And you didn’t wake them? After all your crazy plots to revive your precious species…”

Are you crazy? If you had spent even a moment on your history Helen, you would know the tale of the brothers.”

…Brothers?” she whispered, pulling back a fraction.

Both destined to be Pharaoh, one conspired with humanity to take over the throne by dealing in Abnormals. The other led the last of the vampires out of Egypt towards the untamed North but he never made it. The vampires were slaughtered and he was entombed by his own brother for thousands of years. If released, his anger would set a rage upon the world. I want to rule the earth Helen – not tear it apart despite what you may think.”

How very noble of you.”

Whatever my intentions were,” Nikola ignored the slight. “You’ve got a pissed off ancient vampire on the loose. I’d bet your entire wine cellar that he’s headed here.”

Here?” Helen whispered.

You have his brother and I for one don’t want to be around when this ancient shit hits the fan.”

Helen hung her head, her beautiful long hair falling over her face. “Bloody hell…” she whispered.

Have you been following the reports out of the African Sanctuaries? There’s something out there, in the desert. The locals call it, ‘voices on the wind’. The vampire has hundreds of sand creatures. He’s smart, arrogant and has nothing to lose. It’s only a matter of time until he finds us.”

Dammit, Nikola… You saw how hard it was to take on the other vampire – and he was starving and weak.”

His brother will be feeding on every human he comes across. He’ll be stronger than you can imagine.”

Nikola stood suddenly, placing his hands gently over hers. Without warning he kissed her – only for a moment but it was soft and loving, his head tilting a fraction to push her gently backwards.

N-Nikola…” Helen stammered, looking up at him from under thick lashes when he pulled back. He’d tasted of scotch and wine, with something of the storm in his lips.

Don’t say anything,” he insisted, lingering for another moment – letting his cool lips tease hers. Then he walked away, leaving her in possession of the office.

*~*~*

…no, no more reports since Thursday. The locals say the voices are gone and the sands have stilled. I’d bet they’ve made it as far as Europe by now…”

Thank you,” Helen replied, and set the phone down.

She brought up a map of Africa and marked the vampire’s progress on the screen. If her reports were accurate, they were covering ground fast. It would only be so long before the ancient king worked out how to drive and fly. Helen rested her fingers over her lips. Her eyes closed.

‘Sup boss?” Henry wove through the piles of books and paper littering Helen’s office, extending his electronic tablet to her. “Fresh off the wire, one of the Parisian Sanctuary scouts has returned. It’s not good news…” he added, seeing her face fall as she started to read. “They’ve stumbled across a blood-bath in one of the illegal factories. Early reports indicate at least eighty workers with their throats torn out.”

God…” Helen trembled, handing it back to Henry. “Nikola was right about the bloodshed.”

We need to wake our vampire up.”

You honestly think he’ll help us? We kidnapped him, if you remember. Vampires didn’t rule the world because they had long fangs and a decent set of claws. They’re smart, Henry.”

I don’t think we have a choice. We just want to talk to him. If you think everything’s going south, we’ll knock him out again.”

Helen shifted uncomfortably.

*~*~*

This is the worst idea you’ve ever had…” Henry muttered to Helen.

They were both sitting above the interview room, hidden behind heavily tinted, one-way glass. The ancient vampire was tied to a chair with yards of silver chain that clinked softly every time he breathed.

The creature shifted uncomfortably against his restraints, looking at his chains with dark eyes. A few minutes later he glanced up and Henry’s stomach turned with realisation that it already knew how to break free.

Nikola sat on the opposite side of the narrow table looking tense. He’d dreamed of questioning an ancient vampire for so long, asking it the secretes of the world – this was not what he had in mind. His eyes flicked to the silver chains. They looked little better than a rope around a tiger’s neck.

Welcome to the the 21ist century,” Nikola purred, in an Ancient dialect of Egyptian. “Apologies for the chains.”

The vampire took another strained breath. His frail physique was more obvious under the harsh light. Bone protruded from his skin, cutting dark shadows over his angular form. Ivory fangs rested against his jaw, one of them chipped badly at the edge. His complexion wasn’t quite so ashen now Helen had been drip feeding him for several days. “There is no need, I speak your language fluently. You are not skilled in mine.”

Nikola flinched.

Helen…” Henry whispered warily.

He’ll be all right,” Helen replied quickly. She hoped.

Very well,” Nikola answered evenly. “We know your history and your past relationship with humanity,” he continued. “Your work establishing a sanctuary for abnormal and human creatures was noble.”

It did not end well…” the vampire cut in darkly.

That was not your fault. Magoi are very powerful creatures, more ancient than you. Causing the destruction of others is how they exist. Your sanctuary died because you were unlucky enough to stumble across one.”

That tempered the ancient vampire somewhat. “Am I to understand that you intend to let me go?”

I would like to,” Nikola replied, honestly. “We have our own Sanctuary networks indeed, this building is one of them. Your thousands of years of experience dealing with abnormals would be invaluable to us.”

You would have me a consort,” the vampire eyed his distant descendent. “In return I presume I am not to feed from the residents.”

About that,” Nikola set a crystal glass on the table and then started to pour silken, red wine into it. He nudged it toward the vampire – who was still chained and unable to accept the gift. “You have something to thank the humans for, they invented wine. I find it quite useful in curbing other cravings.

Above them, Helen rested her hand over her chest. It was tight and painful, the heartbeats in her head crashing against each other. She’d been taking light muscle relaxants to calm herself down but it wasn’t enough.

The vampire was smiling.

Why don’t you ask me what you really want to know Nikola…”

Nikola sat back, alarmed by the red pits burning in the heart of the vampire’s eyes. “I…”

There’s an army of half-lings on their way here with my brother at their bow.”

Can you stop them?”

The vampire shook his head. “No – but I can teach you how to find them.”

18

ON THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS

KASHMIR, PENSI LA MOUNTAIN PASS

Blue rock, weathered and cracked, jutted out from under the ice. Nikola slipped, landing with a muffled thud in another drift of snow curled around a wandering boulder. Their immense, cockled forms dotted the ice like sentries keeping a watch over the frozen world.

God dammit…” Tesla muttered, arms sinking into the freezing wet as he tried to push himself up. Helen backtracked, grabbed hold of his arm and tugged him free.

The hum of their helicopter faded as its tiny dot picked its way between a forest of mountain peaks, returning to base leaving them stranded on the narrow pass. Above, the skies were clear blue, arching in a perfect dome. Nikola tilted his gaze, watching the black dot move beyond his range.

Ahead, the full-blood vampire swept over the snow. He was tall, close to seven feet and slender. The creature barely made a dent in the rough terrain as he headed up the icy slope toward towering facades of cliff with their narrow pass nestled in the middle.

This isn’t what I had in mind, Helen,” Nikola lingered for a moment, letting the vampire gain ground so they could talk privately.

What else could I do? At least if he’s out here, his murderous brother won’t be drawn to my Sanctuary.”

True but if he is right, his brother and accompanying vampire fanboys have already reached these mountains – we could be walking into an army of invisible sand rats.”

He’s closer,” Helen agreed. “I can feel him. Nikola, I’m not sure how much longer I can go on like this – before I kill a vampire.”

…and I’d rather that wasn’t me,” he said quickly. “I know you’ve shot me several times, stabbed me once or twice but Helen – you’ve never truly wanted me dead. Not really…”

That’s what you think…” Their eyes locked. Nikola’s lashes were full of snow and half his face hidden under a scarf. Helen’s cheeks were wind-burned, flushing pink.

They were disturbed by Kavanaugh, who slid on the same icy patch as Nikola, stumbled and landed on Helen.

Sorry,” he mumbled, regaining his feet. “Chopper’s clear, they didn’t see anything on the ground. That’s not saying much. Those creatures are probably camouflaged.”

No, in these conditions even sand creatures will need to be clothed. They’re probably working their way through the fissures in the glacier,” she replied.

Joe frowned at Helen, then glanced nervously at his feet. The thought of sand creatures crawling underfoot made his stomach lurch. “Yeah, that doesn’t make me feel any better.”

We should catch up,” Nikola nodded, the vampire was getting too far ahead of them again.

*~*~*

The Drang Drung glacier coiled behind them. They were heading away from it into deeper snow toward the next bank of cliffs. Half the time they fell to their hands and knees, skidding down steep slopes only to climb to the other side with ice picks – except for the vampire, who used his claws.

Nikola struggled the most with the cold, shivering so hard he lost grip on his ice pick several times before hauling himself onto the flat of a particularly sharp rise.

You okay?” Joe asked, dusting snow off Nikola’s ski gear.

It’s just the cold,” he replied, sitting up and flexing his gloved hands. They were numb and sluggish.

As the officially least genetically blessed member of this expedition, I’m the only one allowed to pass out in the snow,” Joe insisted lightly, even managing to break a smile from the mongrel vampire. “Come on, your Magnus is looking this way.”

She’s not my anything,” he mumbled back, letting the detective haul him to his feet. “Please tell me it’s not looking up at that cliff with intention of climbing it.”

Joe kept in step with Nikola. The ancient vampire was eyeing the rock face with interest, pacing around in front of it – kneeling down and digging with his claws where its black rock vanished into the snow.

Think he left his keys under the door?” Nikola quipped.

He wasn’t far off. The vampire soon found what he was looking for. There was a flicker of brass against the black rock beneath the vampire’s hand. He dug deeper, revealing an intricate spiral of inlaid metal that resembled a Pharaoh’s seal.

We’re not idly wandering in search of your brother, are we?” Helen narrowed her eyes, using the same tone often used to scorn Nikola – except it didn’t work on this vampire. He was focused on inserting his claws into a series of tiny holes, sinking them in until he heard a soft click. “What are you doing?” she insisted.

The mines run deep in these mountains,” the vampire’s silken voice replied. He stood back, motioning for the rest of the group to do the same as a large section of the cliff started to shift. “They’ve not been opened for many aeons but if my brother is making passage, it will be through here.”

God, what is it with vampires and caves?” Helen hung her head. Just when she thought she’d seen the last of tunnels…

Nikola didn’t look too pleased either, gawking at the vast oblivion where the rock had opened. It was only a crack six feet wide but the fissure ran nearly eighty above their heads.

Joe clicked on his helmet light. “What are we waiting for?” he asked. “Let’s go caving.”

*~*~*

The cave door crashed shut behind them. Joe’s headlight revealed the way ahead to be a rough-cut supply route with dangerous cleaves of rock hanging from the roof, looming above them like Damocles’ swords.

Nikola and Helen clicked on their torches, shedding more light on the uninviting terrain of cracked, ice-damaged pavers placed there by the vampires. There were chariot markings in the stone but it was impassable except on foot.

Where do these lead?” Nikola asked.

The vampire turned, his long fangs glinting in the torchlight. His eyes were blacker, his bony frame suddenly imposing. “Manly places – the ground beneath your feet is hollow. There are thousands of networks like this and only some of them are vampire in origin.” The next part was in an ancient vampire language which only Nikola seemed to understand.

You think this is how your brother is passing through the modern world undetected?” Helen whispered, when it was clear Nikola would not offer a translation.

It is his natural way to travel. All young princes lean the trade route – he will not have forgotten.”

It was just as cold down here and after several hours delving deeper into the caves, the group had to stop for a rest. They were in a severely damaged area with the track broken by large pieces of rock and ice that had bled down through fissures above and frozen into eerie claws of blue ice.

Joe staked out the vampire, hovering around him asking questions despite his ever-increasing probability of ending up a snack. Helen and Nikola sat opposite each other, sipping water.

Helen, seriously – what are our chances of actually pulling this off – if and I stress if – we are able to find this vampire?”

She threw her backpack at him. It landed against his chest, making Nikola groan and frown, rustling through it for the blood-packs Helen kept in there. He took two before handing everything back to her.

Bit worried, Ms Magnus?”

Nikola… your complexion has been competing with the snow for some time now. You have to eat.”

It’s the cold,” he replied softly, flexing his fingers inside the gloves. “It doesn’t agree with me at all.”

It used to. You have a beautiful home in the snow-covered mountains.”

Had…” a long time ago. He pulled his knees up to his chest, fending off the cold air. “Maybe I’m finally getting old.”

She whacked him. “And what does that make me?”

Ancient…”

Helen glared at him but her eyes were shining. “Have a thing for older women, do you?” she teased in her very best English accent.

Nikola laughed softly – a slight curl of his lip into a smile as he lowered his gaze, dragging his over Helen. She was only four years older than him. “Next time you bring home a dangerous pet, Helen – can you try to make it something from a tropical island?”

If this is part of your long standing plot to see me in a bikini…”

Always, my dear – Detective Kavanaugh… Still alive?”

The detective wandered over to them, kneeling down onto the rock. “I don’t think this vampire’s on the level,” he warned. The three of them all glanced over, watching the vampire rest against a boulder on the far side of the passage. “What did you promise him?”

A life in the modern world, work as an advisor to the sanctuary network and the ability to continue his work studying abnormal species.”

Not enough,” Nikola purred.

Joe observed them. “Any intention of letting me into whatever this plan of yours is? No… Well, give me a heads up, will ya if my head’s in danger.”

Maybe,” Nikola grinned. He paused and turned suddenly, looking down into the depths of the passage, listening intently. The other vampire was doing the same, rigid and focused. Helen put her hand on her chest, feeling her heart stop for a moment – then start with a rush.

He’s here…” Helen whispered.

*~*~*

John Druitt lowered his large frame into the chair. Opposite, his daughter lingered by the window, keeping guard over her mother’s sanctuary. Her blond hair was dirty, pulled back into a half-arsed pony tail. This was the other side of Ashley Magnus – the business side which was slowly starting to emerge.

You wanted to see me,” he announced his presence when she did not acknowledge it.

Ashley walked towards him, carrying a small, leather journal in her hand that had once belonged to her grandfather. It was laid on the desk with a soft, accusing thud. John’s gaze settled on it and he knew why he’d been called.

My grandfather died more than a hundred years ago – but for me, it was a month ago… I found this.” Ashley showed him a slender oak box. She opened it to reveal the pistol which had killed her grandfather. “Mum kept it.”

He didn’t say anything.

Why did you take me there?” she hissed darkly, all the pain and darkness in her eyes. “I ruined mum’s life and for what – this journal? Tesla knew where the Sanctuary of the Moon was anyway. I didn’t need this!”

It wasn’t – about – you,” John replied. “It was about your mother. She needed to be set free.”

You’re even more twisted than she described,” Ashley spat, sitting back against her chair, eyeing the person she shared half her DNA with. “What’s in it for you?”

Do not attempt to understand me,” he replied, soft and slow. “I thought you had a Magoi to babysit?”

It’s secure, although I was thinking perhaps I should have left you in the SHU.”

He chuckled. “My second home.”

Tempt me – and I might just tell mum what happened.”

Tell her,” he replied, unafraid. “You won’t… because you know she’ll look at you as she looks at me. It’s our little secret.”

*~*~*

Henry stood in front of the large tank in the creature enclosure. It was an enormous wall of glass that towered three stories to the roof. It had pebbles at the bottom and twisted clusters of seaweed nearly as long as the tank was high.

Afternoon precious,” Henry whispered, placing his hand on the glass as the silvery form of the mermaid shimmered closer. “Miss me, eh? Knew you had a soft heart underneath all that cold scale.”

She didn’t seem offended, tilting her head curiously at him as she always did. The mermaid cast her eyes down to the floor, indicating the Magoi locked up several floors beneath. She was a telepathic creature and its presence, even sleeping, was of grave concern.

Yeah, I know – not much I can do about that.”

The mermaid swam down further so that she was level with Henry. She twisted some of the seaweed in her bony fingers, clearly upset.

I’m sorry,” he insisted, as she grew more distressed. “I’ll go check on it soon – promise. Hey,” he looked at her more brightly, “I should change that water filter for you. Fancy a swim?”

*~*~*

How many?” Joe breathed.

Tesla listened again. “Many…” he whispered. “I can hear them scratching over the rock but they’re a lot deeper.”

Several levels beneath.”

Jesus!” Joe jumped, when the ancient vampire appeared behind his shoulder without a sound.

Come on,” it continued, beckoning them with a sharp claw. “Let’s go welcome them to the new age.”

They reached a vertical shaft. Like a well it ran deep into the mountain allowing air in to all the levels. Looking up, they could see the tiny prick of light where it was open to the world at the uppermost point of the peak. Tiny flurries of snow drifted through the air, falling away into the abyss.

Even Joe’s human ears could hear the sound of claws in the darkness.

They didn’t speak, taking the side track through treacherous black ice and loose rock less than a foot wide. Joe and Helen kept their hands on the wall, clinging onto jagged outcrops when their feet failed to find solid ground. The vampires fared better with even Nikola resorting to claws.

Louder… The scratching had its own echo now.

There was a soft, white glow coming off the rocks where a fluorescent moss followed fresh water fissures. It was enough that they could turn off their torches for a while.

A wave of the vampire’s hand brought everyone to a stop. Something moved in the corridor ahead, shuffling out of sight around a corner. The vampire went first, undetectable as he crept up to a large boulder blocking the way. Helen, Nikola and Joe were not far behind, each with a gun loaded and drawn in wait.

They didn’t need them.

The vampire returned with a small cave mouse, dangling by its tale. It squeaked angrily until it was dropped and allowed to scurry off.

Deeper again… but soon they were far enough inside the caves that neither ice nor life bothered to linger. It was just cold rock and they were forced to turn their torches on.

They’ll see us coming a mile off,” Joe whispered to Helen.

19

THROAT OF THOTH

Helen slipped.

Her boots lost their tentative grip on the frozen ground, scraping against sharp chunks of rock. During her swift descent, one of them tripped her up entirely and sent her crashing against the tunnel wall. She landed on her side and curled against the rock-face in a foetal position with one hand caught awkwardly underneath. A sharp pain ripped up her arm, striking through the bone. Helen whimpered in shock, dragging her arm free.

Dr Magnus?” Joe gasped in alarm, quickly navigating the black ice as he rushed to her side. He rolled her over, tapping lightly at her cheek until her blue eyes fluttered open. “Are you all right?” he asked.

She groaned. Helen’s wrist hung loose against the floor, the break obvious beneath her pale skin which was quickly staining with bruises. A fragment of white bone had pierced free above her joint. “Hurts like a bugger…” she gasped.

Nikola swooped to join them, ditching his backpack on the ground. He rifled through it for the med kit.

Helen turned her head, which was rested in Joe’s lap and gave him a pleading look. Without a word, Nikola took her arm carefully and laid the broken wrist straight against a splint. Positioning it took a painful minute in which Helen bit through her lip to stop a scream. Her muffled gurgle mad both men uneasy as Nikola prodded the bone back under her skin. Nikola wrapped it tightly then nodded for Joe to bring her to a sitting position.

You’ve got a concussion,” Nikola murmured, their voices hushed. He was no doctor but he’d been friends with James long enough to make a passable go at it. At least members of The Five required band-aids rather than surgery and his pension for perfection made him halfway decent at fixing a straight break.

Everyone’s voices dropped lower when another wave of sickening claws scraping against rock shivered up the tunnels. The vampires were moving – slowly.

Like god-damn termites,” Joe muttered. It was as though the sand creatures were inside the granite walls.

We take a break,” Nikola insisted. “Our friends aren’t going anywhere in a hurry, not in this cold.”

Helen accepted the pain killers. “I’ll be all right in a minute,” she replied, shooting Nikola a meaningful look.

He sat back slowly, catching his breath. Nikola remembered all too well Helen’s extraordinary ability to heal. She should have died long ago, falling from the university roof but Immortals were as their name suggested, difficult to kill. The last thing they wanted was for the vampire to know that. Their ancient friend was some distance ahead, keeping watch or plotting his escape – it was impossible to tell.

Just a sprain, then…” Nikola eyed her sternly.

A sprain?” Joe objected, until he was hushed, lowering his voice. “Tesla I -”

A sprain,” Nikola insisted firmly. “Nothing more.”

Half an hour later, it was time. “Help her up,” Nikola directed. “We need to keep moving.”

Helen stood gingerly. She wasn’t sure what caused more agony – the initial snap or her bones knitting together again. With her good hand, she felt the back of her head where she was sporting a fresh lump. “Bloody caves…” she growled.

You dropped this,” Nikola handed over her pistol, which she slipped back into its holster.

Really, I’m okay,” she insisted, inspecting her bound wrist. “It’s not my right hand so I can still shoot things.”

Just – make sure it’s not me,” Nikola winked, even if he still looked concerned. “I won’t believe you if there’s an accident and you blame it on ‘poor aim’.”

Noted,” she agreed, as they all started up the steep rise back to the path. At least she’d fallen towards the cave and not into the abyss on the other side. Even an immortal would struggle to survive such a fall – possibly a vampire too if Nikola were nudged into it. She eyed it as they went past, a chill rippling up her spine. “We’re getting deep in the earth now – I remember the stories you told, Nikola. Hollow Earth… Cities buried beneath our feet.”

They were just stories, Helen,” he whispered back, purring against her ear while they walked.

You are not a man of stories,” she countered easily. “Dreams perhaps but not fiction.”

How wrong she was, Nikola thought, his greatest fiction was currently holding onto his arm as they walked. “I didn’t think you were listening to my stories. No, as I recall it you were too busy being practical.”

You know, you never did tell me what you and father found under the mountains at your home.”

He reply was delayed. “Didn’t I?” Well, perhaps not the whole truth.

*~*~*

What in god’s name is it doing?” Henry set down a tray of tea beside Will, then poured himself a cup and sat with their resident shrink.

In front of them was the four inch thick glass of the high security observation room. Inside, the Magoi had taken the unusual step of letting them see its natural form. They gave Henry the creeps. If you squinted a Magoi looked a like a human wrestler made from wax then left out in the sun to semi-melt. With its head tilted to the ceiling, eyes closed and breathing lowered to a near undetectable level, it could have been a statue.

Will shook his head. “Nothing good. It’s concentrating all of its power onto something, that’s why we can see it.”

I guess it’s an improvement. Still, I don’t like it one bit – neither does the mermaid and she is an excellent judge of character.”

Magnus is right though, we can’t exactly set it loose.”

Can’t we sedate it again?” Henry asked.

We’ve been trying but it hasn’t responded. I’m starting to wonder if we ever really had it sedated in the first place.”

Well,” Henry sighed, sipping his tea. “We’re going to have to do something about it eventually.”

Not until Magnus gets back. You go,” he added, when Henry reminded him about the supplies meeting. “I think I’ll stay a little longer. If we’re going to babysit this thing, we should at least endeavour to learn something about it.”

As you wish,” Henry sighed. “Just promise me you won’t name it or anything. I’m pretty sure the doc is of a mind to – you know…” his finger swept over his throat.

*~*~*

They caught up to the vampire. His skeletal figure lingered by a fork in the path. One track went East toward an exit leading to extinct mountain village. They went North-West, following the path along sharper declines. It descended many levels further until the sound of claws was hushed somewhat by the roar of an underground river.

What is that?” Joe quickened his pace to fall inline beside the solitary creature leading them.

Glacier melt,” he hissed back, fangs glistening more than usual, covered in a fine layer of saliva. He was hungry from the trek and the supplements Magnus offered did little to sate him. “These pathways can flood in Spring or Summer on short notice. Most do not make a journey at this time of year.”

The vampire may have taken a vow not to feed off humans but he still took liberties with warm-blooded animals from time to time.

They soon found the source of the roar. Their tunnel abruptly ended at the edge of black, gushing water. Whatever rock or bridge had once traversed the gap between their tunnel and the opening opposite was long gone.

We’ll be swept clear off!” Joe paced to the edge of the rock and shone his torch down. The water was rough, seething into foam where it slammed against the cave walls. They were nearly shouting to hear each other, the impending danger of the sand creatures momentarily forgotten.

The half-ling and humans won’t make it,” the vampire offered dryly, implying that he could make the jump, which Nikola highly doubted – until he remembered the damn thing could teleport.

Maybe you could go have a look, see what’s on the other side?” Nikola suggested.

The vampire laughed. “I’d rather not end up half-embedded in a wall. One does not use such a gift in uncharted territory.” He paused, peering around with his blood-rimmed eyes. “Here,” he carefully stepped out to the thing seams of rock at the side of their tunnel. At the edge was the smallest of outcrops that could only be scaled if you were holding onto the slippery wall. “We can climb down here and move over the boulders obstructing the stream.”

Are you nuts?” growled Joe, eyeing the ‘boulders’ in the water. They were the worst form of slippery – rounded and smooth from centuries of abuse by the currents coated in fresh throws of glowing moss. “I am not going over those.”

Perhaps you could swim instead?” the vampire snipped, lowering his tall body down onto the very edge of the river where he sank a few inches into the loosely piled pebbles. He could tell that the ground dropped away into the river nearly immediately. Water flowing that fast had a tendency to gouge deep passages.

Helen struggled the most, nearly losing her grip with only one good hand to cling onto the rock. Nikola all but lifted her down until they were lined along the bank, their backs pressed to the wall and water snapping at their boots.

A sharp crack and the ancient vampire was gone. There was a faint trail of purple energy fading in a ghostly silhouette before he reappeared just as suddenly on the closest boulder adrift in the stream.

Fucking, goddamn vampires!” Joe gasped, startled half to death.

The vampire spread his arms wide. His fingers tapered into sinister claws while his eyes formed black voids against his skin. “Come…” he purred at the Detective.

Worst idea ever…” Joe muttered, inching closer to the water. As soon as his boot touched the edge, the course river sand started falling away. No room for error then. He turned, paced the two measly paces to the wall and then took a flying leap at the deadly water.

Joe’s boots hit rock – then moss. Suddenly he was dropping sharply. His boots, ankles and legs submerged in a freezing froth of water.

Oh shit! he thought, flailing in panic. The current was a brute slap against his skin, jerking him sharply to the side. A bony hand grasped at his jacket, pulling him sharply back toward the rock. The ancient vampire lifted him from the river and placed him on the boulder. Joe checked his limbs – all were still present.

Helen was thrown over by Nikola. The Vampire was able to catch her mid flight, setting her down lightly beside Joe until finally Nikola joined them, slightly damp. They crossed the remaining boulders until all of them were settled in the tunnel entrance.

My brother’s army is just beyond this tunnel,” the vampire whispered. “Are you still willing to make good on your gamble, Dr Magnus?”

When Helen nodded curtly, the vampire’s gaze flicked worryingly to Joe.

What…?” the detective frowned. “Why are you all – oh come on!” his concern shifted to revulsion when he realised he was a pre-war snack. Now he knew why they’d agreed to bring him along.

*~*~*

The change was remarkable.

Joe was unconscious, resting on the dirt with a bandage around his wrist stained from the vampire’s feed. He was pale but alive, his body slowly replenishing what had been taken. Nikola was on the far side, leaning against a wall looking just as ghostly. He’d been sick watching the display.

The ancient vampire was no longer a dried shell. His flesh had instantly padded out as years of his life faded away. Instead of white, his hair was deep grey with black streaks rippled through it while all of his fangs now glistened pearl white. Vampires stole their youth from other living creatures and this one was freshly feasted.

He was handsome, Helen noticed. The regal blood lines married strong bones and deep, blue eyes which the vampire now showed, blinking up at the glowing cave-moss. They’d not been blue for hundreds of years but now they were sharp and clear like ice. Nikola had exactly the same eyes – which Helen found troubling.

Ah…” he whispered, stretching his body like a panther. “Now I remember – youth.”

Don’t get used to it,” Helen replied, approaching cautiously. “Now, for your part of the bargain.”

Nikola had made it to his feet, kneeling over the detective’s unconscious body. “What about him?”

He’s safer here,” Helen whispered.

*~*~*

There was a true abyss ahead of them. Following their tiny cave to its end, the vampire, Tesla and Helen discovered that narrow corridor of rock ended at a chasm. At least fifty feet across and another down it was as though a giant, Dune sandworm had slithered its way through the mountain and birthed this tunnel.

What is this place?” Helen demanded of the vampire. It was clearly not a natural formation in the rock.

The younger looking vampire knelt by the opening, spying over the darkness.

Don’t you know, Doctor Magnus? I had rather thought your father would have shared some of my stories. We did a great deal of talking, you see, him and I… A great deal indeed. Extraordinary man especially considering he was a mere mortal like your detective back there.”

Helen stomach was starting to turn at the sight of the vampire. They needed him strong to quarrel with his brother but right now he looked too strong for Helen’s liking. “He shared a great many stories with me but not all of them.”

A small smirk of the vampire’s lips. He knew exactly what she was. Gregory Magnus was intelligent enough to know that vampires knew of Immortals but not smart enough to deduce their volatile relationship worked both ways. Clearly the old man never told his daughter what he’d been doing in the Sanctuary of the Moon all those years ago either. This other half-ling vampire was more curious… What was it doing befriending an Immortal?

This is the ‘Throat of Thoth’,” the vampire curled a slender claw at the tunnel.

Thoth, the moon deified,” Helen whispered, earning a proud curl of Nikola’s lip.

Indeed,” he agreed. After the darkness of the cave they could see why this tunnel had earned such a name. Its walls were riddled with the glowing moss, weaving through its fissures. The whole thing looked like a great slab of marble – well, marble carved from the underworld perhaps. It had an unsettling aura about it. A threatening presence that lured them onward. “He had a fondness for knowledge and magic.”

He was real,” the vampire curled his hands around the very edge of the opening. “An ancient king, before the dawn of our civilisation had truly risen.”

Nikola’s eyes were wide and black, awestruck. “Is he still alive?”

I doubt it,” the vampire replied. “These things were legend before the first city rose out of the sand. My brother knew more about him than most. Perhaps you can ask him?”

Nikola levelled his dark look at the vampire.

Bloody hell,” Helen whispered. “How much of our history is a lie?”

How much of it was written by human hand?” the vampire countered, giving Helen her answer. “We are not here on a sight seeing tour. My brother is down here. Come, there is a way down.”

The vampire led them into the final depths of the earth beyond the reach of any help.

20

DEAD WALKING

The three figures were positively tiny against the arching throat of the granite tunnel. From above, the floor of the cavernous expanse had appeared smooth but now they were properly acquainted with the a deluge of rubble collected in its throat over the millennia.

Boulders, sand and carpets of deep, thousand year old moss made the passage difficult to scale. The challenging terrain was interrupted by sheets of melted iron which sliced into the bedrock like growths of coral. If the vampire’s brother and his legion of sand creatures were down here, they would have a hell of a time picking them out from the forest of rock.

Tesla eyed the chunks of iron warily. He knew what they were – fragments of a large meteor either naturally laid to rest or more likely dragged into the depths of a mountain for a reason. Forget treasure, the unassuming lumps of metal were worth a fortune on their own. Helen saw that look on his face and rolled her eyes. Ever the vampire.

Nobody spoke. Their torches were off, guided instead by their hands and feet scrambling for purchase on the rock. Helen struggled with her injured hand while her heart thrashed against her chest inducing a nerve-crunching headache. Three vampires – it was too much for a solitary Immortal to bear.

Breathe…” Nikola murmured cautiously, climbing beside her.

She nodded but her mind was a writhing mess. At least one vampire had to die and soon. In the past hour she’d twice found her hand on the Browning in her belt. Its cold shaft could easily pick off one of the vampires next to her.

Nikola kept searching the walls and tunnel ahead for movement. A hundred or more sand creatures were somewhere nearby. He could smell their filthy, diseased bodies. The other vampire had his nose tilted to the air as well. They were close.

Tesla stared at the next rise of flat-topped boulders. The dim glow of the moss was unbroken over the polished surface. He shook his frozen hands, trying to get them to work properly. Where the hell were they?

To Nikola’s left, the full-blood stopped. He was half a metre above, clutching at a particularly gnarled slab of meteorite, peering ahead. Something had caused him to hesitate. Nikola climbed up, perching on a smaller outcrop of rock.

Well shit!” Nikola barely whispered, instinctively curling his claws into the rock for a firmer grip.

The ground flattened out ahead into a bed of river stones. Several hundred metres along this expanse was a figure silhouetted in the faint light. It was the vampire. There was no mistaking its towering form held so rigid it could have been part of the rock. Its arms were out at its sides, claws extended like sets of carving knives. The vampire’s head fall back, tilting up at ceiling in prayer. A faint glimmer reflected off his two sets of fangs.

This vampire was not slender like the rescued vampire beside Nikola. He was a warrior. His broad shoulders were made for swinging swords and riding chariots. He’d found his old armour too – Nikola could see smooth, scale-like segments woven together over his shoulders with heavy links of metal.

A small stream of dust and pebbles rained down on Helen as she joined the two vampires. No – three, she realised, seeing the figure looming ahead. Her eyes dilated into large, black pits. This was her prey – her purpose. Instinct demanded she kill the strongest of the vampires to restore the balance and by a long way, this creature was it.

What’s it doing?” Nikola asked.

Waiting,” the vampire replied, calmly.

The brother in the distance lifted its head and slowly turned. Nikola could hear the rustle of its cloak and the thud of the leather boots against stone. It faced them, a pair of blood-red eyes glowing in the dark.

*~*~*

The Magoi screeched. Above, the mermaid thrashed in her tank, beating her fists against the glass as the sound tore through her delicate telepathic link. She couldn’t take it. Desperately, she clawed at her body ripping bloody lines down her arms and face.

Alarms blared. Heavy, automatic fire doors started to descend over the enclosures. One by one they vanished behind impenetrable grey walls. Will rolled out from underneath one moments before it crunched into the concrete.

What the hell is going on?” he coughed the dust out of his lungs.

Henry was by the mermaid’s tank, hurriedly feeding a sedative into the water. It took on a purple tinge, the mermaid jolting a few more times before her eyes closed and she drifted into sleep, sinking to the bottom of the tank. “Buggered if I know. The whole place is shutting down. Where’s Biggie?”

Feeding the birds, last I saw.”

The pterodactyls whooped about the enclosure, gnashing their teeth at the emergency lights flashing along the ceiling. Cloned during one of Helen’s more en-vogue phases, they flapped wildly over the sasquatch. He batted them away with a furry paw, making his way to the door. He closed the iron gates just as one of the creatures landed, curling its talons around the bars inches from his face.

Told you ‘id be troubl’, didn’ I?” Bigfoot grumbled, when the other two caught up to him.

You don’t think it’s the Magoi – surely?” Will asked.

Aw man that is not going to go down well with Ash,” Henry added, shaking his head. “She wanted to shoot that thing moment we found it.”

They all made their way through the sanctuary, clearing one security gate at a time.

Where is she, anyway?”

Probably down there with the damn Magoi,” Henry replied to Will. “It’ll take more than some fancy mind tricks to stop her putting a bullet through its camouflaged ass this time.”

But Ashley wasn’t down with the Magoi. She wasn’t anywhere to be found and Druitt was not help. He’d been broadening his knowledge of the library all afternoon. Or so he claimed.

Shut it up for Christ’s sakes!” Will had his arms over his ears, staring at the glass enclosure with the shrieking creature.

Screaming at the tech is not helping!” Henry spat back, both simultaneously trying to shield his ears and poke buttons on the computer board. The sirens abated first and then finally a thick smoke filled the Magoi’s glass cage. Eventually the screaming stopped followed by a thud as it hit the floor, mercifully unconscious. Henry wiped his brow. “Blood-y-hell!”

They assembled in front of the cage, waiting for the smoke to clear.

I wonder what that was all about…” Will said.

Bigfoot huffed. “Nothin’ good.”

*~*~*

There was no point hiding in the shadows. All three of them picked their way over the river stones, inching closer to the waiting vampire general. He was shrouded in darkness, an outline accentuated by glistening claws and two red points where his eyes should be. Nikola’s eyes had never been red so either it was a ‘full-blood’ thing or a sign of a well fed vampire. Either way, it wasn’t good.

Their vampire took the lead, striding up towards his brother. The two had not met since before the great killings. It was almost yesterday for one – aeons for the other.

As they grew closer, Nikola was awed by how young the larger brother, General Apries looked. No more than thirty, even with silver scars running across his bare arms, crossing bulging veins swollen by fresh blood.

‘Brother… you look – well,’ Apries sneered at his elder looking sibling. He spoke the ancient tongue of which Nikola only understood a little. ‘I knew you collected things but this -‘ his red eyes wandered over the woman, ‘-is a jewel in that crown of thorns you call a home.’

It was a frosty reception but so far free of blood.

What’s he saying?” Helen leaned close to Nikola, not liking the way the vampire gazed at her.

He shook his head. “Nothing good – something about a crown and collecting things. I presume he means us.”

Not quite what we’d agreed.”

Indeed,” he purred, flexing his fingers as if preparing to shift.

There was a drawn out silence until Apries continued. ‘When I heard you in my head, I admit I was surprised.’

‘These people have a creature,’ the vampire explained. ‘Its powers amplify our telepathy, to what end, I am unsure.’

Helen whacked Nikola in the side but he shook his head. “I don’t know what’s going on!”

The brother’s considered each other, Apries speaking again. ‘Immortals are still in the world, I guess that was to be expected. Do you know how many?’

‘This is the only one I’ve seen.’

‘She must know the key to Hollow Earth. An Immortal can always move between the worlds.’ His sharp claws dripped with the moisture in the cave. More flurries of dust rained down as though the whole tunnel were unsteady.

Nikola stiffened, glancing at Helen. “I think they’re talking about you.”

We should really run,” she took a step backward but the ancient vampire snapped out of reality in a crack of thunder. A purple glow lit the cave, flaring again as Apries appeared, arm outstretched, claws inches from Helen’s throat. She startled, stumbling over the river stones.

The vampire could smell her glorious blood – feel it pounding around her body, thumping faster and faster. Such torment. Such bliss. His claws uncurled toward her throat wantonly before he withdrew his hand. She was poison. A rose amongst a bed of thorns.

She was also young, too young to kill him.

The corner of the vampire’s lip curled up when he heard the half-ling growl protectively.

Curious,” Apries spoke, this time in heavily accented English. He had not the centuries of practice of his brother. “Is it like this for you too? How can you stand it…

Nikola did not answer him.

Amasis, still standing beside Tesla, raised his hand. “Careful brother.”

Apries hesitated, red eyes locked on him. It happened so fast. He reached forward, wrapping his hand around Helen’s throat and yanking her away from Tesla. Apries held her close, claws biting into her skin. Helen raised her gun but it was knocked easily from her gloved hands.

Let her go!” Nikola fumbled for his gun, levelling it at the General. He looked over his shoulder to the other vampire but hit was impossible to tell which side he was playing. “I said put her down!” Nikola repeated, inching closer.

The vampire drew away from him. “By all means, continue if you want her throat ripped out.”

Nikola stopped.

Another column of dust fell between them. Helen’s frightened gaze flicked between Nikola and the vampire they’d brought along. Would he honour their bargain?

Amasis, you bastard, come on!” Nikola hissed at the vampire beside him.

Swear on her life, Mongrel…” Amasis replied, dark eyes darting to Nikola.

I swear, I fucking swear!”

The general’s confidence faltered. Was he betrayed twice by his brother? The answer was ‘yes’ he realised, as Amasis lunged toward him. Apries tossed the immortal to the side, ducking out of his brother’s clawed swipe. He rolled and cut a blow upwards, landing it in the vampire’s chest. Then another, harder this time. “If you want me this time, you’ll have to do the work yourself!” growled Apries.

Nikola dragged Helen as far as he could, helping her sit. “Come on Helen, shake it off,” he begged. He could hear the vampires trading blows behind them and it was already clear that Apries had the upper hand. Which didn’t bode particularly well for them.

Helen shoved Nikola and grabbed the Browning, slipping the safety off. “We have to keep them busy,” she hissed, using a nearby boulder to help her stand. “There’s still an army down here.”

That’s what’s troubling me,” Nikola replied, peering at the dark tunnel. It was too immense to pick anything but the largest features out. He clicked on his torch, shining it up toward the roof but it couldn’t penetrate fifty feet. “Shit!”

Ahead, General Apries thrust his clawed hand into his brother’s side, clothes tearing and growls erupting from Amasis who pushed him off angrily and followed with a crack of lightning arcing off his cloak. The General dodged it, hissing and brandishing his fangs.

‘Two thousand years and you still want me dead? Wasn’t my suffering enough!’ Amasis stumbled back to avoid his brother’s knife-like claws. Apries kept coming, hatred burning through his red eyes. ‘You turned on your own kind – sided with the Cabal…’

Amasis shook his head, holding his bloodied arm as it healed. The vestiges of youth were draining from his face as he tried to heal. ‘They were never meant to win,’ he insisted.

‘You were playing the humans and you lost.’ Apries stopped for a moment, his claws held up in a moment of peace. ‘It is not too late to turn the tide against them. Join me. I’m going to rebuild our father’s empire.’

Amasis turned to look at the half-ling and Immortal scrambling back toward them, their tiny, fragile figures paling in comparison to the mighty, vampire built tunnel around them. Vampires were empire builders, preservers of the world’s knowledge. Imagine what they could do if they had another chance. ‘I want to – but…’ He looked nervously at the darkness.

‘What – Amasis?’ the general demanded.

‘Kill the half-breed – I’ll find you again, I swear.’ Amasis had just enough strength left in him to leave the world in an almighty crack of purple lightning. The sound boomed around the cavern, shifting a rain of dust from above. He was gone, leaving Apries hissing in shock.

Bloody hell…” Helen gasped, finding herself and Nikola the focus of the General’s attention.

The General didn’t come for her. In a shadow of claw and fang, it wrapped its hand around Tesla and threw him through the tunnel. He bounced like a rag doll over the stones, his gun flying off into the darkness.

Nikola!” Helen shrieked, firing off three rounds into the vampire. They clinked harmlessly off his armour.

Nikola rolled onto his back, gasping as his lungs fought for air. He titled his head away from a column of dust. He could have sworn he saw something move against the darkness above. There wasn’t time to find out what as the general threw a large rock at him. The iron hit Nikola in the chest, breaking one of his rips.

He rolled over, spitting blood onto the stones. Nikola rolled out of the way in time to avoid another rock, smashing into the ground where he had been. He heard a shot from Helen’s gun and a whistle of air as it sailed passed the vampire and missed his shoulder by inches. “Careful!”

Nikola stumbled to his feet then ducked, claws slicing the air above his head. Instinct lunged him forward, his firsts laying two heavy hits into the general’s stomach between the armour plates. A casual swat from the ancient vampire’s arm sent Nikola flying off toward the wall. Instead of hitting the unforgiving rock, Tesla landed in a mass of bony limbs that writhed beneath him.

Oh god…” he whispered, as he found himself amidst a mass of sand creatures who sank back into the tunnel like a wave receding from the shore. There were thousands of them, waiting patiently to be called by their master.

His stomach turned in terror but it was too late, Apries had hold of his ankle, dragging him back into the centre of the tunnel.

Now tell me, half-ling,” Apries growled against the side of Nikola’s face, his fangs cutting deeply into Nikola’s neck and shoulder. “Why’ve you got the Immortal, hmm?”

Nikola stumbled, unable to hold his own weight on his broken ankle. It burned painfully as the vampire held up steady. “She’s a hell of a looker…” he managed, blood running down the edge of his lip.

The vampire shook Tesla roughly, another crack of bone coming from his leg. “Can she open the door?!” he demanded violently.

The – what are you talking about?” Nikola replied, in genuine confusion.

Apries dropped him onto the sharp rock then yanked him back to his feet and started dragging him down the tunnel. Tesla struggled, leaving a smear of blood over the stones.

Helen followed, picking her way along in the darkness. She could hear the sand creatures now, clawing over the walls and ceiling, dislodging dust as they moved. They didn’t seem interested in her, creeping after their master instead.

21

RIVERS IN THE SNOW

Blood tumbled in rivers over the snow, freezing before the bodies at their source could die. One man blinked away a stray snowflake, its crystal form catching in his eyelashes. His fingers twitched against the ground, leather rasping against the snow and then went still. The black cliffs hung behind him, a demonic curtain of rock and ice framing the horror with a stark blue sky beyond.

Ashley pushed herself off the snow, groaning as pain ebbed from her bloodied arm. She inspected the trio of claw marks torn through her hiking gear, the force of which had sent her flying down into the soft snow behind some stray boulders. Her blood was still smeared on the nearest one where she’d clipped it with her head.

Staggering through a knee-deep drift, Ashley surveyed the remains of her rescue team. Even from this distance she could tell that all sixteen were dead, strewn over the area in various states of dismemberment with smears of carnage between them. Bullet casing littered the ground, gleaming like a bed of stars under the harsh sun.

The vampire had appeared from nowhere in a crack of purple light, electricity spewing forth in angry shrieks of thunder triggering micro avalanches. The rest was a haze but Ashley remembered seeing him feed from several of the team, stooping over their dying bodies with claws and fangs dripping red. The bloodshed was confirmed as she reached the top of the glacier and the bodies of her friends.

Oh god… Williams,” Ashley whispered, kneeling beside a middle-aged man. She’d been on many missions with him, including her first through the swamps of Eastern Europe when she was still a child. “You were right – I’m sorry. Mum’s gonna be so mad but I couldn’t let her go into the mountains with two vampires and a cop as cover, no chance in hell…” Her gloved hand brushed his eyes closed.

She peeled open one of the first aid kits, wrapping the cuts on her arm. Frostbite could start fast and she was no good to anyone if she let it cripple her. Ashley sighed, holding her bandaged arm for a moment then picked up one of the radios and tapped it. Nothing. A gargle of static. She swore and delved deeper into the bag. There was a locator beacon inside which she slipped into her jacket. There was already enough weaponry concealed in her combat clothes to take on a small army to which she added a flare and stun grenade.

Right, vampires – here we go,” she whispered, boots crunching against the snow. “Just like old times.”

Her dead friend seemed to smile at her as she trekked toward the cliffs.

*~*~*

As the minutes passed, Nikola could feel his body healing. Bones were knitting together, blood welling up and drying on his skin – torn muscles numbing. The ancient vampire sneered, taking care to shove Nikola roughly against the rock wall every now and then, breaking something new.

Tesla groaned softly as a fresh stream of blood ran down the side of his head. He was a scientist, not a warrior. Though it pained his ego to admit, he knew very well that he didn’t stand a chance against Apries.

No-” he protested weakly, covering his face just before he was thrust into the rock again. It cut through his hands and arms, shredding what was left of his sleeve and adding a bloody tear along his forearm.

There was water under their feet. Nikola could feel it biting at his ankles. There was something else too – snow – it was wafting through the air, gently colliding with his cheeks. How could it be snowing?

He didn’t know how long they walked for but eventually the General came to a stop. Nikola opened his eyes. The first thing he saw were two beacons of fire erupting from the floor, burning in spirals of flame and wind. The base of its jets electric blue where it was feeding off natural gas locked in the rock. The heat from the enormous pillars of fire banished any hint of ice from the rock around them, scorched off the moss and left a sooty residue over the enormous door looming beyond as though it were the passage to hell itself.

Between the two flames lay the famous granite door built to a monstrous scale. Houses could have skimmed through its breadth with room to spare. Deep grooves and a large flat landing suggested that it was designed to open towards them but nothing had shifted its weight in tens of thousands of years.

It was not ornate. Instead, simple inscriptions were scored into the gleaming black surface read, ‘Immortal Lands’ in a language few could still read.

The door.

I don’t understand,” Nikola whispered, when Apries held him close, pressing one of his sharp claws to Nikola’s fragile neck. He reached up, weakly gripping the General’s arm. “I know nothing of this – I swear.” Nikola was still taking in the shocking find. It was beyond anything he’d ever imagined finding buried under the earth. Its gleaming symbols meant nothing to him.

I believe you,” Apries hissed. His army of sand creatures shivered against the walls and ceiling, waiting, hungry. “The woman you’re with -”

Helen?”

Yes… She knows how to open the door and if she wants you back in one piece, she’s going to open it for me. Isn’t that right?” He lifted his voice, addressing the tunnel.

Helen’s response was another bullet, sheering off a nearby rock making the vampire laugh. The vampire curled the edge of his lip. “Immortals – always so testy.”

Nikola tried to pick her out against the rock. He could feel her – that rapid patter of her heart and the sound of her breath catching. She was there. “Don’t listen to him,” he managed. If this vampire desperately wanted what was behind this door then opening it was a very bad idea. “You hear me? Guh…” He gasped for air as the vampire thrust three of his claws through Nikola’s back and out his chest. There was a gurgle from Nikola’s mouth as blood welled up his throat and dripped from his lips.

Stop it!” A very angry, British voice bellowed from the cave. Helen Magnus strolled out of the shadows, gun in hand. Her eyes were like steel, fixed on Apries. “Leave him alone.”

Do you know what happens when you bleed a vampire dry?” Apries dragged his claws a few inches through Nikola drawing out a gargled screech from him. Helen could hear his blood dripping down onto the rock – his heart starting to fail. “It’s a very slow death,” he continued. “Losing your mind, drip by drip until insatiable hunger takes hold.”

Helen watched as Nikola’s head lulled back into unconsciousness.

I know that you have to kill a vampire today – all of that, ‘restoring the balance’ shit that you Immortals have been peddling since the sun first rose but it doesn’t have to be me.” Apries withdrew his claws and let Nikola fall to the ground in a damaged heap against one of the boulders. “Or him, as I see you are quite fond of the mongrel.”

Then who – Amasis?” she sneered. “He is long gone,” Helen did not lower her gun but she was running out of shots. She doubted the silver tipped rounds were enough to kill him.

I can bring you my brother,” Apries walked past Nikola’s body without so much as a glance. “I’ll even do it for you, for old time’s sake. I had a age to think things over in my tomb. Genetic memory is a powerful thing, Immortal,” he reached out to brush his claws over the stone door. “I searched mine, for hundreds of years until it started to unlock… The things I saw – glimpses of what lays beyond this door.”

Helen frowned, risking a cautious step closer. She resisted the urge to look at the sea of sand creatures churning around the walls and ceiling. They made their presence known by a constant rain of dust. “You weren’t coming for my Sanctuary?”

The vampire laughed, turning. He lounged back against the cold, rock of the door. “Did you really think that my first port of call after thousands of years imprisonment would be revenge?”

Helen was silent.

He shook his head. “Disappointing… There are much grander prizes than retribution.” Apries tapped his claws against the granite. “Can you read it?”

Helen lifted her gaze to the symbols cut into the door. She’d never seen the language before but her mind instantly translated. The flicker or recognition in her eyes was enough for Apries.

Good. Now, if you’d be so kind – how do I open it?”

Helen shook her head. “I have no idea.”

Slowly, the vampire stalked over to Nikola’s body, stepping on his neck – pressing down with his sandle until another moan escaped Nikola. “Answer carefully, Magnus.”

*~*~*

Werewolves in a hole – what happened to you?” Ashley sat down beside Detective Joe Kavanaugh. “You look like you got bit by a vampire.”

Joe, deathly pale, rested against the tunnel wall, gulping down half a bottle of water before he replied. “I did. Your mother forgot to mention I was a walking snack.”

Ashley flinched. “Sorry. Mum does things like that.”

Clearly,” he pointed at the angry fang marks on his neck.

She rested her hand on his shoulder. Ashley didn’t know Joe particularly well but he seemed like a nice enough guy and so far he’d handled the onslaught of the Abnormal world much better than any of the other institutional forces she’d come across. Maybe he might consider working for them one day. “When was the last time you saw them?”

Half a day ago?” he guessed. “That bloody ancient pain in the neck looks a lot younger now he’s freshly fed.”

Yeah,” she agreed. “He tore through our guys up top no trouble. No wonder mum won’t let Tesla feed.”

Something’s gone wrong. Amasis was on our side far as I could tell.” Joe had a terrible feeling that they’d find Magnus and Tesla’s bodies deeper in the caves.

*~*~*

A veil of dust fell over Helen, the sand creatures above shifting restlessly.

Stop it… or I won’t tell you shit, Apries,” she scowled. “Thank you,” Helen watched Apries back away from Tesla. There was just one gaping problem in Helen’s plan – she didn’t have the faintest clue how to open the door. She surveyed the enormous slab of rock, shining her torch up its facade. The surface of the stone was unnaturally smooth, certainly polished by hand and then set into place. The slab beneath Apries and Tesla was equally worked, almost like parts of a machine. Hell – what she really needed was Nikola. He was the engineer.

Apries narrowed his blue eyes at her. “What?”

The secret of the door was lost long ago,” she lied casually. “Yes, I can read the language but I need Tesla,” her hand waved at the vampire, “to help open it.”

Those blue eyes went black. “The mongrel?” he spat. She nodded. Apries snarled something untoward.

Helen nodded, her eyes betraying nothing this time. “Didn’t you wonder why an Immortal would allow a vampire to live?” she let the revelation hang in the air until it stuck. “Now you know. You’re not the only one trying to open this door, vampire.”

Apries picked Tesla up by the back of his jacket like a kitten. He glowered at the barely conscious half-breed. “That true?”

Nikola had just enough presence of mind to nod weakly.

*~*~*

Still nothing,” Joe slipped the radio back into his pocket. “We’re not officially missing for another two days.”

I’m not missing for three – I was supposed to be your backup.”

Well, thanks, I guess.”

Ashley lofted her eyebrow at him. “I heard about your dad, by the way. Now I know why you were always hanging around the gates while I was growing up.” They were nearly the same age – Joe three years her senior.

It’s why I became a detective in the first place. There is some seriously weird shit going down in Old City but most of the Force keeps their eyes closed. They don’t want to know what’s really going on. Or they’ve been told not to look. I’m not sure which.”

The corner of her lip curled up in a smile. “You know, if we both manage to live through this perhaps we could help each other out a bit. You drop me a few hints – I reel in the abnormals. Lower body count all round.”

Let’s live through this first,” he managed a proper smile, a bit of colour returning to his skin now. “Now, if you really are my back up, you better give me a hand.”

*~*~*

Nikola was sitting against one of the polished rocks in front of the door indulging his obsessive compulsive behaviour. He was using a shred torn from his jacket to wipe away as much dried blood from his face as possible but the rag was filthy, merely spreading charcoal across his flesh. Most of his bones were mended even if the pain hadn’t subsided. Still, he was in a black mood, scowling at the other vampire.

It was still snowing, tiny crystals wafting through the Throat of Thoth. He realised now that it was the constant stream of snow which caused the water to collected in the tunnel’s floor.

All right Nikola, enough now,” Helen whispered, standing a few feet from him. Her gun was back in its holster and Apries paced around the door, lost in thought with his army of sand creatures hissing in the cave behind.

This is not going well,” Tesla pointed out, tossing the rag away.

Like all of your evil plans go smoothly,” she automatically snapped back.

Usually they do – until you drop by and start unravelling them.”

Really Nikola, can we focus on the task at hand?”

He surveyed the door, polished stones and breadth of the tunnel behind. Despite his reservations, Nikola couldn’t stop his mind from attempting the puzzle at hand. “I’m not sure it’s something I should be setting my mind to.”

It’s that or he kills us,” Helen whispered.

He’s going to do that anyway. Come on Helen, you know how this goes. We help the bad guys get what they want – they return their gratitude with a few well placed bullets, or in this case fang marks. Ow!”

She’d swatted him over the head, messing up his hair. “Focus!”

Focussing…” he sighed, using the rock to help him to his feet. Several of his bones cracked back into place. He dusted off his tattered clothes and strutted up to the door. Apries narrowed his eyes at the mongrel. Such half-bred creatures were forbidden under his father’s rule.

Nikola had spent his whole adult life trying to meet a full blood vampire but the reality was rather underwhelming. “It’s not vampire in origin,” Nikola started, touching the cold stone. There was a faint current of electricity almost like a pulse coursing through the veins of imperfection. “Nor is it from Hollow Earth.”

Nikola looked over his shoulder at Helen. For the first time he saw her for the creature that she was. An Immortal. A different race entirely. A race with a past lost beneath the world – all but erased from it.

Helen shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. “What?”

He smirked. “Nothing, Ms Magnus…” His smile was stolen when he saw some of the sand creatures’ eyes peering out from the darkness at him. Nikola cleared his throat. Focus, he reminded himself before Helen could hit him again.

Whatever the answer was, it wasn’t on the door itself, so Nikola walked away – right away, down the steps and back into the tunnel of river stones.

Where the hell is it going?” Apries growled.

Patience,” Helen insisted. “Let him go. This is what he does.”

22

IMMORTAL

The ground shook. Ashley and Joe stumbled, lunging for the rough wall opposite as rock and dust consumed them from above. The stones beneath their feet bounced like popcorn, wildly smashing against their ankles. Joe yelped, boot rolling – pitching him sharply to one side.

Quick!” Ashley grabbed Joe by the sleeve of his jacket, pulling him into a cramped alcove several feet above the floor. They sandwiched themselves into it, staying above most of the debris.

Cracks tore through the volcanic bedrock with a thunderous boom. Water gushed out through the fresh fissures and froze into jagged outcrops of ice. The daggers sheered off instantly joining the rubble on the floor.

The whole place is coming down!” Joe squeezed himself deeper into the alcove to avoid a freezing spray of glacier water.

*~*~*

Nikola held his hands up innocently.

It wasn’t me!” he insisted, despite the dubious glares from both Helen and Apries.

The earthquake may have subsided but the passageway was not left unscathed. The Throat of Thoth continued to rumble overhead, boulders the size of cars slamming into the floor making Helen glance warily up the the ceiling. Eventually they stopped falling and she resumed her glare.

At least not on purpose,” Nikola amended, shifting under Helen’s sharp gaze. That woman terrified him far more than the brooding vampire.

Idiot!” the vampire raged. “You nearly brought the entire mountain down on our heads,” Apries looked flustered, his claws covered in an unappealing film of dust. His sand creatures were crawling around in a daze on the floor, licking their wounds or dragging themselves out from the rubble. Some had been swatted like flies beneath falling boulders, their innards dragged over the stone. Agonised screeches suggested some were still alive.

Hey it was a guess,” Nikola’s ego out-stripped his instinctual fear of the general. “And a darn sight better than anything you’ve come up with so far. It was a result, perhaps not a particularly desirable one but…”

If you’re going to tell me this is like your earthquake machine,” Helen joined into the chorus of disapproval, “I’m going to shoot you in the leg just like New York!”

Aw come on… that was only one iddy-bitty city block. They barely noticed!”

So help me Nikola!” Helen glowered, hair full of bits of cave.

When he first entered the tunnel, Nikola had noticed that the smooth boulders positioned in a semi-circle in front of the door were not granite. Despite the dull gleam of their polished surfaces, they were carved out of meteorite which in its own right was an incredible technical feat by the ancient builders. Nikola was beginning to hatch a theory that all the meteorite fragments passed on the way in were also deliberately placed – even if they hadn’t been tidied up to look pretty.

There was something special about this outer space corpse. Nikola didn’t claim to be a professor of geology but the magnetic and electric fields on the surface were odd. On closer inspection of the giant door he discovered the imperfections running through the granite to be the remains of the asteroid. It was probably melted together and fused by half-hearted mountain building geology. It still carried an electric charge after thousands of years. Tens of thousands… The important question was why?

Nikola had a theory about that too.

How much do you know about these ‘beings before time’?” Nikola asked Apries. “The Egyptian vampires portrayed them as gods. Were they a particularly advanced race for the ancient world or was it all just a bit of wishful myth-building?”

Apries frowned. “You should ask the Immortal. They are her ancestors, not mine.”

Helen shrugged. “Don’t look at me, Nikola. Your Egyptian mythology was always better than mine. I was too busy chasing werewolves.”

Which was totally true. Nikola sighed and carefully looked around the cave again. The only way any of them were getting through that door was if he worked how to open it. Ancient race – how hard could it be? They probably didn’t even have a refined version of the wheel…

Refusing to be outsmarted, Nikola clambered up onto a fresh outcrop caused by the earthquake. He nudged a few dazed sand creatures away as he emerged on the flat top of granite. He had a perfect view of the door and the fragments of meteorite curving around it like a series of crescent moons. They instantly reminded him of a bar magnet hungrily sucking in a storm of iron filings. The fragments of meteor where more densely clustered towards the edges of the door and every single one of them had a slight tilt to their left. No doubt they were only half the picture with a mirror image on the other side of the door.

This tunnel is a lock,” he said, standing on his large, makeshift platform. He pointed out the main rock markers for the two below. “And it has a primitive power source drawn directly from the meteorite fragments. They’re scattered all the way through.” He pointed them out.

It doesn’t look very electric,” Helen shouted up at him.

He rolled his eyes in her direction. “The circuit is open. We have to find out where it’s been broken then fix it.”

And the door will open?” Apries stepped forward.

Well – I presume so. They wouldn’t be a very clever ancient people if their doors don’t work.”

*~*~*

Hey – hey, no one’s meant to be takin’ the trucks ’til they’re cleaned and – hey!”

One of the security guards that Helen had left in charge of their temporary base thumped his hand on the solid window of the SUV. The driver ignored him, the young man hunting for keys.

I’m talkin’ to you!” he continued, moving his hand down to open the door. It was locked. The guard swore and lifted the but of his automatic rifle. He slammed it against the side of the car with an almighty clang. “You hear me in there, kiddo?!”

Amasis had left his vow of human abstinence in tatters. The moment that glorious blood touched his lips he’d felt life returning to his tortured limbs. It welled through his body, reversing the thousands of years of decay that had taken root in his bones. Now he looked more like a young prince.

The vampire turned at the banging and snarled, a full row of jagged fangs shining back at the security guard.

What the f-” the security guard started to say, lifting his gun and fumbling for his radio. The car door opened, hitting him before he could make the call. The guard flew backwards into a fire extinguisher with a dull thud. The brackets connecting it to the wall collapsed. It and the guard met the floor together before the red cylinder rolled away.

Amasis stepped carefully over it. He considered the human, one of his fangs dripping sticky venom. “I am a future king. Will you serve me?”

The guard lifted his head up in equal measures pain and amusement. “You’re ‘ff your ‘ead, mate,” he replied. “Off your bleedin’-”

Two silenced gunshots thwapped into the guard’s chest. The vampire reached forward, taking the unused weapon from the guard’s hands while he desperately tried to gargle out his last words. They never came.

Amasis steered the truck out of its metal cage and launched it onto the snow-covered road. He’d driven plenty of chariots and horses in his time but the car wiggled under his hold, slipping along the treacherous mountain road.

He was heading for the village nestled in the valley. Precious more than a litter of farms and houses, Amasis was interested in its airstrip and the plane that Magnus had brought them on. It was crucial that he return to her Sanctuary. While ever the Magoi lived, he could not outpace his brother. It had to be killed. Only then would he stand any chance of disappearing into the shadows.

*~*~*

The earthquake left the once rushing glacier torrent dividing the cave’s tunnel a ruin of rock. Ashley and Joe inspected the freshly collapsed section of ceiling to their right, blocking the river’s path entirely. The ice wall plugged its source, for the moment. At its thinnest, it was a sheet of blue-green sitting in stark contrast to its overall imposing presence of blue, white and black. It creaked eerily, tons of water quickly backing up behind the crude ice-plug leaking through only a few tiny crevices.

That’s not going to hold long,” whispered Joe, starting over the rock-filled chasm. Their surfaces were extremely slippery, both of them fumbling for grip. Joe lost his, slid down the face of a curved boulder and landed on a fresh mound of ice. “Is this a bad time to mention my claustrophobia?”

Ashley vaulted over the rocks beside him. “Trust me, you’re not. Found myself on a mission with a claustrophobic guy once – nightmare!” she drawled lightly, picking the detective off the floor on her way past. “Mind you, can’t say I’m a fan of our lovely ice-dam,” she shone her torch over it. Even the beam of light seemed to make it more unsteady.

Let’s just hope that if it breaks, it’ll follow it’s old path and not chase us down the tunnel.”

Least resistance…” A cursory glance between the river’s two options didn’t fill either of them with much confidence so they both returned to silence – until they heard it.

Ashley stopped, gun rising beneath her torch. She narrowed her eyes at the darkness in front, slowly tracking the halo of her torch across its breadth. Nothing.

What?” Joe whispered, then frowned as he heard the rustle of claws against stone. “Oh shit! I’ve heard that before.”

So’ve I…”

*~*~*

The vampire lazily chucked another pebble into the depths of the tunnel, missing the mongrel by a foot or two. He and the Immortal were sat against the door, boredly watching Tesla hunt around another outcrop of meteorite. The initial flurry of excitement was over.

If he’s stalling for time, I’m going to turn him into an orderve,” Apries hissed.

I’ve never met a vampire that bored,” Helen replied, letting her head rest against the stone. Now that it was clear their lives weren’t in any immediate danger, she was starting to wonder what was behind this damn door that made so many ancient creatures hunt for it. “How long have you known about this place?”

Apries glanced at her but never for too long, his crystal eyes fixed on the half-breed. He didn’t trust Tesla. “Since my imprisonment,” he replied, his voice sounded as young as he looked, something which Helen found quite disconcerting. “There were vague references to it buried in the temple archives but very few gave it any credence in my father’s reign.”

But before that?”

There was a time when hunting the lost world of the Immortals was the favourite pastime of young Pharaohs.”

Bit like the Grand Tour then,” Helen managed a smirk. She was watching Nikola too. He was laying his hands on various fragments of rock, no doubt trying to feel the electric current. He didn’t look as though he was having any luck. Not yet. “And your brother?”

Apries risked returning his gaze to her. It wasn’t just that he wanted to keep an eye on Tesla. It was that Magnus was enticing. She was genetically tailored to appeal to him and he was determined not to slip into that trap.

You are keen to kill him,” he pointed out, not revealing any emotion either way. “There is nowhere in this world that he can run where I won’t find him. Don’t worry, Immortal, you will have your vampire bounty before long.”

Good,” she nodded, drawing her knees up. “I have this insatiable urge to kill something coming on again.”

Both of them craned their heads and Tesla ducked down behind a particularly large hunk of meteorite almost centred to the door. It was roughly egg-shaped though little attempt had been made to polish it up. This particular rock had the faintest spider webs of gold tangled through it.

There are stories that survive today,” Helen continued, “of an ancient, advanced race – the Atlantians -” she was about to continue when Apries broke into a shrill laugh. “What?”

Those Greek whores?” he seemed genuinely amused. “Vampires were well acquainted with them, some even unwisely married into their royal family. Believe me, they are not a particularly memorable part of this planet’s history. The whole thing ended in tears and a bang.”

Serves them right for building their empire on a volcano…” Helen had to admit.

Humans always think that nothing will happen to them, that the movements of the world and space are irrelevant but I have always supposed that is due to their tiny lifespans. They cannot see the world like you or I. It breathes. Magnus was staring at him. “You believe that I am a simple warrior? I am the son of the Pharaoh, raised to rule,” he purred, eyes shifting back to their natural black for a moment.

She was momentarily caught by them. For a moment she saw a flicker of who he truly was, an emperor of the ancient world and she was way out of her depth. “You cannot rule over humans any more – those days are dead.”

You’re wrong,” Apries made her shiver. “Humanity is born to be ruled. They cannot exist without hierarchy. I may never sit on a throne but I sure as hell will rule them.”

Helen sighed. Why were vampires so god damn preoccupied with ruling the Earth?

*~*~*

Jesus motherfukin’ christ!” Joe leapt back in terror as the sand creature fell from the roof and landed in a heap at his feet. It was alive, barely, writhing in agony. It flickered between visible and invisible, desperately clutching a bloody stump where its foreleg was missing.

Ashley lowered her gun.

Jeeze…” she whispered, considering the creature. “Must have been hit by a rock during the earthquake.”

It was whining, huddling against the wall only partially aware of the humans in front of it. Somehow in its pain the deeply buried seeds of its humanity crept through. Once that had been a person, just like Will.

Ashley lifted her gun to kill it but found Joe’s hand on her arm. “Why not?” she asked.

If that were me, would you still shoot?”

The fact that she didn’t answer straight away made Joe frown and turn his attention back to the cave in front of them. Every now and then the earth shook again, the belly of the mountain clearly suffering indigestion from the people disturbing its slumber. “Leave it alone,” Joe repeated softly, as the creature’s wails grew softer. “We need to get to your mother. Whatever those vampires are after, they’re not going to keep her alive once they have it.”

Every tunnel was in a worse state than the next. Rubble, ice and running water obstructed their path and more than once the pair of them had to shift boulders the size of tables to get through. “I think we’re getting closer to the source of the quake…”

Joe raised his eyebrow but said nothing.

Finally, the narrow passageway ended – albeit in a sheer drop into a vast cavern. The walls and ceiling constantly shifted with the camouflaged bodies of sand creatures, their scarlet bodies picking up the firelight from below. Two jets of flame framed a giant door and in front of it were three people in the midst of a heated discussion.

*~*~*

I’m not wrong, Helen…” Nikola pleaded, gesturing back at the rock behind him. “I know I’ve had my fair share of daft ideas but most of them are right even if they’re not in the best interests of humanity.”

Why do I get the feeling that this is one of those times?” she hissed. “Well come on, you better show us what you mean.”

Nikola led them over to the back of the meteorite chunk. He’d been digging away at the rubble around its base, going down several feet. “These things are a lot bigger than I thought. The tunnel has filled up with debris over the years – a lot, actually. It’s a bit damaged but I don’t think that matters.”

He’d uncovered a trio of indents in the rock, egg shaped depressions with metal clasps set into their bases. Very unusual, especially as they showed no sign of deterioration.

I never thought I’d say it, Nikola – but you might actually be right for once…” Helen whispered.

Nikola tried not to look put out as the vampire knelt down, taking a closer look. “Keystones,” he said, brushing his claws over the indents. “So much for the myths. Those ancient quacks were right all along.”

You know what these are?”

Apries nodded at Helen. “I even know where one of them is provided the tomb hasn’t been raided. What…?” he lowered his voice when the Immortal shifted uncomfortably.

Most Egyptian tombs have been ransacked,” she admitted. “If you hadn’t built such huge monuments to your egos more of your civilisation might have survived.”

He was put out but not put off. “Surely humans kept some of the treasures they stole?”

The British Museum,” Nikola interrupted. “It was a long time ago but I swear I saw a strange smooth stone with indecipherable markings on it.”

Apries looked at the door, then to the room full of sand creatures. “You’d help me open this door?”

Nikola and Helen looked at each other. “You know what, I think we might on the proviso you stop snacking on humans for the time being.”

Apries was about to agree to the irritating terms when he heard crack in the distance, then a small landslide of rocks followed by a surprised yelp that certainly didn’t belong to a sand creature.

You are not here alone?”

We brought another man with us, a snack for your brother. He must have woken up and come looking for us.” Helen looked nervously up to the dark end of the tunnel where they’d emerged.

Ashley dragged Joe frantically back from the edge when the ground had given way under his weight. They froze, eyes locked on the trio beneath them who’d stop talking and turned to face them. So much for sneaking to the rescue.

Wait – what’s that?” Ashley whispered, her arms still around Joe’s waist.

There was a fourth figure in the cave now. At first she thought it was just a shadow against the wall but it had crept closer to the door. It was tall, slender and nearly inhumane in the way it moved. “MUM!” Ashley yelled, instantly giving away her position.

Helen was startled, flashing her torch toward the end of the cave but unable to see anything. “What the hell are you doing here?”

There’s something else down here!” she continued, as the shadow ducked out of view.

*~*~*

What’s it doing?” Will collapsed into the couch with a beer and tray of hot chips. It was nearly nightfall and he was drained from cleaning up the Sanctuary. Bigfoot was baby sitting the Magoi while Henry got all the security systems back to full strength. Druitt – well, he was doing bugger all as usual.

Nothing…” came Bigfoot’s reply over the radio.

Will leaned forward, turning on the monitor to confirm it. Nothing. Hours and hours of nothing since they’d knocked it out with gas.

Nothing is what I like to hear. Come on up, have some dinner. It’s not going anywhere.”

The lack of reply suggested that Biggie agreed.

Will tapped on the keyboard lazily, switching to another screen. He logged into the archives, trailing through folders until he came to one marked, ‘Tesla’. Curious, he clicked only to be confronted by a password prompt. None of his worked.

Typical,” he muttered. Magnus trusted him but obviously not completely. Not when it came to her past or anything to do with the true history of vampires. He made a mental note to berate her about that when she came back. Speaking of which, she was supposed to check in around now.

Henry strolled into the room. “Hey dude,” he said, not looking up from his ipad.

Has Magnus checked in yet?”

Nope. Helicopter returned to base on schedule and she left a few text messages before going into the mountains. Nothing since then but that’s hardly surprising considering she ended up in the mountain. Ashley checked in though.”

Where the hell is she?”

Where do you think?” Henry sighed, turning the ipad around so that Will could see the snow-laden world of the Pensi La Mountain Pass.

Great. Magnus is going to kill us either way now.”

Nah,” Henry assured. “You need to stop worrying about Ashley. She can take care of herself. I’d worry about Helen before Ashley. Hate to say it but that girl has more than a share of her father’s stubbornness speaking of-”

In his room, sharpening his knives.”

Henry shifted uncomfortably. “Really?”

Will shrugged.

Creepy. Well, I’m off for a nap – don’t let the place fall down around us, eh?” Henry slinked out. It was full moon tonight, maybe he’d go for a bit of a howl.

*~*~*

Apries was okay with a few more stray humans but not uninvited guests.

Not me…” Helen whispered to both Nikola and the general. “Maybe someone else followed you here?” she asked the vampire, but he shook his head as well. “Everyone back to the door. Can I have my gun now?”

Apries rolled his eyes and handed her the weapon. It wasn’t much good against him anyway. He flexed his claws, narrowing his eyes at the tunnel. “I didn’t hear anything – it’s not Amasis.”

Nikola, armed with only his half-sized claws, looked especially uncomfortable, raising his torch defensibly. “Can’t you sic your sand creatures on them or something?”

I already have,” he replied smoothly.

It would do them no good. The creature hunting them could make itself undetectable to anything with vampire DNA. The Immortal professor rested against a large boulder, watching the tunnel with black eyes. One vampire had to go.

Can you see it?” Joe craned his head.

Nah,” she whispered back. “If it ain’t one of ours then it’s bad news.” There was a nasty creak behind them. They turned, listening for a sudden rush of water but it didn’t come. “I don’t like this. Not one bit.”

23

ICE CLIFFS

Nikola worked it out. His stomach sank, fear spreading through his ancient blood as he realised what Helen had done – what she’d been planning all along. He should have known that she had some insane scheme, pursuing the General deep into unknown mountains. She’d made a serious miscalculation.

He tried to catch her eye without Apries noticing. Helen was edging forward into the belly of the cave under the guise of hunting out the intruder, firelight flickering over the barrel of her gun. The intruder she’d bloody well gone and invited along, thought Tesla crossly. If he made it out of here alive and in this case he really meant if, he was going to give her a right piece of his mind and possibly make a snack of her protege.

General Apries was none the wiser, black eyes darting at shadows in the tunnel. His ears pricked up at the sound of bodies hitting rock. Sand creatures – falling one by one from the roof to the floor of the tunnel. Dead.

What the hell is going on?” he demanded, as something shredded his army into a rippling carpet of bone.

Buggered if I know,” Helen lied, incredibly well, Nikola realised.

Something’s killing your army,” Nikola filled in.

The sand creatures were falling faster, several hitting the ground at a time, necks snapped. Some tried to slip away into the corners of the room but they were pursued to bloody ends. The last one put up a fight, screeching and hurling rocks until it was snatched into the darkness. An eerie silence followed.

Nikola never thought that he’d miss the sound of sand creatures scratching about but he did. He looked around, not at the tunnel but the door behind. Its stone was unyielding, offering no glimpse of its secrets or chance of escape. He was going not going to make it out of here alive. If Apries was anything like his brother then he could teleport his arse to safety. Nikola had no such luxury.

Everyone’s eyes were drawn instantly to movement.

Pacing through the centre of the tunnel was Nikola’s old Professor from University. The world’s last true Immortal and keeper of the balance between two dangerous species. His long coats swept over the stones with a soft hiss. Tall, slender and surreal, the firelight licked around him as though greeting an old friend.

Priest…” General Apries tensed, claws flexing slightly as he caught sight of the Immortal. It was not their first meeting. He tilted his head, eyes blacker than the tunnel. His amour glinted. “Well, well, well…”

Nikola’s Professor arched a narrow eyebrow.

*~*~*

600 BCE, MEMPHIS, EGYPT

Limestone pillars reached up toward the heavens, shining in the morning sun like rays of the immortal god himself. Most of the temple was buried by seas of mist, lost in the rising surge that left the walls – several hundred metres long – gleaming with moisture. They were capped with decorative carvings doubling in purpose both to scare and impress the thousands of pilgrims that traversed the known world to visit the library within. Its guests were met by eight statues guarding the gates, towering half the height of the wall. They held spears with flags flapping against the wind, empty eyes gazing at the festering city. Lines of sphinxes sat either side of the walkway, lounging like lions on the savannah.

Hut-Ka-Ptah, birthplace of the empire’s name – ‘The White Walls’, enduring and beautiful were crumbling into the sands. Its glory was lost but not its heart. The empire may have moved to Thebes and Memphis later captured by the Assyrians but the grand temple survived by the grace of local Egyptian Princes who still made the journey to pray at its alters and peruse its secret documents, too fragile to be moved.

Two of these young princes, eight and twelve, raced through the granite hallway with torches nearly blown out by the speed of their bare feet against the stone. They skidded around each corner, laughter echoing through the complex until they scampered into the depths of the main library.

The Head Priest turned slowly, lowering his patient gaze to the boys as they assembled in front of him. To them, he was so tall that the boys called him, ‘statue’.

Amasis… Apries…” he drawled each of their names so that they knew they were in trouble. Prince Amasis, by far the most curious, set his torch in a holder and scurried over to the shelves, running his sticky hands over the papyrus until he found the scroll that they had been reading yesterday. Apries was less enthusiastic, seating himself at the table, boredly flicking the edge of his quill. He was the future King but like most young Princes, he much preferred to be outside learning the art of war rather than locked in a cellar with dusty parchments.

The recent wars had lowered their numbers but there were still many Immortals left in the world, thousands even and just as many vampires. It was important to keep a close eye on the vampires, shaping the young ones and thus the next generation. The Immortals had taken up roles in the temples and nurseries, rearing baby princes and princesses.

These two though, the Priest had to admit, were a real pair. It was never a good idea to have polar opposites for heirs. It usually ended in war unless he could manage to knock a bit of sense into them – even out the balance, so to speak.

Apries stabbed the table with the sharp nib of his quill. The Priest sighed softly. This was going to be harder than he thought.

*~*~*

I might have guessed,” Apries shifted at the sight of his former Priest. There was not a day of the thousands of years on his face and he couldn’t help but wonder how Immortals ended up looking old. Unless they were immensely old. “If you’ve come to give me a lesson I think you’ll find your precious libraries burned down long ago. Humanity… what can you do?”

The Professor flinched. Apries was quite right. Humanity had destroyed the troves of knowledge carefully collected by Immortals and Vampires alike. “You know why I have come.”

Nikola was doing his absolute best to become invisible against the door. A vampire was going to die and he was determined that it wouldn’t be him.

I might have gone after Amasis – even Tesla,” the Professor glanced briefly to the scientist, “if you hadn’t come here. You know this is a forbidden world – forbidden for all of us. Now I have no choice. Tesla -if you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave this place and never return, he added, directed at the scientist.

Y-yes…” he stuttered, backing away from the door. Helen took him by the arm and tugged him out into the tunnel away from the two ancient creatures. “You could have bloody told me what you were up to!” he hissed at Helen, stepping over the corpses of slaughtered sand creatures.

Nikola, you can’t keep a secret to save your life.”

True.

Don’t suppose you gave any thought to what’ll happen when Apries teleports out of here and I’m the only vampire within claw’s reach?”

Oh Nikola – the Professor is not going to kill you. You’re only half-vampire, remember?”

It was the one and only time Nikola didn’t snap at her for pointing that out.

I wasn’t even sure he would come. It’s not like he has a phone or anything. We need to get to Ashley – and Joe.”

Yeah, he’s probably left your fan club after you fed him to Amasis…” Nikola pointed out.

He’ll forgive me,” she hoped rather than knew. “I can’t believe it, he’s killed every sand creature. I was banking on saving a few.”

Ashley and Joe were far above in the mouth of the small passage however the land bridge that had allowed Helen and Tesla into the tunnel was gone, destroyed by the earthquake.

Mum?” Ashley called cautiously, waving.

For the record, you’re grounded,” Helen muttered at her daughter. “Did you bring rope?” Her question was answered when Ashley threw down the end of a nylon rope.

Are we coming down or are you guys coming up?” she asked, not sure which was safer.

It’s snowing in here,” Nikola whispered to Helen, pointing up at the soft flecks wafting around them. “There must be an exit nearby. It’ll take days to get back to the pass and I doubt we’ve got that long.”

He had a point. Helen waved down Joe and her daughter.

*~*~*

Amasis held the terrified pilot at gunpoint, watching the mountain peaks fade away until they were indistinguishable from the puffs of white cloud. The bodies of the co-pilot and crew littered the plane, stains of blood flourishing the walls with a grisly reminder of the terror a few hours before.

*~*~*

Apries and the Professor were still talking as the group snuck down, winding their way through the Throat of Thoth toward a speck of daylight at the end of the tunnel. Nikola was right, it was snowing in the tunnel and the snow was getting heavier as they traversed the rubble.

What are they doing?” Ashley asked, glancing back over at the two figures slowly circling each other.

Preparing to fight,” Helen whispered back. “It is no light thing for two immortal creatures to duel.”

Another soft quake shook the tunnel. All of them stumbled falling amongst the rocks as more fragments of roof caved in and crashed down around them. A rock the size of a car landed next to Joe, shattering into a dozen pieces next to his head, falling away from him into the cave. He was too shocked to move.

I don’t know what you did, Nikola – but this place is unstable.”

Seriously, I just shifted one rock.” He was about to continue his defence when he heard it. Another rockfall, far in the distance. Water pushing past it. Ice snapping. “Oh shiiiiiit…” he hissed, hustling back to his feet. “Run, now!”

They barely made it fifty metres when the first surge of glacier water poured through the hole into their tunnel. It slammed into the ground, shifting boulders out of its way. The freezing water frothed, forced out of the tiny hole in a roar.

Everyone paused to watch. There was silence then a cold wind rushing over them, blowing away the snow.

Apries and the Immortal were hit first, the torrent knocking them down like bowling pins. They thrashed against the water as it threw them into rocks along with the bodies of the sand creatures, swirling around them like shrivelled Autumn leaves.

The others ran, cold spray on their backs and the first trickles of water rising underfoot as they bolted toward the end of the tunnel. The light in front grew bigger. The mouth of the tunnel opened out with a jagged edge gaping at the world. They could see the beginnings of mountains. A smear of blue sky. Nikola looked over his shoulder – and screamed.

*~*~*

Dr Will Zimmerman was asleep. Bits of chip were sprinkled over his shirt, ground into the couch as he rolled onto his stomach. The TV was on but the original program had finished hours ago. Something obscure was playing now – the kind of thing that the networks pretended they didn’t buy then sort to hide in the wee hours of the morning when only very drunk people were awake.

Druitt had been prepared to render the irritating protege unconscious but there was no need. He stepped silently through the office toward the monitors. John bent over, knocking the mouse to wake it up. A few clicks and he was scrolling through the Sanctuary’s files, hunting until he found it.

The screen prompted him for a password.

John hesitated, clearly changing his mind after a moment’s thought. The folder unlocked though he seemed slightly disappointed.

That hurts…” he whispered to Helen.

He inserted a USB drive into the computer and started copying. A snore from the couch told him he was in no danger.

*~*~*

The water hit Nikola like a wall, dislocating vertebrae as it churned against him, pushing him through the cave. He was helpless as the others sank into the water. He reached for Helen just before she went under, their fingertips brushing. Then she was gone.

Nikola had no time to think. Suddenly the world became impossibly bright. He was outside, the glare giving way to a perfect vista of the ice locked valley. He was still going forwards, flying through the air – then dropping sharply. Nikola looked down and saw nothing but white beneath. They’d been thrown clear of the tunnel and entered free-fall over the mountains.

He yelped, flailing uselessly at the water.

Boulders started dropping out of the wave, snatched from the torrent by gravity. They seemed to fall for an age before smashing into the snow below, rolling down the mountainside until they looked like fluffy white snowballs.

Nikola fell faster. The water around him was losing all its strength. Other bodies were falling, sand creatures raining down. Amongst them was a flare of dark brown hair.

Helen!” he screamed, trying to move toward her.

She was groggy, blood running from her forehead. It took her a moment to realise what was happening. “Nikola!”

They all smashed to the ground together – a brand new waterfall forming at the mouth of the cave above. It tickled down in a serene curtain, giving now indication of the violence of its birth.

*~*~*

Joe was amazed to find his eyes open. Daylight. Snow – god lots of snow. He tried to turned his head but the perfectly Joe-shaped hole in the snow was a snug fit and deep, at least ten feet. Nothing seemed to hurt but it was impossible to tell if that was because he was unscathed or more likely, very cold.

A shadow passed over his hole – then a rope dangled in. Surprised that his hands worked, Joe took hold, wrapping the nylon around his wrists. The slack vanished, a sharp tightening of the rope into his gloves – then he was pulled free.

Ashley found Tesla knelt over her mother’s body, his hands cupping her face tenderly. She stepped back, not sure what to do as Tesla leaned down, whispering something against Helen’s ear. Helen awoke a moment later, reaching up to hold Tesla’s wrist, squeezing it softly, dare she believe it – affectionately.

Where are the others?” Joe rasped, kneeling down to pick a broken vampire claw out of the snow. He held the curved, sharp object up to the light, then cringed. “Ew…”

Apries is alive,” Helen replied, kneeling now. “And I don’t have any increased desire to kill Nikola, so I guess our Immortal is too.”

Gee thanks, Helen… What about -” Nikola pointed up toward the cave and its fresh waterfall dribbling into an ice lake.

There’s no point going back until we have those stones.”

Then we are going back,” he replied carefully.

 

PLEASE DON’T TOUCH

“Where did you say that you were from again?” Will eyed the short-haired blonde suspiciously. She was taller than him, quite brunt in her approach to conversation and determined on breaking the very delicate electronic device on Henry’s desk.

“I didn’t,” Samantha Carter replied,recoiling as the object let off a series of sparks and began to smoke. “Crap.”

“Please don’t touch anything. Technology’s very sensitive about its feelings around here.” Will re-opened the folder that she had given him, skimming over the fine print. It looked decidedly like a poorly written cover up.

That was exactly what it was – an excuse for Colonel Samantha Carter to sniff around this so called ‘Sanctuary’ for their missing Goa’uld that had been running amok in the city.

“Listen,” Sam took a few steps forward, more than invading Will’s comfort zone. “You don’t have to like me, you just have to show me around a bit. Then I’ll be out of your hair.”

“It’s not that I don’t like you, it’s that I don’t trust you. That, and my boss isn’t keen on me giving the grand tour to unnamed military personal.”

“I’m a doctor,” Sam corrected him. “Military’s a hobby. Now tell me once and for all, do you, or do you not have an Abnormal with glowing eyes and nasty temper?”

Will was about to reply when Sam pulled a zat gun from her within her coat and fired it just shy of his head. He turned in time to see their newly acquired (and supposedly safely secured) Abnormal buckle and fall to the ground, eyes aglow.

“Never mind,” said Sam with a satisfied grin. “Found him.”

“You know,” said Will, “you remind me of someone.”